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Keith Ferrazzi on How the Pandemic Taught Organizations to Be “Crisis Agile”

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Keith Ferrazzi, founder of the consulting firm Ferrazzi Greenlight, has done research on thousands of transformational leaders. He’s seen how different organizations weathered the past years’ storms and identified strengths of those doing it right, including being distributed, inclusive, resilient, empathetic, and, above all, agile.

HBR editor in chief Adi Ignatius sat down with Ferrazzi, coauthor of the new book Competing in the New World of Work: How Radical Adaptability Separates the Best from the Rest, in this episode of our video series “The New World of Work” to talk about:

  • Using this inflection point to not go “back” to work, but forward
  • Ways to inspire and encourage bottom-up ideation and solutions
  • Recent crises have exposed leaders’ limits, forcing them to express humility—and that’s a good thing.

The New World of Work” explores how top-tier executives see the future and how their companies are trying to set themselves up for success. Each week, Ignatius interviews a top leader on LinkedIn Live — previous interviews included Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooryi. He also shares an inside look at these conversations —and solicits questions for future discussions — in a newsletter just for HBR subscribers. If you’re a subscriber, you can sign up here.


ADI IGNATIUS: Keith, welcome. Let’s go right into it, in terms of the topicality of the moment. Where I am in Boston, we’re basically at “mask optional”, people are coming back to work who had postponed that. So where are we now and who seems to be getting it right?

KEITH FERRAZZI: Well, the principle of our research and the principle of this book was really simple. I kept hearing people say back in 2020, “When are we going back to work?” And it kind of pissed me off. I didn’t want to ever go back to work, because I didn’t think work was serving us in the way in which we were working. I said, “No, let’s use this as an inflection point. Let’s learn, let’s step in and let’s go forward to work, not back.”

And so we had 2000 executives crowdsourcing what they were doing that they never wanted to let go of, but hold onto. And I do have to say that there’s some sadness to me. I’m definitely seeing organizations as they are going back into more flexible, more hybrid work environments, where people are allowed to be remote and physical, but I don’t think people have sufficiently reinvented the fundamental underpinnings of how we work.

So I’ll give you a quick for-instance. Still people think that collaboration means a meeting. We’ve got amazing tools available to us today that actually allow us to start collaborating before we ever have to have a meeting, get massively more people involved, have more psychological safety. People don’t have to be on the hook for immediate response in a face-to-face environment, whether it’s virtual or physical. And fewer than 15% of companies have really scratched the surface of what’s called asynchronous, non-meeting-based collaboration. To me, the big thing that I’m concerned about is that we still haven’t learned our lesson in terms of the stepping into the inflection point and true reinvention of ways of working.

ADI IGNATIUS: But let me ask why you say that, because we’ve been remote. Those of us who have the option to be remote have been remote, have stayed remote, and many people will tell you business has never been better. We’ve never collaborated more effectively. So it seems to me we’re using those tools you’re talking about. Now, is your point that you’re afraid we’re going to blindly go back to the old way of working?

KEITH FERRAZZI: No, we didn’t go far enough. We didn’t go far enough. Look, everybody I talk to, we say we’re collaborating well, but everybody I talk to says we’re fatigued with this incessant meeting after meeting after meeting, as an example. When we do our research, we show that even in a remote meeting of 12 people, only four people feel that they’ve been fully heard in that meeting. And yet a very simple practice of a meeting, which is snap your fingers, have the entire group of 12 people go into a breakout room on a critical question, open up a shared document in groups of three, answering the questions, right? And then come back into the main room. You have fundamentally transformed the amount of candor in that team, the amount of transparency in that team, the amount of willingness of the people to critique each other.

I’ll give you a quick idea. If you were to, in the middle of a meeting, ask people “What’s not being said that should be said here,” you’d hear crickets. If you send them into a breakout room, and turn that into an assignment, and you have them open a shared document and write what’s not being said that should be said, and then you come back into the main room, you’ve totally reinvented the dialogue. And all I’m saying is the tools we’re using, we’re using them as we were using them prior to ’19. We’re glad we can have meetings at the same time with people around the world, but how we actually think about collaboration has not changed as much as it should.

That’s just one area. By the way, everything we’re talking about right here is in one chapter of the book around collaboration and inclusion. And it’s one chapter. I’d love to span out beyond that as well, but it happens to be right now probably one of the most important things that we get right, which is reinventing the way we think about work, not just slapping tools onto old ways of working.

ADI IGNATIUS: I’m tempted to say, and you’ll see what I’m paraphrasing here, but maybe the future of work is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed. Are there people who are doing it right?

KEITH FERRAZZI: And I’ll go ahead and flatter you again and appreciate you, because back in 2010, we started this work. So I was coaching the executive team over at Cisco with John Chambers, and I heard about this thing called telepresence and this thing called WebEx in its early stages of development. By the way, I met this young man named Eric Yuan who was over there, now is the CEO of Zoom, of course. And so I started talking to these folks, and I was like, wow, the world of work is going to change. Called you, and I said, “Let’s do a series on that.”

The future of work has always been there. We’ve been talking about this for decades, and I wanted to land it during the pandemic to say this is the opportunity. We had this amazing laboratory of remote and hybrid work. And this is only one component because it’s not just the use of the tools—the tools have always been there. But it’s how we reinvent the way we think about work to leverage the tools effectively.

I had 300 CIOs of some of the most prominent companies in the world, unicorns, Fortune 50s, etc. And I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but shame on us for having put tools in place without a roadmap. Without a roadmap for how to change the way we work with them. Right? And that is the big concern.

And there’s another myth, which is that culture erodes in a virtual or remote landscape. Meaning we don’t bond together. Right? We don’t connect as well as we used to. BS. Just not true. The reality is: in the olden days, when we were physically walking around the world in the offices, culture was organically marbled in the things we did serendipitously without us thinking. There was a walk in from car park. It was the meeting after the meeting, which I never thought were appropriate anyway. All of those things were how culture was created.

Boom. We snap into remote environment. And then if we don’t figure out purposeful ways to build culture–simply asking your team put into chat on a scale of zero to five where your energy is today, and then anybody who has a zero, one, or a two, you pause and say, “Jane, are you okay? Dave, are you okay?” That is a simple practice that turns purposeful this sense of combined commitment to each other’s energy, creating a safety net under each other, a sense of esprit de corps among a team that cares about each other. That stuff used to happen in the hallways, and at lunch rooms, and at coffee hours. Now, it needs to be a purposeful practice.

It’s being that meticulous. And that’s what we tried to do. We captured not just dozens, hundreds of these practices from executives. We then applied them in a laboratory setting with other companies. We measured whether or not those practices were efficacious through diagnostic tools, and then we created the high-return practices that we talk about in Competing in the New World of Work. I’m going to try to get in as many of them as I can here, but I’m trying to do two things in this conversation, give you the practice you should use, but awaken your insecurity, your FOMO that you haven’t gone far enough because you haven’t. And that’s one of the things that I want to make sure we don’t miss.

ADI IGNATIUS: Yeah. I like that a lot. Let’s imagine, entirely hypothetical situation, a publishing company in Boston that’s trying to figure out what do we do in terms of coming back to the office physically. We can come up with a number. Two days a week, three days a week.

KEITH FERRAZZI: No.

ADI IGNATIUS: But that would be probably sort of arbitrary.

KEITH FERRAZZI: I love this.

ADI IGNATIUS: In terms of thinking about what we do to maximize all the positive effects of culture, of collaboration, of all these things, how do we get to the answer there?

KEITH FERRAZZI: I’ll send you the bill for the coaching after the session.

ADI IGNATIUS: This is a hypothetical company.

KEITH FERRAZZI: Hypothetical situation. Okay. Here’s the situation. We are in the middle of what a lot of people call the Great Resignation, and I roll my eyes on that term. First of all, it’s so hackneyed, and everyone’s talking about it. It could be boring. But here’s what I want you to think about, Adi. We’re not in the Great Resignation. The Great Resignation is something that will be the outcome of companies that aren’t proactive in the movement that’s really going on. And this movement title was named by Mike Clementi, one of the members of our research institute who’s the head of people operations at Unilever. He’s one of our faculty in the research institute that this book created. He calls it the Great Exploration. That exploration of, “What do I really want for myself? What is work to me? What kind of flexibility do I require for myself? How do I deal with the fact that I’ve been home with my kids, and now I’m being asked not to be?” That’s the Great Exploration. If you don’t meet that face to face, you will be the victim and suffer the Great Resignation.

Adi, what I would suggest is, first of all, you say to your team, “Here are the questions that we don’t know.” One of the beautiful things from the pandemic is that leaders stepped off their podium and became humble enough to say, “I don’t know.” And I love that because that willingness to say “I don’t know” is really just an invitation to co-creation with people.

What I want you to do, Adi, is to send a message to your people that says, “Listen, here are some questions that I think we have to answer that we’re not sure about yet. We think we are, but we’re not sure about.” By the way, ask your people, “What are the questions that you have that you think we should be exploring collectively as a team?” And we want to turn this from a policy dictate that we figure out centrally and then hand down to you, which is very old school, pre-2019. “What we want you to do is we want you to be a part of the exploration and the co-creation of the answer.”

We just wrote an article about this. What are we going to do differently when we’re in the office that looks different than ’19? Because what we learned is a lot of the stuff that we used to do when we were together in the office, we now can do virtually and remotely perfectly well. What makes being in the office that much better that we want to dial up on? That is a beautiful question that I’m encouraging leaders to ask their people to co-create. What does office connectedness look like? What do we do there differently?

Another question could be how do we effectively leverage the tools that we were using? Where didn’t we go far enough? Where didn’t we go far enough? Now, a lot of our writing tells you where you didn’t go far enough, so you could see that conversation with them.

But what I really just want everybody to start doing is open their aperture, just like we did in our research. Asking the questions and then using two-way dialogue. Federal Express had a meeting with their 3000 executives, and instead of being one-way broadcast communication, like so many other companies were, they turned it into two-way dialogue. They snapped their fingers and people were in breakout rooms and opening shared documents, giving answers to questions that Federal Express wanted to co-create with associates. That idea of moving to crowdsourcing, moving to shared exploration in any strategic question, whether it’s how we go back to the office, or where risk is, or where growth opportunities are.

Unilever, instead of doing a cascading business plan from the top down, decided to ask their top 300 leaders, “Where are growth opportunities that we’re not seeing?” So they moved their business plan to bottom-up from top-down because they now had tools that allowed them to do that.

That’s changing the way we work in the new world of work.

ADI IGNATIUS: You were talking about how companies should maximize whatever it is they can do that they do well physically together. And obviously every company is different and it does different things, but what are some possibilities? What are some examples, even generic ones, for how to use this physical space?

KEITH FERRAZZI: I coined something: the social-chemical connection. It’s a made up phrase, but what I was trying to say was: when we’re face to face, it is different, right? When we’re literally, tactilely in the same room together, it’s different.

By the way, in one way, it’s also intimidating because you get more psychological safety in a virtual format than you can do in a physical format. I think it goes back to our reptilian brains of fight/flight and “Am I in danger here?” etc. But I think we should lean in when we’re face-to-face and in person. Lean into an agenda that’s emotional. Lean into an agenda that’s emotional. Celebratory. Celebrations are the best things to have when you’re together, right? Bonding, connection, caring, committing. Those are wonderful things.

For instance, during the pandemic when I’m coaching a team, I’ll have a bonding dinner. And a bonding dinner is literally an hour-and-a-half, and sometimes, depending upon the time zones, it’s at the end of the day. So maybe we get a bottle of wine sent to everybody. Social lubricant for vulnerability is very powerful, but not suggesting that’s necessary. And everybody goes around and says, “What’s going on in our life personally and professionally that is most poignant?”

Now, as the coach, I’ll lead with something vulnerable in my life, right? And I encourage you to open vulnerability in that kind of a shared dialogue. Now, if you move that into a physical realm, it’s going to be so much more powerful. On the other hand, if you in the physical realm still have an offsite, and everyone’s doing a dinner party, but it’s just small talk, you’re totally missing the boat. In the olden days, we used to do small talk, but we did enough of it, and we would serendipitously fall into a real conversation. Don’t leave anything to serendipity anymore, right? Do a purposeful bonding dinner in a physical environment where people actually share what’s going on in their lives. It’ll be significantly more impactful than what we used to do in 2019.

Similarly, you can move some of that stuff online, and it’s better than it was physically when we were only doing small talk. That’s just an example of this idea of bonding or connecting this.

When I used to have difficult times with one of my peers at Deloitte, when I was chief marketing officer there, the CEO, Greg Seal, who is a dear friend and mentor of mine, would say to me, “Keith, the two of you need to go have a long slow dinner.” And that is a very powerful piece of advice. Go have a long slow dinner. When you’ve got grist or anxiety with somebody, the ability to go sit down and have a long slow dinner and a face-to-face dialogue is game changing. Again, where social-chemical connection advantages you is anywhere that there is an emotional heightened-ness, celebration, bonding, grist or anxiety or frustration, that’s where we should definitely dial up and then do it very purposefully in the process.

ADI IGNATIUS: You mentioned anxiety, and I think a lot of us feel we have gone from crisis to crisis in the last couple years with the pandemic, with some disturbing social developments, certainly in the US. And now watching what’s happening in Europe, in Ukraine, what are your thoughts on how to create the space, create the opportunities for employees to connect, to grieve if that’s the emotion? Can you do that remotely?

KEITH FERRAZZI: 100%. 100%, but before I get there, you said something that I want to give people a fun term for. What we practiced during the pandemic was what I call “crisis agile”. I’m assuming your audience understands what agile is. It’s a framework of operations that is typically used in software organizations, program management organizations. And it’s about breaking your work down into bite-size sprints, negotiating very clear outcomes for those bite-size sprints and then giving autonomy to the teams to achieve those during that sprint. And at the end of that sprint, you stand up and you look very authentically, very vulnerably at: what do we need to do differently? Where are we struggling? What did we fail to do? What did we do and where are we going? That’s done in a standup.

Well, I was coaching the Delta Airlines team going into the pandemic. And then that was on a quarterly basis. We were working on quarterly agile sprints to reinvent the travel industry. Boom. We lose 90% of our revenue in a single day. And all of a sudden, now we’re doing daily sprints, sometimes two times a day, we are doing daily agile sprints because of the velocity of change. In a world of volatility, in a world of volatility, we’ve got to start practicing a more sustained agile process. I fundamentally believe, and it’s an entire chapter of the book, I fundamentally believe that we have moved into a world where we need, up and down the organization, to practice a sustained agile operating system. And there’s lots of books written on the topic. We really tried to summarize some of the best practices of leaders who were capturing crisis agile, and then turning that into a sustained process. You can’t be in crisis agile forever. You’ll be fatigued, you’ll be frustrated, you’ll be fractured.

And that’s why you need to buttress that with a sustainable agile process in your teams. And also focused a lot more on resilience, which is another chapter of the book, which we can get into some of the practices around. But I did want to heighten this issue. Radical adaptability is the methodology that emerged from all of this research. The teams that were successful were the ones that adopted these core aspects, significant foresight, looking around corners, learning how to adopt a sustained agile way of working, real inclusiveness and collaboration in ways that we’ve never seen before, particularly leveraging the hybrid tools. And finally, recognizing that resilience is no longer an individual sport, but it’s a team sport and it’s no longer in the shadows, but mental wellbeing and the wellbeing of a team is now out into the open and shared. And that was one of the things I got really excited about as well.

ADI IGNATIUS: You have a great line in the book where you say, “Disasters don’t just destroy. They also reveal.” And I think you’ve talked about some of what Covid revealed, but talk some more about that. Because I think that’s true, and I like how you phrased that.

KEITH FERRAZZI: Yeah. I think, if I’m not mistaken, that would’ve probably been early on as an umbrella for the book as a whole. What we were looking for was what was being revealed that we wanted to jump on and reinvent. I’ll just pick one area because I feel so strongly about it. It’s just mental wellbeing. Depression, strain, stress, this has been in existence for decades and yet the volatility and the pressure, societal pressure, what was going on with individuals’ personal lives, parents who were in assisted living that you couldn’t get to, children that are around the world. All of these things created a heightened degree of “I just can’t handle it anymore.” Now, I thought it was beautiful, to be honest. I’m not a sadist, but I thought it was beautiful to see white shoe grizzled old men breaking down in front of their teams in a level of vulnerability and humility that they had never done before.

And it’s interesting, because in the previous book I’d written about one of the great leaders that I know, a guy named Mark Reuss at General Motors, who works with Mary Barra in the beautiful turnaround that they’re initiating there. And Mark, early on, was willing to step into vulnerability in front of the organization of General Motors when they were coming out of bankruptcy. And it rallied everybody around him. Here he was an engineer now being responsible for the commercial operations of the company. And he said, “I’m most afraid that because I’m an engineer and I’m a bit of an introvert that I won’t be heard.” And it was so beautiful that that kind of vulnerability was shown from a leader at General Motors. And it wasn’t traditional. That was one of the most beautiful things.

And what we saw as the water levels went down, we saw that issue of emotional and mental wellbeing became raised. Now, I think now a lot of what the book does and a lot of what our research says is it renegotiates a social contract with your team. Meaning there were old ways of behaving that are being rebooted in this new world of work. And one of those is that mental wellbeing is no longer an individual responsibility alone. It’s a team sport. And that means that leaders need to check in, and it’s not just leadership where every leader checks in with every individual playing whack-a-mole with people’s energy. But I’m saying that the leader needs to put that out on the table and saying, listen, let’s make sure we all cross the finish line together.

The word that I used in the book is “co-elevate”, and that’s what we saw teams that were co-elevating going higher together, lifting each other up. And it’s a renegotiation of that social contract. It’s not a hub and spoke to the leader. It’s a team committed to a mission and each other. And that includes energy check-ins, bonding, sharing vulnerably, where are we struggling? Those kind of dialogues now need to be purposeful. And when they are, you’ve re-engineered a team’s commitment to each other, which unburdens the leader in a world where they’re not walking around the office, seeing everybody’s eyes and seeing where somebody may be off kilter. Now the team’s responsibility is each other. It’s a big deal.

ADI IGNATIUS: You also talk in the book about how companies need to future-proof themselves. All companies are different. A lot of the challenges are unforeseen. What are some generic ways that we can try to future-proof ourselves?

KEITH FERRAZZI: This comes from the chapter called “Foresight” and I’ll give you just a little pitch of something that we did that I think would be beneficial to any listeners. When we wrote the book, we wanted to make sure that it got into your hands really quickly, and different mediums of consuming this information. We created a free course that associated with the book and the “Foresight,” so every chapter got a 10 minute video where we tried to consolidate all of the quick pithy advice of what practices you could get started on today. It wasn’t all of them. It’s just something you could get started on today. And if you want your listeners can go to radicallyadapt.com, and get that video. They buy the book, they get the video and you start to use it.

And it’s totally free. We wanted to give you multiple ways to put that to use. Now, in the “Foresight” chapter, I love this one. Prior to the pandemic, it was shocking to me that fewer than 20% of companies actually foresaw and acted on the pandemic before the shutdown in the United States on March 13th. And these are even companies that had operations in China, so clearly they had visibility. These are companies that had very thorough analysis and risk analysis of what was coming down the pike. It was sitting in some research department of strategic planning or the risk department, etc., but it was never actually acted upon.

Rick Ambrose at Lockheed Aerospace had a very simple process. And this is one that we’ve cascaded out to so many others. Once a month, Rick would have an agenda item for only five minutes. And on that agenda item, every member of the executive team would come to the table from a different vantage point. Now this is the real genius of it: one member of the executive team would look at customers. Another member would look at technology disruption. Another member would look at changes in competitive landscape, etc. And they would all come to the table from their vantage point, a five minute agenda item and say, okay, who has a risk that they want to put on the table to determine, we don’t have to talk about it now, to determine if it goes into an analysis meeting? Who has an opportunity that they want to put on the table from your vantage point, that decides if you go into an analysis meeting? Somebody in December said, “I read this blog about this virus going on in China. If we think to history, this could be serious.” They said, interesting. Somebody had seen the Bill Gates Ted Talk and said, yeah, let’s go ahead and put it in analysis. They put it into analysis in January. And by February they went fully virtual. This is a company that didn’t even have operations in China. They went fully virtual in February. They had had none of the PPE problems. They had none of the getting the technology in place problems, etc. Now imagine if your team, any team, does that on a monthly basis. I don’t care what level of a company you are, what size of a company you are, or even if you’re a solopreneur, getting your posse together and similar people in an industry once a month, just looking at having a foresight meeting, to look around corners and look to the future: what a genius, simple idea. Those are some of the practices that we’ve created that I think are really powerful that we capture in the book. And that’s one that we actually have a coaching tool for. You can send it around to your team. They’ll all get it. And then you start doing this immediately.

ADI IGNATIUS: I want to get to a couple questions from the audience. And the first one actually concerns Ukraine. It’s from James, looking at Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine. Authenticity and honesty are key. The invasion and the disaster in Ukraine are revealing Zelenskyy’s innate leadership. It also, to my mind, in my colleague’s mind, it also shows the power of connections, which is something that you’ve thought about a lot and written about a lot. As you look at what’s happening and Zelenskyy’s leadership, what are you seeing?

KEITH FERRAZZI: Well, I’m not an expert on this, but if I look at it from the framework of the book and the methodology we’ve created, this is amazing what this man has done to bond the resilience of a country together. And not only that, but this is where, if you take a look at the resilience of the country, he has stepped off the podium. He’s with the people. He is opening vulnerably. He’s using all of the right strategies that we would give you to keep your people’s energy strong and determined and connected to each other, to a mission, to each other and a mission.

But let me also say that he’s also, in the chapter of collaboration, he’s teamed out. The team of Ukraine is not just the Ukrainians. The team of Ukraine is now the world. Now, he’s certainly working hard through personal relationships. And this is a beautiful part of the chapter of collaboration. You’ve got to lead with building the relationship in a world where you don’t have authority. What was beautiful about the pandemic is that leadership stepped to the forefront outside of org charts. Org charts didn’t matter. We saw companies where some of the most breakthrough solutions came way down from the coal face and individuals who had ideas of how to address a crisis were able to be acknowledged and rewarded and seen. The technology allows us. It’s the great equalizer. We are all just a tile. We’re not in the 36th floor of the headquarters anymore. We’re all in a tile and the ability to serve and to team out has been powerful.

Now that’s something that Zelenskyy has invited the world into. How are we? And you hear about the German who’s coming to the border to rescue people. It’s just beautiful how that process has worked. I think a beautiful analysis will be done and probably written about by somebody in your publications about his leadership and how emblematic it is. But I can tell you right now, just looking at the framework of our book and what he’s doing, the correlation is beautiful.

ADI IGNATIUS: Okay, so back to more relatively mundane things, back in the office. Here’s another question. This is from Alex. In this new world of work that you’re thinking about and helping to dream up, how do you think the role of leadership training and learning and development should evolve and will evolve?

KEITH FERRAZZI: God, that’s beautiful. Thank you. I’m going to address it directly and then I’m going to bring up another research project that we’re starting that eventually will see its way into the pages of an HBR publication, I’m sure. But the future of leadership development, one of the things that I’ve always been resistant to is the belief that traditional training was the way to change human behavior. The reality is that, if training changed human behavior, I wouldn’t have had that extra tequila that I had last night or the third glass of wine. Right? But I do. From knowing to doing is a big gap. And training is presumed that if you know, you do. But it’s not true.

One of the most important ways to develop and transform humans is through experience and coaching. And what I’ve seen in the past, and I’ve been an advocate of this for a long time and I’ve written a lot about it, is most organizations do not tap in to the immensely rich source of development that sits around our associates, ourselves, every single day, peer-to-peer coaching. Years ago I wrote a book just on that: studying peer-to-peer coaching. And what we saw during the pandemic was how much the guards were down and we were all open to hearing feedback, criticism, ideation, etc., from each other. And I thought that was beautiful. And we need to hold onto that. That is going to be one of the most precious forms of the future, of learning and development.

There are software tools being developed. I saw one in our research called MentorCloud, which helps to tap into organizational, inherent mentorship that exists inside of organizations. But eventually we’re going to have to start recognizing that coaching is not going to sufficiently come from our managers, particularly when the work we’re doing is in networks. I wrote a book about networking a number of years ago, Never Eat Alone. Today we work, we wake up, we work in networks. So where does our development, where does our feedback come from? It’s not going to come hierarchically and it’s not going to come centrally. It’s got to come from the fabric of the network that we’re working with. That’s the big change.

The thing I wanted to pitch to this audience, because this is a rarefied audience, is during the pandemic, one of the things that occurred was the tragic death of a dear friend of mine named Tony Hsieh. Tony passed away and very tragically. We’ve all heard about the stories. But what’s most important to me was not to lose the legacy that Tony had on radically innovating on the edge of human capital.

And so what I did with my foundation and with his family and a number of friends is we started the Tony Hsieh Award. And what we’re looking at in this award is where are the entrepreneurs, where are the leaders that are innovating on the radical edge of human capital and elevating human capital? Tony did it around employee engagement. Tony did it around self-managing teams with holacracy. Tony did it around resource allocation with creating a matrix to resource allocation inside of companies. He was way out there.

So now I’m really, if you want to go to thetonyhsiehaward.com, you can see some of the winners. And I would like to invite people to really think about how we fundamentally rethink human capital in the most radical ways. We’re working with a lot of unicorn CEOs, because I feel like these individuals are disrupting business models. They should also not just be accepting human capital models from large organizations that they are disrupting and just making them disruptable. How are we reinventing human capital models as well?

This is an area that when I start thinking about how we’re learning and growing, we need to be much more proactive. This inflection point gave us an opportunity to dive in, but I want to even go further in that world of how we as individuals and organizations fundamentally leap forward, not just organically grow.

ADI IGNATIUS: First of all, I want to really applaud you for remembering Tony Hsieh. He was at Zappos and was a contributor to HBR. And as you say, really, very tragic ending.

You talked about the Great Resignation or whatever we should call it. But we are struggling to find people. There seem to be certain skills that are in-demand and a lot of us are struggling to find and retain talent in certain areas. What’s your advice?

KEITH FERRAZZI: I’ll tell you what I advise: the curiosity that I have and the methodology that I’ve applied, I would highly recommend any leader doing the same. So here’s a very simple methodology and I’ll tell you what we’re doing with the Great Resignation. Number one, I said, “Okay, we’ve got this problem. How are we going to solve it?” I pulled together a group of 15 CHROs, predominantly, people like Mike Clementi I mentioned to you before, but others like the CHRO of MasterCard and others. We got into a room, and really simply I seeded the conversation in advance with a blog on my own part and said, here’s what I’m thinking about relative to the Great Resignation and how we preserve people from exiting our companies. And this is what I did with Mike Clementi. We wrote about this idea of opening up curiosity in your company. What would it mean to meet people in their exploration so that they don’t have to leave to explore. They could explore while they’re here.

And then I got into the room and I said, “Okay, we’re going to narrowly focus on best practices that all of you are doing to open up exploration and curiosity among their people so that they don’t have to pursue it elsewhere.” And we went through it. And one company, it was Unilever, was doing purpose training. Had nothing to do with purpose of the company. It was people’s purpose, helping people do coaching and training around finding their purpose, training and then coaching as well, where they were giving them a coach to find their purpose.

Another organization was providing variety in people’s jobs, not only variety in terms of helping them raise their hands if they’re getting bored and looking for other places inside of the company, but actually doing joint ventures with other companies where people could spend a day doing a project for another company. Intel provided one day a week for everybody to pursue a passion project. It could be a philanthropic project. It could be a passion project of some new business venture that they wanted to create for the company or outside of the company. It didn’t matter. But they just wanted to provide ability for 20% of people’s time to be pursuing their passions.

What we’re doing is we’re crowdsourcing these ideas. And then we’re going to aggregate them in a methodology around what it means to be a member of the Great Exploration. What does that methodology look like? And then we’re going to go start applying that at other companies. This methodology is the kind of curiosity that I want you as a leader to pursue. If you have a question, stop trying to answer it yourself. If you have a question, answer it as much as you can, and then claim to everybody else, “I’m humbly speaking. This is less than 30% of the answer. Let’s co-create the rest. Let’s crowd source the rest. Let’s invite other brilliant minds into solving the problem.”

The question is how all of us need to open the “I don’t know”, and invite people in. One of the other things I’ll just note. I go to a lot of these research round tables, and most of them are BS. Most of them are staying at the conceptual BS level. What we talk about is what we call HRPs, high return practices. You hear a good idea. It’s a best practice. Now what’s a best practice? A best practice is only something you could close your eyes and imagine another person doing or you doing to completeness. So don’t let it stay at the conceptual level. See it being done again so another person can do it. Now it’s a best practice. Then take that best practice and apply it and measure it before and after. Diagnostics or actual outcomes. And then once you know repeatedly that a best practice is getting outcomes, now it becomes an HRP, a high return practice. That’s the kind of exploration that I hope.

And back to your question about employee training. I even sit in trainings where I sit in an entire training that a client will have. And I’m like, “I don’t know what I would do differently.” It’s a bunch of conceptual BS. Until it lands in a practice, it doesn’t exist. That’s just my philosophy. And that’s why we call our research institute an applied research institute. It’s all about the HRPs.

ADI IGNATIUS: Keith, I want to thank you. We’ve gone over time, but I really can’t think of a better person to have on for the first week of the new season of The New World of Work.

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To Get Results, the Best Leaders Both Push and Pull Their Teams

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Over the past year, there has been a call for leaders to be less demanding and more empathetic toward individual employees. To get results, managers needed to rely on “pull” — giving employees a say in how they carry a task out and using inspiration and motivation to get them going. But an analysis of thousands of 360-degree assessments showed that the most effective leaders also know how to “push” — drive for results by telling people what to do and holding them accountable. The takeaway? Your efforts to increase empathy shouldn’t diminish your ability to, on occasion, push when needed. The data shows that it can be a strong force that builds confidence among employees. The key is to know when to use which approach, depending on the task, the timing, and the people.

When you see a task that needs to be accomplished by your team, do you “push” them to get it done or do you “pull” them in, giving them a say in how they carry it out and using inspiration and motivation to get them going? These are two very different approaches to reach a goal, and the latter is often the best one, but knowing how to combine these two paths is an important skill for managers and leaders.

Take this example from a client of ours. There had been an ongoing discussion about the company’s policies around the environment and sustainability. The CEO had allowed debate and encouraged everyone to weigh in. The CEO strongly supported the need for change but allowed time for ample discussion (using the pull approach). However, two members of the executive team were naysayers and dragged their feet on enacting any of the proposed initiatives. After two months of inaction, the CEO announced to the team that the company was going to implement two initiatives and stated that everyone needed to get on board (moving to the push approach). One of the executives balked at this and made clear he wouldn’t support the initiatives. The CEO terminated him by the end of the week (using the ultimate push approach).

Leaders who are willing to try hard with pulling but ultimately resort to a strong push provide a good example of the power of the combination of these two approaches. Pushing too hard can erode satisfaction but, at times, is needed, especially when pulling just doesn’t work.

In our research, my colleague Jack Zenger and I identified two leadership behaviors directed at the same end goal but utilizing opposite approaches. We call one behavior “driving for results” (push), and the other “inspiring and motivating others” (pull). Let me define what I mean.

Defining Pushing and Pulling

When a leader identifies a goal that they want to accomplish, there are two distinct paths to get there.

Pushing involves giving direction, telling people what to do, establishing a deadline, and generally holding others accountable. It is on the “authoritarian” end of the leadership style spectrum.

Pulling, on the other hand, involves describing to a direct report a needed task, explaining the underlying reason for it, seeing what ideas they might have on how to best accomplish it, and asking if they are willing to take it on. The leader can further enhance the pull by describing what this project might do for the employee’s development. Ideally, the leader’s energy and enthusiasm for the goal are contagious.

Gathering data from over 100,000 leaders through our 360-degree assessments, we measured both push and pull and found that 76% of the leaders were rated by their peers as more competent at pushing than pulling. Only 22% of the leaders were rated as better at pulling, and a mere 2% were rated as equal on both skills.

We also asked the people rating those leaders (over 1.6 million people) which skill was more important for a leader to do well to be successful in their current job. Pulling (inspiring others) was rated as the most important, while pushing (driving for results) was rated as fifth most important.

Understanding What People Want and Need

While our data is clear that most leaders could benefit from improving their ability to pull or inspire others, our research revealed that leaders who were effective at both pushing and pulling were ultimately the most effective.

We gathered 360-degree assessment data on 3,875 leaders in the pandemic. In this analysis, we did the following:

  • The direct reports rated the leader’s effectiveness on both pushing (driving for results) and pulling (inspiring and motivating others).
  • The direct reports were also asked to rate their confidence that the organization would achieve its strategic goals and their satisfaction with their organization as a place to work.
  • We ranked leaders’ data on pushing and pulling into quartiles and identified those who were low (bottom quartile) and high (top quartile).

The results are captured in the chart below. When both push and pull are in the bottom quartile, both confidence and satisfaction of direct reports are low. When push is high and pull is low, both confidence and satisfaction increase. When pull is high, satisfaction increases to a level substantially above confidence. When both are high, then you see the most significant increase. (Note: High confidence and satisfaction were measured by the percentage of people who marked 5 on a 5-point scale. This is a very high bar for satisfaction.)

Bringing Push and Pull Together

As many leaders across the globe grapple with retention and how to prevent their employees from joining the Great Resignation, they’re asking themselves hard questions. How do you motivate people to stay? How do you encourage them to increase their efforts? What is it they really want and need from their work environments?

Over the past few years, there has been a call for leaders to be less demanding and more empathetic toward individual employees. More pull, less push seemed to be what’s needed to retain talented employees. While I agree with this sentiment, this data also offers a clear warning. Your efforts to increase empathy shouldn’t diminish your ability to, on occasion, push when needed. As our data shows that it can be a strong force that builds confidence.

In fact, your influence as a leader comes from your ability to know when to use which approach, depending on the task, the timing, and the people. So next time you’re trying to accomplish a significant goal, consider whether your team really needs a good push, a big pull, or perhaps both.

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How to Respond When an Employee Quits

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Someone giving notice doesn’t have to be the end of the world or the end of a relationship. In this article, the author offers advice for how to respond in a constructive and professional way when someone says they’re quitting. First, take a moment to digest the news. It’s okay to show you’re surprised or to say something like, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that.” The last thing you want to do is react impulsively and say something you might regret that would leave the individual with a negative impression of you and the organization. Notice and manage any in-the-moment reactions and depersonalize the news. It’s also important to show your support and genuine interest in why they’re leaving and what they’re going to do next. And make sure to get alignment on what they need and what you need from them before they leave to ensure a smooth transition. It may involve some give and take and could include finishing a specific project or set of tasks, training others to take over these responsibilities to minimize disruption, or even hiring their replacement. Using these strategies can help all parties move on in a positive way.

With over four million people quitting their jobs each month during the first quarter of 2022 and 44% of workers currently looking for new jobs, it’s entirely possible that someone on your team could leave in the near term. And it may not be the person you thought it would be — or hoped it would be. It could come as a total surprise to you and be a key contributor on your team, someone with whom you really enjoy working and who has great potential in your organization. So, how do you respond when this person gives their notice?

While there are several things you should not do — like take it personally, belittle their new opportunity, or give them a guilt trip (among others) — there are six key elements to ensuring that you respond in a constructive and professional manner while processing the surprising news.

Take a beat

First, take a moment to digest the news. It’s okay to show you’re surprised or to say something like, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that.” The last thing you want to do is react impulsively and say something you might regret that would leave the individual with a negative impression of you and the organization.

Notice and manage any in-the-moment reactions

During this momentary pause, take a breath and try to discern precisely what it is that you’re feeling. Susan David, author of Emotional Agility, shares that naming our emotions is the first step in dealing with them. Try to be as specific as possible. In addition to being surprised, you may feel frustrated, discouraged, hurt, deflated, betrayed, angry, miffed, irked, or deeply disappointed or just plain sad. There are many subtle flavors of negative emotions, and parsing out the specific emotion you’re feeling will help you create greater self-awareness and enable you to process your feelings more effectively and respond more constructively.

It’s when we’re not conscious of these negative emotions that they can unexpectedly emerge from below the surface, triggering unconstructive, reflexive comments or behaviors that you may later regret, such as lashing out or making a sarcastic jab or snide remark. It’s ill advised to share that you feel betrayed or angry, even if that’s the case — here, discretion is the better part of valor. However, if you’re sad or disappointed, it’s okay to say, “I’m so sad you’re leaving, but it sounds like a great opportunity. We’re going to miss you.”

Depersonalize the news

When we feel hurt or betrayed by such departures, it’s because we take the news personally. Even if you could stand to improve as a manager (let’s face it, we can all find ways in which we can do better), their departure is not a statement about your personal worth or how good you are as a person, so it’s best to put your ego to the side and rise above any strong or harsh feelings you may have. The individual might be leaving for a better opportunity, better compensation, personal reasons, or all of the above. The best career development path for them may be to leave the organization and get experience elsewhere. It is their career, so respect that they made the best choice for themselves, their career, and/or their family, which is the same anyone would expect you to do for yourself. They are showing loyalty to themselves — not disloyalty to you.

Be curious and show a growth mindset

Show genuine interest and curiosity to learn why they’re leaving and what they’re going to do next. What can you learn that would benefit you, the organization, and other employees for the future? You might ask, “What could we do to entice you to stay?” At that point in time, the answer may be nothing since they’ve likely accepted another position. But one client of mine let her boss know, when giving her notice, that a competitor was willing to bring her on at a more senior level with much higher compensation — something her organization had been dragging their feet on and had been noncommittal about for quite some time. Unexpectedly, within a few days, they came back with an even better offer that ultimately did convince her to stay.

While this scenario might be the exception, it’s still important to ask the question above, which might also be phrased as, “What else could we have done to keep you?” or “What appeals to you or excites you most about this new job?” Their response may be related to better work/life balance, the ability to work remotely, a more inclusive culture, a new and exciting challenge with more responsibility, or being more empowered to make decisions. This is all useful feedback for you and the organization so that these areas can be addressed for remaining and future employees, even if it’s too late to do anything about it for this individual.

Show your support

Maintaining positive working relationships with departing employees is important, well beyond the time that you actually work together, so show your support for their decision and enable them to leave on a good note. After all, you may need a positive reference from them one day.

Further, as a former employee, they are still a brand ambassador for the company and may be a future customer, client, or referral source for business and other employees. And by showing support and enthusiasm for their new opportunity, as disappointed as you may be, you are more likely to keep the door open for them to potentially return to the organization one day. So, celebrate their contributions and next endeavor, and ask them how you can be helpful to them as they start their new role.

Ask for what you need

When an individual gives notice, they likely have a desired end date in mind. After all, they will want to take a break before diving into a new job. Get alignment on what they need and what you need from them before they leave to ensure a smooth transition. It may involve some give and take and could include finishing a specific project or set of tasks, training others to take over these responsibilities to minimize disruption, or even hiring their replacement.

. . .

Someone giving notice doesn’t have to be the end of the world or the end of a relationship. As surprised as you may be, using the six strategies above can help you respond in a constructive way that builds the relationship and helps all parties move on in a positive way.

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How to Help an Employee Who Struggles with Time Management

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If you have direct report struggling with time management, it can be challenging to know how to address the issue. Fortunately, there are ways that you, as their manager, can help. Before you get frustrated or deliver a harsh feedback in an unproductive way, first consider yourself. Identify the emotions you’re feeling and why, and assess where there might be times you’ve contributed to the problem. Then, pinpoint the stress and communicate your needs to your direct report in a calm manner. Help them prioritize work, setting milestones, requesting daily updates, and so on. Be sure to celebrate progress — especially at the beginning. Finally, if it looks like they need it, consider getting them outside support from a coach.

The tell-tale signs are there: Tasks done at the last minute, completed late, or even forgotten. Tardiness at meetings. No response to e-mails or replies at weird times, like 2 a.m. And more explanation of why items aren’t done than action to finish them.

You’ve got a direct report struggling with time management. As a manager, it can be challenging to know how to address the issue. On the one hand, you need them to get things done, and your natural tendency can be to respond in obvious annoyance at the lack of follow through or even to consider writing them up. On the other hand, you want to develop your team members. You may have truly brilliant individuals who you know have the potential to be exceptional contributors if they could only figure out how to use their time effectively.

As a time management coach, I talk with people who struggle in this area every day. I know how their brains work, and I help them to move into a place of higher levels of productivity.

If you’re a manager unsure of how to help, here are some practical steps you can take to improve the situation, starting today.

Acknowledge your own emotions.

If you’ve been managing this person for a long time, you’ve likely experienced a broad range of emotions ranging from mild irritation to outright infuriation. Your feelings will vary depending on how severe the issues have been, the stakes involved, your personality, your expectations, and your stress levels.

Before you give feedback to your employee, acknowledge your own emotions. Write out anything you might be thinking or feeling in a free-flow manner. Do not share your raw thoughts (via email or otherwise) with your colleague. This exercise is so you can become aware of your own internal state.

Process what you’re feeling on your own or with a trusted person and honestly assess why you’re so upset. Is it a lack of control? Fear? Embarrassment? Stress?

This process helps you to release pent up negative emotions before you give feedback so that you’re not overly harsh with your direct report and do more harm than good.

Assess your part.

Your direct report may very well have poor time management. But you might want to consider whether you also have poor time management skills and in which ways, if any, you’re contributing to the problem.

If you send over assignments last minute, don’t give clear direction, refuse to set priorities, have no follow-up system, or forget to give feedback, then your actions could be playing a role in the situation. If you also expect your employees to be constantly available through email, chat, or other channels, so they can’t set boundaries to complete focused work, you’re also partially at fault for the struggles they face.

By identifying these issues in advance of the feedback conversation, you can go in acknowledging where you could also have done better.

Pinpoint the stress.

Earlier this year, I had a situation I found very stressful with an outside contractor. There was a large project that I needed them to complete, and they were very delayed. One day as I was thinking about it, I realized that within the larger project, there were just a couple of distinct items that mattered most. Once those were done, my stress would dramatically decrease, and the other parts could take more time.

By clarifying my most important needs, I felt much less stressed and could communicate what I needed to get back most urgently, even if the whole project wasn’t done.

Take the time to think through exactly what’s causing issues for you with your direct report’s lack of time management: Do you not have what you need for important update meetings or presentations? Are you experiencing stress from them asking you to review things last minute? Are their actions costing you time or money? Do you feel anxious when there’s not good communication on status? Once you know this, it will help focus your feedback discussions.

Communicate what you need.

Once you know exactly what’s bothering you, calmly communicate exactly what you need, when you need it, and why you need it. You can also ask them what they need from you to help them be successful.

Although you may feel tempted to unload all of your frustration on your direct report about the stress they’ve caused you and the issues they’ve had, a harsh approach will typically backfire. They’ll be so overwhelmed by your anger and shut down or become defensive and stonewall. Take deep breathes, and try to remember that they likely mean well but simply struggle in this area.

Help at the start.

In some situations, simply giving feedback about what you need or want can improve the situation. But in others, you’ll need to do more to help things move forward.

To get your direct report started, consider taking these actions with them:

  • Work with them to prioritize the work
  • Brainstorm the direction to take
  • Talk through the smaller parts
  • Set up intermediate milestones
  • Do some of the work with them in a meeting
  • Team them up with colleagues
  • Request daily updates on what they planned to do and what they’ve accomplished

Structuring the situation so that they can get and keep momentum can make a world of difference.

Appreciate progress.

When you start noticing movement in the right direction, show appreciation for each step forward. You may feel concerned that giving positive feedback too quickly when they haven’t done everything yet will cause them to slack off. But the opposite is usually true. Positive feedback helps to build their confidence, positivity, and motivation and can propel them toward better and better outcomes.

Your direct report likely knows they have really bad time management and may feel worse about it than you do. Laying into them is counterproductive; increased negative emotions about their work usually causes more delays, not less. Remember that you’re on the same team. Instead of tearing them down, build them up each step of the way.

Get outside support.

Sometimes you’re too close to a situation. No matter how hard you try, you can’t provide objective, calm feedback. Or your direct report may not be able to be honest with you about what’s truly going on, such as wasting hours each day scrolling on their phone or a situation at home that may be distracting them.

In these situations, it can be helpful to connect your employee with outside resources such as time management training, an internal coach, or an external coach who can help them to develop these skills. Someone with experience in helping people overcome these challenges and who is more emotionally distant from the situation can often be more effective than someone with a history of frustration.

As a manager, you can’t force anyone to improve their time management. But your communication and actions can make a huge difference in your direct report’s ability to overcome their struggles and increase their productivity.

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