Workplace Culture? The Workplace Therapist tells us the secret to a good workplace

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Workplace Culture? The Workplace Therapist tells us the secret to a good workplace

 

- On this episode of C Level, I'm hanging out with The Workplace Therapist, Brandon Smith and the podcast host of The Brandon Smith Show. So Brandon, thank you for coming out.

- I am so thrilled I get to come here and hang out with you.

- I'm really excited, so you've been on several networks, you were on Ted Talks.

- [Brandon] Right, I have, yup.

- You have a show called The Workplace Therapist.

- [Brandon] I do.

- And I'm really excited about this episode because we get to talk about the emotion of a leader and how it affects the workplace, the culture of a company, and that's a big thing, so I want to hear your story. So where did you get started? Where are you from?

- Oh, wow, so okay, so yeah, so today, what I do is basically help organizations and leaders to create healthier workplaces. So I'll tell you how that kind of got started for me. So I'll come jump into middle portion of the story. So I went to Vanderbilt undergraduate and got a degree in Communications, and like most good Communication majors, I was unemployed at graduation, wondering what am I gonna do with this thing? And I went looking for a job, looking for a job, and I ended up getting this job with this chain of retail stores. It was a family-owned business and it was privately held, so they've got 15 stores kind of around the metro area, and they hired me to be the assistant manager of one of these stores. So to give you a little backdrop into this business, it was a family-owned business, and the woman who started the business, her daughter marries this guy, and he becomes my boss, so the son-in-law of the business. So I show up on the first day of work and he greets me at the door. He says, "Brandon, I'm really excited to have you here. "You're gonna be the assistant manager of the store, "but before you get started, I have a task for you. "Waiting for you in the back room "is the current assistant manager of the store, "but he doesn't know you're coming, "so your job is to go back there and fire him "and you get his job."

- [Chris] That's awesome, first task.

- First day, first task, I didn't walk in the door yet, and he says, "Go back there and fire that guy, you get his job," and that was how my boss rolled. He'd come in, he loves surprise visits. So part of where I became so passionate about this work that I do is by having a world-class, horrible boss. So he did all the things that bosses shouldn't do. He loves surprise visits, he loved trying to catch you doing something wrong. So he would come in and surprise visit and he'd say, "I don't like what Sharon's wearing, go fire her." So I had to do more layoffs in the first six months of that job than any other time in my career, even now. And so during the time I kind of realized, really, three things. First, I realized work should not have to suck. It should be a source of fulfillment and meaning and purpose, not a source of anxiety and stress and depression. I mean, it is work. I mean, you're gonna get some of that stuff, but it should be more of the good stuff. Second, if my boss was any indication of the state of leadership today in the workplace, there was a real need, so I wanted to try and tackle that. And then third, that was where my purpose was born. I said, man, I want to fix all workplace dysfunction everywhere forever, having no idea what I just signed up for. So back in those days--

- [Chris] A lot of it out there.

- A lot of it out there. I mean, and I've worked with, I can't think of a kind of organization I haven't worked with. Nonprofits, for-profits, big, small, you name it, I mean all different kinds, and they all have dysfunction, all the different flavors of it. So back in those days, there wasn't really a lot of executive coaching. That was kind of new thing. So I went out and got a clinical therapy degree and did that for a number of years. Practice inpatient for a number of years, and then went corporate and then in corporate for a little while, then went and got my MBA, and then the rest is history. After that, I hung my shingle and I've been out there being a Workplace Therapist ever since.

- So, it's just fascinating to me. The way leadership, 'cause what happens is it starts from the top, and then it all goes down, and if you want to change the culture of a company, you got to start with the leader, and I think that's much needed in this workplace because, nowadays, because businesses have evolved over the years, and I think where we're at now, there's, especially with the millennials coming in, people want to be working for something bigger than themselves, and there's these certain things that employees are looking for, and if they're not comfortable in their own environment because you have a boss that like, hey, I'm, I don't like what you're wearing, you're done, it probably creates a lot of stress in the workplace, and so what are some of the things that you've seen, without giving me, giving some names of clients, but what are some of the things that you've seen and how you were able to come in and fix it?

- Yeah, so, we'll start with leaders first, so my personal belief, I believe in a lot of leadership philosophies, but my personal belief is the starting place for any leader is to drive clarity. Clarity is your first job as any leader. So that's clarity on roles, goals, expectations, responsibilities, culture, really creating that clarity, 'cause everything else we know about leadership kind of layers on top of that, and so when leaders don't do that well, they practice what I call Las Vegas management. They know what they expect. They just don't tell you, and you get to guess and gamble, and when you gamble right, you win and when you--

- So clear expectations, yeah.

- Clear expectations is first, is first and foremost, and most people are gonna step up to that. 80% of folks are gonna step up to that. It doesn't matter their age, doesn't matter their background, they're gonna say, oh, this is what you expect and this is what I'm signing up for? I will step up to that as long as you are consistent with that. So I think that's an important first step for leaders. So that also reminds me of another important side note to this. So about three years ago, a group of researchers went out and they studied this question, what's the worst kind of boss to work for? Worst kind of boss. So Chris, what do you think? What's worst, when you think of worst bosses you've ever had, what's worst?

- [Chris] Micromanager?

- Micromanager, horrible, horrible. I would never wish that on anyone, not number one.

- [Chris] Interesting.

- Can you think of another one?

- [Chris] Hmm.

- Well, given my clinical background, I would have thought the angry, abusive yelling and screaming. Horrible, would never want that for anybody, not number one. Can you think of another?

- [Chris] Balancing the books with his employees. If they're not, if the company's not doing well, he's balancing the books by letting people go.

- Yes, it's almost like fear-based. Fear, you can lose your job any day, not number one. The ghosting boss, you can never find her or him, not number one. Number one, the highly inconsistent boss, or the un-medicated bipolar boss, where you never knew what you were gonna get on a given day. That was the worst kind of boss is what they found, because all the others that we just listed out are horrible, but you know it walking in. I know they're gonna be fear-based.

- When they walk in, the employees walk out, that's gotta tell you something.

- I mean, you don't, yeah, exactly. You know what you're going to get, but the highly inconsistent, you don't know what to get. So I think one of the first steps of leaders is be really clear on who you are and what you expect, and be super consistent, super consistent, and that's really what culture is about. Culture's, people think so much that culture is about, I'm gonna create these three to five great phrases or words and stick them up on plexiglass. And then we're gonna look at those and be like, look at us. Aren't those really nice? It's really about what is consistently being practiced, preached, rewarded, punished, and so that's the first step.

- So we, as an organization, we were big on strengths, we're big on supporting each other's strengths, we're transparent with it, we're also transparent with what we're not so good at, which would be looked at as maybe weaknesses from the top down. I know what I'm good at and I know what I'm not so good at, and every single employee is identified. They know what they're really good at and they know what they're not good at, but that's why we're a team 'cause we're able to work together and make something great, and nobody, it's like John Maxwell talks about the 21 irrefutable laws of leadership, and nobody has all of them. You're gonna be eights and nines and some, they're gonna be two or threes and others, and I think that the trick is to have that, have a team where you're able to offset some of those strengths with some of those weaknesses with people, and you feel valued that way, and I love what you said too about transparency. It's like if people don't know what they're supposed to do, it's not gonna work.

- But the story you just told hits on another really important point, so we talk about transparency, consistency, culture, expectations, clarity. Then the next layer is we want to create something that's really healthy. We want psychological safety, and so psychological safety is saying, I could, whether I'm working with a team or a group, I feel safe enough in that environment that I can bring my full self. I can ask a crazy question or bring a half-baked idea.

- Right, without feeling like--

- Yeah, feeling like I'm gonna get punished or made fun of, or I can raise my hand and say, hey, I need help. Right, I suck at this. You're really good at this. Can you teach me, or can you do it for me? I can do that, and having psychological safety, Google found that in their highest performing teams, that was the key, they all have psychological safety, and that resulted in them having, what they found was equal turn-taking, so everyone's talking equally and what they call high average social sensitivity, which means they basically care about each other. So, it's a subtle thing, but when you talked about the weaknesses and being able to embrace those and acknowledge those, that's vulnerability, which creates psychological safety. So it's super cool. You said that, I had to--

- Yeah, no, no, it's good, and it's a sense of family. That's what I like is a sense of family. I mean, we spend more time with each other in the workplace than we do at home, and even with a family, it's like there is that vulnerability that you have, so if you're completely transparent and upfront with it, without fear of I can't ask this question 'cause I'm gonna be made fun of or whatever that is, well then we're able to move past all the garbage that a lot of companies, I think that's what creates silos. People just want to put their heads down and just work 'cause I don't want to deal with anything else out here. I just, I'm focused on my own stuff, get my own stuff done, whereas I like collaborative. So when we have our meetings, literally, I take all of our top staff and it's a collaborative. I'll propose an issue or something that we're trying to figure out together and like, okay, what do you guys think? Let's hear it. So, and nobody's judged on that. Maybe I, some ideas are better than others, but at least we're all collaborating, and I think that's that sense of family that helps, would you agree?

- Oh, I would totally agree, I would totally agree with that, and I would say that's rare today. It's more rare the more higher up you go. So when we're talking about a senior level team, all C level executives, I can guarantee you, if I walk in that room right now, the number one issue is gonna be lack of alignment. They don't talk to each other and they don't share enough because what's true in every workplace, whether we're talking big companies, small companies, nonprofits, universities, doesn't matter. Time's everyone's most precious resource. It's not money, it's time, and everything is urgent all the time, and those two things generate silos. I just gotta hunker down and focus on my own stuff, and I don't have time for you.

- [Chris] How does one break that, in a large organization, how do you, how would you actually get everybody on board so they don't...

- Well, first, they have to understand that that's critical. It's essential because that's the other role. Once you start to get passed into traditional company, you start to get to the director level, then alignment is part of your job function. Whether you realize it or not, you gotta start spending the time noticing what the person to your left and right are doing, and with every promotion, that hand goes up another 10% because, really, leadership is not about doing, it's about aligning. Otherwise, they'd call it doership. It's leadership, you got to figure out how to herd all these cats. Sometimes you've got thousands of cats, and you've got to get them all going in the same direction. And so it's spending that time to do it. So it's understanding the importance of it, and then with my clients, I am literally saying, well, let's look at your calendar, every week. You need to be carving out four hours every week just doing this.

- [Chris] Sitting down one to one.

- One to one, it could be over the phone. Ideally, it's over lunch. I mean, let's go old school, have lunch with your coworker and actually talk to her or him and say, what's going on in your world? Let me learn more about your department or your function. And when I've had clients do that, they said it was really awkward at first, but once they started talking, they realized, I had one client, he runs a marketing function for a software company, and then his counterpart runs kind of product and operations, so basically, all the engineers that are building that product, and then he's in charge of marketing for that product. Well, once they started talking, he realized where his counterpart was taking things was really important for him to know because had they not talked, they would have been going in very different directions. And they committed after that to doing it every month, just to make sure that they're on the same page. It's just really important.

- [Chris] It's communication.

- It's totally communication, but communication is the first thing, that's in the broader category that goes out the window when time's our most precious resource and everything's urgent all the time. I'm too busy, and including positive feedback. I'm too busy to give you positive feedback. I'm too busy and working on my own stuff.

- Right, yeah, communication is huge in any workplace. I mean, you look at, so one of the other interviews I did, he was a lieutenant colonel in the military, I think of war, so if you want to take out an army, what do you do? You take out the communication, 'cause if the leaders can't communicate, everybody's scattered all over the place. If you take that into the workplace, into a company, and nobody knows what's going on, the company's now scattered and you're at risk of going under because nobody's on the same page. So I think focusing on communication is huge. So, it's important for a leader to have this positive, upbeat attitude, so how, I mean, at the top, we face a lot of stresses, a lot of things, so how, what are some things that a leader can do to always maintain a positive attitude?

- Yeah, so I would back off just a little bit on it and say that you don't want to always have a positive attitude on everything because if it feels not in the right tone with what's going on, it's like, hey, we're laying off 20%, but really, it's gonna be okay. It feels, it doesn't, it's like cracking jokes at a funeral. It's got to fit the context. There was a famous theologian at Emory's School of Theology, Candler, and he's since passed away, but the guy's name is Jim Fowler, and he said he used to have this beautiful saying that I think is so true for leaders. You want to provide people hope and handles, which I think is such a nice, beautiful thing. Hope, here's where we're going and here's why it's gonna work out, and handles, here's what we need to do. So I think that's a good reminder for leaders that even when things are not good, you want to, you acknowledge that it's not good, but spin it into here's where we're going, here's why it's gonna be okay.

- [Chris] Positive light.

- Positive framing is really important for leaders.

- [Chris] It's casting vision.

- Yeah, casting vision, but acknowledging what's the reality, and being appropriate to that. I think that's important.

- Yeah, I mean, it would be great if every client you brought on from day one stays with you forever and ever and ever. The possibilities of that are very slim, so letting people know, if I have an account manager that lost a client and it was not their fault, it was, hey, it was a company takeover, or it was a different marketing director that wanted to fire older vendors. I mean, these are things that you can't control no matter how good you are. So instead of taking that and just being down and depressed, just saying, hey, listen, these types of things happen, but the future is bright, we're moving forward, we're gonna replace that client with three more.

- Exactly, or even ask yourself, well, what can we learn from this? How can we get better, faster, smarter? So, if we go back a little over 10 years ago, when I was doing this kind of work, and it was right around the recession. I was doing a lot of culture work, so helping organizations create really great cultures, and the recession hit. No one wanted culture work. So my income was cut by 40%. It was like, okay, this is not what people want or need, and I had to think about, okay, what, where, what do they need right now? And so I became less of a consultant and more of a practitioner, which is much more of what my firm does today. What we do as much more of a hands-on practitioner kind of approach. We're gonna, we're not gonna tell you what you should do, we're gonna do it for you, because time is everyone's most precious resource and everything's urgent all the time. People are like, just fix it, and that was because we lost clients and work. Kind of forced us to think about how do we build a mousetrap different? So it can be a positive thing.

- Yeah, so if, and I think, some people probably run coworkers say, employer to employee and there's maybe a tension or difficult relationship or how does one work with somebody that might be a little bit more difficult, like, say, they're just difficult to work with. Is there a process that you would recommend that they go about, they identify, and then they can move forward and work with that person?

- Yeah, so, there's two components to this. So the first is, is it a trust issue? Are we needing to build trust? And the second one is, is it just a relationship communication issue? So let's take the second one first. Let's say it's a relationship communication issue, the way you process the world, the way I process the world, just different, and so the best way to kind of break that down is to come at it with kind of a, what, a technique that therapists often will say, attend to the obvious. So you just sit down and say, hey, I've noticed, for whatever reason, we're just, our lines are crossing and we're communicating. I really want to make sure that you and I work better together, but I'm stuck. I can really use your help. What do you think we could be doing differently? And so just, so what I did there was I attended to the obvious and then also was very vulnerable. I was like, I got nothing, but I need your help. I didn't come in and say, you know what you need to be doing more of, Chris? I didn't, that's not gonna work. I made it more of a co-authoring invitation, and more often than not, that will work, and you can even follow one of the simple, it's great in terms of the managerial toolkit, but executive coaches use the same thing. What can we start doing differently? Stop doing, that maybe is getting in our way and continue doing? That's start, stop, start, continue is a nice way to frame up most conversations when you're trying to improve either a dynamic or even how you work as a team. All high performing teams in the world have some version of that at the end of their projects, whether it's military teams or emergency room teams or consulting teams, whether they call them after action reviews or postmortems or retrospectives, they're basically saying, given what's happened, what do we need to do differently? What do we need to stop doing and what do we need to continue doing? It's a great way to kind of frame up even just a conversation with another person.

- Right, and I also like what you said too, the whole trust thing. Trust is huge, and I think that's where it comes with the transparency from the top down because a lot of times, what you're thinking is going on isn't really going on, and coupled with that, if you don't trust somebody and lack of communication, where you're not even gonna call that person out and say, hey, listen, we feel that this is happening. It's a disaster waiting to happen, so if there is a trust issue, how would somebody go about doing that? How would they, yeah. Getting nitty gritty now.

- So, I want you to kind of imagine this for a minute. So about 10 years ago, I created a trust formula. It's a mathematical equation on trust. So trust can be boiled down to this. So in parentheses, you've got to put on your kind of math hat for a minute, authenticity plus vulnerability in parentheses, multiplied times credibility, that gets us trust. So you keep using the word transparency. That's authenticity. It's being transparent. It's being just, here's what's going on in my head, and vulnerability, we've talked a bunch about that. so those two things are super important, but you also need credibility. Credibility is like reliability, consistency, responsiveness. Every time you ask this person to get something done, she gets it done or he gets it done. Those two pieces are really important. So this is kind of like motives and understanding what's going on behind the scenes and this is the actual work product, and the reason why there's a multiplication symbol in the middle, because that's not the first version of this formula that I did. The first version crashed and burned. I put the multiplication in the middle because if either side goes to zero, trust goes to zero. So credibility goes to zero, of course, it's like, yeah, you tell me all the stuff going on in your head, but if you're not getting the work done, I don't trust you, or you can do great work, but if it's, if you're not sure of their motives, it's like, yeah, why are they doing this? Do they have an agenda? So it's the balance between the two. Okay, so can I go one level deeper on this?

- [Chris] Yes, please.

- Okay, cool, all right, so, hit me about two years ago that depending upon the seat you sit in, you enter into the formula in different places. So let's say you're a brand new employee and you have a boss and you don't know who that boss is. It's a brand new boss. You want to double down on credibility the first six months. Exceed every expectation, super responsive, over-communicate, I mean, just let her know or him know exactly where things are, and then over time, work in authenticity, vulnerability. Now, I'll tell you the story that this came from. I was teaching at Emory's Business School and I had a full-time MBA student and she had come back from a summer internship and she had gone to work at a marketing internship at a P&G or J&J or some other big product company with two letters, and she came back and she said, "I did not get a job offer." I said, "Okay." She's like, I was one of 20 interns and I know all the rest of the interns liked me the most. I was the favorite, I know it. I said, "All right." She said, "'Cause I'm just real and me all the time. "Doesn't matter, I'm just gonna tell you what's on my mind, "and they love that about me." I said, "All right, well, tell me about your boss." She said, "Well, I sat down with my boss "the first day of work, and my boss gave me the project "for the summer, and I'm just me. "I told you I'm me all the time, "so I just told her exactly what I thought "about the project, all the issues I had with the project." She started with authenticity and vulnerability when she should've started on credibility. So if you're new to a boss or new to a client, 'cause same kind of relationship, double down on credibility for six months, and then you'd earn the right to start to put in your voice and opinions. Now, if you're the new boss, by definition, you're scary, because they don't know who you are, and in absence of communication, people always assume the worst. It's like, oh my gosh, who's this Chris guy, he's super scary, he could fire me. So then you double down on authenticity and vulnerability 'cause you already have the credibility, so you double down on that to start to build trust, to share more about your motives and who you are and why you do what you do, and just opening up that little window. People go, ah, okay, all right, I get this guy, and they calm down, they settle down, and they can focus on the work. So just a nice, when we talk about trust, depending upon where we are, we can either leverage vulnerability, authenticity, or credibility to enhance it.

- I love that, that it makes so much sense, because it's true, I mean, anybody that has a boss immediately, all right, well they have, they can snap their fingers and I'm fired, so it's very important for that person to just be transparent on everything, and then I could see the other way around, that you have the student that kind of spoke her mind, so you want to double down on credibility. It's great value, it's awesome.

- Yeah, and they're all important, so where she made the mistake was she just didn't do it in the right order. If she had started credibility and then earned her right to speak her voice, it would've been a vast, super, great combination. She just did the wrong order. Order matters.

- [Chris] Orders does. So in some of some of your experiences in working with these companies, do you see a difference in how quickly companies grasp the idea of this emotional intelligence of a leader and the structure, from small company to large companies, is there a difference or, you know?

- Oh, yeah, I mean, absolutely, size matters when it comes to this stuff, big, big difference. So, I'll give you a great example. Let's just go small, medium, large. We'll kind of cut it this way. Let's start with small first. So small is really great at, small is great at creating quick cultures, teaming environments that everyone just kind of gets on the same page, and people that are really good at just kind of chipping in and getting whatever's done done. Where it can run into challenges is, when I'm in working in workplaces, I'm typically looking for three things, clear roles, clear expectations, and balanced feedback. Balanced feedback is roughly more positive than negative. In a startup environment, you never have clear roles.

- Yeah, yeah, everybody's wearing a bunch of hats, it's like--

- Whatever hat needs to get worn.

- [Chris] Yes, yeah, that's it.

- I'm the marketer today, or I'm the producer tomorrow, or whatever, just whatever hat. It's like, oh, look at that hat on the floor, I got it on. And so that can be challenging because sometimes, you can step into other people's sandboxes and knock over sandcastles. It's like, hey, but I was doing that, why, oh, sorry. So it's knowing who owns what can be a challenge. So then that is good up and then till when it starts to become a mid-sized company. Often, what happens is, with smaller companies, is some people actually like wearing lots of hats, and by growing to mid-size, a little more structure and systems get put into place. And so, rather than wearing six hats, you're only wearing two hats. And there actually, some people don't like that. I've worked with startups before, that once they get to 100, 150, 200 people, some people just start leaving 'cause they want to go back into the startup world. They like the lots of hats thing. So the mid-sized tends to have a little bit of best of both worlds because they end up with they're still nimble, but there's a little more structure, a little more clarity. So people kind of know what they need to be doing. Now when you get into the big companies, so I often define that as any company that's over three billion in revenue. Actually, it's not a company anymore. It's morphs into a government. Once you become three billion, you're no longer a company, you're a government, and then politics rules the roost. So you've got corporate politicians that have really senior roles and they are great leaders, but in order to get stuff done, it's all about managing politics. And that can slow things down, so where people get frustrated, the dysfunction that tends to live on the big end, is people feel like it's either very bureaucratic, it's very rigid, there's just not as much room for creativity. It's hard to, it's hard to turn the battleship. So it's, they all have their different kind of flavors. That's in the corporate world. Nonprofits have a whole different set of issues and they are typically way more dysfunctional than anything you find in the corporate sector, so yeah.

- Interesting, so, and kind of wrapping this up, if there was one piece of advice that you would give a business owner that wants to strengthen the culture of their relationship and some of the things, with their employees and the atmosphere and everything like that, what would you tell them?

- It's really, actually, it's really simple. I mean, the one is really easy. Just be, it's a combination of words, but it's really all the same thing. Be curious and open to feedback. Be curious and open to feedback. So what I mean by that is be curious, ask the question, so periodically ask the question, hey, everybody, what's working? What's working around here?

- You don't have to know everything all the time.

- [Brandon] No, you're not gonna know everything all the time.

- Or pretend to know everything all the time.

- [Brandon] You shouldn't.

- Worse, yeah.

- It's worse, that's not vulnerability. So now we've violated our trust formula. We're running into real issues right here. So if you really want to honor the trust formula, you want to show up and be vulnerable. If you know much about Brene Brown's work around vulnerability, she talks about the power of vulnerability. It feels uncomfortable, but it's super powerful. So come in and say, hey, everybody, what do I not know that I need to know? What are things that you're seeing that'll be helpful for me? What's working around here? What's not working around here? So being curious and genuinely asking the questions, but the other part of my statement was you've gotta be open to that feedback. So when someone says, hey, boss, you know what's actually not working around here? Is our hours, or this client, or the way that we're kind of teaming on this project, it's just not, not working. You've gotta be willing to make those changes. If you're open to that kind of feedback, curious and open to feedback, I can't imagine anyone not wanting to work there, because that's really what people want. They just want a leader who is, pays attention, cares about what they're doing, and is trying to make a concerted effort to make things better. And it sounds so simple, and yet it is so incredibly rare, because when people become leaders, they think, all of a sudden now, I'm the leader. I should have all the answers, which is not at all the, it's not at all the case. As a good mentor of mine used to say, he says, "We all hold a piece of the truth." We all hold a piece of the truth, so your job as a leader is to figure out all, pull out all those puzzle pieces, and then build that puzzle, so it's complete, but you're not gonna do it by yourself. So that would be my one tip, be curious and open to the feedback. If leaders do that, everything else will work itself out.

- That's awesome, that's great. Thank you so much, Brandon, I appreciate it.

- [Brandon] Chris, my pleasure, thanks for having me.

- [Chris] Yeah. Hey guys, thanks for tuning into the episode. If you guys enjoyed it, show some love, give me a thumbs up and subscribe. Also, make sure you check out our exclusive C Level group on Facebook.
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