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Oct 6, 2020
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Episode 3. Edna Nakamoto
Episode 3. Edna Nakamoto
Edna Nakamoto, CEO of The HR Manager and Jeff Hunt discuss engagement with remote workers, the benefits of blurring the personal/professional line, and the story of her immigrant parents starting a new business and inspiring her to do the same. Edna shares her views on discrimination and how organizations can leverage diversity of thought, philosophies, and perceptions to outperform competitors.

Transcript

Intro: Duration: (1:55)

Hey there it's Jeff here. Just a heads up, we had some minor audio glitches when recording this episode. Regardless Edna is an amazing guest, I loved my time with her, and I hope you find some golden nuggets in this episode like I did.

Opening music jingle/sound effects

This is human capital sponsored by GoalSpan and I'm Jeff Hunt. Human Capital is the place where I interview dynamic thought leaders who help us learn about how to embrace the value of human capital. I get to ask some tough and thought-provoking questions and hopefully, we'll have a little fun.

Jeff Hunt:

My guest today is Edin Nakamoto. Edna is CEO of the HR manager and she's co-founder of a tech company called the applicant manager, which she actually recently sold. Maybe we'll hear a little bit about that. She has over 30 years of experience in both strategic and consultative roles. She's worked in higher ed, high tech, small business, non-profits.

She has a unique combination of skills and experience as both a strategist and a visionary. And she's really kind of known as an HR compliance expert she understands HR tech which of course. I appreciate. And she's like-minded from the standpoint that she serves by giving back to the community on boards of non-profits and donates her time. Edna holds SPHR designation which for those of you that are non-HR folks out there, this is the highest level of certification of proficiency and HR space. Plus, she's just all-around a good person, so welcome Edna.

Edna Nakamoto:

Thank you so much.

Topic 1. Guest's Background and an Inspiring Success History (1:56)

Jeff Hunt:

It's great to have you here today and, so you know for these interviews I like to start out with getting a little bit personal if we can do this. And so, I'm going to ask you a question about what led you into business. So, tell me something interesting about your family, or your experiences growing up that led you into business.

Edna Nakamoto:

Yeah, you know it’s a timely question that you ask. Recently my mother passed, she was 92 years old, and for some people, they might say “well that's a really sad event”, but actually I was very fortunate - because of the pandemic I was able to spend about five weeks with her, her last five weeks and it really. Just a very inspirational time for me, because it reminded me of who I am and, really what my roots are and when I say roots, I mean, you know, what kind of stock did like my mother and my father that both immigrants to this country. Their story is pretty amazing because they overcame a lot of adversity.

So, to answer the question, you know, what life events triggered me to go into business, it was really my parents, they were entrepreneurs, they arrived with not a penny in their wallets not knowing the language, really being relatively uneducated, and they came with a dream. With that dream they entered a community, and they formed their own communities, and they went into business for themselves.

So, for me, it was a practical matter that I went into business myself. I had a dream, I had a need, and I decided I was going to do it so over a weekend I created our business, and we've been in business as the HR manager for about 15 years now and it's been a wonderful experience.

Jeff Hunt:

Wow, that is remarkable and truly inspirational, the people closest to us can have such an influence on our lives, and I am so sorry for your loss, and so I just want to express that as well - that must be a difficult time for you in that regard. Tell me a little bit more about the HR manager. And your business, just so that people can get a sense for what you do.

Edna Nakamoto:

Yeah, so the HR Manager is kind of a boutique consultancy, and what I mean by that is, we provide custom solutions. When I created the HR manager, the whole idea was to provide value-added services to our clients because surely, you know, everyone can read, everyone can figure out kind of the general aspects of HR, and so what I wanted to do was provide higher-level service that we could provide, because, our clients sorry, our consultants have experience.

They've been through the school of hard knocks, and they've got the experience needed to take rules procedures and really customize it to the needs of our clients, and so we do everything from us support startups, to large organizations, and we provide high-level project support, as well as provide day to day HR for our clients,

Jeff Hunt:

Okay, great. And you recently sold your technology company too, so congratulations on that. Is there anything you want to share about that business and your experience there?

Edna Nakamoto:

It was an amazing experience. It was another one of those situations where wasn't really in our plan to do so, but what happened was my husband, he happens to be kind of a brilliant programmer, didn't know that at the time, his background is in electrical engineering and, he volunteered to help me with some of our clients.

He just retired, and he ended up developing out of the blue, an applicant tracking system, and so, one thing led to another and we were in the applicant tracking space, and for me, it was an amazing experience it was not one that we planned on, but it gave me the experience of learning all aspects of a business, and that gives me the ability to really provide.

Consulting support and coaching, because I can speak the language of our clients, and I really understand the challenges of being in business, so it was a fabulous experience, and but what I will say was probably the most important thing is having a fantastic team.

Topic 2. Blurring the Personal/Professional Line (7:25)

Jeff Hunt:

Fantastic yeah. I absolutely agree with you the team is everything, isn't it? In business, you don't start with a good team and everything else unravels, and so absolutely appreciate that reference. You know, the pandemic is still pressing forward and everybody is so consumed by it, for now, we’re five-six months into it, and I'm curious about what impactful changes you've made since this pandemic started and why?

Edna Nakamoto:

Great question, so I would say probably the biggest change that I made, and this is kind of I think an example of how I think leaders need to constantly reimagine themselves and reimagine their business, so for me, as an HR person, a little bit ironic that the biggest lesson for me is that.

As leaders, we have to cross that line of separation between employee and employer, and what I mean by that is, it was really important for our organization that we make efforts, that I make efforts, to check in during the pandemic things like, holding more virtual calls with teams, to make sure that they're okay. At one point it was July 4th, I made and sent out base coverings with little flags on them for our team.

It was just kind of a surprise, and you know, the whole idea is just to bring a smile to their face in the middle of this craziness that we're living in. I also needed to make some adjustments in schedules, because we have some consultants that have younger children, and so the challenges of being a parent, in the pandemic were very real for them. And mostly, just making sure that our consultants felt supported and felt that I acknowledge that family comes first in this difficult time.

Especially, you know, again as I mentioned, a little bit ironic because as HR people, sometimes we tell people, no you have to really separate personal and professional, but truly I think the onus is on us to figure out where that separation really needs to be, and the pandemic has shown us that, it really should be kind of a blurry line that gets adjusted, depending on the circumstances.

I'm not suggesting that leaders have to be close personal friends with all their employees. But rather it's important to really regard your team members as people, with life, challenges, and successes beyond work.

Jeff Hunt:

It really sounds like it was a combination of increasing the level of communication that you had with your team, being incredibly flexible with them in terms of the approach, taking a personal interest in them, which might be as little, you know, as little as sending them face coverings. Is that kind of seem like some of the key things that you guys did.

Edna Nakamoto:

Absolutely, the other thing that I would say is that communication needs to be deliberate. So, what I mean by that is that, communications shouldn't just be you know, kind of fly by night, oh we just need to jump on this quick conference call, but that you do a personal check-in with people, as part of your communication, again because that line right now between personal and professional is very blurry.

Topic 3. Racism and Diversity (11:25)

Jeff Hunt:

Absolutely. Poor sister rethink everything. I appreciate that, and I'm going to switch gears a little bit right now. I'd like to talk about, Race and discrimination and if you look at racial discrimination and violence, I mean, obviously this year, they left a terrible stain on our country, and I'm curious as to what your opinion is about what our role is in addressing racism and diversity in the companies that we lead.

Edna Nakamoto:

Totally. So, you know, I mentioned already that I'm a daughter of first-generation immigrants. So, because of that, I've personally faced discrimination and racism from the very first day of my life, right? And I think recognizing and celebrating diversity means that as people we need to accept that there will be diversity in our thoughts, our philosophies, and our perceptions.

I don't think that it's right, nor is it fair, to say that there is one way to think, there's one opinion that's right. And I think that there are times when we have to agree to disagree, but disagreement doesn't have to mean that someone has to be wrong either.

I think that is leaders it's important for us to lead by example. And we have to do what we say is important. As right now our credibility is at stake, we have to ensure that our organization makes thoughtful decisions that are and are perceived to be fair, and compliant, and that we create a culture and provide ground rules for a work environment based on respect, defined by all employees.

And also, you know, that there be room, and there'd be a culture of continuous learning, and improvement, because the fact of the matter is we're not always going to get it right, but we can always strive.

Topic 4. Respect and Culture (13:30)

Jeff Hunt:

And so, does part of that look like conversations that you're having with your team, and also I'm reflecting on this from sort of two positions one is.

You've got two things going on. You're running your own organization as a consultancy with all of your employees, and how you interact internally, in the culture that you're creating internally. You're also advocating for best practices with all of your clients, and I happen to know that you work with some formidable clients, and some clients and very diverse spaces, and places and so there's kind of these two sides of the coin, but is that sort of what you're referring to? And tell us a little bit about.

Edna Nakamoto:

Absolutely. Right now we're actually doing quite a bit of work with our clients around the subjects of diversity, and unconscious bias, and preventing discrimination. In California, of course, it is a requirement that people that companies provide training to their employees, but on a more practical level.

I think that employers are really beginning to understand the importance of culture, it used to be one of those things that only some companies thought about, but frankly, culture is now something that we all are recognizing is key to success. By culture I mean, the values of the organization, how we conduct our business, what our company philosophies are, and even things about respect, what does respect look like in our company?

What does respect look like for an employee? How does it feel? How do they feel that they're being respected? So, there's a lot of aspects to this, and really I think the most important thing that we can do as leaders is to create opportunities for conversation.

And sometimes the conversation is going to be I think challenging, is going to be uncomfortable, and to me that type of conversation means that we're really communicating if we're simply sitting there just you know, holding our hands and going kumbaya, and saying everything is great, in some ways you might as well not spend the time to have the conversation.

It’s really important that we get down to really regarding each other and regarding the fact that our opinions are individual, opinions matter, and those opinions are formed by our individual experiences, they’re formed by the life that we lead, our choices, and they're all important, there isn’t one way that this should be. At the same time, I think it's really important to make sure that we as leaders have a culture and a context where there are social mores.

So that we understand that, you know, just because I don't agree with somebody doesn't mean that I should be hostile towards them, or that I should treat them poorly, and that there are rules. Rules for listening, rules for acting. I think that as a society we've forgotten a little bit about some of those rules, but I think we certainly have the ability to reframe recapture and restate the rules, and really abide by them so that we do have respect within our organizations.

Jeff Hunt:

Absolutely, that's a great point. And also the other thing that was coming to mind for me is that, I believe there's statistically actually study now, and I don't have it at my fingertips so I'll have to refer back to it, that teams that embodied greater levels of diversity actually outperformed those that don't, that are overly homogenous and so like I said, I'll see if I can find that study but that's also very impactful.

The other thing that was coming to mind for me is, you were sharing that, the importance of the recognition, of never taking somebody's experience away from them, because if somebody has shared their experience, it might be one of being discriminated against. I have no idea of what that experience was like and so for me to get into an argument or suggest that they didn't experience something that they, did is never going to be helpful it's going to take away from the conversation in the relationship rather than be additive.

Edna Nakamoto:

Absolutely, in the subject of race and diversity, I really do not believe that there's a right answer, so when you ask me what my ethnicity is, some people in my same circumstance would say Chinese, some would say no I'm Chinese-American, I'm Asian, there is no right answer, is how I look at it and what I think is my answer.

Topic 5. Performance Conversations and Engagement with Remote Workers (18:30)

Jeff Hunt:

Exactly, that's a great sort of perspective on it. So, let's shift a little and talk about performance. This is the other adjustment we've all had to make is, so many of us were used to working face-to-face with employees on a regular basis. We could check in with them and there was something about that proximity that's really kind of key.

We've been forced into this new world of remote working. Companies, employees, managers, organizations, leaders are all trying to adapt. Some organizations are doing it much better than others, but the reality is, we still have things to deal with that is challenging, including substandard performance. And so, I'm curious from you about what advice you can share with leaders and managers that need to have difficult performance conversations with remote workers. Because when you're doing this over zoom, it's very different than when if you're sitting in an office together.

Edna Nakamoto:

Very much so, great question Jeff. So, my advice is really simple, and it is to start now. What does that mean? Well, what I mean is that conversations with employees about performance should happen as often as possible. This true whether or not you're talking about an employee who's working from an office or working remotely. Having regularly scheduled check-ins about performance against established goals and responsibilities really eliminates that element of surprise for many leaders, of course performance conversations are just not comfortable.

It's kind of the least favorite part of the day. No matter how long you’ve been a leader. But is definitely more difficult when the feedback is a surprise to the employee and of course, it's important to follow standard protocol, like scheduling a time for feedback, making sure that you're well prepared, that there's no distractions.

This is the one time where having the dog running around or sitting on your lap is probably not the best approach. But my best advice really is for leaders to provide regular feedback and discussions about course corrections as needed, so that the employee feels supported and valued, rather than frankly set up and defensive.

Jeff Hunt:

It almost seems like, partly what you're referring to in this change is, eliminating the surprises, because if I'm not having a performance conversation that I should be and I'm waiting too long, then it becomes more of a surprise to the employee and those course corrections become more challenging.

Edna Nakamoto:

That's right. Yeah, and frankly, it's a lot easier for people to hear things. When the feedback is timely, when the feedback can relate to a situation, and frankly again, when the feedback doesn't feel like it's coming out of the left field.

Topic 6. The Role of Trust and Motivation in Managing Teams (21:43)

Jeff Hunt:

I like to equate it sometimes to running, you know, the most difficult part of going running is putting on your running shoes, so just initiate the conversation with the employee, and you're solving a huge part of the battle right there. What do you think the role, that trust plays in managing remote teams?

Edna Nakamoto:

Great question, you know, I have to really think about this a little bit because as leaders, we’ve historically relied on visual cues like, you know, whether someone shows up for work, or if they come to work on time, if they are participating in a meeting and you can see that they're present that way, and we use these visual cues to really confirm whether or not someone's doing their job, and the fact of the matter is that in this newer world of remote teams, those visual cues are absent, so we can't really rely on those visual cues that we have before and so it's really natural to kind of trust your highest performers. But working remotely is really game-changer, because some employees who were your best performers, they may not excel in a virtual environment because there are distractions, or maybe they work better when they're next to a coworker, and then there are others where the virtual environment may be perfect for them. So, my recommendation to leaders is to suggest that they again, rely more on performance measurement and goal attainment.

To more fairly, and more accurately, manage team performance. it's funny that we keep going back to the same concept measuring and goal attainment and achievement, but I really believe that, that is key in today's world.

Jeff Hunt:

Definitely. Does it also lend to the changes that can take place with performance relative to the personality of the individual? In other words, you know, you were talking about how somebody may excel working remotely, that didn't otherwise and vice versa, but if somebody's more introverted for instance.

Perhaps they have an opportunity to perform at a better level than if they're extroverted in their working remotely. I mean, do you have any thoughts about any of that Edna?

Edna Nakamoto:

It goes back to the fact that we are all different. We all have different levels or types of motivation, there are different triggers or distractions that work. I'm actually a little more introverted than people probably think, so working from home really works just fine for me. But you know for some of my friends and colleagues that are more introverted, this is a struggle, because they get their energy from being around other people so kind of feeling like they're a little bit imprisoned.

And really isolated from people makes it difficult. So, for those folks, you know, it's really important, actually for anyone working from home. We're really recommending that leaders implement check-ins or telework questionnaires, just to cause there to be a conversation about how people can be more productive at work, and sometimes it's just a very simple change that will make it better, but it's really about again, regarding people for their contributions and giving them the opportunity to be open about what's working and what's not working, and how you might be there for them.

Jeff Hunt:

Once again, it kind of sounds like you're going back to that need for intentionality in what we're doing. If we're having these conversations with our people about what is working well and what's not. We have the opportunity to affect change, if we're not having those conversations then it may lead to potential problems and dysfunction in that working relationship.

Edna Nakamoto:

Absolutely. I think you know, you asked earlier about racism discrimination and things like that. And this isn't really about racism, but it is about the fact that. There are a lot of challenges in households today, whether it's because suddenly one person is the breadwinner and they weren't before, or the need to be a part of their child's school, school is no longer a situation where I help pack up a lunch, and I say goodbye and my child comes home and life is great.

School is now home life. So, there are a lot of reasons why people may have competing priorities, and as employers we've got to ask the question, to help them understand that we're going to work on this together.

Jeff Hunt:

Yes, for sure. And a pro-teach person uniquely. I just was having a conversation this morning with somebody who knows a friend, who has four children and one of them was special needs and the mom’s needing to do school for all of these kids, and she's working, and it gave me a real appreciation and so somebody in that situation may need a different type of support, than somebody who's a single young person who doesn't have those additional burdens or responsibilities.

Edna Nakamoto:

Yeah, absolutely. And all of this is also coupled with the fact that there are stigmas still attached to being ill, there's just all of these challenges out there that frankly didn't exist seven months ago.

Topic 7. Inspiration, Mentorship, and Leadership (27:45)

Jeff Hunt:

Oh, yeah. We live in we're living in an unbelievable time. That's for sure. Okay. Who do you look up to for inspiration and mentorship?

Edna Nakamoto:

I mentioned this already my mother. You know, she gave me the drive to succeed, and I learned from her a very important life lesson, and that is not to focus on adversity as a barrier, but really more as a challenge.

I think if it's important enough I know I can figure it out. And lastly, she showed me the importance of community, whether it's family friends, or team. We really have to work together with common goals, and really be able to rely on each other, knowing that sometimes I'm going to need you, and sometimes you're going to need me, and that all that's all good. Those life lessons that I think are really important part of my ability to succeed.

Jeff Hunt:

What an incredible inspiration. I said this before, but your mom must have been an amazing person to come to this country, not speaking the language, and establish community and really, make it the way she did, and leave such a great opportunity for you, is just truly an inspiration, so that's really cool.

All right so one more question and then we'll get to some kind of fun questions. I'm going to ask you what advice do you have for listeners about how to be a better leader and that's just like you could probably spend a day talking about that, but if you had to synthesize things down.

For our listeners about, a few key things that they could do to be the best possible leader they can what with what would that be?

Edna Nakamoto:

I work as an executive coach, I actually have the privilege to spend a lot of time with leaders, and kind of being there, as they develop, and so I'll say that one of the most rewarding things about being a leader is the opportunity to really work with others to make the world a better place. I suggest to the listeners is really to listen, to learn, and constantly challenge yourself to do your best, and it's just that simple.

Topic 8. Lighting Round Questions (30:24)

Jeff Hunt:

Yeah so, be a lifelong learner, maybe listen before speaking, we have two ears and one mouth right? on purpose, it's probably by design. That is really good advice okay, so you ready for some lightning round questions? I didn't tell you what these are so, we'll just see how it goes. top book recommendation?

EDNA NAKAMOTO:

You know right now my top book recommendation is Becoming by Michelle Obama. She is so unreal, so inspirational and right now it really is a book that provides me with optimism.

Jeff Hunt:

She's an amazing person, isn't she? Remember back to when we used to be able to eat out at restaurants, what's your favorite restaurant that comes to mind?

Edna Nakamoto:

Oh my goodness, it feels like a world ago, my favorite restaurant actually was in Southeast Asia. Is my most favorite recent restaurant. So, lasts a year my husband and I were able to go on this amazing trip in southeast Asia and my favorite restaurant was outdoors really celebrating the best of the area using fresh ingredients nothing fancy, but just kind of an amazing immersive experience.

Jeff Hunt:

I love it. I can't wait till we get back to those times. One thing on your bucket list.

Edna Nakamoto:

So, I’m not supposed to talk about this kind of stuff but, for my 60th birthday, we scheduled a trip to see the great herd migration in Tanzania, it was scheduled for actually a few weeks from now needless to say we're not going there. Tanzania is very safe, we aren't so, that is on my bucket list and we're going to do it.

Jeff Hunt:

That sounds incredible. Two more questions, who would you interview if you could pick one person dead or alive?

Edna Nakamoto:

I think I've got to go back to Michelle Obama. Talking to her she just makes me smile. I just have so much respect for her and talk about dealing with adversity wow.

Jeff Hunt:

Yes no doubt about it, if you think about how she was raised in her upbringing(33:28). Last question best piece of advice that you've ever been given.

Edna Nakamoto:

I got to go back to my mother. So, she told me a long time ago that I should just, if I see something that needs to be done, go do it. At the time, when she told me the first time I was pretty young and I thought, what is she talking about?

She just gave me this illustration if you see a piece of paper on the floor pick it up. And that concept has not ever left my brain and frankly, it's really been inspirational for the success that I've been able to reach.

Jeff Hunt:

That's great yeah it's such a great conclusion for our time together because it fits in everything that's going on in our country, with all of the challenges this year, in our businesses, as leaders, personally, how we can give back to society so, it's a great sort of way to wrap things up.

Edna thank you so much for joining me and for being willing to do this interview today. I always have appreciated your friendship and working with you over the years and thanks again.

Edna Nakamoto:

Thank you. Jeff and take care and stay safe


Outro (35:00)

Closing music jingle/sound effects

Jeff Hunt:

Thanks for listening to the show this week. we release a new episode of Human Capital on the first and third Tuesday of each month, I would really like to know what you thought of this episode, send your comments to humancapital@goalspan.com. Human Capital is produced by GoalSpan, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and please share this podcast with your colleagues, team, or friends, thanks for being human kind.

Human Capital — Episode 3. Edna Nakamoto
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