gothamCulture podcast

Welcome to the gothamCulture podcast where we talk about any topic you’d like so long as those topics are organizational culture, leadership, and people strategy. Each week, we talk with industry leaders and discuss culture opportunities and challenges in their workplace, providing you with actionable tips and strategies that you can implement in your organization. 

Going Slow to Go Fast

In this episode, Chris Cancialosi talks with gothamCulture’s Shawn Overcast about her experience realigning teams after disruptive events. LIke those of us who keep way too many applications open on our computers for too long, slowing our ability to get things done, sometimes our teams can experience the same effect when grappling with mounting priorities and disruption. When that happens, it may be time to reboot.

 Released: June 17, 2020

Show notes and transcript: Shawn references an interview with Storied CEO Michael Margolis titled Storytelling in the Age of Disruption

Going Slow To Go Fast – gothamCulture Podcast Transcript

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome to the gothamCulture podcast, where we talk about any topic you’d like, so long as those topics are organizational culture, leadership, or people strategy. Each week, we talk with industry leaders and discuss cultural opportunities and challenges in the workplace, providing you with actionable tips and strategies that you can implement in your organizations. My name is Chris Cancialosi, and this is the gothamCulture podcast.

Welcome everyone to the gothamCulture podcast, this is Chris Cancialosi. One of the things that we’ve been talking about a lot lately, are how individuals, teams, and organizations are struggling to readapt to these disruptive times. And every time there was kind of the demand of new operating environments, and it creates the need for organizations to really take a hard look and re-examine what right looks like for them, to really re-examine what things may serve them well moving forward, and what things they may need to think about doing differently, not only in order to survive, but in order to thrive, in the new operating environment. When being forced to reinvent the way teams bring value to their customers, it really does, in many ways, pay to go slow to go fast. And what I mean by that, is taking some time upfront, taking a short pause to understand the new reality and the new requirements, and for individuals and teams to really realign around a new way of bringing value to their customers.

Today’s guest has worked with a wide variety of teams at all levels, prior to and throughout the COVIT pandemic, and she’s been working lately with teams to do what she calls rebooting, really taking time to pause, to understand the new operating environment, and to come to alignment around things like roles and responsibilities, systems and processes, and ways of working to be most effective in these dramatically new working environments. Shawn Overcast is with us today. She’s a partner here at gothamCulture, and she’s here with us to discuss her findings, her work, and some tips on how you might reboot your own teams, in order to survive and thrive in this new chapter. Hey, welcome to the show, Shawn.

Shawn Overcast:

Thanks. Great to be here.

Chris Cancialosi:

And this is kind of a unique episode, because for the first time on the GC podcast, we’re actually interviewing a team member from GC, but I felt it was really important that we talk to you, Shawn, because of your depth of experience within the topic that we’re going to talk about. Obviously, over the last few months, we’ve had quite a few episodes talking about how individuals and teams cope with, survive, thrive, within the new pandemic era, and one of the things that we haven’t talked about in depth, is how we can restart things. There’s a lot going on in society about restarting, realigning, and what the go forward is. So Shawn, you work with a lot of teams in terms of team alignment and group process. What have you been working on lately?

Shawn Overcast:

So prior to the pandemic, and the change of work, the world of work, as we knew it, earlier in 2020, we had been working with a number of teams on doing what we would refer to as team alignment. So getting teams to work together better, more efficiently, to collaborate in a more streamlined fashion, to improve relationships, and most of that work was done together in person. Just as the world of work has changed and moved to a more virtual environment, we’ve been working with our clients, whether it be related to teams, or related to culture, or related to professional development, is how do we pivot to continue to offer support in a way that works in this new virtual world?

And for a couple of weeks, I’d say, in the March/April timeframe, that was very much the focus is, how do we do so in a virtual world? And it wasn’t too long that we began to consider, is this a long-term solution? Do we look at the virtual world as the long-term, it’s here to stay? Or do we start to think about what do we need to be planning for when we return to work? And as you can imagine, that raises all kinds of questions that people are still grappling with across the world, is will return to work? When will we return to work? What will it look like when we do? And so, we took those questions and some of those broader concepts about how work gets done, and applied to the conversations we were having before, about the teams meeting to still be aligned, to get work done in a very different way, with a whole lot of uncertainty.

Chris Cancialosi:

Got it. So it seems like there are a lot of things that you’ve been supporting clients with, in terms of team alignment over the years, and a lot of that still holds true, but it seems like there’s a bit of a different laser focus on some topics, specifically related to how work gets done in this new environment. And I imagine that looks different for every single team, and based on your industry or sector, your functional area, there’s just a lot of variability in how that works. There’s really no cookie cutter solution.

Shawn Overcast:

Yeah, and a lot of the initial conversation as we responded to this most recent disruption to how work is getting done, has been consistent though, across industry, across size of team, or level of team in the organization. And what initially was shifting to working from home conversation, became one about reclaiming and redefining our purpose as a team, and there was a lot of discussion about, are we essential, or what is it that we do that is essential, and how do we maintain our focus, or become laser focused on that purpose, as a team? It wasn’t just the shift of how work gets done, but also all of the societal context that we’re working within, with the public health crisis, with the increased stress of everybody now working in their living rooms and kitchens, surrounded by their families and their children, perhaps being unable to go outside, a lot of disruptions that we weren’t planning for, nor prepared for. And so, in that, as we had that common collective experience across the globe, there was a common collective desire, or need to reclaim our purpose as a team.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, that’s fascinating. So I’m wondering from your perspective, since you work with so many teams, and this is a generalization, but as folks are beginning to think about moving from kind of the defense, to more of this kind of go forward, and what is it going to look like, reclaiming purpose, I heard you say is kind of a key topic, what are most teams struggling with from your experience, as they make this transition into this go forward posture?

Shawn Overcast:

It seems that what most people are struggling with, is taking the first step to figure that out. Everything feels overwhelming. The work, getting the work done differently feels overwhelming. The team that comes together looks different. We’re coming together from different locations. We don’t have the common experience of necessarily sitting around a table, or even the common experience of what’s going on in the background of our work life at home. And so, it’s finding that what is that first step that we can take, and how do we work to reclaim our purpose? And the teams that have been very effective with that, have found ways to communicate, leveraging technology, balancing across time zones, but also with the words that they say, leaders finding ways to communicate, to bring a team together and acknowledge the current situation, and band together to plan a course of action, a way forward.

Chris Cancialosi:

Really interesting stuff, Shawn. Hey, we’re going to take a really quick break. When we come back, we’re going to continue our conversation with Shawn Overcast. She’s a partner here at gothamCulture. She’s been working with a variety of teams across industry and sector for a number of years, and she’s sharing her experiences working with teams throughout the pandemic, and throughout this transition to reopening the economy. We’ll be right back with Shawn.

This episode of the gothamCulture podcast is produced and sponsored by our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting. Communicating with your customers, stakeholders, and employees can be challenging at times. The team at Blue Sky Podcasting provides high-end production, and post-production support to organizations looking to leverage podcasting as a tool, to increase transparency and engagement with their customers and employees. If you’re interested in learning how podcasting can provide your organization with a highly engaging communication tool that’s easy to scale, you should check out our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting at www.blueskypodcasting.com.

Welcome back, everybody. You’re listening to the gothamCulture podcast. Joining me today is gothamCulture partner, Shawn Overcast. We’ve been talking about Shawn’s work with teams over the last years, and particularly, over the last few months, as teams were initially grappling with the disruption associated with working from home, social distancing, et cetera, and now, how it’s evolving as the country reopens, how teams are going to kind of be productive moving forward in this new environment.

And I’d really love to kind of get practical here. I’d imagine that most business leaders want to drive action, have a sense of urgency to get back to full productivity, whatever that means for them. But one of the things that you’ve been talking about, really sounds like the need to go slow to go fast, taking some time to really be intentional about where teams are, where organizations are within the market, and what they need to be thinking about doing differently, or doing the same. So in terms of your work, I’d imagine that although every team is unique, I’d imagine that there’s some similarity or commonalities that you might be seeing, and I’m curious to get your take on that. What are you typically working on in these alignment processes with clients?

Shawn Overcast:

So, it’s been interesting, you mentioned how do we get teams to continue to work together? How do we maintain productivity and efficiency of the work getting done, in response to this disruption? And one of the ways that we’ve been thinking about this, and how we’ve repositioned the team alignment process, is more of a reboot. And I think this came up from just personal experience, I leave my computer running with all different kinds of things open, apps, and tabs, and over time, things start to slow down, and I keep trying to force it, keep doing what I’m doing,, and make it work the way it’s always worked. And then something happens, something breaks down and I end up having to reboot my whole computer.

And when I open it back up, and take stock of what is it that I needed to have open, what is it that I truly need to focus on, I can move much faster. I don’t have the distractions of everything open, things are moving faster. And just that act of taking stock of what was it that I was supposed to focus on, what was it that was most important for me to have open on my computer, drives so much greater productivity and efficiency, of how fast just the operating system of the computer works. And we-

Chris Cancialosi:

I love that. I love it.

Shawn Overcast:

Yeah.

Chris Cancialosi:

You don’t want to keep things open to the point where you get the blue screen of death, that’s for sure.

Shawn Overcast:

Oh gosh, no. Nobody’s aiming for the blue screen of death. And so, it resonates with teams. Gosh, we are, I think even within our own teams here at gotham, we’re trying through all of this chaos to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Just keep doing what we’ve always been great at, and things will go back to normal, and that’s not what’s working. Things are slowing down, systems are crashing, tabs that used to be there don’t work anymore, their processes have totally changed, you’re redirected to other sites, or other departments, or other people, and it’s become really inefficient.

And so, as we’re working, shifting from the realignment, we are rebooting teams. And I talked earlier about we need to reclaim our purpose, but even more fundamental than that, we need to look at what is it that we need to focus on? How do we need to work together to collaborate most efficiently? What distractions can we get rid of, can we close down on? Where can we work together to problem solve? How can we better resolve conflict as we’re moving in this new environment? And how are we going to make decisions with so many different ways of working, and that they are counterparts that we need to interact with companies, or other departments, or other functions, how are we going to work together differently in this new environment? And so, this concept of a reboot has really resonated with [inaudible 00:15:05].

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, I love that. I love it. I keep thinking back to this concept of going slow to go fast as you talk, Shawn. As a business leader, trying to adapt quickly, I think many people might want to just put their foot on the gas and kind of figure it out along the way, but what I’m hearing is, hey, taking a little bit of time to press pause and reevaluate the situation, you can kind of remove a lot of the roadblocks before you kind of step on the gas again. It seems like a lot. So, you’ve mentioned a lot of really specific topics that you’re working with teams through. I mean, as a leader, it seems a little overwhelming. Where do you start?

Shawn Overcast:

Yeah, there’s a couple key concepts that I encourage leaders to keep in mind, and it doesn’t have to be a big step, or a big effort, or heavy lift. What’s more important is consistency, that whatever it is we choose to do, that we do so consistently. We’re building a new muscle for the team, and in any building of a new muscle, it just takes consistent action, consistent effort. So consistency of effort, of bringing the team together, with the focus on rebooting that team.

Another is communication, and there is more than you could ever research about communication on the internet, but the very basics is communicate, communicate, communicate with consistency. And the way that we’ve looked at this from a team reboot, is with consistency, that we are consistently modeling an effort of bringing the team together for conversation. It’s less important what that agenda is, more important that we are gathering in a regular and consistent manner. So maybe that looks like a 15 minute meeting, or a 30 minute meeting once a week or every few weeks, to only focus on the team. No other distractions of what work is getting done, or what the priority of the day is, but to truly focus on this team, and how is this team functioning.

With regard to communication, as I mentioned, consistent communication and over-communication, and there are many different channels in which to do that. The scheduling of the meeting is one way, but just looking to communicate about the importance of the team’s interactions and the team’s collaboration, the more we communicate about what is important and what is necessary for the team to work together, the more that that resonates and becomes part of the daily interactions of teams working together.

Chris Cancialosi:

Right. So it sounds like there’s some core common elements across teams, but that the way you actually manifest this type of process can look really different from team to team, based on their situation. Is that correct?

Shawn Overcast:

Yeah. And so, in some cases, there may be a reboot process that we coordinate in a half day, and there are a handful of conversations we want to talk about. We’re going to reboot, we’re going to remove distractions, we’re going to reclaim our purpose, we’re going to address topics of trust, and how are we engaging, where do we need more transparency? How are decisions being made? How is collaboration happening? But with the idea of consistency, we might want to spread that out a bit. So we’ll have these meetings, say, every two weeks, every three weeks, to focus on protecting time for focus on the team. That’s one way that our clients have been addressing the reboot, is it’s not something that we’re trying to check the box on, but something that we’re trying to do over time.

Another question I get a lot from leaders is, “How do I talk about it? What are the things that I say? What’s okay to acknowledge? I don’t want to focus too much on all of the negative and the stressful components, I want to focus more on the hope of the future, and just, gosh, we can’t wait to get back to normal, or even back to the new normal.” And one of the things I want leaders to be really careful not to overlook, is acknowledging where people are, that it’s okay to meet the moment, as I noted, or our guest, Michael Margolis, notes in one of my previous podcasts with him, is to meet the moment, acknowledge the team where they are. What’s going on, what looks different? We all see it. And so, the more that we can acknowledge it, and talk about it with full sobriety and transparency together, can go a long way in carrying the team into these difficult conversations about trust, and collaboration, and conflict.

Chris Cancialosi:

That’s fantastic insight. Thank you for sharing that. Shawn, as we’re kind of wrapping up, I want to ask you a question I ask all of our guests. We’ve covered a lot of ground today. What haven’t I asked you that I should’ve asked you?

Shawn Overcast:

I think it’s that concept of timing. When is this reboot appropriate? Is it only necessary in response to a pandemic? And I would suggest that a reboot is always relevant. There are many disruptions that we experience. Some of them we plan for, whether that be introduction of a new technology, a merger or acquisition, change in workforce, whether that be turnover or merging of teams, a change of leadership, a change of strategy, those might all be planned for disruptions, where we’d need to huddle together with the team. And then there are distractions that we don’t plan for, and this pandemic has certainly fit within that category of something that was not planned form, in any form or fashion.

But even with those planned disruptions, where are there opportunities to reboot? And if I can harken back to the experience of rebooting the computer, it really doesn’t take that long. I know for myself, it’s hard to say, “I got to shut everything dow, and take a few minutes and reboot it,” but in the end, the gain is so much greater than the pause and the pain of the pause. So when is it relevant? It’s at any time that we think that there’s been a disruption. And disruptions can be small, they can be a change in the team, a change in leadership, they can be big, like a pandemic, or a crisis happening in the organization, but taking the time with consistency, and taking time to communicate with the team about the team, is what’s important.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Especially in today’s operating environment, which is so dynamic, obviously it’s been very disruptive as of late, but even without pandemics and all the other things going on in our world today, I mean, the pace of change is really rapid. So, it seems like this is something we’re thinking about on a regular cadence, of really re-examining your team and their place within the ecosystem that they’re working, and how, is what they’re doing either going to continue to be effective, or may need to be re-examined.

Shawn Overcast:

Yeah. And teams are being really innovative in this time of crisis. The more teams I talk to, the more I am learning about the many different ways that a group of people can come together to solve a problem, to reboot and reconnect with each other, to acknowledge and honor the people component of the business that they do. And so, I’m hopeful that we can keep the conversation going. I know we certainly are keeping it going with our clients through all these different phases of returning to work, whatever that might look like, here in the months and year to follow, but I’m hopeful that we can con continue a conversation even through our networks and the people we talk to, of how are we rebooting? How are we making this a priority?

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Shawn, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. I know you’re quite busy with all of your work supporting these clients. It was really fascinating to get your perspective on this. I mean, you have a pretty unique angle, having worked with so many teams in these critical topics. What we’ll do, is we’ll add the link to your podcast with Michael Margolis, the CEO of Storied to the show notes for listeners who want to check that out. I highly encourage you to check that out. And we thank you all for joining us today, until next time, everyone.

Thanks for joining us this week on the gothamCulture podcast. Make sure you visit our website, gothamculture.com, where you can subscribe to the show, find show notes, or contact us for support regarding your organizational culture challenges special. Thanks to Blue Sky Podcasting for producing and sponsoring this episode. To learn more about producing custom podcasts for your organization, check out the folks at Blue Sky, at www.blueskypodcasting.com. Until next time, this is your host, Chris Cancialosi, and I look forward to our next discussion.

A Citizen-Centered Approach to Police Reform

In this episode, Chris Cancialosi talks with customer experience expert and CEO of TribeCX, David Hicks, and law enforcement officer and mindset and wellness expert, Joe Smarro about taking a citizen-centric approach to police reform.

Released: June 24, 2020

Show notes and transcript:

A Citizen-Centered Approach to Police Reform  – gothamCulture Podcast Transcript

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome to the Gotham Culture podcast, where we talk about any issue you like, so long as those topics are organization of culture, leadership, or people strategy. Each week, we talk with industry leaders and discuss cultural opportunities and challenges in the workplace, providing you with actionable tips and strategies that you can implement in your organizations. My name is Chris Cancialosi, and this is the Gotham Culture podcast.

Nationwide, calls for police reform have reached a fever pitch. Systematic racism, the excessive use of force and power by select law enforcement officers over the decades, the militarization of police have created a culture within law enforcement that really is misaligned with the diverse needs of the citizens that they’ve sworn to serve and protect. According to MappingPoliceViolence.org, more than 1,000 people a year are killed by police in the United States. In 2019 alone, 1,098 people were killed, 24% of them being African American, despite African Americans only making up 13% of the United States population. That’s nearly 1,100 people killed by police in the US, compared to other nations like Germany, the UK and Australia, for example, that have police-related killings in the single digits annually. So, something is obviously going on here, and it needs to be examined.

As law enforcement agencies begin to rethink the way they approach their work in order to ensure law enforcement is able to serve and protect in equitable ways, they’re going to be forced to examine the culture of policing in this country to its very core. How did law enforcement’s identity in our society form and evolve over time? What beliefs and assumptions do law enforcement officers and the agencies they serve believe to be true? And how do those beliefs and assumptions stack up against the current realities and the needs of their communities?

This is going to be a difficult process for many to engage in, as it fundamentally asks people to question their own personal and professional identities. One of today’s guests, Joe Smarro, discussed during one of his own recent livestream discussions with several police officers of color. He said, “The system is not broken. In fact, it never worked to begin with.” And his point was that the system was created by white men as a system of aggression. This is a pretty deep thought that challenges us all to take a hard look at the systems that we’ve created or perpetuated only because they make us feel comfortable. We’ll have a link to that discussion in the show notes, and I encourage you to take some time to check it out.

And it’s not just law enforcement organizations that are asking themselves these questions. I recently read an article by Dustin Riker in Northwest Sidebar about the need for law firms to do the same. It’s heartening to see organizations across the spectrum taking time to stop, to learn, to reflect, and to commit to changing for the collective good. We’ll also include a link to that article in the show notes, as well.

My guests today join me in a discussion about how law enforcement agencies might take a very different approach to evolving their cultures by building their reform in a citizen-centric way. Joining me today are two respected colleagues, David Hicks and Joe Smarro. David Hicks is CEO of TribeCX, a customer experience advisory firm that works with organizations globally. Amongst his expansive clientele, David has partnered with police agencies to redesign the way in which they approach their work in order to have more positive impact on the experience of their constituents, those being the citizens that they are sworn to serve and protect.

Joe Smarro is a police officer, and CEO of the wellness firm, SolutionPoint+. He’s also one of the police officers who was featured in the HBO documentary, Ernie and Joe: Crisis Cops, which tells the story of the way in which San Antonio Police Department evolved its approach to responding to mental health-related calls, and the impact on those individuals and the community as a whole. I highly encourage you to check out this movie if you have not seen it. It really illustrates different ways of approaching police work. We’ll also include that link in the show notes for you, as well.

I’m thrilled to have David and Joe with me today to share their experiences and perspectives on this important topic. Gentlemen, welcome.

Joe Smarro:

Thanks, Chris. I appreciate you having us.

David Hicks:

It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for the invite.

Chris Cancialosi:

To start off, I’d like to start with you, Joe. As somebody who’s worked in law enforcement for many years, and you’ve worked also with other law enforcement agencies as a trainer around some of the lessons and best practices that you and your colleagues at San Antonio PD have developed in the mental health unit, this was really a seismic shift in the way that law enforcement officers interacted with the portion of the community that was suffering from mental illness, and it had a lot of really positive effects. Tell us a little bit about it, Joe.

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, thanks, Chris. Our mental health unit started in 2008, but what people really don’t realize is that what we refer to as CIT, crisis intervention training, it started in 1987. There was an incident in Memphis, Tennessee, where a black individual was killed by police, and there was outrage in the community, and as a result of that, they came together, they partnered with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the University of Tennessee in Memphis, and they created what is now known as the 40-hour CIT model, and it’s called the Memphis model. So, this has been around for a long time.

In San Antonio, they started this practice in 2002, they started the 40-hour training. Our full-time mental health unit started in 2008 as a pilot project, just to see, is there a need? Can we justify allocating manpower to this type of unit? And it was just two officers, and over six months, they collected so much data that it was like, okay, we have to actually make this a unit. That’s when I came on. It was in 2009.

So, I’ve been serving on the mental health unit full-time for about 11 years, and it absolutely goes against what most would expect when you think of a policing or law enforcement unit, because we wear plain clothes, we drive unmarked vehicles, our weapons are concealed, and we show up, and everything about our approach is different, right? For starters, we introduce ourselves by our names, not Officer Smarro. It’s just, “Hey, my name is Joe, and this is my partner. We’re here to help you out. We’re here to check on you.”

But because we are so saturated in this environment, because every call, 100% of the calls we respond to are people suffering from mental health crises, we know what we’re going into. Patrol officers, it’s such a wide variety of calls that they’re going to get, so it’s very, very difficult for them to have to put in the right mindset, if you will, for every call. And some are really, really intense. Some are low drag. And so, they have to be able to fluctuate. We know, every call we go into … Now, granted, they’re all different on some level, but we know, hey, we’re dealing with someone who here is a consumer, and they’re having a mental health crisis, and so it’s much easier for from that stance.

Chris Cancialosi:

Got it. And what’s the, in terms of the approach, because this is really the way in which you and your team interact with your customers, your citizens, those suffering from mental health crises, and you talked about plain clothes. Talk about the process, interns of how it differs, just in terms of the engagement, interaction dynamic.

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, so, for a long time now, I’ve been saying that one of the big differences between us, and again, nothing is one, right? So, I’m not saying 100% of anything, but a majority of patrol officers, their priority oftentimes is time, and when there’s calls holding in the queue, they’re trying to wrap up what they’re doing and get to the next one. For us, we truly, as cliché as it is, the most important call that we’re on is the one that we’re on, and we’ll take as long as it needs until we find a resolution that we’re all happy with.

But beyond that, we focus on the person, not the problem. Just understanding human behavior, understanding psychology, understanding what people are doing when they’re in a crisis. Even if they have a serious mental illness, they’re still human beings, and they’re essentially communicating something. And most often, it’s like, there’s something wrong, there’s something off. I need something, whether it’s attention, whether it’s love, whether it’s housing, whether it’s food, whether it’s medications, I need something.

And so, if we only focus on the behaviors of the individual, if we’re only looking at the surface … And that’s what I teach these officers. I say, your eyes deceive you. Don’t ever react based on what you’re seeing. Pause, take a step back, and think. What is actually happening underneath this? Why is this behavior being presented? And it’s in that curiosity I feel like where, that’s what we teach, is learn to be curious. Yes, this person is over here acting very, very symptomatic to their mental illness because they’re off their medications.

Where some officers, if they’re not educated or comfortable, they’re going to overreact oftentimes, or this is where we quickly see people resorting to a use of force, is because cops are very comfortable handling things through using the use of force continuum, right? We have this old way of policing called ATM, and it was ask, tell, make. I’m going to ask you do something, I’m going to tell you to do it, and then I’m going to make you do it. And it’s very quick. You get two chances, a third one, I’m going to force it on you.

We have to learn to slow down. Patience is one of our best friends. It’s one of the best tools that we rely on. And so, earning how to take a step back and just observe. As long as someone is not being physically hurt or injured, we can pause. We can take a step back and pause, and just observe what’s happening, and then ask ourself, I wonder what actually is going on here? This is a person in crisis.

And then I tell them, hey, learn to have some empathy. Imagine that that was you. Imagine that at 25 or 30 or whatever, that you were dealt this deck of cards, and it was like, you know what? You’re going to have schizoaffective disorder. You’re going to have major depression, or bipolar. How would you deal with that? And so, how would you want to be treated?

We talk about this all the time, but people get so lost or confused, and again, especially with officers, because if you think about everything going on right now, there’s this huge debate about police should not be responding to people in a mental health crisis. And I can understand, from a cerebral point of view, I can get that, because I do believe that if you are a person with a mental illness, you shouldn’t have to interact with the police just because you’re symptomatic.

But what’s the alternative? There isn’t adequate social services. There’s not adequate resources in the community, and because people aren’t trained in mental health, because it’s not a mandatory course, oftentimes people overreact when they see someone who’s simply symptomatic, and they end up calling the police. And then the police show up, and if we’re not trained to deal with it, it’s like, of course this is going to go wrong. Of course this is going to be handled pretty poorly, because I don’t know what it is I’m dealing with. But here’s what I do know how to do: force my presence on people, be overly authoritative, and then put handcuffs on people and figure out what to do with them after the fact. And so, sadly we get there very quickly, sometimes.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Thank you for that background and that context, Joe. It’s really enlightening. I’ve got a million questions.

Now, David, you’ve got a very different background, as the CEO of TribeCX, working in the CX field, the customer experience field. But you have worked with various law enforcement organizations over the years. Talk to us a little bit about your background, and how your work has evolved within law enforcement agencies.

David Hicks:

Glad to, and I want to pick up from what Joe said, and so, what’s the alternative? If somebody’s got mental health issues, what else could you do? Well, let me take you back a few years. When I started to get involved with this, Tony Blair was responsible for the British government, and they had this interesting mechanism for directing police funding based on some key outcome dials, and how well local constabularies … the UK is split up into not quite state-based institution, and 20 or 30 separate constabularies based on geography.

And the one in Cheshire, where there’s Manchester, so it’s a large number of rural areas, was doing particularly badly in the measures related to stalking and harassment. And a guy from the sort of central police body, the National Police Improvement Authority, saw me speak at a conference, and my area of interest is in helping organizations make change, so as they’re better aligned to their customer and to their stakeholders. Those are large telcos, government institutions, yes, but principally commercial organizations.

But the tools that you use in commercial seemed to be of interest to this guy from the National Police Improvement Authority, that said, we’re putting more and more and more cash into Cheshire to improve their stalking and harassment. The more we do, the more we spend money on that, the worse the actual scores get, the worse the outcome measures are. Can you take a look, and maybe use some of the tools that I’ve been describing at this conference around mapping the end-to-end experience from a customer’s or victim’s point of view?

And I’m happy to dive into that with more detail, Chris, but the reason that Joe’s point stuck in my head was, do you know, there really was a better way of doing it. There’s a whole bunch of folks in the voluntary sector, in the other state institutions like the health professionals. When you stitch together that end-to-end experience with the victim in mind, then you find that the areas where the police service need to be evolved are a lot fewer than they were. They were basically the first call that was made.

And what Cheshire piloted was a different approach, a differently-designed approach, one that had the victim at the center of the whole thing. Good news for police service: they reduced their costs in this area by 70%, seven-zero percent. Massive reduction in cost, and the improvement in the outcome was off the scale, three or four times better in the eyes of the victim.

So, I hope to go into more detail there, but the alternative is, Joe, maybe organizations responsible for the police service and sort of state institutions should do some thoughtful, what’s the best way, from a victim’s point of view, from a person suffering those mental health crises, what’s the best way of actually designing that intervention? Because rarely, when you do it with the customer or the victim at the center, does it cost you more. It ends up costing you less, directly and indirectly, all the downstream issues that those things cause. So, that’s what stuck in my mind from Joe’s point. Police shouldn’t be the first port of call, because there are probably better ways of doing it, if you were to design that.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. And from my perspective, as somebody who works in the area of organizational culture, I get why there is the call for reform and change. I also understand why there would be pushback against, that as people who have committed their careers to the beliefs and assumptions that have been there for many decades. There’s a certain way of doing things, and sometimes you start to develop your own professional identity around that, and it’s hard to kind of zoom out and see, and really take a look at what is working, what’s not working, and why.

Joe, from your perspective, I know there seems to be lately, especially in the last few weeks, there are all sorts of announcements coming out from left, right and center in the law enforcement community of police departments making massive changes. It seems from the outside to be reactionary or quick, and that may or may not be the reality of what’s really going on in those organizations. But for example, the NYPD commissioner last week announced the immediate reassignment of 600 plain clothes officers to other assignments, immediately. I’m curious from your perspective, Joe, what are some of the pros and cons of taking on some of those actions so rapidly?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, I think, I agree with you Chris. I do believe, this is my opinion, that there are a lot of decisions being made based on emotion, based on the desire to please a part of your base, whatever that is, and there’s also a lot of political pressure, and there’s community pressure, and people are getting squeezed from every side. And so, I think that from leadership, they’re doing whatever they can to survive right now, because in essence this, as a profession, it feels so much like we’re drowning. We’re flailing right now, trying to grasp at anything that we can hold on to.

I worry about, as someone who’s been doing mental health for the last 11 years, we know the significant trauma that comes with doing this job as a first responder in this country, and we know the toll that it’s taken on the officers’ mental health. In the last year, we had 228 completed suicides, and I fear that we’re going to have a catastrophic, hockey stick-type of an increase, off the charts, of officers struggling. Whether they’re quitting out of emotion, and then they’re just negatively impacting their lives and their livelihood, or they’re trying to stay the course and fight the fight, to no avail if they’re not emotionally resilient or if they haven’t been taught self-care courses, or whatever it is, and they don’t have supportive policies in place from their department, and there’s nowhere to turn to.

I can tell you, as a first responder, our agency hasn’t done anything drastic yet. It’s like status quo. Everything is just happening. And what’s even more compounding to this is, it’s right on the heels of COVID, right? So, we were already dealing with this pandemic and the quarantines and all this stuff, but now, since the killing of George Floyd, it’s like this is a whole different thing that we’re dealing with. And so, when you talk about automatically saying we’re going to move 600 people, those 600 people are like, whoa! How come … it feels like a punishment. I had my job, I had my duties, my responsibilities, and now suddenly I’m just going to get moved over here just because of something that happened somewhere else.

And one of the frustrations internally, there’s no … I really am not trying to be insensitive about any of this, but we are all aware in this country of what happened in Minneapolis. Many are aware of what has happened over this profession in law enforcement. But when you make changes nationwide based on a singular incident, or even a trend of incidents, which we can then say have happened over the course of time … Again, there’s data for all of this stuff, but you could say, let’s look at the last 25 killings, whatever, and changes are being made just sporadically throughout, or universally across the board. It doesn’t always make sense.

And again, as the end user, as the officer who’s being told, we’re just foot soldiers, right? So it’s like, hey, you’re going to do this now. Yes, sir. I don’t understand it. I don’t know why I’m doing this. It’s not being communicated, but I know that I have to just say yes and do whatever I’m told. And so, all this ebb and flow, the wishy-wash and the go do this now, no, no, we’re going to do this now, it’s clear that there’s just a lot of attempted effort to please the constituents and keep the community at bay and keep them happy, but at what cost, is my fear.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, thanks for that perspective, Joe. And David, for your perspective on this question, I’m curious from you, what are the costs of not including all of the stakeholders in this process, so that we really understand what’s going to be most positively impactful for the citizen, in this case, or the customer?

David Hicks:

Well, I’m not qualified to comment as Joe was from a policing point of view, but I was listening to him and nodding, because it reminded me of the major changes that commercial organizations are facing, of necessity. And these are organizations where people have put their whole life into careers, and there’s a degree of positional power, and the onset of digital, onset of different competition sets and so on, meaning the very fabric of their organization, the very fabric of their lives are being ripped apart. And they have no control over that, and people feel pretty bad about it. What folks will do is what they believe is a good job.

It reminds me, do you know, of a situation. There was a guy, I think his name was Dr. Dao, a Korean dentist who got on a plane to O’Hare, a United plane, to fly south. Last plane of the evening to this particular airport, and three pilots needed to get there for the next day. So, the United Airlines crew said, “Anybody want to get off?” Nobody did. They said, “Well, we need to take the last folks on the plane off,” and the three folks were a family, it was a guy and his two daughters, and they refused to. So, they went and got staff from off the plane, and they dragged this poor guy off. They dragged him out physically. They knocked his teeth out, apparently. Everybody was filming this, and it wiped a massive amount of value off the value of United Airlines.

I was fortunate enough to talk to the folks, the leadership of United Airlines. I said, “What did you end up doing with those folks?” And they said, “Well, we kept them off, because we couldn’t in all honesty do anything about that,” because they were doing what they thought was a good job. The good job is, you’ve got to be able to get pilots in the right part of the world. It’s a very different context, Joe, to your point, but folks will do what they believe is a good job, and in the absence of clear understanding as to what’s important and why, they’ll do what they sincerely believe is the right thing, even though that’s often at the cost of the other stakeholders: the passengers, and in this case, the shareholders. In complete innocence, they’re doing what they believe to be the right thing.

So, it strikes me that there’s some real things to be learned here, because the scale and pace and extent of change that folks face in not just the police service, but in many walks of life, there are some practical things that are proven to work, in terms of giving folks support, being clear around that purpose and intent. All the good stuff I was seeing Joe talk about in his shows, that helps folks to actually understand, to recalibrate, and to make the right sorts of choices when they’re executing their roles, whether it’s a police officer’s role, or any role that’s facing folks.

We’re crazy, frankly, not to be leveraging those sorts of proven approaches, because the casualties are the folks getting the rough end of it, but also, you’ve got to really, obviously, wonder about the police officers. I mean, you were quite earlier on, Joe, about the 220 folks that took their lives because all their career and belief systems are being eroded. They don’t know which way is up because of the changes that they’re facing. That’s what happens. I can give you some corporate examples.

A great example, a tragic example, in the French telco sector, they massively changed the way that telco was working, and people threw themselves out the bloody windows. I mean, can you imagine that? That was happening because their whole set of priorities and beliefs were being challenged by the commercial realities of that company. So, you do this role, and there are casualties at every level, every layer in the organization.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Yeah. It kind of goes back to this concept, the word that keeps ringing in my ears as I’m listening to you both, I mean, it’s about learning. We have to be comfortable enough to be uncomfortable and say that maybe, just because we’ve done things for a long time a certain way, maybe that’s not necessarily the best way to do it, but that’s not necessarily an indictment that you are a bad person, but there may be a different and better and more equitable way to do it, and accomplish the results that you want in that career to accomplish to begin with.

We’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we’re going to talk about what this might look like, really, from both of your expert perspectives. If we were to truly look at law enforcement reform through the lens of the citizen or customer, how might that change things in a way that are sustainable and positive and equitable? So, when we come back, we’ll continue our discussion with Joe Smarro and David Hicks. Be right back.

Chris Cancialosi:

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Chris Cancialosi:

Okay, welcome back to the show, everybody. I’m joined today by Joe Smarro, CEO of SolutionPoint+, and Mr. David Hicks, CEO of TribeCX. Let’s continue on with our conversation. David, I’d like to start with you on this one. Really, from your perspective, in order to take a truly citizen-centered approach to re-imagining policing in our country, what will need to happen? And I’m curious because I’d love to learn more about your example you were talking about earlier in Cheshire.

David Hicks:

Right. I think the answer to the first question is, you do this one piece at a time. I’m not sure if throwing everything in the air works in any context, whether it’s commercial or police. But you do this one set of problems at a time. And I mentioned the National Police Improvement Authority doing a pilot in Cheshire around stalking and harassment, and what we did, Chris, was we basically got the various stakeholders involved. There was the local health service, the volunteers, victims, of course, and we basically mapped out everything, from before I’m even a victim and I learn about these sorts of issues, through to I’ve had an incident, I’m reporting it, and I’m an ex-victim. All of the possible stages, and all of the possible sort of points where I touch institutions.

In commercial terms, you call that a customer journey map. We called it a victim journey map. Two great female colleagues actually run this project, and what emerged was a map, for the first time, from the victim’s point of view, of all the possible touch points. And that was invaluable, frankly, not just from the police service point of view, but from the point of view of all of the stakeholders involved there.

And then, you started to ask the victims, “Okay, where were the really touches that were really, really important to you as a victim?” And they had a chance to vote. And then we said, “Where, in your view, were things broken? Where did they actually cause you hurt, cause you discomfort and pain?” And what you’re able to do was to look at those really critical touch points, and the ones that were broken. And the ones that were both critical and broken, they needed to be redesigned first.

So, we did some very basic things around who’s best to deliver that, what is it that’s important, in terms of the needs of the victim at that point, and just redesigned, reallocated the really critical points first, and tried it. We actually tried to change the delivery of that service in Cheshire.

We piloted it and tested it, piloted it and tested it, and over about four or five months, what emerged was a redesigned, re-imagined end-to-end experience that really had, not because anybody was trying to minimize the amount of police involvement, but police weren’t helpful from a victim’s point of view, to be involved very much. What was more important was to have the victim, support groups and other volunteers and professionals involved.

So, when this was running after five months, we baked it into a process that was actually scalable. We did it for the rest of the Cheshire constabulary, and took it back to the national body for police officers in the UK, the Association of Chief Police Officers, it’s called, and that’s where we shared it. We described it. The home office, this is the central governmental body, endorsed it as a proven practice.

So, that was very pleasing, but what was also interesting was, we always, six months after, we can go back and ask how it’s working. And we sat down with some of the victims that had been involved, the two folks who did the delivery. Said, “How do you feel?” “I still feel the victim.” And that wasn’t expected. So, somebody asked the really dumb but incredibly smart question, said, “What would it take to make you not feel the victim anymore?” And the women, it was all women, they said, “I want to stop this happening. I want to get in front of the game. I actually want to stop these guys doing this to other people. So, we need to build something, create something at the front of this whole process that gets people like me out to school, social clubs, and so on, so I can actually educate women not to become victims.”

Now, when we did that, we’re about six months later, boom, that was when something magical was happening. Those folks didn’t feel like victims, plus they’re actually just reducing the whole number of women that got involved, in terms of stalking and harassment, as victims. So, it was … it still chokes me up to even describe this, but it was a fantastically powerful, very cost-effective, from an economics point of view, but the service that was delivered to the victims was significantly better than what was there, and all of the stakeholders felt better about it, more specifically, the really critical ones. The victims, they actually took control, and they felt great, or I guess as best as you can as a victim, that they were actually taking charge, taking control of this, and preventing young women getting involved and becoming victims in their own right. Those tools enabled all of that to happen.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks for sharing that, David. What a fascinating story. In terms of just an outsider looking in on that story, it is interesting because you don’t often hear about any organization, law enforcement or otherwise, bringing in all of the stakeholders, including the customer or victim in this case, to have a discussion about what the issues are and what the best solutions would be. And I would imagine that the relationships that were built between those people that were engaging in dialogue, coming to the table, wanting to do the right thing, and able to learn from each other and have honest conversations with each other, was something really, particularly magical.

David Hicks:

Yep. And also, what’s the worst thing that could happen? It helped because the funding, just to be really cynical for a second, there was some significant funding implications to getting this right, so that helped. The net net was it cost less. Some of the discretionary funding available from central government flowed in the direction of those places that were doing a better job. But yeah, at the end of the day, it’s about the leaders of those institutions just being brave, and what’s the worst thing that could happen, just getting some folks together and humbly listening? And giving folks some of the basic tools to listen, not to be defensive, not to react crazy and sort of fishbowls, as we call it, where you just sit down and listen to everybody before you have a chance to respond.

And you can see people growing and developing, and it was cathartic, frankly, for everybody involved. So, what’s the worst that could happen? People would start shouting at each other? What’s the best thing that could happen, is you can actually end up with something that’s better for everybody, and people grow in the process.

Chris Cancialosi:

And David, what was your experience, or I guess, what was the experience of the officers in that process? How easy or difficult was it for them to shed certain identity, take on different aspects of an identity?

David Hicks:

Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question, and is, they were frustrated, Chris, to be truthful. I mean, they were deploying standard operating procedures that were there in the Cheshire constabulary. They were doing the right thing, and the more they did the right thing, the worse the numbers got, which was perverse. So, they were actually, at the end of this process, it was those folks who were involved, the officers who joined me at the Association of Chief Police Officers, to actually describe how it felt being part of that team in Cheshire.

And they were very different. Sorry, I feel emotional talking about it, but you actually had people in tears, saying, “I actually feel I’m making a difference now, rather than being part of the problem.” So, it was truly transformational for those folks. They wanted to do a good job. I mean, that’s the irony of this, that the procedures are getting in the way of folks doing the right thing.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. Joe, I mean, as a law enforcement officer yourself who has been re-imagining, you’ve been part of the process of re-imagining law enforcement with a mentally ill population of your community. What needed to happen in order for that to be accepted within the culture of the police department? That was a rather, it may not necessarily be a new concept anymore in your organization, but it was for a time. What did it take for people to be open to really reimagine that?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, it really came down to having an excellent delivery and a really good product. The original, again, the CIT model believes that you should only train about 25% of each agency in the 40-hour crisis intervention. I don’t agree with that philosophy. I believe that if you’re in law enforcement, until there’s a day where you get to pick and choose what calls you respond to, you shouldn’t get to pick and choose how prepared you are to respond. And so, I think everyone needs to have a certain level of training, at least a basic level of training. And so, for me, I think even the 40 hours, while it’s great, I still think it’s quite introductory.

And so, to say that it’s only for voluntary officers that wanted to volunteer to sign up for the training, here’s what we learned when our chief mandated it, and we’re a large department, right? 2,300-plus officers. And the original goal was 10%. I’m going to strategically place officers on certain shifts, at certain substations, and any time there’s a call involving a mentally ill person, we’re going to deploy one of those trained officers. Well, the problem was that as soon as we hit our 10% mark, the calls were still so far beyond our manpower allocation for that call that he finally was like, okay, let’s just do 100%.

Now, as the trainers, we were like, whoa, this is going to be a huge undertaking. But here’s what we learned, and this is why I believe it should be mandated. First, anytime you mandate anything to first responders, law enforcement officers, there’s pushback, right? It’s like, why are you going to make me go do this? If I wanted to do it, I would have done it. Why are you making me do it?

But here’s what we learned, a very, very valuable lesson by mandating this training: the officers that would show up by force to be there, on that first day, Monday morning, they were the most outspoken, like I don’t want to do this, I don’t believe in this type of stuff, this isn’t police work, this is social work, I shouldn’t be doing this, and just mad about it. They let us know. And then, when I started, I had four years on at the time, and so these guys with 20 years on at the time were like, what the hell do you think you’re going to teach me with your four years on? I’ve been doing this for two decades. But I’m like, okay, here’s your seat right over here. Enjoy the class.

And we learned by Friday, because our delivery is good. It’s based on experience, because we’ve really fine-tuned it over the years. The people who were most outspoken on Monday became our biggest advocates on Friday. And just like David was saying, they became our champions, because they were like, mind open, blown. Because of the way we structure our training, we were identified under Obama’s administration as the gold standard in 21st-century policing for having this national standard of CIT.

So, so many people were looking at what we created, and it was really based on collaboration. Again, it was put the end user in mind. On Thursdays of our training, we bring in consumers with lived experiences, and we let them talk to the officers, not on a call during crisis, but in a moment of training to learn. And for them to have that shared experience, it really is for the officer like, whoa. They see them as a human being, not as a problem, and the person with the lived experience sees the officer as a human being, not an authority. And so, just to see those relationships established is a beautiful thing.

And so, yeah, I believe in the mandated training, but also, too, I think there’s this whole thing of CIT isn’t for everybody, or everyone’s not for CIT, but CIT is for everyone. Again, I think it’s something that needs to be mandated very early on. I know that there’s departments making these emotional reactions. I think San Francisco was like, effective immediately, we are no longer responding to non-criminal-type calls. There’s departments that are being stripped from responding to any type of mental health related call, and they’re saying, we’re just going to create some arbitrary city department to handle this. I think we really have to be slow to respond on things like this, and not just think we’re going to put some team together.

And it goes both ways, too. I hear officers, out of frustration, and it’s funny to me, it shows that they care. They complain a lot about these types of calls, right? Because not only are they emotionally taxing, but they can be time-consuming. But hearing that they’re going to be taken away from us, it’s like, what are they going to do, just send clinicians out there to handle these types of calls? Good luck. It’s only a matter of time before they get shot or stabbed. I’m like, why does it immediately have to go there?

And then I ask them, how many mentally ill calls have you handled where you’ve been shot and stabbed? And they kind of looked at me like … And I was like, exactly. Our mind goes to worst case scenario, but I’ve never been killed one time on my job, and I’ve been doing it 11 years. Thousands of interactions, and I’ve yet to die. And so, to just assume we’re going to send clinicians out there and suddenly it’s going to be deadly, I don’t think that that’s a fair jump.

Chris Cancialosi:

As you guys are talking, and it’s really going to take us, again, being courageous enough to sit down and say, hey, none of us have it all figured out. We have to be willing to engage each other in dialogue and not just in throwing memes around and hashtags. There’s a lot of emotion about it, rightfully so, but there are productive ways to handle this.

Joe Smarro:

Let me jump in real quick, Chris, on that. I want to make a point I was going to say earlier when you were talking about learning, and you’re touching on it again right now. I think what’s also important is that we focus on what we are learning, because I believe, it’s much like the public education system in this country. We’re teaching kids how to take a test, to pass standardized tests. We’re not teaching kids how to become adults in this country.

And I believe it’s the same thing in law enforcement. We’re teaching the wrong things. The emphasis is misplaced. We’re prioritizing so much, and if you really peel back the layers on all things within law enforcement, you can Google or YouTube any police agency in this country and look at their recruiting video, and so many times it is this high speed to heavy metal, and it’s showing this minutia to police work that just doesn’t exist. It’ not that it doesn’t exist, but it’s so infrequent. But you’re going to see the helicopter, and people rappelling, and the K-9 unit and the SWAT members, and they’re clearing houses and doing all this stuff that 99% of police officers are not going to do.

And so, we’re attracting people the wrong way, and then we get them into the academy, and right away we start telling them about the dangers, and we’re showing them videos of ambushes and cops being killed while they’re eating at a restaurant, and so we’re instilling paranoia to a certain level in these officers, and they graduate terrified, thinking my goodness, I’m going to get out here on the first day, someone’s going to kill me because I’m in this uniform, and it’s so scary.

But I want to point back to the data and the numbers. 228 officers killed themselves last year. 59 killed in the line of duty. And while that’s terrible, it’s not even close to the amount of harm we’re doing to ourselves. And yet, the emphasis is so much on preparing for the enemy, and I feel like we just really could do a better job of restructuring, I mean, entirely.

And just to David’s point of one thing at a time, I think that that is a great place to start, is let’s take an honest look at our academies. We’re so decentralized. Nothing is standardized. Some places academies are eight weeks. Some are eight months. Some are three month. It’s just, you can make up whatever you want based on your location and your own set of laws. And then, your training curriculum, even that, we’re going to pick and choose what we’re going to train you. And there’s so much of this warfare type training and militarization of policing in this country.

And I tell people, you cannot wear an outer carry vest with nine magazines and tasers and drop holster guns and all this stuff, and show up to someone in crisis, and say, “I’m just here to help. My name is Joe and I want to help you.” They are so terrified by your physical presence that you’re not going to be able to get that interaction or their engagement. And again, it can happen, but it’s not likely.

And so, why not be honest about what are we really doing? What’s the message that we’re communicating to the communities that we’re claiming that we’re here to serve, and how are we training our officers to prepare for this job? And I think that there’s a lot of work to be done there.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely, and it’s interesting, because having been in the military, I can obviously tell the minute differences when I look at images of certain police and soldiers. But to a layperson, I bet that they would be hard pressed, in many cases, to tell the difference. It’s a really interesting point, just the way you show up, the way you look, it sets a tone. That’s where a lot of this dissatisfaction and anger and frustration and rage that we’re seeing is coming from. It’s disproportionately affecting people. I’ve never had somebody in combat gear knock on my front door. That’s for damn sure.

Joe Smarro:

It’s no different than when we have a jumper. A person, clearly unarmed, wanting to jump off of a bridge or an overpass. And you’ll have 15 cops show up. They’ve got shields, helmets, long guns, screaming commands, and it’s like, what the hell are you actually communicating here? How is this an attempt to help somebody? And we believe, because all we know is showing force, oftentimes. I have such an issue with this, when we’re talking about, whether it’s someone who is suicidal or someone in crisis, and I argue that a vast majority of police calls, people don’t call the police because things are going well in their life, right?

So, there’s always some level of emotional disturbance happening, and so having people trained, having people experts and knowing how to deescalate, and having that be their mindset, not rushing to the scene, adrenaline pump hitting, acting irrational, just so you can show up and start screaming and pointing your gun at people, which is just going to exacerbate the problem. Very rarely does that deescalate someone, when you’re pointing weapons at them and shouting commands at them.

Oftentimes, we’re just not willing to take that honest look at ourselves and say, are we responsible for things going wrong sometimes? The answer is yes. I’ve seen it so many times in my career that we showing up is what escalates the situation, because immediately they want to challenge us, and if you show up in that turtle gear, and you’ve got shields and helmets and armor and all of this, they’re like, the assumption is you’re going to inflict harm or pain on me, and then the animalistic response to that is I’m going to fight back, or I’m going to flee, or do something, which again just creates a bigger problem.

Chris Cancialosi:

Right, and we see that happening daily in the last few weeks, with protests and beyond. So, David, let me ask you. We’ve covered a lot of ground here, and I think the lesson for me is, it’s all about the dialogue, and bringing people to the table, and establishing authentic relationships, so that we can solve the issues that we’re confronted with today. There’s a law enforcement official listening to this program right now, saying, holy cow, yes, I get it. Where the heck do I start? What would be your response to that person?

David Hicks:

I’d probably give them the same answer that I often ask that in commercial context, and I say, start where there’s … maybe an inappropriate analogy. Start where there’s blood on the floor. Start where there are problems, because you can actually help and improve things. Or start where you’ve got a turned-on, tuned-in leader. Or better still, start where you’ve got a turned-on, tuned-in leader, where there’s blood on the floor, because you’ve got all the things pointing in the right direction, and then start. I mean, start with dialogue. I mean, your earlier point, Chris, is around getting people in the room, the stakeholders in the room, humbly listening to each other. That can only do good.

I’d say, for law enforcement, a leader, to take a look at the metrics by which you run your organization. What we’ve been talking about here is, there are rational and emotional components to policing, yeah? There’s a what you do and a how you do it. And you leave that to accident, people gravitate to what they believe is right. You need to deliberately design that. And when folks turn up to jump, you need to deliberately design how you present yourselves, or you’re quite likely to present yourselves in the wrong way.

So, there’s a rational and emotional. There’s a what and a how. And the measures, certainly the RCMP and the British police service, when I was working with those guys, they were saying, these are our metrics. The number of miles our patrol car has traveled every month. The number of arrests we’ve made. The number of firearms that we seized. The amount of drugs we seized. Those are activity metrics. Those are input metrics. Relatively few of them were actually measured on how safe, how policed do I feel as a community?

Now, that’s a much harder thing to actually go after, but candidly, that’s the reason why, as taxpayers, we’re investing in our police force. I want to feel safe and secure. I want my family to feel safe and secure. And that’s an outcome metric that I would imagine is relatively rare, in terms of police administrations worldwide.

So, I would say to that police leader, the worst you can do, you get groups of stakeholders together, the worst you can do is actually reflect on what your success metrics are, and tackle those two pieces. Start there, and that will start to highlight where maybe you should redesign.

And in terms of some of the things that I mentioned, the mapping of the end-to-end experience, what’s our intent? It’s a commercial tool that seemed to do very well when they’re applied to policing. UK, Canada, US, it’s been useful in all of those contexts.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Thank you for that, David. And Joe, we touched on it earlier in the intro. You’ve got a lot of great content out online, and being one of the primary subjects of the HBO documentary, Ernie and Joe: Crisis Cops, really goes into the work of you and your colleagues. I mean, you’ve got a really unique perspective on all of this. From your perspective, same question. I mean, you’re talking to the law enforcement leader out there somewhere listening to this right now who is just kind of overwhelmed by it all. Where do they start? What do they do?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, I love what David said, and I agree, and I would just add that you have to be willing to take an honest look at yourself and your department. And again, in this country, it depends on where you are, right? Not every city has the same problem as every other city and town and county and state. And so, it does matter geographically where you’re located.

But to the point David was making, if the people are paying for the service and they want to feel policed, but they’re saying they’re not, it does no good to defend it or start talking about things you’ve done well or right. And this is one of the problems that I’m seeing, is police chiefs and sheriffs are coming out and they’re promoting the good things that they’ve done. Now is not the time. People don’t want to see or hear about that right now, and also, all it’s being met with is just, “And?”

Policing, it’s the equivalent of, say, a pilot. The expectation is 100% pass rate, right? You don’t get to crash your plane with everyone and be like, “We messed this one up, let’s get the next one.” There’s massive fallout, and that’s what we’re seeing right now. We’re not allowed to have the errors that we’re having, and the entire profession takes a toll.

And so, if I’m a law enforcement leader, I genuinely want to meet with the community, but not to defend my stance, not to promote anything that we’ve done well, not to say, well, what about this and this, and we’ve done this, or you guys do this. No. Healing starts where listening begins, and I feel like we have to be willing to listen and have those difficult conversations. You have to be willing to listen to what people are actually communicating.

But I think that’s just a piece of it. There has to be, then, an outlet. Okay, I’m hearing you. I’m listening to what you’re saying, but now what? And I feel like if we’re truly going to move forward from where we’re at, there has to be a true integration, and we have to allow the communities to come in and be a part of. There has to be some civilian oversight. There has to be not just the optics of it. I’ve seen it where it’s like, this is just for show. Yeah, we have a civilian board, we have civilians involved, but really, they have no control over what’s actually happening internally.

And so, not just doing something for the points or the show, but genuinely doing something, allowing civilians to have some type of oversight role, so that there is more transparency, because I think transparency is the best disinfectant. When you start hiding things, and you’re trying to shove things, or you’re trying to keep things out of the public eye, all we’re doing is further pushing their trust away. And so, just open yourself.

And again, an apology goes a long way. We’re all human. We make mistakes. If you’ve done something wrong, own it, apologize, and then let’s say how we’re going to move forward from here.

Chris Cancialosi:

Brilliant. Joe, David, I thank you so much for your insights. It’s a real honor to have you both sharing your perspectives, here. We’ve covered a lot of ground, and honestly, I feel like I could crack a beer and talk about this subject with you two for hours and hours and learn a whole lot. There’s a question that I close out all of my episodes with, and I’d like to keep that tradition going, but acknowledging we have talked about a lot, what haven’t I asked each of you that I should have? Joe, what do you think about that?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, Chris, if I’m sitting here thinking, and I am, because I wasn’t prepared for this question, so that’s on me. But if I’m thinking about something you should ask me that you haven’t, I guess I would say, do you feel hopeful, or should we feel hopeful, that things are going to improve from this? And my answer would be absolutely yes. And the reason that I choose to have hope, and again, I do believe that hope is a choice. We can choose to be negative, we can choose to see the ill in everything, we can choose to go down all those paths. To me, that’s very easy to do. But also, we can choose optimism, and we can choose hope, and we can choose a better way forward.

I genuinely believe that we’re in an important part of history in this world, right now, that we’re fortunate. I choose to see it as a part of my gratitude, that we get to experience times like these, because there’s so much learning that’s about to happen. We’re witnessing, we’re a part of, we’re right in the middle of massive police reform that’s about to happen, that I would argue is long overdue. I am wary about the knee-jerk reactions and the emotional decisions that are being made, but I do feel that over the course of the next couple of years, there are going to be significant changes that are long overdue, and they’re going to be made for the right reasons, with intelligence, that have been thought out.

And so, I am excited about that. I do think that there are a lot of things that need to be looked at within law enforcement. I do feel like there needs to be some community buy-in, and there needs to be some responsibility placed on other community partners and stakeholders to help, and this needs to be a more collaborative approach to dealing with societal failings, but I am hopeful, because I believe in people, and I believe that while all people are entitled to having a bad day or a bad moment, I believe all people want the best, not only for themselves, but for each other. And so, I would end with that, Chris. Thank you.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you so much. We focused this discussion around law enforcement, but this conversation can extend to any industry, any sector. Every organization should be thinking about involving their stakeholders and really understanding the impact they’re having. Intentionally or unintentionally, you’re impacting other people, and if we can be intentional and thoughtful, we can be equitable, we can be the things that we want to be. The things that 99.9% of this world wants to be when they wake up in the morning. So, thank you so much for sharing that.

David, same question to you. What haven’t we asked you that we should have?

David Hicks:

Well, Chris, you lead a world-renowned cultural change organization, and you know that what’s critical about cultural change is just making it stick. When the spotlight is off, how do you actually make sure that these changes aren’t window dressing, aren’t the flavor of the day, they actually get embedded and adopted? Maybe we should speculate a little bit about that, lasting change, actually getting through to everybody that’s involved, not just police officers, but the support structures around them, their other stakeholders. And so, how do you make sure that this sticks?

And that’s not easy. It’s something that requires persistent, consistent effort to make sure that things do stick, you’re finding your champions. Joe made the lovely point earlier on about when you run these sessions, the folks that were the loudest at the start, showing the strongest resistance, became the greatest advocates. It’s finding those gems, because they’re the folks that anchor this, and make sure that you get adoption. So, maybe you could draw it into that a little bit more, on how to make sure these changes, once they are decided, get adopted and stick. Not easy, but there are some levers there that you can use to give it the best chance of success.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. David, thank you for your insights. I want to thank our guests, colleagues and friends of mine. I’m really, really blessed to have a diverse network of folks out here, and what an honor it is to have you both join me today as we discuss something that’s really important in my view, and something that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. It doesn’t escape me that we are three white guys talking about topics. While we have our own perspectives, there’s only three of us here, and we need to broaden the lens and invite more people to the table to have conversations about this.

Joe, I know you do a weekly livestream that we’ll definitely link to in the show notes, but I listened to your one last week, and you had three different folks on, all people of color who are involved in law enforcement, either police officers or administrators, and I was really thankful that you did that. I had never experienced the ability to sit down and listen to a conversation like that, and I think that’s really important in my own personal learning. It’s time everybody stopped knowing all the answers, and start seeking to understand.

So, thank you both from the bottom of my heart for joining me, and I wish you both a wonderful, wonderful day.

Joe Smarro:

Thank you, Chris. It was a pleasure sharing space with you, David. Thank you.

David Hicks:

And a pleasure joining you guys, and your family, Chris. Thank you for the opportunity to join you.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you, gentlemen.

Thanks for joining us this week on the Gotham Culture podcast. Make sure you visit our website, GothamCulture.com, where you can subscribe to the show, find show notes, or contact us for support regarding your organizational cultural challenges.

Special thanks to Blue Sky Podcasting for producing and sponsoring this episode. To learn more about producing custom podcasts for your organization, check out the folks at Blue Sky, at www.BlueSkyPodcasting.com.

Until next time, this is your host, Chris Cancialosi, and I look forward to our next discussion.

On a personal note, there are folks out there who really get up in arms about discussing the need for police reform. There are people on all sides of the issue, many of whom would prefer to lob hate grenades over the fence at each other, rather than engaging in some thoughtful and productive dialogue about some tough issues. This topic of police reform, to me, is not about dissing the police. We all need law enforcement to hold citizens accountable to our collective social contract, and I believe that 99.9% of the people who go to work today, regardless of if it’s in law enforcement or some other profession, go to work trying to do the very best job they can.

To me, this is about working together to figure out better ways to build trusting relationships that enable the police to be effective in their mission by re-imagining their approach from the perspective of the diverse communities that they’re serving. Doing this opens up doors for learning and dialogue. It opens up possibilities for a brighter and more equitable future, and in the end, it makes us all better.

Thank you for joining us today on the Gotham Culture podcast. If you are interested in learning more about police reform, or the ways in which other industries are grappling with the same cultural change efforts, check out our show notes for some resources and links. I challenge you, regardless of the industry you work in, to engage your colleagues in real, uncomfortable dialogue. Take time to learn from others, and really ask yourselves how you may evolve or revolutionize the way you do things in the spirit of creating a more equitable and anti-racist world. Thank you.

Storytelling in the Age of Disruption

In this episode, Shawn Overcast interviews Michael Margolis, CEO of Storied, a strategic messaging firm that specializes in the story of disruption and innovation. He is also the author of a new book titled Story 10x: Turn the Impossible Into the Inevitable.

Organizations in every industry, across the globe, are experiencing perhaps the greatest disruption of our time, with the pandemic COVID-19. We haven’t experienced a public health or economic disruption of this scale in our lifetimes. And yet, (strike this – over the past 20 years), individuals and the organizations that we work in have been no stranger to the experience of serial disruptions. Whether that be the way (italicize to emphasize these words) we work – through advancements in technology, where we work – with the continued expansion of globalization, and with whom we work – and the growing workforce demographic to include 3-4 generations working side-by-side. Michael discusses strategies for how leaders can “meet the moment” and evolve their narrative. In this podcast, we learn practical ways to move our teams and organizations from the story of the past to the story of the future, by first recognizing and reflecting on what comes with the place of ‘no story’ – the place of in between.

Released: May 20, 2020

Storytelling in the Age of Disruption – gothamCulture Podcast Transcript

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome to the gothamCulture podcast, where we talk about any topic you’d like so long as those topics are organizational culture, leadership, or people strategy. Each week, we talk with industry leaders and discuss cultural opportunities and challenges in the workplace, providing you with actionable tips and strategies that you can implement in your organizations. My name is Chris Cancialosi, and this is the gothamCulture podcast. Today’s episode will be hosted by Shawn Overcast, partner at gothamCulture.

Shawn Overcast:

Welcome to the show. Today I’m speaking with Michael Margolis. He’s the CEO of Storied, a strategic messaging firm that specializes in the story of disruption and innovation. With clients such as Facebook, Uber, Dolby, Walmart, and NASA, Michael also keynotes and trains on his storytelling methods widely. His latest book is called Story 10X: Turn the Impossible Into the Inevitable, which you can find on Amazon and other bookstores, including the just released audio book version. Welcome, Michael.

Michael Margolis:

Oh, thanks Shawn. It’s great to talk with you.

Shawn Overcast:

Great to talk to you. Michael, you and I have worked with each other on occasion bringing together the intersection of organizational culture and the role of stories. Most recently we worked with a client to help their executive team understand their own story and how it was affecting their teams looking through the lens of disruption. Today, organizations in every industry across the globe are experiencing perhaps the greatest disruption of our time with this pandemic, COVID-19.

We certainly haven’t experienced public health or economic disruption of this scale in our lifetime. Yet individuals and organizations that we work with have been no stranger to a series of disruptions in their lives and organizations. Whether it be the way that we work with the introduction of technology or where we work with the expansion of the global workforce, or with whom we work with the introduction of workforce demographics of multiple generations working side by side. In your book, you talk a lot about storytelling in the age of disruption. Maybe let’s start there and see how you define disruption.

Michael Margolis:

Yeah. Great question, Shawn. I mean, if we place this in the context of COVID in this moment right now is, disruption just democratized. It used to be, disruption was this buzzword that started in the world of Silicon Valley and of tech-driven companies, and that’s a place I’ve done a lot of work for a long time. Then, over time, Fortune 500s in the last few years were like, “Oh disruption. Yes, we need to disrupt. Our industry is being disrupted, or we need to lead digital and business transformation.” Disruption, I think, on one hand, it’s just the latest term or phrase for change, for innovation. In the 1980s, it was business process improvement. I mean, we go through all these different cycles.

I think the challenge with disruption and what it really suggests is a step level change so that, this isn’t incremental, it is exponential. It really is a paradigm shift. Whether it’s changing the way we work, whether it is a completely new business model, whether it is a complete new approach to how you communicate and connect with your customers, or the culture for how you work with your employees. I think COVID has really just brought that to the fore. The last thing I’ll add to this, which is, if we bring this back to just the simple idea of change. Many of us who are the change makers or change agents, we like change. Many of us who were leaders we like change, “Bring it on. It’s what I’m built for. It’s what I’m about.”

Okay, a lot of us like change. How many of us like change that we’re not in control of? I think that’s the crux of the matter where even us as leaders now are in a place where we’re facing a level of change, a next level order of this type of disruption. We’re not in control. How do you lead and navigate in that environment? But the reality is there are certain fundamental principles that are universal and timeless to any kind of change management. Any kind of business transformation is just at such a next level amplitude that we’re all facing and navigating right now.

Shawn Overcast:

Yeah. I love the way that you positioned disruption as, it’s exponential change. It’s not incremental as we like to say most changes in organizations. With this, with leaders also being in a position to not know what the future looks like, there’s so much uncertainty. How are leaders to tell stories through disruption that give hope and help to evolve a culture with such uncertainty?

Michael Margolis:

Well, I think it’s important, in the context of our conversation, to… I want to frame for everyone listening, when we say storytelling, what we really are talking about is really more so narrative. We build strategic narratives and story becomes just the nomenclature, it’s the easy word we all use. We can interchange as we’re talking here between narrative and story. But the best way I’ll sum it up, Ben Horowitz, who’s a co founder of Andreessen Horowitz, one of the leading VC firms in the world, says that, “A company without a story is usually a company without a strategy.” There’s a way to think about our strategy, how we communicate our vision, the strategy, the roadmap, really like, “This is where we’re going. This is who we are. This is why it matters.” All of that is a story, or more broadly, a strategic narrative, overarching.

Then the challenge becomes, Shawn, that things are moving so fast right now, people don’t know what story they’re in anymore. This is what we’ve been seeing for years with technology as a disruptor. Then of course, this is now like the 10X disruption with COVID. We don’t know what story we’re in anymore. I think that’s the place we have to start with as leaders to understand, “Wait, we don’t know what story we’re in anymore. Well, what about all of our people? Because we have the privilege of sitting at an altitude where we probably see more than they see and are able to connect the dots better than they can.”

We were talking about this recently, you and I, about, there’s the need where… we saw this when COVID first happened, everybody including ourselves and including you, we all went into triage. We all went into business continuity mode and we saw this with most of our corporate clients, everybody went into lockdown. That’s the first thing, in many ways, what we have to do. If you think of a story as present, future, and past right, or past, present, future, the first thing we have to do is meet the moment. We all had to just get really sober to the realities, and how do we approach that with sobriety and with empathy? Many of us as leaders have had to do things and communicate things we never would have wished that we would had to of having to make really hard, impossible choices, having to let people go, having to restructure, so on, and so on, and so on.

Some people are still at that place, still just managing the triage and at that place in the curve. But for many organizations, things are starting to shift a little bit where organizations are coming out of this business continuity mode and starting to peek out and saying, “Okay, well, what comes next?” We need to start telling the story about the future and the challenge there is, how do you talk about the future when you don’t have clear visibility or line of sight with the kind of certainty that we’re all used to having in a traditional corporate or business type of organization? This now becomes that creative tension between being sober and real about the present and then looking towards the future and being able to draw people into the possibilities and opportunities while still feeling great uncertainty and lots of risks and unknowns in front of us.

Shawn Overcast:

Yeah. That concept of meet the moment, that is probably happening on a daily basis. As things are changing in that moment, what was present becomes past so quickly is-

Michael Margolis:

Yeah, the half life is shorter and shorter.

Shawn Overcast:

Yeah. Meeting the moment and thinking about, how do we tell the narrative of the future, is that done through looking at the present or the past?

Michael Margolis:

Oh, great question. It’s two things. One of the things we’ve coached people and we’ve written… all of us, part of our meeting the moment, we actually adjusted some of our content and resources for our clients and the broader ecosystem that we serve of, “Okay, how do you as a leader right now in this leadership moment communicate and talk to your people?” We can share some of these resources with your audience and listeners of, five steps to creating a company or team-wide email. Some of the key principles are, how do you tell the story of disruption?

The first thing around that is, as we were coaching a lot of leaders during this time, what’s really important is, well, we have to be sober to what is. We also have to speak from our place of conviction, what gives us faith in the future? Even despite all of these unknowns, what’s the thing that is enduring? What’s in the DNA of the company? We play a linchpin role in the lives of these customers, or of this industry. This fundamental need’s not going to go away, or this unique contribution we make, ultimately people are going to always want and need more of.

You have to answer that in your own authentic manner. You can also draw on your stories of, as a leader, are there other times in the company’s history where there’s been a defining moment like this of other hard times? I’ve seen other leaders do that as well and talk about 9/11, or talk about the 2008 financial crisis, things like that, or a personal story in their life when they were a kid or teenager, something that happened in their family. There’s a bunch of different ways of reminding people of the sense of resolve, and what gives us conviction, even in the face of unknowns, to have faith in the future. That’s a really important piece.

Then the last thing is to think about the vectors of what are the opportunities and the possibilities ahead. This is where we’ve seen a lot of companies go through pivots, go through adaptations. Even if you can just name, these are some of the sprouts, these are some of the seeds of what we think… we saw this with one client who is in… they have an incredible technology, an IP, that foremost in their industry and category. We did a bunch of work with them of actually a pivot. This was six months ago as they were moving into a completely new industry and category and wanting to democratize their technology. But instead of talking to the media entertainment industry, they’re now talking and selling to tech app and developers.

It’s a completely different market, it’s a completely different buying cycle, all of this, and they were ahead of the curve. COVID happened, and now what they do, which is, in essence, video is infrastructure. The idea that video is now core infrastructure happened because of COVID. There was this acceleration just in the same way like telemedicine. I remember reading early on with COVID this idea that, in the UK, telemedicine as a category accelerated 10 years in a a matter of 10 days. We’re all seeing this, digital and business transformation in every manner. Things that like, “Oh yeah, we’ll get to this, or we want to make this change. Holy crap, it’s here, and how do we move 2X, 3X, 5X, 10X faster towards that future?” Speaking into, what are the things that are going to accelerate, that are inevitable, about the future and how we’re moving towards it?

Shawn Overcast:

Yeah. Well, great examples too. It does speak to the pace. When thinking about the narrative, a good part of that is about the content. What is included? What’s said about the past, the present, the future? What details are included? What experiences can we leverage? But another part of that is the empathy component, which I imagine is where more of the emotion, the passion, the authenticity comes through. Some of my favorite words in your book are about the neuroscience of storytelling and the role that cortisol and oxytocin play in storytelling. How are you seeing that empathy come into the narratives?

Michael Margolis:

I forget where I saw this, somewhere on the interwebs, where someone wrote that, the new title or the new definition of CEO is, chief empathy officer. I think that that sums it up in terms of what this time and moment has called for in all of us. A recent example that really touched me just a few days ago, two days ago, Airbnb announced layoffs to about 25% of his global workforce. Brian Chesky, the CEO, published his announcement of that. It’s an incredible model of leadership. How do you communicate with empathy even when you are having to deliver or do the unthinkable? I think, increasingly, leaders and companies are going to be judged, not by what they do, but by how they do it. There’s great Maya Angelou quote that reminds us, “People won’t remember what you said or what you did. They’re going to remember how you made them feel.” I think that’s what really gets to the heart of it.

When you’re communicating to adults, we just want it straight. We want to feel a sense of respect and dignity. If you also present to people, here’s the double bind. This is the situation. We’ve done everything that we can, but there’s these outside forces outside of our control, and these are the actions that we’ve taken. We’ve tried to do all these other things first, but we’ve gotten to this inevitable place. We now have to do this, and also to depersonalize it. Brian Chesky did a brilliant job of this. Because if you’re being let go, this is not a reflection of you, this is not your fault. This is simply the reality of this larger context. “Here’s all the ways that we’re going to go above and beyond in supporting you in this transition.” Thinking about, how are you taking people on that journey in essence. It’s not just about having a clear strategy, but it’s also being able to communicate and narrate the strategy for people that’s so critical.

Shawn Overcast:

Yeah, and in some of those examples, another piece that we’ve talked about in some of the work that we’ve done is the role of data in a story. Organizations are using, and always use, data to inform decisions. But certainly some of these really tough decisions about, when do we make decisions to lay off, for example, that affects so many people, and the role of empathy and data and how they play together in a narrative as you’re communicating to the people.

Michael Margolis:

Yeah. In Story 10X, my latest book, we share one of our foundational frameworks, it’s called an undeniable story. It’s three steps that you use in how you build the architecture of your narrative. It’s based on the simple premise which is, you have to see it and you have to feel it before you can believe it. See it, feel it, believe it, those are the three steps. We use this in all of our consulting work when we run a story sprint. Now, to your exact point, in business we’ve all been taught to lead with data and conclusions. In turn, oftentimes, the story is dead on arrival because our audience doesn’t have context for the bigger picture and they don’t have emotional self-identification. Instead they go, “Well, how’d you come up with that data?” Or, “I don’t know if I agree with that conclusion.”

We immediately face this resistance and the walls that come up. What we’ve found a lot of great success is, you want to start with the context, which is the big picture around change, and talk about change as an external force. This is how the world is changing, and because the world is changing, we have to change our story. Then furthermore, you want to really clue in on what are the opportunities and the possibilities that come with this change, as opposed to leading with the problem. We talk about possibilities instead of problems. Then, you go into zooming in, getting up close and personal, and you talk about a character at the center. What do they want? What gets in their way? That’s the feel it. Whether it’s a customer at the center, the employee at the center.

You can talk about desire, which is what draws us forward and the obstacles that stand in the way. You can still talk about lots of problems. But we forget to put the thing in front, which is the shared motivation, the shared aspiration, the shared desire that brings us together. Then if you get context, big picture, people can see it, capture their imagination too then you get to feel it, get people drawn in and emotionally invested. Now they’re going to be begging you for the data and the evidence that supports the thing that you’re selling that we all want. It’s just, again, some of this reversal in how we’ve all been taught in business to lead with problem and then the solution. But we forget our audience usually doesn’t have shared problem definition or agreements, or our audience is complicit if not responsible for the problem.

That’s why most change management initiatives, historically, have failed or don’t work out as people hope is because, even though you may have truth on your side, and yes, we’re all here to solve problems, when it comes to then communicating that to people, we have to become more sensitive to how we’re framing and messaging it.

That’s the brain science, chapter three in the book, we go deep into this, which is cortisol’s fight, flight, or freeze. It’s actually what repels and puts us into a reactive state. Whereas oxytocin is the belonging molecule, is that which literally binds us together. These two hormones are what are activated when we take in a story. There are ways where you can actually… in the architecture, we want to increase more oxytocin and we want to reduce cortisol, but we still need to have some of both. That becomes part of a art and science when you’re building your narrative. But in a time like COVID, we’re all in cortisol overload, fight, flight, or freeze, because we’re literally on the battlefield. That’s where you have to be careful with burnout and managing morale and all these kinds of things of just how battle-weary so many people have been and the kinds of things we’ve had to all face.

Chris Cancialosi:

This episode of the gothamCulture podcast is produced and sponsored by our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting. Communicating with your customers, stakeholders, and employees can be challenging at times. The team at Blue Sky Podcasting provides high-end production and post-production support to organizations looking to leverage podcasting as a tool to increase transparency and engagement with their customers and employees. If you’re interested in learning how podcasting can provide your organization with a highly engaging communication tool that’s easy to scale, you should check out our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting at www.blueskypodcasting.com.

Shawn Overcast:

We’ve been getting so many requests and calls from, not just clients, friends, family of how to lead teams during this period. The stories’ content vary. Some industries are doing very well in this time and others are just being completely decimated, their workforce. Often what I hear in talking about, what is the narrative? How do you go about sharing with them or telling them, or leading them? It’s, well, I’m not good at the art side of telling the story. I’ve got all the data. I can show them what the numbers or projections look like, but I’m not a charismatic leader, or I don’t have the capability for telling a story. What I’ve learned in working with you is that, it is an attainable capability and the way in which it’s delivered may have more or less emotion depending on the many different personalities we have. But that there’s a way to approach it from the art side that is attainable for many, would you agree?

Michael Margolis:

Completely. I think it’s important. I constantly have to frame and reinforce, we’re not talking about performance storytelling. This is not the art of how to tell a really good yarn and anecdote, or once upon a time fairy tales. This is about, how do you organize your thinking and your ideas through the principles of rhetoric, which is your ability to inspire, influence, and persuade an audience, and in a manner that is of the highest ethic, that’s in service to your audience or stakeholders, and what are their needs? What do they care about? It’s actually a very disciplined process. We have found, actually, our greatest pickup around our work for years are in some of the most technical, analytical industries and types of leaders.

Many of our clients are in Silicon Valley. Many of our clients are in financial services, other highly regulated industries. B2B solutions that are these complex workflows and having to humanize that is just really a way of discipline thinking. One reference point that I’ll share with people is Amazon. Jeff Bezos, years ago, actually outlawed PowerPoint and slide deck presentations. Instead what happens, any time you are meeting with a management team or leadership, you have to write a narrative in advance. There are several different versions. There’s a four-page narrative, a six-page narrative, or a one-page narrative. A lot of what they’ve done is they actually build them around what they call a PRFAQ.

You have to build the narrative that’s literally living into the future, two years, five years down the road, and tell the story of how this feature, this product, has changed the world or made a difference in this market in the lives of X, Y, Z customers. Then, you’re answering all of the kinds of questions. It’s like an FAQ for the media or how you’re going to talk to the world about it. But point of this is, people have to write these narratives. At the beginning of a meeting, everybody sits in the room quietly for 10 minutes, nobody talks. Everybody then reads the narrative, then people engage in a conversation and dialogue based on the narrative. What Bezos is looking for is discipline of thinking, what is the logic structure?

I think this is one of the places where any of us who are entrepreneurs and innovators who’ve built anything going zero to one, or have really tried to lead change. The biggest blind spots we all have, the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made in my life and career were based on false assumptions. They were things that like, “Oh, I thought this was true, but it wasn’t,” or, “I didn’t take the time to even name and map out what were the assumptions that were then guiding the decisions that we were making.” You see this in the world of lean startup, that whole playbook is all about naming your assumptions, creating a minimum buyable product, testing and validating, iterating in short cycles.

This is another huge thing for all of us right now, many of the assumptions we have held around how the world works, what reality is, what our customers want so on, and so on, and so on, disruption is where our assumptions literally got blown up. Having to now reconfigure and realign what are new assumptions for this reality and how do we go and test and validate those. This is a different way to think about the power of narrative and the kind of disciplined rigor you’re trying to bring to your people in your team, and get to a place where we actually all have now a shared common story about the future, about our big bets, about who we are, what we do, why it matters and so on.

Shawn Overcast:

Yeah. Michael, you have been so giving of tools, and worksheets, and resources, and step by steps, most recently with some of what you’ve posted on LinkedIn and certainly through the book, to help leaders and individuals get started. What advice would you give, whether it’s a leader, or a parent, or a community member, in starting to approach that discipline?

Michael Margolis:

It’s a great question. My number one advice is to really start from a place of compassion. When we’re working with our story, we’re actually working with all of our tender bits. Because our story is not just our own self-identification as a company, or as a line of business, or as a functional discipline. But it’s also the story of how the world sees you. It brings up our vulnerabilities, our insecurities, our doubts, and so on. I think compassion is really key, including compassion for going through this period right now, which is a place of what may feel like being in between stories. Anytime you move from an old story to a new story, there’s a place in between, and it’s the one of the most uncomfortable places to be. It’s the place of no story.

You have to have a willingness to, “Okay, we’re going to be in the desert for a little bit, and we have to be willing to be in that uncomfortable place of the unknown.” The good news is, with the right trusted advisors, with the right resources and so on, you don’t have to stay in that place for long. But you got to understand that you can’t skip it. In some way, internally, you’re going to go through it as a leader. Then you have to also understand you then have to guide your people on that journey. Because even though you may move really fast, and this is always a challenge for me, I move through change like light speed. But then I have to remember, I have to create the stepping stones to bring my people or an audience along, otherwise it feels like whiplash for them.

We have to give people the stepping stones because, wait, I might be in the new story or you’re in the new story, but actually a lot of other people are still in the old story and they actually liked, maybe they loved, the old story. They have a hard time actually letting go of that old reality that was the temple of the familiar and their comfort zone. They don’t have the same wide lens, or sense of self confidence, or economic mobility, or security that we as leaders have. They’re like, “Whoa! I’m completely… I don’t know which way is up, down, left, or right.” Also having compassion for our people, that they’re on a very different curve of their ability to pivot and move and adapt into a new story. Which is why, again, as leaders, we’re going to have to narrate, and communicate, and over communicate, and communicate more than we ever have before in reinforcing these grooves of whatever change and whatever the new path forward is.

Shawn Overcast:

Yeah. The compassion is certainly something, I know, that I’ve revisited it in many different ways that I wasn’t expecting.

Michael Margolis:

Well, I think it’s one of your great gifts, Shawn. I think it’s part of the foundation of our friendship and collaboration, and what’s at the heart of your work at gothamCulture in really recognizing that relationships and the heart really are at the core of how everything gets built and done. I think it’s tempting and it’s… One of the things, I’m sometimes a little bit on a mission, a little messianic about, is that our culture of business has become obsessed with what’s wrong, with what’s broken, with what needs to be fixed. Look, any of us in business, we’re here to fix problems, we’re here to make things better. But I would caution leaders that when you build a story based on what’s wrong, what’s broken, or what needs to be fixed, it actually is demoralizing. It repels more than it attracts.

I get really passionate about, how do we create an invitation? How do we celebrate the opportunities, the possibilities, the promise, the potential? That’s what infuses human spirit. If we agree we all want this thing, well, now we actually have the will and the motivation to address and to resolve the problems, and the obstacles, and the challenges. But the moment we start naming things as, here’s what’s wrong and broken, the conversation’s over before it’s begun.

Shawn Overcast:

Yeah, and the empathy and compassion are ignored.

Michael Margolis:

Yeah. It is what it is. It’s like, I mean, just recently I had a conversation with someone where we were doing, in the business terminology, a post-mortem. I’m like, “Okay, well, where are we?” We were not where either of us wanted or hoped to be. I could have sat there, and based on my role in this project, I could have browbeaten this person and other people. But instead I was like, “What am I going to get out of that?” Instead I was just like, “Well, let’s talk about where we are right now.” Here’s the invitation. Clearly, we need to partner more closely and let’s get clear about what are the requirements for success. Let’s really map that out and get clarity and alignment.

Then also this other [inaudible 00:33:45]. You got to decide if you want to go on this journey. Partnership has become my currency through all of this. That’s really become my North Star during this time. In the midst of disruption it’s like, who has the readiness, and willingness, and desire to partner and how we come together. I have a really low tolerance for discord. It’s like, the battlefield’s out there, to use a war metaphor. It’s like, I have zero desire to feel like I’m fighting an internal battle in any kind of way. It’s like, if you can’t get in the flow, move on. I’ve just become vigilant in a way that’s like an invitation to next level opportunities for people, and for collaborators, and contractors, and whatever else.

It’s so easy. If any of us are just looking for a story about what is wrong, or broken, or needs to be fixed, boy, I mean, is that an endless pit of despair. I think we all know what’s fucked up right now. I mean, if we can just be blunt about it. Nobody needs to be reminded about the stuff that’s just like the, “OMG, is this really happening?” That’s why I’m like, well, that gets boring after a while. Do we have a different story? That, I find, tends to unlock and create the movement or the flow [inaudible 00:35:12].

Shawn Overcast:

Yeah. Your passion for that comes through in all the work through partnership, collaboration, working with clients and the excitement to inspire them to find a new story is really what I’ve enjoyed. That comes through in your writing and here in our conversation as well. I wanted to ask you, it’s a little off-script or off-topic, but your other passion project, I’d love to do a whole podcast on that one. You want to say a quick note on that?

Michael Margolis:

Sure. I eat more chocolate than the average human. I traffic in kilos and kilos of rare, exotic, single origin craft chocolate. I grew up in Switzerland as a kid. My dad worked for Nestle. Willy Wonka is my spirit animal. Some people have a second fridge for wine, I have a second fridge for chocolates. In fact, I have three fridges for chocolate, one at home, one in the office, and one in an undisclosed warehouse location. Yes, I take it very seriously. Part of my passion around it is actually, we talked about cortisol and oxytocin.

The interesting thing about oxytocin, so oxytocin that belonging molecule, the greatest expression of it is at the time of the birth of a child. It’s the way that parents bond with their child. We’re literally hardwired for this. Also, oxytocin is what happens when we fall in love. Oxytocin is what’s unlocked in a really powerful story that moves the heart. Oxytocin is also released when we eat chocolate, so there’s method to the madness. Now, this isn’t by intention or design. I’ve always had a sweet tooth. Chocolate is my vice substance of choice. But I started to see the effect it had on people, and so we use this in every keynote and workshop. It becomes a touchstone.

There is a very small niche, but very fast-growing world of craft chocolate making. I’m a chocolate sommelier, so I geek out on the terroir of what region it comes from and the unique flavor tasting notes. Every chocolate tells a story. We do lots of interactive experiential, exercises for people with connecting to the chocolate that gets people into this receptive state. It then serves as this metaphor for what we’re all trying to do, which is unlock the chocolate secret. How do we draw people in to the work that we’re doing and overcome the resistance, and the fear, and the off-standard niche that comes with uncertainty and change and things like that?

Shawn Overcast:

Yeah, that is one of my most fun keynote experiences with you, was going through that chocolate tasting. I have to say it was a beautiful shared experience amongst a group of people that have never done something like that together before and led to one of the more engaging conversations and more vulnerable conversations with a group of leaders than I’ve seen before. There’s magic in there. Maybe it’s the oxytocin, must be.

Michael Margolis:

Well, it is, Shawn. I think it’s important for all of us who facilitate change and are leading people. In my experience, the most powerful way to facilitate transformation is to come at it sideways. It’s to basically… I always joke around with people like, “I come in peace with the best of intentions.” But it’s not to try to take something on head-on. But can you come at it sideways and disarm, put people into a receptive field, create psychological and emotional safety. From that place, it’s like we can lower our guard and then we can get to the real matter at hand. For a lot of different reasons, we all have a lot of armor up or we’re in environments that have us in that cortisol fight, flight, or freeze state. I think it’s important to be mindful of how do we create our context shift so that we open people’s capacity for the kind of experience that we all want.

Shawn Overcast:

Well, Thank you very much for the conversation today. I’m very much looking forward to the next time we can collaborate and partner, and hopefully do so in person. Very much look forward to that day.

Michael Margolis:

I look forward to that day as well. Just the tenor of every conversation we have together is a great reminder of the ability to actually remove the distance and the power that technology has right now. I mean, just imagine if we didn’t have all of these technologies and tools, if this was 30 or 50 years ago and the reality of where we would all be or where our businesses and companies would be. Again, just finding and seeing the gifts of that. Yeah, great gift. We get to hang out and catch up even though you’re in Florida and I’m in California, and we get to travel without moving.

Shawn Overcast:

We span the world in a day. Just fantastic. Well, Michael, to learn more, where can our listeners find you?

Michael Margolis:

Oh, sure. You can find, Storied is, getstoried.com, so G-E-T-S-T-O-R-I-E-D.com. Feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn, I’m Michael Margolis. Then you can find the book, Story 10X on Amazon. We just released the audible version of it. This is also in Barnes & Noble and local books sellers, and so on. Yeah. Reach out, check out a lot of our resources and tools. We’d love to hear how you guys are putting some of these things to practice. We’re building a learning community around this work. Yeah. Don’t hesitate to reach out around that as well.

Shawn Overcast:

Fantastic.

Michael Margolis:

Cheers.

Shawn Overcast:

Thank you, Michael.

Michael Margolis:

Take care, everyone.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks for joining us this week on the gothamCulture podcast. Make sure you visit our website gothamculture.com, where you can subscribe to the show, find show notes, or contact us for support regarding your organizational culture challenges. Special thanks to Blue Sky Podcasting for producing and sponsoring this episode. To learn more about producing custom podcasts for your organization, check out the folks at Blue Sky at www.blueskypodcasting.com. Until next time, this is your host, Chris Cancialosi, and I look forward to our next discussion.

 

Mental Wellness and the Short- and Long-Term Impacts of the COVID Pandemic on Your Workforce

As the United States looks to begin a scaled approach to reducing pandemic restrictions in the coming weeks and months a hidden enemy lingers that is not getting much attention. While many healthcare workers are facing the brunt of the risks associated with supporting pandemic response, they are certainly not alone in shouldering stresses associated with the last few months. The acute and chronic stressors during difficult times may have negative repercussions for many people and organizations for years to come. During this episode, we talk with Joe Smarro and Jesse Trevino of SolutionPoint Plus, advisor to healthcare systems, education systems, first responders, and corporate clients in the areas of mental health, wellness, and resilience.

Released: June 5, 2020

Show notes and transcript: Below are links to mental health information and resources mentioned in the show:

Mental Wellness and the Short-and Long-Term Impact on the COVID Pandemic on Your Workforce-gothamCulture Podcast Transcript

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome to the gothamCulture podcast, where we talk about any topic you’d like, so long as those topics are organizational culture, leadership or people strategy. Each week, we talk with industry leaders and discuss cultural opportunities and challenges in the workplace. Providing you with actionable tips and strategies that you can implement in your organizations. My name is Chris Cancialosi, and this is the gothamCulture podcast.

Last week, I spoke with former POW Ralph Galati, who shared his experiences in 14 months of captivity in North Vietnam. He shared some amazing insights that regular citizens could use to help bolster their resilience during these tough times of social distancing. After that conversation with Ralph, I happened across some interesting content online, and it was a conversation with two nurses, one in New York and one in LA, and it really resonated with me. It made me think about my conversation with Ralph Galati.

I’m joined today by the founders of Solution Point Plus, Jesse Trevino and Joe Smarro. Jesse and Joe are the gentlemen who facilitated that conversation with the nurses that I listened to. Jesse and Joe work with clients in a wide variety of contexts, like law enforcement, healthcare, education and in the corporate world. They’re helping leaders and employees to better understand the effects mental wellness have on people’s short and longterm performance. As you might imagine, Jesse and Joe have been quite busy supporting their clients lately and supporting the public in general to help them best manage their wellness throughout this tough time.

I thought that it would be interesting to set up some time to chat with Joe and Jesse, to hear from them about how some of our healthcare workers are grappling with some of the stresses that come along with supporting people in such a time of need. Hey, welcome to the show, guys.

Joe Smarro:

Thank you.

Jesse Trevino:

Thanks, Chris.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, I’m glad you’re here to join us. You’ve both worked with first responders and healthcare providers for years now, and I’d imagine you’ve seen a lot of variety in terms of mental stress playing out amongst the people you work with, particularly healthcare providers, as of late especially. Last week, when I spoke with Ralph Galati the former POW, he had mentioned that his ability to survive in isolation for long periods of time was based a lot on the internal and external resources that he had available to him, to help him and support him as he adapted to this new situation of not having any control.

I’m curious from your guys’ perspective, how do a person’s available resources, either internal or external, help or hinder their ability to affectively cope during these difficult times?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, I think, Chris, that’s a great question, and I’m super excited to listen to that interview with Ralph and hear what he has to say about this. But what comes to mind for me when you’re talking about internal or external resources are not just what is physically available, it’s also what is your mental capacity. When I think of that, I think of mindset. Everything that we talk about really comes back to this fixed verse growth mindset. I would imagine, and I don’t know Ralph, but I would imagine that Ralph has an incredible growth mindset. There’s no way that you can be in captivity and have a fixed mindset of constantly just the ceiling is so low, everything is meek and terrible, I’m never going to survive this. There’s no way anyone would be able to get through something like that with that mindset.

So part of your resources, if you will, is your ability to adapt to the situation around you, but also really understand the benefits of what a growth mindset is. We talk a lot about that in the work that we do, but it’s super, super important that even in times like these, everybody needs to know the difference between those two things. A fixed mindset verse a growth mindset.

Jesse Trevino:

Yeah, for his particular example, and that sounds like an incredible story, it’s super unique, but being able to accept what’s around you and go through it is the whole definition of resilience. But resources matter, and in his position, he had very, very little, so all he had was his mind, like Joe said. So he must have been an extremely resilient person with practicing setting his mindset right, or he went into it with a growth mindset and that got him through it. But when it comes to people and where we are now, external resources are everything. Developing those internal resources, developing your mindset is a great place to start.

Someone said that it takes external resources to get that going if you’ve never had it before, so both are equally important. For his particular situation, I imagine that … Gosh, like Joe said, we’re just anxious, we can’t wait to hear that story. He sounds like an incredible person.

Chris Cancialosi:

He’s an incredible guy. There’s a limited number of folks who had to experience things like he did, he was locked away with former Senator John McCain, Admiral Stockdale, a few hundred folks. He was locked up for 14 months, and he tells a story that the resources that he used to get through this time being internal and external. So the internal being his strong family foundation, his strong faith, maybe his own internal resilience and things he brought to the table. And externally, he shared a story with me that was really touching. That he spent 75 days in solitary confinement when he was first captured, and he recounted the story of the first time one of the other prisoners took a big chance and snuck him a note just to let him know that he wasn’t alone.

Over time, as he was introduced to more of his fellow prisoners, mostly covertly, that he was really able to learn from them. Some of them had been prisoners for five, six, seven years at that time, and had learned coping mechanisms that they were able to utilize. He attributed that as being one of the major external resources, those fellow folks, in addition to the military’s code of conduct. Which for those who haven’t served in the military, and I know you both are former Marines, but it’s the guidance for if you are captured, how to conduct yourself as a member of the United States Military. So fascinating discussion, I encourage you to listen to it.

One of the other things that comes to mind to me are the difference between acute stressors and chronic stressors. So you’ve got these acute stressors, especially nowadays, talking about healthcare workers. You’ve got things like the long hours, longer hours than normal, you’ve got dynamic rapidly changing information, you’ve got the necessity, especially for folks that you interviewed in New York and LA who are dealing with hundreds and thousands of people getting sick, being in ICUs, suffering, dying. That’s the acute stuff, but then you also have this chronic stressors. They’ve been doing this now for weeks, going on months.

As we start to reopen the country at various rates, there’s that risk that this is going to continue and spike, and these healthcare workers are not going to be in acute stress anymore, they’re going to be moving quickly into these areas of chronic stress. I know late April, there was a Dr. Lorna Breen, she was an ER doc in New York, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the story, you probably are. But she unfortunately committed suicide late April. I’m curious, in your opinion, guys, how susceptible are our healthcare workers in particular to some of these chronic impacts that stress is putting on their mental health?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, Chris, they are going to be, they are right now being incredibly impacted by this current situation that’s happening. To your point, I think that the stress is going to become chronic for so many. There’s so much that came up for me while you were talking, from Ralph’s story that you share to the current situation. I think, nothing against formal education, but the greatest teacher in life is life. Some of the most successful people are people who have the ability to compound life experience with learned experience. So what helped Ralph survive those times, it’s really not that dissimilar from what people are experiencing right now.

Yes, we’re not captive. Yes, we have freedoms and so there are a lot of differences. But the parallel is that we are in a situation that seemingly we have no control over. It’s this, what can I control versus what can I not control? Here’s the thing about perspective is we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. So people, the way they look at problems, the way they loo, at situations is sadly pretty dependent on who they are as a person. This is what, again, we keep talking about it, but if people don’t have the necessary tools or the necessary skillset to deal with adversity, because this isn’t something that’s taught most times. People who have adversity in their life tend to develop some resiliency throughout life. So they’re able to handle changes, bumps in the road, whatever it is.

This is something on a whole different level. It’s named pandemic for a reason. The amount of healthcare workers which we see absolutely as frontline, even more so, our experience is obviously in law enforcement, but they are dealing with it on a whole different level. It is consuming so much of their time, energy, resources, compassion, empathy. So our fear is that people are going to start to dissociate, they’re going to start to really become morally injured by their day to day experiences, and I’m very, very concerned about the potential for a pretty drastic increase in people developing posttraumatic stress disorder because of that chronic conditioning like you were talking about.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely, yeah. Thanks, Joe. Jesse, what are your thoughts on that?

Jesse Trevino:

So what we know about PTSD and PTS is that it has to deal with the level of trauma you’re experiencing and the exposure to that trauma over time. Also, what your life or mind was like before the trauma. Meaning, if you had trauma early on. What we know about healthcare workers, especially in emergency medicine, because we work with them, with first responders and we’ve been around them, we know that they have already been experiencing the stressors you’ve been talking about, how you mentioned. It’s very likely they probably weren’t coping with it the best way that they could, we’ll be honest. They may not have had the best habits or practices going on to deal with this, they’re just going through.

Then you have something like this coming along and just shocking everybody, and their exposure to trauma is heightened, consistent, and it’s been going on for a while now. Then you have all this added pressure, because you heard in the video, these nurses are with people that are dying all alone, not around their family. One of the nurses we were interviewing, not even a couple minutes into the interview, you just saw a lot of emotion on her face. So that came up to the surface really quick, and she was brand new to the gig, she’d only been a couple years as a nurse and then this happens. So you’re going to have varying levels. But I am going to go on a limb and say, and I think Joe agrees, we can make the prediction that after 9/11, there was a surge in PTSD diagnosis, and I’m pretty sure that we’re going to see the same here.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, absolutely. There’s obviously the individual struggles that many people are facing, and we’re focused on the discussion currently on healthcare workers, but any first responders, any business owners who have been shut down, any individual who is struggling with just being alone for a long time, they’re not facing it in the same way, it may not be as acute, but to them, based on the things they’re bringing to the table, it may be just as debilitating. I’m curious from your guys’ perspectives, as people who work with organizations to help leaders to best serve their employees, what kind of things should business leaders or organizational leaders be thinking about in preparation for this, knowing that anybody, regardless of what their job is, may be struggling at this time and may be struggling and feeling those effects for a long time to come? What would you say to them?

Joe Smarro:

Well, one of the things I would say first is it’s always better to try and do the right thing than to do nothing. So many leaders will, out of fear of either looking silly or not knowing how to say the right thing or not knowing exactly how to handle a situation, because I’ve never been in this situation before, they resort to doing nothing. I think that’s a bigger problem than maybe failing through something. Also, I think what people need to understand is that this is something that, unlike anything else that we’ve ever experienced, that everybody is experiencing on some level. So in our shared experiences, our differences diminish.

So understanding that even if you are physically alone and isolated, there are so many people who are actually connected with what you are going through, because this is something that is affecting everybody. Now it’s affecting some people more than others, to be sure, some people actually have tested positive, some people have died from this, some people haven’t been affected by actually having the illness, but maybe they’ve been affected financially or now they’re having to homeschool their kids or now their business is going out or they’ve had to layoff 50% or 70% of their workforce because they don’t have enough cashflow in the reserves.

So we understand that there’s a wide spectrum of how people are being affected, but what we know is that I think you would be hard pressed to find anybody that hasn’t been affected at all. So that should provide some comfort in itself of, “Hey look, we’re all going through something like this together.” Sadly, I don’t know if this is good, bad, right or wrong, but you can look back on history and realize that it’s in the aftermath of our greatest crisis that we have our greatest connection or we come together. I really believe that this is one of those things where, as a business owner or people who are considering entrepreneurship or anything like that, people who are going to find their niche and catch their stride in the midst of a crisis are really going to be happy on the other end of this.

Again, I don’t mean to minimize this or simplify it, but I really do believe it comes down to that fixed versus growth mindset. It’s like you can go run down a table of, “I got laid off from my job.” True, but now you have all this free time that you’ve always wished for and you can write that book you wanted to write, or start that business you wanted to start. So it really does come down to how you view the world, how you see situations. We know that anxiety really is a fear of a made-up future, and so how much of what we are anxious about is based on stories that we’re telling ourselves? So I think it’s important that, again, as a leader, as a business owner, as a father, as a husband, as a wife, as whatever you are, whatever your category is, that the first thing is you understand you’re not alone.

The second thing is you understand that the impediment to action advance is action. So don’t get stuck. Action cures all things, so just keep moving. Just do something. A small step forward is still a step forward.

Chris Cancialosi:

You say that, it reminds me of the lessons I’ve learned in the military. Do something. Develop the situation. Doing nothing is not an answer. From your perspective, Jesse, we were talking earlier about the difference between the acute stressors and these chronic stressors. I’m a business owner, many of our listeners are business owners or business leaders within companies or organizations, you guys work with corporations helping to advise leaders on employee wellness and mental health. As some free coaching from you, I’m going to take advantage of having you on the show, what would you advise me to be doing right now in the midst of this pandemic and social distancing to help my employees navigate some of the acute stressors that they might be facing?

Jesse Trevino:

That’s a really good question, Chris. So some of the good things that have come out of this are that we know that the biggest barrier to people getting mentally well has been stigma, when they’re struggling or going through something where they’re not necessarily mentally well. So this has always been a taboo subject and I’ve often found that leaders don’t necessarily want to believe that their people are suffering through anything, everything’s great. But this thing that’s going on has normalized the conversation and it’s taken the stigma out of things, because all of us are experiencing what it’s like to be depressed, lonely, anxious, afraid. It’s been the great equalizer, as Joe was mentioning, because everyone’s going through it.

So the first thing I would say is let’s take a moment to look at your organization. What do you have to offer that can help people in this moment? What we’ve found is regularly in most organizations, they have this EAP, which is great. Employee Assistance Program. There’s an 800 number, HR’s got it, go to your website, you can figure it out yourself. But this problem has actually been more problematic for business owners than anyone’s realized. So there was a few studies that have been done and they found that mental illness and substances usage is hurting organizations across the country. We’re talking in the range of $250-billion in losses, and this was probably a decade ago now.

Everyone assumed that when you see that, and it’s because of mental illness, that it’s because people are not well, they’re not going to work. They’re getting too drunk, they’re not coming. In reality, it’s the fact that people are there, they’re present, but they’re not checked in, they’re not well, they’re too stressed out, they’re too focused on their personal issues to focus on work and they’re losing productivity. What they actually found was 20% was due to absenteeism, 80% was due to presenteeism. So what I told business leaders, what you do right now matters. So some of the things you can focus on is your work culture, bringing in a wellness team, wellness training, wellness seminars. We’re just tied to the computer right now, but it’s okay to bring everybody in a Zoom call and focus on this. Get a sense of where everybody’s at and let them know it’s okay to feel whatever they’re feeling. Be vulnerable enough to say what you’re feeling.

I think that’s very important. So I know it’s a general answer, there’s a lot of things that could be done, but I think it really breaks down to organizational culture and your leadership style, will be very good as an instant thing to go to in your coaching right now. There’s a lot of things on the backend, but right now, if that’s all you have, check yourself, your culture and your leadership style.

Chris Cancialosi:

So what I’m hearing from that, Jesse, is that there are things that leaders can be doing, even though we are separated physically, to more proactively or in the moment help people who might be having trouble. The thing that really sticks out to me is that fact, listen to people, hear them out, acknowledge their feelings. Those are some things that, speaking personally, like myself and many other people might not feel totally comfortable with. I can see the benefits of having some people who are trained in this to help facilitate those conversations, and the need for a leader to be open and honest, to be able to, I guess courageous enough to step up and share their feelings and their struggles as well. So I appreciate that.

Joe, from your perspective, the flip side of that, we’ve got some things that we can think about doing to help folks navigate, regardless of what sector or industry they work in, with the acute stresses going through this. But we were talking earlier about, this is going to affect people for a long time to come. From your perspective, as a business leader, what should I be thinking about in order to help folks navigate those longer term negative effects?

Joe Smarro:

So Chris, my response to that is, and I’ve seen this, because sadly we have seen two sides of this. One is we have say for example a hospital, so when we were talking to representatives from a hospital in LA, representatives from a hospital in New York, one of them already had a program in place that was very progressive that had a retreat type room, massages for staff. This was pre-pandemic, and so it was part of their culture. The other hospital was like, “Uh-oh, everybody’s in trouble. We’re just going to grab at things, try new things, let’s just implement something.” It is far less receptive, because people are like, “What is this thing? What is this new thing? Why would we use this?”

I think sadly, what happens is anytime someone tries to create something new out of demand or out of need, because for example take a suicide, it’s like, “Uh-oh, someone killed themselves. We better start this program.” People are going to be reluctant to join in. The problem with that is that in itself will prevent people from wanting to move forward with anything. So here’s what I would say, despite the fact that you might not have total buy-in right away, it’s still better to do something than do nothing. So as a business leader, if you’re running an organization regardless of how big your operation is, whether you have two people or 2000 people, it’s important that now, right now you as a leader say, “Hey look, because I have concerns, not just about this moment, but about going forward, and this is just the right thing to do, we should be prioritizing our people.”

Regardless of what type of organization you’re in, people are what are driving your results. So we should be putting them at the forefront of our priorities’ list. So in order to do that, I really think people need to feel valued in their workplace. People need to feel like they don’t have to come to work and put on a mask or send out their representative self into the workforce. If I want to show up and I’m feeling vulnerable, I should be able to come to my boss and say, “Hey look, today’s not a good day for me. I’m really struggling because I’m stressed out about trying to figure out technology, because I’m 64 years old. I’ve never had to sign on to Zoom before, and I am a single grandparent raising my child and now …”

Whatever the situation is, and then as a leader, and I love that Simon Sinek says this, but the best quality or trait of a good leader is empathy. As a leader, you can say, “Oh, wow. Yeah, I imagine that’s pretty difficult. Let me work with you. Let me see how I can support you through this tough time.” It goes so far for people in an organization when they feel like they can be their truest most authentic self. The problem is, so few people would be willing to show up to a workplace and be their most authentic self, because of fear of repercussion, fear of retaliation, fear of being shamed or embarrassed or whatever the consequence is. Again, it ties back to that stigma that Jesse was talking about.

So I would regardless of the fact that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, start something. Create a wellness program, not just a resource card or a phone number, because it’s just not sufficient enough.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks so much for sharing that, Joe and Jesse. Now we’re getting into an area where I am an expert in this topic of organizational culture. I want to take a quick break and when we come back, I’d love to dive into that a little bit deeper. So I’m joined by Jesse Trevino and Joe Smarro, they’re co-founders of Solution Point Plus, mental health and wellness advisory firm. We’ll be right back.

This episode of the gothamCulture podcast is produced and sponsored by our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting. Communicating with your customers, stakeholders and employees can be challenging at times. The team at Blue Sky Podcasting provides high end production and post-production support to organizations looking to leverage podcasting as a tool to increase transparency and engagement with their customers and employees. If you’re interested in learning how podcasting can provide your organization with a highly engaging communication tool that’s easy to scale, you should check out our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting at www.BlueSkyPodcasting.com.

Welcome back, everybody. Joined today by Joe Smarro and Jesse Trevino, they’re the co-founders of advisory firm Solution Point Plus. Both gentlemen are former Marines, years and years of experience as first responders, working in law enforcement and also working a variety of different organizations, helping organizational leaders understand and support, and best support their employees in terms of things like mental health, mental wellness. Really not only as it’s the right thing to do ethically and morally as a leader, but this is a real business issue. So I’m curious from your perspective, as you’re working with your clients, we were talking before the break about culture, and tying it back to the conversation that you had with these two nurses, one of which came from a culture that very much embraced wellness and mental health, and the other that didn’t really.

During this pandemic, as people are showering healthcare workers with support, how those individuals cultures reacted to it. One embracing it, the other people being a bit skeptical, a bit maybe, my words, maybe sheepish to dip their toe in the water. To our listeners who may be sitting here saying, “Hey, we have probably not created a culture that supports this stuff where people can feel safe to talk and be honest, without a fear of retribution, something’s going to come back to bite them,” how does somebody begin to shape that culture so that they can get where they want to be, knowing that it might be a long road?

Joe Smarro:

I think, Chris, it really does start at the top. We hear this a lot, of it starts at the top, it starts at the top, it starts at the top. Here’s the thing, if you’re at the top, then it starts with you. One of the biggest challenges that Jesse and I have to face anytime we work with a client is when people want to work with us or hire us, what they’re also kind of communicating is like, “Hey, we recognize that there’s a problem here.” So that can be a challenge for people to agree to, because essentially they’re saying, “Look, we don’t need your services unless we’re not doing everything that we could be doing.”

So it’s this kind of, we have to really carefully have those conversations about, it’s not that you’re a poor leader or you’re not doing a great job here, it’s just that could it be better? Yes. That’s almost always going to be the answer. We know that one of the great skillsets that Jesse and I both posses is our ability to connect with human beings on a much, much deeper level, and how we have learned to really cultivate that within the work that we do, as far as culturally driven or even just on an individual basis. We are what you see, we are what you get, we really do own our story. Jesse and I both have pretty traumatic experiences throughout life, we both have engaged in services through therapy. We are very, very vulnerable.

So when people see us as men in this country who have worked in patriarchal organizations, and yet, we’re being vulnerable, putting ourselves out there on stages, they’re like, “Wow. How are they doing that?” The reason we do that is to show that as a man or a woman, but as a man, you can absolutely emote and it’s safe. It’s going to be okay. So we try and lead by example, we try and leverage the leadership of anyone that does work with us and bring us in of, “Hey look, this is a good thing.” They see the need to really, really focus on your needs, because we don’t want people having to live two separate lives. Their work life and then their secret home life. So if we can bridge those gaps, it really creates massive benefit.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. I would imagine that, as someone who works in the people field that, that might be beneficial. I’m thinking of myself as a CEO who admittedly is not emotive necessarily by my nature, by our National culture, would probably need some coaching, some support in wanting to do this, in wanting to share, in wanting to lead by example.

Joe Smarro:

That’s just the thing, Chris, if I could jump real quick on that and help people understand that it absolutely is a skill that you can learn. So I think what prevents a lot of people from embracing this idea is that, “Well, I don’t know how to do that. That doesn’t come to me naturally, so I’m just going to avoid it.” It doesn’t have to stop there, it is a skill that can be taught and can be learned and can be implemented. It’s just a matter of desire.

Jesse Trevino:

[crosstalk 00:31:08] It goes back to leadership. Earlier, when I mentioned you have the HR, you have the website, like Joe mentioned, it’s about the leader, I think for so long that has been, I’m just going to say it, a cop-out, if you will. Like pass the buck, like that’s not you’re … But knowing what we’ve told you about how much it’s affecting your organization without you even realizing it, it is incumbent on you as the leader to focus on this and to learn that skill. You included, Chris, I know many leaders that are always learning content, they’re always developing skills, learning, reading books, and that’s the mark of a great leader. This is just another method of building your communication. It’s very learnable and it’s very, very important.

Chris Cancialosi:

It goes back to what you guys were talking about earlier, that growth mindset versus fixed mindset. It really does all tie back really well. So not every organization, not every listener runs or is part of a large organization that has a structured and robust wellness program. Then maybe even for those who do, where would you steer people if they want to learn more, access more resources that they might be able to access currently in order to learn a little bit more, to begin that journey of creating or increasing their own self awareness about this stuff?

Joe Smarro:

I would say, Chris, first of all, a lot of people right now have more time than they’re used to, and so there really is no time like the present to develop a new habit. Understand that our days are our life in many, and so if you were use this time to your advantage, develop a gratitude practice, learn to become still or silent, take time for yourself. Because it’s when you prioritize your self care, that you’ll realize the benefits of it. But as things start to shift back to whatever the normal is going to be, as the pace starts to pick back up, we’re going to then put our own personal needs secondary. They’re going to become an afterthought to everything else we have to do.

So I think one of the best things we can do right now is really wake up with intention. Wake up with intention and put yourself first. There’s all these different things out there, I’ve heard of GEBY, which is a gratitude practice, exercise for 30 minutes, eat breakfast and then do something you love. G-E-B-Y. Whatever it is, we developed a Six Pillars of Self Care that we teach, and we are promoting those virtually now, because we’re not traveling right now. But there’s different things out there that you can do for yourself, don’t just consume content, implement practice and create new habits. I would say that’s what’s going to help people get through situations like this. Just take things one day at a time, as cliché as it is. We have no control of what’s happening tomorrow, we can do nothing about yesterday, but what are you going to do today that’s going to prove to yourself that you’re a priority?

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks, Joe. Jesse, what are your thoughts to that question around resources for somebody to start if they’re new to exploring this? What comes to mind? For our listeners, we’ll make sure we touch base with Jesse and Joe after the show and pull together a list of those resources and put them in the show notes for you.

Jesse Trevino:

The good thing is right now, I found maybe in the last couple of years, a lot of these leader gurus or organizational geniuses that are giving these big talks, they’ve found a focus on this. Like Joe had mentioned, like Simon Sinek touching on empathy. So there’s a lot of content out there about developing that type of leadership. But for people that really want to dive into mental health and mental wellness, there’s a ton of content online. Mental Health America, there’s a lot of resiliency programs out there coming out of Yale that you could look at, there’s stuff on Coursera, there’s a lot of things out there.

It is a learning process and it’s always about development, it’s a practice, if you will. Like Joe says, there’s nothing that you can just read and then like, “Okay, now I’m mentally resilient.” It’s based on practice. There’s meditation apps, there’s gratitude journal apps. I know Joe, he was the guy that started this for me and he’s been the model of it, but he starts his morning in gratitude. Anytime we go talk somewhere, he’ll talk about it and he’s very open about it. What you’ll find when you’re doing things like this, you’ll actually start to shift. You’ll start to see what’s important, what isn’t. Is my life really this bad? Is what’s happening to me in this moment, this flat tire, this balance sheet, this employee, this customer issue, is it really that bad in the grand scheme of things, where my life is?

When you’re always thinking about how good it is, so there’s a lot of things that are out there. Apps, books, YouTube content. We’re putting out stuff, Chris, we’re trying to give our stuff to the people right now. It’s all we can do is share knowledge, but there’s stuff out there.

Chris Cancialosi:

That’s very much appreciated, and it’s nice to know, for those folks who might just be just beginning their journey, that there are a lot of resources out there for folks to ease into it. You don’t need to jump into the deep end of the pool. Joe, any thoughts on that?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, just two specific ones, because I actually want there to be something they can click to or point to. So for those, for a lot of people that are really feeling themself go through some change or struggle, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, so NAMI, N-A-M-I, it’s a National organization. Everything they provide is free. So that’s a great resource, National Alliance on Mental Illness. Then another one, if you want to text, it’s a confidential 24/7 text line, we aren’t affiliated with them at all, but it’s a great resource. You can just text the word “Help” to 741741, and that’s manned 24/7 with clinicians, counselors that can just text you if you want to confidentially work through a situation.

Chris Cancialosi:

Wow, that’s a fantastic resource. Wow. Thanks for sharing that, guys. We have covered so much in the last 30 minutes or so, a challenge to even encapsulate it all. I guess the nice thing, even selfishly speaking, is that regardless of where you are in this journey that as a frontline employee or as a leader of an organization, that there are resources available, there’s help out there, and that if you approach it with a growth mindset that you don’t need to be perfect at it, you can ease into it and really get more comfortable as you practice and develop these skills. So thank you so much. One question I ask everybody on every show is, what haven’t I asked you that I should have?

Jesse Trevino:

Well, I think it always sticks with me, so Joe, as he mentioned, we’re both great at connecting with people, and Joe has the flair for it. So he is the personality behind our team, and I’m always trying to convey people the challenges they’re facing. One of the challenges we had, and I’ll be honest, with our organization is conveying need. So what I would ask you to ask us is what is the cost of not having a mental wellness organization, why should I even worry about this?

What I would say to that is there’s two spectrums of this, you want to be the type of leader that retains people, that maximizes their capital, maximizes their human potential and retains their people. That’s important, you want to have people that feel safe, that want to feel valued at work. That’s everything. You also want to maximize profits, you want to cut losses and liability. We’ve talked about those things pretty much through this talk, but at the very far end of the spectrum, our consideration, things like workplace violence. It’s a dangerous world, we’ve all seen the effects of workplace violence in mass shootings. Having an understanding of your organization, understanding human behavior goes a long way.

What we’ve found is the more you deep dive into understanding human behavior, you’re able to actually prevent things like that by warning signs. So things like that are often missed warning signs that were there, because people didn’t know what to deal with, or the topic was so taboo they wouldn’t touch it. So I think people are finally starting to get it though, mental health is so important, especially in the workplace. I can’t stress how much of a need there is, so that’s what I would respond with.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Thank you for that, Jesse.

Joe Smarro:

Yeah. What I would have you ask me, Chris, is something this simple. Are we going to be okay? My answer to that is absolutely. People need to not underestimate themselves, people are far more resilient than they realize. All we have to do is look back on our history and zoom out of your situation. So no matter how dark, no matter how scary this moment is for anybody, try and zoom out from it and put it in context. Just reassure yourself that whatever you’re feeling is absolutely okay. We’ve all heard the saying of it’s okay not to be okay. But I would add to that, it’s just not okay to stay that way.

So allow yourself to feel your feels, allow yourself to go through whatever emotion you’re going through, but remember action advances all things. So just do something, do something for yourself. Be selfish in these times, especially when it comes to your wellness and self care. So yes, we are going to be okay. We are going to get through this. We are going to really be better for it on the other side of it. Then the final thing is really coming back to that mindset. When we look back on this time, this pandemic, when you look back on it as an individual, as a member of a family, as a member of an organization, as a business, how do you want to remember it? Do you want to remember it as, “Man, we really screwed the pooch on that one. We failed. We just lost everything. It was terrible.”

Or “I gave it every single thing I had and I did my absolute best I could every single day, and I’m grateful that we made it out better or closer or more connected, because we really took advantage of the opportunity.” So that’s a question that everyone should be asking themselves.

Chris Cancialosi:

Jesse, Joe, thanks so much. Joe, as you’re saying that, I have vivid recollections of my conversation with Ralph Galati a week or so ago. He said that one of the things that really helped him when it really got bad was the notion that he and his fellow prisoners would return with honor. That no matter what, when they came home that they would be able to hold their heads high saying that they did their best. It really, I’m hearing a lot of similarities between what he shared in his really unique situation, and what you’re telling folks at home.

So I can’t thank you guys enough for taking the time, I know it’s an extremely busy time for you, especially now with all of these organizations experiencing so much stress. You guys are quite humble, you all have quite a resume. Before I let you get out of here without touting some of your own stuff, if people want to learn more about Solution Point Plus and the work that you guys do, where can they learn more?

Joe Smarro:

Thanks, Chris. It really has been an honor doing this with you, and I’m grateful that you allowed Jesse and I to share your platform. So our website is SolutionPointPlus.com, all spelled out. That is a great place that you can find us, also I have a Tedx Talk that I provided in 2018 title I See You. You can YouTube Joseph Smarro, and it will be on there. Then the last place that you can find me and to learn a little bit more about us and our background is HBO, it has a documentary titled Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops. It just released in November of 2019. If you don’t have HBO, don’t let that stop you. Download the free trial, stream it 24/7, watch it and then make sure you cancel your subscription, unless you want to be charged for it.

So anyway, I don’t get any royalties for it, but it would be great to watch, because it really will give people a better idea about just really how vulnerable that I’m willing to be to help somebody else tell their story.

Chris Cancialosi:

Fantastic story, looking forward to checking that out. I encourage everybody to go to the Solution Point Plus website and just learn a little bit more. We’re going to add a lot of these links and resources to the show notes for folks. Gentlemen, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time during this busy time for you. It’s been enlightening for me personally, and I hope some of our listeners can get something out of this and begin their journey, regardless of where they’re starting out. So thanks so much, guys.

Joe Smarro:

Thank you.

Jesse Trevino:

Thank you, Chris. It was a pleasure, thanks so much.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks for joining us this week on the gothamCulture podcast. Make sure you visit our website gothamCulture.com, where you can subscribe to the show, find show notes or contact us for support regarding your organizational culture challenges. Special thanks to Blue Sky Podcasting for producing and sponsoring this episode. To learn more about producing custom podcasts for your organization, check out the folks at Blue Sky at www.BlueSkyPodcasting.com. Until next time, this is your host Chris Cancialosi, and I look forward to our next discussion.

 

How to Survive and Thrive in Uncertain Times: Lessons From a Former POW

In this episode, Chris Cancialosi interviews Ralph Galati, former Air Force officer and POW, and Executive Director of JDog Foundation.

The loss of control and isolation that many people are feeling globally as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is affecting them in a variety of ways. Some people seem to have lost hope while others seem to hold out unreasonable hope that things will “go back to normal” on a certain date only to be let down when their hopes aren’t realized. In this episode, we talk to Ralph Galati, former Air Force officer who found himself shot down over North Vietnam and who then served as a prisoner of war for 14 months before being freed. Ralph shares his perspective on what people may be feeling during this time and how to draw upon the internal and external resources you have to not only survive but to thrive in uncertain times.

Released: May 5,  2020

How to Survive and Thrive in Uncertain Times  – gothamCulture Podcast Transcript

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome to the gothamCulture Podcast where we talk about any topic you’d like, so long as those topics are organizational culture, leadership, or people strategy. Each week, we talk with industry leaders and discuss cultural opportunities and challenges in the workplace, providing you with actionable tips and strategies that you can implement in your organizations. My name is Chris Cancialosi and this is the gothamCulture Podcast.

Over the last two months, I’ve noticed something. As the Coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the globe and citizens are faced with the reality of massive disruption in their lives, the impact of this loss of control is affecting people quite differently. And many times, the impact can be quite debilitating, leading people into some pretty dark places. Today, I have a very special guest joining me to share his experiences and learnings on how not only to survive, but hopefully to learn to thrive in situations where you are not in control.

Ralph Galati was commissioned in the United States Air Force and knew that he would likely be headed straight to Vietnam. After completing his training, Ralph found himself stationed at an Air Force base in Thailand running missions in an F-4 Phantom well into North Vietnam. On one such mission in February of 1972, Ralph and his pilot found themselves in the sights of a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile that forced the two officers to eject at the low altitude of about 7,000 feet.

To make matters worse, the two men landed in the middle of a small village, and needless to say, those villagers weren’t too happy to see them. They were quickly captured and sent to Hanoi where Ralph spent the next 14 months in captivity, enduring many egregious acts as his captors worked to obtain what they could from he and his comrades, primarily for propaganda purposes. Thrust into this situation and completely losing control, Ralph endured 75 days of isolation.

Ralph is joining us today to share his story and to help those of us who may be struggling with the current pandemic, by providing his advice and some hope for a better future. Ralph, thanks so much for joining us today.

Ralph Galati:

Very welcome. Great to be here.

Chris Cancialosi:

A lot of people are probably not familiar with your story in particular. For those folks who are not familiar, why don’t you give us a little bit of the backstory of how you ended up serving 14 months as a prisoner of war in Vietnam?

Ralph Galati:

I went to ROTC, Air Force ROTC in college. In 1970, I graduated and went right to flight school. Then after flight school, got qualified to go to F-4 Phantom, which is a two-seat jet fighter advanced training. At that time, 1971, it was inevitable where you were heading in a jet fighter, which was to Southeast Asia somewhere. I ended up going through survival schools, which were really instructive, and ended up, in October of ’71, at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. That was my assignment. So there were six or eight bases in Thailand and probably a dozen or so in South Vietnam.

I started there, and then November of ’71, flying combat missions as a backseater in an F-4. I worked my way up through basic backseater skills to laser-guided bomb skills, to forward air controllers skills. And on February 16th, 1972, I was actually flying one of my early missions as a backseater, as a forward air controller, which the job there was more to find and acquire targets and lead in other groups of aircraft into those targets, and then go out and find more targets. So it wasn’t so much that you were a bomber as you were a controller.

That’s what we were doing. At that time, we were the very beginnings of flying missions, again, over North Vietnam, because there had been a ceasefire over Vietnam since 1968. So it was brand new to a lot of us. And so, we were leading a bunch of other F-4 [inaudible 00:04:21] foundations into a target area. And after a couple of hours, the surface-to-air missiles started to get active. While they were shooting at us, we were trying to find them. And invariably, the one you missed is the one that hits you, so-

Chris Cancialosi:

Oh my gosh.

Ralph Galati:

We got one in our six o’clock. The fragmentation knocked out the engines. At the time, I think we were about 7,000 feet, which is pretty low. By the time we realized what the status was, when we had no power and nothing was working on the aircraft, including the engines. By the time we had a safe altitude and were able to eject, we were probably around 3,000 feet. Backseater goes first. It’s just the way it’s designed. Front shooter goes. Successful ejections.

Problem was we were low and had nowhere to go. And as fate would have it, most of South Vietnam, a lot of it, is jungle. Where we were North Vietnam was farm land, so there was no protection. It’s basically landing in an open field. And we ended up not even landing in an open field. We ended up landing in a very small village. The village is where they’re waiting to receive us, and that was not a welcome reception.

They would have probably killed us, which they tried to do, but we think some local militia or some member of the military was there and had enough savvy to understand that it was better to capture us and get us to Hanoi than it was to kill us. And that’s the only reason I think we were saved. So my pilot and I both successfully made it out. And 24 hours later, we were in Hanoi. And then the games began there.

Chris Cancialosi:

Got it. You were in the well known Hanoi Hilton, if I’m not mistaken. Is that correct?

Ralph Galati:

We didn’t know where we were, obviously, but we ended up our first place was in a section of the Hanoi Hilton, as it turned out. And that’s where they put you in solitary or isolation and did interrogations. At that time, in 1972, they were more interested in, could you be useful to them for propaganda? Could they use a military intelligence? So if they wanted military intelligence, they could just read the Stars and Stripes, or they could read Washington Post. I mean, read that could tell everything.

But they really wanted to see if you were susceptible to making anti-war statements and things like that. If you weren’t, then they would just dismiss you. But they did that for a week or so, and then kept us in solitary confinement for 75 days. That’s when my pilot and I got reunited back in the Hanoi Hilton. We had bounced around to some other camps, and it’s a lot better when you have a roommate, believe me.

And then, as 1972 progressed, more and more people were being shut down so we got moved in the bigger rooms. At one point we had maybe 25 or 30 guys in our room. That was in the Hanoi Hilton Complex that everybody knows about called Camp Unity. There probably were about 250 of us there at that time. The other three or 400 were in other camps scattered around the Hanoi area.

Chris Cancialosi:

Okay. Okay. Well, thanks for sharing that. I know a little bit about it, just from my own research and having been in the military, etc. But it’s fascinating to hear the firsthand accounts of some of the details that don’t get captured or talked about as often or as frequently. I really appreciate you sharing that. One of the reasons that I reached out to chat with you was with respect to the current pandemic with Coronavirus, around this self isolation a lot of folks are going through.

One of the things that I noticed in my own day to day interactions with folks that I work with and my family is that the isolation, or even the perception of this loss of control of one’s life is having a different impact on different people. And a lot of it reminded me back to my military training, which is really what was the impetus for me reaching out. I’m curious, from your perspective, as somebody who… And I don’t want to insinuate that what you went through is anything like what people today are going through, but there are some commonalities.

As somebody who went through the experience of a prisoner of war, especially during those first months of isolation, you have a really unique perspective on all of this. I mean, when you found yourself in that isolation time and experiencing that loss of control over your reality, what was that like for you?

Ralph Galati:

Well, first, I never thought I’d be in solitary confinement again. It’s interesting. But it’s all about balance and perspective. In the situation I was in, when you’ve lost 100% of your freedoms, 100% of control over your own fate, it’s a whole different redirection of your life and attitude. I mean, after a while, a good day was being bored, and because it was a day that they just weren’t interrogating you or weren’t bothering you. So, like I said, it’s at the other end of the spectrum, but it does teach you a little bit about balance and perspective. And a good day is not being shot at.

I mean, some of these things sound a little corny, but that’s the way it is. When you put a situation where your life is really in the balance, when you have to recover from really traumatic or life-threatening circumstances, it really helps you to tolerate the troublesome environment in the real world today. So even though we might be in isolation with this pandemic, we haven’t lost all of our freedoms. I mean, some people have gone a little crazy now to think that the worst is over, they can now go out and behave like it’s normal again.

Well, it’s not normal again. And we’re not even sure what the new normal is going to be. But it’s going to be different. We know that. The one thing I try to tell folks is, is even though it’s difficult, it is not life-threatening. You still have your freedom. You just have to behave a little bit differently. I know we talked a little bit about corporate culture and things like that. And it’s kind of like that. You have to trust your government a little bit, but a lot of it is going to be self-induced, which is you could hear your governors and your senators and your president say whatever they want, but it’s going to come down to us as individuals behaving ourselves.

You have full control to do that. You have all the freedoms in the world and all the control. You just realize that if you go out and misbehave, you could get sick or make other people be sick. So we didn’t have that where we were because we had too many constraints. But the important thing right now for a lot of folks I think is to just understand that we’re all being tested.

I mean, in my business life, every day was a test. It’s just a matter of how difficult it was. When I talk about perspective, when you look at the end of the day, I just had a tough call with my client, I had a tough business environment, my kids were misbehaving, or whatever it happens to be, in the scheme of things, that’s really small stuff. It really is. Suck it up and move on. It’s not life threatening. Nobody pulled a gun on you. It’s okay. You could overcome it.

One of the things that I learned in the earliest times as a POW, when I was in either solitary or isolation, was you really learned a lot about, not just survival, but how do you adapt to changing circumstances? For those of us now that have been a little bit of home bound for 30 or 60 or 75 days, we’ve had to learn to adapt. So some of us have now shopped online and have stuff delivered, or our kids are doing it. Or if you’re the elderly like me, you have folks calling you once in a while to be sure you’re still okay, and you could have stuff delivered to your door, or you could just decide, instead of going out every day, I’m got to go out maybe once a week and I’ll just target what I’m going to buy and get in and out of the store.

We’re now learning to adapt to this new normal. And so, that behavior is going to be there. And also, you really learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses. So when you’re interrogated or when you’re in solitary, whatever it happened to be in the worst cases, you’re training, and survival schools, and military training, all those things, your faith, really allow you to leverage your strengths. What you have to be careful of is you have to understand your weaknesses. How do you overcome those deficiencies, is really more important because if you show that deficiency at all, that’s what the enemy will target and will try to get you to misbehave.

For those of us now that are at home, if we feel compelled to go out and misbehave in public, there might be some consequences there. Not that you’re going to be arrested, it’s just that you might make people sick or you might be sick and then contaminate your family. So all those things mumble together, and really have helped me a lot to practice more resiliency and talk a little about resiliency and how to recover from taking this hit which we call the Coronavirus.

Can we learn from it? Can we learn about ourselves? Can we make the necessary adjustments in adapting? And if we do, then when we come out of this thing, hopefully we will be better for it. We will have learned a little bit more about ourselves, so that whether you are a business person, or a college student, or a parent, or just a citizen, maybe you will have learned some things about yourself to make you a better one of all those. Time will tell.

Chris Cancialosi:

That’s a really interesting point, Ralph. These adverse situations, whatever they may be, they are potentially an opportunity to learn and an opportunity to draw strength and benefit the rest of your life. When you were captured in Vietnam, it was toward the latter end of the war. There had been other folks with you as you were integrated with more people, that had been there, for some cases, years and years. What did you learn from them in terms of how they learned to adapt for such long periods of time?

Ralph Galati:

Well, like yourself, we had the luxury of going to survival school, SERE school. So we knew about a lot of the guys that had been there already. And you’re right, there were two phases. There were the POWs there from ’64 to ’68, and then virtually none until ’72. By the way, the longest guy was Everett Alvarez, who was by the time he was returned, almost eight and a half years.

Chris Cancialosi:

Oh my gosh.

Ralph Galati:

So my 14 months is trivial by comparison.

Chris Cancialosi:

Oh my gosh.

Ralph Galati:

But we learned a lot about them. And, of course, what happened to them made it easier for us because we learned from them. We had the code of conduct that we had to follow as a foundation for our behavior as PDWS. But more, it was, what a disservice it would be for us younger guys, or us more recent shootdowns. What an embarrassment it would be for us to not do our best in terms of resistance and following the code of conduct based on what the older guys had been through for years, in terms of really severe torture and mistreatment.

What a disservice it would be for us to not do our best when we knew that three million served and 58,000 died, and at the time, 2,500 were missing, and families had sacrificed a lot. So there was a lot of motivation for us to be a better POWs and following the code of conduct based on all of their experiences and their strength. Once we got a chance to meet them a little bit, whether it was covertly or overtly, and saw their frame of mind in 1972 after having been captive for four to eight years, really set the tone for us that said, “These guys really hung in there when it was tough. I could hold out till the end of the war.”

We had the advantage that we knew that the troop withdrawals were happening. I mean, we figured it was more inevitable than not, but didn’t know for certain, but that was our hope. So there was a lot of external forces that allowed us to be stronger. And that was on top of whatever you brought to the table already. And it could have been, in my case, strong faith. It could have been good family structure, good education plus military training. We had training in the code of conduct. So we had a lot of stuff that we could rely on.

Some did a better job than others, just like any other cross section of society. So just look in your neighborhood today, see who’s behaving themselves and who’s not, who’s going to work, who’s not wearing a mask. I mean, all those kinds of things, it’s kind of corny, but we were no different. There were some that took to it okay. And others that had a hard time, that struggled with captivity, and struggled with poor diet or poor health. It was an extreme situation, but it was a microcosm of where we are today.

Chris Cancialosi:

What’s really interesting that you noted, that you bring certain internal aspects of your upbringing and character that help you. But you also identified external resources that were available. Whatever they might be, however big or small they might be, there were these other things that you could rely on, really hits home for me nowadays where… Again, it’s not anywhere near apples to apples comparison, but you’re bringing what you bring to the table, your resilience. Thankfully, there are a lot of resources available nowadays with technology. I mean, we’re talking across the country right now, to help people feel connected or have some sense of control.

Ralph Galati:

Well, let me tell you, this is really a great resource because one of the things that I talk about a lot is the value of communications, so congratulations for what you’re doing. For me, it was about 45 days. So I’d already been in isolation and then solitary for about 45 days. For some of it, I was really alone. And then in other cases, I knew I was in a camp. I just didn’t have access to other POWs, until one day one of them took a little bit of a risk and threw a message into my room and let himself be known.

That opened the floodgates that I was in solitary, but I wasn’t alone. And from that, that started the communications dialogue with whatever means we had available to us. It could have been with hand language, or tap codes, or message drop, whatever it happened to be. And it was really invigorating to know that somebody else was there and that there was other Americans there that were willing to take a risk to ensure that I knew that I wasn’t alone and to pass information along.

That’s one of the messages for today also, and especially for the younger folks or family members, pick up the phone. Stop the text, stop the email, pick up the phone and call somebody and just let them know that they’re… See if they need anything. Just chat with them a bit, because that lifeline, the communications lifeline was so vital to us. And by contrast, we realized, we being the 1972 shootdowns, the young guys, young in terms of captivity, not age, the older guys really didn’t have much new news for couple of years because there had been no shootdowns.

So we had to update them on what was going on back in the real world almost since 1968. So we had four years of news. We had to give them everything in terms of who was president, what the timeline was like with the war, who was living in dying, were there any news about their family, the British Invasion of music, Woodstock? I mean, sports, you name it. Whatever we told them was new news. I mean, they were literally out of touch with the world.

The biggest single thing that we told them was the newly formed campaign by the National League of Families, the POW/MIA campaign, which instigated the POW flag, and then the bracelet campaign. When we told them that they had not been forgotten… You have to realize that in the late sixties, we weren’t allowed to come back from the war and wear our uniforms, okay? So we were toxic.

When they realized that they had not only not been forgotten or abandoned, but that they were… It was so visible with the American public in 1972, about a welcome home. It was like a shot of adrenaline to these folks. We took a little bit for granted and realized, what a great message that was for them to realize that the world they knew was not probably the world they were going to come home to.

That’s similar to young guys like you that go to deployments and come home. Might be six months or a year, and you come back and thinking everything’s the same and it’s not. So imagine you’re in captivity for five years. So it’s really different.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely.

Ralph Galati:

That was rejuvenating. And it all goes back to communications and trying to throw that lifeline to people. And you’re doing that through your podcast right now. Hopefully, if we touch one or two veterans, or one or two family members that are struggling a little bit, and hopefully, this is not the easiest thing for a lot of people, to be a self-induced isolation, but letting them know that there are places to go or places to talk to, to get some help either now or later. And also that each of us could find a veteran or a family member that can use a little bit of a boost, then time well spent for each of us right now.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Ralph, thank you so much. We’re going to take a really quick break. We’ve got the honor and pleasure of speaking with Mr. Ralph Galati today. We’ll be right back and continue the conversation. Thanks, Ralph.

This episode of the gothamCulture Podcast is produced and sponsored by our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting. Communicating with your customers, stakeholders, and employees can be challenging at times. The team at Blue Sky Podcasting provides high-end production and post production support to organizations looking to leverage podcasting as a tool to increase transparency and engagement with their customers and employees.

If you’re interested in learning how podcasting can provide your organization with a highly engaging communication tool that’s easy to scale, you should check out our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting at www.blueskypodcasting.com. Welcome back everybody we’re joined today by Mr. Ralph Galati. Ralph served as a officer in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam war. Spent 14 months as a prisoner in North Vietnam. He’s sharing his experience with us, and given us some tips for folks who might be struggling out there in today’s situation with the Coronavirus pandemic and feeling a bit isolated, and how they might take some lessons to help themselves not only endure, but maybe even learn how to thrive in these kind of dark times for some folks.

So, Ralph, from your perspective, and again, realizing this is not an apples to apples comparison of your experience to what people are going through today. But knowing that there are some people who really are struggling with this loss of control or perceived loss of control in their life… I notice in my interactions with folks that some people seem to be going into what I call a dark place. They’re look at every news story, every headline, and it’s gloom and doom, the sky is falling. Their lives are forever changed, and they feel almost a sense of hopelessness about the situation. What advice would you have for them?

Ralph Galati:

Well, a little bit we talked about, which is skills that some people have and some don’t, which is the adaptability and resiliency. If you’re in the military, if you were in the military, hopefully you learned a little bit about those things during your time in the service. That doesn’t make it any easier. Family members have not had to deal with that. So that might be new for them. And civilians maybe haven’t had a chance to do that. So it’s going to be tough.

We mentioned earlier about learning your strengths and weaknesses. So now that we’ve been in this situation for whatever it’s been, 45 days give or take a little bit, you’ve probably learned a lot about yourself. So it’s probably time to do a really good self-assessment. What have you learned about yourself that’s really been good? What kind of behavior have you learned about yourself that will serve you well? What have you learned about yourself that’s a deficiency that maybe you could overcome? Not just in terms of having to deal with this again, but what have you learned about yourself, whether you’re a veteran or a family member?

That’s one thing. A self assessment would really be good right now. For those that are small business owners, who I really feel for, now is the chance to really decide what you want to do when this is over. Let’s pretend it’s June or July and we’re in phase one or phase two or phase three, whatever it happens to be. The world that we left in 2019 is not the same world that’s going to be in 2020. We do not know what businesses are going to do. We don’t know what the marketplace is going to be like. We don’t know what schools are going to be like. I mean, we don’t know.

We could pretend that we know, and they may be the same. The odds are they will not be the same. They will be dramatically or modestly different. And how you adapt to that is going to be an interesting tone that you will set. So you could think about those things today. It’s a good game of what if. What if my company that I work for or the business that I work for decides that they’re going to do more work from home than they ever did before, are you ready for that? Can you contend with that?

Suppose those that had lots of work from home don’t like what they’ve seen and want more people to come into the office now, are you ready for that? For those who did a lot of travel, maybe there’s going to be less. Maybe there’s going to be more. Schools might decide that virtual learning is the new wave and they’re going to do more and more of that. Are you liking that or not? That’s all about self assessment, I think right now, and really understanding, can you adapt to that?

If you’re a small business owner, you really better get your act together now. You could either act when it’s over, take action, or you could wait for things to settle out and react. You might not think of yourself as a big player in a bigger small market, but maybe you could reset a tone right now so that you could come out on top, or you’re going to read the tea leaves, will be able to do student body right or student body left, depending on what you say.

What I have learned, and maybe you have this wealth in my military time, is I really believe that most people are stronger than they give themselves credit for. So this test that we’ve now been in for 45 days, it’s just that. It’s a test. You could choose to fail it or pass it. You could pass it with an A, or you could pass it with a C, or you could fail miserably. So if you’re into the woe is me, and feeling guilty about everything, and look what happened. I’ve been out of business, I’ve been out of work, my business is struggling, I can’t pay the bills, you’re not alone.

But you can also focus on the positive, what am I going to do now when this is done? Am I just going to wait for something to happen and hope that people will take pity on me or hope that my job’s going to be there? You’ve got to be prepared to take action. I know you do a lot of teaching about leadership and organizational culture. And my big issue with most companies, especially high up in organizations, is we pay these folks big money to make decisions and act.

So I’m telling everybody in your audience today, do some self assessments and be ready to act, take some action. The odds are, if you’ve got some good skills, and good experience, and training, and you’re reading the tea leaves of your marketplace or whatever it is that you’re dealing with, the odds are you’re going to be successful. And guess what? If you’re not, then adapt. But you can’t plan on just sitting back and waiting and letting somebody else take advantage of you. So take this test, test your limits and be prepared to act. And I think that will serve you well.

Easier said than done, but you’ve got to look at every day. Try to find something positive every day. I joke about them, and there’s only so many days in a row you could reorganize your sock drawer. Okay? So if that’s the highlight of your day, you better find something else to do.

Chris Cancialosi:

My house has never been cleaner, Ralph. It’s never been cleaner.

Ralph Galati:

There you go. You spend one day cleaning and then one day get dirty because you could clean it up the next day. But in perspective, a good day, for those of us that were in my situation, a good day right now is that door over there that you can see has a doorknob on the inside. In the scheme of things, life is really good. I can open that door and I can go out. I could go out my front door and walk around the neighborhood. I could do all those things.

So in the scheme of things, like I said early on, it’s about balance and perspective. Realize that you are not a captive in your home. You’re just being asked to behave a little bit differently for a while for the greater good. And for those of us that don’t think about the greater good, sometimes we have to do things to make sure that you’re protecting yourself because sometimes you just don’t take very good care of yourself.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely.

Ralph Galati:

If you’re feeling helpless, call somebody. If you’re really, really down, pick up the phone and call somebody. Call a fellow veteran, call a buddy, call a neighbor, call your kids, call your parents. Pick up the phone and call somebody. If you’re really desperate, there’s the VA crisis line. If you’re a veteran, call them. They’ll be glad to walk you through some issues. For those that are near Stephen A. Cohen clinics for medical families, Cohen clinics, that provide mental health services for free, call them up.

There’s any number of places you can go to if you don’t know what to do. If you’re absolutely struggling, just find a friend or neighbor, and they’ll tell you what to do, or point into my website later and you can call me and I’ll be glad to point you to somebody. There are plenty of resources out there to help you. Just don’t let this thing devastate you. It’s going to end probably sooner than we imagined. The death tolls and everything else are much less than people imagine. And a lot of it is because people have been practicing social distancing, believe it or not. They’ve changed their behavior. They made some adjustments out of pure survival.

It’s amazing what you will do. I think that’s the best advice that I could give, is just never lose faith. Back what we had as POWs, I mean, if we allowed despair, if we allowed humiliation to get to us, we would have died in captivity, and a couple people did. But for the most part, because of our training, and adaptability, and resiliency, and all those things, we were able to survive some pretty tough circumstances knowing that that release day, that return home day was going to be coming around the corner.

So it’s not too dissimilar where we are today. Things are going to get back to whatever normal is going to be, hopefully soon. And probably be a little bit different for a while, but, but just be ready for that.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Thanks so much, Ralph. As a small business owner myself, what you’re saying really resonates. It’s easy to want to go on the defense or get into your shell and just huddle down and just wait for things to play out, which seems like it would feel good for a little while, but there’s the other perspective of really assessing where you are as an individual or as a business, understanding how things are playing out, and respecting the fact that it’s dynamic and you may not have total control. But there are opportunities for people to thrive in these types of environments if they don’t go into a shell, and they look for those little victories every day.

It’s funny, every day I look for just the one thing, but one little thing I can do to move things forward for my life, for myself, my family, my business, and makes every day, a little bit easier to come to grips with.

Ralph Galati:

Yeah, and sometimes it’s a little nugget. I mean, and I probably can guarantee you that somebody will listen to this podcast and maybe one person, it might help, and that’s okay. But veteran, it’s one at a time. You just keep somebody off the cliff, that’s great. The other one is, instead of the woe is me, maybe take the challenge of going out there and seeing who you could help instead of just asking for help.

There’s an old quote that I use from Isaac Newton, and it’s grossly, grossly paraphrased. But it’s something along the lines of, “I’ve been able to do great things because I stand on the shoulders of giants.” And for me, as a young guy in Hanoi, I had to stand on the shoulders of all those guys that went ahead of me. And because they did what they did, made Ralph’s life a lot easier.

When I started with IBM as a young guy, I had to rely on my senior guys. We call them mentors today, to help me from making mistakes or going down a path. And all of us have some kind of a giant, but maybe it’s time for you to be somebody’s giant. Maybe it’s time for you to say, “Who can I help today? Who can I give a boost to that I could give a tid bit of help to and do that?” So instead of the woe is me, maybe it’s time to go out there and say, “Who can I help today?” instead of, “What could somebody do for me today?”

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. The word that keeps coming up as I’m listening to you, Ralph, is relativity. I mean, it’s all relative. And no matter how bad your day might be, it could always be worse. It could always be worse, man. We’re still kicking, we’re still on this side of the surface of the earth. What can we do to help somebody else who’s having an even more difficult time? Helps reframe your perspective on everything. So yeah, absolutely.

Ralph, you were talking about different organizations, then different support mechanisms, and we’ll be sure to add different support organizations to the notes of this episode as well for folks. But are there any organizations or anything that you’d like to plug for our listeners today?

Ralph Galati:

Yeah, sure. And they’re not they’re not selfish plugs either. A lot of it is maybe one of the things we’re learning coming out of this thing, is what can I do later on in terms of service, community service, public service? I’m involved in a couple of things. One of them is the JDog Foundation, which is a piece of the old JDog brands of veterans small business ownership. And what we’re trying to do is work on PTSD and suicide prevention programs.

If you’re in that situation and you look like you need some help, go to the jdogfoundation.org website. Our contact information is there and we’ll be glad to help. Or if you want to help, you could go there and let us know. Or if you have any questions and you just need to chat with me, you can go to ralphgalati.com. At the end, you’ll see my email address, my phone number, anything is there. If we help one person coming out of this, that’s going to be great.

Chris Cancialosi:

You are a true gentleman, Ralph. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. I have truly enjoyed chatting with you. One question I ask everybody who joins us is, what haven’t I asked you that I should have.

Ralph Galati:

You sound like me. That’s usually what I do. A lot of it is few of us get the chance to fall back and reassess. And I think that’s the best thing coming out of this, is really, what can we do differently? Or what am I doing really great that I found out that I’m really differentiating myself, I’m really behaving myself better than I thought? But in most cases, you’ll always find there’s something better you can do.

In our case as POWs, we went from being military officers one day with combat missions and everything else. We knew what our role was. All of a sudden the next day, all that’s gone. There’s no acknowledgement of your rank or anything else. And we only had one job. One job was resist, resisted to the best of your ability, behave yourself, follow the code of conduct. And our mission there, it was very simple. I call it a slogun, but it wasn’t. We were the fourth allied POW wings. So we organized ourselves as a military unit.

The term there was to return with honor. And that’s all it was because after many, many years, for these guys, of really being humbled, and beaten, and starved, the point was getting off that damn plane upon repatriation and having your head held high, and saluting somebody and thanking everybody, and knowing that you did the best you could. So now it’s time for everybody else to kind of suck it up a little bit, knowing that they’re not alone, knowing that they haven’t been abandoned.

You might feel that way, but it’s not the case. And knowing you’re going to come out of this thing a changed person, hopefully a better person, and being able to take full advantage of that. I think that’s probably the biggest message, is just use this time for preparation and get a really good jumpstart when the doors open up again,

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. And return with honor, from a military’s perspective, has a unique meaning, but really can be generalized to everyone. I mean, when you come out of this, who are you going to be when you come out of this? And can you hold your head high? Did you do everything you could do as an individual to keep yourself safe, keep others safe, keep things moving forward so that we can make the best on the tail end of this that we possibly can?

Ralph Galati:

Well said. Well said.

Chris Cancialosi:

Ralph, again, from the deepest point in my heart, I can’t thank you enough. It has been an honor and a privilege to talk with you today. I hope one person can glean something out of this and give them a little bit of strength to carry on, whatever their situation might be. Again, we’ll provide some resources to the notes of this episode as well for folks. And thank you for your gracious offer for folks to reach out to you. I wish you the very, very best.

Ralph Galati:

Yeah. Well, thanks for what you’re doing. Thanks very much for putting this together, and it was a great privilege to be here today.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks for joining us this week on the gothamCulture Podcast. Make sure you visit our website gothamculture.com, where you can subscribe to the show, find show notes, or contact us for support regarding your organizational culture challenges. Special thanks to Blue Sky Podcasting for producing and sponsoring this episode. To learn more about producing custom podcasts for your organization, check out the folks at Blue Sky at www.blueskypodcasting.com. Until next time, this is your host, Chris Cancialosi, and I look forward to our next discussion.

 

Leadership Development: Leadership From Your Laptop?

In this episode, James O’Flaherty interviews Kevin Hyde, President and Co-Founder of Layer 8 Security.

Leadership Development is being affected by technological innovation, teleworking, and multi-generational teams. Kevin discusses how he has navigated these issues both in his military career and also as president of a cyber-security company. He tells relatable stories and gives actionable advice about how he approaches leadership development in this changing environment.

Released: April 22, 2020

Leadership Development: Leadership From Your Laptop?  – gothamCulture Podcast Transcript

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome to the gothamCulture Podcast where we talk about any topic you’d like so long as those topics are organizational culture, leadership, or people strategy. Each week, we talk with industry leaders, and discuss cultural opportunities and challenges in the workplace. Providing you with actionable tips and strategies that you can implement in your organizations. Today’s episode will be hosted by James O’Flaherty, senior associate at gothamCulture.

James O’Flaherty:

Hello, everyone. My name is James O’Flaherty. I’m one of the associates here at othamCulture. I have the opportunity to interview Kevin Hyde. Kevin is one of the founders of a firm called Layer 8 Security. It’s a cyber security firm located just outside Philadelphia. They’ve been doing a lot of great work. He is just one of the subject matter experts that would be really good to talk to about some of the technological innovations, specifically telework, that’s happening in the upcoming decades. Kevin, did you want to take a second to say hello to everybody?

Kevin Hyde:

Yes, happy to. Hello, everybody. Happy to do this with James and team here at gothamCulture. This is a good topic for everyone to understand more about. I still consider myself a student, by no means a master. I’ve been in practice with this for 20 plus years, so I have had a lot of experience. Happy just to share what I’ve learned.

James O’Flaherty:

I guess one thing that Kevin is too humble to mention is he’s currently serving in the armed forces right now. Is that correct? Are you still serving?

Kevin Hyde:

I am from my time working in cyber command, the NSA, and the intelligence community throughout my time in the Marines. I’m still actively serving in the reserves and I’m helping to help further the cyber reserve capacity for the Marine Corp so that we have a strong cyber reserve team to back up the active duty guys. Still doing that and running Layer 8, so my days are full.

James O’Flaherty:

That’s incredible. We definitely appreciate your service. If you don’t mind, I’d love to just get into some of the things we’re going to talk about today. We’re specifically going to cover some of the trends in leader development in the coming decade. Since Kevin has experience in all these different fields, I would love to just understand to date up until down, how have you seen some of these technological innovations impact leader development and specifically your ability to develop subordinate leaders?

Kevin Hyde:

I have to say I was blessed early on to be in a leadership role as an officer in the Marines. I was 23. I checked into my first unit and I was one of the youngest marines in my unit and I was also in charge. That was in May, 2001 right before the world changed pretty drastically. We were initially working in a much more analog space. In 2001, it was very analog. One of my deputies, she showed me what Google was. I hadn’t even heard of it yet. We are still on Yahoo, AltaVista, or something ridiculous like that. I learned very quickly that age is no guarantee of experience. I learned very quickly that those of any age have a lot to offer. I always just listened. It was always a good trait. I learned a lot about innovation and tech from older generations and younger generations. I always saw communication as a hallmark of good leadership. I had a lot of evidence to back that up through various experiences. Technology, I think of technology as basically a way to gather the best, most diverse arrays of communication, and spread it out amongst people so they have the choice of how to communicate the best.

With me seeing communication as a key element of leadership, I’m learning from people older than me and people younger than me. Even my dad, he’s 73 years old. He runs a technology company. He still learns, he still considers himself a student of technology. When it came down to leadership development, I just learned that there are different types of mediums for different types of subordinates and different types of leaders. Some communicate much better in one medium than another. Just from early on in the Marines, I learned make sure you listen to the people around you. You’ll only be smarter for it. I never said no to a communication platform. I figured there’s always somebody that will respond better to something that’s got video, something that’s got more just audio, something that’s written, something that’s more iconography image based. Everyone learns differently and everyone follows differently. I felt like there’s always a way to get into a different type of communication medium that will be effective.

Eventually, I became a senior strategic communication officer in the Marines basically because of how I adopted this. It was always something that was important to me. Leadership development was always key. When I became a leader early on, I wasn’t a leader because somebody gave me a rank, I became a leader because I found people started to follow. It’s humbling and an honor at the same time. Through open means of communication, just made it possible, I would say.

James O’Flaherty:

That’s incredible. It sounds like you tailored the communications and used all these different tools to make it so that it was conducive for whoever’s hearing you. It sounds like you value more what other people hear rather than what you say, which is really important. It’s a very important leadership skill. Hats off to you for being able to leverage some of that technology early on. Let’s shift to looking forward a little bit. We’re talking about some of these telework and some of these different platforms. You briefly mentioned that. What are some considerations for leader development looking forward in this decade that we just came in? Obviously, for our listeners in the future who are going through the coronavirus pandemic right now, it’s forcing everyone to work remotely, communicate in other than face to face methods. I’d love to hear your perspective on how you see some of these technological innovations impacting leader development as we move forward.

Kevin Hyde:

It’s funny, the more we get inundated with technology, the more important and the more meaningful face to face interaction is. If I have to have a phone call with somebody and I’m going to have to reprimand them in some way, shape, or form, I don’t mean yelling and screaming but I mean I have to make corrections, I need to be guiding them, I really want to be as face to face as possible. I’m going to lean more towards the spectrum of, how can I get as close to face to face as possible? When it comes to technology if I can’t get face to face, which right now during this pandemic we just can’t, I would make sure that I’m on video, I have good quality sound, they’re in a quiet space, I’m in a quiet space, and we have the ability to see each other as close as possible. If it’s a conference call scenario, I’m ingesting several people all at once, it’s more like giving information, I need less input, it’s more about me issuing a lot of direction or tasks, then a call is fine. We can do it that way. Video is just not going to work.

Then, there’s the differences between you can address many or you can address one. I try to think about, what’s the best medium? Am I going to use phone call, video chat? Am I going to send an email? Am I going to send a text? When I’m communicating with clients of mine, often times text is easiest. They’ll get to it when they can get to it. Some of my best clients, I text them frequently. They don’t need to video chat with me, they don’t even need a phone call with me half the time. I check in with them quarterly in person. Other than that, they’re good to go, we can converse over text. For busy people, executives, you know with myself, I’m happy with that. That’s fine for me. When people communicate with me that way, it’s fine. It’s also more personal. An email is more official, you get a thousand of them a day, but text is personal. There is a medium for everybody.

I had a short stint in the motorcycle industry, there’d be a motorcycle that would come across the floor, and you’d be like that thing is horrid, who would buy that? The thing is, I learned from the senior sales guy, there’s a butt for every seat. Somewhere, somebody, that is the perfect thing for them. They’re going to love it and they’re going to respond to it. Sure enough, he was right. Just like there’s a car for everyone, there’s a bike for everyone, there’s a communication medium for everyone and there’s a leadership style for everyone. I do measure my communication and my use of technology based on, who am I talking to? I’ve got my lawyer who works for me, he’s 57 years old. He’s not a great user of technology. If I’m going to do any kind of longterm meeting with him, I try to make it a video chat if we’re not going to be together. With him, I try to make it face to face. We whiteboard in his office, we’ll talk, we’ll strategize, we’ll make notes on his whiteboard. Then when I leave, all that’s there, and he likes to use that. It’s the best way for him to receive data and tasks. It’s what works best for him. He’s more analog in his approach, but not every person. Just because you’re older, doesn’t mean that’s the case. I just know different people’s styles.

James O’Flaherty:

That’s going to be increasingly important with technology going in the direction it’s going right now. The norms for at least Americans’ society leaning towards that remote telework aspect. One thing that I was curious to know from you is with all of this remote work happening right now especially, just that snowball effect going forward, that’s definitely going to have an impact on leaders’ ability to engage, motivate, and inspire their teams. How do you see the onset of all of this telework influencing your ability to develop some of those leaders that you have working for you?

Kevin Hyde:

Now that we’re in this [inaudible 00:11:13] effects of teleworking, every day I have a phone call with my managers. I don’t want it to be necessarily video call, it can be, but I have a one on one conversation with my managers. If we’re unavailable, I will text them. It’s really meant to be a check in. It’s the replacement for walking down the hall, stepping in their office, and saying, how’s it going? Checking in with them because I don’t want it to feel like a work conversation, I want it to be more personal. A video conference can still have a bit of that formality. I try to think about it more of a … if you’re just sitting on your couch having a phone call with somebody, keep it casual because that’s when subordinates open up. Lincoln had a great saying called, “Leadership by walking around.” I learned this in my master’s program. I did a whole lot of reading about Lincoln. Ever since then, I’ve just been a student of his leadership and communication style. One of the best things I learned was leadership by walking around.

You walk into somebody else’s personal space, you’re more likely to get better sincerity, better reactions, more honesty. If you make somebody stand in front of your desk and give you an answer to something, they’re going to feel like they’re on the spot versus when you come into their space, they feel more at ease. Again, that’s a little bit of a leadership trait that you pick up on because when you’re an officer, you’ve got a big desk, a big office, and people walk in, they think they’re in trouble. In this case, you’re just casually walking into their space. Technology can serve the same thing. That’s a really important leadership aspect for me, checking in and being sincere with one another. Technology can enable, but it can also disable that. I think the right medium again is important. A casual phone call as opposed to making it an email conversation or IM. Even a text can be annoying because people don’t write out their full thoughts, they’re very abbreviated.

I think that’s going to make a big difference. Probably around 4:00 o’clock every day in the last several weeks, I’ve been just getting on the phone with my teammates and just checking in with them. It’s a small token, it’s not a big ask of yourself to have a five minute call with somebody to check in. No matter what I’m doing, somebody else has their own issue. You won’t know it unless you get casual with them.

James O’Flaherty:

I think a lot of the stigma attached to telework is out of sight, out of mind. There’s concern that the disconnect between individuals interacting will degrade an ability to get something done. I really like your perspective about taking what’s probably going to be considered an old school approach here pretty soon of walking your space like you mentioned. I think it makes the face to face interactions with people all the more crucial and all the more fun to look forward to because if you’re naturally in a remote environment, you don’t get the chance to sit down and have lunch with your boss. Your boss comes into town or perhaps you meet at an event that you’re attending together, that face time just becomes all the more important. I love how you’re taking a mix of leveraging all of the technology, but also keeping that personal aspect to it. I think that’s an incredibly powerful tool to use. We’re going to go ahead and take a break here. After the break, we’ll come back and just discuss some generational changes. How our younger generations and our older generations are handling the onset of technology. We will be back in a moment.

Chris Cancialosi:

This episode of the gothamCulture Podcast is produced and sponsored by our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting. Communicating with your customers, stakeholders, and employees can be challenging at times. The team at Blue Sky Podcasting provides high end production and post production support to organization looking to leverage podcasting as a tool to increase transparency and engagement with their customers and employees. If you’re interested in learning how podcasting can provide your organization with a highly engaging communication tool that’s easy to scale, you should check out our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting at www.BlueSkyPodcasting.com.

James O’Flaherty:

All right, Kevin, we left off here at the generational changes that are coming along. We’ve got Gen Z graduating college just entering the market as the youngest generation. We’ve got millennials that are starting to take up some of those leadership positions at the lower and mid level leadership tiers. With their buying power and their presence starting to become more and more known, especially with you got boomers and you have Gen Xers becoming the more senior generations here, there’s a lot of friction that can happen between those two, especially with technology being the driving force for the younger generations. I’m just curious to hear from your perspective, how did the younger versus older generations … the differences there impact how you go about your leadership style?

Kevin Hyde:

My leadership style is a hybrid of things.

James O’Flaherty:

To say the least.

Kevin Hyde:

I’ve grown up in a little bit of an old school analog age. I fall into the category of zennial, generation Z and millennial. I have an analog old school approach, but I like to use technology to enable it. I have a lot of millennials that work for me. They think that they are on the hook 24/7 for communication and they are not if I could beat it into their head. Just because I send an email, doesn’t mean I need an immediate response. If I text you, that probably means it’s more urgent. If I call you, that means please pick up. If it’s an email, I’m not expecting action right away. If I’m working late one night or whatever, if it’s 8:00, 9:00 o’clock and I’m just catching up, I might respond to a lot of email traffic. That’s usually when I do all my emailing, usually at night. It’s one of my differences. I will typically do that. Usually, my emails happen in the morning and at night. During the day, it’s almost rare that I get a chance to respond. When I respond, these millennials, they’re all thinking I got to respond to my boss. I’m not expecting them to. Even though I say it to them a thousand times, “You are not obligated to respond to this at 9:00 or 10:00 o’clock at night.”

I’ll be getting texts from them. “What did you mean about this?” “I have a question about what you said here.” My response is, “Address it tomorrow. This is not for tonight’s action. I’m responding to things in general.” They see every single communication coming across as urgent, take action now, whether it’s a call, a text, an email, whatever. I’m trying to get them to understand you have to separate your life a bit. You have to have balance. A lot of them get burned out by Wednesday, Thursday because they don’t balance out enough. It’s like watching the annoying couple on the phone. No, you hang up. No, you hang up. No, you hang up. I’m like, stop answering me. No, you stop answering me. No, you stop answering. It’s a little bit of a … I think a better life balance piece works its way into this because as a leader, I don’t expect my subordinates to drop what they’re doing with their family because I send them an email at 9:00 at night. I don’t want their family to think, your boss, what a jerk. He’s expecting you to. No, I’m not. I’m not expecting them to do anything.

James O’Flaherty:

Being young, hungry, energetic, and probably not having a yard full of kids to chase around the house, it can get pretty tempting to try to get ahead, but I do really resonate with that aspect of leadership of don’t respond right now. I can definitely understand how it’s tough for you to draw that line with a group of people who probably have some sort of normative belief that it’s just the boss testing us to see if we’ll respond even though he said we don’t have to.

Kevin Hyde:

Yes.

James O’Flaherty:

We’ll be seen as going above and beyond. You’re actually not, you’re actually seen as someone who should probably be coached on balancing these things out a little bit potentially.

Kevin Hyde:

That’s a good point. One of the things I do actually if I know I’m sending a piece of communication to somebody and they might think it’s for action right away, I’ll tell them, please have a response or please take action in two days or whatever so they don’t feel like they need to answer right away. I’ve taken to putting into my written communications, typically emails and sometimes texts, don’t take action right away, just brief me tomorrow, or in two days, or whatever. I’ll give them a timeline so they don’t think that they’re due for it right away because I’ve found if I say nothing, then they fall into that category you just said, which is, how can I one up myself? How can I level up here? It takes proactive communication on my part. If you sit in a room full of people and you lead, that’s when people think of leadership. They think you’re in a room full of people, you’re out on a hillside somewhere, you’re about to lead a group of people to accomplish a task. You think of it in person.

When I have a picture of leadership in my head, it’s not me sitting in front of my laptop. That’s not the picture of leadership in my head. I don’t know if it’s the picture of anybody’s leadership in their head. It’s not mine, but it’s still the reality. I’m actually just thinking about it as we’re talking here. That is really what we’re talking about here. How do you lead from your laptop? We say in the Marine Corp, you always lead from the front. How do you lead from your laptop? Being crystal clear on communication is definitely key. I work with a client who is terrible about his communication. He’s spins everybody up, then people jump through hoops to try to satisfy him, then he doesn’t reply for three days. You never know if it’s urgent or not. It’s that cry wolf scenario because his written communication is just God awful. You just never know where you stand with the guy. It’s stuff. I try to tell my team take action, but ask more questions.

In person, people ask more questions. I find using technology, people will take your communication … well, he took the time to write it down, so it must be exactly as he said. Well, no. If I miss something, ask me. If you’re not sure, I may have miscommunication. Totally, possible if I miss something. Ask me. I try to tell people a timeline and any questions whenever I’m giving leadership style tasks in an email or something, which I guess is what you got to do now.

James O’Flaherty:

That goes back to one of the age old things about it doesn’t matter what you say, it matters what’s heard. That consideration, it’s a lot bigger whenever you have telework to contend with because you don’t have those nonverbal cues and all of the actions that our subconscious brains are programmed to look at whenever we’re having a conversation with somebody just to understand how they’re feeling. That’s eliminated. It’s kind of a hindrance on our ability to effectively communicate. That probably forms some of the baseline of the challenges that exist with working through telework. We have talked about our younger generations and we specifically mentioned some of the challenges they have with being a little bit too hungry and overzealous sometimes. Looking forward with all of these technological innovations taking root, it’s not new anymore. It’s being installed into the fabric of how we do business. How are younger generations set up for success? What characteristics of their experiences in your mind are going to make them great leaders?

Kevin Hyde:

That’s a good question. I think one of the things, I’ll tell you a little story here. One of my managers, he runs my sales and marketing operations. He’s a millennial, he’s 30, and he is tireless. He never stops. He also works out of DC and we’re in Philadelphia. He works out of his home in DC. He’s up in our office plenty of times. You see him frequently, but for the most part he’s remote. He’s remote all the time, so we’re in this quarantine working from home type where everyone is, but when we’re in normal business operations, we’re all in the office. People do drive bys by my office and they ask me questions. They sit on my couch, we catch up for a couple minutes, we take a walk around the building, we grab a cup of coffee. I can’t do that with him and he’s one of the guys that I work most closely with. He is on my screen nonstop. I can tell you everything that’s in the back of his office behind him because I see him on my screen all the time.

In fact, I even hung pictures in my office so when he’s looking at me on the screen, it wasn’t just a white wall of my face, there was actually art behind me so that it looked better on the screen.

James O’Flaherty:

That’s very kind of you.

Kevin Hyde:

I know. Well, the face can only do so much. Anyway, what I started to do because I felt bad, we might end the afternoon on a Friday afternoon, you know everyone’s feeling good. It’s like it’s 4:00 o’clock, let’s knock off a little early. If you’re not going to go grab a happy hour or whatever, you’re going to go your separate ways, check out a little bit early. Then, we would leave and I might get a text from him. His name’s Casey and I might get a text from him, “I have a question about something.” I’m like, “Oh, man. We all logged off like an hour ago. I’m already home with the kids.” That only happened once or twice.

I have a practice now where because I have basically a permanent telework employee, every Friday afternoon, I call him. I will call him, I will initiate the call just to check in. What a great week or what a tough week. Just a check in. Any loose ends, anything you need to complete up? Is there any weekend homework as we call it? Any homework we need to do this weekend to catch up on things and get ahead. It is something I found was really crucial because he was feeling left out, but he wouldn’t say it. I knew he did. We came up with the arrangement that it was okay for him to be in DC because he’s amazing at his job. He’s great. He’s a valuable member of the team and I wanted to make sure he always feels like he has a complete week just like we all do. Again, that phone call piece, a little bit more intimate, not like a video conference where you feel like you’re reporting out on something.

James O’Flaherty:

I can only imagine with the mixture of onsite and telework just with Layer 8 how you guys are organized, it forces leaders to be a little more chameleonic and adjusting to the medium and the ways that you’re communicating with different people. That can get exhausting. With younger generations, it’s built in to the programing that they have. They’re used to this virtual aspect. You and I, we’re used to the face to face interpersonal communication there. I think that the younger generations are set up for success in a lot of ways better than we are. Millennials for a pretty good long while were getting a bad rep, but now it’s starting to turn a corner a little bit. First of all, have you seen how millennials have really developed? Is that something that you’re exposed to? Number two, what are some of the strengths and best characteristics that they have going forward that make you rest at ease because they’re going to be the ones to take over after we’re retired?

Kevin Hyde:

I know. One thing, about a year ago I went on an anti email rant. I work in cyber security. Cyber security analysts and engineers, we only pretty much hire the best, so this isn’t a plug, but we hire people who are really great at their job at the senior level of where they can be with their talent level, which means they’re also pre Madonnas. What that means is they feel like no matter what, they’re right. When I have one of my engineers or analysts get into an email back and forth whether it’s internal to the Layer 8 team or whether it’s with a client, I set up a rule. I said after the second email response if it’s not resolved, pick up the phone. If you have to call the client, call the client. If it’s an internal teammate, walk down the hall, get up from your desk, go, and talk to them in person. Say, here’s what I was trying to get at. Here’s what I’m trying to do because people will be much more forceful, authoritative, and bratty frankly in an email versus in person, people aren’t like that. They just won’t be as bad.

It’s like you know the guys when they’re in their cars on the highway. When you got a big truck and all of a sudden this tiny little Napoleon gets out of the truck and he’s no longer ranting and raving at you because he’s going to let the road rage go. The email is not that dissimilar. I also have guys who are very good at their job and they’re fully convinced they are right almost all the time. Sometimes, you’re not. Sometimes, it’s not that you’re wrong, it’s that you didn’t communicate well. The realities of that, I try to head for our team all the time. It doesn’t matter how right you are if you can’t communicate it well, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t say it well enough, if they didn’t understand your point like you said earlier, it doesn’t matter what you said, it matters what they heard. Well, they didn’t hear that. They heard whatever they heard and you emailing back and forth with them berating them with more and more words is not going to get the job done.

You can’t lead like that and you can’t service a client like that. It’s hard to even follow like that. The younger generation, I think that’s something they need to understand. You can’t use email as the prime only medium. When I do tell some of my millennials that work for me I want you to call the client, they’ll say, “I sent them an email.” Okay, my instruction was call the client, not email the client. If I said communicate with the client and dealer’s choice, then okay. If you send an email, that’s fine. My instruction was clear. It was call the client. Pick up the phone and call them. They’re so used to I’d rather just send an email. I get that you’d rather do that, it’s not going to go well for you. You need to pick up the phone. Getting them to understand that, they’re sort of afraid frankly. This is a generation that grew up without having to make phone calls. This is a generation that’s never had a camera that wasn’t also a phone. It’s just these realities that’s their world. I don’t know that I answered all the questions, but I tried. Tell me if I missed one.

James O’Flaherty:

I mean, these are great points. The idea is to provide a couple tidbits for listeners and for people going forward to address some of these issues because especially right now with the COVID-19 pandemic ushering in this wave of working remotely, communication is becoming all the more important. One thing that you’ve really harped on and you haven’t said it directly, but you said it in a couple different ways. It’s not necessarily the most difficult thing in the world to adjust your communication style to different people. One of the last things that I’d like to cover here for you specifically is, can you tell us how those aren’t really that big of challenges and just describe how you’ve been able to adjust your communication style to different people? Maybe provide some advice on ways to go about thinking about it because adjusting your communication style to fit dozens of different personalities can seem like a daunting task if you were to just describe it to someone who’s not used to it.

Kevin Hyde:

It’s a good point, there’s a couple things you made me think of there. One, when I was a marine, I cared about my marines. You can be successful or not based upon, did you keep your marines alive? Were they trained well enough? Were they able to get the job done? Were they able to support an active kinetic force? In the business world, are people feeling fulfilled? Are they feeling like they are in a good spot personally, professionally? Do they feel motivated? For everybody, it’s different. This being my company and the co founder of this company, I genuinely care about everybody on the team. I want them to win. The more they win, the more we win. That’s a leadership mentality I think of anybody that genuinely cares, they’re going to think like that, but everyone’s different.

Everyone’s a mixed bag and everyone has their baggage. They have luggage too, but everyone has their baggage. Everyone has what makes them, them. It’s like when you’re working at the top leadership level in the organization, you’re almost like a lady of the night if you will. Who do you need me to be right now? Do I need to be the caring, nurturing leader? Do I need to be the strong authority standing in front of a group of people, deliver a strong message, and walk away kind of thing? There’s a time and a place for everything. You have to figure out, who do you need to be for who’s around you? When I was a kid, I went to church and the pastor, it turns out after a couple years of knowing him, he spoke five or six languages. I said, “Why’d you learn so many languages?” He said, “Well, if I’m going to be good at my job, then I have to be able to communicate with everybody. I have to speak different languages and I have to be who I need them to be in order for them to get what they need from me.”

That stuck with me. I think I was 15, but obviously it stuck with me. It was poignant. You just never know who you’re communicating with and how they’re going to take it. I just always have my feelers out trying to make sure, who is this person? How are they going to communicate? I’ve got Eastern Europeans, Asian cultures, African cultures, different American cultures all in our microcosm of Layer 8 Security alone. They all have different means of communicating. There’s different ways to show appreciation, there’s different ways to listen to. That’s one thing we’re talking about speaking, we haven’t even addressed as much about the listening piece, which I know we both know is important, but how you listen to different people is going to make a difference in how they think you received their message. Do they feel heard? Do they feel like you got it? There are times when I have to be really clear like, I fully understand your position, I understand what you want to do, I get how you feel like that’s the right path. We’re not going to do it that way, we’re going to do it this way instead.

If I don’t recreate that I heard them, I get it, I got it when it comes to the younger generation, that is so incredibly important. The older generation, this is probably I’m stereotyping. I’m generalizing, I know this, but older generation folks, anybody older than me if I say I hear you, we’re going to do this instead. They’re like, got it. You’re in charge, it’s on you. If it goes belly up, it’s on you anyway. It’s your call, so okay. Do what you want. They’ve provided their insight, their guidance, and then I’m going to make the decision ultimately. When it’s the younger generation if I say we’re not going to do it that way, they think now it’s my time to argue. No. I heard you, this is no longer a discussion, this is now here’s the order. Here’s what I want you to do with it.

It’s definitely something that I know I’m generalizing, but that is one of the more true leadership styles I’ve seen evolve. The more millennials I have, the more I have to make sure they feel heard and everything is fine. They’re not wrong for me not taking their advice or their guidance. I’m going to make the decision. I think when they really start to understand that is when they are in charge. When you start to give them a chance to get it wrong, then they start to get that they have to follow their instincts. Just because somebody gave them input doesn’t mean it was the right input.

James O’Flaherty:

I know a lot of times with those conversations if somebody knows that you took into consideration their perspective and some of the things they’re concerned about when you made your decision, it doesn’t matter really what the decision is, they’re more comfortable following it knowing that you gave them an audience and that you valued their opinion. That kind of thing, I agree with you. It comes with age where younger generations want to make an impact, they’re just the type of blitzkrieg. Let’s move, move, move. Any type of deviation from that if you say I hear you but that’s not what we’re going to do, that interrupts that thought process. I 100 percent agree with you that it’s a experience related skill that I’m confident they’ll learn just as well as previous generations did too.

Kevin Hyde:

They will too. It can be true that it does come with age. The more age you have on your belt, the more opportunities you will have had to lead. The one thing I try to encourage all my teammates to do is go outside of your comfort zone. Go volunteer at an organization. If you think you’re bad at numbers, offer to be the treasurer, the finance person, or if you think you’re not good at public speaking, go stand up a committee and have to address a committee once week or something. If you can’t get that practical experience in your job because you’re just not there yet, get it somewhere else. Go find a place where you can excel in that role. I’ve seen it. My wife, frankly she did it. She was already good at finance, she hadn’t had a lot of leadership experience. She started volunteering at a charity and she became vice president of the whole thing. Did an amazing job at communicating, coming up with new direction, and then she also advanced her finance skills. Within a year, she got a promotion at work. Two years later, she just got another one. That’s an extremely close personal experience, but it’s just the reality. You get the experience. It doesn’t matter where you got it, as long as you get it.

James O’Flaherty:

I agree. Kevin, I know that I’ve been priming you with questions here. Is there anything that I haven’t asked or anything that you were thinking about that you’d like to share that I didn’t really give you a chance to express?

Kevin Hyde:

I wouldn’t say that I haven’t had a chance, but the one thing that is just in having this conversation and I’m actively thinking about these realities. It’s one of those things where you don’t realize what you’ve learned until you start to teach. In this case, I don’t think about my generational differences from my coworkers enough because it can be something that I go on autopilot with. I call my sales and marketing operations manager Friday afternoon. Well, that’s a non autopilot, I just do that. I know that there are probably some ways as we’ve been talking of and thinking, are there some ways that I’ve been on autopilot with my communication mediums? How do I need to shake it up? Now that we’re in this … hopefully not for very long, but we’re in this pandemic situation where we’re all working from home, I feel like there’s definitely a possibility that you can get stale. I’m just getting present to the idea that I need to make sure I’m innovating my own methods. This isn’t like clearly I’ve succeeded so I’m done. I’ll just keep doing this forever. That’s not how you win. I’m just thinking now about making sure I’m not getting stale, make sure that I’m innovating, reaching out, trying something new when I can.

James O’Flaherty:

Well, I’m glad that we were able to add some value to your life just by the nature of this conversation.

Kevin Hyde:

Me too.

James O’Flaherty:

How should people get ahold of you if they wanted to reach out to you or to Layer 8 just in general?

Kevin Hyde:

Good question. Aside from having a bat signal, I would say if you have Kevin.Hyde@Layer8Security.com. Layer8Security.com is our website. If you go on our contact form and want to connect up with me, just say heard Kevin on the podcast. Enough people get that and they know what activities I’ve been involved in, they’ll get it. Layer8Security.com, Kevin.Hyde@Layer8Security.com.

James O’Flaherty:

Awesome. Well, Kevin, I am going to let you get back to what I know is a busy schedule. Definitely, appreciate you taking some time to chat with us. I wish you all the best with the COVID-19 pandemic. If nothing else, we’ll adjourn. Thanks, everyone.

Kevin Hyde:

Outstanding. Thanks for the opportunity to talk with you. I hope anything I’ve learned is a benefit to those around you. Much appreciated.

James O’Flaherty:

Absolutely.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks for joining us this week on the gothamCulture Podcast. Make sure you visit our website, GothamCulture.com, where you can subscribe to the show, find show notes, or contact us for support regarding your organizational culture challenges. Special thanks to Blue Sky Podcasting for producing and sponsoring this episode. To learn more about producing custom podcasts for your organization, check out the folks at Blue Sky at www.BlueSkyPodcasting.com. Until next time, this is your host, Chris Cancialosi, and I look forward to our next discussion.

 

Executive Coaching: Impacting Performance at all Levels of Leadership

In this episode, Chris Cancialosi interviews executive coach, Dave Bushy, of Boston Executive Coaching.

Over the last 20 years, executive coaching has stepped into the foreground as a way of providing hyper-focused development support to key leaders in organizations. Now, organizations around the world are beginning to see for themselves the impact that executive coaching can have on performance at all levels. Dave describes the difference between coaching and training, the evolution of coaching, and how technology will affect coaching in years to come.

Released: March 25, 2020

Show notes and transcript: Dave refers to a favorite book of his titled Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

Executive Coaching: Impacting Performance at All Levels of Leadership – gothamCulture Podcast Transcript

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome to the gothamCulture podcast, where we talk about any topic you’d like so long as those topics are organizational culture, leadership or people strategy. Each week we talk with industry leaders, and discuss cultural opportunities and challenges in the workplace. Providing you with actionable tips and strategies that you can implement in your organizations. My name is Chris Cancialosi and this is the gothamCulture podcast. Over the last 20 years, the process of executive coaching has stepped into the foreground as a way of providing hyper-focused development support to key leaders and organizations. What was once relegated to the most senior levels and leaders is fast proliferating organizations at all levels. As people begin to see and experience the impact that coaching has on performance. In addition, technological innovation has helped make coaching more accessible to a greater number of people.

Accrediting bodies, such as the International Coach Federation have established standards for coach quality and consistency. As the field matures, there are a variety of exciting things happening. Today I have Dave Bushy joining me. Dave is an executive coach with Boston Executive Coaches. Also, in addition to his coaching, Dave is a very respected former airline executive and pilot. He served at Delta Airlines for 25 years, both as a pilot and eventually working his way up to senior vice president of flight operations. He also served as JetBlue’s vice president of flight operations, and then moved on to the role of president and COO at Cape Air Nantucket Airlines for seven years. Prior to that, earlier in his career, Dave, like me served in the United States army, and is a graduate of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Today, Dave is serving as an executive coach with Boston Executive Coaches, and he’s coaching corporate executives and their teams. Dave, thanks so much for being with us today.

Dave Bushy:

It’s my pleasure, thank you.

Chris Cancialosi:

Dave really excited to talk to you today and just in the spirit of full transparency, I’ve known you for many years, going all the way back to our JetBlue days, and have had the opportunity to work with you for years now. Curious from your perspective as a full-time coach, how have you seen the field of coaching evolve over the years?

Dave Bushy:

Well, I experienced coaching at JetBlue. In fact, I think you were one of the people that offered it to me, or certainly one of the people that helped shepherd in the program into JetBlue. I experienced coaching in the early 2000s, and it was new to me then. What I’ve found having been coached and now being a coach for most of the last 10 years is that it’s become much more accepted, much more well-known. It is now transcending just that CEO level and those senior executive leadership teams, and it’s permeating throughout the organization. We’re getting a lot of really good understanding and market penetration as it were within corporations. I think the other change is the number of coaches has grown exponentially, which has some benefit. It also probably has some downsides because people have so much choice it’s very difficult for them to find the coach that fits for them.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. What do you think some of the trends are going to be that help coaching gain momentum in the coming years, you’re talking about greater accessibility, greater understanding of what coaching does.

Dave Bushy:

What I found in my career and as an executive 35 years in business, and now as an executive coach, and one informs the other very, very well, is coaching was not understood at the C-suite, even 360s weren’t understood. 360s had not been around as long as we think they are. This scary thing called a 360, people are going to say something about me. Somebody is going to say that I wear my hat wrong or something, I feel very vulnerable. We’re seeing that change a lot. I remember the CEOs that would say, “Well, you can go ahead and evaluate Dave or Joe or Louise. I don’t need to be evaluated, I’m the CEO.” There’s much more of an understanding and appreciation at the senior levels. What I think I’m seeing is that more and more people at the beginning levels of leadership through the middle tiers of leadership and up to the highest tiers of leadership have experienced it so powerfully that now CEOs are saying, “Hey, it worked for me, I want it to work for you.”

No longer is it this unknown. We still have that unknown category, the boomers like me. This is still a little bit new age for people, and that can be scary. That can be really scary. It would have been scary if somebody had offered it to me at Delta Airlines, which was this old state company, wonderful company. But this trendy new company called JetBlue, it was like, wow, it won’t be scary because I can try it with a group of people that are open to possibilities. I think we’re seeing a real healthy evolution and a healthy understanding and great market penetration throughout all ranks of leadership

Chris Cancialosi:

It’s a great point. Because I know back when I started in coaching now quite a few years ago, there was almost a negative connotation to it. That it was something that people who really needed correction would get a coach. I’ve personally found that really changing over the years. What’s your experience with that?

Dave Bushy:

You still get the call that says fix this person. This person is broken. I don’t think anybody is broken. I do think that we all, my optimistic viewpoint is we all have the ability to grow, and we all have the desire to grow. Sometimes it has to be kindled. Fixing somebody is not something that coaching does. It is also not training. Coaching is not training, it’s development. It’s individual personal growth. It’s not changing somebody fundamentally, it’s adding to their repertoire. When we coach somebody we say, “You’re really good at this, you’re really well-developed in this.” I use the term well-developed, and it can serve you. Occasionally it might not serve you. Invite the client to be curious about where they might be less developed.

What you really want to do is to expand their range. I don’t do that through training I do it through inquiry. I certainly do a lot of resource offerings. There’s so much great open source material. You talk about technology, I’ve got libraries galore available to me at my fingertips. I can find open source data, I can find summaries of books. Kahneman’s book thinking fast and thinking slow is one of the best books I’ve ever read. An executive doesn’t have time to read Kahneman, and yet the summaries are there so I can provide the summaries that advertise his book and tells people about it. The capabilities are there, the desire is there, and I think the understanding that it’s not fixing, it’s not training its development is growing. We still have places where it occurs. I got called last year, “Come fix this guy he’s on his final warning.” That’s a tough place for somebody to be.

Chris Cancialosi:

Sometimes coaching might not be the appropriate intervention?

Dave Bushy:

Yes, absolutely.

Chris Cancialosi:

You had mentioned technological innovation. Putting my futurist hat on as I’m in this industry and trying to think about what will coaching or consulting look like in 10 years, 20 years? How do you see things like technological innovation supporting or derailing the effectiveness of coaching in years to come?

Dave Bushy:

Supporting is interesting. I’ve always been the face-to-face guy. Not because I’ve been on the planet longer than you have, I just value that face-to-face contact with somebody. Because to establish contact as you know, all the nonverbal cues are critical. I find that I will never give up that face-to-face on the initial download with the client. My job is to meet the client where he or she is, to learn what their developmental desires are, not tell them. I can’t tell them, they’re inside of them. We can use data to find it out, 360s interviews. I use a tool that I give people to answer questions about themselves, and yet making that contact with them and knowing them is critical. We can then go to the platforms. This platform has higher fidelity than we had how many years ago? A year ago, we did not have this level of fidelity.

Zoom is a great platform. There are other platforms that I need not mention that are not as strong. This is a great platform, and you can see my lips move and it’s in sync with your ears, which… We’re seeing cell phones gets better. Cell phones. You can’t say uh-huh on many cell phones, because you’d step on somebody. If you stop the flow of a conversation, there’s real downside as you know. Even saying uh-huh that’s interesting, people say, “Come again. What did you just say?” This allows us to be able to say uh-huh or to nod. I think this technology can be very powerful.

I think that there are some pitfalls and I really believe in mindfulness. I think it’s so powerful for each of us. I’m not sure a mindfulness app gets me there. I think it can remind me. But the mindfulness is work within myself. I think the mindfulness app can be wonderful. If I develop a coaching app, it might seem like well that checks that box of coaching. I’m not sure it can. I think it can remind me of the steps I want to take in coaching just as a mindfulness app can. By the way, I think mindfulness apps are great, but they can’t replace the work that you do within yourself.

Chris Cancialosi:

Almost if I can just check my own understanding of that, seeing technology as a way to supplement the core of coaching is where you see it being most high-impact?

Dave Bushy:

Yes. Sometimes people use, as you know we build awareness working with the individual, we build awareness about what their developmental needs are, invite them to action. They come up with their action plan and we help them. We support that action plan, and we talk about how did it work? They might try new things and report back, and see how it works for them so they can expand their range. Some people will have it on their screen. These are my action steps, because I like people to be able to know that it’s in my bones, it’s part of me. This is what I want to work on the rest of my life, so the technology can offer to them. But people still use three by five cards, [inaudible 00:12:19] three by five cards. “These are the five things I’m always going to be working on Dave.” It’s a combination.

Chris Cancialosi:

That’s the wonderful thing about coaching from my perspective, is it really is an individual process.

Dave Bushy:

It is.

Chris Cancialosi:

That works go for it.

Dave Bushy:

There’s seven billion individual stories on this planet.

Chris Cancialosi:

Well, so Dave, as of this point, and we’ve covered a lot of ground in a really big field. Talking about the future of coaching, how it’s expanded beyond executive coaching to coaching leaders at all levels, coaching high potential employees to develop, coaching teams. It’s really picked up a lot of momentum where we’ve talked about how technology may serve to support the effectiveness, but not replace the coach. We’re going to take a really quick break. When we come back, we’re going to talk a little bit about, so I work in an organization and this seems like it might be an appropriate intervention for folks in my organization, but where do we start? Coming back with Dave Bushy here in just a moment. This episode of the gothamCulture podcast is produced and sponsored by our partners at Blue Sky podcasting.

Communicating with your customers, stakeholders and employees can be challenging at times. The team at Blue Sky podcasting provides high-end production and post-production support to organizations looking to leverage podcasting as a tool to increase transparency and engagement with their customers and employees. If you’re interested in learning how podcasting can provide your organization with a highly engaging communication tool that’s easy to scale, you should check out our partners at Blue Sky podcasting at www.blueskypodcasting.com. Okay, we’re back with Dave Bushy, executive coach with Boston Executive Coaches. Been talking a lot about the evolution of coaching and how it’s proliferated all levels within organizations now. At this point Dave, what I’m really curious about is, I’m working in an organization, I understand that coaching might be an effective solution to employ within my organization. Where do I start?

Dave Bushy:

When you’re looking to learn about coaching, I invite people to find out what coaching is to begin with. ICF has a great summary of what coaching is. There’s a lot of really good articles about it too. You have to understand the difference between coaching and consulting and training. If you think you’re hiring a coach to train or consult, that might not serve you as well as you’d like. Understanding that distinction is critical. Then inviting the coach into your organization to learn about it and being open to what coaching is, learn from the person. I will go into any organization and love to talk to the highest levels organization and the newest entry level employee about what’s involved in coaching. Critical thing here is the leaders need to get it. If leaders don’t get it, the organization might not be ready for it.

I was asked to do team coaching at a place, and it was a wonderful group of people, but the boss didn’t believe in coaching. I was very curious and tried to find out about it, but could never really discern where the boss was stuck on that. I can’t move forward without that appreciation. You’ve got to have a buy-in of the idea at all levels in the organization up to and including, “Hey, I’m willing to do 360s, I’m willing to be vulnerable in front of my people, and willing to demonstrate an ability to learn, the desire to learn.” I don’t think going in with everybody being coached works to begin with. I think you start small. Start with two or three people being coached and let them be your pathfinders. In the Airborne in the army we had pathfinders. I think you need pathfinders in any concept. That’s what you did at JetBlue. I was one of the pathfinders that volunteered for coaching and it changed my life.

Chris Cancialosi:

That’s a really interesting point. What I’m hearing is definitely leaders need to be bought in. If the senior most leaders are ambivalent or actively against it, it’s going to be a lot harder road. But I’m also hearing, hey, don’t try to eat the elephant all at once. Try to run some pilots, show some value, integrate it that way.

Dave Bushy:

Absolutely.

Chris Cancialosi:

Got it. One question that folks often ask me when we’re talking about coaching in general, is the importance for a coach to have industry experience in the industry of the person that they are coaching the coaching client. What are your thoughts on that?

Dave Bushy:

I get that question a lot. I spent my entire career in aviation, which is not aerospace it’s really the transportation sector of aviation. I wasn’t involved in production or supply chain. I was involved in moving people safely between two points. I get asked that, “Well, you don’t know anything about manufacturing. You don’t know anything about the HR function of what we do here.” I always ask I turn things into questions as I’m sure you do as a coach. It boils down to life experience that can inform inquiry. My life experience is such that I’ve lived a lot of lives. I’ve lived a military life, I’ve lived a life at Delta Airlines, and JetBlue, Cape Air. I’ve seen the HR ups and downs. I’ve seen the financial equations. I know how to read the top left corner of a financial statement and the bottom right corner of a financial statement.

I’ve had the HR person that was my ally and the HR person that might not have been as strong, and the finance person that was a pain in the butt. They have to be sometimes, and the one that came on my wing when I needed it. That informs inquiry. I can’t say I’m an expert in aviation and I’m going to teach you about aviation. I can say I’ve got life experience that will inform how I approach you. I haven’t met any aviation clients in years. I coach people from I have lawyers, doctors, and executives in all different walks of life.

It’s just wonderful to join in their journey, and just to be able to have life experience and executive level experience. We have an MD on our Boston Executive Coaches. She’s an MD, she’s not been a corporate executive. I can tell you her approach is sound and experientially based, and just built with appreciative inquiry, and that’s what you need. You don’t need the expertise in that particular sector. I do think you need some life experience. I’m not sure that somebody just out of college wants to be a coach. But somebody that’s had rich life experience even a few years out of college, I’m sure could do a very, very solid job.

Chris Cancialosi:

I appreciate your insight into that. I often wonder, I get asked this question as well, and I often wonder if possibly having a lot of industry experience can harm your effectiveness as a coach, because you go in with your own preconceived notions.

Dave Bushy:

Thank you for bringing that up. I can’t have preconceived notions and I can’t offer up advice. Sometimes coaches try to they push the boundary and conflate coaching with advice. When I went through coaching school, which is [inaudible 00:20:52] regular school they said, “If somebody asks your advice, you tell them that you’re transitioning to consulting, and you do it with a little reluctance,” [inaudible 00:21:03] do that. It is nice as you point that out, I really like the way you pointed that out because you can have a bias. You can have a bias because it’s not done the way we did it back at good old Delta or JetBlue.

Chris Cancialosi:

I’d imagine without having that industry experience and expertise, you can’t possibly move into advice mode, because you don’t have that experience. It mitigates that risk. We’ve talked about if you’re working in an organization, maybe leading a learning function and trying to incorporate a coaching culture, coaching process into your organization. What about if you’re not in that position? You’re working in a job, any job, and you feel like you could benefit from a coaching experience, but your organization doesn’t offer it. Is there anything that these folks can do to access those resources on their own?

Dave Bushy:

You can certainly engage a coach on your own. Any coach will be perfectly willing to work with you outside the confines of the organizational structure. As a coach you try to be very, very flexible in pricing for the individual. Because if somebody is paying on their own, you have to meet them where they are and what their capabilities are. I think that if you link up with the right coach, every coach wants to be able to talk about what they do. I think the coach that can provide the resources to the individual gets a little bit more bang for the buck for the individual.

I have a bookshelf full of books and probably 500 articles, open source articles that are available that I can give somebody. Everything from Marilee Adams Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, to Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations. All of those can be beneficial for the individual. The individual sometimes has to understand that they’re dealing with that CEO or that president or that senior vice president that is not going to change. Their ability to thrive in the organization is going to be dependent on their ability to meet the individual where they are, or perhaps decide not to stay. That’s the difficult transitions we make in life. Just being aware of the fact that you’re not going to be able to change that boss is a huge, huge step.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you for that. One of the terms that I’ve heard you use several times in our conversation is meeting people where they’re at.

Dave Bushy:

Yes.

Chris Cancialosi:

To me, that really resonates as one of the fundamental differences of coaching versus any other type of development, is that you’re going in without an agenda.

Dave Bushy:

Yes.

Chris Cancialosi:

You’re meeting them where they’re at in that moment to be most effective.

Dave Bushy:

That’s our optimistic stance at Boston Executive Coaches, and many, many coaches is, I’m not going to come in and say what I think you need to be, I want to find out where you want to grow.

Chris Cancialosi:

Let me ask you a question spiraling back to the individual looking for a coach. If I were looking for a coach, I’m going to go to Google presumably. What do I need to be thinking about when I am in the process of selecting the best partner for me?

Dave Bushy:

My view is biased in this way, I do think you need to find the right fit. I do think that the right fit for the individuals I deal with is nonformulaic. Somebody has a formula that says if you go through these eight steps, this is going to work for you. That might work for somebody. I think it better serves the client by saying let you and I come up with the formula. As you know, I own the scheduling and the process. I call it building the scaffolding for somebody. They own the work. I can’t say if you do these eight steps you’re going to get there. I would say find the right fit, and if the formula works for you, that’s fine. Be wary of the formula though, because that’s like the app that can do the work for you.

Chris Cancialosi:

There’s definitely a science to it and an art as well.

Dave Bushy:

Absolutely, and the ROI you’re going to always get the question about ROI. I go, if we have a really good sponsor meeting to begin with, and we have a really good sponsor meeting that ends, sponsor being the HR rep or the boss that is really paying the bills, and they see that you’ve started to shift and they see that you’ve expanded your range, that’s your ROI.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Dave, I’ve got one final question for you. This one’s an open-ended one here, but what haven’t I asked you that I should have asked you?

Dave Bushy:

Why did I become a coach?

Chris Cancialosi:

Why did you become a coach?

Dave Bushy:

I derived such benefits from coaching, and grew as an individual by joining with another human being, and being challenged by her to build my awareness and move to action. It gives me just this unbelievable sense of fulfillment at this stage in my career to be able to talk to that young woman or that young man, see where they want to grow and help them explore ideas without giving them answers, and letting them have it reside inside their heart and make a difference. I spent 37 years, too many years in quarterly board meetings getting the strategic plans and all those things that are so necessary. The development of that human being is to me the most beautiful thing we can do for each other.

Chris Cancialosi:

That’s a fantastic response. The coaching process is a really fantastic experience. I feel like as a coach I gain as much as I give. I echo your sentiment on that absolutely. Dave, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. Dave Bushy, executive coach with Boston Executive Coaches. If people want to learn more about you and the coaches at Boston Executive Coaches, where can they find out more information?

Dave Bushy:

We have a website, bostonexecutivecoaches.com, or my email is Dave Bushy, D-A-V-E B-U-S-H-Y @gmail.com.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you Dave. For listeners if you didn’t catch that, that will be available in the show notes as well, so we encourage you to check that out. Dave thanks again.

Dave Bushy:

Thank you.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks for joining us this week on the gothamCulture podcast. Make sure you visit our website gothamculture.com, where you can subscribe to the show, find show notes, or contact us for support regarding your organizational culture challenges. Special thanks to Blue Sky podcasting for producing and sponsoring this episode. To learn more about producing custom podcasts for your organization, check out the folks at Blue Sky at www.blueskypodcasting.com. Until next time this is your host, Chris Cancialosi and I look forward to our next discussion.

 

Customer Experience: Exceeding Your Customer's Expectations

In this episode, Chris Cancialosi interviews David Hicks, CEO of TribeCX.

People’s expectations of brands have increased, seemingly on a daily basis. Customers (and colleagues) expect a consistent high-quality experience no matter what kind of organization you work for. David discusses how to integrate customer experience into your company’s strategy and how to measure the ROI through metrics.

Released: March 25, 2020

Show notes and transcript: Dave refers to a book about how Net Promoter companies thrive in a customer-driven world The Ultimate Question by Fred Reichheld.

Customer Experience: Exceeding Your Customer’s Expectations – gothamCulture Podcast Transcript

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome to the gothamCulture podcast, where we talk about any topic you’d like, so long as those topics are organizational culture, leadership, or people strategy. Each week, we talk with industry leaders and discuss cultural opportunities and challenges in the workplace, providing you with actionable tips and strategies that you can implement in your organizations.

I’m Chris Cancialosi and I’m joined today by David Hicks, CEO of TribeCX. One of the things that I’ve noticed over the last few years is that people’s expectations of brands is increasing, seemingly on a daily basis. And I myself have become accustomed to brands that deliver high quality experiences, and it’s definitely impacted my expectations when interacting with any brand. So when I interact with a brand that fails to deliver that same high quality consistent experience, I feel myself having a palpable negative reaction because my general expectations of how I should be treated have been elevated to such a high standard.

And with the power that technology provides consumers nowadays, it’s never been easier for individuals to air their grievances with brands to millions of people at the push of a button. Those organizations that are best able to meet their customer’s expectations are those that are going to succeed in this new reality, but delivering a consistent and high quality experience is easier said than done. Today, I’m joined by David Hicks, CEO of the customer experience firm TribeCX. David and his team have worked with and coached hundreds of organizations to make their brands’ experiences real every day. Welcome to the show, David.

David Hicks:

Thanks, Chris. Great to be here. So thanks for the invite.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. We’re thrilled to have you. And as somebody who has dedicated his professional career to this concept of customer experience, I’m curious from your perspective, when people throw around this term, what does customer experience mean to you?

David Hicks:

Well, customer experience is different to most other things in as much as it’s an outcome. So great customer experience happens when an organization is deliberately designed, Chris, the rational, the what we do, and the how we do it. And the deliberate design of those things and being clear about the type of emotions that we want to actually leave customers, and I’ll come to customers in a second, that sort of thing is usually left to chance. A great customer experience, that’s deliberately designed and then it’s persistently and consistently delivered across the organization. Because to your point, the expectations of customers are increasing, because some organizations are doing a pretty good job of this. So folks don’t suffer fools. If it’s a lousy experience and it’s actually not consistent with what you’re expecting from a business of it’s quality, folks vote with their feet and they’ll tell you and everybody else about it.

And they also expect that to be something that’s consistent. I don’t want to be treated well in one part of the organization, then when I turn up somewhere else, I get another experience. So people’s expectations are changing. And if I may, can I just talk a little about what does customer mean, Chris? Because that’s not just the person that pays the bills. Brands need to work for, as you’d know, probably better than most, for your customers, but also for your internal customers, your colleagues. So it’s all about hiring and retaining the right talent. There’s a real war for the best possible talent. So as well as delivering a great experience to customers, you have to be delivering a great experience to your colleagues, for them to deliver a great experience to your customers.

So that brand experience needs to be thought through, working for your colleagues and for your customers, and just for more complexity, you probably also have folks who were helping in the delivery of your experience that are subcontractors, or folks that are contracted. Airports, for example, often use other organizations to do the baggage handling or the check-in. So as far as the customer’s concerned, it’s all the same for United Airlines or American Airlines. So your partners, your colleagues, and your customers, they’re the folks that need to understand, deliver, be embraced by your customer experience. It’s not rocket science, Chris, but it’s not easy. So I’m happy to maybe get into some more of the detail as to how great organizations do it.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, fascinating. And some of the key points that I took from that, David, is that it’s deliberately designed, it’s not leaving it up to chance. And not only is it deliberately designed, but it’s consistently delivered. And I can imagine how difficult it might be to develop that level of consistency when you’re working with geographically dispersed workforce, with third party vendors who are representing your brand. It sounds like a mountain.

David Hicks:

Well, it is. And it’s really wise for a leader in an organization that’s considering leading the experience agenda to say how much of it’s going to be for us to get to the top of the mountain. So my counsel is always, “Let’s get folks to base camp and see the benefits of that, and then we’ll get on to the second camp and so on.” My counsel is, if the organization is very efficiency focused, very operationally focused, then don’t talk about customer experience, actually. Talk about aligning the organization in a way that reduces internal friction. What will happen is you’ll get all of the business efficiency benefits of folks pointing in the same direction and friction being less, and you’ll get the customer effectiveness benefits of folks having consistency from the experience that you’re delivering.

So a counsel would be, if the prevailing winds are, we’re an operations company, we’re very focused on efficiency, that’s the language you need to use. If you’re a product focused company, you need to be saying to your product owners, “I want to deliver an experience, maybe a service experience, that’s worthy of these amazing products that you’re delivering.” So my counsel to folks who are trying to drive an experience based agenda is just being mindful of the prevailing priorities, and maybe translate the experience agenda into language that’s going to be relevant and engaging for the execs that you’re going to be working with. And in the short term, go after some early wins. There are never easy wins, but you need some hard evidence and proof points, in your business, that an experience agenda actually works. And happy to go into more detail on that later.

Chris Cancialosi:

So it sounds like trying to integrate this work effort as opposed to being a standalone “project,” in air quotes, as something additional. It’s really kind of integrated into the strategy of the organization of what people are doing already, to some extent.

David Hicks:

Chris, is that you, or is that me, that noise in the background? Can you make that out?

Chris Cancialosi:

I can’t.

David Hicks:

Well, sometimes when I say it’s a focus, I say, “What is that? The air conditioning?” Because you’ve heard me speak and use this technique before. I often say to a senior leadership team, when they’re sat around a table being very polite and very proper, “Hey, what is that noise?” They look at each other, very embarrassingly, and they said, “I don’t know. I can’t hear it.” I say, “No, no, no, no. You must be able to make it out.” They say, “No, no no. Why?” I say, “Well, that noise, it’s the sound of your experience being delivered today.” There’s a collective sigh of relief, and they say, “Hang on a minute, what do you mean?” I say, “Well, you’re spending money on your colleagues. You’re spending money on the way that you’re running your business. And you are delivering an experience that is rarely being deliberately designed and optimized.”

So my counsel to folks is it is an enterprise-wide outcome. Your experience is something that’s the outcome of things being aligned or not being aligned. And rather than take on the whole organization to start with, just find parts where you can start to tackle experience. And there are loads of examples. I remember an exec from Disney that was hired into the New York State Education Department. And he turned up on day one, as with all government employees, to actually have his government employee card created. And he said, “The experience was absolutely dreadful. I felt like a number from day one.” And he’s right, and the organization is going to treat you like a number for the rest of your career.

And he said, “That’s so poorly thought through, because we’re paying for our colleagues, and if we’re going to treat them like a number, they’re going to respond like a number. Why on Earth wouldn’t we welcome folks into the organization on day one, make them feel special, make them feel part of something amazing, the education service for this amazing state.” And this wasn’t actually taking on the whole of the organization, it’s taking on literally something that happens in the first day, in the first few hours of someone’s time in the organization. But what it started to do was actually inject folks with a better first impression into the organization. And to Mario’s credit, that’s what he did. He started to get that underway, and he took on one small part, and it started to make a difference. So my counsel is don’t worry yourself about the whole end to end experience at the start, just pick up the first part of it, just pick up something that’s going to start to make a difference, and align folks behind a purposefully designed part of the experience.

Chris Cancialosi:

Got it. So it is possible to break it into some bite-sized chunks that seem a little bit more manageable. Yeah.

David Hicks:

Absolutely. Yeah. And get some evidence, as well. That was the point around getting proof points.

Chris Cancialosi:

So you brought up a government example, and that begs the question. I get tech firms, when I order my Apple iPhone, opening the box is an experience. It’s been thoughtfully designed. People don’t often think of their experience with government agencies to be of the highest quality or best consistency. Is it necessary for government organizations to be thinking about their customer experience?

David Hicks:

Well, probably, it’s not the first thought on the minds of the leadership of a government agency. Maybe what is, is doing more with less, being efficient, looking after the taxpayer’s dollars efficiently. But when you boil it down, if you’ve got folks aligned behind a commonly understood purpose, if you’ve got folks aligned behind clarity, in terms of how your role fits into the end to end service… It might be the tank service, it might be the park service, whatever. If you’ve got that clarity of intent and purpose, then the efficiency benefits to the government body are considerable. So I’d argue that, even in government context, you could argue probably even more in government context, you should be focused on making sure that the intent, the experience, is being deliberately designed. And there are some really incredible examples of this.

We’re working with the government of Jersey, of all places. This is a small island off the UK. It’s not far from the coast of France, where there currently is a bit of a tax haven that they’re trying to keep very, very, very, very high caliber, high quality, high net worth execs on the island to continue to flourish as a tax haven. And they’ve got competition from Hong Kong, from Shanghai, from other places where those folks could go, so the government of that island realize that government has to really work well, slickly, effortlessly, with zero gaps and bumps between the government departments, if they’ve got a hope of keeping people on the island. They’ve deliberately decided, Chris, that we need to have amazing government here if we’re going to have a hope of keeping the sort of folks that we need in our country. So government departments, for lots of different reasons, Jersey government is probably a bit unique, but if you’re looking after efficiency and effectiveness as a government leader, then absolutely, deliberately designing the experience is a tool that’s available to you, a strategy that’s available to you.

Chris Cancialosi:

That’s really fascinating. Great example. David, we’re going to take a quick break here. Really interesting conversation so far. When we come back from our short break, I’d like to pivot our conversation a bit to make it a bit more tactical. What can folks who are trying to implement these sorts of efforts within their organizations be doing or thinking about, in order to get started? So we’ll be right back with David Hicks, CEO of TribeCX. This episode of the gothamCulture podcast is produced and sponsored by our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting. Communicating with your customers, stakeholders, and employees can be challenging at times. The team at Blue Sky Podcasting provides high end production and post production support to organizations looking to leverage podcasting as a tool to increase transparency and engagement with their customers and employees. If you’re interested in learning how podcasting can provide your organization with a highly engaging communication tool that’s easy to scale, you should check out our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting at www.blueskypodcasting.com.

Okay. Welcome back to the gothamCulture podcast. I’m joined today by Mr. David Hicks, the CEO of customer experience firm TribeCX. And David, wanting to turn the conversation a bit more toward the practical tools and tips for folks who might be thinking about how they get started in this type of an effort. And in the last segment, we had talked about the ability for folks to break customer experience effort down into chunks, but I’d like to dive a little deeper into that. So what would you say to someone who understands that their organization needs to be a bit more deliberate and consistent in the experience they’re delivering, but really doesn’t know where to start?

David Hicks:

Being practical, Chris, the reality is this isn’t something soft and fluffy. If it’s seen as something soft and fluffy, it’s going to fail. It has to be absolutely practical. The business I’m privileged to lead is full of senior practitioners, folks that have actually driven successful customer transformation themselves, and honestly, they’re very humble. You have 75 folks that have been effective, not beating their chest, they’re actually hungry to learn how others do it. And when you talk to them, you say, “Where would you start?” If you’re asking someone where would you start, they typically would say, “Start where there’s blood on the floor.” Whether you are a government organization, whether you’re a public sector, private sector, we’ve even done this sort of work for the church groups. Find out where you’ve got an issue today, that’s a known issue, where becoming more customer centric in that area is going to make a big difference. So, blood on the floor.

Secondly, find a turned on, tuned in leader. This is not rocket science, but it’s not easy. And you need to have a leader that’s going to really get behind this agenda. So, blood on the floor, or a turned on, tuned in leader, or better still, both. So where you start is with someone that’s got a problem that’s actually wanting to try the customer agenda. Where, in terms of the end to end experience, would you typically find most benefits most quickly? Where would you suggest folks start? Well, typically organizations do an absolutely lousy job of bringing colleagues and customers into the organization. The first impressions are rarely, rarely thought through or deliberately designed. So I would imagine in 80% of engagements that I’ve been fortunate to work with colleagues in organizations, that’s a place where we’ve found this gold.

So where would you start? Blood on the floor, turned on, tuned in leader. Where in the process would you start? Start where you’re actually working with folks for the first time, whether with colleagues, back to the New York State Education Department example, or if you’re bringing customers into the organization for the first time, whether they’re business to business customers or business to consumer customers, that first impression. Your point around the Apple product, the opening of the package, that’s not by chance that that’s so impactful. That’s because somebody at Apple has said, “The first time folks will touch our product is literally when they touch our products. So we need to make that absolutely amazing. Exceed their expectations, and make sure it delivers on the brand promise.”

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. And it really is funny that the more organizations that are figuring this out really does skew people’s experience when they interact with organizations that haven’t figured it out. It is that much more obvious and painful when it happens.

David Hicks:

Chris, you’re so right. People’s expectations have changed. And the problem is, even if you’re doing nothing on your customer experience as a leader, because people’s expectations are changing around you, so the background radiation is changing, your experience net is moving backwards. So you’ve got to be aware of how your experience compares to folks that your customers say they’re comparing you against. And let me give you a real life example of this. My wife, a few years ago, she was buying some stuff online for the first time. She was a bit nervous about using the credit cards, so I said, “Darling, here. Can I have the credit card?” And we ordered this item online, and she was amazed. She said, “I’ve just ordered this item at half past 10 at night. I love this country.” She said, “Look. This guy has actually taken the item that I’ve ordered from the store, put it into the truck.”

Because he sent me an email saying, “Mrs. Hicks, your item is now on the truck. It will be with you in three days.” She said, “That’s amazing. There’s a guy working half past seven at night, and he sent me an email.” And I said, “Hang on, darling. Now, all that’s happened is someone’s written a bit of code to do this.” And I explained that she’d probably entered these details and she was just getting those details back to her. But nonetheless, she got that confirming email from this company. She’d ordered, would you believe, garden furniture, having a confirming email. Two or three days later, the weather changed. We needed to buy fleeces. So she sends a note to a major retailer and she came downstairs and she looked a little puzzled. And I said, “Darling, what’s wrong?” She said, “You know what? I didn’t get that confirming email. I’m going back to cancel the order.”

And Chris, that’s a really good example of people’s expectations changing. In the space of three days, you do not get my wife’s business if you don’t send a confirming email. So people’s expectations are changing. You need to understand that, you need to deliberately understand we’re actually being compared against organizations like this, that may be outside of your sector, may be in your sector, but understand how you compare to people’s expectations of what you’re doing, so that at the very least, you stay up with those expectations or you’re getting in front of your customers expectations. Because standing still means, in real terms, that that’s moving backwards.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Yeah. Great example. Thanks, David. One of the things that you had brought up earlier that I wanted to circle back on briefly is the topic of measurement or evaluation. This is an area in organizational change initiatives that is woefully underserved for a variety of reasons. But talk to us a little bit about what that means in customer experience or CX initiatives.

David Hicks:

Sure. Well, there’s been some great work in this era, principally about 11 years ago by a guy called Fred Reichheld. He was part of the Bain organization at the time, and he was charged with trying to understand a predictor of future earnings, future performance. And he concluded that, actually, if you asked your customers, “Would you recommend us to a friend or colleague?” He researched that if you gave folks a 10 point scale, and those that scored you very highly, nines and tens, netted off against those that scored you low, from zero to six, you would actually be able to arrive at a net score of your level of promoters. He called it the Net Promoter Score, and folks in the middle, the ambivalents, they didn’t count in the construction of the Net Promoter Score.

But over time, if that was trending up, Fred’s book asserts that your business performance is going to trend up. If that net score level of advocacy is trending down, he asserts that your business performance would trend down. And he got some very strong correlations in particular sectors. So Net Promoter Score and asking folks, and I’m sure we’ve all heard it dozens of times. I even get asked would I recommend the toilets in an airport nowadays. “Would you recommend these toilets to a friend or colleague?” Everybody’s asking you that. And rightly or wrongly, that Net Promoter Score, would you recommend us, it’s also using the field of employee experience, Chris. So you ask, “Would you recommend this as a great place to work?” Similar 10 point scale. And if that’s trending up, then you’re doing a good job, in terms of your employees. If you’re trending down, you’re doing a less good job. And those metrics have become very, very widely used. And in some respects, they’re actually part of the conversations with shareholders. They’re certainly part of executive scorecards and executive remuneration.

So they take it very seriously, in terms of their indication of the health of an organization’s customer advocacy and this employee advocacy. That said, the correlation with business performance has always been a bit elusive, a bit hard to really prove. And more recently, there’s been some work done around a different measure. “How easy was it to trade with us? How easy was it to do business with us?” So the same sort of mechanism, a zero to 10 point scale, but asking the question instead, “How easy was it to do business with us?” So you’re getting what’s called a Net Effort Score, rather than a Net Promoter Score. And that does seem to have a strong correlation with business performance, and the academic papers that followed the development of that measure are quite robust and prove that very extensively. There’s less academic, there is some, but there’s less academic supports for net promoter. So if you’re wanting something that, with complete confidence, tracks business performance, then try Net Promoter Score or try Customer Effort Score. They seem to give you a handle on, “Are we doing this right, or do we have problems?”

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks David. And for our listeners, if you’re interested in understanding a bit more about the Net Promoter Score, his book, The Ultimate Question written by Fred Reichheld, you can find it wherever books are sold. So, fantastic resource, there. David, I’ve got one more question, and this is such a robust topic, I feel like there’s so many directions we can go. But one more question for you. What haven’t I asked you that I should have asked you, so far?

David Hicks:

Well, I’ve been asked previously, so… This is all very grand, David, but we’ve got scarce resources, got scarce time, scarce. If you had a marginal dollar, where would you spend it? And actually, Chris, the reason why I love working with yourself and your company is because I’ve found that you get maximum benefit, maximum return from actually working with your colleagues. If you have $1, go out and buy a tray of donuts, and listen to your colleagues, and offer them a donut whilst they’re talking to you. Work with your colleagues, your colleague experience, actually getting a handle on the culture, how people think and feel about us as employers. That’s going to give you a massive return. So my counsel will always be start with your employees. Because, truth be told, that makes a massive difference, proportionate to things like Net Promoter Score and so on. And getting the colleagues right, that’s where I’d recommend folks would start. Because if you want to deliver a great experience, you’ve got to start with your colleagues.

Chris Cancialosi:

Got it. David, thank you so much. It’s always a pleasure chatting with you, and the work you do is fascinating. Again, David Hicks, the CEO of TribeCX, the customer experience firm. David, if people want to learn more about you and the work that you and your firm do, where can they get more information?

David Hicks:

Yeah, for sure. So, www.tribecx.com. My email address is david.hicks@tribecx.com. And Fred’s paper that you mentioned, we bought a number of the HBR versions of Fred’s book. So if you ping me an email, I’ll gladly forward you a copy of that, that we bought. Same time, if you’d like to give us a call, my number is a US number. (347) 227-5182. I’d love to chat to folks about this, as you can probably tell. I feel fairly passionate about this.

Chris Cancialosi:

That’s fantastic and definitely comes through.

David Hicks:

Thanks, mate. Thanks for the chance to chat with your audience and chat to you.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely, David. Have a wonderful day and thank you for joining us.

David Hicks:

Thank you.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks for joining us this week on the gothamCulture podcast. Make sure you visit our website gothamculture.com, where you can subscribe to the show, find show notes, or contact us for support regarding your organizational culture challenges. Special thanks to Blue Sky Podcasting for producing and sponsoring this episode. To learn more about producing custom podcasts for your organization, check out the folks at Blue Sky at www.blueskypodcasting.com. Until next time, this is your host, Chris Cancialosi, and I look forward to our next discussion.

Organizational Culture Consulting: Turning Data Into Action

In this episode, Chris Cancialosi interviews Dylan Flavel Managing Director of Melbourne based Spring Point.

Consulting sometimes gets a bad reputation which seems to come from the root issue of “overdiagnosis.” That means consultants spending way too much time assessing the situation and leaving little focus or budget to help their clients making tangible change. Dylan talks about how now clients are hiring consultants to quickly turn data into action. He also discusses how to find the right consulting firm for your organization

Released: March 27, 2020

Organizational Culture Consulting: Turning Data Into Action – gothamCulture Podcast Transcript

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome to the gothamCulture podcast, where we talk about any topic you’d like, so long as those topics are organizational culture, leadership, or people strategy. Each week, we talk with industry leaders, and discuss cultural opportunities and challenges in the workplace, providing you with actionable tips and strategies that you can implement in your organizations. My name is Chris Cancialosi, and this is the gothamCulture podcast.

Welcome everybody. I regularly hear people making snide comments about the consulting industry, and rightfully so, sometimes. Paying high fees, and not really having any measurable impact at the end of the day can be frustrating. While there are certainly some advisors out there in the world who just aren’t well-equipped to bring value to their clients, in my experience, a primary driver of this anti-consultant bias seems to stem from one root issue, and that issue is over-diagnosis.

What I mean by that is that there are many consultants that spend way too much time and effort assessing a client’s situation, and then they leave very little focus or budget to actually help their clients drive any tangible change. It’s time to figure out how we together, turn this typical consulting process on its head by driving speed to value for our clients. In the area of organizational culture consulting for example, things are no different, and this issue has to be understood and addressed. Today, I have my friend and colleague, Dylan Flavel, with me, and Dylan is the managing director of the Melbourne-based advisory firm, Spring Point. Welcome to the show, Dylan.

Dylan Flavel:

Thank you, Chris. Great to be on, and great to get the chance to talk about this particular topic.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, I’m really excited to chat with you today. And Dylan is one of those few folks around the world, who really can truly say that they specialize in the area of organizational culture, assessment, and change. There’s a lot of folks out there who claim it, I can tell you being in this industry for 20 years, Dylan’s one of those few folks that can actually stand and deliver. Dylan, as we dive in, why don’t you tell us a little bit about you and the work you do at Spring Point?

Dylan Flavel:

Yeah, no problem, Chris. So I guess I’ve been doing this type of work, as you described, in this organizational culture and change space, probably about 20 years now. As a business, the organization that I lead, Spring Point, we really focus on helping our clients in three areas. We help them define and connect their culture to their strategy, and implement change around that, and we do a lot of our change work through both organizational capability and leadership. But I think the key word that you used before Chris, is yeah, its cultural work and it’s change work, so it is both. I think the underpinning objective in everything that we do is we’re trying to align culture to strategy through scaled behavior change. And that’s where we’ve been focusing our organization’s efforts in the last five or 10 years in particular.

Chris Cancialosi:

So thanks for that, Dylan. And I kicked off this episode talking about this situation that we find many times when we engage consulting firms to help us in organizations, of over analyzing and really spending the predominant amount of time and budget understanding the issue rather than actually driving tangible change. And you’re somebody who’s done this work for a long time, how have you seen this play out in your career?

Dylan Flavel:

Yeah. So I guess in my 20 years, I’ve spent a good amount of that in internal roles, and probably the last, at least 13 or 14 years, in consulting specifically. And I have seen a fundamental shift in that the last five or 10 in particular. I guess what’s happened in the last period of time is we’ve got access to so much information, and so much data, and consulting firms can no longer rely on just doing a really great diagnostic as a way to bring values to clients. I think clients are really looking for supporting how you turn that data into action, and at pace. So I think that’s one of the key shifts I’ve seen in terms of expectations of clients. I think my background, like many who work in this field has some roots in organizational psychology, and as an academic discipline it’s really cut its teeth in measurement in many ways.

And I think that has been a terrific thing because when you go into organizations, there’s a real need to understand what’s happening and to be able to ensure that we’re focused on the right issues and the things that are at the root cause of the challenges. But as we become more proficient from a technology perspective, and there’s more consulting firms who’ve emerged, we’ve been able to collect more data. And I guess that veiled quote goes, just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should, and I’m not suggesting we should stop measuring, but when that measurement is causing us to allocate, or over allocate resources to understanding current state and not moving to action to help clients implement and to test, and to learn quickly, then I think that’s a real challenge.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. As you’re talking, it reminds me of some of the work that’s been done in the tech industry in the last few years around agile testing things, collecting information, testing, trying, learning quickly and iterating. As somebody who works specifically in the organizational culture and change niche of psychology, how does this specifically pertain to the work that you do?

Dylan Flavel:

Yeah. I think organizations are getting a lot of data, but they’re not moving to act on that data and to test and learn. I think one of the big challenges is we don’t really test the constructs that we’re measuring. So right now most folks listening to this podcast will be aware of an ongoing debate, or at least a chorus of voices about what we should be measuring. Should we be measuring organizational culture? How do we define that? Should we be measuring employee engagement? And maybe again, how do you define that? And there are many other constructs as well. If we’re not testing and learning, we’re not getting real data about whether those constructs are right, or what elements of those constructs matter most.

The things that we’re really all here for, which is the organization’s performance, and ultimately customer and community outcomes. So I think it can have a real impact on us perhaps spending way too much time measuring the wrong thing, and we don’t get to this as much. Another challenge I’ve seen Chris, and experienced, is that as OD change, culture, specialists or management consultant, if we’re unable to support organizations, and if organizations themselves are unable to move to action quickly enough, particularly the function that tends to, I guess, specializing in the work of culture, which is HR, can become a little bit isolated in many ways. If they’re seen by the business as a thinker or as an academic function, in the sense that they aren’t moving to action, they can become isolated and be seen as a compliance function and-

Chris Cancialosi:

Right.

Dylan Flavel:

You really need to get a seat at the table. So I think that has been an impact, or a challenge of this phenomenon that we’re describing as being an over analysis.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Yeah. I can’t help but question, if we are focusing or if many people focus on that analysis component, because that’s what they’re comfortable with. And because, like you said, if they don’t really know what they’re measuring or why, tend to measure everything and then get that analysis paralysis where there’s so much information that they really get stymied and don’t know what to do.

Dylan Flavel:

Yeah. I think you’re totally right, Chris. I think it was probably 10 years ago I heard one of the, I guess, really well known advocates and consultants, [Dave Ulrich 00:08:23] talking about something a little bit similar. He was saying, Hey, we’ve learned a lot in the last 10 or 20 years in the organizational science space, we have a lot of information and we have a lot of data. But what we need now is not more data, we need more, he talked about knowledge networks and we needed more science that focused on how organizations change, not how they specifically work with a component.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks so much, Dylan. At this point, we’re going to take a short break. We’ll be back in just a moment with my colleague and friend Dylan Flavel, he’s the Managing Director of Spring Point based in Melbourne, Australia.

This episode of the gothamCulture podcast is produced and sponsored by our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting. Communicating with your customers, stakeholders and employees can be challenging at times, the team at Blue Sky Podcasting provides high end production and post-production support to organizations looking to leverage podcasting as a tool to increase transparency and engagement with their customers and employees. If you’re interested in learning how podcasting can provide your organization with a highly engaging communication tool, that’s easy to scale, you should check out our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting at www.blueskypodcasting.com.

Welcome back everybody. Dylan, thanks so much for being here again. In the first segment, we were really talking a bit about this dilemma that folks face when they’re working with consultants, where most of the effort and focus is really put towards the assessment phase, and really understanding what’s going on versus putting the primary focus on creating change. And at this point I really like to get tactical and focus on how our listeners can identify the right partners to help them, not only conduct a comprehensive assessment, but also keep the focus on creating that change.

Dylan Flavel:

Yeah. So that’s a great prompt to get a bit practical in our conversation. So I guess at a high level some of the work that we are talking about requires a bit of courage, or at least the ability to let go a little bit of control. I think some of the challenges that we’re possibly talking about is just consultants and any internal leads on this type of work, just wanting to get it right. So I think sometimes to get it right, you probably need to step back and cede the bit of control because things are going to take some potentially unexpected turns, and we need to be able to roll with that as we’re thinking about change.

But more practically, I think there are some really practical things that organizations and consultants can be leaning into a little bit harder to make sure that we’re spending more time on the doing and less time on the measuring. I guess the first one that I see a lot, Chris is when we’re supporting a client through a culture change process, it’s the inability sometimes for the organization to want to do anything about thinking about planning until they’ve got the data. A key step I would advocate for is making sure that if we’re going to go about any work, and it’s going to involve any measurement, that we’ve got a plan about what we’re going to do with that before we’ve got the data.

We don’t need to work for the data, we know that that information will come back and say, there’s some really great things about this organization and there’s some other things that perhaps aren’t as good and need a bit more work. So let’s just assume that that’s going to be the case, and based on that start putting in place a plan around how we’re going to go about creating change before we’ve got to that point. That would be one of my first really basic steps.

Chris Cancialosi:

That’s a great point. Dylan. I’ve seen that happen many, many times over the years.

Dylan Flavel:

So perhaps another one that I think again, it’s basic but it requires a level of thought, is to make sure that you’ve got some resourcing available to be able to act. That may mean that you need a big pot of money, but it might not mean that either. It might just mean that you know that you have some capacity in some of your team to be able to act on some of the work, whether it’s just simply getting out and sharing the data, whether it’s thinking about some key new solutions or initiatives that need to be designed, but you’ve got some capacity to act. And that might not be just in a central HR or OD team either. It might be within the business that you’ve got views on who might be able to come and support this work, and that you’ve been able to engage those people in this work sufficiently, such that there’s a level of commitment there.

Chris Cancialosi:

Right.

Dylan Flavel:

I think maybe a few other things that I would share as well, I think one of the really important aspects is, I guess making sure that the data that we’re gathering is connecting to the business issues that matter. So this is a really, really important one. So seeing culture work or engagement work that’s done within its own box, if you like, and not having a clear connection to the drivers of the economics of the business, whether that’s customer, or innovation, or new product development. Any way that you can start to make sure that you know what matters within your processes to particular parts of the business, and you’re able to then connect data when you’re reporting it to those, are going to be a massive catalyst for you to be able to engage a particular product development team on some areas of their culture that might mean they’re not moving at speed to realize particular opportunities. So they’re going to really care about that, so make sure that you’re being able to understand how this data connects to things that people care about so you can really get their commitment to act.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely.

Dylan Flavel:

So one other challenge that you may have experienced or seen Chris, and I definitely think I’ve not only seen it but I’ve been someone who’s committed this crime, is going in and trying to support an organization through a bunch of culture work and some diagnostic that supports that. And then at the back end, getting really zealous about designing solutions to support change. But the reality is most organizations have got a billion things already happening. So there’s, I guess a real need to think about how you create change that works in with the work of that business. So how do you think about integration of particular behavioral change, or leadership change, within the real work of the organization?

So I’m working right at the moment with a wonderful organization here in Australia, and they’ve got some amazing strategic projects that have been carved out with real focus. So our work with them is to go, let’s not create any new work, let’s just try and make sure that the key messages that are coming through our culture diagnostics are finding a way to live and breathe within the core missions that are already in place within your organization. So I think that’s a really important one because organizations sometimes just can’t take more change by loading things on top.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. I think there’s probably a lot of heads in the audience shaking up and down right now. I think that’s something common that I hear everywhere. So how do you incorporate the change work, tying it to the things that are most important to the business and try to leverage things that already exist rather than trying to create new? Yeah, great point.

Dylan Flavel:

Absolutely. And so I think there’s also the opportunity for organizations and consultants who are looking to help create change, to really think about a key principle that I’ve seen play out over a number of years now. And that’s, how does your change support an organization from both a top down and a bottom up perspective? I think we know that for behavioral change to work, people genuinely need to be involved in some level, both at understanding what, why, and then how we’ll go about creating some change. So I think we’ve all seen those culture change programs that are driven from the center, there’s some big programs that are going to be rolled out. And sometimes there’s elements of those that are totally needed and that’s that’s okay.

But if employees who are at the frontline and are seeing our customers every day aren’t given voice and a level of control to both input, but also create their own change in their own local area, then I think that’s a real loss. And I think sometimes we can want to control change too much, but I think mostly if we give people the tools and the frame, there’s a huge amount of speed and value that can be gained by thinking about change as both a top down and a bottom up phenomenon. So I think that’s one that I would really emphasize as an important principle.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Yeah. I’m chuckling over here to myself as you mention that. And then that’s something that we just vehemently believe in, in our practice. But I remember being on site with a client years ago, and a large consulting firm who I shall not name, was there to debrief their employee engagement survey, and the client asked me to sit in. And it got to the end of this entire presentation and I couldn’t help myself, but make the observation that we’d spent the last hour talking about employee engagement, and the only time that the process ever planned to engage employees was to fill out the survey and ask them what was working and what wasn’t working. And the rest of it was implied or explicit that the leadership needed to fix these things, and it just rubbed me the wrong way. It goes against everything I believe in, in terms of utilizing the resources that you have internally, leveraging and empowering the people that are closest to the work, and closest to the day-to-day friction areas that they’re dealing with, to not only raise them, but also to take an active part in being the solution.

Dylan Flavel:

Yeah, absolutely Chris. I couldn’t agree more. And also, I think the evidence is telling us that that is a key principle for how change works in organizations, so I think there’s a great opportunity there. Probably two more things that I would mention briefly is-

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah.

Dylan Flavel:

Firstly, the power of teams. I think in the past probably 10 or 20 years, the notion of team effectiveness, or high performing teams, has been one that’s occasionally surfaced its head, and then perhaps has gone quiet again. I can’t emphasize enough in terms of the practices that I’ve seen, how valuable intact teams are, your teams are where work gets done and where there’s both formal and informal mechanisms to ensure that work and change that might relate to culture, really gets done. So, it’s really hard to drive organizational culture change because the organization is made up of so many different teams with so many different focuses.

So we really advocate strongly for teams being able to come together to use data, to create change that relates to their own local issues as they relate to clients and improvement that they’re trying to make. So it’s also a level that you can really look at accountability as well and making sure you’re measuring how we’re making progress at that level. And the final thing I’d share Chris, is just that we shouldn’t try to do too much. We all want to make an impact and we all have great intentions, and sometimes doing less can help a lot more. So I think that would be probably another observation that I would have around how consultants can play an even more impactful role, but also how organizations can drive greater change.

Chris Cancialosi:

Dylan, thanks so much. I think these are really practical applications and things for folks to be thinking about. So ,I was taking some notes as you were talking and really in summary, making sure that we’re planning for implementation before we even start collecting data, right? It doesn’t have to come as a surprise once have the data, and if we can plan beforehand, really driving speed to action, and speed to results for folks.

The second being focusing and building internal capacity within your organization to support with implementation. And that goes with one of the other points you made around engaging people at all levels in the process. Not just the assessment phase, but in the actual solution building phase, it’s a way for people to be engaged, it’s a way for people to have more control in their sphere of influence, it’s a way for concurrent change processes to happen throughout an organization while at the more strategic level you can focus on some of the interventions that may require more time or more resource to implement.

I think this is a great one, but making sure that the data that we’re collecting is what we’re really going after. It doesn’t make any sense to collect data on things that don’t really matter to the business. So linking this to the core of the business, not only helps us to really make thoughtful decisions about what data we’re collecting and when we’re collecting it, but it also helps when we review the data with folks in the organization, because it’s truly relevant to what they’re working on.

The other thing that I thought really stuck out to me, Dylan was the point you made about trying to integrate this work into the existing business processes. So not trying to create more work out of this, where it becomes an extra thing for people to do, but working to find ways that this work is the work people should be doing and that it integrates with the work they’re already doing.

And of course the power of teams. I mean, this is something that has ridden a wave over the years, where at certain times it becomes something that is highly focused on within organizations and other times it seems to take a backseat. The work by folks like Lensioni really made it practical for people in terms of how to understand how highly effective teams operate and function, something worth really taking into consideration in a sustainable way to help support these change efforts.

And then finally, the thing that I couldn’t agree more is trying not to take on too much. And I think this is really circling back to our kickoff part of our discussion, is when you collect so much data, it becomes very easy to want to change everything all at once. And organizations, in my experience, that focus on trying to solve a hundred things, accomplish none. I really try to work with my clients to force them to prioritize the two or three things that are going to make the most impact on their strategic performance. They can always go back and focus on other things once they can claim victory on those, but focusing on a hundred things is a surefire way to get you nowhere. Dylan, I really appreciate you joining us today. And how can people learn more about Spring Point if they’d like to learn a bit more?

Dylan Flavel:

Yeah, thanks, Chris. I’ve really enjoyed our discussion. Of course, you can go to our website, which is www.springpoint.com.au. We have a bunch of resources there, which include some of our white papers, that perhaps go a little bit deeper into some of the things we’ve discussed. But yeah, thanks for the chance to discuss Chris, it’s a great topic. And I think a great opportunity for organizations and consultants to be able to support their clients in a much more impactful way.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you, Dylan. And before I let you off the hook here, Dylan, I’ve got one final question that I ask all of our guests and here it is, so what haven’t I asked you today that I should have?

Dylan Flavel:

That’s a really good question, Chris. I think perhaps there’s one thing on my mind that relates to this whole area of culture change. I think as the world sped up over the past five years in particular, and we know it’s going to get quicker, we often talk about culture change as being something that is going to take three or four or five years. My advice is that it shouldn’t take that long, in two to three months, you should be able to see changes in particular aspects of your culture. So know what it is that you want to change.

It doesn’t mean you can change everything overnight or in two to three months, but in really engaging the business in a change story, I think we need to start to focus on what we can do and how we can implement that in a way that shows real difference and real change in a much more reduced timeframe in many ways. So I guess it’s just challenging this notion that we talk about culture change as being a three or four year journey to say, actually, we can make some change, really quick amount of time in specific areas. And that’s really empowering for people, and really motivating for leaders, to see that they can lead and direct change in a much shorter timeframe as well.

Chris Cancialosi:

I really appreciate that perspective, Dylan. Thanks again for joining us, Dylan. Dylan’s the Managing Director of the Melbourne based advisory firm Spring Point. He’s been a long time colleague in the space, working in the culture area before culture was cool, and a real scholar and gentlemen. I appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today, Dylan.

Dylan Flavel:

Thank you, Chris. It’s been great to be here.

Chris Cancialosi:

Take care everyone. Thanks for joining us this week on the gothamCulture podcast, make sure you visit our website gothamculture.com, where you can subscribe to the show, find show notes, or contact us for support regarding your organizational culture challenges. Special thanks to Blue Sky Podcasting for producing and sponsoring this episode. To learn more about producing custom podcasts for your organization, check out the folks at Blue Sky at www.blueskypodcasting.com. Until next time, this is your host, Chris Cancialosi and I look forward to our next discussion.

 

Leading Culture Change in Global Organizations

In this episode, Chris Cancialosi interviews Dr. Daniel Denison of Denison Consulting.

A lot has changed since the topic of organizational culture popped onto the collective radar in the 1980s as a way to drive organizational performance. In this episode, we talk with Dr. Daniel Denison about how globalization and technological innovation has created new challenges, and opportunities, when it comes to culture. Dan discusses the critical dynamics of culture in global organizations and practically, how habits and routines can be at the heart of culture change. Dan expands on these thoughts in his book titled “Leading Culture Change in Global Organizations: Aligning Culture and Strategy.”

Released: April 9, 2020

Show notes and transcript: Dan refers to a book about how habits can change culture titled Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. 

Leading Culture Change In Global Organizations – gothamCulture Podcast Transcript

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome to the Gotham Culture Podcast, where we talk about any topic you’d like, so long as those topics are organizational culture, leadership or people strategy. Each week we talk with industry leaders and discuss cultural opportunities and challenges in the workplace, providing you with actionable tips and strategies that you can implement in your organizations. My name is Chris Cancialosi, and this is the Gotham Culture Podcast.

Welcome to the show, everybody. Since the 1980s when the concept of organizational culture really became practically important to business leaders as a critical component of organizational culture, many people have tried to harness that power, and some better than others, obviously. And since those early days a lot’s changed in the world. Globalization, massive innovations in technology, even a pandemic or two have created an environment that’s putting increased stress on organizations and the individuals that work within them. Today I am very, very fortunate to have my longtime mentor and friend, Dr. Dan Denison, with me. Dan’s the chairman and founding partner of Denison Consulting. He’s dedicated his career to helping advance our collective understanding of the concept of culture in the workplace, and has consulted to a great many organizations that are looking to intentionally shape their cultures to drive business performance. For 15 years, Dan served as a professor of management and organization at the International Institute of Management Development in Luzon, Switzerland. And he’s also author of the book, Leading Culture Change in Global Organizations. Bestselling book, I must add.

Dr. Daniel Denison:

New York Times’ bestseller.

Chris Cancialosi:

There you go. That book is available where all fine books are sold. So welcome to the show, Dan.

Dr. Daniel Denison:

Thank you, Chris. It’s great to be part of this, and also great to just get a chance to talk to you. I’m in Ann Arbor, Chris is in Washington, and we don’t get a chance to talk as much we used to. So this is fantastic opportunity to catch up too.

Chris Cancialosi:

That’s right. I really do appreciate it. Dan, let’s dive into some of the questions I’ve got for you.

Dr. Daniel Denison:

Sure.

Chris Cancialosi:

… such an opportunity to kind of hear your perspective on this. Dan, as somebody who’s been working in the space of organizational culture for the majority of your professional career, how have you seen people’s approach to understanding and evolving culture change over the years?

Dr. Daniel Denison:

Great question. Because I think there’s one word that we want to focus on, and that’s mainstream. Culture today is, if you look at CEO studies, that’s one of the things that’s really on their mind. What keeps you awake at night? What are you most concerned about for the future? The people, the leadership, the mindset. How do you use that to drive the organization into the future? And it’s a very, very mainstream topic. If you back up earlier in my career, the people that were interested in culture were really early adopters. And that meant that they had a good feel for it, they knew a lot about it, they brought a lot to that discussion with themselves, and it was a very, very collaborative and learning experience all around. Today it’s quite mainstream, and the good news is it’s a top of mind for everybody that’s trying to lead an organization.

I think the thing that is a caution too, is when it becomes mainstream the urge to say, okay, here’s checklist and there’s these seven things that you do, and you pull these two levers and this happens in six weeks, and this happens six months. And just because it’s become a critical part of mainstream leadership thought, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s any easier to do than it was 10, 15 years ago. But that’s the biggest change. And of course, the great proliferation and innovation of different ways to get leverage on this important issue, that keeps evolving too.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Thanks, Dan. It is interesting, I notice in today’s day and age everyone’s looking for the silver bullet, the quick fix to everything. When it comes to organizational culture change, there are several schools of thought. There are some folks that say, hey, it’s years in the making to embed certain beliefs and norms into a way people operate. Other people say, no, no, no, you can do it in a couple of months. How do you respond to something like that?

Dr. Daniel Denison:

Well, it can happen very fast. I mean, let’s get practical. Before February, had you ever done an elbow bump?

Chris Cancialosi:

No.

Dr. Daniel Denison:

How many elbow bumps did you do yesterday?

Chris Cancialosi:

Well, none because I work out of my home. I’m kind of like a hermit, so I’m probably not a good person to ask.

Dr. Daniel Denison:

But that’s standard fare. We learn new behavior. What are we learning about how do you work in a virtual environment? I mean, we just this morning had a meeting in our organization where we decided, well, we’re not going to lock the office. People can still come here, but we’re going to encourage them to work from home. Okay. And so the issue isn’t just, how do we survive this? But how do we thrive? I’m always looking for that silver lining in the cloud, and one of the ones here is this’ll be a step change in how people use virtual means of interacting to get work done and to do it at a high level. Culture can change quickly. I mean, the cases that we wrote about in our book were all chosen because they’re examples of where people did things pretty short period of time. Six months, a year, two years.

Yeah, we tracked them for five to 10 years each to look at how the dynamics unfold, and it’s never over. Okay. I mean, I think the thing that is really important to put aside is that this is a set of boxes that you can tick, and then this will be done because then there’s always the next stage. But I think that there’s a lot of examples. When you have big changes in the environment, you have an internal team that understands that, reads those signals, and wants to innovate to adapt for the future, then you take all of this great stuff that you’ve had that’s been around for years, or decades, or whatever, and say, how are these magic principles going to drive us into the future? And that doesn’t need to take forever to do it. And I think one of the things that you see is the expectations for how quickly this is going to happen.

Those have really accelerated. Every leader, I say, well, how fast is the external environment changing? Says, oh my God. [inaudible 00:07:18] There’s this curve that goes straight up. Well, how about internally? Well, we’re getting better, we’re getting faster, but we’re falling behind the curve more each day, and so we do have to accelerate. And it varies a lot by the size of the organization. Bigger is harder, bigger is more work. It takes more time. Global reach complexity. Yeah. But the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. So, let’s get ready and say, oh, well maybe we should do this next year or the year after. I think that’s kind of a luxury that we really don’t have anymore.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, great points. And I keep thinking to all of the news announcements and all of the change that is being forced upon people nowadays with this coronavirus pandemic. And people, it’s not an option, they will have to adapt to doing things differently. And it’s going to be interesting to see how organizations and individuals either survive, thrive, or fail to do either. It’s going to be interesting.

Dr. Daniel Denison:

It’s one more learning race that we’re entered into whether we want to go or not.

Chris Cancialosi:

Right. So let’s talk about your book for a minute here. So you wrote the book, Leading Culture Change in Global Organizations, came out a couple of years ago. I’ve got a copy right here with me that I keep here on my bookshelf. Fantastic read. And in your book, you discuss several critical dynamics that organizations need to effectively manage in order to remain competitive. For example, supporting your frontline employees, creating strategic alignment, the challenge of creating one culture out of many, especially in global organizations, building a global business in an emerging market, as well as building a global business from an emerging market. If you had to summarize some of the key points for our listeners who haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, what would be the kind of handful of tidbits that are most important for folks to take away?

Dr. Daniel Denison:

Yeah. Thank you, Chris. I mean, I think that some of the things that we really learned and reinforced in that is that leadership’s job is connecting the vision from the top with the reality at the front line. And that chain’s only as strong as its weakest link. And we can change the strategy at the top, but if we don’t implement the strategy so the people on the front line understand that. And in some service industries it’s like, come on, the strategy is what you deliver on the frontline. Nothing else really matters. And I think those two factors really ring loud and clear in each of the seven case studies that we did in the book. And every client organization that we work with today, strategy formulation, ooh, that’s fun. I mean the professors and the consultants, they can have a field day in that. Implementing strategy, that’s work.

Dr. Daniel Denison:

And if there’s a method out there among your listeners for, how do you implement strategy without changing the culture? Please, let me get in touch with them. Because we really we don’t see it. I mean, you have a new strategy, you know you need to change mindset, you need to change the leadership skills, awareness capabilities, and you need to change the system that works within that. We were working with several organizations now that are pursuing new strategies around sustainability and around digitalization, and we’ve developed a bunch of assessments now of those elements. And that’s because people that are kind of leading experts in this area talking with me, they said, well, geez, this is culture change. And I said, sustainability is culture change? I thought that was about the environment and carbon footprints.

And I said, no, no, no, this is about mindset, this is about leadership, and this is about how people change the system at the same time that they’re changing mindset and leadership to adapt to this new challenge. Digitalization. Clients that we’ve had on the retail side, wow, what a sea change for a group of executives that most of them probably grew up, or the way that you created growth in the retail environment is you open new stores. And then Home Depot really kind of pushed everybody off the cliff because they grew sales or they closed stores. Okay. And they manage omni-channel strategy where their customers could come at them from a number of different directions, and then you’d have a strategy that spoke to that. So those two themes of the link between the strategy and the front line.

And if you think of your frontline team as your strategic leaders, you start scratching your head about that. It takes me back to some of the days, way back when we first met in Jet Blue, where the voice of people that are on the front line was heard and put into action, sometimes better than others for sure, no questions. Much easier said than done. But those themes remain really, really prominent in our practice. And the mergers and acquisitions more common than ever. And the culture integration part of that’s better understood now, but still not easy. How do you become global? How do you export culture change? Suppose you did a terrific job in Argentina, and that got you promoted to Latin America, and that got you promoted to lead the U.S., and that got you promoted to lead Europe. And that’s actually the career path of a colleague of ours, Eduardo Minardi, who we worked with when he was chairman of Bridgestone in Europe, and still work with him.

Do you use the same principles in every place in a global organization? How do you modify those so that they sink and they connect to your local team while still having this make sense to the leadership team back home? Because after all, Bridgestone’s a Japanese client, and Eduardo, one of very, very few Western executives who’s a board member of a Japanese company. So, the way that you export change around the world. And then in the book, we also looked at a couple of cases. GE healthcare in China, creating an anesthesia business. Value segment anesthesia business, because much of the emerging markets around the world, if you don’t have anesthesia, you’re pretty limited of what you can do in medical care.

And that’s a great example of how they created an organization in China that was a platform for the value segment anesthesia business worldwide. And then one of our other cases in there is a Brazilian mining company called Vale. And Vale 10, 15 years ago used to be a department in the Brazilian government. And now it controls about 25, 30% of the world trade in iron ore. So incredible privatization process and globalization process. Vale did the biggest acquisition in Canada a few years ago, the biggest for a Brazilian company, the biggest for a Canadian company. But that set of themes still rings true and still is a foundation of a lot of the work that we do in our firm.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks so much for going through that, Dan. Obviously this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I could talk about this for days, especially with somebody like you. We’re going to take a quick break. And when we come back, I’d really like to kind of change gears a bit and talk about something that you’ve talked about at the end of your book around how habits and routines, the things that you’re doing day to day in and out of your organization are really at the heart of your culture of your organization. Really kind of make this a bit more practical for folks who might be out there trying to grapple with how to be intentional about their organizational culture to shape it to drive their strategy. So we’ll be back with Dr. Dan Denison here in a minute.

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Okay. We’re back with Dr. Dan Denison. He’s the chairman and founding partner of Denison Consulting, a long time friend and colleague mentor of mine for many years since I got into the organizational culture business. I kind of hesitate to even say that word, it’s more of a passion. Dan, thanks for sharing your perspective on how the study of culture has changed over the decades and some of the key principles from your book, Leading Culture Change in Global Organizations. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in this topic, especially if you’re working in an organization that is working globally, which is for many of you probably you’re shaking your heads up and down. So Dan, at the end of the book, you really kind of dive into the topic of habits and routines, and specifically how habits and routines are the things that really cement in or lie at the heart of a culture. How do you use those ideas in your practice when you’re working with client organizations?

Dr. Daniel Denison:

Great question. We wrote this book around seven case studies where we tracked them for 5 or 10 years. And we tracked them using our kind of survey method, but we also knew them quite well and worked with them as they tried to lead the change. And, boy, one of the hardest moments when you write a book, is that then your editor says, yeah, hey, this first complete draft is great, but can you write a closing chapter that kind of pulls all this together? And you go, oh my God. I just thought I made it across the finish line. And then that really made us back up and think, and that forced me to think through and realize just how central routines and habits are to organizational culture. And it’s not a real common framework for looking at cultures, but I kind of started to look at the cultures in organizations as being a bundle of interconnected habits and routines. And some of them are really well suited to the past, and some are really well suited to the future, and some they’re good old habits.

It’s a four box model that we use. There’s good old habits that are things that led you to be great in the past and going to continue in the future. You want to preserve and strengthen those. Bad old habits, and every organization kind of shakes their head when you bring that up and they say, yeah, we got a few of those, and then you get them started talking, and my God, you can hardly get them to stop. But bad old habits are things that worked well in the past and may have been really profound foundation pieces for the organization, but they kind of outlived their usefulness. And with digital transformation, we just see this every place you go. I mean, wow, I used to have a file of facts and I could take care, make careful notes and carry my little diary. No, great, that belongs in the museum, not in the strategic plan for the future of the organization. But organizations are also in the business of creating new habits and new routines as they organize and mobilize their people to address new challenges.

And that’s scary. A blank sheet of paper can be really terrifying because it’s like, nobody’s ever done this before, we’re not quite sure how do we lay this out so that we can scale? Because it’s one thing to be a brilliant innovator and, yeah, hey, follow me. I got it right. Totally different thing to say, okay, we need to organize thousands of people to do it in a new way. And you don’t always get that right the first time. So we also focused on what we called bad new habits, where you tried in response to a new situation to do something new, but it didn’t really work. And everybody kind of scratches their head about [inaudible 00:00:22:12]. And so one of the things I learned at IMD especially, teaching groups of executives, I said, well, how many of you have ever done an SAP implementation? Oh, they all raise their hand. Oh yeah, we’ve done that. Said, well, how many got it right the first time? Hands all come back down. Well, the only guy that ever keeps his hands up is the guy that was the project leader.

And when you ask him or her some questions, you often find they were really the third project leader because the first two are gone. It’s very hard to get that right. And this connection between the big picture, strategic vision and what’s happening in day to day on the front line, that’s core to it. And I also found habits to be a really, really a powerful way to kind of land the plane. Hey, you’re a pilot. Cruising around upstairs, that’s hard enough. But it’s really easy compared to landing the thing. And habits and routines bring this 30,000 foot topic down to the landing strip right away, because habits and routines are also extraordinarily granular. In every part of the organization, we need to think and rethink and redo. And we’ve done several articles, Carmen Bianco, when he was running the subway system in New York, the MTA, their focus on maintenance as a key to connect the leadership of the organization with the frontline is a classic example. We’ve written some articles about that.

And the keystone habits as a target of intervention is also an idea I’ve spent a lot of time working on. Because the interventions that work, I’m sorry, I don’t want to offended any of our beloved HR colleagues, but the ones where you have this great discussion and you end up with six new core values and a poster on the wall, and then it’s an HR rollout to do training and workshops across the organization. Every morning I get up optimist hoping to see a global rollout like that that works, but I’ve never actually seen it work that way. The way that it happens, is that somebody develops a new way of doing things. Culture’s the way we do things around here. When somebody develops a new, innovative way, then that spreads. And that’s the dynamic we want to create, but a clear focus on a targeted intervention. I was at a conference, a culture conference in Berkeley a month or so ago, and talked about how you want to diagnose a culture very broadly because it’s complex and all the parts are connected.

You try to grab the dog by the tail, you get the whole dog. You have to deal with that. But the interventions that work are targeted interventions, which means they’re not only narrow, but they hit a key point of behavior. And once you change that, other things change in response. And I go back to my joke about the elbow bump, and there’s a foot bump too. I mean, the foot bump is good because you can kind of almost stay six feet apart as you do the foot bump.

Chris Cancialosi:

If your legs are long enough, for sure.

Dr. Daniel Denison:

That’s right. A bias towards taller people. Just stop and think, what new behaviors have we learned in the last two weeks? Because anybody that doesn’t see the need for a global alliance to stop the spread that everybody gets on board with and learns a few simple things, that’ll save lives. Okay. And once you change one behavior, then others are connected to that. I’m supposed to plug my own book here, I know, but I also want to plug somebody else’s book, and I’m always doing that.

Chris Cancialosi:

Go ahead.

Dr. Daniel Denison:

Yeah. There’s a Stanford guy named BJ Fogg that has a new book called Tiny Habits. And it’s much like Charles Duhigg’s great power habit book. It’s much more focused on individual behavior than it is on organizational. But it’s really rich, because it goes back to the fact that when we see a stimulus in the environment, we have a really limited amount of time where we can think about, hey, should we do the same response to this, or should we try a different response? And research indicates that you’ve got about two tenths of a second to make up your mind, because the stimulus triggers the response. So if I see you, it’s going to be really hard for me to not stick out my hand, shake hands, give you a hug, all that kind of good stuff.

But no, there’s two tenths of a second where I need to kind of click on the brain here and say, what’s the repertoire that I want to call out in response to that habit? And Danny Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for this, thinking fast and slow. Well, we think fast when we kind of already know the response before we see the stimulus, and we just click straight into gear and we execute. We think slow when we think, huh, should I kiss, bow or shake hands? Should I elbow bump? Foot bump? Virtual wave from a distance? We’ve got a lot of control over that, but that brings organizational change down to the individual level, because you have to impact people’s mindset, their behavior. And especially of people in leadership positions, because they’re the ones that provide the link between individual behavior and the organization as a system. Because really, we’ve also got to create then a new system that maps with the new mindset, and the new leaders and leader skills, because that’s what helps organizations adapt.

Chris Cancialosi:

What I love about talking about it from a habits and routines perspective, is that it makes it accessible to everybody. But this is a really complex subject and you can go down a million rabbit holes. And you’re not necessarily wrong, but it’s hard for the average person going to work every day to understand and not feel overwhelmed by this subject very easily, and I really think that the positioning it in terms of habits and routines. And the examples, even with this latest coronavirus example, I mean, people are figuring out new habits, new routines in order to kind of thrive in this new environment, is a really tangible example.

Dan, let me ask you this. We’ve covered a lot of ground and we could probably have 15 episodes of different topics and culture and not run out of things to talk about. So I am fighting my deepest urges to just keep asking you questions. But let me ask you this, on this topic, we’re talking about the concepts in your book and we’re talking about how you make it real in terms of habits and behaviors. What haven’t we talked about today on that topic that we should have?

Dr. Daniel Denison:

You’re right, there’s a million topics and focusing our attention is really important. And it is irresistible to ask new questions and answer new questions. Yeah, let me focus on a couple of things. I mean, one of them is technology. It’s really changed. And in some ways, the expectation wherever you go around the world is that, which app do I click? Which button do I click? Incredibly powerful. It enables so many things that we couldn’t even dream of in the past. And as frustrating as it can be, as overwhelming as it technology and the digitalization transformation can be, it’s an incredible enabler. But don’t lose your humanity in doing that. The here and now of influencing people, not just by what’s trending online, but by what makes people interact and what makes them connect, that’s really important.

And this may be a terrific time to think about, what are the most important ways for us to use direct person to person human interaction? Because we restricted that. And I think we’re going to get some good innovation out of that and we’re going to get some positive things out of this horrible situation. People connect. Their connections in a workplace or some of the most important parts in their life. And so using the digitalization revolution to better inform where and how we connect rather than how we disconnect, I think that’s the biggest challenge that we all face. Because there’s a lot of apps, there’s a lot of social media, and they’re terrific tools for organizational change, for culture change, for leadership development, but they’re particularly potent when you combine them with that humanity.

I had the privilege to have dinner with Ed Shine and his son Peter a few weeks ago, and it’s amazing. I mean, Ed, God bless him, he rants and raves about the importance of humanity, and not about scholarship, and publications and bestsellers. But somebody that’s spent his life as a leader in that comes back to that human touch and that human connection. So that’s one of the questions that we could talk about for a long time, but I think it’s really important to highlight. Because we want to take those tools, we want to take that enabling technology, we want to create a new world. No choice, can’t go back. But can it be a more humane world, or are we all just going to build self quarantine and say, well hey, well we’ve got our phones, what else do we need? We should all just stay isolated. No, let’s learn everything we can about how important it is to connect.

Chris Cancialosi:

I think that’s fantastic, Dan. Yeah. It’s going to be really interesting. And I think you’re right, there are going to be some real innovations and some lessons learned for individuals and organizations out of this terrible situation. So, Dan, thank you so much for joining us today, and it’s always a pleasure to get to hang out with you and of learn from you.

Dr. Daniel Denison:

My pleasure, man.

Chris Cancialosi:

Before we kind of sign off, if people are interested in learning more about Denison or about your book, where can they find out more?

Dr. Daniel Denison:

Our website’s denisonconsulting.com. Not a very imaginative name, but you can find your way. We just launched a new knowledge center that has articles, that has research, that has case studies, that has all kinds of things on it. Very well organized. The best we’ve done so far to get kind of our knowledge, which goes pretty deep. I mean, we do a lot of research and writing on this. That’s a great way to access things. And any of you that want, when you publish a book, your publisher will send you the first chapter PDF file, they won’t send you the whole thing. But yeah, if you’re interested and you want to take a look, get in touch, I’d love to send you the first chapter of the book as a PDF. And of course you go to Amazon or you go to iBooks or whatever, and you can certainly find it there. And also, you write a book so that you can learn more about how to write the next one. And so, you got thoughts, ideas, pushback. What were you thinking? Why didn’t you do this? Why didn’t you do that? That’s always welcome. Not hard to find. So always glad to hear from any of your listeners.

Chris Cancialosi:

So does that mean that we might getting another book from Dr. Dan Denison in the not too distant future?

Dr. Daniel Denison:

Got to do that, no question.

Chris Cancialosi:

Well looking forward to it. Looking forward to it. Dan, again, thank you so very much. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you, and please join us again soon.

Dr. Daniel Denison:

Will do, Chris. Thanks so much for the opportunity and my best to all your listeners. More power to you.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks for joining us this week on the Gotham Culture Podcast. Make sure you visit our website, gothamculture.com, where you can subscribe to the show, find show notes, or contact us for support regarding your organizational culture challenges. Special thanks to Blue Sky Podcasting for producing and sponsoring this episode. To learn more about producing custom podcasts for your organization, check out the folks at Blue Sky at www.blueskypodcasting.com. Until next time, this is your host, Chris Cancialosi, and I look forward to our next discussion.