Welcome to our interview with Jim Haudan. Jim is CEO and Co-Founder at Root Inc., and Author of The Art of Engagement. Jim is a frequent speaker on leadership alignment, strategy execution, employee engagement, business transformation, change management, and accelerated learning; Jim has contributed to numerous industry publications.
Welcome Jim, and thank you for contributing to the questions that are at the heart of the Exploring Forward-Thinking Workplaces 2.0 conversation.
Bill Fox: How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change & innovation happen naturally?
Jim Haudan: I think it’s interesting because we are working on another book and one of the constructs of the book is that it has been almost 30 years since Gallup started measuring engagement in the workplace. For the last 30 years, we have continued to see that 70% of the workplace is not engaged. What that means is almost 70% of all the human talent in all the organizations around the world are either scared, guarded, or unwilling to say what they really think and feel and act on every day.
The human talent is not showing up to innovate, change, and create better ways.
The question that is puzzling is that in those same 30 years there have been major social issues like cancer deaths and traffic fatalities that have had significant improvements but nothing on engagement. You almost step back for a second and ask, “What gives?” I think what we’re landing on is that there may be some leadership beliefs that are at the very core are dysfunctional to creating workplaces where people are bringing the best version of themselves.
Now the question becomes, “What are those beliefs?” To some extent, how do we begin to create new beliefs as leaders on the role of people on how they come to the workplace? How do we set the environment for our people to make it a place where they do their best work? Not whether they show up with all the right skills and tools.
How do we begin to create new beliefs as leaders on the role of people on how they come to the workplace?
There was an interesting story I read recently, and it was about the last regrets of the dying. It was about hospice care in Australia. The number one regret was, “I wish I would have lived the life that I was authentically meant to lead rather than the one that I thought others wanted me to lead.” We often jokingly say, “No one ever says I wished I had spent more time at the office on their deathbed,” but I think there’s no reason why you shouldn’t say that. I think when we get to this whole issue, the concept of what you say on your death bed is this: if you live an authentic and integrated life, then what you create at work ought to be as personal and prideful as what you do with your family and the ones you most love.
An interesting thing is millennials are going to force this to happen. They want an integrated life, not a personal and a professional life. All that suggests, what do we have to do to create that type of environment? I think we must challenge and change.The first thing we should do is begin to see our people as creators and not implementers.
The first thing we should do is begin to see our people as creators and not implementers.
I think way too many times, we see our people as the implementation troops that are going to implement the decisions made by the smart few leaders. I think what this suggests is that even if it’s well-intentioned, it’s wrong-headed. How do we see not that we need to convince our people how to do a better job, but how do we introduce them to the drama of our business, the challenge of our cause or the adversity of our non-profit? How do we ask them to step into it with a new leadership belief that they can create a response to those challenges, dramas, and adversity better than what we could ever tell them? And if you lead that way, then suddenly you begin to create an environment where you’re not trying to control or cajole people or pep rally the team to buy-in, but you’re trying to share the most intimate challenges we face and ask people what they can do to step up to those problems or opportunities. That’s a big issue. It’s a mindset. It’s a belief. It’s a way to run a business.
We had several clients that have watched their people go through some challenges in their business, and many leaders have said, “I’m just dumbfounded by the untapped intelligence of our people.” They’ve gone on to say, “We spent the last ten years trying to teach employees how to do a better job assuming it would improve the business, but we never shared anything about the adventure we’re on or the business that we’re trying to build and “win”.”We spent the last ten years trying to teach employees how to do a better job assuming it would improve the business, but we never shared anything about the adventure we’re on or the business that we’re trying to build and “win”.
I think those things are a good place to start. I see this not as a business challenge but a social cause. Whether it’s an inconvenient truth in the environment in the US, or whether it’s Waiting for Superman and the absolute horrible state of our public schools, especially in our urban areas. Or even the fact that most of our people are disengaged, not fulfilled, or feel unhappy about what they do every day. It’s a social issue, not just a business issue. My gosh, why do we continue to accept that 70 percent of our people sleepwalk through their work life?
One other thing is there’s another belief and mindset we must change. I think the mindset we must change is how we view the relationship between leaders and their people. As leaders, I believe we have to see our people as customers. We have to see people as customers of our strategy and of our direction and co-conspirators in what we want to create that doesn’t exist.
The best definition of leadership I’ve ever heard is, “What is it that you want to create that does not now exist for which you’re willing to endure personal sacrifice to bring it to life?” I think we got it right in looking at what we do for our customers. We look for insights. We look for ideas. We look for a voice to translate into new products and services. This is all good. However, we then just presume that our people jump in. We have no ability to try to understand what they see, what they’re curious about, what they get, and what they don’t get. If we want them to be fully engaged, we need to begin to think about them as customers for what we’re creating or the movement we want to create rather than assume they should “just go do it”
The metaphor that I’ve always been fond of is the one of the orchestra conductor. Years ago, we had a chance to interview several conductors before we developed a performance management tool. What we found was that the very best conductors—when the orchestra didn’t play well—always asked, “What am I doing not to conduct well?” The first, second, third and fourth thing they asked was about their conducting and not about the individual player or the sections not harmonizing with the other sections. That was always their approach. I think in many cases, what we find is that leaders are saying that our people don’t get it or they don’t have any lightbulbs on in there, or they’re not capable of understanding—all of which is false. The question is that the conductor just hasn’t found a way to truly see them—the players of the orchestra—as talented customers of what we want to do together. We need to try to better understand how to unleash their ability to play at a higher level.