Without an effective team that works more than just the money, a business is doomed to fail. But what does it take for any leader when it comes to growing employees? Rebecca Scott of Vivid Spring Solutions joins Ben Baker to delve into the best ways to engage with your team and retain them for a long time. She talks about the right approach to eliminating burnout, appreciating every team member for their individual strengths, and making sure business expectations are always aligned with the existing workplace culture. Rebecca also presents the different aspects of job hiring and the benefits of celebrating both failures and successes.
I have Rebecca Scott on the show. Rebecca is the brilliance behind Vivid Spring Solutions and I want to bring her on the show. We're going to talk about engaging, retaining and growing employees. Rebecca, welcome to the show.
It's an absolute pleasure to be here, Ben.
I had the pleasure of being on your show. We have so much fun on the show. It was so loose, easy and so much fun. I said, “I got to get Rebecca on the show,” because you and I are simpatico. We believe in a lot of the same things. We're in similar spaces, but I love getting other people's opinions. I love hearing other voices. I love hearing people sit there and go, “Ben, I like what you have to say but maybe if you looked at things this way, it could be a little different,” and you get these amazing insights. That's why I love having people that are in a similar space on the show to me because I always learn something. Rebecca, why don't we start a little bit about you. Who are you? What brought you to the table? What excites you and then we'll go from there.
I’m happy to share a little bit about my background. I had a lot of long background in corporate environment. I did a lot in mostly a managed care services. I worked in government contracting work for about fifteen years. I worked in finance for a couple of years. I also work in healthcare. In addition to that, I made this crazy decision to start a business. Vivid Spring Solutions started on my journey of public speaking and realizing that I had things to say of value, and that those things of value are things that people wanted to leverage a little bit more within their organizations and so forth. I launched Vivid Spring Solutions to try to help organizations struggle with some of the biggest problems. Some of those biggest problems are around employees, employee engagement and their journeys.One of the biggest misses is people assuming everyone's experience is the same. Click To Tweet
A lot of the work that I do was inspired by my journey and the things that I went through. The biggest turning point I had was when I experienced significant burnout. It was a big turning point for me and I realized something needed to change. I also realized there were not a lot of great resources for me to leverage beyond get over it or take a couple of days of vacation and that wasn't working. I decided to take the solutions that I was learning through my recovery and put those out in the world. That's how I started that journey. Since then, I've also explored other avenues of how do you help people be successful in workplaces or how do you help workplaces and be successful with this rapidly changing world that we live in? How do you help them prepare for the future? Along that journey, I also started a podcast, Humans, Now and Then. That has been a tremendous journey that I've thoroughly enjoyed as well to help people think about how they can get involved in shaping a better future.
The word that stuck out to me and hit me like a ton of bricks was burnout. Especially through COVID and everything that goes with it, the work from home and all the stresses that we're all under regularly, burnout is one of those things that is almost overlooked because we hear it so much and it's terrible. Employers, leaders and managers are ill-equipped to deal with burnout because we're not trained. We know how to read spreadsheets. We know how to manage a plant. We know how to get a product from A to B and C to D, but dealing with things on the human side, the burnout, it's a travesty. I want to start and sit there and say, “Where do you see the biggest signs that are missed with burnout within corporations?”
One of the biggest misses is people assuming everyone's experience is the same. Different people have varying experiences based on their personalities, struggles in life, experience in the world, and also their perspectives. When you have different people join a certain environment, that environment is usually made in a way for a specific ideal employee, let's say. Sometimes you call this culture fit.
It's a regular employee, but is there such a thing?
From my perspective, the ideal employee is somebody who has a good fit with the job that they do and the skills that they have, and they love what they do. That would be the ideal employee. That doesn't mean that they fit a specific mold or a certain rubric or things like that. That's one of the things that organizations sometimes get wrong. The other thing that organizations struggle with is understanding the human nature behind all of it. The fact that we all have limits and boundaries, and the fact that we have to be able to express our humanness within the workplace to be healthy and well, and it's not always accepted. In the past in particular, the emotion was not very well-received within the workplace. As we know, there has been a huge initiative to help increase diversity inclusion within organizations.
A lot of this has to do with people being able to come to work exactly as they are. Bringing their strengths and uniqueness into the workplace, and not have to hide behind any wall, barrier, mask or trying to be something that they're not. Once organizations understand the humanist behind it all, that everybody in every day is doing the best they can at that moment. Some days our best is not so great. We've all had those days but if we understand that, and we understand people's need to be in an environment that keeps them well, and that working 80 hours a week is not productive for the employee, nor the organization.
These are some of the initial things that organizations should think about, but the real crux behind burnout beyond exhaustion and overwork, which is usually the thing we think about the most is around our ability to understand the contributions that we're making are important. That we are appreciated for the work that we do, and then also that we believe we can continue to do it. As soon as we lose our ability to feel like we can, which is our self-efficacy, that starts to diminish our success in the workplace and also increase our potential to have burnout. These are the things that organizations should think about, and also listening to people. When people say they're struggling, hear them and help them with those things that they need to be well.Working 80 hours a week is not productive for the employee nor the organization. Click To Tweet
I couldn't agree with you more. The phrases I use are we need to listen to people, we need to understand people, we need to value people, and I agree with you 100%. I want to get back to something you said, and this is interesting is that first of all, we need to stop. We need to stop treating every employee like our average employee because every employee comes to the table every single morning with their baggage, wants, needs, desires, hangups, expectations and passions. By treating us all the same, somebody that's going to be depressed and mopey because somebody is throwing something at them, the other person is going to be fine with it. You said, “Dave is fine, why isn't Mary fine. Why is Mary okay and Dave isn’t?” We need to get beyond that. My question to you is when you're working with leadership teams, how do you work with leadership to get them to understand that we don't manage solely as a team? We need to measure people individually and be able to see people for who they are, where they are, and how they are at that particular point in time.
It can be a struggle and it varies depending on the leader. Those leaders that tend to be more empathetic are easier to work with because they're able to feel and they understand that their employees are struggling. I did a whole leadership innovation series here in Indianapolis in 2019 and in early 2020 before the pandemic. One of the biggest challenges these leaders had, and they were all very good, empathetic group of leaders that I had in that workshop. The thing that they struggled with the most is, “My people are having a hard time. My people are feeling burnt out. They're tired and exhausted. They're not motivated. They're not happy with what they're doing. How do I help them?”
If you start with that mindset, it allows you to be ready to shed all of the old ways of thinking that are preventing you from seeing the obvious. The obvious at that moment is around recognizing people for who they are, not for what you expect them to be. Once you can do that, it's amazing the opportunities that leaders can uncover. If you're one of those leaders that result is focused on having a mindset of what leadership looks like, what people should do, and expectations they should meet to be good leaders. The first thing you need to do is to shed the expectation of what you expect people to be, and instead recognize what they're bringing to the table.
Some leaders who are very good at this can uncover amazing opportunities that other leaders would miss. These are folks that will come to the table for a specific job based on a specific role description that you've outlined for this individual. Maybe they don't fit to a T, but maybe they bring another perspective, another set of strengths to the role that allows you to see other opportunities that would not have been uncovered otherwise. That is when you start to see amazing things like innovation. You're able to understand that innovation is something that comes in moments of inspiration, but also in those moments where the things are unexpected.
New and novel solutions happen when people find where they fit, and find the things they're excited about, and are able to work hard through something they feel is important, not even to them, but to the organization as well, and their work is appreciated. All sorts of magic can happen. Shifting the mindset away from, what I want this person to be, or what I want from this person, to what does this person bring to the table and how can I leverage that to bring our organization forward? That's the biggest shift that needs to happen.
We all have hidden individual skills. I'm sure like you, I see the resumes all the time and you see the job descriptions all the time saying, “We want entrepreneurial spirit. We want creative people. We want this. We want that and everything.” People pad their resumes or put in their resumes or whatever and they get hired. They walk into a particular situation and reality never matches up with the expectations. They want this entrepreneurial spirit, but they're not rewarding it or they're not giving the opportunity for that. They're not empowering people. They're not giving people the ability to spread their wings and try new things within the corporation. Let's talk about that because that is a real challenge that a lot of organizations have. When you're engaging, retaining, growing employees, and trying to make sure that they don't walk out the door. Every employee that walks out the door probably cost you about $100,000. How do we sit there and make sure that our expectations and the language we use lines up with our purpose and our culture?Recognize people for who they are, not for what you expect them to be. Click To Tweet
This is a huge problem. I'll say many of us who had experiences like us say, “I've experienced this myself.” I've been told, "We're bringing you into an organization so that you can challenge the status quo, so you can help us innovate, help us think differently, bring in some of this outside knowledge into our organization and help us change.” A lot of folks that have been in that circumstance realized very quickly, they said that but they don't understand what that means or what that's going to take because there's still an aspect of, “We still expect you to look and feel like us, but it still brings something different,” and sometimes that’s not compatible. What you need to be able to do is bring people in and if you're serious about wanting change, if you're serious about bringing somebody in from the outside, that brings a new perspective to shake up the status quo, that doesn't necessarily mean they're always going to get things right. It doesn't necessarily mean that all of the changes are going to be implemented.
What it means is you've got another set of eyes and perspective to take a look at things and give you another view of things that you might be missing or opportunities to do things better. Once you're able to uncover those opportunities by allowing people the space to find their way, allowing people to live in an uncomfortable space for a while, but also allowing them to be themselves. People are simple and complicated. The simple thing about people is that people behave in ways that are pretty predictable from a human behavior perspective. We think of people being complicated because if they're struggling, were like, “This is so hard because they're not filling this expectation that I have of them.” They're not listening to me when I tell them that very obvious solution that I see with my eyes, from my perspective. They're not doing it and that means that they're missing something, but that's not usually the case.
You have to allow people to find their way from their perspective, from their strengths, something that makes sense to them where they can connect to the work that they're doing, and care about the work that they're doing. Understand that their unique perspective and their unique strengths are valued in that organization. That’s when you start to see amazing things. Bringing people in from the outside, allowing them to be who they are, living in that uncomfortable space, not even for them, being new in an organization, but for the leader themselves. Being uncomfortable with the fact that this person is different and does things differently. Allowing time to find that place where you melt and you start to appreciate the strengths that this person brings. That's when you start to see some magic happen. If you have any kind of expectations for this mold of this imaginary employee you put in your head, when you put that job posting out there, you're going to be disappointed in most cases. Get rid of the expectations and find the magic. Find those amazing nuggets of wisdom and inspiration that you weren't expecting to see.
I want to talk about the fear of change and how we manage that. Before I get into that, I want to talk about hiring practices and why we hire people. Too many organizations hire people because they have a job that they need to be filled. What is your view about hiring people for a job versus hiring somebody that you know is going to be able to grow with you within the company? How do you explain the difference between the two of these to your clients so they see the value in whatever direction you agree with?
There's some interesting mix that you can find. When you're looking for someone with a very specific skillset, it's a different thing.
A data scientist or something.
Maybe someone who is an expert on Amazon web services. You need someone who has a specific skillset for a very specific need. That's a completely different way to hire, but if you're looking for someone to do analysis or to do leadership, that's a different thing altogether. You then have to be willing to accept that people are going to bring their strengths, skills and personality into the mix and that's going to be necessary for them to be successful. If you expect them to come in and change who they are, they're not going to last, you're not going to be happy. The fit's not going to work.
When it comes down to bringing people in, hiring people and looking for people that can fit needs within your organization, you have to understand how much wiggle room is around that role for people to bring in something that's a very unique skill, personality and so forth. I think there's a different mindset to hiring people that are not necessarily an exact fit for a specific skill. Also, you have to be careful about those subjective job requirements you put out there like, “Strategic mindsets,” and things like that. What does that even mean? I can't even answer that question. The reason I can't answer that question is because it means something different to everybody.Get rid of the expectations and find the magic. Find those amazing nuggets of wisdom and inspiration that you weren't expecting to see. Click To Tweet
I was going to say the same thing. If you ask fifteen different CEOs what does a strategic mindset means, there might be some overlap, but there are going to be nuances in everything. When the CEO says, “This is the quality that I want of my people,” and he gives that directive down to the HR person. Does the HR person understand exactly what's in the mindset of the CEO when they're building the job description and somebody else is doing the interviewing? You get that telephone disconnect that's going through an organization of say, “This is what I want,” but when the actual person walks in the door, does that have anything to do with what the original vision was because there isn't that lack of communication along the way of what does this particular skillset mean to me, and why do I need this skillset moving forward?
The why is tremendously important and also, what is it you're trying to achieve? This is one reason why some of the business vernacular and buzzwords need to disappear because they're not helping us. Can you imagine interviewing your next leader, bringing them into a room and instead of asking them all these questions that are subjective, and to your point, you may answer great in the interview. You come in on day one, it could be a completely different circumstance and thing that you see from this individual. Instead walk through a problem like, “Let's walk through a problem.” It could be a real problem. They don't have to say employee names or something like, “I've got a problem I'm dealing with within the organization. Here's the problem. Can you help me figure out how you would solve this?” That tells you a whole lot about how that person operates.
See how excited they get about the problem. If this is a problem you expect them to solve in the job, and you see them get excited about solving the problem in the interview, it tells you a lot about that individual. That's something that's magic. That's gold and you see that, you're like, “That is someone I want to have here that enjoys the work that they're going to do and is excited about it, and wants to make a difference.” Those kinds of things are much more valuable to tell you who you're bringing into your organization. How they're going to solve those problems for you than anyone that can give you a fifteen-minute answer around how they would approach a strategic problem or how they approach strategy based on what they learned in business school. That does tell you a whole lot about that person compared to the other graduate of business. That's a different way you’ve got to approach it.
We all should be looking for people that can solve problems. People that can sit there and say, “Let's look at this thing from six different viewpoints from 50,000 feet and also ground level,” and be able to sit there and say, “Let's take a look at all the different issues,” and be able to come up with an idea instead of saying, “I've got an MBA.” There are millions of MBAs out there in the world. I've mentored a lot of them. I've hired a lot of them and some of them are really intelligent people. A lot of them repeat the dogma of what they've learned in books, because they went from elementary school to high school, to undergraduate degree to graduate degree, and they've never held a job. What I truly and this is something I rail against all the time, I think there should be a five-year minimum between the time you get your undergraduate degree and you get your MBA, to give you some time out in the workforce, to be able to see how business works. We could have a whole episode based on that.
I agree with you on everything you said. That experiential learning is very important.
Let's get back to change because change has been that underlying current of everything that we've been talking about. If you want to engage your employees, retain and grow them, if you want them to stay within your organization, you as an organization have to be prepared to change. Somebody told me that 60% of strategic plans of major corporations never see the light of day. They get round filed. They get put in a binder, put up on a shelf and never do it because people are afraid of, “What if this doesn't work? What if it fails?” How do we deal with that within organizations? How do we create a culture that embraces change that is willing to sit there and say, “Failure is not a failure until you don't get up anymore?” How do we build that into a culture of an organization where failure and success are both celebrated equally, we learn from both, and we're critical of both to be able to make the organization better?
There are some things of how we approach failure, and there's a general mindset in how we approach projects that help. The first thing is don't fear failure and see failure as a learning opportunity. The best example you can give of this is research. If anyone's doing research on anything, especially if it's in relation to scientific research, there's going to be a lot of failures before you have successes. If you assume that all of those failures are not valuable, you're wrong because all of those failures lead to amazing discoveries. These amazing cures to disease, amazing scientific discoveries about outer space, about our planet and other things. Failure is critically important. If you address failure in your organization as you do when you think about things like research, then that helps you have a different mindset about it.
It doesn't necessarily mean that you should be free-flowing with your failure, you have to plan. If you're able to plan effectively and think mindfully about how you go into different circumstances or how you address change, that will reduce your failure rate. One of the things you talked about is when people put together the strategic plan. At the end of the year, all their third and fourth quarter was in a conference room trying to hammer out this amazing business plan, strategic plan, and so forth so they can go to the new year with this amazing roadmap for how they were going to address it. The problem is that, first of all, a lot of organizations don't include enough people in that conversation. They assume the leaders have all the answers. Make sure that people on the ground are on board and contribute to your plan because if it doesn't make sense to them, they're not going to be able to execute it and they're not going to be on board.
The other thing is that you got to think about how flexible and how much flexibility you're building into your plan. If you don't have flexibility, you're failing already because our world is changing rapidly. Think about this, anyone who put together a strategic plan for 2020 and if you didn't build flexibility into that plan, I imagine you struggled a whole life. Make your plans flexible enough that your people can execute them based on the goals you want to achieve, with the skills, the experience, and everything they have in front of them. Also allow for them to have the space to fail as they go through that path, learn and move forward without feeling like there's a spotlight shined on them if they do fail. People need to fail safely.
This is a part of the human condition and a part of our experience in life, we all fail. That's not something someone should feel guilty about. They shouldn't fear that. They should be able to speak up. They should be free enough to go to their manager, supervisor or what have you and say, “I screwed up.” The supervisor should say, “That's okay. We're going to work out what we do next. We're going to ad the course. We're going to figure out a new plan forward.” Having that safety within the workplace is tremendously important during change initiatives, especially when they're like 2020. I can imagine 2021, probably we'll have some additional change that we'll have to think about as well. That's going to be critically important. Having enough flexibility to ad course when necessary, and then having the courage to do it.
One reason why a lot of those strategic plans get shelved is not because people are afraid of change or afraid of failure, which is part of the equation. It's also because sometimes the circumstances end up being different than anticipated in your strategic plan when you envisioned it, especially when you roll it out to people and people say, “No. This isn't how I see it. This isn't going to work,” because they haven't envisioned it or can't understand where their place is in the puzzle. We need to think differently about people fearing change and instead think about how do you enable people to accept change and be a part of a change that they want to be a part of. How do you take them along the journey so they can be a participant in the change initiative, feel like they own part of it, and it's important to them as a part of their mission and that their work is critical to the outcomes for the organization? That's when you start to see a different acceptance of change in your organization.Always see failure as a learning opportunity. Click To Tweet
That buy-in of change comes from leadership, communication and trust. What I see in a lot of organizations is the Peter Principle. People are promoted to their level of incompetence. It's not their fault in a lot of cases. People are put in a position where they were good at a task. You excelled at a task so you became a manager or you've been in this job long enough. If we don't promote them, we're going to lose them so we make them the manager, but we don't give them the skills and training on how to listen, how to empathize, how to coach, how to mentor. How do we go about convincing people of a business case? That's what it comes down to. People don't spend money on training because they don't see the ROI. How do we help leaders see a business case to train everything from the frontline leaders all the way up to the C-Suite in how to lead teams more effectively and manage the process and lead people?
This isn't always seen as something that's an important thing to invest in. In general, as budgets get tight and things shift around, sometimes training is the first thing to get cut. If you have anybody leading people, it's critically important that they have the skills to do that effectively. You got to think of it this way. That leader impacts every person's life on their team, one way or the other, whether it be their success at work, whether it be their home life. Believe it or not, there's been a lot of research that shows one of the biggest impacts to people's experience in life is their boss. This is a heavy responsibility that organizations need to take very seriously.
People need to have the skills and understanding of their responsibility to their people and not in a stressful way, but in a way for them to understand that my actions affected this human being, and this person isn't here to be a resource for me. Sometimes we think of it that way. This is a resource. I need my team to accomplish X goal by the end of the year because that's our strategic plan. That thinking is getting in the way of us thinking of that person as a human being that also has needs, wants, desires, places to go and things to do. They need to have well-being and they need to take care of their families.
There is a symbiotic relationship that needs to happen between the employee and their leader. That relationship needs to be dependent on trust, understanding and safety. You should approach your employees the same way you approach other people in your life like even your neighbor or people, your friends or things like that. I'm not saying always be friends with your employees, but you get to think of them as human beings, not as resources. That takes time to understand. If you send people to lead other people without understanding people and how humans work, how you can be effective in helping other people be successful by motivating, inspiring, supporting, being there for them and making them understand that you have their back, which is so much more important than any directive you could ever give an employee, then that leader is going to be a lot more successful. I couldn't agree with you more. That type of understanding is critical. I don't think it necessarily comes inherently unless you're in a very special organization that has a phenomenal human-centered culture, which are a few. Otherwise, you probably need some training.
Bad leadership has led to people quitting, having heart attacks, divorce and suicides. That's a heavy responsibility. A lot of that comes down to the fact that these people that are in leadership positions are ill-prepared and don't have the training to be able to empathize in such a way that they're looking at these people as individuals with individual human needs than saying, “I'm going to sit behind my desk and I’ll do my reports.” If we want organizations to grow and prosper in the new economy, we need to move forward. There's one last question I want to ask you and that's on purpose. I think that purpose is an important thing. I want to hear about how do you define purpose and how do you help people instill purpose within the organization?
Purpose is the driver, the roadmap, and our path forward in life. If we're wandering through life without purpose, that's when we experience things like burnout, depression and lack of engagement at work, but also it affects our health, our wellbeing and our home life. It affects us as human beings. What we need to think about is purpose is something that drives us forward towards a destination. We all need to have a sense of purpose in life. It is tremendously important.
There have been tons of research that show that as you get older and as you age, people who lack their sense of purpose die sooner. If we think about purpose being a critical human need, critical to our well-being, then we have to understand that every person within our organization must understand their sense of purpose for the work that they do. What does it accomplish? Why is it important to the organization? Why is it important out in the world? You start to see examples of people that do jobs that probably a lot of people would think are menial and so forth, but every job in every organization or every job out in the world is critically important. Think about grocery store workers. Nobody ever thought grocery store workers were important before the pandemic. Grocery store workers are critically important during a global pandemic. We learned that.
Also, the people that clean up the hospital operating rooms.
They're saving lives, janitors in hospitals. The next episode of my podcast that I'm launching, I talked to Rob Bogue and he had the exact example, the janitorial staff at hospitals. They have a sense of purpose and their purpose is to save lives by cleaning rooms well. It reduces the incidence of disease and people survive. People don't get sick. It's tremendously important. Every job is important. Having a sense of purpose and understanding about the value of your work is the thing that drives us forward. It's our roadmap in life and it helps us reach this destination that's much better. It makes us feel like we've got a place to go. Any organization or any individual must have a sense of purpose to be well.
It's a matter of time. The purpose of the organization to the purpose of the individual and getting them to understand the why. You said it beautifully. It's critically important. Before I let you go, we're going to make sure that everybody in the show knows how to get in touch with you. It’s VividSpring.com. People can get in touch with you on LinkedIn or through your website, whatever and hopefully, hire you as a keynote speaker or whatever we can get through us and work your way. I have one last question I want to ask you before I let you go. This is a question I ask everybody. When you leave a meeting or you come off the stage, and you get in your car and you’re driving away, what's the one thing you want people to be thinking about you when you're not in the room?
What I would love or what makes me feel like I've done my job in the work that I do is if people walk away and say, “I see things differently now than I had before.” When I do public speaking events, training events or workshops and things, I've had people come back to me later and said that moment was the time at which I changed the way they thought about something, then I feel like I've done my job. Not only does that mean that I've presented a new perspective for them to think of things differently, I've also invited them to do the same in the future, towards every room that they enter, to give their perspective of the world and make a different space of their strengths and perspectives. That's my hope that I inspire other people to take the next step to shape a better future.
Rebecca, thank you for being such an amazing guest. You did not disappoint. This was round number two. We had such a good time on your show. I am so glad I asked you to be on mine because this has been an enlightening conversation. Thank you for being such an amazing guest.
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