Relationships at Work - Your Honest Guide to Building Workplace Connections and Avoiding Leadership Blind Spots.

Surprising Ways Employees Can Impact Company Culture

May 28, 2024 Russel Lolacher - leadership and workplace relationship advocate Episode 162
Surprising Ways Employees Can Impact Company Culture
Relationships at Work - Your Honest Guide to Building Workplace Connections and Avoiding Leadership Blind Spots.
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Relationships at Work - Your Honest Guide to Building Workplace Connections and Avoiding Leadership Blind Spots.
Surprising Ways Employees Can Impact Company Culture
May 28, 2024 Episode 162
Russel Lolacher - leadership and workplace relationship advocate

In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with author and Clockwork founder Nancy Lyons on the positive and negative impacts employees can have on company culture.

Nancy shares her insights and experience in:

  • The power of microcultures and employee influence.
  • Leadership's role in shaping culture.
  • What an authentic work culture is and is not.
  • The agency of employees.
  • Unlearning traditional norms.
  • Evaluating organizational fit before influencing.
  • Constructive use of technology to support work culture.

And connect with me for more great content!

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with author and Clockwork founder Nancy Lyons on the positive and negative impacts employees can have on company culture.

Nancy shares her insights and experience in:

  • The power of microcultures and employee influence.
  • Leadership's role in shaping culture.
  • What an authentic work culture is and is not.
  • The agency of employees.
  • Unlearning traditional norms.
  • Evaluating organizational fit before influencing.
  • Constructive use of technology to support work culture.

And connect with me for more great content!

Russel Lolacher: And on the show today, we have Nancy Lyons and here is why she is awesome! She's an author, speaker, and founder of Clockwork, a service that helps organizations build digital products to help businesses solve big problems with a focus on people first. She's got a couple of best selling books under her belt, Interactive Project Management, Pixels, People, and Process, as well as her current read, which is Work Like a Boss, A Kick In The Pants Guide To Finding And Keeping Your Power at Work.

She's also been recognized by some pretty lofty such people. Most admired CEO for Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal and a panelist at the inaugural White House summit for working families in Washington, DC. And I'm here to talk to her about the surprising ways employees actually impact our culture.

And I have her to talk to you. Hello, Nancy.

Nancy Lyons: Hi! Thanks for having me. I'm excited

Russel Lolacher: My pleasure. I'm excited to get into the topic today because culture's huge and people seem to really not understand culture at all. So we, having the understanding of how employees play such a huge part in that, huge. But before we get into any of that, Nancy, I don't, I don't want to jump ahead. I want to get into the question that I have to ask all of my guests, which is, what is your best or worst employee experience?

Nancy Lyons: I think as an employee, and it's been a really long time since I have been an employee, but I always think about how one of the best role models for me was a horrible boss. And he was a role model in that I didn't want to be what he was. And he really informed so much about my leadership style later on in my career.

Anyway, he was a micromanager and I have these crazy memories. They're, they're triggers really. So it's a bit of PTSD about him standing behind. Now, now I've been involved in the technology space for the entirety of my career, which is about 28 years. And he was an early job before I got deeper into technology and he used to, stand behind me.

I mean, this is just one example of some of his really lousy micromanaging tactics. He would stand behind me at my desk. And I was new to Macs. I was a Windows person coming into my career. And, and he owned a Mac shop and I was working on a Mac and I wasn't familiar with all of the nuances and idiosyncrasies of Macs at the time.

Now I'm a diehard Mac fan and couldn't imagine going back or in any other direction. So I was wrong. Let it be known. But he would stand behind me and I would be making a move with my mouse. And he would say things like, you could do that very same thing much more efficiently with keystrokes.

I kid you not. And nothing makes you feel smaller than somebody... I mean that, that was the epitome of nitpicking in my mind. Right? Like that was just such a trivial thing. And he did it about everything. I mean there wasn't anything that I could do that he didn't have some amount of wisdom where, where I could do it better. I could do it his way. And, and so basically he just never saw me. He never validated me in any way. He never thought that my contributions mattered and he let it be known by making me feel super small with these trivial issues that weren't even worth the air that he had to breathe to share them. And so that is something that I, I remember and I wish I could say fondly. I remember it fondly because I've, I've never had to go back to, an experience like that. And I have never been a human like that to the people that I work with.

Russel Lolacher: And that leads me to two questions. You kind of sort of alluded to that one being, how did it, how did it make you feel within even working in an organization like that? Like you're, I'm assuming you're not looking forward to going in every day and put in your best effort every day...

Nancy Lyons: Yeah. I remember one of the things that my company right now for years we had on our website, we like Mondays because we really did. And I remember laying in bed on Monday mornings, feeling nauseous, just not even wanting to... I mean, I mean, what's really interesting to me is, there is some amount of purpose that we can derive from the work that we do, whether or not it's our life's calling.

And I felt drained of all purpose in that period of time. Just no, no desire to show up, no desire to contribute, no desire to, and it was early, so I also didn't realize my own power or that I could be valuable someplace else. I was actually in that mindset that I think so many people have been in, in their careers, which is I was afraid to quit.

So I was already gone, right? Once you kill somebody's energy, they're gone. They're not there. And and I was resentful that whatever tiny amount of energy I had left for work, I had to devote to this place where I wasn't appreciated or seen or valued at all.

Russel Lolacher: So what do you take with that moving forward? You've said, I mean, I completely agree with you, is bad leaders are amazing teachers. You're like, okay, that's something I never want to be, or do, or do to anybody else. Is there anything specific you can think of that you're like, that you do intentionally in your work now to avoid being that person?

Nancy Lyons: I mean, my entire leadership style is intentional and about avoiding being that person. I'm fortunate in that I don't work for a giant company, so I can have relationships, albeit, for any size company, it's not like I'm going to have deep relationships with every single person I work with, but I can know them.

I can know their strengths. I can understand where they're at with their job. I think what I try to do right out of the gate is let people know that I'm not a CEO that isn't reachable. That when I say I have an open door policy, I absolutely do that. I believe that feedback comes from any part of the organization and good ideas can come from any part of the organization.

And I want people to feel safe enough to call me. I want people to feel safe enough to deliver critical feedback if that's what they've got. And I, I, I want people to understand that while we have. Systems in place whereby I'm not involved in every aspect of the day to day. I'm still someone who to be accessible and wants to hear from them, regardless of how trivial they think it is and someone who wants to encourage them to show up as their whole selves.

I have, there's no predefined model or mold for how I imagine a clockworker, Clockwork is the name of my company, to show up. I want them to bring what they've learned in other contexts and what their skill sets are and where their, where their wisdom is. I want all of that because that makes us better.

So I do fairly immediately try to express that to everybody. And then those are sort of the ongoing themes or threads that run through so many meetings, which is we want you to bring your whole self and your observations, your learnings, your challenges matter. I want to hear about them. And, and I want us to, to evolve because you're willing to share what you're experiencing.

Russel Lolacher: And, I like that you kicked off that with the idea of personalization, like actually getting to know as people as people. Because truth be told, that previous leader you remember decades later, shows you how much of an impact that is, that method could work for 3 percent of employees. Using it on everybody, certainly yourself who's like, I want some autonomy, I want to learn myself, leave me alone, is the wrong approach entirely.

But if they got to know you as a human, they would have known that, quite quickly. But that personalization piece is so important because we talk about culture and that's what we're going to talk about today. And that's why... you like that smooth segue? What I like about culture is there's no such thing as culture.

It always seems to be such as it's like 10, 000 subcultures seem to be within an organization. So I'm kind of curious and I love starting every episode with understanding definitions. So I want to start with you, Nancy, is how from your experience would you define a work culture?

Nancy Lyons: Sure. Well, I think... I do a lot of talking about culture, and I have very strong opinions in this regard, and I think that we as a, we as a society, confuse culture with gimmicks. So when we talk about what it's like to work in a place, we talk about benefits and salary, we talk about... I remember, do you remember back in the day, you used to, used to stumble upon a job posting and it would talk about rock and roll environments. You remember those? There were like places where they... yeah, exactly. Where they, where they made these comments that were so ridiculous that it was almost offensive. And, and not, not even that long ago, I remember tweeting out about something, about a job posting that I had encountered that was now many years into my career where they use that, like we are, we're cool basically. And that's not culture. And where we talk about there's free lunch and unlimited vacation, which actually is not a thing because that's not possible. And all these perks, that's not culture. Culture is the feeling that people get on those Monday mornings. Culture is the feeling, it's a, it's a palpable energy that people participate in and respond to. And it is an energy that allows for people to show up whole and appreciated and welcomed and included and participatory and collaborative. And I think, I think there even though the, the pandemic sort of forced us into this place where we're recognizing the different needs of individuals, we still haven't gotten better at talking about culture. Culture is how we feel when we're working together. Culture is the appreciation we feel as individuals and teams. The validation we experience in being able to realize the goals that we've set for ourselves and each other.

Culture is the opportunities that are put forth for us as individuals and teams. Culture is are we who we say we are. Culture is alignment with our values, where our values tell a story about who we are, and, and they're true. They're not aspirational. They're not marketing only. They're true.

So I think culture is a nuanced and layered energy, that organizations should be consistently investing in. It's not static. It's continually evolving. And it's a reflection of the best of us. And sometimes the best of us has to handle hard stuff and our culture should guide us through how we do that.

Russel Lolacher: And we should be clear though a lot of what you're responding to a lot of what you're explaining is what a healthy culture looks like, what a good culture is. Cause I'm like, yeah, that all sounds great. If it's a good culture, it, but, but to be fair, like it's the validation, but on the flip side, it's the lack of validation is also your culture.

The action is your culture, but inaction is also your culture. And I don't know if that's clear enough for a lot of people because they just think of culture as, things we do. things we say when there's really this also this huge void of that gap of things we don't do and don't say, which is also the culture.

And I think a lot of people missed that point.

Nancy Lyons: Mm hmm. I mean I, I live in Minnesota. Minnesota is like the, the, the champion, passive aggression state. And and passive aggression is also the language of corporate America. And I think that passive aggression contributes to unhealthy culture where people walk around going, I don't know, I don't know if I'm doing it right. And I don't know if I don't know if I should continue doing it this way. I don't know if my contribution is moving the needle at all. I think the big question mark is unclear communication. And unclear communication is, is part of a crappy culture. Culture is also healthy, effective, so there, like I said, there's so much to it.

And I do think there's probably more unhealthy cultures on the planet than not. Because I believe that, I believe a number of things. I think, most people believe that culture is dictated by leadership, and it is in fact all of our responsibilities. I think most people believe they can't influence culture.

That they're, especially in larger organizations, they're just a cog in the machine. I've had so many people say to me over the years, What can I do? I'm just one person and this is this behemoth. And I am constantly reminding people that you may not be able to influence the culture of a giant global enterprise, but that you do exist in a microculture and you do have influence in that microculture.

And over time, microcultures tell stories. And if the stories are interesting enough, they can actually make change in entire organizations. So this idea that we are powerless against unhealthy culture is fiction.

Russel Lolacher: And I love that. I love that you kicked us off because we always hear, where does culture start? It starts at the top. That's always the thing you hear from people is like, well, it really starts, it's modeled by the behavior of executive. I love the idea that that's not necessarily the case. So... what would leadership find surprising about an employee's impact on culture?

Nancy Lyons: Well, I think I think there certainly are some leaders who would be surprised to recognize that each individual employee can impact culture.

I often compare corporate America to cults. And I tell people that, and in that comparison, I like to talk about what people see in, in in the context of cults.

We always if you watch documentaries or if you're, if you see films about cults or Jim Jones is one of the most famous cult leaders. And, he alone is the person we hold responsible for the tragedy of, of that particular cult story. And yet, Jim Jones alone is not responsible for the demise of those members of that religious sect.

Jim Jones had the idea, talked through the idea, but it was the individual cult members that saw it through to completion, which was a grand tragedy. And and I think that's true in corporate America. We can have an unhealthy or a CEO or a CEO who lacks vision or empathy or who lacks humanity. But the people that, drive that thinking and that energy through the organization is everybody else.

And they can choose to show up as a carbon copy of all the things that aren't working, or they can choose to be a slice of humanity, a window of connection. They can choose to be different. They can choose to operate differently in the context of their departments, their divisions, their business units, what have you.

And I do think that, that individuals, I think leadership would be surprised to know, how much power individuals have. I also think individuals often forget or they never knew in the first place. And so they don't show up with their best energy or their best selves. They're simply checking boxes and that just doesn't fly anymore.

Russel Lolacher: Absolutely, I absolutely love that you're talking about this.

So how do we, how do we let employees know that they do have more power than they know they do because they're going to come to work and unless they see it, unless they feel it, they're just going to keep their heads down, elbows up, and just continue on. And can, and also be quite frustrated maybe with the, the culture that they're a part of, whether they like it or not.

Nancy Lyons: Well, I agree with something that you said earlier in that leadership sets the voice and the tone. They sort of set the direction of culture. And I think if you're a leader that chooses to do that, I think that becomes a running theme in in everything you do. And as an example, yesterday we had a, we've had a new hire start this week. And as part of their, their onboarding, we had an opportunity, my, myself and the president of my company, had an opportunity to sit down and sort of talk about the difference between our roles and how we show up and what have you, but we also talked about, and this question comes up a lot, like how do we choose our clients and what happens if a client isn't ideal or those conversations happen a lot and, and, or if a client doesn't align with our values.

And we, we talked through that, but the other thing that I touched on and I find myself touching on often and encouraging other leaders to do is to... sometimes folks need to be reminded that they have agency and a client or a customer isn't a lousy customer if they're having a bad day. They're not a lousy customer if they're short with you.

And, and, and we do not have to take, we can set a boundary and we do not have to take that over a period of time. We don't have to fire a customer or a client if our experience with them is generally lousy. But we can center ourselves in our own power and call them on it politely kind, warmly, kindly.

It's like parenting, warm and firm, right? We can, we can ask to be treated differently. And I think that we've all grown up in the context of work to expect that how we are treated is what we get and any, any confrontation around uncomfortable exchanges is conflict, and we don't like conflict, and conflict should not show up at work.

And I think we have to reframe our expectations and our definition of conflict, and I think we have to learn to ask for what we need and set appropriate boundaries. All of that is to say, we start at the beginning. We start at the, we establish that agency at the beginning. However, if we start to work for an organization where that isn't a practice, we have to value ourselves and our abilities enough to know that we deserve to, to center ourselves in that agency, that we get to have boundaries, that no boss can deny you that. your dignity. And if they do, you probably shouldn't be there. And, and I think that's a really foreign way of thinking. Most people think I got a lousy boss. I have a lot like, like I did as a young person, I have a lousy boss. I have to deal with him. What we didn't talk about is the end of that story, which is me getting up one morning and thinking, I'm not going back.

I'm not going to go in. I don't deserve this. I don't deserve to be treated this way. And I was young and stupid and didn't know where I was going to get money to pay the rent. Right? But now as, as a person deep into my career. I would encourage anybody to recognize your value and recognize that you are more deserving of respect and dignity regardless of your position inside of an organization, regardless of the hierarchical realities of that organization. We all deserve respect and dignity and to be seen and to be heard.

Russel Lolacher: And I think that's becoming, thankfully, a lot more understood in the last couple of years. COVID certainly changed our approach to everything, but immediately, as soon as you're saying this, I'm like, well, there is that talk of truth to power, but there is that thing called psychological safety where we never or might ever feel that we can say anything for fear of, well, career limiting moves is a reference to doing comments like that.

So should you be just prepared to quit? Should you just be prepared to get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations? Because there's a lot of people, introverts, neurodivergent people that are a little different in how they may want to approach people. How would you give them advice in that approach?

Nancy Lyons: Well, interestingly enough, I am all of the above. As a person who is a wild introvert, which has a lot to do with my ADHD, when I'm on, I can be totally on. When I'm off, I'm done. I'm done. So I understand those issues. From a personal standpoint, I understand everybody's all of the issues, but I understand them for myself.

And I think the answer to your question is yes. Yes, we should be prepared to quit because if we cannot shift the energy in a given workplace. We have to recognize that we are valuable and we will be valuable in the right place. And here's the thing, that thing that, that tells us, Oh, you can't quit, you can't quit your job.

You gotta stay there, right? This is the, this is the ladder you have to climb. That's the glass ceiling you have to figure out. And you have to take the garbage and let them heap it on and just mind your P's and Q's and, and, and and follow protocol. No, you don't. You actually can say, Hey, do you, do you, do you, do you need to talk to me that way?

Like, or in my workplace, we actually have user manuals for everyone. Everyone writes their own user manual. Here's how I like to be in meetings. Here's where I'm best. Here's where I struggle. Here's my communication style. Now, we're obviously not a giant corporate entity and I mentioned that before, but I don't think there's anything that precludes us from asking for those sorts of things in departments, divisions, what have you.

Like when I understand what you need from me and you understand what I need from you, we can meet someplace in the middle. We can have meetings that are productive for everybody. So that's, that's one way. But I also think, yes, we need to get more comfortable with uncomfortable conversations because the world of work was defined 150 years ago after the start of the Industrial Revolution, when things started to change and there was a massive chasm and a hierarchy created around the people who started businesses because they had money, they had opportunity, they had resources, they had they had privilege and the people who were just grateful to have a job and they would take any amount of abuse to stay there and keep that job. Over time, the world has changed. There's more opportunity for more marginalized folks. Women! I just did an interview this morning, right? It was for a women's blog and, vlog. And and I was talking about how women have baked into our DNA, that we have to compete with each other because it was really only about a hundred years ago when the priority for all women was to marry a man.

We were raised to marry men and the greatest day of our lives was going to be when we found that, so we had to eliminate our competition, which is why one of the issues that I hear all the time in women's leadership conferences is work hard to sabotage each other. Yes, because there's a part of that that's entrenched in our DNA, and it's time for us to change.

And like that, there's a part of this old way of thinking that's entrenched in us, that's baked into us, and it's really about, I have, this is my boss, And I must bow to them and take what I am given. But the truth is, over time, as we've evolved as a society, we've all had more access to education and resources and life experience and work experience.

And now we are working with our peers. I don't hire people that are less smart than me. I don't hire people that are less experienced. I'm trying to hire people that are better than me. And any boss worth their salt hopefully would say the same thing. Therefore, we need to make space for them to be who they are.

And so I do think, yes psychological safety is something that we all contribute to creating. The biggest proponents of some of the evils that we're discussing are middle managers. Because they're afraid because of job security or they've been trained wrong or they're hoarders of information to ensure that they are valuable.

I think there are people in many middle management positions across the globe who have to rethink what they believe and unlearn what they have learned about middle management. Because let's be honest, in most organizations, people don't have relationships with the CEO, but they do have managers that can make or break their careers.

And I think the managers have to unlearn and relearn what it means to lead right now, what modern leadership looks like, and employees, staff, workforce, have to recognize that they are valuable, that they bring talent and skill sets that are unique to them and important, and that they have the ability to move the needle, and they have to confront those issues obviously, warmly and firmly, but with an action plan, with a clear ask, with clear boundaries.

And if over time you don't see a shift in how you are treated, how you show up to those moments, Get out. You have an education. You have a resume. There is opportunity. You can do it. And I think we have to believe that about ourselves. Nobody, I mean nobody is forced to work at a place. That was our parents, my parents, my father believed that you worked someplace for 30 years.

You collected a pension. You never liked to work a day in your life, but that's not what we work for anymore. We work for some amount of purpose and identity and, and reward. And if you're not finding it, move along.

Russel Lolacher: I love the superpower that is communicating who you are. I love the user manual idea. I did, I did a a practice with a team of mine where we did the values exercise, we did a motivation exercise, and that's just really par for the course. But what was the secret sauce was, then we shared it with everybody.

Then we let everybody know what our values were and our motivations were so that we knew how to better communicate with each other. We knew how to better motivate each other because you always hear these user manual things where we just get to know ourselves better. And then we keep that information to ourselves.

We don't ever share them or we do, Hey, and showed it in the meeting. And then we never show it again, as opposed to being a piece of operations. This is our day to day, knowing each other, how to work with each other is huge. So I have to, I have to jump into that employee piece of shifting culture, changing culture. Influencing culture. Is there something within culture that employees can't, shouldn't influence? Is there anything, and maybe there isn't, but I'm just curious as, is the world their oyster when they go to the workplace and go, I can influence anything, I can... or should they be a little bit more measured and aware of what they can influence?

Nancy Lyons: Well, I think it's different for every organization. And I think you can get a sense of what kind of room you have for that pretty quickly. I mean earlier I talked about energy and I don't mean to sound too woo woo, but you know, like, Do I have the freedom to speak out? Am I in a safe space?

You start to recognize that pretty clearly. And then you start to recognize your own influence in the context of that. And you see how quickly or, or slowly things actually shift. But I, one of the things that I always tell people in, in and obviously I keep referring back to sort of onboarding, cause it's on my mind, cause it's happening for a few people in my organization right now.

I always encourage them, hey. I'm so excited that you're here because I saw this thing on your resume and I'm happy to see you or whatever. People are hired for reasons and I like to bring those to the discussion. But I also say, just sit back and watch, observe, listen for a while. Be a sponge, absorb everything that you can.

And I say this because I have certainly encountered those people who wanted to walk in the door and tell me how broken we were. And what I always tell new people is every company is broken, right? There's no perfect company. We're all, we all have our issues. And, and I don't try to measure organizations by whether or not they have issues.

I care about whether or not they care about them. Whether or not they're trying to do, whether or not they're willing to look at themselves in the mirror and be accountable for those issues. And then include people in shifting the energy of those issues. And so one of the things that I encourage people to do is, it's easy to come someplace and to show up someplace and point to what's broken.

Those are, that's easy. I mean, that, everything. I could walk through my house right now and point to, point to the things that are broken, right? And I actually get stressed out with people like that. Because we're all like that. And if we let ourselves exist in that cycle, well then, how depressing is that, right?

Everything's a little broken. I want people who are solution focused, who aren't just pointing to what's broken, but have an idea and the wherewithal to try something different, to execute on a solution, to suggest or make space for or begin heading toward a solution. And I don't think that comes on the first day. It sometimes doesn't come in the first year. I think investing some time in knowing whether you're right or not, whether your instincts are on, whether you can be helpful in adjusting whatever it is that you, you've observed. I think that, that there's an investment necessary. And I think there's a contribution toward that psychological safety, right?

Like if I'm going to be somebody who identifies areas where there's For improvement. I should also be somebody who can receive feedback. Around what may or may not need improvement. So sometimes those dynamics have to be worked through before I provide my laundry list of the things that upset me. And so I, I try to be really careful answering questions like that because I think humans are inherently negative.

I think that we all know there's a, well, maybe we don't, but there's, there's a thing called negativity bias. It's why we coalesce around water coolers. Proverbial water coolers because we're standing there talking about what sucks, and God knows there's always a long list of what sucks, but what are you going to do about it?

That's the conversation that doesn't happen, happen at the water cooler and doesn't happen often enough, and that's the conversation I want to encourage. I've seen this. It's bothersome. I think with a few tiny changes that look like X, we might be able to remedy that. And that is a far more beneficial and interesting conversation to me than well have we always done it that way?

Well, that's stupid. So-and-so's stupid, and that's the stuff that is just a cancer at work.

Russel Lolacher: So that's, that's a great place to continue on because people will try to be influential. But a little self awareness is extremely important. How can you go wrong when you try to influence at work? Because people say it's a career limiting move. You make the move, but you do it in the incorrect way.

And it can impact you at work. What are some missteps that you've seen people, or I mean employees, try to do in the workplace? Negativity is certainly one. Are there others you can think of?

Nancy Lyons: I mean gossipy behaviour I think is lousy when it becomes personal. When it's not constructive. I think people who cannot be shifted, who don't believe that there's any opportunity for improvement, who think people who are not accountable. I think that people who don't see themselves ever as part of a problem, but are totally willing to call out anybody else or anything else.

I think that's not the way to do it. And, and often I think the best way to deliver unpleasant news, difficult news is, to, to, to sort of illustrate your own participation in it. Like I've been doing it this way. And I noticed that. And I think if we just changed X, we might see a different result and would it be okay, or would you mind, or maybe I already did and here's the results that yielded.

I think that's so much more interesting than, well, this is dumb. The other thing that I always tell people, and this is a, this is a tiny little tactic that I learned from a mentor of mine early in my career. People... we talked about passive aggression earlier and we touched on uncomfortable conversations.

I think that for the most part, people avoid conflict. They don't like uncomfortable conversations. And, and yet without them, we do not evolve. We don't get better. Unless somebody says, I wish, I wish you would rethink that approach or whatever. We're not going to get better. And we are, we are destined to believe that our way is it. And it's only through participation and collaboration from a number of people that things actually get real good. Right? Like I always say there, there's, there's no leader who ever does anything alone. Like we, we idolized Steve Jobs as an example of a leader in popular culture who did tremendous things.

And certainly he did, but he didn't do them alone. He wasn't alone in developing, this, this new way of seeing technology as a personal utility and, and the design of it as being something that I would be proud to associate myself with. That wasn't just Steve Jobs. He understood enough to amplify that and to encourage it and to move toward it.

But, but I do think that, that people who recognize, how to ask. And this mentor of mine, or how to confront, or how to approach those conversations, gave me a brilliant piece of advice. He said, when you want to approach something sensitive, instead of saying, this is stupid, or you're doing this wrong, you ask for help, which immediately, sort of, diffuses that conflicted, conflictive energy and most humans respond really positively to requests for help.

Most people want to be helpful. And so oftentimes when I'm starting a rough performance conversation or a rough negotiating conversation, or if I'm talking about legitimate stuff that isn't working, I will say, Hey, I need your help. And instead of us being on opposite sides, we show up in conversation on the same side of the issue, and even if we disagree about it, the energy is, I want to do this with you, not because of you, not in spite of you, but with you.

And I think that makes tremendous difference in how we approach those discussions.

Russel Lolacher: So I'm going to dig into your technology background a bit here.

Nancy Lyons: Okay.

Russel Lolacher: How is technology impacting all this? Because it's all relationship based. A lot of this is understanding each other, but we've had to learn to look at each other through a screen more often. So technology has certainly been this new piece of the pie that we haven't had to deal with as much.

How would you say its affected this relationship and influence we're able to get on each other?

Nancy Lyons: Well it's interesting because lately I've been sort of beating this drum about CEOs and these corporate mandates that are popping up where leadership is insisting that people come back to work and they're not giving them the option. And that's so much of the general workforce's frustration with work right now.

And I find it interesting because I think we're still having the same old conversations and they're not helpful. And instead of thinking about how we should be working, how we can use these tools to enhance our relationships and define and refine and evolve culture in other ways, we are talking about where we work, which has been a conversation since the beginning of the internet. My organization Clockwork, is a company after a technology company that we had prior to this, we have allowed people to have flexible work since 1997. It's not a new thing in our, in our world. And it's not a new thing in the world. The fact that we're talking about it, like it just dawned on us three years ago, that people have really busy lives and, and serious, headaches and perhaps could do without a commute sometimes is, is not so much amusing as tragic to me.

And, and, and what we've done is we've mirrored our existence inside of physical spaces with technology. So we have... we've gone from scheduling back to back meetings in the office to scheduling back to back meetings on Zoom, which creates more fatigue because, we're, you can see like right now I can't even see you, but you could, if I can't scratch my ear without you knowing, right?

Whereas when we're in a room together, you're not watching my every move. You're not recording my every move. So, it's more exhausting, I think, to be on camera all day long than it is to be in a space. That isn't to say, I think, going back to the space is the answer. But we aren't exploring what the answer could be and how technology can enable that answer.

And we still have too much leadership that is, invested in the old ways of working because they are the old ways of working. There's still a lot of very white, very gray haired, leaders in place inside of powerful organizations that we are following and, and, and modeling ourselves after to change.

And that's not the answer to your question, but I think it's an important point in the context of that question, because, yes, we have tons of technology that could actually place us in virtual offices with each other. We have lots of technology that could ease up on the busyness of our days by helping to provide efficient, effective Thought starters and process documents and templates.

And I don't need a person as a virtual assistant. I can employ technology as a virtual assistant. I today was it today that ChatGPT just released all these different models of and use cases for, for ChatGPT. There's a homework tool in there.

There's a scheduler, there's a researcher. So offloading some of the more tedious tasks balance to, to technology that can do it for us and make us look good in the process. I'm not saying abdicate or surrender. I'm saying, partner with that technology, because I don't think it's as sophisticated as the human mind yet.

And I think we have far superior analytical skills, quite frankly, than most computers I know. But they can do it faster. So the big numbers, let's leave that to the computers. I think it can enhance how we work. I think we should be asking the questions of the workforce. One of the things I, I, we had our all staff in August and flew everybody in from the various locations where they live and work.

And I said to them, I will never be a CEO who will mandate that you come back to the office. And we had two buildings and a fairly significant campus that took up a majority of a city block in Minneapolis. We got rid of one of our buildings because, and, and that was great because now we hire more people across the country.

But I said, I'm never going to be one of those CEOs who demands that you come back to work. But I am going to ask you all to think about what you need from each other and from work in order to feel engaged, to feel that sense of community, to feel like you're still operating in a healthy culture. To feel like that you're not mindfully and intentionally exhausting one another.

And to feel like you are individually and collectively in some control. And I do believe that we have to talk to those stakeholders. We have to ask them. Surely there are people smarter than me inside of these organizations that have considered how we can create culture virtually without exhausting ourselves in one Zoom meeting after another.

So, yes, I think technology has played a powerful role in what we're doing right now, but what we're doing isn't it. just mirrors what we did. And we were exhausted then, we're exhausted now, we're just in our underwear exhausted. And and I, I think there's still a lot of work to do and it's not about CEOs doing it alone.

Russel Lolacher: So let's wrap up with an actionable question, Nancy. What's one simple action people can do right now they wanted to improve their relationships at work?

Nancy Lyons: One simple action, I will take the title from chapter eight of my book, Work Like a Boss. I think it's chapter eight. I think it is. Well, we'll see. It's a chapter anyway, and it's called Kick Your Fear in the Face. I think fear of change, fear of conflict, fear of feedback, fear of angering The Man, fear of shifting things away from status quo and status quo we're used to, those fears are holding us back, all of us, individually and collectively.

And I think, I think, really working to A, gain the ego strength to to believe that you are worthy asking for what you need, of having those healthy boundaries, of having healthy conversations at work, of contributing to healthy culture. But also kicking your fear in the face and learning to be more of a risk taker.

Cause all of those things require a little risk. And usually they are met with pretty significant reward.

Russel Lolacher: That is Nancy Lyons. She's a speaker, founder of Clockwork, and the author of a book. You should read all the chapters, not just chapter 8, of the book, Work Like a Boss. Thank you so much for being here, Nancy.

Nancy Lyons: Thanks Russel. I appreciate it very much.