Podcast: Return to Work Anxiety? You’re Not Alone

As COVID vaccines become increasingly available, the work world is beginning to think about the future. Most of that thinking revolves around questions rather than definitive answers at this point. What will work look like in the coming months? When might I need to go back to an office? What expectations will my employer have of me? What flexibility might exist?

Chris Cancialosi discusses these questions and tips for navigating the associated anxiety with guests Tracy Nathanson, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, relationship issues, life transitions, low self-esteem, career challenges, and stress management, Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who works at Columbia University’s counseling center and maintains a private practice in NYC, and Dr. Michael J. Provitera, an executive leadership trainer and Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Barry University in Florida.

Released: April 2, 2021

Return to Work Anxiety? You’re Not Alone – gothamCulture Podcast Transcript

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome to season 2 of the gothamCulture podcast. This season, we’ll be exploring a variety of interesting topics. But there’s one topic that seems to be top of mind for many folks nowadays, and that is the return to work. As COVID vaccines are making their way into arms, and as employers attempt to figure out what work looks like in the months to come, many people are feeling anxious about what that means for them. Now that they’ve completely adapted their lives for remote work, what if I can’t go back to the office full time? What if I don’t want to? Will my career growth be stymied as my colleagues who do go back to the office secure all the promotional opportunities? These are all legitimate questions, and many employers simply don’t have the answers at the moment. So now what?

Today I’m joined by three very special guests who are going to share their perspective on this important topic. Tracy Nathanson is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in depression, anxiety, relationship issues and stress management. She provides fresh ways to engage and talk therapy by taking your clients out of the office and getting them into fresh air, providing psychotherapy with the known health benefits and wellness benefits of being in the great outdoors, and Tracy is the founder of Pace of Mind Therapy.

Also, joining us today is Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, he is a licensed clinical psychologist from New York City who works at Columbia University’s Counseling Center and maintains a private practice in the city as well. He also serves as a consultant to businesses and organizations looking to strengthen diversity initiatives and working to improve mental health and well being of their employees. Finally, Dr. Michael Provitera, he’s an executive leadership trainer. He is also president of Motivational Leadership Training, where his focus is on improving organizational effectiveness and enhancing individual success.

During his career, he’s worked with over 1000 executives, and his executive leadership certification runs 18 hours and covers six factors of leadership. Thank you all for joining us. Tracy, why don’t we start with you? Tell me from your perspective, I mean, what is at the root of a lot of the anxiety that’s floating around for people in terms of what return to work might look like?

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

Well, first of all, I think it’s helpful to go and look at what the past year has been like for everyone. Everyone has had different experiences around COVID and quarantining. As we know, maybe 30 to 40% of adults in our country have experienced stress, anxiety, depression. So we’re starting with that baseline. People, in addition, this past year have had to adjust their schedules, their routines, there’s been a lot of unknowns, and they’re kind of been getting used to that and trying to have as much control of the routines and schedules as possible.

Now we’re throwing into this a return to work and a new transition, what is that going to look like for them? I’m hearing a lot of people feeling anxious about vaccine, no vaccine, what is the workplace going to require? Am I going to have agency and power to decide? Or is that going to be decided for me? So that alone is creating a lot of stress right now for people, what is that going to look like?

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Thanks, Tracy. Ernesto, from your perspective, what do you have to add to that? Because I imagine that everyone’s unique, I mean, there’s a lot of different situations and people are grappling with this in different ways.

Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:

Yeah, I think as Tracy was saying, there is the sense of a collective trauma we all have experienced as a result of this pandemic, and we’re still experiencing, and things may be getting back to normal. But there is a lot of this anxiety and fear of what this normal is going to look like or new normal. Again, anxiety is just something that is an emotion that we all experience, and it’s a normal response to something that is a trauma. So, a lot of the things that I’m also seeing with clients or talking to people is about what will this look like in terms of just workplace setting, in terms of physical safety? If people still have to social distance, they have to wear masks. Is the vaccine going to be required or not?

I think a lot of these fears and anxieties can really have an impact on our physical health as well, and a lot of people may be coming back to work physically but may not feel grounded or centered. Because they may be worried about what is going to happen in the workplace, what kind of policies are going to be put in place, and if it’s going to be a uniform or universal policy. So there is a lot of fear and anxiety still, but also particularly for those people that maybe did contract COVID-19, and we still don’t know a lot of the effects of what this can have on people’s physical well-being and also emotional well-being.

So, what is that going to look like for people that maybe have contracted the virus and are experiencing some residual effects? If someone does get COVID-19 while they’re back at work, what does that mean for the rest of the people that are in place with their coworkers? So there is a lot of this anxiety that is normal. However, it does look differently for everyone and can have physical effects, physiological effects, and also impacts our mental health well-being.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Yeah, thank you for your perspective on that. Mike, you take this from a little bit of a different angle professionally as somebody who works with leaders and executives, what are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Michael J. Provitera:

That’s an excellent question. We’re looking at people that are apprehensive about going back to work, while they were always worried about how they’re going to even keep their jobs. That was the first … the first objective was, “Can I keep my job?” So they all rushed to the computer and learned how to use Zoom and became on camera shy like this, and then what happened was, everybody started to realize that they weren’t going to lose that job, and this remote setting’s not bad. Then we invented the hallway highway. So within 15 minutes, you could be showered and sitting in front of a screen like this.

Then people started to say this isn’t so bad, people are still worried about their job stuff. Many corporations and organizations are not making any drastic moves right now, they’re putting their arms around people, telling them that they love them, and that they’re not talking about letting go people even though before the pre pandemic, there was people on the chopping block, but it’s kind of reverse now. So, some people are actually having work that they’re going to continue staying home. They just say, “Your job is a remote type job.” So when people get back to the office, how are they going to feel? And that’s where the anxiety comes from, which is what we’re talking about now, people are saying, “Am I going to be able to go back to Manhattan? Is there going to be internet?”

Then when I say … for people say like on college campuses, you have to make this a unique approach where people want to go back, they feel they’re going to have beach volleyball, they’re going to be able to rub elbows with others. That’s the thing, because this thing that we’re doing right now, this electronic communication has been enhanced, because people were isolated. So we feel more intended to want to be online right now and talk. So we want to rub elbows, but we’re rubbing elbows electronically. We like it, it works, but we really want to be in front of somebody again, and in the near future we will be.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. What I’m hearing from you all is that there are so many compounding stressors, and that it’s a chronic situation. Right? It’s not a stressor that happened in one point in time, it’s gone for a year. Ernesto, you brought this up, which I think is really interesting. It’s a collective trauma. Everyone has a frame of reference about this topic, and there’s very few things in life where everyone has a frame of reference, or a similar experience, although each person’s experience is unique. We’ve all gone through this in some form or fashion.

So, knowing that there are people in various phases of trying to move through this process in trauma, and in terms of their work life, which inevitably impacts their home life, what should people be thinking about or doing in order to help manage that anxiety? Mike, why don’t we start with you on this one?

Dr. Michael J. Provitera:

Thank you. Yes, that’s really a great question, because our whole mindset changed. In other words, for me to drive 40 minutes to the beach, all of a sudden now, do I really want to go? Do I want to spend the gas? Do I want to pay the tolls? I go out, I come back, we become accustomed to our lifestyle. The key is, a lot of us couldn’t go to gyms. I have an executive that built a gym in his garage, and I helped him. I work out at home. I can’t go to the gym, I have to make an appointment. So we have to get up, we have to walk around. It’s the intention that drives us.

So you have to say, “I intend to exercise today.” Not I’m going to exercise because you’ll find every ice cream in the refrigerator and every cookie in the cupboard. So you just say, “I intend to work out today.” And you just do it, just get up and go. It’s like the Asian mentality, is that, we intend to do something? We do it. So people are trying to break out of this new normal, which you can’t really say that anymore because it’s almost over. I’m writing about post pandemic recovery. We’re almost there. If you look at, like say a milestone, look at the cruise lines. If the cruise line jumps in June, we’re pretty much almost back to normal. If it doesn’t, then we’re still back into the remote thinking of when is it [inaudible 00:10:14] So, Disney opened. Now, is Disney going to open the cruise line?

So, these things that we’re thinking about, people taking off masks, masks not being mandatory. All of these things are psychologically making us change. So that physical ability that everyone’s talking about here, and being able to exercise and exercise our mind, think about mindfulness, meditate, we can’t stop doing what we always did just because of a pandemic, we have to reinvent ourselves and find new ways, novel ways of approaching life. I don’t want to promote myself, but I’ll just say, “I wrote a book with my daughters because it was about the pandemic, because they were feeling so much stress. That book has help them deal with their own stress.” Thanks for giving me the opportunity to go first on that one. That’s a tough one.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, I mean, these are really complex issues, and everyone’s got their own unique reality and experience here. I know that the question I’m asking is very broad. Ernesto, from your perspective, what should people be thinking about, and how might they help manage this anxiety that they might be feeling?

Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:

Yeah, I think a really wonderful question and important topic to consider. One of the pieces that I tend to think about when talking to people that are having these anxieties and worries is, increasing the awareness around just what anxiety is, and how it can manifest differently for everyone, knowing more about how it comes up for you, and also finding some practical skills to be able to manage the anxiety, whether it be mindfulness skills, like Mike had mentioned, but also rebuilding these new cognitive connections to work, having time to reflect on what has changed in the last year, getting organized, creating to do lists when you’re out work, to be able to help you stay organized as on track, setting up priorities, setting up different weekly goals.

But I think there needs to be a sense of reflecting on what has happened and what has changed, and also just looking at how we can come back and ease our way into the workforce, into the workplace, and also keeping it in mind, being mindful of our anxiety and how it’s manifesting within each of us so that we can find things that can help us reduce that anxiety or the intensity of it.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Tracy, I want to get your input on this, but something you said, Ernesto struck me, question for all of you to consider is, is it appropriate for people to position this reality as “back to normal,” or is it healthier, perhaps for us to acknowledge that what was in the past will no longer be necessarily and to begin to framing our mental process around the possibility of the new? So Tracy, I know I’m hitting you with two questions here, but I’d love your perspective on that.

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

Well, thank you, I think that’s a really good active reframe. Return to a new normal, this is going to be different, just like working during the pandemic was different. This is going to be a transition, it’s not going to happen overnight. Each workplace is going to be very different, some may be hybrid, some may be remote, some may require you to go in full time. So each one is going to be very different. I think healthy communication in the workplace is going to be incredibly and being transparent, and normalizing this level of anxiety and stress that everyone may be feeling. So that it’s okay if you’re not feeling well, talk to your boss, talk to your supervisor, to really be transparent and know that it is okay and that everyone’s going to be experiencing that at a different level.

Because I think that’s going to look different than before, and that type of communication of what’s going to work in the workplace. So I think that is going to be incredibly important. And as Ernesto said also, there are going to be people that have had COVID, we’re seeing some research now that may be one in every three people may have long lasting neurological or psychological effects that may be invisible, we may not see. So they may be going back to work, and then those who haven’t had COVID may have had a family loss, so they may be mourning or grieving. They may have experienced job uncertainty, they may have been isolated, feeling really lonely.

So there are going to be many kind of stresses and experiences that they have had that may be invisible, so to speak, that they are going to be bringing into the workplace, and we really do want to normalize that experience for them and really create an opportunity in this new workplace, I mean, environment for people to be able to talk about it, share these concerns with each other, with their supervisors, and feel okay with that.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, thank you for that perspective. What’s striking me as I’m listening to the three of you is, there are things that people can do in terms of reframing, in terms of actual tactics that they can use to help kind of, in my words, not yours, take some control of the situation. I’m curious, from your perspective, at what point should someone say, “Jeez, I’m really not dealing with this in a healthy way, I really need to go out and get some external support.” What are the warning signs that someone should really be tuned to? Ernesto, why don’t we ask you to kick this one off?

Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:

Yeah. Some of the warning signs could be just looking at our sleep and appetite. Those are usually some of the places that we begin to see some changes in our well being when we’re under a lot of stress or anxiety or not feeling well. Additionally, there’s also the sense of looking at how you’re feeling in terms of, are you feeling happy? Are you feeling anxious? Are you doing things you enjoy doing? Are you losing interest and motivation? When you begin to notice maybe a decline in some of these things that did bring you happiness, pleasure, or excitement, and they’re not there anymore, and you’re spending a lot more time just worrying, thinking about things that have happened, I think those could be considered warning signs that maybe it could be helpful to talk with a professional or seek outside support.

That could also come in the way of just making sure you’re talking to people in your life, friends and family. Social support is really important. I think perceived social support is particularly important, that we may receive support, but if we don’t perceive it as helpful, then it’s not really support. So I think in some ways, making sure that we’re reaching out to people, when we’re noticing that we’re just not feeling ourselves. Again, that could be more of these day to day things like sleep and appetite. Just kind of, if our minds are preoccupied, and not being able to stay in the present moment, or just a reduction in our happiness, in our mood, can be some warning signs.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Thank you for that, Ernesto. Mike, again, from your perspective, you come at this from a little bit of a different lens, working with executives, what are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Michael J. Provitera:

Well, there’s one way to think about this from my perspective, and that is, following what Tracy and Ernesto are mentioning, it’s like an emotional intelligence. So, people have to be self aware, and then there’s the psychological component, what’s their attitude? What’s their moods like? Are they staying up late? Are they sleeping less, because of this pandemic, watching movie? Whatever it is, entertainment, what are their beliefs and underlying beliefs of the recovery. You had mentioned about the new normal, there really is no new normal, it’s the future, it’s whatever happens.

Organizations maybe little bouncing balls and couches, and people may only go to the office in teams, and they may stay home, and they’re taking desks out of offices now, they’re changing real estate. Then there’s that self-regulation component. We talked about the psychological and then the physical components of the exercise, people are becoming more sedentary, or some people are getting into a regimen of exercise. Those things are very important. I do certain things every day, it’s like a COVID habit. But if I was going to challenge myself, they are not much. Running around the block is nothing, but my brother in law could run 12 miles in one time. Right? So everyone’s going to look at the world differently.

Then there’s that regulation, looking at how are you regulating yourself, are you exercising? Are you eating well? Then we have empathy, right? So once we get through emotional times, once we control our own empathy, then we could look at how we’re controlling our own emotional intelligence. Then that social skills comes into play. Being in this kind of environment, we’re at level playing fields. I have all the respect in the world for you, Chris, Tracy, and Ernesto, but think about if we’re in a meeting of 250, and the CEO has a little box just like I do. I respect him. I have respect for authority figures, but when I get to talk, I may be on the screen just like he is. Or she is.

So, we have this whole new way of thinking. This way of trying to break away from our own internal thoughts that are holding us back, what are we oppressing ourselves with? I have friends that say, “Well, you have your two daughters, I’m alone.” There’s other people that are saying, “I’m alone with somebody, I don’t want to be alone with.” Or there’s somebody who would say, “It’s hard for me to meet people. I just turned 21, and I can go out to the bars but there’s no bars to go to.” It’s just relaxing with yourself and understanding that this is a time for you to reflect, improve whatever you want to work on, and then channeling that energy into writing or taking up a guitar or whatever you wanted to do, art, channeling those energies into things that are productive.

So when the pandemic is over, you’ll come out with new muscles and new ways of thinking, and you could now look at the world in a new perspective, looking at what did you do during the pandemic, did you create anything? Well, this is what I created. I was talking a little bit about people taking a year off before going to graduate school. Well, then what are you doing? Are you volunteering? Are you helping others so that … that empathy to help. Coming from Tracy and Ernesto, and they’re in the business of helping, and you’re helping right now by running this podcast.

So, imagine the people that we help that help others and the trickling down effect, you try to help those above you, help those below you, and then hope that people want help. Because some people do not want help. Ask an 18 year old, if they want help, they’re going to say no, but when they come to you, you better roll up your sleeves and help. Thanks, thanks for giving me the chance [crosstalk 00:21:14]

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, thank you for that perspective, I can say that, personally, I tried to make the most of my COVID experience, but I’m a really fortunate person that’d be privileged to live in an area where I’m not in a very densely populated area, I can go outside, but I did master the art of smoking a barbecue brisket over COVID. So I feel like I put that time to good use. Tracy, from your perspective, you’re working with clients all the time, and undoubtedly, COVID is a part of your work, because it’s such a part of everyone’s experience. What point should somebody really be saying, “Hey, I think I really need to reach out for some professional support here?”

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

That’s a really good question. Are we talking about that in terms of working, what the work life looks like, and trying to balance it and feeling that stress? Or the anticipation of going into the office? Or just in general? When you ask that question, I’m curious.

Chris Cancialosi:

That’s a really good follow up question. When I had asked it, I was originally thinking in general, kind of what are the signs that someone could say, “Hey, I really need to think about this.” But if there’s a different way to approach that, I’m certainly open.

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

Well, so there are people and individuals who have been living alone, working remotely, feeling incredibly isolated. This has been a very challenging time for them. So when I work with them, we really do talk, as Ernesto spoke about assessing the quality of life. They’re eating, they’re sleeping, ruminating thoughts, what they’re thinking about, are they able to reach out to friends and family and talk to them, because that is very, very important. I keep going back to isolation and feeling lonely, because there are young adults who live alone, and then there are plenty that are living with their families too, and that is very stressful.

So this has been a very interesting time for us. But I think for those, as Ernesto had spoken about before, if they’re really seeing a change in their eating, and they’re sleeping, and enjoying pleasurable activities, they’re ruminating a lot, they’re really worrying, then that’s time, you talk to a professional to reach out to a family member or a friend, to share your concerns, to feel validated, to feel that you’re not alone, because it really isn’t a singular experience, it’s really is a collective trauma. It’s a collective loss, we have all experienced some type of loss, loss of our freedom, loss of our routines, of our schedules, of predictability.

I think moving forward in transitions, people can be very vulnerable. I think we’re going to still be grappling with that transition and what that looks like in terms of that predictability and not knowing for a while, that’s going to be very, very challenging for many people.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you for that perspective. We’re going to take a quick break right now, when we come back, we’re going to flip the script a little bit. We’ve been focused on employees experience and people in general, I’d like to flip the script when we come back and talk about employers, and how our employers, number one, working through this, and number two, how can employers think about supporting and proactively supporting their employees through this transition? So we’ll be right back.

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Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome back everybody, this is Chris Cancialosi, and I’m joined today by three fantastic panelists, Tracy Nathanson, Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa and Dr. Michael Provitera, we’ve been talking about the anxiety and the collective trauma that people have been going through over the last year with this COVID pandemic. As we’re getting shots in arms and people are beginning to look forward to what the future may hold, there is some level of anxiety beginning to creep into people’s realities around, what does work look like in the future? And what is my life going to be like, now that I’ve completely up ended my existence and recalibrated to the pandemic reality?

So, what I’d like to do at this point everyone is, flip the script just a bit and talk about employers and organizations, because employers are not immune to this reality. They are at some point in their journey, trying to figure out what will the future hold for work? Are they going to go back to an office full time? Are they going to … as some organizations are doing just say, “Hey, we are fully remote from here on out?” Or is there something in between?

All of these decisions or lack of decisions impact the people that work in their organizations, which can obviously lead to anxiety and stress. So, from an organizational perspective, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on what should employers be mindful of as they are, A, developing their plans, and B, communicating and interacting with their workforces? Ernesto, why don’t we start with you?

Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:

I think in terms of the employer side, it is a difficult challenge right now to think about what we’re going to be expecting or anticipating. But it can be helpful to just consider the effects that the pandemic has had on all of us and their employees. So thinking about the individual worker circumstances as they come back, thinking about flexibility in terms of schedules, in terms of mental health benefits, or other access to health services, even childcare services, just because we’re all returning back to work, does not mean that other things are open, like schools, hopefully they do stay open.

But I think considering individual needs for their employees, and making sure that their employees are feeling supported, that the employees also know what are the policies, who can they go to if the policy maybe does not apply uniformly to all of them? I think individual supervisors can be very helpful in this regard, in being go to individuals, of understanding policy and being able to advocate for their employees as well. But I think in some ways, it’s just making sure that employers are considering how best to support their employees and thinking about not only the productivity with work, but also the well-being of their employees that are back in the office.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you for that. Tracy, from your perspective, what are your thoughts on that, and what can employers be doing, or what should they be thinking about?

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

I was also thinking about what that workday schedule is going to look like, and how important it will be to be able to take mental health breaks, to walk around a little bit, get outside, get some water, because adjusting to that work environment, again, in those hours, when had more flexibility working from home or remote locations, that may be very emotionally and physically exhausting. I think that’s going to be important to discuss that in the workplace and what that break is going to look like to be able to-

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, so giving people the space and kind of permission to readapt because now going back to an office is abnormal for people in their life experience

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

Exactly, and we haven’t even talked about the commuting and what that transportation looks like, whether they’re taking public transportation, and the stress that goes with that and being around other people, or if you’re driving and again commuting. So that’s a whole other level, putting that into your day, and what is that going to look like? [crosstalk 00:30:09]

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Yeah, and I certainly want to circle back on that. Mike, I want to hear your perspective on this before we jump to that, though. So, what should employers be keeping top of mind as they’re trying to figure this out?

Dr. Michael J. Provitera:

Well, executives in the C suite, they changed, they’re actually more authentic now. It used be, they start a meeting and everybody has their information, and they just thought, “Boom, here’s the meeting.” Now, they open up the meeting and say, “How is everybody doing? Are you feeling okay?” They hear dogs in the background, they hear people. When the pandemic first came, I was cooking, I showed a video, so they came into my kitchen, right? So, people are actually seeing things happening that they never had before. The corporations and the executives are accepting that, and they really care.

So, you’re looking at building better relationships with your bosses, with your colleagues, even though we’re remote. And how this is going to be in the future is what we’re thinking about, modeling this new communication, we may still have Zoom, we may still have work, we may have reduced work weeks, we may have people not going back like I mentioned, but they may want to go back and there’s people that do not want to go back, but they have to go back. So, we’re looking at this, treating each person the way they would like to be treated. So the golden rule is, I treat people the way I want to be treated. Well now, I think it was Tony Alexander, some pop psychologist said, “Treat people the way they want to be treated, the way they want to be treated is the Platinum Rule.”

Get into the flow, get in sync with people, find out where they are, and what they’re doing. I mean, people very rarely care. Now they have to, they have to care. Some people are working from home but their children are home, so they have to cook meals and be there with their children, but still work. So now they’re developing this new work style, where they’re opening up this emotional contact with people as, if you need help, if you want us to adjust something … we used to talk about the four day week, now we’re talking about the two day week, the no day week. Right? Then people that are home, it’s so funny, organization to seeing people work 12-hour days, you get up at nine o’clock, you might be working till 9:00 PM, maybe you took a four hour lunch, and organizations are accepting all of this.

This is the interesting point that we’re looking at going into the future, organizations are accepting you as you are, not as they would want you to be. That’s that flow, and security. As Tracy mentioned, security is so important. If I know I’m going to keep my job, I’m going to work 10 times harder, if I feel that I might lose my job, I may work 20 times harder, because I don’t want to lose it. But that’s the stress Dr. Ernesto is talking about, that Tracy is talking about. We’re feeling so much pressure on our back. We need to have convertible cause, put the convertible back and let all the monkeys fly off our back.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you for that. So what I’m hearing from all of you is, it sounds like there is no one size fits all solution for employers, we as employers need to be taking into account individual needs and differences, which sounds like a great leadership challenge for direct supervisors, as opposed to a CEO trying to make a sheep dip solution for everyone-

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

Can I interject a second?

Chris Cancialosi:

Please do.

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

I was just going to ask a question about the boundaries and the roles that have been blurred during this time, and how do we reestablish that. If you see me and I’m working, and I’ve got the dog in the background, and this, how do we go back to the workplace now? People got to know us better, boundaries have been blurred, how do we reestablish that or we don’t or there’s a new kind of normal? I’m just curious about that.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, perspectives?

Dr. Michael J. Provitera:

Well, I would say that, you have to develop a high self esteem. I hate to look at movies, but I do it all the time. Look at the Godfather. When the cat came across, Marlon Brando grabbed him and went like this, “Everybody got the cat was part of the scene, but it wasn’t.” All of a sudden a dog comes by, we pick up a dog. “Hey, meet Buddy.” So we have to have a higher self esteem, feel good about ourselves on the screen. The way we look, the way we feel, the way we communicate. This is all changed now.

Before pre pandemic, I wouldn’t want to go on the screen. I don’t know, now you have to. So, what Tracy’s talking about is, we’re accepting people, we’re getting to know people more. There’s positive things that are coming out of this pandemic, really positive. People are saying, “I love you.” I could say, “Chris, I love you for doing this.” There’s nothing wrong with that. Pre pandemic, people might say, “We shouldn’t be talking about love at work.” That’s an interesting perspective that we’re taking here.

Chris Cancialosi:

It sounds like everyone’s going to need to do a little learning and a little realignment, because everything has been shaken up. Ernesto, what are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:

Yes, I do definitely think about all the distractions that we all may have and have maybe adapted to, and how they may feel strange. I’ve gone back into an office, just to work and it just feels so different, even though I’m not with anyone, just myself. Just getting up and doing the routine that I was used to doing feels so different and strange, and that’s going to take some adjustment in terms of that piece, but also the boundaries.

Something else that was coming to mind about employers and organizations is considering, again, the pandemic, but also what has happened in the last year, and how there’s a lot of health disparities and the pandemic has shed some light into health disparities for Black and Brown individuals, and also for people in the LGBTQ community, how they have been disproportionately impacted by either job loss, coming sick with COVID, or maybe working in jobs where they’re considered essential workers.

I think that’s something that is important to consider for employers, especially as they bring back employees of diverse identities, and one, making sure that they are accounting for how these disparities and these impacts in the pandemic may also be impacting their employees, what are the messages being conveyed about the well being of employees that maybe are of color, or are part of the LGBTQ community, making sure that they are also being considered and that it may be different for some of these individuals, the stress may be higher for some of these communities.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you for bringing that up, and that really leads to my next question around inclusion and equity. Everyone’s coming from a different background. Some people are already historically before COVID, dealing with stressors based on their personal situation that others are not dealing with, COVID only adds on top of that, stacks on that, from my perspective. I’m curious, how can employers be intentional about not only understanding that and acknowledging it, but really being able to proactively address some of that. I mean, there’s so many individuals situations. As an employer, what do we do? Ernesto, why don’t you kick us off since you brought that up?

Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:

Yeah, no problem. I think in some ways, it comes down to the organizational culture, and looking at just, what does diversity look like in the workplace in terms of people that are in managerial positions, supervisor positions? And seeing if there are opportunities for people that are not part of the majority to make it more diverse, additionally, making sure that there are benefits that are extended to individuals that may have different health care needs, and making sure that these are in insurance benefits, things like that.

I think there also could be some more emphasis on providing more workshops or presentations or other resources for individuals in the company to know more about, what are some of the unique stressors that some of these communities may be experiencing and how it translates into their identity at work, there is a professional identity and also personal identity. One of the unique things about, I think, stress is, there is a minority stress theory that just states that, “On top of everyday general stressors, people with minority identity experience additional and unique stressors to their minority identities.” So in some ways, it’s like a double whammy.

So just being aware that sometimes these things are different for individuals that are having minority identity can be useful for employers, and just thinking about how does that actually translate into our organizational culture? How are employees impacted similarly, but also differently, and what can we do to make sure we’re meeting their needs as well?

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely.

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

I think we want to destigmatize … I’m sorry. I think we want to destigmatize mental health and getting those resources and that access as well for that.

Chris Cancialosi:

It feels like if there was ever a time for employers to be intentional and be thoughtful of the differences that people are bringing to the workplace with them, it feels like now is that time, with all of the social awareness and work going on in our communities over the last couple of years, on top of it COVID. Mike, you alluded to this earlier, it feels like the general culture in the United States, and it’s a huge sweeping overgeneralization is one of trying to be intentional and learn about the differences that people are bringing into work, and I’m sure some will be better positioned to actually serve as allies to their employees than others. But Mike, what’s your perspective on that?

Dr. Michael J. Provitera:

Well, I think it was Al Pacino that said in Any Given Sunday, “If we can’t work together as a team, we fail as individuals.” What organizations are doing for people of all different types of walks of life and making sure that they’re promoting them, that they’re accepting them, that they’re acknowledging them, we never want to disparage any kind of benefit or anything. So, whenever I talk to somebody, I’m always saying, “Your husband or your wife, or your significant other, or your partner, you throw them all in.” Because if I’m sitting somewhere and someone says something like that, I don’t want to get offended, and I don’t want to offend anyone.

So the executives in the world have been very careful of what they say, and they’re being very careful with what they do. So, they’re joining Big Brothers, and they’re going out to the community. Each one of us, every executive, every business manager, every business woman, everyone is trying their best to make sure and ensure that they’re giving back to the community in some way. We try to tell people not to carry any excess pressure on your back. There’s a story about a frog and a scorpion that came to the river at the same time, the scorpion said to the frog, “Listen, I see you’re about to cross the river, can I jump on your back and you deposit me on the other side?” The frog said, “No, you’re going to sting me.” Then scorpion says, “No, if I sting you, then I’ll drown, and you’ll drown, and I’ll die.”

So according to the story, the frog says, “Jump on.” They hop on, halfway across the pond that, the frog gets stung. He turns to the scorpion and says, “Wait a minute, why would you do this? Why would you sting me and die, we’re both going to drown and die.” After they came back the third time, scorpion says, “Because I’m a scorpion, and it’s my nature to sting frogs and kill them.” We have to get rid of anybody that’s negative in the workplace. It’s like a cancer. If somebody is a scorpion in the workplace, we have to not tolerate that behavior. Organizations and executives are now saying, “We’re not tolerating that.”

So we need to accept all diversity, accept everyone where they are, where they’re coming from, whatever zip code, whatever type of nationality, no more stigmatized ways of thinking, we have to eliminate that. That’s where the organizations are going in the future. The ones that are not, are going to fall short, and they’re going to lose people. I write about the no jerk policy. A lot of organizations say, “If you’re a jerk, we don’t want you anymore.” When did they ever say that? Well, they’re saying it now. So they hire people and they have a no jerk policy. Then if they find you’re a jerk, they get rid of you. They can literally say, “You failed, I know jerk policy, you’re a jerk, you’re gone.”

Chris Cancialosi:

That’s one approach. On this topic, what comes to mind for me is, wow, this is really going to be a challenge for employers, because, A, many of them are not used to thinking about individual needs as much as their organizational needs, and number two, even if at their best, there are bound to making mistakes. So, what’s the secret to success here? What is the secret element that’s going to get us all through this in a productive and healthy way? Tracy.

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

I was just thinking about community, Mike, when you were talking about before, and people who live in communities, where they look after each other, care about each other, have each other’s backs, their sense of well-being, they feel really good. So, I think feeling in your work community that it really is community, and again, normalizing our feelings, really de stigmatizing mental health needs, sometimes we’re in a culture where people don’t want to reach out for help, but letting people know that that’s okay offering those resources, because there may be organizations now that really don’t have access to even to online behavioral health resources that are there, letting people know, making sure multi language that it’s available for diverse communities, and that that is available and that it is really …

So, having those conversations, but I like the feeling of community because during this time when I was working from home I was looking for whether it was through yoga or other things I did, that sense of community not feeling alone, feeling that we could share our issues and problems. I think when we go back into the workplace, that community is going to look different, and there is going to be that emotional mental health well-being, that’s going to be very important.

Chris Cancialosi:

Ernesto, I’d like to give you the last word on this one. I mean, employers are going to be having challenging time, they’re going to make mistakes. What’s it going to take to get us through this?

Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:

Yeah, I think this is really an opportunity to be able to take all of these things, and while they may be challenging, there’s also opportunity for growth here. Reenvisioning, reimagining the way that we can all maybe come back and do things a little differently. I tend to look at this more from the perspective of, there’s a lot of opportunities here. It may be difficult and challenging, but we can all get through this together, and maybe try some things that are different, taking into account that this pandemic has really forced us into considering things that maybe we weren’t thinking about before in the workplace.

But especially think around just all these changes that, this is the time where we get to make some changes and bring in more people into the fold and making these decisions to build that community, that these decisions will not only impact the individual, but also the organization as a whole. So, it has benefits for everyone involved, and taking into account these individual differences, that actually will have very significant impact, positive impact on these workplaces and organizations overall.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you for that. Thank you for that. I have one final question for you all, and it’s a question I ask all of my guests, regardless of topic. Mike, I’d love to kick this one off with you. What have I not asked you today that I should have?

Dr. Michael J. Provitera:

Well, I think that the one thing that we could have talked about more is this resistance to change. People do not want to change, they’re failing to embrace new ideas and new changes that will help them, help the community, help the society, help their organizations. When organizations are trying to develop this tacit knowledge that people have that they don’t want to talk about, or they don’t even know subconsciously they have it but they want to talk about. Then there’s that turf war where someone brings something up, they say, “Don’t bring that up.” Or they say something to the executives, and they think the executives do not act on it, but the executives did act on it, but they didn’t tell the people.

So there’s all these different issues that we face. The one thing that we have is that, people are always worried about their next career, instead of focusing on the career that they have now, we cannot create the future and worry about what’s going to happen until we cross that bridge when we get to it. We have to say hello to the goats until we get across the bridge. So, let’s not worry about our next career, let’s worry about a current career and our current organization, and how we could all get back to working to promote our organizations to be successful, so we all keep our jobs.

Then as we make these decisions that impact not only us, but everyone, then we make the right decisions. Because as executives, we’re making decisions not only for the corporation, or our employees, but the customer, the stakeholders, the grandma, whoever it is, their children, we have to make the right decisions, and we have to really think about that. Then the emotional component? Yes, we have to make sure we’re letting people know that we’re here to help you if you have a concern. Almost every organization has some way of getting help, and now it’s second nature to say, “My therapist gave me the advice that I should.” Which we wouldn’t say that in the past. It’s okay.

We’ve to think, if you need a tax advisor, you go to a tax expert. If you need stress reduction, you go to an expert, like Ernesto or Tracy, and you talk to them about it. And you say, “Look, I’m feeling a lot of anxiety right now.” Then people will know, they say, “We know you’re feeling anxiety, so is the rest of the world. We have to cope, we have to look at what we’re doing, how can we help ourselves and others and the people around us.”

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you, Mike. Tracy, what are your thoughts? What should I have asked you that we didn’t talk about today?

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

I’m thinking maybe about the vaccine and what that looks like for people and going back to work, and how stress-inducing that is for people. What the workplace requirements are going to look like, are they going to mandate it? Are they not going to mandate it, and if they don’t, am I going to be working next to someone who has it, who doesn’t have it? And the inequity in terms of the access to it, some people aren’t able to get it. Some people because of their beliefs, they don’t want to get it.

So there’s a lot going on around the vaccine and the return to workplace. So that’s maybe something that … as I think as the days and months go by, maybe we’ll get some more clarification, or wherever you work, that policy, you’ll have a better understanding. But everyone has a different relationship to the vaccine. So I think that’s really very stress-inducing for people and also their power of agency and being able to make that choice, and will that be taken away from them if their workplace requires them to do that?

Chris Cancialosi:

Sure.

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

How are they going to feel about that?

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, no, thank you. I think that’s a really important point. Ernesto, final word, what should I have asked you that I didn’t?

Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:

Yeah, I think in some way we were talking about this, maybe that is directly but the rule I think of mental health in the future of work place [inaudible 00:50:00] organizations. I think particularly, we as clinicians have seen an increase in people reaching out for help during the pandemic, and how many of us are also feeling overwhelmed, because we’re also going through this in addition to everyone else, but also just the usefulness and making sure that we are including mental health professionals in these conversations and discussions, particularly as organizations are thinking about revamping and reworking and making changes, that there could be such an added benefit of just having me think of individuals to consult with or have these conversations with someone.

Just best practices or just throwing around ideas of what could be helpful for everyone, but just acknowledging that a lot of us in the mental health field are actively also working through this ourselves and trying to figure out how do we continue to have conversations around mental health, because it is important, and it is something that is impacting all of us.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Yeah. Thanks to all of you for your perspectives. This has been a fantastic discussion. I feel like we’ve just begun to scratch the surface, and there’s a lot of depth that we could dive into, and a lot of these different areas around equity and inclusion and around vaccine, and this is a moving target. So, Tracy, Ernesto, Michael, I really appreciate you spending time with us today. Thank you so much for sharing your perspectives.

If you’d like to learn more about our guests from today’s episode, be sure to check out the episode notes. If you enjoyed today’s episode, we welcome you to check out some of our other content, and be sure to take a moment to subscribe so you don’t miss any of the great conversations we have slated for season two.

How Do I Have a Successful Conversation? Try “CLIP”

CLIP

Perhaps the most important skill a leader can have is to engage in timely, appropriate, and ultimately successful conversations with others.

So often things get in the way.  It might be that we are uncomfortable with the other person or the subject is something that we have been avoiding. Sometimes it is just our own reluctance or what we project to be the resistance of the other individual. And it could well be that we have spent so much time coming up with our own script and arguments prior to engaging in conversation that we forget the goal of any interaction is connecting with another.

Whether it’s a coaching moment, a periodic review, or a status check on a project, the best approach for a leader is to create a container of communication and trust with another. We achieve that by focusing our effort on understanding the person and working to appreciate their viewpoint. We can do that by forfeiting our innate desire to respond to the other person with our own perspective or argument.

In other words, the best approach is to have the planned outcome to be that of merely learning about the other. That intent helps us join with someone. Initially, the vehicle to achieve that is completely one-sided, with a commitment on our part of not using that time to present our own thoughts or opinions. It may seem counterintuitive, perhaps because it is not commonly used in today’s conversations. Read More…

Return To Work Anxiety? You’re Not Alone.

Return to work anxiety

There are very few experiences in the world that everyone shares. What makes these situations so powerful is a shared experience that everyone can relate to. Although our individual experiences in these situations are unique, we share a powerful commonality centered around a key event.

These experiences are powerful for us both as individuals and as a community. They can reshape the way we look at the world and our place in it. They can make us rethink the way we get work done or the way we live our lives. And they can create quite a bit of uncertainty and even anxiety around what the future will look like.

As we have collectively adapted to the disruptive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all had to evolve our behaviors in life and at work to adapt and thrive. For those fortunate enough to have not lost their jobs, or worse, they undoubtedly had to make significant changes to the way they accomplished their work in order to stay productive and competitive in this new operating environment. It was tough. It took a lot to figure out how to be successful in this new work scenario. It made us learn to flex new muscles. But, in the end, we did it. And now this “new” way of working has even, dare I say, become comfortable. Read More…

How Do I Meet My Goals? Hitting a Moving Target

When I served in an Army tank battalion we were taught marksmanship; first at stationary targets, and later, at moving ones. In the classroom, we learned that if the target was moving left or right you had to aim a bit ahead in the direction it was traveling in order to hit it. As we transitioned to ranges with actual moving targets, we had to compensate for vehicles that might be maneuvering at what then seemed like incredible speeds, sometimes as high as 30 mph.

The best marksmen and tank gunners were those who fired an appropriate distance ahead of the vehicle. We called it “Leading the Target.”  The finest gunners would apply mental feedback loops to compensate for windage and smoke.  Initially coached by experienced tank gunners, they asked themselves a hundred questions and later developed shortcuts for answering them. Today we call those shortcuts heuristics. Others call them intuition.  Either way, all are based on gathering information and awareness about one’s environment and then making meaning of it.

Targeting and marksmanship are metaphors often associated with leadership and business. “Right on target,” “Straight-shooter,” or “Bull’s eye” are not uncommon terms thrown about in corporate settings.  But “Leading the Target,” has often drawn blank stares from my colleagues. It shouldn’t. Business is moving at a speed considerably faster than 30 mph.  And, unlike modern tanks with computers and predictive gun sighting technology, it still takes leaders and teams working together in an organization to effectively stay ahead of the speed of change.  Leaders and teams, not unlike marksmen and tank gunners, must determine which organizational challenge or target to concentrate on and how to effectively “hit” it. Read More…

2020 is Almost Over – What Did We Learn? The gothamCulture Team Weighs In

gothamCulture Team Photo Zoom

Reflecting back on this year, it’s hard to put into words what we’ve all experienced. Things that once seemed unimaginable are now a part of everyday life. 2020 has affected both our personal and professional lives in profound ways. In closing out the year, the gothamCulture team wanted to share some lessons we are learning about life during a pandemic, some silver linings resulting from the disruption, and what we plan to do differently going forward. We wish you a safe and happy holiday season. ~ Andrea Bennett, Marketing Manager

Chris Cancialosi, Managing Partner & Founder: Remote Work Works

This is not the first time where the many long-held assumptions about how work should be done were completely and immediately disrupted. The COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations that had previously pushed against the idea of remote work to quickly adapt in order to remain in operation.

The pandemic created a situation where resistance to change was decimated by the situation at hand. This disruption showed many leaders that the assumptions they held about degradations in performance due to remote work did not hold water. After an understandable lull in productivity as employees learned to operate in the new remote environment, leaders found that, in fact, their organizations were ready, willing, and able to perform in this new environment.

This forced disruption will, no doubt, change the way work is done moving forward for many organizations. Read More…

Why Can’t People Just Stop and Listen? “The Power in Pause”

stop and listen

I remember hearing a joke about a young man on a blind date. Over dinner, he spent hours providing his date with non-stop detail about his life, his thoughts, and his feelings.

At some point, though, in a rare moment of introspection, he must have recognized that perhaps he had talked too much and had not asked questions or, for that matter, even stopped to think or listen.  So, he quickly asked, “Well, that’s enough of me talking – tell me what you think of me!”

Few leaders suffer from such communication issues, but many fall into the trap of failing to take the time to listen, to be attentive, and to give space so that the other person or team members can feel themselves invited into the conversation.

Such leaders are thus limited in their ability to be attentive to others.  In order to provide that opening, they need to stop for a moment, to allow the other person to collect their thoughts and formulate an answer.  I call it  “the power in pause.” Read More…

I’m So Busy – How Do I Prepare for a Meeting?

Busy people

You’re a busy manager and it’s Sunday evening.  You’re trying to get ready for the upcoming week.  You log onto your work calendar and incredulously look at your Monday schedule wide-eyed.   You are booked with continuous back-to-back meetings from 7 am until 6 pm!

“What happened?” you ask yourself.  Then you remember that a dozen people have access to your calendar and, being the ultimate pleaser, you have agreed to every meeting request.  Without realizing it, you have set yourself up.  It looks as if you will have no down time at all during the day.

And you won’t have something else:  The ability to mentally and physically prepare for each scheduled meeting.  From one-on-ones to team sessions, you will jump from conference room to office and back again continuously.  And at the end of the day, you will try to make meaning of it all.

“I’m just incredibly busy – and that’s the way it is,” some clients tell me.  Others try to convince themselves – and me –  that they are exceptionally good at multi-tasking, and besides, “I just facilitate the sessions and direct others – I don’t need to do the work that comes out of the meeting.” Read More…

Podcast: Cultivating a Culture of Feedback and Accountability

gothamCulture Podcast

In this episode, Kate Gerasimova talks with Harrison Kim, CEO of Pavestep about cultivating a culture of feedback and accountability in organizations. Meaningful feedback develops and motivates employees and keeps them accountable to the organization and team objectives. Unfortunately, many people are unsure about how and when to give feedback. In this discussion, you’ll learn how to enable a culture of feedback in your organization and become better at giving and receiving feedback, especially in today’s virtual environment.

Released: October 12, 2020

 

Cultivating a Culture of Feedback and Accountability – 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 Kate Gerasimova, senior associate at gothamCulture.

Kate Gerasimova:

Hi, I’m Kate Gerasimova, I’m a senior associate at gothamCulture. I have a great opportunity today to interview Harrison Kim, the founder and CEO of Pavestep, it’s a 360 feedback solution to enable culture of feedback and accountability. Welcome Harrison.

Harrison Kim:

Hey, how’s it going?

Kate Gerasimova:

Going well. Thank you so much for being here today.

Harrison Kim:

Absolutely. No, thanks for having me.

Kate Gerasimova:

I’m curious to hear a little bit more about you, and then if you can tell us a couple of words about you and Pavestep for our listeners.

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, absolutely. So my name is Harrison, I’m the CEO of Pavestep and we’re a performance management solution that really activates the culture of feedback and accountability. Simply put, we help managers and employees share better feedback with each other and align goals more effectively. And at the same time, we act as a single place to store all of this data, right, feedback, goals, and anything related to performance so that managers and leaders can understand their employees and make better decisions when it comes to development. Prior to Pavestep, I was an investor in the HR services sector and a consultant at McKinsey.

Kate Gerasimova:

Oh, perfect. Well, I’m so glad that you’re here with us today and we’re here to talk about the culture of feedback and accountability, so I can’t even imagine a better person to talk to about this. So, thank you.

Harrison Kim:

Awesome.

Kate Gerasimova:

Culture of feedback, accountability, this topic comes in so many times and with each client, I hear it in one way or another, whether it’s how to, or what to do or what is feedback, how to give it. So, tell us about what is the culture of feedback and accountability and how do you define it?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah. So let me start with how I think about what culture means. I think there are many definitions. It’s one of those things that everyone can feel and understand intuitively to a certain extent, but sometimes it’s a little hard to describe it specifically. I think personally, about culture as the aggregation of behaviors of a group, whether that’s a company or a country or a team or whatever the group may be. And when I think about specifically the culture of feedback and accountability, I define that as an environment in which employees feel empowered and almost the need out of good intentions, of course, to share feedback with one another and keep each other accountable for their goals and objectives directly. That’s how I would think about it in terms of the definition for culture of feedback and accountability. And tactically speaking, this would likely translate to employees receiving structured and meaningful feedback from their team members on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, and definitely not once a year or twice a year.

Kate Gerasimova:

And, with changing environments, and I think we’re moving away from a former how we used to give feedback or receive feedback maybe once a year, as you mentioned, like a performance management cycle, that’s where it used to be, and I feel like it’s been changing a lot now.

Harrison Kim:

Absolutely.

Kate Gerasimova:

You mentioned, it’s great to have a definition of what the culture of feedback and accountability is, but how do you enable that? Where do you start?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, it’s a big question. So, when I think about enabling the culture of feedback and accountability, I think there are four big drivers, one sponsorship, two, education, three, experience, and four, process. So when I think about sponsorship, I’m not just talking about having the executives and the leadership sponsoring and leading by example, right? Of course, that’s table stakes. I’m also talking about the high performers and influence throughout the organization and getting their buy-in and them being empowered to really carry the torch throughout the organization and putting money where their mouth is, right? I think that’s really important. Sponsorship when it comes to any kind of culture shift in my mind, you have to have it both top-down and bottom-up. So, that’s number one.

The second is education that I mentioned. So the reality is that most people want guidance, want alignment and want feedback, they just don’t know how to execute it well, and this is especially true with new managers and feedback. They need to be just equipped with the right knowledge. So, as managers and leaders and executives of these organizations thinking about enabling this culture of feedback and accountability, you need to provide them with the right education so that they can get started. So, that’s number two.

The third thing that I think about is experience. So, make it as easy as possible for teams to share feedback with one another. I think digital tools help in many cases, but just don’t give them excuses not to do it, right? It’s already really difficult. And then the last component is I think personally one of the more important things, process. So as you can imagine, right, creating or shifting culture takes time. And just because your leader says so, or just because you have some cool tool within your company, it doesn’t mean people are going to start all of a sudden sharing feedback with each other and holding each other accountable, et cetera. You need to set the right processes in place so that you can enforce the right behaviors, and over time, these behaviors become habits and rituals at these companies, which shape culture, right? And this is how you need to start thinking about shifting culture from X to Y. So those are the four things I would think about conceptually when you’re trying to enable the culture of feedback and accountability.

Kate Gerasimova:

Thank you for sharing that. Definitely those four things are super important components, and I see them in my work as well. I’m curious because in every company culture of feedback could mean a different thing as you mentioned or a feedback accountability could mean different thing. So for example, there will be a company that has a model for giving feedback and they have HR mandated process on how to, but for example, feedback is inconsistent or non-existent even though there is a process and there is established guideline for it and people are just being nice to each other. Maybe they’re not saying things, or they’re just being like, yeah, yeah, thank you so much. This has been great. Or they’ve been giving feedback as, yes, this is great, but nothing behind that. What are some steps maybe leaders or employees can take to change them?

Harrison Kim:

So I think there are some tactical steps that I’ve seen work well. The first one is making sure that everyone’s on the same page when it comes to feedback. I mentioned education already on the last question. I mean, the fact that people need to learn how to share feedback and receive feedback. There is a real science and research behind what makes feedback effective at developing and motivating employees. And usually it’s not just high fives and great jobs, right? You’ve got to do a little bit more to make sure that it’s specific to behavior, specific to efforts and it’s forward looking, and all this good stuff. And you’ve got to give them that education.

When people know how to share feedback effectively using the behaviors and observations, negative feedback or constructive criticism, doesn’t actually sound so negative, right? For example, Kate, if you were to tell me right now that I’m talking too fast, or my answers are hopping back and forth, that would be a really helpful pointer for me, right? It’s just facts and I’m totally okay with that. So, education I think is important. There’s actually another benefit to making sure that people are educated on how to share feedback, because it gets everyone on the same page as to how feedback will look between you and your colleagues, right? We can speak the same language of feedback and that can minimize miscommunication, right?

So for example, when you give me feedback and tell me how I can improve, I know that you’re not saying that just because you think you’re better than me. I know that you’re saying that because it’s part of the healthy feedback that we’ve explicitly agreed upon, right? So, that’s one big benefit also from an education perspective. And then separately in order to create a culture where people feel comfortable being direct and candid with others, especially when it comes to negative or constructive feedback, we need to have psychological safety, right? And tactically speaking, I’ve seen organizations that we work with do the following. One is actually mandating constructive or development upward feedback. So this helped everybody get comfortable over time sharing direct feedback with each other. And it helps significantly that the leader was willing to step in and be vulnerable first, right? So, that was a really cool process that we’ve seen.

Second thing that we’ve seen is having this philosophy around employees owning their own performance and feedback, meaning, let’s say you and I are working together and you give me feedback, nobody else has access to that feedback. It’s completely confidential. It’s purely for me and for my own development. So, that’s something that I’ve seen as well that I think is quite unique.

Kate Gerasimova:

And I know you’ve been CEO for Pavestep for quite some time, I’m wondering if there are any stories that come to mind in terms of creating that psychological safety or being vulnerable.

Harrison Kim:

Yeah. I mean, the first example that I gave just now, that was really, really cool where literally what they did was the leader decided to mandate one negative or constructive feedback week or every two weeks from all of his team members, right? And he did that for a few weeks and then he rolled it out to his direct reports. So everybody was supposed to give his direct reports negative or constructive feedback, and then he rolled it out to everybody else. And that really made them understand, okay, this is how you share feedback and this is how you actually receive feedback, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. And it has created a really interesting culture where people truly have this radical candor, right, environment where they’re totally okay being upfront and being direct with each other because they know that this is for each other’s development. And that was really cool to see.

Kate Gerasimova:

Yeah. It’s almost like you seeing a bigger picture while you’re doing that there’s almost absolutely nothing bad about constructive feedback. It’s not that you’re going to take it personally, right?

Harrison Kim:

Right. Right.

Kate Gerasimova:

Well, this is a great example. And it would be interesting to see how else would you frame feedback? As you mentioned, giving and receiving feedback is a skill, how would you adjust it based on situation? So for example, if you even know that somebody may take feedback personally, or they would be a little bit hesitant to receiving constructive feedback, how would you deliver feedback with confidence and how would you give that feedback?

Harrison Kim:

So I think when it comes to sharing feedback with somebody, I don’t think you necessarily need to be confident or come off confident actually. I do sometimes think that it’s actually helpful to be vulnerable when you’re sharing feedback, be like, “Hey, I want to share some feedback with you, let me know if there’s anything that I need to improve on, because I’m still new to this. I’m still learning.” I think that’s totally okay. In fact, I think that might actually make it more relatable and it gets across the message a little bit more effectively in certain situation.

But more tactically speaking, when you’re giving feedback, we think there are three aspects to making the feedback more effective. The first one is making sure that the feedback is behavior based, not trait or intention based, right? So make sure the feedback focuses on the specific behaviors, which are observable and changeable, right? So you want to make sure that you’re focusing on those things that the person can actually control. The second aspect of it is that the feedback should be effort based not results. So what I mean by that is you got to make sure that the feedback that you’re sharing with someone is focused on the strategies, the effort and the processes that this person took in order to complete a task or solve that problem. Because typically those things are under that person’s control, right? You don’t want to be giving feedback on anything that’s outside of that person’s control. So you’ve got to focus on things that they can control. That’s the second piece.

The last piece is pretty straightforward. You want to make sure that it’s forward looking not just backwards, right? When we don’t do a good job at work, it’s not because we don’t want to, right, usually it’s because we clearly don’t know how, and we usually know when we’re underperforming. So, just being forward looking and providing some suggestions or brainstorming with that person, I think goes a long way. I think those are the three things that we think about when we think about giving feedback, and of course, do it real time, not six months later.

Kate Gerasimova:

Great. And you just mentioned those three things, behavior based, effort not results and forward-looking. So, how do you measure all of this? Is there a way you suggest doing that or how have you seen doing that?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, I mean, from a company perspective, there’s multiple ways that you can measure the level of feedback both from a quantity and quality perspective to a certain extent. So, there’s a few ways. One is just purely looking at the frequency of feedback, right? I think, if your team members are sharing feedback, once, twice, three times a year, it’s clearly not enough. I mean, one of my close friends said this a long time ago, which was pretty awesome I thought. He said, you don’t look at your bank account once a year, why do you look at your employees once a year, right? So, frequency of feedback is something that we will look at.

The second thing that we will look at is the quality of the feedback, right? Like I said, the quality of feedback is very important. One possible way to measure that is just looking at the length of feedback, right? Whether it’s, hey, great job in high five or something much more specific and behavior based and relevant for this person, right? You’re able to look at that just by looking at the details and the length of the feedback that this person is providing. And then, a few other ways are engagement surveys, the feedback and development are often a metric that they will gather scores, survey results on, as well as you can run periodic 360 assessments and see how the team has changed over the course of six or 12 months before and after feedback, basically. So, those are some ways that you can establish those metrics and keep everyone accountable.

Kate Gerasimova:

Have you seen any of them that you mentioned being more relevant than others or more helpful than others?

Harrison Kim:

I think there isn’t a silver bullet metric, every metric will … You need more context and you need to compliment it with other things. Because for example, if you just looked at frequency of feedback, that’s not necessarily super helpful, right? Let’s say you have a company and everyone shares feedback once every week, which sounds great, but unless you actually look into what kind of feedback that they’re sharing, you’re not able to get the full picture. So, I don’t think there’s any one silver bullet metric, I think you need to think about it from multiple angles.

Kate Gerasimova:

Yeah. And you also mentioned the frequency of feedback would be different depending on … What I’m hearing you say is more frequent you receive feedback more frequently you can apply it or learn about it. But I’m wondering, if there is a guideline to follow on what’s the best way of giving or receiving feedback, or for example, if I’m an employee and I haven’t heard anything about my performance in a while, what do I do? How do I go about it?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah. I mean, think from a frequency perspective, I do think twice a month, three times a month is quite healthy. And if you’re an employee and you haven’t received much feedback, call it in a month or two or three months, I think you’ve got to speak up and talk to your manager, right? You’ve got to let the manager know, hey, I would love to sit down and get some feedback from you and going forward, I would love to get it more frequently than once every quarter or once every six months, right? This isn’t a dang on the manager. Most people want more frequent feedback and more transparency, and sometimes just time gets away, there isn’t a tool or process set in the organization or the culture isn’t really aligned with it, whatever it may be. But if you just talk to your manager one-on-one, I think they would be more than happy to help.

Kate Gerasimova:

Okay, that’s great. And then, looking from a manager perspective, so for example, if I’m a leader or a manager and I’m in situation where I don’t usually give feedback and maybe that’s because there’s so many things happening, there are so many things flying my way. I don’t even have time to pause, I don’t know, 15 minutes a day because I’m working all the time. And in this virtual environment, I could see that happening very often. What would you recommend for a leader or a manager to do in this situation to give more frequent feedback? Or how would you recommend changing those behaviors?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, the way I think about that scenario is I’m going to sound a little direct here, but if you’re a people leader or a people manager, a very, very core component of your job is to coach and develop and motivate your employees through guidance and feedback, period. This isn’t something that you do on a Friday at 4:00 PM because you’ve got five minutes before the end of the day. This is a very core component of your job, and it should be a very top of mind, especially in difficult times and uncertain times that we’re living through right now. So that would be what I would recommend is just really look at what your priorities are and think about what your roles and responsibilities are. And this sharing feedback and coaching your team members is truly a core component of that and it should be a component of that.

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.

Kate Gerasimova:

What do you think about just-in-time feedback, the possibility of it, how important it is or any thoughts on that?

Harrison Kim:

I think just in time feedback is important, but it depends, right? I mean, I think the worst version from a time perspective is doing it once or twice or three times a year.

Kate Gerasimova:

Yeah.

Harrison Kim:

I think anything within the week or two is totally healthy, because some people don’t, depending on their personality and what their workflow looks like, a lot of people just don’t want to be bothered, right, every time they do something well or something not very well. So, I think it just really depends on the team dynamics, their workflow and the person.

Kate Gerasimova:

So you shared those three main things about measuring feedback and about framing feedback. So you mentioned behavior base, so observable behaviors, you mentioned efforts not results and forward-looking suggestions.

Harrison Kim:

Yup.

Kate Gerasimova:

Is there a model that you use for any of this, the components or how did you come about those three components?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, I think, so the aspects, those three aspects, the behaviors, efforts and forward-looking, that’s based on different research, mainly one of the main research backing that is the Growth Mindset by dr. Carol Dweck. I think that is one of the best things that I’ve seen from a feedback perspective and how to make sure that you’re creating a dialogue that actually develops and motivates people. I think that’s number one. And when it comes to a framework, we’ve used our own acronym when it comes to feedback, it’s BIN, B-I-N, Behaviors, Impact and Next steps. So you want to make sure you focus on the behaviors. You want to make sure you describe the impact those behaviors had on yourself or others, and then make sure you follow up with the next steps and close the loop. So, that’s the framework that we would use.

Kate Gerasimova:

Great, I love the framework. I hope it’s okay that I’m challenging you on that, but do you have an example that you can walk us through? Anybody who can take anything and provide any feedback in that format? That could be anything simple.

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, absolutely. So I’ll give a … This is an example that I use all the time, so you may have heard this before, but a classic example of a bad feedback is something like, “Hey, Kate, I don’t have much feedback for you. You’re really smart and you’re really diligent. Keep at it.”

Kate Gerasimova:

Great, I’ll take that.

Harrison Kim:

That sounds nice, right?

Kate Gerasimova:

But what do I do with it, right?

Harrison Kim:

Right, right. It sounds nice, it’s not helpful at all. Whereas, if I were to say something like, hey Kate, when you did your presentation to client X, Y, and Z last week. On page eight, you used these three examples to make our philosophy and our process much more relatable for them, right? And the way you laid out the philosophy was really, really clear and concise because of A, B and C, right? That’s a very specific behavior and very specific thing that you did that you can improve on, correct, and repeat over time. And that’s how you create high performers is through these types of behavior modifications. So, that’s what I would say is a better example of a feedback.

Kate Gerasimova:

Great, I love that example. And I think it’s so useful because coaching clients or being on-site with clients and just learning about how people give feedback, there are so many questions about models or there are some helpful models or not, or there’s like, what do I do next with this? So I am grateful to hear also forward-looking and an effort not results and that’s why I wanted to emphasize it a little more because what I’m often hearing is feedback is based on what they’ve seen or what is a result of a former behavior sometime way back. And, I find it even harder for myself to reflect and seeing how can I be improving because I’m not in that situation again? And it’s like, it’s in the past and it’s so hard to even put yourself in that shoes again to understand.

Harrison Kim:

Right. You don’t even remember what you had for dinner two weeks ago.

Kate Gerasimova:

Exactly, exactly.

Harrison Kim:

How am I going to remember that over the last six months or 12 months?

Kate Gerasimova:

Yes. But if you constantly, as you mentioned, it’s behavior based. So, if you constantly repeat the same behaviors, there’s nothing you can change your shift. So, it’s almost not only shifting behaviors, it’s shift in mindset and how you look at things.

Harrison Kim:

Absolutely.

Kate Gerasimova:

And as you mentioned, it’s so important to have psychological safety and it’s so important to be vulnerable to receiving and giving feedback and it’s okay not to be perfect.

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, it takes time. I mean, it definitely takes time. It takes practice. It’s not the easiest thing. Even though I preach this stuff, when people talk about, hey, Harrison, can I give you some feedback? I get nervous time to time and I’m like, okay, give me two minutes to settle down and get myself in the right mindset, right? It takes time and practice, and it’s all good.

Kate Gerasimova:

Yeah. When you give and receive feedback, do you … So, you mentioned there is a model, but do you frame it in any way or? So, I know sometimes just being as direct as possible, for example, if I have to give feedback in a moment, as you mentioned, I also take a couple minutes to think about it, how I frame it, but do give a couple of positive first and then you go to constructive or you don’t massage it in a positive way, so you just give it straight?

Harrison Kim:

I think it depends on the relationship you have with that person, but my personal preference and I do think best practice is to be more direct. I don’t think … I mean, if there are things that you want to praise, right, that’s totally fine, but I don’t think you should be praising people just because you want to soften the punch, right? I think it’s better to be candid, better to be direct because being direct doesn’t mean you’re not being kind, right? You can be direct and kind at the same time, so I prefer that.

Kate Gerasimova:

That’s wonderful. I love being direct and kind, I think it should be a new logo, slogan. What’s the word? Well, thank you, Harrison. I know right now in a virtual environment, it’s so much harder, sometimes we don’t see each other or sometimes we see each other too long in the video and we have certain expectations about things and how we look on camera and all of that. Then, sometimes we may misinterpret certain things, the way the person look at us on camera, or when we think they are not paying attention, whatever it maybe like. Do you have any recommendations or what’s the best way to provide feedback in virtual environment or to receive feedback in the virtual environment?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, I don’t actually think it needs to be too different. Just like any other communication in a remote environment, I think you need to be more proactive and over-communicate, I think that’s number one. One other thing I will mention is, a lot of people spend the time to prepare, right, for feedback, they write it down and they’ve got this great script or prepared feedback for the other person. And then, what they do is they practice, practice, practice, and then when they deliver the feedback to that person, they don’t get all of the things right, right? Because it’s hard to memorize or rehearse a whole bunch of things. And what I would recommend there is, and this is something I do as well, especially when it comes to more constructive or negative feedback. I, sometimes what I’ll do is, hey, I have prepared some feedback for you. Do you mind if I just read it because I don’t want to miscommunicate or say things that I don’t mean, right? And just give that feedback that way.

When the person is receiving the feedback, he or she is really not going to care whether you’ve written it down and you can’t remember this feedback, all these words, right? What they care about is the fact that you prepared and the fact that you want to make sure that this person gets the right and the right message. So, I think that’s something that a lot of people shy away from because they think it’s scripted or not authentic. But, I don’t know if I agree with that. I think, it’s totally okay to let the other person know, hey, I’ve prepared something. I don’t think I can deliver it memorizing, do you mind if I just read this for you, then we can have a conversation? I think that’s totally fine.

Kate Gerasimova:

Yeah. So, there are no verbal or nonverbal clues to look for.

Harrison Kim:

Right. Right. Let’s not muddy the message with those things, right?

Kate Gerasimova:

Right, let’s not overthink this.

Harrison Kim:

Right, exactly.

Kate Gerasimova:

It’s like, no, no, no, no, no, no. Your mind is going too far, no, it’s simple as it is.

Harrison Kim:

Right. Let’s not make it harder by you having to perform.

Kate Gerasimova:

And I found myself through my working career, that the easiest way for me to receive feedback or to give feedback is when I’m not overthinking, [inaudible 00:28:17] not trying to make too far out of it, but it’s just taking situation as it is and just seeing as you mentioned a greater picture of why I’m doing this, for what reason then. And also coming at it from this vulnerable place, from your heart. And then when I’m honestly caring about the person and I do care about people I give feedback to, I’m thinking almost first from their point of view. And then two, if I have any assumptions I’m making, I’m clarifying those assumptions as well. So that’s been just personally experience with helping me and then it just feels right. When you give or receive feedback, sometimes I take indication of feeling, if it feels right, then may be that one’s right.

Harrison Kim:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. And frankly, if you’re receiving some negative or critical or constructive feedback and you’re feeling heated up, I mean, it’s human nature. And if you’re really heated up and you can’t really digest the information, just ask for some time, right? It’s totally fair and mature for you to be like, hey, I appreciate your time, but can we revisit this in a few minutes, because I want to have a productive conversation, but I’m definitely getting a little heated up. I think that’s totally okay.

Kate Gerasimova:

I love that approach, it’s very direct, but at the same time it gives you an opportunity to process it versus so many times you would hear somebody yelling at each other. You’re like, you don’t want that behavior in an organization, that’s inappropriate and unprofessional, so that’s a different way of taking some time just to process it and to thinking about it.

Harrison Kim:

Right, absolutely.

Kate Gerasimova:

Great. I know we talked about feedback a lot, but there’s one more question I had for you, and it’s going back to the beginning of our conversations and about culture, what does culture of feedback and accountability mean? And you mentioned that sponsorship is a very important component. It’s coming also top down and bottom up, from high-performers and from leaders, let’s imagine a scenario that feedback is not part of the culture yet, but people really would enjoy it. They keep asking for it. How would they ask for sponsorship inside of their organizations or how does it start?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah. So, I’ve seen it multiple ways. One way that I’ve seen it is finding an executive leader that cares about mentorship, apprenticeship and feedback and coaching and things like that, right? I think, I mean, if you’re able to find that kind of executive sponsor, starting that conversation with that person from the get-go I think is very, very important. So that’s the best case scenario, right? You’ve got a sponsor already in place, you just need to socialize the idea with them and start planning with that person. That’s I think a pretty easy scenario.

The other scenario is if you are working in an environment where you don’t have that executive sponsor, if that’s the case, and if you are in the more manager or director level or VP level, what I would recommend is try to run a small pilot program within your team, right? So basically what I would recommend is, and it doesn’t have to be something fancy, right? What you can do is start literally just putting together some very simple tools, even you can do it with Google Sheets or Google forms or Excel or whatever it is and some small processes around with your teams on sharing feedback and receiving feedback and requesting feedback. And just start there and see what change in terms of productivity, morale, and engagement that you see with your team members and have that as your “business case,” right?

Create that, and then start socializing within your organization. I think that is one tactical way to do it. And the reality is most people understand that feedback is good for employees, right? It’s just figuring out, making sure that you can get the capacity and you can get the business case down. And I think having that small testing type of pilot program within your own group, I think is low risk and an easy way to start that fire.

Kate Gerasimova:

Oh, I love this. I love it. Thinking about it, taking it small and seeing what works, what doesn’t and going bigger with this.

Harrison Kim:

Absolutely.

Kate Gerasimova:

Well, thank you so much for sharing with our listeners your experience about the culture of feedback and accountability. Any other last minute suggestions or helpful nuggets for our listeners?

Harrison Kim:

No, I think I’ve basically told you everything I know.

Kate Gerasimova:

Love it. Thank you so much, and let’s keep learning from this. Where can our listeners find you?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, absolutely. So you can find me on LinkedIn, Harrison Kim is the name and or our websites www.pavestep.com.

Kate Gerasimova:

Wonderful, thank you. And the one last question before I let you go is, what are you most grateful for in this last month?

Harrison Kim:

In this last month? Wow. The thing that I’m most grateful for is that I have been healthy. I didn’t get sick. I did hurt my ankle randomly, but outside of that, healthy body so far, so I’m grateful for that.

Kate Gerasimova:

That’s great. Well, I’m grateful for that too. And thank you so much for coming and speaking to our listeners and sharing your wisdom.

Harrison Kim:

Absolutely, thank you for having me.

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 Do I Give Feedback To My People?

Giving Feedback

You’ve made it into a leadership position. You are finally a manager! You take the new job seriously, knowing that the responsibilities include meeting strategic goals, managing budgets, and making presentations to senior management. Those challenges are daunting, but you feel well prepared, due to your background, education, and business experience.

And yet there is one area with which you are uncomfortable – the ability to give feedback to the women and men on your team!

While your formal education likely focused on balance sheets, corporate finance, and strategic planning, the idea of giving meaningful perceptions about professional growth to others was likely not formalized – and it was probably left to your own devices and experience.

Many clients with whom I have worked were not provided much in the way of meaningful, timely feedback or instructions on how to do it. For some, even if it was taught, such training was limited, and for most individuals, regrettably, it was a bit of an afterthought. Read More…

How To Motivate Others By Starting With Yourself

Shawn Overcast

One of the toughest parts of a leader’s job, regardless of whether you’re leading a corporation, in the community or at home, is to motivate and develop the people on a team toward a common goal. gothamCulture’s Shawn Overcast talked with Moms That Lead podcast host Teri Schmidt about how it all starts with self-leadership. Shawn shares inspirational stories and practical strategies for helping those you choose to lead to excel beyond their expectations by starting with your own self-reflection. Shawn and Teri discuss the application of those strategies to leadership at work, in the community, and, perhaps most importantly, at home.

Episode 18: How to Motivate Others by Starting with Yourself