All Posts in Employee Engagement

August 28, 2017 - No Comments!

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

Screen Shot 2017-08-28 at 4.52.07 PM

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.

May 13, 2017 - No Comments!

Learn the Unexpected

There was a fascinating article in the Opinion Section of the Wall Street today that highlights Barbara Oakley,  a Professor at Oakland University, Michigan and her book called Mindshift.  It is a deep dive into the science and practice of learning. Her personal story truly demonstrates a multi-faceted journey in learning.   We place obstacles in our way when confronted with new learning challenges.  I can say that from personal experience.  However, according to Professor Oakley, this holds us back from new outlooks.

I was taken by the notion of learning something new as a workout to the centers of the brain that are most affected by aging.   That was not a new notion but hit home for sure.

What really captivated my imagination was the idea of learning the unexpected. Do we allow ourselves the vulnerability to ask, "Who do we want to become in our work and what needs to be explored in this life?"  Not often enough.  It is consuming to just respond to everyday challenges that are right in front of us let alone think out into what we want for our future self.

I attended a workshop a few weeks ago in San Francisco, facilitated by my favorite corporate poet and philosopher, David Whyte.  He is working with executives to help them be "Half a Shade Braver" (his new topic and CD) and be vulnerable and risk yourself in leadership. That often means surrendering to the unknown and reflecting on key questions that we have inside of us that will patiently wait for us to answer.  Those questions are not going away, says David Whyte.

The mindshift that Professor Oakley speaks of had me reflecting on the workshop with David. The question that I want to ask is, "what parts of me have I not spoken of or developed yet in my work?" What are the possibilities?  It is an exciting time at any age to hold the possibilities in your hands and learn how to learn.

 

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Employee Engagement, Management, Recruiting, Uncategorized

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.

February 26, 2017 - No Comments!

Redefining Success – meet an MBA student

I had the opportunity to meet an MBA class from the Talent Management program this past week at Pepperdine Malibu campus.  Apparently this is a new one year MBA program within the Graziadio Business School that is focused on talent management.   The students come with experience in HR.  They have an impressive curiosity and point of view around talent and what it takes to engage people today.  They are engaged and enthusiastic about the new world of work.

They are redefining success for themselves and no doubt will challenge the status quo.  That is refreshing.  If you have not met any of the Pepperdine grads - take the time to do so!  Some are unconventional, however, and that is what was exciting.

Professor Jack Gregg asked me to speak to the class and knowing Jack for so many years and respecting his passion for learning, I accepted and really enjoyed the experience.  We discussed the "New Take on Talent" and how that is playing out in work, workers and the workplace of the future.  Specifically I shared perspective and data on engagement and how that is changing with many driving forces in the business and with what talent wants now.   I shared real examples of what we are seeing in progressive organizations and how the employee experience is driving change.

They asked great questions and were energized with our discussion about where new work is happening in the next few years and how they can redefine that for themselves.

Following the presentation several students introduced themselves and expressed interest in internships for the summer.  This is part of the requirement for their graduation.  What a great way to meet new grads with new ideas.   Upon returning to my office later that day (yes, it was a long drive) there were many linkedin requests from the students.  They were personalized and thoughtful.  Congrats to them for using the concept of "tailoring" your message to a new connection.  Check out this program.  More important is to meet an MBA or graduating student who expresses interest in talent and talent managing. They have redefined success and we can all learn from this.

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Employee Engagement, Recruiting

February 11, 2017 - No Comments!

Brain Based Leadership – Dan Radecki Shares How Teams Thrive

Our brain has not kept up with society.  That was the opening remark from our special guest, Dan Radecki, PhD for the first HRoundtable of 2017.   Dan is, Chief Scientific Officer at the Academy of Brain-based leadership and Executive Director of R&D at Allergan. He met with us to share how teams thrive but he first set the foundation for how our brain works. It was interesting and quite scary to hear that the unconscious brain makes 99% of our decisions.  We talked about the prefrontal cortex and it's braking system. Then there is the dark side or lower brain, the amygdala, that responds to fear and many of our emotions.

Dan brought such rich examples of the research being done in brain science aDan radeckind the application to neuroleadership.  We all have a better understanding of how brain function helps leaders get the results they want for the business, themselves and for their teams.  It also shows how we get in our own way to desired results.

We had an inside look on how and why we behave the way we do following thousands of years of slow brain evolution and basic fundamentals on how we are hard wired as humans.  He introduced the psychological model that is used as a tool (S.A.F.E.T.Y.) to understand human motivation.  The tool allows you to see that the brains seeks; security, autonomy, fairness, esteem, trust and your own unique perspectives.

In order to experience this model we were able to participate in an assessment that facilitated a discussion about how we act and how the conscious and subconscious regions of the brain operate.  A group seeks psychological safety and this tool provides a language to understand each other.

Bottom line  - people want to come to work and feel safe.  They want to feel that others care and will support them.  This all fits with the engagement discussion many of our HR colleagues and CEO's are having about what workers want today.

Thank you Dan for a lively, very open and candid discussion of how we think and the power of this information for our managers and future leaders.  Maybe our brain will start catching up with social change after all.

 

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Employee Engagement, Management

January 21, 2017 - No Comments!

Changing the Conversation – Women can Do it all not have it all

I read today that Brenda Barnes, former CEO of Sara Lee Corporation and also 22 years at Pepsi, passed away at too young an age.  In 1997, she had the courage to make personal choices that many did not understand at the time and created quite a stir for "resigning corporate America" to spend time with her children and focus on family. It prompted a discussion about whether women can have it all - family and career.

I am hopeful that we are shifting from the "have it all" conversation to "doing it all."  Listening to her daughter on NPR this morning made me think about the doing it all with the support of enlightened leaders and CEO's that get it.  This happens to be a month of hearing from women, men and diverse populations that they care about issues that impact them and this community.

Women need to work and want to do good work as well as care for their family.  Why aren't more companies who say they care about bringing women into their organizations and developing them, stepping up to policies that support them? I know a lot of good things are happening and I plan to ask more about what they are and write about it.

Two observations here:

First, I respect and admire our team here at S. Benjamins & Co.  We are fortunate to have amazing women who have designed blended life styles with family as priority and work (that we are proud of) that is meaningful and making lives better.  They inspire me and they deliver incredible quality work in a flexible yet highly accountable environment.

Second, I had the opportunity to meet the new head of HR, Legal and Finance at Patagonia two weeks ago.  They embrace family in a way I have just not seen and it was incredibly refreshing.  From the day care center to the kitchen in the morning filled with parents and kids before kicking off the day and learning of their family supporting policies, and commitment to the environment, inspired me beyond words.  I learned that 100% of their new mothers return to work because they are supported in such unique ways to be successful.  They believe in family in their words and actions.  A great outcome is their  tremendous passion for their work, succession and loyalty.  They take work life culture to a new level and their commitment to make the world better is serious.

If we want women and men to put family front and center (as I imagine you would want for yourself)  then our practices must change.  What is one step you can take to express your thoughts on this and start a new conversation with senior leaders and listen to what your workers value?

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.