Intro: Duration: (2:03)
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I'm Jeff Hunt, and this is Human Capital. A GoalSpan podcast. On Human Capital, I get to interview top business thought leaders to uncover the deeply human aspect of work. I am super excited today to introduce my guest, Jason Lauritsen. Jason is a keynote speaker, an author, advisor, a leadership trainer, and he is known by many as an employee engagement and workplace culture expert.
Jason holds multiple titles, including what's next webcast host and chief content officer advisory board member for the graduate industrial-organizational psychology program at Bellevue University. And founder and lead instructor at the employee performance Academy. Jason is the author of the book, unlocking high performance, how to use performance management to engage and empower employees to reach their full potential.
Thanks for having me.
I have to say, I've interviewed a bunch of guests, not nearly as many as you, but I'm excited to interview you today for a couple of reasons. One. We speak a common language. We both love the topic of employee engagement, experience, the cultural aspects of organizations.
And you've had this amazing opportunity to interview so many people that are inspiring and thought leaders, in your space. And so, I get to turn the tables and sit on this side of the microphone.
Yeah, no it's fun for me. I get to do the talking instead of the listening, which as always, I am naturally a talker.
So, this is much easier, I guess for me. So, thank you for that opportunity.
Topic 1. What inspired you to go into leadership? (02:03)
Absolutely. So, I always like to start our guests out with a common question. Tell us who or what inspired you to go into business, and specifically into leadership.
Leadership in terms of just taking on leadership roles?
Yeah. And I guess I'm speaking of leadership in two different capacities. So formerly in your career as a leader in a leadership role within an organization, and then today, as somebody who's really studied this topic and lives and breathes it, from a teaching perspective.
Sure. Pretty early on. I started trying to, exert influence on the world to make it better, to do things, to have an impact. And I think early because of that because I was willing to do that, I started finding opportunities and experiences that made me curious about leadership. Made me curious about, how people, behavior, how human behavior worked, how people interacted with each other.
And that kind of set me on a path, I think, and I found my way. I found my way into it. Ironically though, I didn't find my way to that academically until much later in my life, it was sort of a side thing, but I always kept getting pulled back to it. And I was always somehow involved in my community or involved in, whatever I was nearest to getting involved.
And then when I'd get involved, I was also one of those people that, because I'd raised my hand and because I was unafraid of having an opinion, I think. I ended up in leadership roles a lot. And so then by nature of wanting to be, effective at that, I started working on myself and trying to learn and getting curious.
And so, I don't know that. I think it was just hardwired, maybe a little bit into my DNA that I didn't really have a choice. I have to be very, very cognizant going into a group if I'm not willing to lead. I have to be very, very cognizant of that going in because I know my natural tendency is to.
They exert that kind of influence. And so I've, I just, I think have had a lifelong, natural curiosity and both my business and my life and my study of all of this, I think sort of grew out of that.
Topic 2. Unlocking high performance. (04:24)
Curiosity can be such a powerful transformative, trait, or value, in the topics that we're speaking about, so how to achieve better performance or better culture within an organization or engagement.
So, I know you've got some great things that you can share with our listening audience about that. So, I appreciate you bringing that up. Did that also inspire you to write your book or tell us a little bit about that journey?
Yeah, well, Unlocking high performances. My second book, my first book is called social gravity.
I wrote with a colleague in 2012. And, um, I just found that, the act of writing books as a really, at least for me, was a really important part of sort of maturing your thinking. I have also. But one of the things I say all the time in a variety of things, a variety of ways for a variety of contexts is if it matters, write it down because when you write things down, it forces clarity, it removes ambiguity as it forces you to refine and clarify.
And, so the act of creating and writing the book was two things. One, it was to help me really. Bring greater clarity and focus to my work and what I can share, but also to put that in the hands of more people, hopefully to the unlocking high-performance in particular was.
People say, how long did it take you to write the book? And I'm like, well, it took me about 20 years to write that book because that book is a culmination of 20 years of experience in the industry and sort of what I've learned and where I'm at and what I can share with people to help accelerate their impact.
And so, so that's why that book, it was a, it was a great process to get that. Put down on paper to share.
Topic 3. If it matters write it down. (06:29)
I love the concept there too, because, and I'm wondering if you agree with me, but writing it down is key to so much of what we do in organizations, right? Because if we write it down in terms of documented feedback about what's working well, and what's not for others.
And if we write down our goals in a specific way, if we write our strategic plan, so we clearly understand our vision, our mission, our core values. I mean, wouldn't you agree that that sort of extends to every aspect of healthy organizations?
It's a foundational part of what I teach in management and leadership. And a lot of the time.
Where I first go all-in on, if it matters, write it down is around expectation setting, right? Because to me, that's the route. That's where everything falls apart in most management relationships and in most organizations, honestly, it's just a lack of clarity about expectations and the, and writing it down.
When it's written down, all of a sudden, a lot of clarity disappears, right. Because you can't hide it when it's down on paper. So yeah, absolutely. It applies all over the place.
What do you think the main reason why that happens? Why do managers or organizations not write it down and clarify these things that are so important?
Well, practically it's hard, right? Clarity is hard. And it's also, I think, based on. We have a kind of a built-in assumption that if you're the manager of the team or if you're the leader, you know what you're doing, there's this sort of burden you carry of knowledge or you assume you should.
And, and with expectations and that sort of thing, sometimes. Uh, you don't know, and or if you do know, or maybe you don't know, you don't know, and there's a risk of exposing yourself and it's risky to put it down. It's risky to put it on paper. And so it's easier to maintain ambiguity.
Because of that ambiguity, there's flexibility later, right? It leaves you flexibility later as a manager. But it will never ever produce the highest performance out of your team. It just can't. And so, I think there's a lot of things that contribute to it, but fundamentally it's just, it's not easy. It's a, it is a hard thing to do.
So I don't, I don't mean to oversimplify it, but it's always worth it.
Topic 4. The culture of trust. (08:52)
Sure. And are there certain cultures that you feel Jason is more, receptive or averse to writing it down? In other words, talk a little bit about the influence that trust has or specific cultural aspects in allowing managers to it meant that they actually don't know or, I mean, share with us a little bit about that.
Yeah. Well, I think that's a really good point, Jeff. Oftentimes in this conversation about management or the conversation about engagement. I think we fail to. Sort of tease out some of the nuance that lives in these relationships. And we kind of treat it as if it's all one thing.
So, one of the things that I see most commonly is these like a culture of nice or a culture of care, which is really important, really important. Like you can have a culture of care or even a culture of trust on some level like, well, I trust you. I know you're a good person. I worked in an organization like this
I would call it, I mean, it was a one, it was a benevolent dictatorship, right? They deeply, deeply cared for people and would take care of people. But when it came to expressing the things that really mattered from a work perspective to make work easier, to make work more enjoyable, to make work more productive.
They just weren't having those conversations because they didn't have that competence or capability built-in. And as a result. I believe the organization was dramatically underperforming what it could, but as I said, the niceness compensated for. The lack of, it sort of made up for it.
And so you end up with, we tolerate a lot of mediocrity because that's kind of where we've been and we don't see the opportunities. And so, I think there's a variety of things that. It can happen as far as cultures, cultures that tend to through their business, in the business of writing things down that be in the business, that is, have developed that capability much easier for them because it's a natural part of their business.
I think it's when they're in a business that operates less like that. Right. I think about, consulting companies, for example, it's not a surprise that you read about Deloitte or some of these big consulting companies are doing innovative things on management practices, because the way that they interact with their clients is exactly the same.
They have to manage crystal clear expectations with their clients and deliver on them. Provide feedback and get feedback and get better. It's the same process. And they can just apply that then to how they show up with their people. So, I think your business practices can often help or hurt you in that regard.
Yeah, and if those consulting firms are not drinking their own Kool-Aid, then there are much bigger problems. Right? And it's interesting. Cause I was reflecting on some of the attributes you were describing as ones that can make a difference. Core values at my company happened to include curiosity, integrity, resourcefulness, and care.
And what's interesting. And as I reflect on what you said, Jason is actually having a culture of nice or care, can go hand in hand with one of truth and authenticity, can it not?
It can. And I don't want anything to be misconstrued. I am a huge fan of care. I talk about love in the workplace.
I'm writing a blog post right now about how I think compassion is the missing ingredient for 2021. So, those are not separate constructs, I think. But I think what happens is we think that alone is enough. And we forget to clarify. Like you can love your kids and let them be super unruly.
You can care for your kids deeply and provide them no structure. And that will lead to nightmares for you. Right. It has to be both. And that's my point is that it needs to be both.
Topic 5. Employee experience and engagement. (13:15)
That's a great example, actually. So the coming off this year, 2020 now, where we're into the new year, everybody's thankful for that, but it's, it's been such a challenging year for so many in so many changes have taken place in organizations.
Obviously, the largest for most organizations was the transition to remote work. And so, I'm wondering if you can speak for a minute about this transition that so many organizations have had and how. It's affected employee experience and engagement right now
So you'll talk to a lot of people and they'll most people will tell you, remote management is so much harder than in-person management and I'm like, Hmm, I'm not sure that is true. It's different. And just because we went remote. Remote didn't make management harder. It revealed that we were not very good at management in the first place. It removed a lot of false positives. Right? I can't see you sitting in your chair.
Me just looking out and seeing you sitting there, I could have counted as management in the past. I don't have that anymore. Or me stopping by your office and saying, hi, I don't have that anymore. I don't have all these sorts of false indicators that I'm actually managing that we got when we were together.
And so, all of a sudden now it's like, well, I don't even know what I'm supposed to be doing as a manager. And suddenly I have to figure that out or I'm, I'm faced with like, I don't even know what to do. So, I think it's helped drive a lot of change in that regard. And that managers have had to have more conversations with people.
That's a win, even if they're not the greatest conversations. Leaders have amplified the amount of communication and the frequency of communication with their organizations. That's a good thing. That's a positive thing in terms of engagement.
There's more discussion right now, going on in organizations about wellbeing and inclusion. And inclusion hasn't been all about the pandemic. The pandemic has accelerated some of that, but certainly, the other things with George Floyd's killing and all these other things have happened, but there are more conversations happening on topics like that than we have ever seen ever.
So, all of that is positive because, these are all I chuckle about it because I'm like, these are things that people like you and I have been shouting about for a while and saying, this is important. And suddenly now we're forced to pay attention. And the longer that we're in this current state, the more likely these things are to become habits, to become part of who we are.
So, when we do emerge that we're heading back into whatever the next reality of work is. Better equipped in a better place. And so I think in general, what's happened is it's forced us to confront some things that we were long overdue and having to confront and get serious about some things that are really important, especially when it comes to enabling and equipping human beings to be more effective and productive in their work. So, I'm optimistic about what that means to the future.
That's great. It sounds like what you're saying in some respects, at least going back to the managers is that it's those that have led into remote work with a greater level of intentionality will probably do better than those that weren't.
There's no doubt. There's no doubt. It's interesting. I was just reflecting on this the other day that people will also talk about the barrier of communicating through video, like zoom, instead of sitting in a room with people.
And so, like when you're sitting in a room, you can read body language and you can get some things that you don't get in a sort of two-dimensional video conference. What that means though, is that as a manager, as a leader, right. In order to draw people out, you have to approach it differently.
You have to bring more vulnerability. You have to bring more intention to use your word to those conversations, to get to a different kind of conversation, to really draw them out, to build a deeper level of trust. So they'll tell you what is actually going on so that you can do something to help them, be more effective.
And so I do think managers have been challenged to step up and those that are reshaping and rethinking some of that. And honestly, we're having to shape off some, shake off some, some dogma, and some training we'd been given over the years about what it means to be a manager and we're moving into kind of a new era.
I think, of management and leadership, honestly, going forward, at least that's my hope.
Topic 6. How to relate more effectively and in a more healthy way. (18:13)
Yeah, it seems like old school management is don't get too close to your employees. You may have to let them go or, avoid those relational connections. Whereas, a much healthier approach is actually what you said earlier.
It's taken having compassion toward people, engaging with them, actually having robust conversations where we get to know them more personally, and then we can support them better, right?
No doubt. If we're really, really honest about it, that's not only a skill that we don't have at work.
There's a lot of people that were never taught how to do that just in general in their life. And so I think one of the frontiers we have as organizations and leaders heading forward is teaching people, especially our managers, how to be in relationship with other human beings more effectively and in a more healthy way.
Those are skills that are uncomfortable, and we're not used to training those at work or teaching those through work, but there's a huge payoff if we do.
And really approaching that from sort of a mass customization standpoint of the fact that people bring different things to work different family of origin issues, or challenges or competencies or experience levels.
They may be completely different in terms of their age or gender or race or ethnicity and any of those, religious beliefs. So, that's the other challenge for organizations, isn’t it?
It is. Well, and as a manager, I mean, because you don't build relationships at scale. You build relationships one at a time, and those are all individualized.
And so, you don't even have to worry about you thinking about individualization. If you're thinking about relationship building because it doesn't make any sense to relationship build at scale. That's not something that makes a whole lot of sense, especially as a leader and manager of people.
Topic 7. Remote management and career improvement. (20:09)
Exactly. So thinking about what you just said a minute ago about this remote space and I used to have the opportunity to be with people in a conference room and see their faces versus over video calls. Does that make it harder for leaders to know or understand whether they have an employee engagement problem?
I don't think so. And I know that might seem contrary to what. You would expect, but I, I honestly think when we're together, And this isn't true in every organization. So I don't want to sort of paint with broad strokes here, too broad of strokes. But I would say that a lot of what happens in meetings is, is theater, it's political theater.
I can't tell you how many times I have sat with executives. Or I've gone into an executive team to reveal the results of their employee engagement, service survey. And they're just flabbergasted, right? Because they've been on the other side of political theater where everybody's playing the role and telling them everything's great and acting like they're engaged.
When in actual fact they're not. And so, I think what's happened is we've stripped out some of the false signals. Um, we've had to get these meetings are more. Zoom meetings, for example, they're more level setting. They bring everybody closer together. There's more intimacy.
There's a deeper sense of connection there. The theater I think is harder in zoom. And so, when you're looking for signals of engagement, you're looking for first off, you should be asking for feedback a whole bunch of it frequently and all the time. And on the other hand, you should also be.
Engagement ultimately is about level of performance. If you have an engaged workforce, you've got a workforce who's sticking around that they seem generally well and healthy and happy, and they're performing what you need them to perform, to succeed as a business. If any of those things are breaking down.
I mean, it's not rocket science. That's why engagement is not that hard at its base level. And I think this has helped us strip out some of the noise, some of the false signals, to be honest.
That's great. So, there are employees that are really stuck in toxic cultures, and they're in this difficult employment environment where they may not easily be able to bounce to a different job.
Do you have any advice or counsel for people that are sort of in that position?
Sure. I think the key is to really think about it. What you can do. Right now, like what's within your control to start creating more opportunities for yourself. And so what does that look like? That might look like networking, right?
Start doing investing some time every week and networking, set a goal, start reaching out, having zoom meetings with people, or whatever coffee when we get back to that someday. It might mean. Investing in your education, it might mean raising your hand on certain projects. It might mean at work, even though you're in a toxic work environment or whatever, like picking the projects that matter to you and put your head down and crush them like just crush them. Create a trail of epic performance because.
All of those things, open doors for you. And when the opportunity comes, you'll be prepared for it. The biggest thing when you're stuck and I've been stuck many, many times is, is take action even small, but action cures. Everything you will feel unstuck the moment you start, just even if it's just like, I'm going to update my LinkedIn profile, whatever action you can take to make a step, do that.
Do what's in your control. Stop focusing on what's not in your control and you'll start creating some momentum towards something better.
Topic 8. Lighting round question (24:12)
Great advice. Let's shift. And I'm going to throw some lightning round questions at you. Okay. And top of mind answers. So, when you look at 2021, If you're willing to share, what are some of your personal or professional goals?
Well, a couple of goals, I'll give you a fun one first I have one of the things I took up in 2020 was, and I didn't know this. I looked it up. Actually. I had bought a harmonica seven years ago and I had intended to learn how to play the harmonica. And I put a, I even put a declaration out on Facebook that I was going to learn how to play harmonica that year.
Then things fell apart. I never followed through, but that stuck with me in 2020. I finally started making good on it. And so, I've been playing the harmonica. So, my goal for 2021, one of my goals is to develop a much deeper proficiency in blues, harmonica playing by the end of this year.
Professionally you talked about the employee performance Academy that was launched and created in 2020. One of the pivots for my business. One of my goals is to really learn and master how to create really transformative, powerful, online training, and market it in a way that makes that business a viable business for 2021.
Fantastic. I have an idea or belief that you are going to succeed in that based on your track record. So that's super exciting. What are you most grateful for?
I'm supremely grateful for my family and just for the good fortune luck, privilege. All of the things that we enjoy here. We are in the midst of a really terrible and awful and hard time, we have had an enormous amount of advantages to help get us through and to help us have a, an okay experience.
So, I'm grateful for that. I'm grateful that my family's healthy. I'm grateful for the opportunity of a new year. And I'm grateful for the amazing people that I know my network of, of relationships, because it's, without the people I know I wouldn't accomplish anything. And so I'm really grateful for all of that.
So, I think I might know the answer to this based on what you said earlier about Gary Hamel, but what's your top book recommendation.
Surprisingly, I'm gonna throw you for a loop here. There's a new book out called, that was published last year, called humankind a hopeful history.
Bregman I believe is the author's last name, but humankind a hopeful history. And it. Was I suffered mid-year last year. I went through a, for the first time in my career, a period of burnout, and finding that book and reading that book was such a powerful and important message to kind of re-anchor me in my faith in humanity, which is really important to my work.
And so I'd recommend that to everyone to read that, especially right now,
What a great recommendation. I'm going to pick it up for sure. Let's see, you also kind of shared this, but I don't know if you'll repeat it or give me something different. What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
All right. This piece of advice was given to me by another parent as I was first, a young parent. And I try to give this advice to as many young parents as I can. And I think it's true actually for management and leadership too, is that if you're not willing to do something a thousand times, don't do it once.
And that I like, I've never forgotten that. Like, if you don't want your kids to sleep with you every night, then don't let them crawl in that first time. Because once you do it once it's really hard to unring the bell. And that, that has been profoundly powerful advice throughout my parenting career and probably through my management career.
Well, I was just going to say, it seems so clickable the business and lead. I think so. Yeah. You make an exception that you really don't want to make. And then all of a sudden, that's the norm. Okay. And then lastly, what is the single most important thing that you want? Our human capital listeners to take away from our talk today?
Wow. I think compassion. I really believe that to get through 20, 21 whole and thriving as organizations and as people that. I'm increasingly convinced that our capacity and skills around compassion for other human beings are going to be, it's going to be what makes the difference and, and compassion for me is one of these ideas that I, I thought I understood until.
This year, and I started to realize that compassion is, and we talk a lot about empathy and empathy is important and empathy is powerful in the right place. But compassion is about, is about our response to suffering and struggle. And it's about when you see someone else struggling is really understanding that.
Is sort of feeling, unlike empathy. You're not trying to crawl inside of that feeling. You're trying to feel you feel for them. And then you get moved to action to help, right. With an intention to want to help that, help that person to find their way out of that struggle. And I think the more leaders and managers can lean into compassion, stop judging your people for where they are.
Just recognize that none of us chose to be here. And this is really hard. And so like just love your people. Figure out where they are and help them get what they need to get through. And then we can sort it all the rest of it out when we get to the other side of this thing. But right now, compassion, I think is the most important thing that we can be thinking about and working about working on heading into this.
It's a much more fulfilling way to live anyway.
Isn't it? It certainly is.
Jason, thank you so much for coming on the show today. I wish you the best of luck. In 2021 and we'll all remain hopeful, right?
Yeah, we will. We will. Thanks, Jeff. I appreciate it. Great conversation.
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