August 7, 2019 - No Comments!

August SBC Newsletter – Understanding our Brain

How do we create a “brain conscious team?”  As humans we have a basic need for belonging and central to this is an understanding that our brain has social needs, just like it has physical needs.  I learned about how Herman Miller, a highly successful global commercial furniture manufacturing company is taking this seriously.  Meet Heather Esposito, a Senior Learning Strategist with the Sales Readiness Team at Herman Miller.  She shared about their commitment to better brains and better humans.

Sherry: What led you to this brain focus in leadership development?                           

Heather:  I am a Professional Certified Coach and was introduced to Dan Radecki and the psychological S.A.F.E.T.Y. model years ago which led me to take the Academy for Brain-Based Leadership’s (ABL) psychological safety training certification.  I could see the power of this learning and development and it has become a foundation for all we do to prepare our Sales Leaders to more fully understand what drives the behavior of their direct reports.  I attended the inaugural certification, and now I am introducing this framework to leaders and their teams.  For the past three years, I have been helping our leaders develop their coaching skills, and they learned the S.A.F.E.T.Y. model as part of the coaching workshops.   With the new offerings from ABL, we are now able to take the psychological safety work even further.

Herman Miller has led the industry in knowledge and research around human-centered design both in product and the office floorplate.  This focus on designing workplaces to address the fundamental human needs has been central to our mission of “Inspiring designs to help people do great things.”

Since this was already a part of our DNA in creating effective workplaces , it was a logical extension to work with our leaders to develop their awareness and understanding of the brain and its impact on behavior.

Sherry:  How many leaders have you prepared with these concepts?

Heather:  We have equipped over 100 leaders with this training and understanding of our brain and behavior driven by individual and social needs.  We are now expanding the S.A.F.E.T.Y. work to their teams of individual contributors through Team S.A.F.E.T.Y. workshops.

Sherry: What are you seeing as the impact of this work?

Heather: I am seeing a greater awareness that when we meet the needs of our talent, they are in a better brain space which impacts performance, productivity, and engagement.  When this awareness and shift in thinking is not there, we see less connected teams.  Leaders who embrace the coaching and have been open to new ways of doing things have teams with a higher level of engagement with the work and each other – there is a discernable difference.

I finished my stage two certification in January of this year and now I am facilitating team-based workshops – this is the 2.0 of psychological safety.   In the team workshop, the leader and the team map their S.A.F.E.T.Y. profiles and we see how their individual needs complement each other and where there could be potential conflicts or blind spots.  By measuring the current psychological safety of the team, we can also see how effectively these needs are currently being met within the team.   It helps the team understand how they see themselves individually and discuss their different needs in areas such as fairness, security, esteem.  Our goal is have an organization of teams who all have a high degree of psychological safety.

Feelings of threat might erode a sense of security based on what is happening at the time, so it is critical to help each member to recognize what may be triggering them, which S.A.F.E.T.Y. need(s) is/are being impacted and then helping them to reframe and stay solution focused rather than problem focused.  Having remote teams can present additional challenges in communicating across the team. That leads me to the point that a leader can only take the team so far with psychological safety; we have to show up for each another more intentionally – that is the power of this work.  We are equipping the individual to not only better understand themselves but others, as well.

We are also helping the individual contributors to learn it is not everyone else’s job to take care of them. We are developing them to ask for what they need and equipping them to do that.  We are giving our people a common language to get the social needs of the brain met in a more meaningful way.

Sherry: What have you learned about yourself through this experience?

Heather:  There are several things.  First, we are all a work in progress. We can always grow and develop ourselves, and I am a life-long learner.  Second, small changes can make a big impact.  A few small shifts in language make a big difference.  Words matter.  Third, people want to be better and they often don’t know how.  We really never learned about developing interpersonal skills in school.  We were not taught how to be brain friendly in our communications.  The lower brain allows us to fall into being the victim. We can keep that higher brain in control, but it takes building awareness and teaching others.

In Summary

I so appreciated the opportunity to speak with Heather and learn about the work happening at Herman Miller.  It is clear that she and the Sales Readiness team are leading a transformation.  It has resulted in the team building a strong reputation within the organization. Her energy and enthusiasm was contagious and now I am re-reading Dan’s book, Psychological Safety.

She has earned the trust of the leaders with whom she is privileged to work.  Congratulations on your work and passion Heather – we know this is such important work for all of us.  It is purposeful and feeds our quest to be better leaders and better humans.

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Uncategorized

August 6, 2019 - No Comments!

SBC August 2019 Newsletter – It’s Your Brain – Not You with Dr. Dan Radecki

Our issue this month is about brain science and understanding our own brain and yes, it does work in mysterious ways.

“The operating principle of our brain places us in safety first.  If our brain does not feel safe, it can’t enjoy what we are doing,” according to our special guest, brain science expert and friend Dan Radecki.  Dan’s new book, Psychological Safetyoffers a refreshing model to cut right to the essence of where our challenge of fear or stress is created.  When we understand what drives discomfort we can take risks and see the possibilities in a new light.

I met Dan years ago and vividly recall his refreshing approach to a complicated topic - the science of our brain.  I felt relieved to know we could do something about not only understanding our brain but improving our ability to reduce stress and uncertainty.  The impact stretches to our own happiness as well as our relationships with others on our teams or at home.  Recently I attended a session Dan held in Orange County to take his work in the science of the brain into a discussion of inclusion and diversity in the workplace. He shared more about where this research has taken him in working with leaders and organizations. Here is Dan’s take on his journey.

Sherry:  How did psychological safety become your focus?

Dan:  I was studying as a psych undergrad and graduate – studying the brain – and my thesis was on the impact that stress has on our brain and behavior.  In animal studies we saw how stress impacts behavior and today our stress is quite different from the fight and flight era of early man.  But it is what we internally generate that drives stress today.  Psych safety was part of my work years ago.  Taking it further, given that we are in a world of technology explosion and constant connection with online social media, Google published a study in 2015 affirming how psychological safety is a critical factor for high performance.

Sherry: What prompted you to start the Academy of Brain-based leadership?

Dan: My journey in education started at the Neuroleadership Institute. In 2009 we created curriculum on how to build better leaders with an understanding of brain science. We built ABL 5 years ago with the goal of extending that work to the mainstream with a community of practitioners.  Our plan was to be a repository of knowledge and now almost 11 years later we are educating, certifying professionals in over 50 countries and getting the message out. The educational programs are global and I am surprised and delighted with the expanding reach and interest.

Sherry: How “brain conscious” are we today?  What is your vision for heightening this consciousness?

Dan: We are not brain conscious today – it is getting worse. We are on auto pilot too often.  Whether we are on the phone, on line or driving and on phone, we don’t think, we react.  Our emotional brain is in high drive so it makes it hard to be objective about our world. If we are self-aware, and realize that there is a need for autonomy, then we can manage to this.  I see there is a growing acceptance and understanding about the brain and our safety model.  It is being introduced into companies and teams and influencing how our leaders deal with the world around them.

Sherry: Has this research changed you? How so?  

Dan:I think it is making me more focused on how I come across to others and what I need to do in the moment.  It allows me to more effectively re-appraise what is happening and realize it is not me, it is my brain. Only then, I can adapt, pause or determine what is motivating me to take an action or respond is a certain way.

Sherry: What and how do you recommend new leaders learn about the SAFETY model? 

Dan: This is a competency that can be developed for new leaders and I recommend our web site for research, tools and an assessment to gauge where they are in the five key elements. Those are security, autonomy, fairness, esteem, trust and factors unique to each of us.  Read more about these key elements in Dan’s book. 

Sherry:  Any advice for early career professionals who are navigating new roles and cultures in their companies today?

Dan: I suggest an approach with early careerists that introduce the brain safety model and -
“it’s not you, it’s your brain.”

How are you making decisions? Brains don’t like change, rather than manage the stress, at the moment it happens – I recommend that you work to build brain resilience now. It is a practice that incorporates self-awareness, mindfulness, and how our brain braking systems work.

Sherry:  How are start-ups managing the higher reasoning brain? 

Dan:  Leaders in a start-up manage risk and move quickly. If there is a failure, the idea of rapid change and failing quickly is part of the moving fast game plan.  I see Silicon Valley entrepreneurs use their higher brain to look more astutely at growth rather than risk.

Thank you Dan! You mention that the writing of the book took a tribe of important people in your life.  Leonie Hull, co-founder of the Academy of Brain Based Leadership, Jennifer McCusker, Head of Global Learning and OD from Activision Blizzard and others who supported your work brought wonderful insights and experiences.   To find out more about building better brains, check out Dan’s site and learn more about the assessment. 

More About Dan

Dr. Dan Radecki is Co-founder at the Academy of Brain-based Leadership (ABL), which offers a scientifically validated, brain-based approach for future-oriented leaders and organizations interested in optimizing their performance, relationships and health.  He also serves as Executive Director of Research and Development at Allergan Inc., where he is a Global Leader for drug development programs.  Dan holds a Bachelors in Psychology, Masters in Biopsychology and PhD in Neuroscience.

Working as a leader in the corporate world allows Dan the unique perspective on how our knowledge of brain functioning can aid leaders in maximizing their results as well as the results of their teams.  With this unique perspective from roles in both the leadership and neuroscientific world, in 2009 Dan created the content for the educational arm of the NeuroLeadership Institute and served as the lead professor and advisor for the Master of Science program in the Neuroscience of Leadership.  This was the first university-accredited program ever developed to incorporate cutting edge neuroscience research into an optimal model of leadership.

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Uncategorized

July 18, 2019 - No Comments!

Expect the Unexpected in this Talent Market

Many organizations still see search as a transaction to fill immediate or important gaps. They, or their down-line manager identify a need for more productivity or a specific skill and open a requisition.

A few organizations seek outside talent because they identify a gap in their internal intellectual capital for a future objective. Yet, after two decades in search, not much has changed – most organizations’ approach identifying talent gaps, planning future workforce needs, and finding talent just like they did decades ago.  Not much has shifted despite business change at an alarming rate.

The value of intellectual capital, the people empowering business success, the human factor, will dominate the future of work. The winners will be those who expect the unexpected, have a vision for the future, a workforce plan enabling adaptability, and a solid strategy for getting and keeping the talent they need to make it all happen.

Looking back at where we are today, some leaders may be satisfied for being great at managing process or using technology and tracking systems to keep all the parts moving. But hindsight may also show that wasn’t enough to keep the organization on track for success in this future. We need to be asking ourselves, are we looking ahead to understand and prepare to manage the unexpected?

According to Bob Johansen, a trends forecaster with a discipline around moving from foresight to action, the more complex the future, the further ahead leaders need to look.

We don’t have to imagine a heated, highly competitive talent market of the future, it’s here today. It has been heating up for years and the competition is fierce. Urgency is driving decisions to buy experts, and search professionals are being tasked with finding “the unicorn” or being told to “look under rocks” for that unique leadership skill set everyone wants.

On more occasions than executives may want to admit, after a long, exhaustive search process, someone inside the company is identified to take the role. The client realizes the unique mix of skills and experience they’re looking for doesn’t exist in the external market – at least not at the rate they’d like – and they should “develop the internal talent after all.” Ultimately, this decision benefits the internal candidate, but squanders time and money, sends mixed signals to employees and the talent market, and potentially creates new challenges in the future.

Reactive, tactical talent processes cost more from every perspective, and yet many organizations keep repeating the same, costly cycle.

How did we get here?

Increasing talent scarcity, with a narrow view of options, caused a level of pain and cost that almost paralyzed hiring decision makers. The talent market had changed dramatically, and many were unprepared to confront the change, adapt, and regain their advantage in the critical war for talented workers.

Some have no idea where to start, others are not even convinced they’re off course. Everyone is trying to navigate a new landscape without a functional map.

One quick caveat – a few organizations recognized and reacted to the evolving market. They’re currently winning the war for talent without just throwing stacks of money at candidates. The very best organizations are already planning for how they’ll manage the talent race as the field continues to evolve.

Meanwhile, at the average organization, the external talent market began to wonder why they weren’t hearing back from the recruiter or hiring manager. Was something wrong with the company? All the waiting gave candidates more time to look at social networking platforms to research the company, the department, the manager, and to connect with existing and even former employees. They want to understand the inside picture and get an idea for what they might be getting into.

Interview panels were not aligned on what they were selecting for and didn’t put a lot of value on creating a positive candidate experience.  While the recruiting and management teams slogged through the old, process-driven, tactical hiring process, internal talent was getting burned out and stressed wearing too many hats and trying to fill vacant shoes.

None of this is sustainable, and certainly isn’t the best way to drive value, improve the bottom line, or set the organization on a path to sustained success. The negative impact to the company’s brand and the bad impression on the talent market may impact their ability to attract the right talent for years.

Change is Inevitable

The perspective needs to shift, and the approach must change.

Those with a longer view have already shifted from “filling a need” to understanding business initiatives, people implications, and future skill requirements, and then planning to develop and acquire the talent for the next phase today. Seeking to understand is more important than advocating for a predictable, yet ineffective fix for old problems.

Organizations need to identify their mission-critical work – now and five years from now – and its impact to the bottom line. Then, know your game changers. This informs options to build a go-forward plan that ties business and talent strategies together and creates room to address todays unique talent marketplace.

It has been more than 20 years since we faced a 3.7% unemployment market, and the first time we have had more jobs than people looking for work.

This scarcity dynamic forces us to pay more attention to what a company offers, their culture, their brand and market presence. It demands a compelling answer for, “why join us,” and more detail on leadership values to engage the Amazon review-age of contemporary workers.

Rather focusing on finding a costly “unicorn,” go for a deeper and broader exploration and compete authentically to attract and grow the best people for your unique business and future objectives.

In today’s talent world:

• Attracting is all about telling a story and marketing a compelling message, so candidates inside and out are eager to learn more and consider an opportunity.
• Finding is building a strategic out-reach plan leveraging your employee network and diverse talent pools to build relationships for the future.
• Growing includes building acceptance for a new role, onboarding to drive immediate engagement, and ensuring a new hire is prepared to succeed in this new team and culture.

So the Story Goes…

The new talent perspective makes it clear these changes impact all our businesses in critical ways today, and the impact will only accelerate in the future. Inevitably, employment cycles will go up and down, but the “do more with less” mentality must head for extinction.

The future of work and talent dynamics compel us to trade outdated approaches and recognize the value of our limited resources, as well as the possibility and hidden value in creative solutions to getting work done.

The first step is a system of self-inquiry to create an actionable plan using the real perspectives of your leaders and workers. These insights must be integrated with your business strategies, talent needs, and real-world experiences attracting, finding, and growing a workforce to meet your objectives and help you stay at the top of your game.

Will you be a game changer?

Expect the unexpected and:

1) Create a dynamic lineup – Imagine how you’ll execute on key initiatives without the right team or back-ups.
2) Define the BIG jobs – Which are essential for taking the mission forward and what is the most critical work?
3) Reimagine talent acquisition – Develop internal potential, address your employment brand, align your values, and market your compelling story to attract needed talent.

Time to be trail blazers again - the stakes are high to get ahead of this challenge and  it will take business leaders and Talent experts to tackle this together.

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Blog, Talent Economy

July 8, 2019 - No Comments!

Newsletter story for July 2019 – Game Changers – Meet Brian Wilkerson, Managing Partner, hrQ.

Sherry:  What led you to the business of helping companies improve performance? 

Brian: I started in the non-profit world and was attracted early on to the concepts of servant leadership.  I learned quickly after joining Anderson Consulting that those principles apply to the corporate world as well.  A deeper insight into the client world resulted in me helping others solve complex and even crisis driven projects.  It was rewarding and important work and I enjoyed it.  My work in strategic planning, talent strategy and leveraging technology was frankly before we had labels for this kind of forward looking analytical consulting.

SB: What attracted you to then start your own business after the corporate experience? 

Brian:  It started early on for my grandfather emigrated here from Italy and he had his own business.  I had an early exposure to what that meant and felt it was potentially a path for me as well.

SB:  What is your perspective on the workforce and workplace today?

Brian:  We have change coming at us from so many angles.  I understand the complexity of this and how dealing with it holistically is a challenge.   There are multiple generations that have driven change.  There are clear differences in what we value and I observe that many companies are ignoring this element.  Company structures, products, services and how we think about work and relationships with talent has changed in huge ways.  In 2008, following the recession, we saw a shift in mindset and actions that reflected a clear hesitation to grow in the same ways as before.  The range of talent options we have today from full time, to part time and freelance or gig is just a few ways to look at the availability of talent. Organizations have not figured out a systematic way to manage through those options.

SB: Do you think your clients are overwhelmed or facing these changes head on?

Brian: I think our clients are overwhelmed by the sheer pace of change and what they want to change.  It is a challenge to make progress in that kind of environment.  It results in a lack of time to focus on strategy.

SB: What can be done to help clients lead change?

Brian:It is about helping clients re-prioritize and think about the critical things.  When I work with my clients and we go through that process and there is a realization that it may shift their focus.  We can then create a cohesive roadmap and they feel confident in executing more efficiently.

SB: What are you seeing when working with companies today?

Brian:There are four areas that seem to cover the challenges we see today.   The first one is to identify and manage against key analytics that link to business goals.  Dashboards provide a foundation but are not sufficient to provide dynamic insight and concrete linkages between people and business results – more complex analytics are needed to understanding the business issues and the value add work is creating a line of sight to progress and results.

The second one is helping clients shift the way they think about talent. It is time to think about customer and talent relationships in the same way.  We know everything about the ideal customer profile. It is time to do the same thing with talent. Our talent today is less tolerant of bureaucracy and corporate politics and works in a new way.  Take the time to understand them and personalize your approach.

Our best companies have been linking employment brand to brand management. It is all part of the value proposition for the organization.  Lastly, it is time to upgrade the skills of people in HR.  Our more progressive clients are investing in top tier talent and equally investing in developing a deeper bench for HR.

SB:  Engagement studies reports over 80% of workers are less engaged than we need them to be.  What is your take on this?

Brian:  Work needs to be more like life.  Those that seamlessly integrate both are using technology, flexible work models and creative adaptation so that work and home needs are met.

It is also important to find out what motivates and engages others – great people bring their passion to work. Let’s take the time to understand what that is for each worker.  Managers are not often skilled in these conversations or take the time to learn and really know their people.  How are we preparing managers to be better?  I have seen significant improvement in engagement when investing in developing managers to manage in this unpredictable and fast moving environment.

In order to learn more about hrQ and their perspective on the world of work, check out their site.


Thank you Brian for sharing your perspective on the challenges you see your clients tackling today and how you are working with them to accelerate their people strategy.

I am also seeing that the most forward looking companies are proactive in adapting and changing to this workforce.  It takes different approaches for sure.  One thing I do know, is that we need more of these!

Competitive advantage today is about our people and how quickly we can prepare them with new skills and capabilities.  Continuous learning is the new edge.  How are you creating your own competitive edge?  Let us know and we would like to highlight you and share with others in our news stories.

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Employee Engagement, Newsletter

July 8, 2019 - No Comments!

Newsletter July 2019 – The Next Talent Wave – Wanted: 600 Women to Govern California Companies – Kate Kjeell, TalentWell

Quietly last year Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed California Senate Bill 826 requiring publicly held companies based in California to have a minimum of one woman on their boards of directors by the end of 2019. From there, women’s representation will increase. By the end of July 2021, companies must have at least two women on boards of five members and at least three women on boards with six or more.

According to the Los Angeles Times, this means over 600 women will be needed just for the boards of the largest publicly traded companies in California, not to mention smaller companies. If this is expanded across the nation, this would translate to over 3,000 women needed by 2021 to balance the board rooms across the country in the Russell 3000 companies.

While many forward-thinking companies recognize the glaring need for gender parity in the board room, California companies should actively attract this talent as other companies across the country are sure to follow suit.

Finding, attracting and hiring your next talented board member, who also happens to be a woman, should be part of your company strategy. This should not be a haphazard approach but a planful, proactive process.  Below are four steps that will guide any board of director search.

  1. Align your board

As with many senior level searches, multiple stakeholders weighing in on the position, requirements and candidate profile often lead to disparate opinions.  Success depends on doing the upfront work to align all the members of a hiring team, in this case your BOD.

To facilitate consensus, ask the following questions prior to engaging with candidates:

  • What is the role of this individual?
  • What background is needed to successfully accomplish this?
  • What qualities have made other board members successful in the past?
  • Where do we think we might find this person? What companies or industries are our targets?

This information should drive a candidate profile that is based on the work to be done and background needed, versus a gut-feel that a certain individual would fit.  This will also help encourage diversity when subjective assessment is replaced with objective evaluation based on agreed upon criteria.

  1. Define your value proposition

Don’t overlook defining your value proposition; that is what your company offers a new board member in terms of impactful initiatives as well as financial compensation.

With the certain increase in demand for savvy female board members, companies need to not only assess candidates but provide a compelling story for why join their board.  What are the key initiatives, growth opportunities and board dynamics that would be exciting to a new member? Make sure your board is united in their view of this opportunity and value proposition. In this tight employment market, competition for top talent extends to the board level.  Come armed with a unique and exciting message that is tailored to engage female board members.

In addition, make sure the key leaders in your organization have a strong social media presence that speaks to their personal brand.  Most passive talent will research your board and leadership team prior to deciding if they are interested in having a conversation.  How do your senior leaders show up on the internet? Are their LinkedIn profiles bare bones or non-existent?   A weak social media presence is a red flag for top talent and can prevent your organization from having a preliminary conversation with highly sought after board candidates.

  1. Leverage your network

Networking and referrals have always been the best source of quality candidates and that has never been truer than at the board level. Chances are your senior leadership and board members have a strong network of talented individuals.  This is the holy grail for board searches.  Tap into this pool of talent using your aligned profile (step one) and value proposition (step two).

Don’t accept that your board and executives “can’t think of anyone.”  Our experience shows that some prompted discussion around where this person might be, target companies, industries and shared connections can surface a nice slate of potential candidates.  “I can’t think of anyone” quickly turns into, “Let me call her and make an introduction.”

  1. Build a pipeline of talent

For many the reality of hiring female board members has just hit them.  Now what?  Smart companies have started to build a pipeline of talented women executives for current and future board positions.  CEOs and other leaders in California should be engaging and wooing top talent for all of their senior positions, including board members.  If you are not actively building a talent pipeline, you are not preparing for the future.  As Benjamin Franklin aptly said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

The statistics are clear on the supply and demand of female board members.  That alone should prompt action to address both immediate and long-term talent needs. But the numbers are not the only reason to identify, attract and engage with female board members. A diverse board is the right business strategy and leads to better decision making and ultimately higher profits. What company wouldn’t want that?

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Newsletter, Recruiting

July 8, 2019 - No Comments!

Interview with Soren Kaplan – Game Changer

Our interviews this month are with “game changers” and my discussion with Soren Kaplan, best-selling author, innovator, consultant and professor had me reflecting on what it means to innovate and disrupt the status quo.  I learned that Soren is a role model for rewriting the rules, challenging our assumptions and relentlessly driving change.

Soren knows this space well. He has been leading disruptive innovation, culture, and business model innovation for many years.  Based in Silicon Valley, Soren works with both fascinating Fortune 1000 firms and technology start-ups.   He is the author of two books on Culture and Innovation and an Affiliate at the Center for Effective Organizations at USC’s Marshall School of Business. He writes for Fast Company and Inc. Magazine and he’s also the founder of Innovation Point and upBOARD.

We discussed the illusive formula for innovation.  It takes time and focus to shift a culture and employee behavior to drive change and get greater innovation.   Soren has a refreshing take on this- in his view, for transformation happens in big small and unpredictable ways.  Few leaders focus on the levers that directly influence innovation however, Soren shares insight on how all of us can design our own invisible advantage.

Sherry:   Tell me about your work at Innovation Point?

Soren:  Early in my career I led the internal strategy and innovation group at Hewlett-Packard (HP) during the roaring 1990’s in Silicon Valley.  I have worked with Fortune 1000 companies and technology start-ups with the goal of guiding leaders in creating cultures that support innovation.  I would say that 80% of companies place innovation as a top priority.

Sherry:  What is the invisible advantage?

Soren: The only defensible competitive advantage resides underneath the products, services, business processes, technologies, and business models we deliver to the world. It’s generally invisible to your competitors, your partners, and even your own employees. It’s your culture.

CEO’s want to clarify what innovation means for them.  Is this a big or little challenge?   Some are thinking a technology platform, structure, process or system change.  All of this impacts culture.  It would be great if we had the formula for gaining competitive advantage through your culture but it is a combination of art and best practice.  I share more about this in my book and it is true that every organization has the power to design their innovation culture.

Sherry:  Check out Soren’s book, The Invisible Advantage

Sherry: What are you learning since writing the Leapfrogging best seller and The Invisible Advantage?

Soren: I am seeing the red flags which indicate a desire for innovation or growth yet it starts with a new business model and entirely new time horizon for change.  It used to be we could create a plan with a long term time line.  Today we are looking at one to two years at most. Our clients are also balancing the need for growth and big change with the need to invest in new stuff while experimenting in smaller ways in order to solve customer problems now.

Sherry:  What surprises you today in your work on innovation?

Soren:In the past year and half we are seeing every industry undergoing disruption. We have converging technologies, AI, Block chain, robotics and more and we are all impacted by these changes.  It forces an expanded mindset and new skill set in dealing with the breadth and depth of this ecosystem that is created to help navigate new technologies.   Business platforms change the way we work and serve our clients.  LinkedIn has changed recruiting.  Airbnb has disrupted our experiences in the sharing economy.

Sherry:  What will it take to lead in this new ecosystem of internal and external markets?

Soren:Future leaders will live with adapted strategies vs. long term planning.  They will have to consider the personality of the organization.  External viewpoints and collaboration across a network of resources will be required.  Leaders will be comfortable with rapid experimentation and they will see failure as a part of the new learning mindset.  Also, every organization will unlock innovation culture in its own way.

Sherry: What are forward looking companies taking action on as they build innovation into their culture?

 Soren:  Companies will embrace “shark tank” like sessions.  Hackathons and learning experiences will happen more frequently on the inside.  Culture will shift because people have these new experiences, then make assumptions about behaviors which get shared across the organization.  We will also work across the world and in virtual models to support innovation which really means creating a culture that links professional development with value creation.

Sherry:  We see you are part of the faculty on the Innovation segment of the Leadership InSITE program that Ian Ziskin leads.  What would you like the attendees' takeaway to be?

Soren:  At the end of the day that I facilitate, which is focused on innovation and strategy, I would like the participant to have an understanding of what innovation means for them and their organization.  They will know how to define this and identify the skill sets needed to support idea generation and new thinking in their companies.


There could not be a better time to let go of the old ways of doing things and embrace something new.  Everything around us is changing, so why not jump in.

The stakes are too high to stay in place.   Soren reminds us that innovation and change can occur incrementally and be as simple as process improvements or enhancing a customer interaction.  Since we really want everyone innovating, the steps forward can start simple and in the line of sight for each of us.   It also means we are learning.  And, learning is truly the new “competitive advantage” as our work world transforms and nudges us forward.

Kelly Palmer and David Blake, in their new book, The Expertise Economysee that companies play a huge role in shaping our future of learning.  If we want to stay in the game or get ahead of it, we will have to harness innovation and learning in entirely new ways.  Our next issue will tackle how CEO’s are driving for learning cultures and seeing the pay – off.

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Newsletter

May 22, 2019 - No Comments!

The Team Advantage – It’s about Talent says Sarah Pearson

Business has never done so much hiring as they do now. Companies are building internal capable recruiting teams and using external experts as well. It could not be a more challenging time to build a team of energized recruiters and partner with the business to keep up with talent demand. I recently learned that Sarah Pearson, head of Talent Acquisition and Corporate Strategic Business Partners at Orora Packaging Solutions won the HR team of Excellence award given out by NHRA in Orange County. I wanted to know what her “secret sauce” was for building her team and found a time to speak with Sarah about this.

Sherry Benjamins: What brought you into the talent business?

Sarah: I grew up in England and attended high school here in Southern California. I was fortunate to land a position at the Walt Disney Company and stayed for 12 years. I learned from the best and appreciated their marketing genius. It was there that I began to see the importance and power of brand and what motivates us as consumers. I then went on to recruiting and worked for an executive search firm, I learned more about people and what they are capable of, as well as, what gets in the way of them tapping into their own individual genius. Next stop in my career was a dive into fashion and brand with a tech start-up in LA, where I scaled the organization from 80 employees to 2500 across 12 countries in less than 4 years. The differences of experiences, companies, industries and strategies I’ve encountered prepared me for the business of attracting and engaging talent in a meaningful way.

Sherry: What do you think it takes to select and lead a team today?

Sarah: Leaders need to be future-focused. I study the trends that will impact us in the future. When I look ahead at potential change, and work backward from there, it helps me determine the strategies needed for the team. I believe that future leaders need to be self-aware. They need to know what they are good at and to allow themselves to be vulnerable (admitting where they have blind spots and/or deficiencies).

Imagine a culture where failure is rewarded, not feared or avoided. Imagine the innovation that can occur when you create a safe space to experiment and fail. I launched a new system (Applicant Tracking System) at Orora and I am rewarding mistakes as we implement this. Those on our team that raise the most “bugs” will get a reward. I am working to create a culture where it is ok to fail and it is important to foster risk taking.

As a leader, it is also important for me to understand what drives each person and then learn what success looks like for them. Leading a team means getting to know each team member very well and helping them unlock the career that they truly want.

Sherry: What have you learned about yourself from leading teams that surprised you?

Sarah: I have learned to give up the idea of perfection. Being perfect was a killer of any attempt at innovation. I can see that now. I was fortunate to have a role model earlier in my career who understood teams and celebrating differences. She was the leader of a gaming company and exposed us all to mindfulness and the importance of intention and balancing physical as well as mental well-being.

Sherry: What is the role technology plays in bringing your team together?

Sarah: I have a team that is 90% remote. This forces me to think about technology as a tool for communicating and sharing information. It means we need to be there when we can’t physically be there. The team is encouraged to self-organize and use tools such as instant messaging, social platforms with a blend of planned update calls. I am proud of our ability to perform remotely and serve such a diverse customer base. We implemented a team meeting conference and video call every two weeks and I schedule a weekly touch base call one on one with each team member. Other parts of the organization have not yet adopted virtual work in the way we have however, I see that happening at some point.

Sherry: What is your operating priority for the team?

Sarah: I think it is all about service. That is service to each other and our customers. If you recall, I grew up in the Disney culture and personally experienced their practices of “concierge” service to guests. I believe in aspiring to that level of service. One idea is to aim for a “zero inbox mentality” – getting back to people quickly. In today’s world of communication that may seem daunting. We tackle this in steps; first establish clear email etiquette and second, decide if the email is action required or information sharing. I work hard at modeling this concept of service and managing communication for our team.

Sherry: Bob Johansen, the trends analyst, says that “the best leaders in the future will be gritty gamers and prototypers.” Do you see that?

Sarah: I agree that the power of games is here to stay and for something we can learn from. I have an eight year old son who loves his games and frankly, rather than worry about it, I embrace it and see it fosters a growth mindset. He is continuously learning about strategy, creating a hypothesis for action, learning from mistakes, and figuring out how to navigate change. When I play with him, I can see these skills in action.

Our future leaders will have to anticipate and shift, iterate, learn and improve their tactics. I agree with Bob, that it is all about simulation and immersing yourself in unfamiliar environments so that you can learn in a very personal way.

Sherry: What is your advice to new managers today?

Sarah: There are three areas that I would suggest new managers focus on.

First, utilize a tool for feedback – to spark honest conversation. I use a tool called “Stop, Start and Continue.” This quickly builds a trusting relationship with your team, especially when you supply them with feedback and ask them in return for feedback on a regular basis. Each of us gets to say what is working, what should continue and what we can stop doing to make things better.

Secondly, connect the work to a mission or purpose. Be specific – so that if your purpose in the next three months is to complete a project that everyone is participating in, then be clear on the deliverables and why it matters to them. Be realistic and pragmatic. They will feel committed and clarity moves everyone closer to your success.

Lastly, audit your reputation. Ask peers, clients and your boss for feedback. Ask how you are doing and how you are known in the organization. It takes being vulnerable. And, be willing to listen and respond. I have learned the most from asking for this feedback to support relationships and future success.

Conclusion by Sherry

I have respect for leaders in our community who are building high performing teams. Peter Cappelli, in his recent HBR article, talks about how hiring is all wrong today. He is referencing the challenge in retaining talent. Sarah’s advice on building teams and understanding what each individual member wants works across the business. Not every manager has this focus or intention, so we lose quality people.

LinkedIn data shows that the most common reason for employees leaving is to consider a position elsewhere which meets their career advancement goal. Hiring managers sell the career conversation but they also need data. Analytics tells the story of why retaining internal talent results in stronger outcomes. It is time for us to do the numbers and reveal the truth.

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Uncategorized

May 12, 2019 - No Comments!

Count Up Your Transitions

When were you at your best? Jot down memories where you were energized and enthusiastic. What were you doing then? Imagine creating more of those welcoming moments. I bet some of them were during a transition.

I decided to count up the transitions that I have had over my career and it is well over 15 when I look at the change in roles and responsibilities as well as new culture, organizations or starting my own company. Each change required a shift in mindset and a deeper understanding of me. I was impatient at times and wanted the answers much faster than they came to me.

I recall a very big transition which was to leave corporate America and figure out what was next. Although this was many years ago, I recall it vividly. I had been in the career consulting business and focused on helping others with their story but I had not thought about my own story. Have you ever been in the pace and groove of your work? You try to convince yourself that it is all right. Over time, you realize it doesn’t feel right.  It was welcoming at first but you start to ask yourself questions about your new perspective or direction and whether you are still learning.

Fortunately, I was asking those questions and was introduced to LifeLaunch, a program of the Hudson Institute which is now called Life Forward. Back in those days it was a five day program focused on your inner talk, possibilities, feelings, prized memories and eventually goals and action steps. The concepts introduced were about reflection, revision, and renewal. It was focused on where you are today, where you want to go and how you will get there. There was a phase called “go for it” and being a results-driven person, I liked that phase. But, that is not where you start. The process begins with reflection and slowing down to think about dreams, passion, and interests and of course, purpose.

Whether you are making a job change or taking on a bigger role in your company or moving into the entrepreneurial world, the transitions we go through from one stage to another is a gift. They are exhilarating and they can also cause anxiety.

I was ready to create something new but had no idea how it would work out. That was stressful and exciting.  This can happen when you are inside a company and have a role that you enjoy and then you hear of an opportunity that you can transition to with more responsibility along with a very steep learning curve. It is what you were looking for yet scary at the same time.

What I observe today is that the speed of transitions and personal change in our careers is so fast that there is little time to move through the changes and or the emotions. We need that in order to understand ourselves, what might accelerate our effectiveness or get in the way and how best to navigate an entirely new challenge. The people are different, expectations vary and the social norms might shift but you are not aware of that yet.

As you embark on your change, it may be that the rules have changed or the way to get things done is entirely different. You might have to navigate this on your own or if you are lucky, you will have a change “Sherpa” in your company. We are never really on our own and change does not mean you will be in “free-fall” as one of my clients expressed. However, I know that feeling of fear and internal second guessing that takes us down a path of non-constructive self-talk even during a positive expanded role. Slowing ourselves down to reflect, envision and then act is a human thing to do. Reaching out to your network is a human thing to do as well. Our company cultures are not great at slowing down.

Here are my suggestions on moving effectively on a wave of transition.
1. Celebrate - Did you celebrate the ending – you may have just accepted a promotion in your company and moving on to a bigger role. Did you celebrate and congratulate yourself for the accomplishment of getting this far? Take the time to do this with your team and acknowledge success. It is easy to let the voice in our head worry about the new job or jump to action with enthusiasm but take the time to breathe and celebrate this ending before starting a new beginning.

2) Welcome the new – Meet your team, get to know the business and how things work. Ask a lot of questions. Your focus is on learning rather than doing. We are all programmed to do but few of us focus on the learning part first. Step back to figure out the new landscape and what small steps of success will look like. Determine how your network will expand and who will be there to guide you. Sometimes it is not your immediate boss.

3) Envision – Listen to your internal voice but also gather the perspectives of others. I recall my voice telling me, “you are responsible and you will do the right thing.” I had to add something critical to that inner dialogue and that was “enjoy this adventure and trust yourself.” Not so easy to accomplish but it was my daily mantra.

4) Grow – The aging process is inevitable and I don’t recall ever thinking about it until my 40’s. That is when I realized mid-course corrections are a good thing and if we can look at our learning and development as part of our investment plan that is cumulative, than we are ahead of the game. It takes time to learn a new role. You have more decisional capacity than you realize so learning, risking and experimenting is part of the deal going forward. Your company will not drive that for you so you get to set that growth plan and course correct along the way.

What is your learning agenda for the next chapter of your life?  Who are the people you would chose to have as mentors, friends, and guides? Build this into your plan and you will see that endings, celebrations, beginnings, and your feelings around change will be more aligned with your level of satisfaction and connection with those that matter.  Do not hurry this process. It takes time and intention.

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Blog, Communication, Employee Engagement, Talent Economy

May 8, 2019 - No Comments!

Expand the Circle

Imagine you have a circle of friends that you have known for a long time and they are just the folks you hang out with when you yearn for connecting and comfort. Often, food accompanies this connecting time.

You know these friends, their unique perspective on life, what makes them laugh and their favorite food. True appreciation for who they are and why you enjoy this circle of friends or friend, is very clear knowledge that you have lived and experienced with joy.

Now think about what it is like to step out of that circle and connect with new people – that are not in your circle. It takes a different energy to expand beyond your comfort zone. It amplifies our curious self to meet new people and listen to other perspectives of the world. This is the space where we don’t know things.

We should not take advantage of our circle. Relationships are not static and the world is dynamic, so why not consider new dimensions to explore. This does not mean we abandon our circle of “confidants.”   However, do you want to learn about other people, cultures, interests and or experiences? We are only one person, so when we can learn from others, it is truly a gift and from a practical standpoint it makes us more productive and maybe even a bit worldly. We learn about the things we don’t know.

Be honest, is it tough for you to make new connections? Are we good at getting to know others? Is this a new skill to master? And, where do we find the time to expand these connections? Are we good at the art of inquiry – really getting to know someone?

I believe the next generation will offer us more perplexing situations and opportunities to expand our notion of “circle of friends” and learn new skills in connecting with others. It will be a broader definition and produce more meaning, complexity and fascination as the world seems to get smaller.

I was invited to a dinner party a year ago, for my son, a visual artist and creative writer, was fortunate to be the first artist and one person show for a new gallery in Echo Park, Los Angeles. He was so excited and the opening night was invite only for this special celebratory dinner. We sat down with 12 other folks and what was astounding was the diversity of people, backgrounds and areas of interest beyond art. Saying they were eclectic is an understatement. They shared a love of art. Beyond that, they worked in the finance area, teaching, performance, coaching, making art and professional traveler. You might say this is an LA thing but it clearly is an example of an open circle of connections that invites you in to a new conversation.

We knew before getting there that we might feel like a stranger among strangers. However, it did not take long to see more of the synergies and possibilities, and delightful peculiarities of this group getting to know each other.  Yes, there was some trepidation at first which moved into wanting to learn more about each person.

My take away is to suggest we abandon the mental models in our head about how we should meet new and different people and just embrace the unknown. That is not hard to do under an LA warm summer night while we get to share pasta, grilled zucchini and wine.

Are you part of a peer learning group? What are you learning that is unexpected? How does this group support you in the challenge of navigating work and personal challenges? I am passionate about helping others learn and build meaningful connections. As humans, we all lean towards these kinds of relationships where people can be authentic and find their voice. Enjoy expanding your circle along with wonderful food!

Sherry Benjamins facilitates peer learning groups that are forward looking, and have a keen interest in building relationships that strengths impact and direction on work and career. They begin in building a new circle of friends where it is safe to be themselves, learn about each other and accelerate their success as leaders and learners in business. Contact Sherry to learn more 562-594-6426 or


Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Blog, Communication, Employee Engagement

April 26, 2019 - No Comments!

Humans & Technology Meet-up with Dr. Kevin Fickenscher

As we navigate through 2019, there are intensifying changes and disruption in many industries along with an avalanche of new information every day. It is hard to keep up with this and digest it all. This disruption is clearly happening in healthcare and following my interview with Dr. Kevin Fickenscher, I am hopeful and less weary. It means a robust intersection with technology and in the case of our own health care, I am hopeful that ultimately we will have the benefit of better information and care.  

A long-time friend, from my Baxter Healthcare days connected me to Dr. Kevin Fickenscher, a pioneer in bringing technology to medicine. He has a fascinating and deep expertise in academics, large healthcare systems, start-ups, leading tech companies, and now transforming how we educate doctors in the age of diagnostics with AI and Machine Learning.

Kevin is known as the thought leader and strategist who “stirs things up.” I wanted to hear more about how he sees change coming.

Sherry Benjamins: Where are you seeing innovation today?

Dr. Kevin: There is significant change from applications and process change, to infrastructure and adoption of entirely new technologies. There is change in how, what and where we receive care and it is challenging the way we think about the delivery of services in the future. All industries are impacted but I would say healthcare is experiencing more dramatic disruption because society demands more value today with reduced cost. A significant driver of this change in the last three years has been AI and Machine Learning. Just think about hands-free driving and Siri and how far that has gone. In healthcare we see diagnostics being transformed. In one example, there are physicians at Stanford who are teaching computers how to diagnose skin cancers. That is just one of many innovations utilizing machine learning.

Sherry: How has this changed the life of the Physician?

Dr. Kevin: The new systems are offering “clinically augmented intelligence” with physicians having access to information that was not available before. It changes processes that have been in place for decades. In times of change, we tear things apart before we put them back together. That is where we are today and the pace of change is impacting how we use tools, data and information.

Sherry: You are known to stir things up – tell me about that?

Dr. Kevin: I provoke thought and action. There are some people resisting changes even in light of all of the new possibilities coming at us. It will leave them in an old and non-competitive place. Or, for those embracing change, there will be incredible learning and growth for patients and clinicians. As a metaphor for this change, think about a tsunami. The tsunami wave is a result of disruption in the middle of the ocean. When it gets close to shore, you can’t stop it and will cause mass destruction…or in this case disruption. This process started a decade ago and now we see entire change in processes and traditions as well as how we teach and prepare clinicians in healthcare.

Sherry: What is being done to prepare the new breed of healthcare leader in this age of disruption?

Dr. Kevin: Training - we are training in areas that did not exist before. We are seeing the emergence of virtual diagnosis, remote care delivery and the creation of virtual communities. I call this “virtualist” training. The elements of this include; AI, machine learning, social immersion, and managing of virtual teams. Remote care delivery requires new operational guidelines, new curriculum for physicians, and a new way to communicate with other humans about their care.

Sherry: What will be essential for the new leader in this augmented world?

Dr. Kevin: They must be given the technology and development across disciplines. Collaboration skills and working in teams remotely or virtually will be critical. Skills and knowledge and analysis capabilities will grow. Organizations will be “learning empowered” and not hierarchical any longer.

Sherry: What concerns you about the human and machine interaction?

Dr. Kevin: At the end of the day, the potential loss of human touch concerns me. A caring voice and empathetic smile will be essential. As we embrace the power of this new technology, we need to embrace the emotional intelligence of those using the technology. At first glance, it is possible that we as Physicians will be holding the knowledge rather than being empathetic. This is a critical element of our new role that means we must retain the human side of our work even in light of the machine supporting us.

Sherry: Are you optimistic about the future of healthcare?

Dr. Kevin: Always. I am known as the optimist and was seen that way even in medical school. We will get through this immense change and move forward using virtual, collaborative, and human touch with the goal of managing and delivering care in new and evolving ways. I am now being asked to consult with medical schools in order to re-design curriculum for Physicians embarking on the new age of “augmented clinical care.”

It could not be a more exciting time to participate real-time in preparing the next generation of physician leader in the revolution of telehealth, telecare and telemedicine.

Dr. Kevin Fickenscher is frequently called upon to speak on issues related to the future of the hospital industry, networking and diversification of local health care systems, the applications of technology to primary care, future scenarios on the delivery of health care in the United States, the impact of the global economy on health care, and a host of other related topics.

Conclusion by Sherry

Automation has arrived in healthcare and in the workplace. Whether it is an algorithm that figures out our tasks or encourages our behavior in specific ways, technology is invading our space. While it seems systems have advanced, the “human element” needs to speed up. Dr. Kevin addresses that in his suggestion to build EQ and the human side of patient care while we ask computers to do more.

We now have the opportunity to design new operating principles with a human focus. In the newly released 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report, there is a very interesting framework presented that outlines the social enterprise and its operating principles. Workers still want a sense of purpose, to be trusted, know that the organization is ethical and that personal relationships move us further than digital ones. Fortunately, we will always look to the human for creating meaningful connections at work. If you find a robot to do that, let me know!

Published by: Sherry Benjamins in Uncategorized