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August 28, 2017 - No Comments!

SBC August Newsletter – Meet Gayle Karen Young, Culture Builder & Catalyst

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Today leadership is about visibility and being authentic. Earlier this year, I attended a session with my favorite living poet, David Whyte, who inspires us to be vulnerable in being ourselves. I have followed his writing and enjoyed his workshops for many years. This session included a most intriguing organizational expert, Gayle Karen Young, who I was totally taken by. I found her perspective on leaders finding their way in this messy organizational life quite mind shifting.

Gayle brings wisdom and warmth to the conversation about how we develop as leaders within complex and changing systems.  She calls herself a “rogue provocateur.” Join me in our fascinating conversation about how we thrive in this unpredictable place called leadership.

Sherry Benjamins: Tell us about your perspective on leadership today.

Gayle Young: Its been fascinating to watch my own thoughts on leadership and culture evolve as I’ve moved from being an external consultant to taking on a role as Chief Talent and Culture Officer (essentially the CHRO) at the Wikimedia Foundation, and then going out on my own again.

For background, the Wikimedia Foundation is a fascinating organization for being one of the top five visited websites in the world. It’s the only top 50 website that is a non-profit. The actual organizational size is small, but a huge number of volunteers help run it and essentially create the product. Each language has their own Wikipedia and governing bodies. The volunteer base influences a lot of the dynamics. We worked in more of a network or influence-based structure.

Any dynamic that impacts the geopolitical news landscape, shows up on Wikipedia. Whether it was a downed flight in Ukraine or conflicts in South America, you can see ideological differences pop up across different wikis. It taught me a lot about complexity, permeability, culture, and of course, the day-to-day of business management like performance, quarterly goals, large implementations, etc.. I grew to have an appreciation for the intersection of complexity and organizational development and culture.

Being a leader in these contexts for me means having a capacity to work both the mythic and the mundane. It requires working on the mission, the values, the intangibles, and the day-to-day experiences that become tangible components that nudge a complex system in a particular way, like the way that decisions are made or that meetings are run. I say “nudge” because I believe that we don’t get to manage culture. We do small things that ripple through a system in profound ways.

SB: You’re now collaborating with fascinating leaders and companies.  What made you decide to go out on your own? 

GY: I was at the Wikimedia Foundation for four years and I loved it. It was a great place to practice leadership and my own mission. I was working with one of the executive directors, Sue Gardner, who I would follow anywhere. There was a leadership transition where the organization didn’t need me in the same way and I had personal needs that led me to take a year off. At that time, I was at a retreat at the Burren Executive Leadership Program, which aimed to foster a leader’s action by way of reflection. That’s when I first met David Whyte, who was an artist in residence. It changed the course of my life.

SB: Tell us about what you do to help a leader with running their company? 

GY: I do have one-on-one coaching with clients where we reflect on their own practices of leadership. I also work with executive teams. Sometimes I go in and support a new team as it’s coming together. We explore how do they lead together? What does collective leadership look like? A team that’s high-performing doesn’t just do their own thing and then come together. They practice what they want to do.

I also have my passion projects. I work with an organization called Hidden Leaf that offers grants for personal development for social justice leaders, or I work with organizations like Uncharted, that supports social entrepreneurs.

SB: What would you say to a CHRO today about their leaders and the organization  of the future? 

GY:  I think it starts with understanding the evolving nature of the workforce and it’s an interesting one. There’s an upsurge of people looking for meaning. A lot of Millennials tend to be part of the compulsive-awesome generation. In terms of designing work and roles, people are asking, “what is their evolving portfolio of their skill set?”

An organization’s culture is a nested set of environments. If you’re going to understand the culture of Wikimedia, for example, you have to understand the values of the Enlightenment and the spirit of the Gutenberg Press, as well as seeing that it is rooted in the ethos of the free knowledge movement and in the open nature of the internet itself. Those streams of values, norms, and beliefs are part of the operating ecosystem. A CHRO can understand and track the streams that are influencing an organization’s culture.

SB: How do we start to see the often subtle influences at play when understanding what influences us? 

GY: If you’re going to try to understand yourself, try to understand the contexts you emerge from as a beginning. I’m an immigrant with a Chinese family, raised in California.  Each of these things gives a window into what makes me up. In that way Toms Shoes would be influenced by philanthropy, the shoe industry, manufacturing, and its location in Silicon Beach. It’s like mapping out what all the elements are of being you, but at an organizational level.

SB: As we reflect on who we want to be as leaders, are you seeing more partnership between CEO’s and HR?

GY: If you're CEO doesn’t get you and has a traditional view of HR, in other words, a compliant-based version of HR instead of a development-based version, that makes for a very difficult relationship and forward thinking partnership. Particularly if the CEO doesn’t appreciate and value and support that function, it is almost a non-starter.

SB: I attended the workshop that you and David did together and I’ve followed David’s work for over 20 years.  He facilitates new conversations that guide  personal development. . Do you see executives investing in this way?   

GY: If you want people to follow you with a kind of whole-hearted engagement, then personal development and professional development are inextricable. One metaphor is the difference between a hollow core and a robust one, and that IS visible in the world whether you know it or not. As a leader, by the very of nature of leadersihp, you must have a willingness to really be seen. What you’re seen as standing for, since every movement you make is watched and noted on, as an active, conscious choice, makes all the difference in the world. That’s where the self-knowledge comes in. With the work David does, he helps get us to be grounded in our own robust vulernability. But we have our own work to do to understand how we want to be seen in the world, what we stand for, and what we live out. It’s this notion of when you’re unaware of what you put into the world, Jung said, “that which remains in the unconscious comes back to us as fate.” Unless you work with your own interior landscape, then you don’t have a hope of influencing what it is that you invite.

In closing...We are in a time when doing the “internal work” of a leader is seen as high value, yet many find it challenging to accomplish. Gayle’s refreshing and honest perspective encourages us all to dive in to move forward. Clearly, the benefits of finding a friend or coach to help you in your leadership journey are invaluable.

June 9, 2017 - No Comments!

Pressing Re-Start in Bali – Many are doing it

We just returned from one of our favorite places on earth - Bali.  It had been six years since we had visited our Balinese family (former business partner and friend of my husband) and now our adopted family far away but close in heart.  Life is changing there and while all the magic and beauty of the island remains, you can see that business is more entrepreneurial, tech savvy and global.  For me global means a richer more diverse group of people doing work and living in Bali than I observed years ago.  We met Europeans, Americans, Australians, professors, musicians, academics and entrepreneurs - it was more like a mini United Nations. 

Eighty five percent of the population in Bali (which is 4 million people) are Hindu.  They belBali offeringieve that spirits inhabit trees, stones, forests, and places.  It is truly a fascinating mix of ancient tradition and contemporary life yet a focus on culture, spirit, family, music and art.  I always wondered how the mash up of corporate work and spiritual practice would play out as businesses grew. It seems to work so far with such an influx of folks from all over the globe who respect this wonderful culture and people. 

This island in Indonesia offers a confetti of sensory experiences, smells of frangipani and burning trash along with sounds of Gamelan that soothes the soul.  What better place to grow an idea, start a business or re-start your psychic and physical energy.   I even found a company called Hubud (hub in Ubud) that brings coworking, coliving and colearning experiences to entrepreneurs from all over the world. They look for digital nomads.   I do hope all these global citizens or corporate escapees embrace the gift of Bali culture and respect for tradition and not change it too much. 

There is a total engagement of social media now that we did not see six years ago.  Trip Advisor is king in a land of tourism and growing hospitality businesses in a big competitive market.   I don't recall on previous visits the requests in a  very nice yet direct way for feedback, comments on facebook, and please share your customer experience.  We met two business owners that are focusing on marketing plans, improving their on line presence and learning about branding.  That is new.

The good news is that religious expression, colorful ceremonial dress, daily offerings, dance and music remain key to their life.  Ceremonies which are daily communicate ideas about community, status and aspects of life as well as afterlife.  People embrace living fully and honestly today for it might impact later in the next life.   Not a bad idea to take with us and cherish in our home and work here today.

      

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Communication, Management, Talent Economy

April 24, 2017 - No Comments!

Writing as an Active Practice

KPCC hosted the first event of three this past Sunday called UNHEARD LA.  It is about the stories where we live.  There were ten fascinating people that told their story to an auditorium of 400 people at Whittier college on this first night of the series.  It just so happens that one of those people was our son, Erik Benjamins.  The stories were incredible and so diverse and offered an inside view of living in Los Angeles.  It truly highlighted what many of us love about LA - the multicultural community and culture, openness, along with stories of opportunity and possibility.  The storytellers were from very different backgrounds and experiences for sure and KPCC did their magic in producing a rich introspective into people where we live. Erik FullSizeR

So our son, Erik shared his story about a recent successful book project.  His book is called Last Day First Day and he shares the process of gathering the letters from 186 individuals from all over the world and this country so that they could write to former President Obama and incoming President Trump on what they wanted to say to each on their last or first day.

I really appreciated that Erik talked about writing as a practice like going to the gym. Through this project he realized so many of us are hesitant to or chose not to invest in this practice for ourselves.  Maybe it is easier to text these days.  In this exercise others were asked to express thoughts in word, image, drawing or whatever to write this letter to our outgoing and incoming Presidents on January 20th.

I like the idea that writing is a personal and even intimate practice and there are so many rich ways to express our thoughts and vulnerabilities.  The individuals that told their stories were vulnerable, honest and inspiring.  They expressed an optimism and possibility even in light of some that had great adversity to deal with.   Thank you KPCC for bringing the voices of LA to our community and thank you Erik for encouraging us to write and start new conversations.

 

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Communication, Employee Engagement

April 9, 2017 - No Comments!

Helping Others Drives Success

We launched our second HRoundtable this past week with the help of my long-time friend and wonderful consultant, business owner Sonya Kemp. Sonya believes in the notion that giving to others and allowing a group to learn from each other strengthens the outcome for everyone.  Adam Grant talks about this in his giving book, "Give and Take."  We have eight wonderful managers in this group from premier companies and they are already demonstrating their passion to give to each other and learn.

They are energized to be sitting at the table with their peers from other companies and industries.  The range of perspectives is broad and fascinating.  They will meet quarterly to focus on forward looking ideas in order to build their influence as new managers and strengthen their strategic points of view. hroundtable logo 3blue

The idea of a peer learning group is not new.  We have seen many models like this across the executive suite and beyond into other functional areas.  What is exciting about this group and our HRoundtable in general is that we build the notion of giving from the start and it becomes the norm for the group.  People carry it forward in their interactions and ultimately this improves the process and how they contribute overall.  The bar is raised on who fits in the group and how they will build enriched networks and collaborate too.

It dawned on me that the HRoundtable that Sonya is now leading is embracing the four attributes that contribute to being a giver.  As Adam Grant writes about this in his book he states that "givers rise to the top."  The have a unique approach that includes; networking, collaborating, evaluating and influencing.  Adam also explores  how givers, takers and matchers build networks.  It is quite different.  The taker might be described as a self promoter or self absorbed. The giver looks at the world in abundance terms and in generosity.  Givers gain.  Thank you Sonya for being a part of this newly formed group and giving your generous spirit and experiences to this team.

January 15, 2017 - No Comments!

Last Day First Day

Following the election last fall, our son, Erik initiated a project called "Last Day First Day." I was taken by his initiative and timing to ask us all to actively reflect through writing.    Writing, creating, performing allows reflection and self-expression.  Whether you voted for either candidate in the election, the process of sharing your views in a simple letter results in shifting or embracing a new mindset and yes, we are creating art in doing this simple act.

We can apply this exercise whether it is for a political, personal or business reason.first day last day  Engagement means diving into new conversation so that we understand more clearly where we stand and learn from each other's perspectives.  How about embracing honesty?  There is honesty in our own action and words.  Every day we have a chance to share an honest perspective and walk through new doors; maybe you have the first day in a new job and a last day to leave what you knew behind.  You now have a new story to write. The story will emerge through your words and experience.

I am suggesting (thank you Erik) that whether you are writing to Obama or Trump, or writing to your old boss and or a new one, the power of your reflection opens you to creativity and courage that might surprise you.  Julia Cameron, author of the Artists Way, suggests daily morning pages. What if you simply wrote for last and first days of any change this year.  New job, new project, new boss, or new relationship.  Let your creative self speak up this year. Imagine the stories you have inside you.   Thank you Erik for inspiring us to action and an idea that might serve us all well over the course of this new year beyond January 20th.

November 5, 2016 - No Comments!

Candidate Experience or Courtesy for 2017?

Forbes recently posted top workforce trends for 2017.  I was delighted to see at the top of the list that companies are focused on strengthening their candidate and employee experience.  There are several ideas around this that make it so powerful and relevant.

First, a great candidate experience means first understanding the power of common courtesy.  Being respectful of others matters for it reflects on who you are as a person and how your company brand is experienced. Our candidates tell us stories of prior interview experiences that make your hair curl and yes, we need more leaders to learn about being respectful of others.

Second, a great experience also means reducing the candidate's efforts to obtain feedback that matters to them.  I am not saying that we need to give everyone all of the granular data but where is common courtesy in this step?  We have heard stories where someone might be a contender for a cool role, interview, return for many discussions and then never hear what happened in the end, assuming there was an end to the process.  This happens to external partners of the company as well.  What gets in the way of closing loops?  I know everyone is very busy but it matters in building real connections that do result in good business.  Just like Zappos ability to connect to customers, track their questions, address challenges, every step of that journey is intended to be pleasant and respectful.

Third, relationships matter to your business.  These are relationships with candidates, parents of candidates, service providers that know candidates and it goes on from there.  You may not see a need for that candidate today or that service provider, but most likely you will tomorrow or next year.

How often are we creating experiences that connect everyone to what your desired intention is? Posting a job is one thing but offering an experience that turns the whole process upside down to say, "share your skills and passions with us, we wantEMM to know you" even though we don't have a job now, we want to know who you are, is powerful.  By seeking connections, there is a longer lasting benefit to everyone.  A great experience means a lot to those you want to work with, fans, loyal employees and even appreciative  partners."

Last thought:  A week ago I met Matthew Emerzian,  the founder of Every Monday Matters. He created a not-for-profit organization committed to creating a new normal where individuals and organizations understand how much and why they matter.  His book and education programs are taking off.  He captivated a room of business leaders looking to bring "purpose" into their culture.  Matthew said, "we have lost our ability to engage with each other."  He shared such a simple and powerful message that we all matter and can change from the inside out.   Let's look at both candidate experience and courtesy.

September 17, 2016 - No Comments!

Get Over it – New Workforce “Rules”

Are we over it yet?  Half of the workers in  your organizations will be under 30 and by 2025, everyone under 25 will be a digital native.  They grew up with all things tech. Innovation inside our companies will come from the digital natives.  So, why are we hanging on to old structures and ways of thinking about work?  Do we have leaders who just don't see this coming or chose to stick to models they grew up in?

It was great to see an LA Business Journal article last week about nontraditional work in LA.  There is an astounding number of workers who are self employed and data shows it is one in five or upward of one million people in this county.  They work in non-traditional jobs and are part of the underground cash economy.  They rule and love the entrepreneurial life.

There is a concentration in entertainment and creative however, this trend is spilling over into other sectors.  We are about 50% higher with number of self employed compared to other states in the country.   We are on a "fast - forward" when it comes to contingent workers, says, Manuel Pastor, professor of sociology and American studies at USC.

Remember our story about the creative economy that Otis College of Art and Design created?  Their 2015 report spoke about 166,000 non-employee arrangements and now we see that number increasing rapidly.   The government agencies will eventually have to deal with this new reality. It is not going away anytime soon.

Great talent is all over this -they don't need the structures of legacy systems.  They want to work in collaborative networks where skills matter.  Our clients are willing to pay for the skills they need, however, they are still hanging on to old models.  Now, we just need our Hiring Managers to get over it and think more about work, the plan to get things done, how to use technology and ensure that everyone understands the respected cultures in their network.  I know that is not easy.

What are the skills that will allow us to let go of controls that used to work but don't now?

  • Empathy - what do you want for the future and ask your workers what they value.
  • Anticipate Future - get the big picture and translate that into quarterly deliverables and ideal resources with options.
  • Match Maker - willing to look at the match up of resource and need in a variety of scenarios and factor in the cost of speedy or slow solution.
  • Piloting ideas - be okay with trying out an idea or new work arrangement. Tell others you are testing out feasibility and criteria for success.

Let's open up the conversations so that we can get over it and move forward.

August 23, 2016 - No Comments!

A World of Music & Meeting Points

hollywood bowlThe Hollywood Bowl is one of our favorite venues in Southern California.  Actually, it rivals most venues due to the magical setting and lovely evening breezes along with the most eclectic and amiable music lovers on the planet.

Sunday night we saw Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road band.  The historical silkroad was a series of land and sea trade routes that crisscrossed Eurasia, bringing the exchange of goods and innovations from Japan to the Mediterranean Sea for some 2,000 years, until the 14th century.

Now we have our own silk road and with artistic director Yo-Yo Ma, the Silk Road Ensemble visited California for an amazing and wide-ranging travelogue of music both traditional and new, suggesting a modern-day equivalent to the sort of cultural exchange that the old trade routes in centuries long gone by had experienced.

Has this group made a difference in peace and understanding around the world?  If we read the newspaper it might imply that we have not made a dent.  I agree with Richard Ginell's review in the LA Times.  He said, "This concert was ranked as one of the most fun." The Bowl looked totally sold out, the attendees were diverse, enthusiastic and totally into the music.  It was eclectic, energetic, joyous and memorable for a wonderful hot August night in Los Angeles.

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Communication, Uncategorized
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August 20, 2016 - No Comments!

Out on a Limb? Are you an Original?

How about rejecting the default in us? Take a chance and get on that limb.  Adam Grant, in his new book, Originals, talks about taking those chances.

Are you exploring whether there is a better option or do you default to what you know? The start is curiosity and seeing things in fresh perspectives.  I know that is hard to do.  The job market is requiring us to reject the default in us.  Taking a role that you thought might be less than what you are skilled for might be scary, or away from the main stream but could result in new perspectives and ultimately new work.  It takes being on that limb for a bit.

Many of my friends are sending their children off to college this week - I hope they seek something new for themselves, something they never expected.  It might be something you never expected as well.

It is emotional letting them fly ( I have been there) and having them try something entirely new every day.  What a great time to be in college or start a business or create a new solution in your work.  Why can't we all do this?  Go out on a limb and create a spot in your weekly staff meeting for a "go out on a limb segment."  You may be surprised how refreshing and fun this is.   Increase your tolerance for what some might call being idealistic or eccentric as Adam Grant reflects on this.

Our son went to Loyola Marymount University for his undergrad work and double majored in Fine Arts and Communication.  We did not expect the art side of the equation and as business owners we have had brief moments of "yikes, he is out on that limb."  However, it has inspired and fed his creative spirit and productivity and ours too in delightfully new ways.

Younger talent will choose to speak up, express ideas and censor themselves less.  We can learn from them, take risks and be proud.

March 5, 2016 - No Comments!

Optimists are the future – Are they Genius?

There is a sense of anxiety in our world today.  Just read the newspaper or try following the political scene for a few days.  It is crazy making.  The financial markets have calmed down for the moment however, there is little confidence that we have a smooth sailing year ahead.  So, is it hard to find the optimists? Maybe. Settling for a pessimist view is not the answer.  Bill Taylor, speaker and author of Mavericks at Work and a new book soon coming out called; Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways, talks about a future outlook that sounds promising and "optimistic."  He sees a fierce optimism in companies that are ordinary but blend new ideas, have deep commitment and are resilient in the face of change.  I want to meet those companies and their leaders!  I would like to help them find additional leaders as they grow.  They embrace the positive and not the negative.

There is so much being written about great leaders and those guided by purpose.  Are those leaders defining success so that they stand for something special (as Bill Taylor suggests)?  Yes, they are successful for they have a business, product or service where they think about where they have come from, but re-invent the future with a keen eye moving forward with  a clear line of sight.  They might be genius to achieve that - however, think about the definition of genius as another favorite author of mine, David Whyte, a poet that touches the heart) defines it.  "Genius is something we possess", says David Whyte.

  • "Human genius lies in the geography of the body and its conversation with the world. We have a unique signature and stories from our lineage that have not been fully explored.  Genius is a gift and a possibility that has not yet occurred; it is not a fixed commodity but a conversation to be followed, understood and celebrated."

The optimist continues to believe and has the confidence to create a play book for the future.  I would like to start a new conversation with our clients about hiring for genius.  Let's listen to what the CEO believes tough minded optimism looks like in their company.  The, let's translate that.  It could be, as Bill Taylor reminds us, that optimistic leaders know how to use what they already know but are willing to re-frame it tenaciously for a positive future and not a negative one.