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Parenting Unfiltered helping Working Parents

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Ben Mand is Senior Vice President of Brand Marketing & Innovation at Plum Organics where he’s been instrumental in strengthening Plum’s core mission, developing the brand campaign, and the launch of more than 30 new products, helping to accelerate the brand from the #3 to the #1 organic baby food company. Prior to joining Plum, Ben worked in Marketing and Innovation roles at General Mills and Johnson & Johnson. While at General Mills, Ben made an impact as a change agent, driving improvements in health, sustainability, and social impact while delivering consistent sales and profit growth for well-known brands, including Progresso, Pillsbury, and Yoplait. He spoke with Stew Friedman about Plum Organic’s Parenting Unfiltered program and more.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation and the full podcast.

Stewart Friedman: Can you give us a brief introduction to the Plum Organics Parenting Unfiltered Campaign?

Ben Mand: Ben MandI have a nine-year-old and a six-year-old and so Parenting Unfiltered was very near and dear to my own heart as well as for my teams. One of the things that struck us as we thought about our brand and our role as a partner for parents, and as we looked at the marketplace, marketing, and what parents were posting on social media, was that a lot of those picture-perfect moments – and they’re something we all really enjoy and they’re great when the entire family is all facing camera, all smiling – are so rare when they actually happen.

SF: And this is one of the problems of social media; we’re all feeling bad about ourselves because everybody is else projecting the perfection of their lives.

BM: That’s exactly right. You see on social media an image of when you go to the Giants game, or the Phillies game, or whatever it might be, and that is a great moment. Those moments need to be embraced and cherished, of course. Our point was that’s really one percent of what really goes on. Our thought was to share and celebrate the realities of parenting – the good, the bad, the downright smelly, whatever it is – to reveal what’s real and embrace that. Our philosophy is there’s something real and amazing that comes from the other 99 percent as well. You bring up a really important point. You look at those perfect images, whether it be a marketing ad or things that are put on social media by other parents and you think that that is the norm. You see that as the standard and you reflect on the morning you had with your family, or the last week, and that picture perfect moment is such a rare moment. The other times it’s running late out the door and the kids haven’t finished their breakfast. There’s the myriad of things you faced as a family.  And what I think is important to recognize, and what I want parents to recognize, is what we see oftentimes in social media is just the one percent of what really happens and we all have our challenges. There’s so much to this parenting thing. If you love your kids and you’re doing the best you can, then chances are you’re doing a great job.

SF: The video, which is fantastic, comes in a couple of different lengths.  Where can people see it?

BM: You can see it on ParentingUnfiltered.comYouTube or on our Facebook page. Those are easy places to see it.

SF: So it’s Plum Organics Parenting Unfiltered. What is snapshot of what this video does?

BM: We spent time thinking of all the different moments that are really real, that cut through the classic, cliché beautiful moments, that are challenges, that we wanted to bring to life. Whether it be pumping at work for a mom, or that evening where you just sat down as a couple and you have a glass of wine and you’re just about to start doing some work and the baby monitor goes off and the baby is crying. You just look at each other and figure out whose turn it is. It’s just bringing to life those moments, which can be challenging.

SF: It brings to life the hard part, which is of course where so much of the sublime pleasure ultimately comes from. Your campaign is really a breakthrough in cutting past the gloss out there that makes so many people feel bad about themselves for failing to have the perfect family life as seen on Facebook. Where did the motivation come for this campaign and what’s the impact been?

BM: The motivation came from two places; business and personal. There are so many brands that have come out in the marketplace and how can we at Plum Organics stand out and be different? There was that functional business aspect of it. As we talked about it as a team, what really pained us, and this is definitely true for me, there’s so much judging that goes on and there’s so much guilt that goes with parenting and we wanted to be able to reveal that and tell parents that they’ve got this and that they shouldn’t feel like such failures. There was a personal element for us as well. We know that we’re not the only ones that feel this way. It was very therapeutic as we developed the campaign to recognize that it was really rewarding for us and helped unlock something inside. We felt there was an opportunity for us to do this with parents across the country as well.

SF: I’d love to hear more about how that unfolded, the dynamics among your team. You said it was therapeutic, can you say more about how “revealing the real” and somehow enhancing your acceptance of the real was useful to your team?

BM: As we were thinking through the different situations, we talked about things that often aren’t talked about in the workplace. You might, with one of your close colleagues, talk about these challenges or funny moments or challenging moments, but rarely in a bigger forum, and we talked about the challenges that comes with it.

SF: How did you do it? How did you make that happen with your colleagues?

BM: I think it comes from a leader standpoint. It had to come from me. I set the tone as to what is acceptable. Whether I recognize it or not, people take their cues from me. I do have a natural bias for being very transparent, so I shared these things and there are times where I’m late for work or I have to leave early, whatever it may be, and I’m very transparent about those situations. As we were discussing those things, I was pretty transparent with some of these challenges. When I talked about the husband and wife on the couch, it hit home hard for me because my wife and I have had those challenging moments where we both are trying to balance careers and being great parents. There are times where we figure out who needs time in front of the computer most. These were very real and raw resonant moments for me.

SF: By talking about the reality of tensions in your own family life and being able to fit all the pieces together, which is always a challenge, and encouraging and modeling that behavior for others, while you’re developing the campaign to display this, what are the kinds of things that other people shared that helped you to create the video? I’m also really interested to know how that changed how you worked together?

BM: I’ll start with how the elements came together for the video. As I think about, and this is not something I’ve personally had to deal with, but certainly pumping at work and how you store that even when you travel, I know my wife goes through it, that one was a no-brainer to be in the video because it was a real pain point. It is that very visceral challenge of on some level you need to be there for your little one and you want to be there for your little one, but you’re using this device and where do you do it. There were stories of being in the bathroom or various locations, there’s not always a great location to do it. If you’re traveling, how you store it and all those challenges. Those were some real moments for the team. Honestly, for me and for the team, our ability to talk about it really stems from the type of organization that we are. Our philosophy is to bring your own self to work. It actually has to start with universally being a real culture and having real conversations. When you have that as your foundation, it’s easier to be candid about the challenges of parenting.

For me, when I first started at this organization, this was the company I wanted to work for. One of the challenges of moving to the Bay Area is that it’s incredibly expensive and it’s tough to break into this market. We had two kids and one car. I rode my bike to work or took a bus or ran, which is kind of funny. I could use that run right now, as I do not work out nearly as much. I had to leave everyday by about 5:30 so I could catch a bus to get home so I could get the kids from the aftercare program, which closed right at 6, and usually I would have a couple minutes to spare. When we’re a small startup and we’re struggling to get by, I did often have these feelings that I was coming across as somehow letting the organization down or that they didn’t feel that I understood how much we had to do as an organization to survive.

SF: Was that in your head, or was that real for other people?

BM: It was in my head. I had a number of people, who after a while, pulled me aside and thanked me for doing that because they were struggling with the same things. For me, it was that I had to out of necessity. I had to pick up the kids and there were no two ways about it. It was good that it was forced that way. As a parent, I always struggle with being a great dad and doing a great job for my company and for my team. Those people were somewhat surprised that I would walk out the door at 5:30. One colleague told me that she had written and email but she would set it so that the email would not go out until 10:30 at night to signal she was burning the midnight oil, which never dawned on me. That’s the wrong behavior because it perpetuates what others feel that they have to then do. This campaign and how we’ve approached it has let us get real. Frankly, for some folks, they would say as you strive to have that integration and balance, how do you get things done? I would argue what it does is it takes the stress and guilt and it doesn’t take them completely away, but it certainly minimizes and reduces that. I think the performance is just as good, if not even stronger, because we’re honest about it and have provisions and flexibility so that parents can attend to the things that they need to and want to outside of work. When they’re able to do that, everyone is so much more committed. I’m far more productive and I feel the team is far more productive when they can be their whole self at work and know that they did the things they needed to do. This morning, I was in my daughter’s class and I worked on reading with her class. It was something I did before work, so I got to work 20 minutes late.

SF: How did that help your performance at work? Why would the people at Plum Organics be happy to know that you were doing that?

BM: One, I make every minute matter during the day and I find I’m much more productive. Two, I find ways to do the things I need to do and I’m also more selective in just making sure I’m present or participating in the things I need to participate in.

SF: You’re more focused and conscious of your real priorities, and of course, that helps everybody around you and it probably helps them to do the same.

BM: I think it does. I do see a change in behavior. I think it’s something you have to continually remind folks of, you have to be that positive role model as you much as you can, but I do see things change as an organization. I care about the long run, so I don’t want people to burn out. I want people to have the right kind of balance, and it’s different for each person. For some folks, if they have a longer commute then they’re working from home more days. For other folks, they want to come in super early and leave early. That’s fine. I find with each person it’s important to understand their situation and what means what to them, and find a solution that works for them and the organization.

SF: This is the work we’ve been doing at Wharton for 25 years, is to help people learn through our research, teaching, and practice, how to pursue what we call four-way wins. That is action that you can take that benefits your work, home, community, and yourself personally. One of the core ideas is that everybody’s different and everybody requires a different customized solution but everybody is also thinking about what they can do to make adjustments that are going to work for them personally for their families but also us as an organization. When you take that approach and you try to make it reality in your organization, you get exactly what you’ve been describing with your wonderful and really exemplary role model. You get enhanced commitment, you get prioritization, and people feel good about themselves at work. They’re more confident, they’re more able to innovate.  Congratulations on making that a reality and it’s so wonderful how you’ve woven that into this remarkable campaign. I wonder what sort of impact you’ve had on the marketplace in terms of your brand with the Unfiltered Campaign. What feedback and reaction have you gotten?

BM: It’s been overwhelmingly positive. A number of organizations that hold awards have awarded us with best social, best video campaign of the year. That’s because it’s so resonant; it actually addresses something that’s very real for parents. That certainly has been positive. For me, I found it really rewarding looking through the comments and reading what people are saying, it really is positive that they see themselves in this and they recognize that this is what parenting is. It’s endearing to see couples sharing it back and forth. Knowing that at the end of the day, we’re partners and advocates for parents and our job is to make each step better and easier for them. We do that from a product standpoint, but certainly we want to do that from a soul, mind, and body standpoint.  So if we can take some of that judgment away and help them understand they’re in the same boat as all the rest of us, then we’re successful.

SF: It’s such a powerful idea and it’s incredibly well-executed to make people feel less guilty for not being the perfect parent, and making normal the messiness. It’s a wonderful public service and it seems like such a natural and brilliant way to convey what you brand is about. I congratulate you and have great admiration for what you’ve done with this campaign. What’s next for Plum Organics? How are you going to build on this?

BM: We feel it’s an ongoing conversation. We started this journey a year ago and we’ve done a number of different things, and we’re going to continue the conversation. There are a number of smaller moments, conversations — Mother’s   Day, Father’s Day – we have some great ways to break through with parents and continue this notion of Parenting Unfiltered to bigger moment that we think will come later in the year.

About the Author

Jacob Adler, W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.


Genentech’s purpose-driven culture

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Nancy Vitale is the Vice President of Human Resources for Genentech and Regional Human Resources Head for Roche Pharma North America. She leads a team of nearly 200 HR professionals dedicated to creating a great place for the organization’s 14,000+ employees to do their best work.  Before Genentech Nancy held high level HR positions at Gillette, P & G, and Deloitte Consulting.

The following are edited excerpts of her conversation with Stew Friedman. Full podcast.

Stewart Friedman: Genentech often lands on the Best Places to Work for lists. What’s the secret to your success?

Nancy Vitale: Nancy VitaleWe make medicines to treat some of the world’s most challenging diseases. This includes discovering, developing, manufacturing medicines. This year, we’re celebrating our 40th anniversary. One of our secrets to the success of being a Best Place to Work for is our culture. That is the secret sauce. We’ve been dedicated to creating a connected, inspiring culture for the 14,000 employees who come to work everyday and deliver on that mission to help people who suffer from serious diseases. We’ve been pushing scientific boundaries for almost 40 years, and given this, we’re also aware that success as an organization is tied directly to engagement and resilience of our employees.

SF: A lot of companies talk about creating a culture that engages and supports people, about resilience in the face of adversity, and about things like the capacity to persist, be creative, and diligent in getting important work done. Let’s drill down a little further on that.  Nancy, if you could tell our listeners some of the things that you do to ensure that you’ve got the kind of culture that does have that kind of impact.

NV: A lot of companies will point to programs and benefits and specific offerings, but I’d say the thing that is most meaningful to us is clarity of mission and purpose. It’s actually one of the most fundamental components, in my opinion, to building a great place to work and a healthy culture. For us, people who can anchor to our mission, focus on creating, discovering, developing medicines that can treat individuals, they feel passionate about that. Our employees absolutely feel passionate about the work that we do. It helps them to remain engaged, find joy in their work, it’s very much part of the fabric of who they are, even in times of change and uncertainty. For us, it’s clarity of mission. It’s always focused on being science-driven, patient-centered. These are important pillars to our culture and we know that inspires our employees.

SF: What’s so interesting about that is that you demonstrated that in your first words to me. The first thing you talked about was the purpose of your company and what you do, so it’s clear to me in the way you spoke about it that you take this seriously and personally and it did seem to infuse your words with a sense of pride.

NV: No matter who you would ask, they would point to that. It could be a manufacturing technician, it could be a scientist, or a business partner. I think that’s what binds us all, is this community of individuals trying to deliver on our mission each and every day.

SF: It’s such an important element of what makes for a culture that truly does draw on the passions and interests of people.  Having worked in this field for 30+ years, I can recall in the mid-80s that many of the leading firms that were in the vanguard of change – thinking and acting differently about work and the rest of life – were in the pharma business and it’s in part for this very reason. There’s a direct connection between the mission of providing life-giving services and treatments with the inspiration that people look for at work. It’s not surprising that you find that in the pharma industry.

NV: I think you’re right. For me, I’ve worked at Genentech almost 10 years and it’s the longest I’ve worked at any place. I think that speaks to the personal level of connection that people have with our company.

SF: How do you make clear the purpose and mission in such a way that each and every one of those 14,000 people feels like it’s his or her own?

NV:. There are banners that greet employees in every campus that they go to. We bring in patient speakers that are a regular reminder of why we come to work, speaking to the employees about the impact that the medicines have had on them. Our scientists are expected to publish papers and to share their research openly, so there is clear evidence of what we do and how we keep those elements of the culture and mission in front of the workforce.

SF: You bring in patients that have benefitted from your medicines?

NV: That’s right.

SF: To talk to research scientists, to talk to HR people?

NV: Everyone. In fact, every other year we have an event where anyone can sign up to attend and we bring in about a dozen different patients who are being treated with a number of different medicines that we make. But many functions, when they have a town hall or a big event, will bring in a patient speaker for that particular one. It doesn’t matter the function you’re in, it’s a long-standing practice that we have.

SF: What an awesome idea, and it’s one that must seem very natural to the people in your organization now.

NV: Typically, there’s not a dry eye in the audience because going back to your comment, the emotional connection that people have when they feel that they’re part of something bigger. They understand that their efforts are contributing to something bigger and having a big impact on society at large.

SF: Everybody wants that and we know especially young people today are demanding that in their workplaces.  So you find organizations of all types – financial services companies, tech companies, manufacturing companies – all trying to do what you’re doing. How do you translate this idea of clarity of mission and purpose to impact and significance of the work itself? How would you transfer that to other organizations where it’s not so obvious?

NV: I think going back to this notion of culture, there is no right or wrong recipe for a great corporate culture. For individuals outside of biotech or pharma industry who may not have that view of what it is as a patient they’re serving, I think going back to an understanding of what is our specific mission, understanding the values, the customs, the creations, the achievements and failures of the different individuals within that organization that really do define the culture. I think companies evolve. Some of the lessons that we’ve had might be applicable to other folks in other industries as a leadership team to take a self-examination of what is the culture you’re aspiring to versus the culture you are experiencing in the day-to-day and understanding what you need to do to nurture the culture, the work environment. That’s instilling a mission that resonates with your people. What is the purpose that unites all the employees that make up a particular organization? Inspecting that culture for cracks in the foundation, where are we missing in terms of expected and actual culture? For us, a lot of that has started from the top. We’ve had conversations at our executive committee about the type of culture we want, recognizing that we also need to evolve that culture, and rewarding employees for the behaviors that reflect the culture that we aspire to. Those would be the few applicable lessons that I would say apply to any industry.

SF: Absolutely, but not easy to implement. The idea of focusing in any kind of organization on why we are here, what we stand for, the impact that we’re trying to have on making the world better in some way and being super clear about that and as you said, inspecting for cracks in the foundation, I think that’s a powerful, marvelous idea, but one that requires a serious commitment, time and energy, to look at and to be willing to be wrong or find problems and invest in not only finding them but to fix them. Most companies would find it difficult to sustain that sort of commitment. What drives your company to take that issue so seriously?

NV: It’s a recognition and acknowledgment of what’s the secret to Genentech’s success. I think there’s a clear acknowledgment from our founders 40 years ago that it was about the people, it was about the individuals that come to work everyday. One of our founders I think once said the greatest asset of our company walks out in sneakers everyday at the end of the day and I think that has carried thtrough. But I think that you’re right, it is a discipline. It’s the rigor and discipline that goes into that inspection. We’ve looked at a number of different sources of information and we constantly examine those different sources of information, whether it’s engagement surveys or external surveys and recognition that we receive, or information on a site like Glassdoor that might inform in a simple way. Is there a crack in the foundation? Is there an opportunity, something that needs attention? And you’re right. It is a discipline, but I think it’s part of who we are for the 40 years that we’ve been a company.

SF: When you think about how you want your employees to live and to work, what’s your conception for how you make real the value proposition of embracing the whole person and investing in who each individual is and what they can bring that’s unique to them and also enables them to live the kind of life they want to lead?

NV: I think you raise a very important point. In order for people to do their best work, we need to support them as a whole person … in their work and life so they can bring their best self to everything that we do. One of the things we’re continuously reinforcing is these wellbeing pillars that we have adopted from a book called Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements by coauthors Tom Rath and Jim Harter. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that work, but these pillars are centered around career well-being and social wellbeing, financial wellbeing, community and physical. These five pillars encourage people to understand their own level of wellbeing within each area of focus, because this can be something very much personal to the individual. How do I seek my own level of wellbeing? It’s about providing resources for people to explore that, a framework where people can better understand for themselves how they’re doing against these five areas of focus.

SF: You’ve also done some investment in facilities that provide resources for people to take care of themselves, is that right?

NV: That’s right. Our headquarters is in San Francisco, California and we’re actually building an expanded employee center. This center will house an expanded medical clinic that people can go get primary care services, preventative screenings, an expanded fitness center, so gym memberships are free to every Genentech employee. They can go in at lunchtime, before work, after work, whatever is convenient for them. There is also a career lab, which is an actual lab where people can explore their development desires, career development aspirations, they can have one-on-one consultations with a career coach.

SF: That’s cool. So that’s part of the wellness center?

NV: It’s part of this employee center, which is this anchor around wellbeing. We’re trying to touch upon each of these five elements within this one center, but the biggest part of it is the physical wellbeing.

SF: Yes, because that is core to everyone’s vitality and sustainable engagement, right?

NV: Right, and I say for us specifically, as we’ve been looking at this in taking a particular look at total healthcare strategy for our organization, we found that as a healthcare company, less than half our employees were getting the preventative screenings that they should get. One of the things that is challenging for that is people will say they’re too busy to go get the screenings. We’re trying to put convenience in the equation, and if you can get to the employee center readily, it’s easy for you, we anticipate that we’ll see more adherence to people getting preventative screenings.

SF: Of course, that reduces your total healthcare cost structure, right?

NV: Yeah, I’d say that’s not a major driver, it’s more centered around improving the overall health of our employees. It’s also centered around addressing the healthcare needs of employees. And you’re right that doing it could potentially reduce the overall cost.

SF: I actually wasn’t surprised by the relatively low participation rate in the total healthcare offerings because that’s typical for many companies. What else are you doing besides convenience to ensure that people take advantage of health screenings and services?

NV: There’s a lot of different theories on how to approach this notion of wellbeing and wellness and as I said, the journey of each individual is very personal. Interestingly enough, I discovered my own journey last year and some of the challenges that I experienced. Last year, I was diagnosed with very early-stage breast cancer, and it was caught during a routine mammogram screening. Early diagnosis is one key in treating a disease like cancer, and after a successful surgery, I’m going to frequent screenings, hormone therapy, and I’m doing really well. What this taught me is that my own cancer diagnosis made me think about our employees and ask this question about why aren’t people putting as much time and energy into their own health as they do the health of the patients we serve, going back to the mission. This last year, we’ve take on a renewed focus on this physical wellness component and people getting preventative screenings. One of our efforts has been in people sharing their own stories and leaders talking about their own wellbeing. I just did with you but I did with the masses at Genentech last year and had a feature story in our company intranet. The point of me doing that was to spark action by sharing my personal story and the impact it’s had on me. I don’t have any data to say we’ve jumped up that number from 50% to 80% but I think we’re on a good trend. Anecdotally, I had an employee reach out to me and say because you shared your story I went in for an overdue mammogram. She was three years overdue and something was uncovered, she was diagnosed with an early-stage breast cancer, and she said you made a difference in at least one person’s life. That was the point.

SF:  Why do people undervalue their own health, as a business issue? Why is it that people are so reluctant to invest the time and energy needed to take care of themselves?

NV: It’s a great question, and part of it is that we get caught up in the day-to-day. The frequent thing that we neglect is our self. It does take a commitment as a parent, as a partner, to focus on others. As a leader, I’m focused on my employees. But I think what we neglect to realize is that fundamentally, the first person we should be taking care of is our self, and we’ll have a lot more to offer to others. That’s why I think sharing personal stories and being open about this as a topic and role-modeling the behaviors that we desire is so important for us as leaders.

SF: For sure, and if you go a little bit further, what is the main inhibitor or barrier for people to take seriously the commitment to their own health? What do you see as the most important issue there?

NV: I think people will point to time and convenience, and that’s part of our focus and my hope is that other employers will focus on it as well. How do you create convenience for people to take care of themselves, how do you create flexibility for people to take care of themselves, how do you expect that people will take care of themselves, and how do you role-model that? Those are the things, when you talk about programs and offerings that can have a meaningful difference, is helping folks to focus on that number one person, and that’s themselves for their health.

SF: As you look to the future, what’s the most exciting to you as you think about how your company is going to evolve over the next five years in terms of its culture?

NV: As I said, this year we’re celebrating our 40th anniversary and it’s exciting for us to look and see what are the things we need to continue to nurture. So 40 years of successful history, how do we continue to nurture those elements but how do we also continue to evolve as an organization. What’s most exciting to me personally, as I think about our workforce, is how energized and passionate I know our people are about the company’s mission. I see that growing with the evolving healthcare landscape. For me, I’m excited about the possibilities as I think about our pipeline and making medicines that will help people facing these very daunting diseases.

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.

Success and why the process matters — Joel Brockner

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Joel Brockner is the Phillip Hettleman Professor of Business at Columbia University Business School and author of The Process Matters: Engaging and Equipping People for Success and a leading authority on a variety of psychological issues in the workplace, including managing change, leadership, decision-making, and cross-cultural differences in work behavior. He spoke with Stew Friedman about how to engage employees.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stewart Friedman: Our society, our business world, is driven by measurable outcomes, data, and results. Now we’ve got the horserace of an election and the analysis and meta-analysis that’s happening around that. You’ve done decades of really important research on decision-making and most recently, about the process by which decisions get made, the fairness inherent in that. Why do you pursue that and why does it matter to us?

Joel Brockner: Joel BrocknerThat’s a great question, because we hear a lot about how the outcome matters. We live in a results-oriented society; you hear expressions like the bottom line. I love good outcomes, I’d rather win than lose, but my basic argument is that if you want your organization to be sustainably successful you have to care about outcomes but you also have to care about the process through which you arrive at that outcome. In the long term we need to get there and we need to get there in the right way. I always get nervous when managers say to their people I don’t care how you get there, just get there. They’re giving people liberty to do things in the way that they see fit, but it’s also a potentially dangerous statement, because among other things it might invite unethical behavior.

SF: There have to be some limits and restraints on behavior because we know that to be really clear on the ends and flexible on the means for achieving them is a recipe for engagement and motivation of teams and employees. We want to give people freedom but you’re suggesting that there’s a right way and wrong way to do that?

JB: I’m suggesting that the expression I don’t care how you get there, just get there can be taken too far, in which case people don’t pay attention to the way in which they get there. Doing things in a fair and humane way, there are a couple ways to talk about the process, what do we mean by a high-quality process.

SF: Yes, please define that for us.

JB: Partly it has to do with what I would call attributes of the process, so, for instance, if the process is fair. A lot of things go into a fair process: are people allowed to participate in decisions, were the reasons for decisions explained to them, were the decisions based on accurate information, was it transparent, was it a level playing field?

SF: Those are the crucial ones, whether people are able to provide input, whether they understand the rationale for decisions, if decisions were made on the basis of accurate information, and that there was a level playing field. What you mean by “level playing field?”

JB: Everybody has an equal chance for being successful, the same standards are being applied to everyone. The principle is known as consistency.

SF: So those are the elements that produce a fair process?

JB: Yes, and there are other ways to talk about a process being done well besides fairness. We can focus on not so much attributes of the process, but how it makes people feel. A process is a good one, for example, if people on the receiving end felt like their sense of esteem was bolstered, or it affirmed their identity, or gave them a sense of control. Those experiences that we have that are very motivational so that if a process is done in a way that enables us to feel in those ways, then that’s also a high-quality process.

SF: We know that all of those translate into positive outcomes in other domains of life by way of spillover, so if you know that people have a sense of esteem at work, and this has been traditionally more true for fathers than mothers, their kids do better. If your dad is feeling good about himself and his role at work, he’s going to be a better father. That probably doesn’t surprise you.

JB: That would make perfect sense. To give an example, what I meant by a process that affords people a sense of esteem, a typical way that companies will bring people in, the on-boarding process as it’s called, you might say to the new employee this is what we stand for, these are our values, this is what we’re good at, and this is why you should be happy to be here as a new member of our organization. That’s all well and good but a recent study suggested that if at the time that people are brought in, if they’re given an extra hour to just articulate what they are good at, what are their signature strengths and how they would imagine enacting those things on the job, not that people are given license to do anything they want, but at least their views are being seriously considered. The study shows that extra hour showed six months later higher customer satisfaction and a lot less turnover. This was in an organization with a lot of turnover and they found it fell dramatically. Just by spending an extra hour during that socialization process, they enabled people to feel a sense of esteem or affirm their sense of identity and it had huge positive payoffs months later.

SF: So when we talk about the process we’re talking about a sense of fairness, we’re talking about how the decision and the way things are make people feel in terms of their esteem, their sense of control over their lives, and their identity and by that you mean what exactly?

JB: It allows them to feel that the decision process recognized them for who they were. Again, this idea of identifying your signature strengths. A strength speaks to your esteem — it’s what you’re good at — but a signature strength is something that you in particular are really good at. It affirms your sense of identity as well as affirms your sense of esteem.

SF: Important in that element of how people feel as a result of the process is being seen as a unique individual that has a particular value and differentiated from the value that other people bring.

JB: That’s why I say it’s not simply a function of attributes of the process, like fairness of the process, it’s however they’re doing it, are they doing it in a way that allows people to have these psychological experiences, which make people feel good about themselves but it also makes them more productive, more satisfied with their jobs and as you implied with the whole purpose of your show, it allows for an overall better life experience.

SF: If you feel good about yourself, and you feel valued as an individual contributing in a unique way, and have a sense of control over the things that happen to you, all of those aspects of a work experience are going to spill over in a positive way to the other parts of your life. We focus a lot on the show about creating work arrangements that enable flexibility and control. I wonder if you could speak to how your model of understanding the importance of the process by which decisions get made, how it speaks to listeners who are looking for some guidance on how to negotiate a more flexible work arrangement that would allow them to be successful not just at work but in the other parts of their lives?

JB: There is interesting work by one of your colleagues at Wharton, Adam Grant, of the study on what’s called job crafting. The basic idea here is that you have a job description but people are allowed to take up their jobs in a variety of ways – the extent that you can be given input into what gets done or how things get done or when things get done. You’re allowed to craft the contours of your job, and that’s one of these experiences that allows people to have this experience of esteem and identity because you’re given control, you’re allowed to have input in how things are going to get done. The other thing is if people are given some license about their work arrangements, they’re probably going to be bringing more of themselves into it, so that’s the identity aspect of it. Sometimes, a little bit can go a long way. It doesn’t require organizations to change things all that dramatically in terms of time, money, and all those other kinds of resources. Sometimes just making small tweaks in how things are done can allow people to have these experiences of esteem, identity, or control and as a result have much better work experiences. More productivity, more morale, all sorts of good things.

SF: And it doesn’t cost a lot. We’re talking about small changes that can have a really big impact – having people feel better about themselves, uniquely contributing to some larger goal, and feeling a greater sense of control, and how important that is in bringing the whole self to work, which is what we’re trying to help people understand how to do. Can you give an example of how that has played out, in your own experience or what you have seen?

JB: It’s not just in the workplace, it’s in other kinds of organizations as well. There was a famous study done a number of years ago with residents of a nursing home, again this is the idea of how a little bit can go a long way. It was a very simple study, the staff was trying to do right by everybody there and in one group they were given a little bit more control. One group was told here’s a plant, and we’d like you to care for the plant. You have to water it, make sure it gets enough light. We’re not talking about a big responsibility, but it was more the symbolism of it all. They were given some responsibility. Another example would be they were told you’re going to be able to watch a movie one night this week. I want you to select the night of the week you want to view it; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, it’s your call. The other group was given the same plant and the staff said you don’t need to do a thing, we’ll take care of it for you. In terms of that movie, we’ll decide. You don’t need to exert the effort to figure out what night to watch the movie; we’ll do that for you. There were very small differences, and when you followed those two groups for weeks and months afterwards, they found that the people who were given more control were more alert, more physically active and in better health, and actually there was some evidence that over the long haul, a couple year period, the death rate was lower. Small things can go a long way in work organizations and other kinds of organizations.

SF: One of the points you make in your book is that there are tons of solutions out there that don’t cost a lot and these are good examples. Can you say more about the importance of opening up your frame of mind as a manager to those low-cost solutions that can have a big impact on your people?

JB: You hit the nail on the head. Managers need to be more open-minded. We understand that they’re busy, we understand they’re operating in a constrained environment. Sometimes it’s not so simple, sometimes it’s a bigger intervention that is needed, but sometimes even those bigger interventions will pay for themselves, so it’s a little bit of pay-now-or-pay-later. I’ll give you an example. I oftentimes speak to groups at Columbia Executive Education programs and other places, private clients as well, and I’ll be talking about change management. The book also talks a lot about what we mean by well-managed change process, and lots of people have written about this. We’re talking about managing change, there’s a fair amount that goes into handling that process well. I’ll oftentimes lay those things out to managers whom I’m working with and they’ll say this works out on paper but we don’t have time for this and they’re quite right. It does take time to explain why and involve people in decision-making and to train them for new behaviors and perhaps give them some advance notice and plan things. It really does take a fair amount of time, this is not one of those small tweaks.

SF: Some investment is required in a good process.

JB: What I often hear when I say why don’t you do more of this is that they don’t have time for it. My answer to that is with all due respect, it does take time, but if you don’t do these things well now, you’re going to create a bigger mess for yourself in terms of people being resistant, dragging their feet, and not being on board with the change effort. Tell me, do you think you’re going to have the time later to correct things to remedy things that you didn’t do right in the first place? I would say, Stew, that it’s not so much a matter of pay-now-or-pay-later, I think the expression that comes close to it is an ounce of prevention and a pound of cure. Let me put it this way: you’re going to have to do a lot more later to do the process well if you don’t do it right in the first place.

SF: Because the process matters in terms of motivation, engagement? You’ve been asserting, and I know based on evidence and common sense that when you engage with people, when you make them feel good about how decisions are getting done that they’re going to feel better, but what do we know, if you could sum up the essence of the research evidence, how indeed that does ultimately affect organizational, group, team, and perhaps family and community outcomes?

JB: It’s not simply about making people feel good. It’s about bottom-line productivity. Productivity is the bottom line for organizational psychologists. When people are engaged with the change process, an organization needed to downsize for example, or needed to grow, whatever the change happens to be, to the extent that they are embracing the change, engaged with saying things like this is great, we should have done this a long time ago. That’s not just about making them feel good, although that’s certainly a good byproduct. That means they’re more on board, they’re working on behalf of organizational goals and the importance of that is immeasurable.

SF: What are some of the other obstacles you have people telling you? What should people and managers know in terms of the obstacles they might face in improving their decision-making process and how to improve them?

JB: It’s sort of a puzzle. If we know this, how come we don’t do it? One answer is that sometimes it’s not as obvious as it might seem. The small-tweaks-can-go-a-long-way sometimes is not so obvious. Sometimes it’s a knowledge gap. That’s why I think, not just plugging my book but reading others’ studies like other books and articles similar to the point, I think helps managers be more informed and they have a richer understanding of just how much the process matters. Sometimes it’s a matter of what I call skill, the interpersonal skill needed to pull things off. A number of years ago, I was doing a presentation at an organization that was downsizing for the very first time and the pain in the room was palpable. I could feel everybody’s pain and I hung in there and tried to give them some guidance, but I could understand how the urge people have to hide when others around them are feeling depressed or angry or anxious. You want to hide sometimes to cope yourself, and that’s the worst thing that managers could do, when they feel that temptation to run away, when they need to make themselves more accessible, but that’s hard. It’s risky and you have to have the courage to stand up and make yourself available to tell someone that you’re very sorry but you’re going to have to lay them off. That’s one of the really difficult challenges for managers. To have the emotional intelligence or social skill to pull that off gracefully is not easy, and that’s another obstacle. We have lack of time, sometimes the lack of knowledge, sometimes the lack of interpersonal skill needed to pull these difficult processes off, and then sometimes there are other factors or motivational reasons. It’s not a matter of I can’t do it, I don’t want to do it. For example, oftentimes you have to allow people to have input into decisions. Some people would say if I give them input, then they have more power and I’m reducing my own power.

SF: One might be reluctant to engage employees in providing input on a decision.

JB: It could be philosophical or it could be this view of a win/lose, zero-sum view. The more authority I give to others, the less authority I have for myself.

SF: In your book, what can readers find to help them, both managers as well as employees, to produce a better process in the decisions that they are facing?

JB: The essence of it is we’ll give ideas about what goes into a quality process. We’ll talk about the obstacles. There are also a bunch of inventories in the appendix of the book that allow people to assess themselves about where they come out on the very factors that we’ve been talking about throughout the book. I always encourage readers to turn to Appendix C, for example, to look at how good you are as an agent of change. Well, here are a bunch of process dimensions and fill out this instrument and see where you come out. Even better, get other people to rate you on the very same dimensions and you’ll have a more informed view of not only what makes for a healthy process, but where you come out on those dimensions.

SF: And that, of course, can form your development and growth as a leader, as an employee, perhaps as a father, brother, friend in being able to produce outcomes that are better for the process by which they were achieved.

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.

Myths of Aging and the Workplace with Sarah Kagan

Sarah H. Kagan is the Lucy Walker Honorary Term Professor of Gerontological Nursing at Penn, Gerontological Clinical Nurse Specialist in the Living Well Program at the Joan Karnell Cancer Center – Pennsylvania Hospital. She’s Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Older People Nursing.   She is the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship.  She spoke with Stew Friedman on his Wharton Sirius XM radio show Work and Life about aging, work and retirement.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Sarah Kagan: Sarah KaganI almost could not hold myself back when you asked listeners, “Are you aging? One of things I always like to start with is we’ve got to remember that aging isn’t an us/them thing, we’re all aging – biologically, psychologically, and socially – from the time we’re born. We call it development when we’re babies, but that’s an aging process.

Stewart Friedman: Sarah, are you saying there’s a bias about aging?

SK: If you’re talking about development across our lives, where we call it development when we’re young but aging when we reach some mythical point, that mythical point is a big topic for debate. Or, if we’re talking about how our careers will proceed, recognizing retirement is just a horrible idea for our health and wellbeing, and not so great for workforces because if we push older workers out, we tend to deplete the workforce of wisdom and experience.

SF: Why is retirement a horrible idea?

SK: When I talk about retirement, I talk about that mid-20th-century notion that “I’ve had my working life, I’m going to kick back and relax.” The minute you kick back and relax, you generally lose purpose and motivation and a lot of health problems actually start cropping up.  People think, “I’m so glad I retired,” but, in fact, it’s probably related to the stress of not working.  And then you have the issues of not having meaning, not having purpose, and not finding that balance and harmony.

SF: If work provides meaning and a sense of purpose and structure to one’s life, then it’s unwise to give it up as you get older even though you may have less energy and less stamina?

SK: I think there’s a bias in the idea that you lose energy and you lose stamina. Typically, what we’re finding is there are lots of studies pointing not to loss of stamina, loss of energy, loss of endurance, but rather that we’re not maintaining physical and mental health and wellbeing as we get into our seventh, eighth, and ninth decades of life. If we return to fitness, we find energy resurgence.  We find that stamina can be built over time.  I say to people, don’t think about a single career anymore. If your life expectancy at age 65 is another 20 years, do you really want to say ‘well, what lies ahead of me for these next two decades?’ That’s a lot of time, I’d suggest ‘where do I want to go next, what’s my next career, the next phase of my working life?’

SF: Do you think it’s a bad idea for companies to have retirement policies that require people to depart at a certain age?

SK: Being a nurse and not a businessperson, I’ll say yes. I really don’t think that makes a lot of sense if you think about mandatory retirement ages as opposed to different career options.  Someone with a particular set of experience or a specialized expertise can go on and do something that was different from what they’ve been doing for the past 40 years. It gives the company opportunities with a workforce that I think is much more robust.

SF: More robust than generally given credit for, is that what you mean?

SK: Absolutely, because if you think about our ageist assumptions about stamina and energy in later life, what we tend to think is that older workers are not terribly productive, but there’s a whole lot of science that says exactly the opposite.

SF: You’re saying as people age they become more productive?

SK: They become more productive or differentially productive. Depending on which industry you’re talking about and I’m not an expert on retirement, I tend to say to look at this science that suggests folks are contributing differently as they grow in their careers as they age.

SF: Sarah, you write a column called The Myths of Aging. What are the biggest myths?

SK: You’ve hit on one of them, which is it’s basically a process of physical decline. You’re going to lose strength, you’re going to lose energy, you’re going to lose endurance, but we have perhaps an even more pervasive myth that your mind will go, that you’ll become a dotty old person. How often had you had colleagues or acquaintances talk about a senior moment when they forget something? That longer processing time that many of us notice as we’re getting older is more akin to your computer’s memory being really full than it is about the health of your brain. It’s essentially that the older you are, the greater your fund of knowledge and the more time it takes to sort through the possible correct answers for what the question is, than it is a problem of brain function.

SF: And processing capacity, it doesn’t slow down with age like muscles and neurological connections in your brain?

SK: You can’t say that globally, mental function declines with age. There are certain changes that we notice. Slowed processing time is one of them, but it’s probably related to something that’s much more positive. The older you get, the more you know. You know too much, it’s going to take time to think through things. That’s not a deficit.

SF: No, especially when you have more wisdom and reason to consider all the different perspectives on an issue. When I think of a senior moment, I think of forgetfulness.

SK: Forgetfulness is typically more an issue of overload and multitasking. You know better than I the science that says multitasking doesn’t work well. It slows you down, it’s poor for production, and it degrades your sense of feeling good about yourself. There are lots of reasons not to multitask, chief among them it will be easier to remember where you put your car keys fi you’re not multitasking when you put them down at the end of the day.

SF: Of course, one thing at a time. We talk about that on this show, the myth of multitasking and how the brain really does only one thing at once and how costly it is to shift from one thing to another. Aren’t those costs greater for people who are older? I find that my short-term memory is not as sharp at age 63. I have a thought of something I want to do, like here’s a person I want to call. I go ahead and finish washing the dishes. And then when I finish washing the dishes, I know that there was something important I wanted to do before I started washing the dishes, but because I didn’t record it on my list, I don’t remember what it was!

SK: I do hear that from a lot of folks. Without getting into specifics of the neuroscience, that’s probably pretty normal. It is to some extent an age-related change and for any neuroscientists out there who study aging, forgive me because I’m treading into territory that’s not my specific expertise. One of the things that we don’t have definitive science about is comparing your 30-year-old self and what you were doing, the responsibilities you had, all the things that were going on in your life with where the 63-year-old Stew is, and how the competing demands on your brain’s energy are taxing you in that particular moment. While we’re more likely to say what was that I wanted to do next, more often as we age, that doesn’t seem to be pathological. There are specific indicators that you should consider when you do question if you have a brain problem, and those are easily located. My favorite resource for determining if you should check it out is the Alzheimer’s Association. I think their website is really fabulous and they have great resources, both for people who have questions about if one’s aging brain is healthy and for people who are dealing with dementia, and many families are. Many sandwiched daughters and sons are dealing with just that. It helps to answer those questions. If you’re worried about that, they have some great resources. I will also say on the flip side of that, try not to listen to the ad-hoc anecdotes. Those kinds of personal experiences, as well meaning as they are, tend to do something that I think distracts from our health and well-being as we age and that is they add to the list of things that we get stressed about. If you have a worry list about what to get stressed about as you get older, one of the first things I’d say to you is stress is probably not good as you’re aging and that includes digital stress, which is why I really love the idea of digital detox. Don’t sleep with the phone, folks. Turn the TV and the music off. Take the earbuds out and just be quiet. No matter what age you are, it’s really good.

SF: What are some more prevailing myths that are pernicious and destructive?

SK: This is particularly true for people who are health-conscious: if I don’t eat exactly right and exercise exactly this way, I will probably age really badly. Moderation, harmony, and balance are good in work and life. They’re even better in exercise and nutrition. Keeping your body in motion, eating a healthy diet that is not extreme and that you enjoy is a terrific idea. Food should be something that is really good. If you’ve ever had a loved one in the hospital or a nursing home and they’ve been given a nutritional supplement to drink and said blegh, folks will take the supplement and the taste is not there. People are supposed to enjoy food and not see it as work and medicine.

SF: One of the myths is that you need to be upgrading your diet. Reducing stress is a much more important goal.

SK: Taking stressors out of your life is so important. And that connects with a myth that as you get older you become socially isolated and feel lonelier and lonelier. What we know is that as we age, rewarding social connections make a huge difference, and that’s one of the reasons work is so important in later life.

SF: To stay connected to other people through the connections we have at work. What is the correct way to talk about people who are older? Is it senior citizens, elders, wise people? What do you say?

SK: My favorite one is people. PBS Next Avenue had a poll on this, and I had not checked their results about what was the favorite term. Depending on which audience I’m with, I’ll say elder or older person.  I’m talking about people 75 or older, and some prefer seniors. I’ll commonly ask which term the person likes. I don’t know how it’s going to look in 30 years. I think that while we speak about children and adolescents and now young or emerging adults, we do that with a particular eye toward capacity and encouragement. You’re going to grow into this. I’d like to think that we could have the same kind of notion that you’ll grow into the next stage of your later life in a positive way.

SF: Expansively rather than in a declining way. How do we do that? As a child of aging parents, how do I do that? As a boss in an organization where I have older people working for me, what are the kinds of things to make sure I say so I can be speaking expansively rather than decliningly about people growing older?

SK: Let’s start personally, because I think one of the best ways to connect with our own invisible ageism is to recognize when and where we do it. My mom’s 83 and I’m 30 years younger than she is. I’m pleased to say that she survived cancer, a stroke, and two hip replacements. She lives by herself as a widow of several years in rural Michigan with two dogs. She volunteers three days a week, drives herself, everything’s honky dory, and by that I mean my mom’s living a life that she loves. Part of what I’ve had to remember is there are times when people say to me, How can you bear to live hundreds of miles away from your mom?” My mother would be the first to say, “I’d rather be dead than live with you, you’re such a bossy nurse.” My mother, when she had her first hip replacement, fired me as her nurse. She said, “It’s alright dear, you have a lot of work to do in Pennsylvania.”

SF: It sounds as though your mom is doing well. What can others, individuals do?

SK: This idea that people are having to create their own paths through a maze of health and social care isn’t really working well for anyone. For anyone who’s interested in advocacy, business, and health policy in particular, we’ve really got to see shifts in how we’re thinking about things. We’re a society that separates healthcare and social care. For example, if mom needs a homemaker a few hours a week, you’ve got to pay for that privately unless you’re very impoverished. That’s a tough situation to be in because many of us actually need some help at home. We also are seeing increasing concerns about how far should I go and how far should I plan for the kind of care I need if I’m truly very ill toward the end of my life. People have a lot of anxiety and don’t feel comfortable in many cases speaking with their physicians and nurse practitioners about what’s possible and what they want.

SF: These are questions that you need to bring to your representatives so they can produce the kind of social policy that’s going to provide the support that people need. We’ve got Monroe calling from Washington, D.C. Monroe, welcome to the show. How can we help you?

Monroe: I have a suggestion for how to refer to older people. In IT, when you’re dealing with an older system, we call those legacies. We could call them legacy people, legacy employees.

SF: We’re nodding are heads here, that’s interesting. But legacy systems have already outlived their usefulness, correct?

Monroe: One of the things I wanted to tie into what she was saying about looking into all the options, it is hard. I’m 40 years old and I’m at that age where there are people whose parents are starting to pass. Between 40 and 50 years old, many parents are 70 or 80. You’re viewing this and for those who try to be there for their mom or dad, sometimes as they get older they start to revert and become children themselves. We’re talking about maybe looking at a care home as an option or in-home care, which is a big business nowadays, that’s expensive. There are so many ways this conversation could go. With all the ways the conversation could go, I’d love to know the family unit in the USA and how if there was a stronger family unit, how all of these different nuances and complications would come down to nothingness?

SF: It’s different around the world. Monroe, let me jump in here and ask Professor Kagan to see if she could respond to how the family unit has evolved in America and what problems that’s creating and how there is opportunity to change to strengthen the family unit across generations.

SK: The question is one that I hear very often, and I hear it in a lot of different places. I teach for the University of Pennsylvania in Hong Kong every year.  We have a lot of national caregiving data that shows that most families actually do care for their own. When we’re thinking about people in nursing homes, for the most part people are living in nursing homes or in other institutions in later life primarily because they’ve outlived everybody else. Occasionally, it’s because they didn’t have a strong family or social network. Recognize that only about three or four percent of our older American population, that is people over 65, are living in an institution at any given time. That number shifts a lot because folks will go into a skilled nursing facility after surgery for example, but it’s important to recognize that most families are actually doing most of the care for older people.  We’re seeing big trends in older people actually caring for other family members. We have reached a peak in the number of grandparents who are actually providing primary care to children in their families.

SF: More and more grandparents are being called upon because with dual-earner families, where you have both mom and dad working, who’s going to care for the kids? Without sufficient childcare being provided by either the private sector or the public sector, who’s there? Grandma and grandpa. How’s that playing out?

SK: It’s playing out in lots of ways that are related to overall level of family income, because a number of older people, folks in the silent and mature generations, lost a lot of retirement income in the economic downturn. The mature generation are those who fought in World War II or are of that age. The silent generation or the greatest generation were just after them, the folks who were children and remember World War II and the Depression pretty vividly but were not old enough to fight. They probably were in the Korean War. Those are generations of people who got hit hard by the economic downturn in 2007-2008. They’ve often had to return to work, not out of choice but because they’ve had to financially. Now they have these competing demands. That can take a toll on their health as they’re trying to take care of the grandkids and then all of the sudden I’ve got to keep working at least part-time.  Then when am I going to find time to take care of myself? We see that with sandwiched daughters as well, who will make choices to care for others rather than caring for themselves first.

SF: Of course, you can’t care for other people if you’re not healthy yourself. Put that mask on in the airplane before helping the people who need air around you. What advice do you have for families where the grandparents are primary caregivers?

SK: I like to encourage people to think creatively. Most of these families are relying on that economic foundation to ensure that everybody is taken care of, but getting together for a family conclave or a family meeting is often a good strategy to check in. Don’t make it a let’s not talk to each other in a big way until there’s a crisis, but let’s try to do some proactive planning. That means don’t imagine that you can have a one-and-done conversation when things get tough. Keep talking to each other, keep the lines of communication open. Say the stuff that’s difficult like, Thanks, mom. I couldn’t work without you taking care of the kids, but I want to know is there something I can do for you?Those kinds of simple statements can be very helpful.

SF: If you have a question about how to enlist your parents as sources of childcare and sustain them in that role — if you’re a single parent or a parent in a family where both parents are working and you want your parents to be a part of your own children’s lives — what can you do to make sure that the cross-generational source of support from your parents to your kids works? That’s an increasingly important aspect of success in our business world as more and more couples are both working parents.

SK: I’ll tie it back to being heavily-scheduled or over-scheduled and relying on lots of technology. Texting to organize things, particularly if you have a parent who, as a caregiver for your kids, is cool with texting, those are terrific opportunities. But one of the things to think about is that having your parents and your kids spend time together is an unmissable opportunity. Maybe the ballet lessons go, or the second baseball team or the traveling basketball team are things you say no to for a time because your kids are going to have an experience with your parents that they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives.

SF: That’s great advice. What else should people know as they’re trying to work through this, because I have heard, at least very recently, of one family where the grandmother and grandfather aren’t doing a good enough job with the child? What do you do in that situation? You want to sustain that relationship, but you don’t want it to go sour?


SK: So grandma and grandpa are finding that their schedules are too busy.

SF: It’s not as much that they’re unavailable, it’s more that the grandparents are not managing the child’s behavior in the way that the parents would want.

SK: There are a number of varying situational pieces there. What are the finances? What are the options for after-school care and other stuff? How do you sit down with your parents and say look, my daughter just loves spending time with her grandparents. She’s more your granddaughter than she is my daughter sometimes and I’m getting comfortable with that because I know that spending time with you is very important to who she is as a person. But, I also recognize that you have lives that are really important to you, so what do you think we can do here? I think that we forget that intergenerational communication is like any other conversation and negotiation. If you’re asking your parents to do something for you at the age of 45, you can’t go with the ageist assumption come on, you retired five years ago, what could be so important? Your parents and you have always been juggling your own needs as individuals. Aging doesn’t change that.

SF: I want to shift gears a bit here. Back to the workplace, what can companies do to create the kind of culture of respect for not just people who are growing older, but for those who care for them?

SK: I think that’s a critical question for us today because too often business has been, as the product of larger society, okay with implicit or even explicit ageism, stuff that says younger is better. I’ve spoken with people in different industries about what ageism is and how and when it happens in their industry and I’ve heard lots of different permutations of specific ages, particular tasks, and technologic currency. My first step is to unpack, to reflect, and then to say if I take an explicitly purposeful, positive approach like that expansive approach you mentioned earlier, what do I actually see. If I force myself to turn around from the assumption that aging means decline and incapacity and say what is it that the oldest people I know give, do, share, just list them and put it down, I think what you’ll find is you’ll discover things that weren’t readily apparent.

SF: What type of things will typically emerge from a conversation like that?

SK: Typically, I hear things like you’re right, because I have a friend in her nineties who’s taught me to be much more patient and in being more patient I’ve seen options in a work task that I hadn’t seen before. Sometimes I hear the older members of our team really set a tone for civility and inclusiveness. I find that many millennials have friends in the mature and silent generations. I hear, increasingly from my students at Penn Nursing, that they’ve grown up with people who are in their tenth and eleventh decades of life, so they see that as normal.

SF: That’s interesting. So how does that shape the attitudes of young people towards older people, who are going to be more common in the workplace? There was a piece in the Wall Street Journal which was about how older women are reshaping the US job market. In 1992, one in 12 women worked past the age of 65. That number is now one in seven. With millennials being more accustomed to relating to people who are older, how do you see these demographic shifts playing out?

SK: What I hear from many millennials is they’re just people. I grew up with my grandmother, I don’t think that age is a really big issue. I think that millennials are probably downplaying categories and are very interested in relationships. In fact, I’m working with my two Nursing Benjamin Franklin Scholars seniors (elite students at the University of Pennsylvania) and they’re doing a great job looking at intergenerational values in nursing and healthcare, surveying all of our students. What they have been talking with me about is that their generation is commonly misjudged as not being terribly serious, perhaps being flighty or going from job to job, but what they’ve emphasized to me is that they’re looking for sustaining and valued relationships in workplaces. That’s something that fits really well with an aging demographic.

SF: What can companies do to make those connections more active, alive, and mutually enriching?

SK: Think about the idea that in general, we don’t put age in our diversity plan. I think that age and generation should be in our diversity plan.

SF: It is for some companies, diversity and inclusion includes intergenerational.

SK: I look explicitly at partnering youngest generations with oldest generations seeing value. Typically, I stay away from these streams but I would like to see us put millennials together with matures and silents much more often because they’re going to offer innovation that the midrange doesn’t really see.

SF: Well there’s an idea for you if you are in some way influential in your organization and thinking of ways to create connections among people in your organization that aren’t obvious, linking the young and the old in ways that are mutually beneficial is something to consider. Professor Kagan suggests you’ll see benefits such as a more inclusive environment and more innovation. Sarah, what do you want to leave our listeners with in terms of the most important message?

SK: I’d like to encourage people to embrace aging, to stop thinking about aging as an us/them thing. The joke is that old is 10 years older than I am right now. We all hope to live a long, productive, and happy life, but in order to do that what we should consider is we’ll have to confront the internal ageism we have, that self-stereotyping that is probably an unaddressed fear of our future self. Love your future self, if that’s not too corny, and say how am I going to get to know you a little better. That will help you plan, that will help you be. Meditate, be peaceful, and avoid the crisis approach to oh my god, I’m old. What am I going to do now? I don’t know what to do —  whether it’s with my old eyes, my aging brain, or my tired body. Try to think about liking your older self and who you would like your older self to be.

SF: That is a wonderful piece of wisdom that I will certainly take to heart because it’s not the way I usually think. I could see how that bias is one that’s probably pretty common. People fear death as it gets closer.

SK: Yeah, and I think they fear that period that they imagine to be just before death, but if we spend just a little time then we might not be as fearful and we might be able to imagine what it is we do and don’t want.

To hear more from Professor Sarah Kagan and aging follow her on Twitter @SarahHKagan.

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Syd Finkelstein’s Superbosses: Investing in People

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Sydney Finkelstein, Steven Roth Professor of Management at Dartmouth College and author of Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent. He spoke with Stew about how to invest in people and nurture talent.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation. Here’s the full interview.


Stewart Friedman: What separates good bosses from the best bosses from the superbosses?

Sydney Finkelstein: Syd FinkelsteinGood bosses will do some of the same things as a superboss, but superbosses will do everything more intensely. For example, mentoring is a well-known idea. If you have a good boss, they’ll give you some advice and help you navigate the organizational system. But superbosses are super mentors, mentors on steroids. They’re always engaged, always interacting with you.  And they do more things in a more intense way and also do some stuff that very few good bosses do.

Stewart Friedman: What is it that separates what you refer to as the superbosses from merely good bosses?

Sydney Finkelstein: There are a bunch of things and one is apprenticeship. That’s the way everyone learned their craft for centuries but its gone by the wayside over the past 100 years. What superbosses have done is resurrect the old apprenticeship model where you’re rolling up your sleeves and working with people on your team, you’re engaged with them closely, you’re not quite going as far as micromanaging, but you’re also not afraid to get in the trenches with them. You’re a teacher, you’re a coach, and it’s like the master/apprentice relationship. That’s something that’s maybe not as common as we’d like to see it, but superbosses certainly do that. One other thing that is a big highlight of what they do is they are big-time innovators. They innovate in their business work, whether it’s George Lucas with digital technology for film, whether it’s a Ralph Lauren in fashion and his innovations redefining what the lifetime of fashion could be, or Julian Robertson in hedge funds, they are big-time innovators in their business and how they think about people. I think that’s combination that’s pretty impressive and one we can learn from.

Stewart Friedman: You’re saying innovators, in terms of how they deal with people, lead them, cultivate them, in what ways are they innovative?

Sydney Finkelstein: One is how they find talent. Most companies have a model in place, and the model is let’s identify what we need, come up with a job description, and go through lots of resumes and interviewing and pick the person who checks the most boxes and is the most impressive in that process. It’s not that superbosses will never do that. In a large company, you have to do that for some of these norms. But superbosses do something different, which is they’re willing to create a job for someone who they think is the right person, and I know the shuddering that’s going on in the HR community hearing that, but that’s what they do. They’re willing to create the job, and there are a lot of good stories from Ralph Lauren finding a woman at a restaurant and getting excited about how she was getting dressed and thought about clothes. Next thing you know, he’s offering her a job. For Bill Walsh, the former San Francisco 49ers head coach, who really gave birth to many of the head coaches in the NFL and how he thought about drafting. He would create opportunities for people that wouldn’t fit the mold of what most people are looking at.

Stewart Friedman: The priority is given to potential for the expression of a unique talent rather than the fit in a particular role that’s already existing, is that right?

Sydney Finkelstein: That’s exactly right. They’re looking for people that have that flexibility. I call it extreme flexibility, that’s one of the things they care about because they want to move people in different jobs and they want to create opportunities for people.

Stewart Friedman: How did you identify this category of people? Who fit the description and how did you go about doing this research?

Sydney Finkelstein: I started off with an observation of something I thought was interesting. I’m a foodie and I’m into high-end restaurants, and there happens to be a place called Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. Alice Waters, what has she done? She’s reinvented the farm-to-table, local-food-sourcing of quality ingredients, everything revolving around the ingredients. It turns out that so many of the people that worked for her, went through that restaurant and became big names in the restaurant business themselves. I saw that, observed that, and said that’s interesting. I wonder if it’s true in another industry where there’s one person or a small number of people that have this outsized influence in the development of talent. That’s when I went to the NFL, because I like that as well, and it didn’t take long to realize it was Bill Walsh. The NFL is a good example because that’s an industry where you can measure very precisely, out of the 32 head coaches in a season, fully 20 of them were either working directly or indirectly for Bill Walsh. Then I thought to look at some other industries. I went from advertising, to hedge funds, to consumer packaged goods, to American comedy and fashion, and it wasn’t hard to find — by talking to a lot of people and doing a deep dive to what was going on in the industry — the one or two people that have this outsized influence on the development in a generation of talent.

Stewart Friedman: That was the criteria for selection, people who have had a huge impact on their field through the growth of talent in that field. Now that everybody understands how you chose these people, you then looked at what they do to have this outsized impact on the growth of talent in their field. Apprenticeships and creating roles for people to enable them to express their unique talents; I’m curious is there something that superbosses do that particularly invests in the person as a whole human being?

Sydney Finkelstein: I don’t know if it would be the same way that your work might indicate, but I’ll tell you a couple of ways I think that happens. Number one, people that work for superbosses are really engaged in the job, you know employee engagement scores are a disaster everywhere.  Superbosses create jobs where individuals can actually have an impact. They know that they’re important, as everybody’s important, and that’s a powerful thing in your life, to have that feeling. I know it’s one of the biggest motivators. That’s part of what superbosses do. The other thing they do is that they are in many cases even willing to help you move forward in your career, not just working for them but going outside of that team to another part of the company or another organization entirely. That’s a bit unusual, that you would groom talent. The subtitle of the book is mastering the flow of talent, so not just people coming in, not just what you do with them when they’re part of your team, but what you do as they move out, and in some cases, help them move out. It’s very counter-intuitive, but if you think about what’s really important for an individual, most individuals don’t want to perform for Mr./Ms. X for the rest of their life, they want to fulfill their own potential. That’s what the superbosses enable them to.

Stewart Friedman: I was an executive at Ford Motor Company for a few years from 1999-2001 as head of leadership development. I hired a lot of people in that role, and one of the critical elements of my interviews, and I did hundreds of interviews with people, was to explore what they would want to do next, what would success look like in their next job following their stint working in my shop. It’s question that many of them had not been asked before, but I really tried to make it a point of focus with the people who came to work for me that they would leave their time with me in a better role following that experience. The more I made that an explicit part of that hiring practice, the more the other people wanted to work for me.

Sydney Finkelstein: You’re right, and the term I use in the book, talent magnet, describes just what you’re talking about.

Stewart Friedman: It’s not that hard to do, and it’s actually a lot of fun. I know our listeners are eager to find out what can I do to enhance my capacity as a boss so I can have a bigger impact on the world through the legacy that I create through the people that I cultivate. What can people do?

Sydney Finkelstein: Everything that superbosses do is teachable and learnable, it’s not rocket science. It takes a lot of work. You don’t become Ralph Lauren or George Lucas overnight; there’s a lot you have to do. But if you’re willing to do it, it’s all possible.  I try to talk a lot about what specific steps you can take, even from what we talked about earlier about hiring somebody. You have your old method of hiring, but how about just experimenting and hiring one person, going out of your way to find somebody where you find the person before you find the job and back them into it. The sky’s not going to fall when you do it, and you’re going to begin that process of just opening your brain and mind to the possibility of finding talent in all other places. I think there are some really specific things as well that go far beyond that. I would look at your calendar. We’re so scripted these days, people have so many meetings and those meetings are killers. I don’t understand why we put ourselves through that in a job with so many meetings. Push yourself out of that world. Of course, it’s not going to disappear, but leave time for much more unstructured interaction where you arrive unannounced at the desk or cubicle of someone on your team and dedicate 30 minutes or an hour and digging in with him/her exactly what they’re doing. You push them and you challenge them and coach them and help them think about it a little differently, and certainly you enable them to learn from your own experience. It’s a little thing, but it actually makes a big difference.

Stewart Friedman: You can actually do it in smaller chunks. It doesn’t have to be a full hour or half-hour, or even 20 minutes. In 10 minutes or even five, you can have an interaction that really touches people and demonstrates to them your interest in their development. Right?

Sydney Finkelstein: You really could. How hard is that to do in the scheme of things? It’s only hard if we allow ourselves to adopt this idea that I’m so busy, I’m running here and doing this and that. We push that on ourselves, we constrain ourselves in so many ways, and I think that’s a mistake. Superbosses are looking for those opportunities. I also think we should think about how accessible we make it. How are the barriers that we’re putting in front of us that we might not know that make it difficult for people on our team to interact with us? There are a remarkable number of superbosses who place their desks, not in an office, not in a corner office, but in an open area where anyone can reach them at any time. It’s a symbolic thing, but it’s meaningful. You definitely can do that.

Stewart Friedman: I wanted to ask you whether superbosses are always nice. Is it possible to be a superboss who is scary or can infuse a work environment with a sense of fear while still holding people to really high standards and pushing them far?

Sydney Finkelstein: It’s a good question, because being a superboss doesn’t mean you’re a soft touch. The definition of a superboss is someone who helps other people get better and creates talent. There are a lot of ways to do that. While the superboss playbook, if you will, is very similar in terms of apprenticeship, innovation, and finding talent, the style does vary. In the book, I actually talk about three different styles, including one that is called the glorious bastard. It’s the manager, the Larry Ellison type, that personality that we’re familiar with now, they are really tough. They’re not exactly the happiest places to work, so it’s not for everyone, but if you can handle it, and you can absorb the learning that’s going on, the hyper-intense environment, then the opportunities are gigantic. You look at the legacy of a Larry Ellison, all the people that work for him from Mark Benioff, who now runs Salesforce.com, to lots of others, but it’s not an easy thing to do for those types of people.

Stewart Friedman: I wonder if there are lessons that you drew, whether in the book or just your own life about cultivating talent as a superboss and being a parent. Do you see any parallels?

Sydney Finkelstein: I found the more I got into the superboss world, the more you see that it applies to everything. In this case, I actually dedicated the book to my own mother and I called her the first superboss I ever had.

Stewart Friedman: What made her a superboss?

Sydney Finkelstein: For that you’re going to have to give me several hours on the phone. Certainly high expectations, but you just knew that this was someone that had your best interests at heart and wanted you to be successful but also was not going to just let you linger, was going to open a door to a world and say there’s nothing you can’t do. That turns out not to be true. I’m not an Olympic athlete, I never made the Montreal Canadiens hockey team.

Stewart Friedman: Is that what she wanted?

Sydney Finkelstein: She wanted me to have opportunities to fulfill my potential, and she opened the door to that. She did in a very subtle way, just by talking. There was no lecture going on here, it was maybe just being a good parent but it had a gigantic impact on me.

Stewart Friedman: How do you think that translated to your own parenting style?

Sydney Finkelstein: I have one daughter who’s now 25 years old. I have done many of the same types of things I thought I learned. What’s funny is that it’s only in doing this research for superbosses that I came to the realization of some of the things we’re talking about now. Things that are in you, there are stories I remember from my own life that happened to me with different people doing different things that were very impactful, but I didn’t appreciate, or fully appreciate, just how meaningful some of those things were. In thinking back and doing this research and talking about all these other people, it became apparent.

Stewart Friedman: Jessica is calling from Philadelphia. Jessica, welcome to Work and Life. How can we help you?

Jessica: I work in corporate America and I have a boss who goes by the laws of micromanagement. Every day, she asks where are you, what are you doing at this time of day. I’m in sales, so I’m usually in the office, but my question is what’s the best way to deal with that type of micromanagement?

Stewart Friedman: How do you change a micromanager to a superboss if you’re working for her?

Sydney Finkelstein: The problem with a micromanager is that she doesn’t come with a role that superbosses come with, which is delegator. They delegate and they are closely attuned to what you are doing, they do both. When you have a person who’s just on one side, you have a much deeper problem. Why do people do that, is what I think about. In my experience when a boss doesn’t truly trust the people on their team, they end up doing too much, not delegating as much or always checking and checking. Some of that could be internal to a person, and that person could benefit from some coaching on occasion, but sometimes it could be the subordinate in this example, Jessica. No matter how good she is, she might really need to sell up in a sense. We talk about managing up, what about selling up about how you’re adding value, how you’re creating value and a general deeper level of trust between boss and team member.

Stewart Friedman: Jessica, does that make sense to you to change the relationship in such a way that your boss can trust you more and be less micromanaging?

Jessica: Yeah, I think you’re right on with that. I think every time we have a conversation I’m reinforcing what I’m selling and adding to the company. My concern is because it’s a continuous relationship that I’ve had, how do I make it so that she trusts me? I think it does come down to trust and you’re right with that, and to your point I don’t think she trusts me or anybody on this team. How could I better work with her knowing that’s how she feels?

Sydney Finkelstein: That’s a tough situation. I think trying to demonstrate with your results your capability, what you can do. I don’t know if you know her well enough or can find a way to suggest that she work with a coach or some such thing. That could be a sensitive thing to ask directly, but maybe indirectly is a possibility. It’s a lot easier to say what I’m about to say than do it, but sometimes you don’t have the right boss and that boss is not going anywhere and you might want to look for an internal transfer of some other opportunity. Some people just will not change because of who they are, and some of these insecurities could be so deeply embedded in who they are that it started a long time ago.

Stewart Friedman: What’s the impact you’re hoping your book is going to have on the business world in terms of getting across certain ideas and tools that can help people cultivate talent and enrich their lives and working lives?

Sydney Finkelstein: At an individual level, and I mentioned employee engagement before, I find it an abysmal situation when so many people are at a job that doesn’t have any fulfilling sense so that they’re not engaged. Superbosses, even though they could be tough, they absolutely convey the importance of each person, they make you feel like you have an impact. The whole world of millennials, that’s what they want from the start, and the superboss approach is one that’s very meaningful. The second thing is from an organizational point of view, you look at where and how organizations have changed in the last 10 or 20 years. There’s been incredible innovation in supply chain management, manufacturing, technology, marketing, and sales. Where’s the innovation when it comes to HR? I know there are a lot of apps and software that help you run better meetings and you can figure out where everyone is, feedback mechanisms, and I’m not saying those are bad things. They all can have some value, but fundamentally, when you talk to senior executives, they’re saying the same thing. We need talent, we need to get better talent, and we need to solve our talent problem. But if they keep saying it, it’s still a problem. Year after year after year, it’s time for something new, even if it sounds a little scary. I hope the superboss approach is that something new.

For more information about Syd Finkelstein and Superbosses follow him on Twitter @SydFinkelstein.

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.

Positive Psychology and Creativity — Scott Barry Kaufman

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Scott Barry Kaufman is Scientific Director of the Science of Imagination Project at the Positive Psychology Center at The University of Pennsylvania. The research is supported by a research grant from the Imagination Institute. He conducts research on the measurement and development of imagination, creativity, and play, and teaches the popular undergraduate course Introduction to Positive Psychology. Kaufman is author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined and co-author of the upcoming book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind (with Carolyn Gregoire). He is also host of The Psychology Podcast, co-founder of The Creativity Post, and he writes the blog Beautiful Minds for Scientific American. Kaufman completed his doctorate in cognitive psychology from Yale University in 2009 and received his master’s degree in experimental psychology from Cambridge University in 2005, where he was a Gates Cambridge Scholar.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stewart Friedman: What led you here?

Scott Barry Kaufman: scott barry kaufman I think my whole life, especially as young as I can remember, I was really interested in human possibility and what people are capable of achieving in life. I felt personally like I was being held back. The first three years of my life I suffered from something called Central Auditory Processing Disorder, it’s a learning disability that made it very hard for me to process things in real time. I was placed in special education as a result, and I remember sitting there in special ed and I have memories as-young-as-can-be just sitting there and daydreaming, looking out the window, just thinking is there more that I’m capable of doing. Talking to my friends in special ed, all of us wondered if we could bypass these expectations or if we were prisoners of these expectations.

SF: So this was in elementary school you were having conversations like that?

SBK: Absolutely, I had this fascination. I think it was in large part the circumstances, where I was placed. Maybe I am who I am today because I was in special education.  I just felt there were a lot of greater possibilities. And this was before the field of positive psychology was even founded, so it resonates so much with me. I started to get into the science, trying to understand the standard metrics of intelligence. I wanted to learn everything I could about IQ testing and working memory, things like that. I felt like I reached a point where I got it, and I was like oh yeah, I get it.

SF: Was that because you were wondering about your own intelligence or what it meant to be open to possibility and exploring the world?

SBK: I think I just wanted to know what intelligence meant, what was it.  And I thought that my mission in life was to redefine intelligence. I thought, as a junior in high school, I had this moment. I applied to the Carnegie Mellon University and I wrote a long, personal essay about how I want to redefine intelligence and they rejected me because my SAT scores weren’t high enough to redefine intelligence and I said that’s ironic. But I was determined. And I auditioned for Carnegie Mellon’s opera program, and I got a scholarship to Carnegie Mellon for opera. The departments don’t talk to each other, apparently, because they just rejected me in the Cognitive Science program. I still went to Carnegie Mellon for an opera scholarship and then transferred to psychology, almost immediately.

SF: So you got to Carnegie Mellon, and what blossomed there?

SBK: When I got there, I took a course in cognitive psychology, and we were using Robert Sternberg’s textbook about cognitive psychology.  I remember we got to this chapter, I remember it so vividly. A lot of people I think, when they get their purpose in life, they can usually point to a moment.   Maybe these are just the narratives we make in our life looking back, but it’s a very vivid moment where you fell “this is it.” I remember sitting there on the sofa sophomore year of college, we were reading the chapter on intelligence in Robert Sternberg’s cognitive psychology textbook, one of the older editions, and I just sat there and said,  “holy cow, there’s a whole scientific field.” I thought in my head I was going to start this field; I didn’t know what existed. Sternberg and Gardner were the two biggies, and they became my idols instantly.

SF: How did they shape your experience both at school and beyond, and how did that get you to the particular realm of creativity?

SBK: I reached out to Sternberg.  I came up with this plan that I was going to redefine intelligence and I was going to study with Sternberg and came up with this plan to get into Yale for PhD. My cognitive psychology teacher, I told her this is what I want to do, and out of the goodness of her heart, and also I think she saw something in me, she took me under her wing and we came up with a concrete plan to get me into Yale to study with Robert Sternberg for a PhD. We talk about goal-setting a lot in our field, and I goal-set it up the wazoo. I set the goal of being admitted to the PhD program at Yale, and I ended up having an embarrassment of riches where I followed the plan so slavishly that I got into Harvard to work with Howard Gardner as well and I also got into University of Cambridge on the Gates Cambridge Scholarship. I had to actually make a decision between Harvard, Yale, and Cambridge. By the way, I say that and I sound so pretentious, but coming from the place that I was coming from and how much I wanted it, I remember when I got the news, Sternberg sent me this email and he said,  “you got in and I screamed in the hallway.

SF: That euphoria is, I’m sure, something that you’ll probably never forget. You probably had to overcome a lot of obstacles, starting as a special ed student to find out that you really were awake, alive, and obviously, very talented.

SBK: There were a lot of obstacles. Of course, not getting into Carnegie Mellon, but also in ninth grade –– I was kept in special education until ninth grade –– a special ed teacher took me aside and said, “I see your frustration. Why are you still here? Have you thought about trying something else?” I realized that nobody had asked me that question before.

SF: Your parents hadn’t?

SBK: No. By the way, this shows the importance of asking good questions. That one question changed the course of my whole life.

SF: The question that a ninth grade teacher asked you?

SBK: “What are you doing here?” She also said, “I see you and that was the first time I had ever felt seen in my whole life as well.  I became inspired to take myself out of special ed and see what I was capable of. I signed up for every class imaginable and I wasn’t necessarily good at everything, but I learned in everything and it was so exciting to be able to have the freedom to explore my identity. I think all I wanted was that freedom. I think we need to give people the autonomy to explore their identity.

SF: That’s exactly what we’re trying to do on this show and what I try to do with my work, too. It’s truly inspiring to hear how you did that for yourself, but with the help of people asking you questions that helped to liberate you, to free you to pursue the person you were to become. We can’t do this alone, can we?

SBK: You really can’t, and I think we also underestimate the extent to which one supportive word can change someone’s life, or even just looking at them and not through them.

SF: What was the deficit, and how did it keep you in special education through ninth grade? That’s pretty far along the track that it took that long for you to be unchained.

SBK: I should say my parents, I love them, they’re great, but my mom is a very overprotective Jewish mother and she just wanted to make sure nothing happened. I think she, like a lot of well-meaning parents, will overprotect in order to not see their child suffer at all. But by doing that, it really held me back.

SF: The overprotection became the prison in itself. Let’s get into what you write about and what you teach about. Your course is wildly popular around campus and I’d love to hear your brief synopsis of what it is you do, what is the purpose of this course that you teach in positive psychology, and why do you think students resonate so deeply with it?

SBK: I want to say that teaching the course has been one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done in my life. Today was our last day; we had the final, and students lined up to hug me after class and to tell me their whole life has changed. I’ve been trying to think about what it is about the material that’s so transformative, because there’s a large percentage of variance that explains it’s not just my teaching style. There’s something about the material as well. I think that a lot of these students come into the class not realizing that having meaning in life matters. They go through the script that they’ve gone through, and it halts them for the first time in their life, and it makes them think, gets them off the train for a second, this nonstop train of standardized testing. It really gets them thinking about what really matters in life. This course is really about what matters the most in life and what does it mean to live a good life, what does it mean to live a happy life, and the science of all that.

SF: The science and the philosophy?

SBK:  We cover a lot of philosophy in the course and I’m very much influenced by the existential philosophers as well as the existential psychologists. Carl Jung was one of the first positive psychologists. Carl Rogers also was a major influence on me and Erich Fromm and humanistic psychologists like Viktor Frankl, paved the way for positive psychology to come into being.

SF: The whole humanist movement that came into real flourishing in the 60’s is the core foundation of this field.

SBK: Let me ask you a question. You said, “What do you think about Freud?” Do you think he was not?

SF: I think his goal, too, was human liberation. As I understand, the thrust of his work was to find a way for the innermost passions and drives that motivate us, to bring those into conscious awareness and to be able to channel that energy in a way that is constructive and towards a sense of harmony and meaning in one’s life and among the different parts of one’s life. He was helping, through the method that he discovered, the talking cure, to help people discover who they really were, and to find a way for that to be expressed and to give credence to whatever it is inside of you, to affirm that it is real and is to be embraced and understood and to be examined. Yes, I know there are differences between Jung and Freud, very important ones that we’re not going to be able to explore fully here, but I think they were both after more or less the same thing.

SBK: I think the big insight, the latest research that I pursued in my dissertation is the adaptive unconscious, how unconscious processing, or, what I studied in my dissertation was implicit learning, can be extremely valuable for creativity and self-fulfillment. I think Freud emphasized, I agree with everything you said about Freud, I think his blind spot was the unconscious. I don’t think he saw the full possibility of the unconscious.

SF: We could talk about Freud and Jung all evening, let’s get to your new book, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind.

SBK: A lot of people we profile in this book, they’re not household names. There’s this one rapper named Baba Brinkman, a white rapper who raps about science. You should listen to his stuff; it’s pretty cool. He raps about evolution.  I was interviewing a bunch of people a couple years ago, running personality tests because I was curious what people are like. And I was looking at his profile and he was contradicting himself in every way. On one hand, his average narcissism score wasn’t high, which was interesting to have a rapper with average narcissism, they’re usually high. When you look at the actual facets, he scored high in some things that were actually adaptive for rapping, but lower on things like entitlement, which wouldn’t be adaptive.

SF: Adaptive for that role?

SBK: Exactly. He was all over the place. Once you start looking at the literature, you’ll find this is a very common pattern across most of the greatest creative geniuses of all time. They contradict themselves constantly and then it occurred to me, maybe it’s those contradictions which give birth to creativity. The tension, the inability to resolve these tensions, is a lot of what drives the creative person, and it also is what gives birth to creativity. We talk about Picasso. You look at Picasso’s creative process, especially his painting of Guernica, you see that he doesn’t look like he’s going through a linear trajectory when he’s painting these things. It looks like some drafts, he’s taken five steps back. If you just isolate one, it’s like he’s doing this blind, he’s doing random trial-and-error. That’s what it looks like from that perspective. You realize that that was actually essential for his career process, this nonlinear trajectory, so when I was interviewed by Carolyn Gregoire for a Huffington Post article that she did really well called 18 Things Creative People Do Differently, she asked me,  “What would you say is the one thing that in your research, describes creative people? and what came to mind was that they had really messy minds. That one quote just went viral, and I was thinking maybe people resonated with that.

SF: Messy minds – can you say more about that?

SBK: We focus so much in our society on efficiency. In elementary school, in high school, everything you’re doing, taking that one test, getting the ‘A’, making sure that on the SAT’s to get that one shot where you do perfectly. We have all of these societal pressures to be efficient. Creativity is not characterized by efficiency. Creativity is characterized by variability, and if we want to structure a society that is really conducive to creativity, we need to take that fact into account and we need to allow people that opportunity for trail and error and to get messy, but we have not set up structures like that at all, including business structures. I love the business world, and it’s important to take into account the messiness aspect for managers, for instance.

SF: Well, there’s a lot of work in innovation and creativity in the business world, that, of course, glorifies chaos and understands this concept of the need for messy thinking.

SBK: Well, there’s messy personality and there’s messy creative process. Creative people can harness deep daydreaming, they can harness mindfulness, their sensitivity, their resiliency. There’s constant contradiction. They have a very well-developed openness to experience, a well-developed intuition, a highly-developed rationality. That’s what I mean by creative personality. But when you look at creative trajectory, and there’s been some great analyses of art and literature, they found it conforms to the equal odds rule. The equal odds rule states that your chance of producing a masterpiece increases the more you produce something, regardless of the quality of what you’re producing. It turns out that the greatest people in these generations, those that make the history books, have a product or two that goes down in the history books, they also have a lot of things that go down as one of the worst things of their generation. They just have the most things that they produce.

SF: So producing a lot that’s going to be junk, and in the pile of junk there’s going to be something, that’s the pattern.

SBK: The constant pattern, almost a rule.

SF: Perhaps you could tell us a bit about how some of these activities help people to tap into the contradictions within in order to release their creativity.

SBK: I think creativity is the ultimate personal freedom. To me, creative expression is so intimately intertwined with self-expression. Creativity is not something that we teach in a course, where we say, “Today class, we’re going to force you to be creative. We’re going to give you a set of rules.” What we can do is we can help people find an identity that really suits them, that is harmoniously passionate. I think this is something that is very much in line with something that you do on your show. The field of positive psychology distinguishes between a form of passion called harmonious passion and a form of passion called obsessive passion. Harmonious passion, this is Robert Vallerand who’s done this terrific research, is when the activity that you’re involved in, you feel that it’s really well-integrated into the rest of your self. There’s no conflict there between work or other areas of your life that give you meaning. You’re engaged in an activity that makes you feel good about yourself, that is in line with your set of values. When we think about the self, a good way of thinking about the self is the self is an entire set of values that are important to you, that’s essentially what your self is. Because the self is constructed, with creativity, what you find is really creative people have a heightened sense of awareness, the self-awareness as well as awareness of the world. That’s where openness to experience comes in. That’s where mindfulness comes in. You’re a very keen observer of human nature, but you’re also an observer of your own inner-world.

SF: Draw the distinction between harmonious and obsessive passion.

SBK: Harmonious passion is an accord between your self and whatever you engage in. You feel good about your self, and you feel an inner drive to engage. You feel you’re in the flow of experience, which is a really important experience. The more you’re completely absorbed in your activity, and you also feel like you can disengage whenever you want. You’re engaged, but your life calls, and something else in your life that’s meaningful to you and you can put this work aside now. I can engage in this part of my life and gain this meaning. Obsessively passionate people, or obsessive passion, seems to be related to much greater levels of burnout, stress, injury. They’ve done studies on dancers who are obsessively passionate; they’re much more prone to physical injury. People who are obsessively passionate engage in their activity out of contingencies like self-esteem.

SF: If I get the prima ballerina status, I will be loved by all.

SBK:  Yes. That’s the difference between engaging in what you do in life because it makes you feel good about your self, your value system, what you want to contribute to this world versus you’ve engaged in an activity because it bolsters your self-esteem, your ego. Scientists have shown that they do have implications for well-being, for a sense of vitality.  Harmonious passion is correlated with a greater sense of your life, and ultimate performance. They’ve looked at actual performance in music and sports, among psychology undergrads for instance, and it matters.

SF: So this is something that I know a lot of people are searching for, want more of in their lives. What kinds of things do you teach about or write about that help people develop further a greater experience of harmonious passion in their own lives?

SBK: I wish everyone could take a course in positive psychology or maybe there are some books with exercises because a lot of these exercises are designed to help you ground yourself and what matters to you and what matters the most in life. Gratitude is a really important thing. There’s an activity we do in class where you write down three things that you’re most grateful for at the end of your day, and it’s good to do that before you go to bed and sleep on it. You’ll wake up in a much more positive mood.
SF: Seriously?

SBK: Yeah, there’s research on this.

SF: Before you close your eyes and take those last few deep breathes and lose consciousness, think about a couple things that you’re grateful for. What about if people say, “I can’t think of anything, Scott. There’s nothing.  Everything’s terrible.” What happens then, if you’re in that mindset?

SBK: Keep a journal and I imagine you can at least think of one good thing. No matter what the life is, you need to reframe what is a good thing. Seeing a beautiful flower can be a good thing.

SF: So it might be something really small.

SBK: The thing about gratitude as well as keeping a journal about the stuff is you want to look for patterns of why you are alive. Life is so short. What are you doing this for? You realize, you start to see the larger patterns and you see things that really do give you a lot of meaning and gratitude in life. I’m so appreciative for this and that helps to actually hone your sense of self. Mindfulness is another thing. I start off a lot of my classes with a mindfulness meditation.

SF: I know; my daughter, a Penn undergrad, was telling me. She is huge fan of Scott Kaufman and when I asked how the class was going she said,  “We start by meditating at the beginning of each class.” How do you do that, Scott?

SBK: Don’t tell the students but there’s a part of it that’s also for me, because I want to get into a really relaxed, calm state in order to teach. I don’t think I’ve told them that. I want to make sure that I’m really there and present with them as well for that hour and 20 minutes. We start with mindfulness, allowing all sorts of thoughts and daydreams to enter consciousness and you don’t try to suppress it. You don’t try to return to the breath.

SF: Most meditation is all about breath. Remember your breathing and that’s the thing that matters now, and you’re present because you’re breathing and you’re alive because you’re breathing.

SBK: But the thing is that recent research suggests the return to the breath meditation is negatively correlated with creativity. There are different kinds of mindfulness. There are different stages of the creative process, different ways of thinking are going to be important. If you’re in that stage of the creative process where you want to generate lots and lots of ideas and you don’t want to narrow it down just yet, you want to brainstorm, this open monitoring mode of meditation is going to be very valuable.

SF: Can you please explain what that is again? Open monitoring, your mind wanders and…

SBK: You allow that to happen and you’re okay with that. First, you start off with being very comfortable and getting in touch with closing your eyes, getting in touch with your emotions, how you’re feeling, what does my heart feel. But then you really want to get to this level of consciousness where you are intensely focused on your daydreams. I call it mindful daydreaming. It’s very important for getting in touch with your deepest self and understanding the patterns of unresolved issues in your life and there’s continuity between our nighttime dreams and our daydreams in that sense where we constantly have these constant themes. We have a very open-minded thought process. A lot of creative ideas don’t come through conscious deliberation of trying to solve it; they usually come in altered states of consciousness.

SF: Like the shower?

SBK: Yeah, and I’ve done the research with showers, where we found that people get more creative inspiration in their shower than they do at work. We found that worldwide, and it’s because relaxing lets us be mindful to our daydreams. It allows our mind to wander, but we’re also in this relaxed state where if some sort of great connection does arise, it will reach that threshold of consciousness.

SF: So you have to be relaxed and open and non-monitoring to allow the creative impulse to come to the surface of consciousness. Eileen is calling from Orlando. Eileen, welcome to Work and Life. How can we help you?

SBK: When I was younger, I was very creative. I’m wondering if creativity is like a muscle, where if you don’t use it, you lose it, because I really do feel that over the years I’ve lost my creativity and I’m wondering can I get it back?

SBK: It is like a muscle. We’re seeing this at the neurological level. We see some neuroscience studies where you’re really not building those levels of imagination and creativity if you’re not exercising the thought process. I think a good way for you to get it back, and by the way hope is not lost for you, you can definitely get it back, a lot of it is committing yourself to a creative lifestyle. I really do see creativity as a way of being in the world, a way of relating to the world. Every time you are questioning the assumptions of something and saying every time you do something in your life that scares you, every time you brainstorm multiple possibilities that could explain something you’re seeing, any one of these things is a way of being. That’s getting you back to exercising those muscles so you can make that decision in a second to start doing all of these things.

SF: It’s pretty easy to continue to develop that muscle, as Eileen called it.

SBK: It is, and we talk about these ten habits that creative people do differently. I think these things are accessible to everyone and some of it is maybe going to get people out of their comfort zone, especially if they haven’t done it in a while. Another one is we talk about post-traumatic growth.  People aren’t aware of this emerging field in positive psychology called post-traumatic growth where we can really take our trauma, we’ve all had trauma to some level, recognizing that we’re all suffering as well as having joyous moments, we can reframe our experience as potential opportunities or tools for creative growth, and channeling that into great works of art, great works of literature, starting a new business. A lot of people have had great business ideas based on a great need they saw based on their suffering.

SF: Creativity is often rooted in suffering?

SBK: I think so. When I said earlier creativity, creative expression is very intimately tied with self-expression, our self is a very vulnerable thing. We shouldn’t hide that. One of the findings in the book is that Frank Barron, when he studied all of these really creative people, he found something that stood out; they were very comfortable with becoming intimate with themselves and their whole selves, including their dark side, their negative emotions, and they integrated it. We’re going back again to this integration thing, but that’s such a common theme among creative people.

SF: That really is the point of what this show is about, to help people integrate the different parts of their lives, including the dark side. This gets us back to Freud, but I don’t want to go there in too much depth because we don’t have the time to do that, but the exploration of the full range of who you are and bringing that into your everyday life, that is something that is frightening, to accept those aspects of your self that are dark and to allow that to be accepted as a part of your self. You talked about very creative people, and that’s what we’ve been talking about, but doesn’t that contradict what you’re asserting about all of us being creative and that creativity is the ultimate form of self-expression?

SBK: Let me clear up something; I don’t think everybody’s creative. I think everybody has the possibility of being creative. There’s a difference there. I don’t think, at this exact moment, everyone has the same level of creativity.

SF: But we all have the potential for it?

SBK: Yes, we all have the potential of living creatively as a way of being. There are people that are fundamentally transforming their field on a larger scale. Mark Zuckerberg: it would be a lie to say everyone is at Mark Zuckerberg’s level because that’s obviously not true. What I argue is the thought processes he applies are things that you see at every level of creativity.

SF: Chris, calling from Michigan, how can we help you?

Chris: How does my son get his creativity back? He’s 27, he used to be very brilliant, very creative, and he found out he had Asperger syndrome and other issues, and he lost his self-esteem.

SBK: I can really resonate with that from a personal perspective. It’s very easy to lose your sense of identity, especially when people’s expectations of you are a certain way. I think something that’s really important for him to recognize and for society to recognize as well is a lot of these learning disabilities have an upside to them, and we can get lost too quickly as society condemning it or viewing it, because it’s different, as somehow less than, when the reality is not less than, it’s just different. There is a bunch of research coming out showing that people with Asperger’s have a lot of these hidden strengths, really good at pattern detection, really good at detail-oriented thinking, good at visual/spatial reasoning, lots of things. I would recommend he and the listeners go to take the VIA Test, the character strengths survey. It’s a free, online test that anyone can take and I would recommend that your son take it and identify his top three character strengths. The great thing about this test is that everyone has strengths. I spent many years before anyone really showed any positive aspects of who I was.   Ruminating on the negative aspects, of course, that’s detrimental to the self-esteem. But it’s really amazing how resilient the self-esteem is and how you can shift things around once you shift the focus of attention. I would really have him identify those character strengths and see what his kind of mind might be best suited for in applying those character strengths.

SF: You can find it at VIACharacter.org. Scott, if there is one thought you wanted to leave our listeners with about how to mine the creativity within and cultivate it in their lives, what’s the big idea that you’d like people to keep in mind and to explore further?

SBK: I think that the number one personality predictor that I’ve found in my research over and over again that predicts a personally-fulfilling creativity as well as lifelong creativity is openness to experience. That means being open to being vulnerable, being open to potential suffering, being open to taking risks, taking chances, to being intellectually curious, and being open to beauty. All of these things have been found to correlate and to form this idea of openness to experience in relation to creativity.

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.




Enlightened Management Practices > Profits: Barry Schwartz

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Barry Schwartz Barry Schwartzis a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College where he’s been since receiving his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971. He’s the author of 10 books and 100s of articles and is well known for both his scholarship and his ability to bring complex sociological and psychological research to bear on the practical matters we all face in our daily lives at work and at home.  Schwartz has written The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, named one of the top business books of the year by both Business Week and Forbes and, with Ken Sharpe, Practical Wisdom about which he gave a TED talk viewed by more than 2M peopleHe discussed his most recent book, Why We Workwith Stew Friedman.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation. Or listen to the podcast here:

Stewart Friedman: Your new book is called Why We Work and you dig into the question why indeed do we work? Give us the brief synopsis of how got into this piece and what was the primary discovery when you sought to answer this question.

Barry Schwartz: This question has a long history with me. I was trained in the psychology of B.F. Skinner. Your listeners may not even know who that is anymore.  He was a prominent psychologist from the 40s to roughly 1970, invented the so-called Skinner box and his view was that if you understood how rewards and punishments work, you’d understand everything, and this is especially true of human beings. The answer for him to the question why we work is the rewards and punishments. I thought this was a way too limited and reductive view, it didn’t seem to describe me or most of the people I knew. Nonetheless, it seemed pretty much to characterize the way workplaces were organized.

I started talking to a couple of philosophers at Swarthmore soon after I arrived, and they got me to read people like Adam Smith. I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t read him before, and Smith, the father of classical economics, had essentially the same view. He said people are basically lazy, they’d rather be doing nothing than something, so to get them to do something productive, you have to make it worth their while and that means you have to pay them. And once you pay them, it doesn’t much matter what you have them do, because they won’t like it anyway, no matter what it is; they’re working for pay. So the assembly line, his famous pin factory where you take something that’s pretty simple to begin with and then you make it even simpler by dividing it into six or seven or 10 different components to make straight pins, that’s his model of efficient production. You’ll ask, “Would anybody like to be just putting heads on pins 10 hours a day, five days a week?” And his answer would be, “Of course not, but it doesn’t matter.”

SF: Because we’re machines.

BS: Yes, because we’re getting paid and we’ll do whatever we have to do to get paid.

SF: So the metaphor of the worker was as an extension of the machine.

BS: Absolutely.   And then 100 years later there was this movement called the scientific management movement that tried to take the metaphor seriously by doing meticulously time-and-motion studies so that you could create assembly lines where people expended the least possible effort and produced the fastest possible production.   They experimented with different ways of paying people to see what kind of pay schedule would get people to work the hardest, for longest. So the answer to the question of why we work was people work for pay, full-stop. That’s the economic model and it’s the industrial model, and I think that economists, when they wrote in this way, never really believed that it was true, because they didn’t think it was true of them. There’s us and there’s them; the people who wear white shirts and ties and the people who wear blue shirts and work boots. And for us, other things matter, but we are just a small fraction of the population and for them, everybody else, it’s just about the paycheck. I know this is an inaccurate depiction of work.  But I think what’s really important is that if you create workplaces in the image of this model, it will become true.  If the only work available to you is soul-deadening, repetitive, mechanical work then indeed you will work for the paycheck and nothing more, because there isn’t anything more to be done.

SF: So your soul is indeed dead and crushed, and you might rebel.

BS: You might rebel, but you have to put food on the table, you have to have a roof over your head.   We started with a false understanding about what people care about and then we made it true by creating work structures that were consistent with that false understanding.  This is what I call ideology, which is a term that Karl Marx used to describe false ideas about human beings that become true when they get institutionalized. And you can see this happening with schools.  Everyone is wringing their hands about how bad the public school system is, but increasingly, the attitude toward teachers, which is only being resisted because the teachers won’t stand for it, is that they’re basically cogs in the machine. You give them scripts, detailed lesson plans, and then you make their pay and bonuses and tenure contingent on how well kids do on standardized tests.   What happens when you do that is the good teachers leave and the not-so-good teachers never have any occasion to get any better, and then they start cheating. They teach to the test or they change answers, so test scores go up but kids don’t learn any more than they did before. So it’s not just blue-collar factory workers, this is really spread throughout the workplace.

SF: As a model for how we organize work, and of course it’s very destructive.

BS: It is very destructive. Doctors are incredibly unhappy with the way they practice. It’s becoming a national problem. They’re leaving the profession, they’re clinically depressed.   Lawyers have been the unhappiest profession for years, and I think it’s because we’ve basically sapped work of anything that people might aspire to, aside from a paycheck. If you’re a doctor or a lawyer, you’re getting a big paycheck, but that just doesn’t cut it.

SF: Back in the 60s and 70s, there was a humanist revolution of sorts that tried to counteract the destructive powers of this ideology and to create a new way of thinking about work, which I studied at the University of Michigan in the early 80s.  But in the 70s the University of Michigan was really one of the centers of the social movement to reimagine work as something that could be ennobling and enriching of the spirit and to create a sense of meaning, purpose, and real consequence.  And it seems to me that your work comes out of that tradition, which hasn’t really taken hold in the way that we would have hoped.

BS: There aren’t any ideas in my book that have not been articulated periodically before. You picked one time, but there are others times, even earlier on, where people acknowledged this, but somehow it never sticks.

SF: But maybe now the time is different.

BS: I’m hoping it is for a couple of reasons. One is that there’s research indicating that women care more about meaning and purpose in work than men do. As more and more women enter the workforce and companies have higher and higher proportion of employees who are women, managers may find they won’t be able to keep good employees unless they give the people working there some sense that they’re working for a purpose.

SF:  This was one of the things we found in our longitudinal study comparing the Class of 1992 to the Class of 2012 at Wharton when we asked hundreds of questions to the Class of 1992 when they graduated and did the same in 2012, so we have a true cross-generational longitudinal design. One of the important findings in the study was how the need for having a positive social impact through your work has grown for both men and women but especially for women.

BS: Right, but that’s the second thing. The aspirations of millennials, at least while they’re young, are quite different from what has preceded. I just think that if you run a business and you want to attract talent, women and young people, you’re going to have to show them that at the end of each work day they’ve made the world better in some small way. So I’m somewhat optimistic.  As these young people move up the organization, they may actually transform the organization.

SF: I have the same hope and expectation. How does what you write about in Why We Work help us understand this movement and what people can do to advance it?

BS: I try to talk about what things to matter to a person besides the paycheck. They want some control over what they do, some autonomy. They want some variety in what they do. They want to be challenged. They want a sense that they’re growing, learning on the job.  They want social engagement with coworkers and respect from supervisors and coworkers, and most important, they want this sense of meaning; that there’s a point to what they do aside from simply paying their rent. We know what you need to add to a workplace to get people to feel satisfaction.  I also show in the book that workplaces that are structured in this way are the most profitable workplaces in their industry across a wide variety of industries, which makes it even more puzzling that this is not more widespread.

There’s a management researcher named Jeff Pfeffer at Stanford who has a book The Human Equation, in which he reviews evidence from banking and other kinds of financial industries, manufacturing, a lot of service industries.  In every case, the most profitable companies are the ones that have the most enlightened management practices. The most profitable companies are the ones that invest the most time in training and personnel development. You might argue that work ought to be organized in this way as a social good, because why should people have to spend half their waking lives doing something they hate when they don’t have to? But then the boss would say, “That’s not my problem. I’m here to make a profit.” You turn around and say that it turns out that here’s a case where you do well by doing good.

SF: So why don’t we see this more?

BS: That’s the total mystery, right? Why are all these companies leaving money on the table?  The only answer I can come up with is that the grip of this ideology about why people work, the implicit answer that everyone has to my question, just closes them off to the possibility that if they had a richer thinking, if they gave their employees more credit, the employees would be happier, the employees would do better work, and the company would be more profitable.

SF: Credit?

BS: Credit for being responsible, serious people who want to do a good job. A lot of the reliance on micromanagement and incentives is a reflection of a lack of trust. If I don’t manage the hell out of them, they’ll just sit around doing nothing. They’ll take advantage. How do you combat that? You combat that by making it so if they do take advantage of you, you see it and they suffer. Trust your employees, give them the goal, and then trust that they’ll figure out a way to achieve the goal, or you give them the training so that they’re eventually in a position to figure out how to achieve the goal, instead of giving them recipes.

SF: Instead of micromanaging and telling them how to do things?

BS: Yes.  The problem is that with all this technology we have now the level of micromanagement that’s possible is just overwhelming. You don’t need to be standing there and looking over your employee’s shoulder, you can measure a million things.

SF: Yes, big data can be intrusive.

BS: So the tools for micromanagement are there and I’m afraid that managers can’t resist the temptation to use them.

SF: Because it gives at least the illusion of greater control, if not actual greater control. Just squeeze out all the human capacity for creative and ingenious effort that could produce great results.

BS: They have more control, but they get worse work. That, I think, raises another possible explanation, which is that managers hate the thought of giving up control.

SF: Well, some do. Why is that? What is the fear there? What’s the anxiety of giving up control and unleashing the human potential that’s there?

BS: Well, if you do that, what role do you play? Are you still needed? People can manage themselves.

SF: You’re perhaps needed to do something different, which is to guide and to help manage external connections and help to provide a sense of direction by having a bigger picture.

BS: It’s true, but there are an awful lot of people whose job is to make sure that an awful lot more people are just doing their jobs.  And if you had other ways of assuring that people would be doing their jobs, these people would have no roles to play.

SF: So you see the elimination of the middle management ranks in the office as people become more empowered, perhaps through big data, to be able to manage themselves?

BS: Well, it’s not out of the question that that could happen, but all I’m suggesting is that it may actually be one source of the resistance to the evidence that is plain and unambiguous.

SF: One of the things that we like to talk about on this show is the connection between work and other parts of life. What your thoughts on the connection between a greater sense of meaning and purpose that is plainly available, if perhaps difficult to implement for so many different kinds of organizations? What impact could that have on people’s lives beyond work, in their families, communities, and for themselves personally.

BS: You’d actually need to collect data on this, and I haven’t.  But what I suspect is that if you do work you value, you will be happy at work. If you’re happy at work, your relations with other people will go better. When you come home, at the end of the work day, your patience won’t be strained, you’ll be in a good mood more of the time, and the result is that your spouse and your kids actually find it tolerable to be with you.

SF: They might even enjoy it. The research on that is called positive spillover; when you feel good in one part of your life, it’s likely to spill over, in terms of your emotional state as well as the kind of behavior you demonstrate, in the other roles that you play.

BS: And we also have evidence, Barbara Frederickson’s provided this, that people who experience positive affect are more creative.  In the workplace the advantage of that is obvious. I haven’t thought much about the potential advantages of this when you come home at the end of the workday.  But it seems to me quite possible that being more creative means those problems we inevitably face in managing our, I don’t know, rebellious adolescent kids, we find that we have an easier time solving those problems if we can think about them more openly and creatively.  This might be more likely to occur if we come home from work feeling good about ourselves instead of feeling down, depressed, and miserable.

SF: There’s so many benefits to this.

BS: Let me just say there is one potential drawback that’s worth mentioning. I think this is a very small price to pay. There are some people who like the idea that when the work day is over, they leave their work and come home. They are okay with the idea that work is just for making a living, and they’re human in the rest of their life. And they don’t want to have to come home at the end of the day with work still on their mind.

SF: The so-called segmenters.

BS: Yes.  And the problem is, if you’re really engaged with your work, then you’re not going to stop thinking about it when it gets to be five o’clock, so you may be a little bit distracted. Could that happen? Of course it can happen. It certainly happened to me often enough in the course of my career.   My kids would ask me something, I’m looking right at them, and I’m not hearing a word that they say.

SF: I know exactly what you mean, Barry. It’s happened to me as well and I study this whole issue of boundaries – the psychological, physical boundaries that you need to be able to switch gears and attend to the people around you even when your mind is elsewhere.  It’s possible to learn how to control your attention, if you’re really focused on it, and to maintain focus on the people who are right in front of you when they need you. Those are learnable skills.

In Why We Work, what are the implications of your analysis for what we’re seeing in this presidential election season, which has begun and seems to last forever? The whole question of the economic divide, which has become such a pronounced issue in our society and in these debates — you’ve been in this field now for quite a while, as you look back retrospectively over the course of your career in psychology and thinking about work, what is different now aside from what you were saying earlier about millennials?

BS: The political debate is really quite disappointing because of the hollowing out of the middle class, all of the discussion, 100% of the discussion, is about compensation, job security, and benefits. No one is talking about the character of the work itself, except that the work has to be good enough that you can actually get a decent paycheck. If you find some way to get a decent paycheck to people working at McDonald’s, that would be fine. I think maybe that when times are hard, and there does seem to be pressure to fatten the pay envelope.   Then the kinds of things I’m worried about just recede into invisibility.   You need people to be flush for this to become an actual agenda item on somebody’s political platform. Maybe I missed it. Have you heard anyone talking about the question of what it is that people do when they work?

SF: Not so much as they have been, thankfully I have to say, talking about the needs of working families to have support that they need through family medical leave.

BS: But again, it’s all financial.

SF: Well, it’s about time. But it’s not about meaning.

BS: It’s about time, but it’s not just about time. It’s not about family leave, it’s compensated family leave. You can get some family leave, worse than any other developed country. Some of it’s available; it’s just not compensated.

SF: You see people in class everyday. What do you see unfolding if you were to look out at the next quarter-century or so? What do you think you might see in terms of how work is going to look?

BS: I’m optimistic because of the women and millennials at more and more workplaces will discover this not-very-hidden secret and give their employees a chance to find meaning and satisfaction at the same time that they get a paycheck. I’m hoping that by the time my grandchildren are entering the workforce, finding a wonderful job won’t be like finding a needle in a haystack anymore.

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, andFake Teams.

Investing in Human Capital: Conversation with Anne Erni

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Anne Erni is former head of Human Resources at Bloomberg and before that Managing Director and Chief Diversity Officer at Lehman Brothers where she pioneered global efforts in the recruiting, retention, and advancement of women and under-represented groups in financial services. She came to talent management with more than 15 years of front-line banking experience in fixed income and equity sales, at Lehman Brothers, Bankers Trust and Swiss Bank Corporation. Erni serves on several not for Profit advisory boards. She recently left her position for a much needed sabbatical.  Anne Erni spoke with Stew Friedman about HR in the 21st century and how we can invest wisely in human capital.

You can listen to the podcast here:


Stew Friedman: What did you do, in brief, over your course of tenure at Bloomberg?

Anne Erni: anne erniI joined Bloomberg in January of 2009.  My role was to build leadership, learning, and diversity. Bloomberg was in a big growth phase.  We were looking not only to grow the number of employees (which, by the way, grew from 8,000 to 16,000 by the time I left) but, in the course of that growth to make sure we were fully prepared with leaders who understood how to lead others, to understand business strategy, and to learn how to motivate and manage human capital as well managing the company’s capital.  While I was there I spent the first several years working on issues, such as leadership training, the hire to retire aspects of learning for all employees, as well as succession planning, and something dear to my heart, diversity.

SF:  You weren’t trained in HR. You came at this game through line positions in banking. How did you get into this field?

AE: I started out of school going into an investment banking training program and then worked in corporate finance. But there was something about that trading floor that really attracted me. It was alive and a perfect place for an extrovert to go and learn how business gets done. And I loved to sell. That was always part of my DNA. I worked my way up from repo, which is sort of the overnight, least sexy part of the trading floor – Re-Purchase Agreements. As I moved up the curve, and as my career progressed and I was promoted, I found myself increasingly alone as a woman on the trading floor. In August 2001 I was literally tapped on the shoulder by then President Joe Gregory who said, “Anne, men run in packs and women don’t. I need you to go out and create your pack.” Creating my pack has become a mantra throughout the course of my career – bringing groups of people together to encourage, inspire, and support one another. And it doesn’t have to be like-groups of people. It doesn’t have to be women for women or African Americans for other African Americans. It’s really about getting senior leadership to understand the nature of nurturing, sponsoring, and mentoring talent. That was really the beginning of my journey of moving from the trading floor to become, ultimately, the first Chief Diversity officer at Lehman, and learning how to you make sure that human capital strategy is in tune with what the business strategy is day-to-day on the floor, and how to really reach out and engage with mostly senior-level men who don’t naturally look at HR as an important issue.

SF: What was the greatest challenge in making that connection clear and compelling to the people that were decision makers?

AE: First, it’s related to the business challenge: to do a great job, we need great people. And you need great people to be highly engaged in order to bring their very best.   And you need people to stick around. It’s quite a competitive labor market, and when you have terrific people, your competitors find out very quickly. When you have a great performer and they leave to go to a competitor, that really strikes a nerve with senior leaders. The other piece is how do you get them to truly engage in change.  That is often through empathy.


While at Lehman and Bloomberg, one of the other things I noticed was that a lot of senior male leaders marry women they meet in the work force. And often, because they’re earning enough and have one of them to stay home, often the wives will leave the workforce. And when the kids grow up, they to tend to languish.  These are women who are highly educated, had terrific career trajectories, but had the choice and ability to spend time at home. But when they decided they wanted to go back, there were no avenues. They were not a legitimate pool from which companies recruited. The idea was how do you create those on-ramps and create an enthusiasm by senior male leaders to take a chance on someone who’s not been working for two years versus paying a premium for someone who has? Empathy was something that has often worked when thinking about how to change your organization.

SF: Can you give me an example of how you did that when you say ‘using empathy’? Can you recall an instance where you actually did that?

AE:  While at Bloomberg we spent a lot of time developing a curriculum. We have individual contributors, team leaders, and managers.  When I first arrived, when someone was promoted to team leader it wasn’t aspirational, it was like, “was I not a good contributor? Why am I having to manage other people?”  But over time, we made it an aspiration. The way you would get them to want to be leaders is to show them the impact that they have on others by relating it to the impact their boss may have had on them. When they think about “what’s a good boss?” “what’s a bad boss?” “how do I feel with a good boss?” “how do I feel with a bad boss?” it often has them think about what are the behaviors that I exhibit each day that will have an impact on my people. And it was often through that type of “relate it to yourself before you can then be able to be effective with others” that would help people understand why they would need to go through leadership training, why they would use new models of managing other people, and, frankly, changing the way work works. If people need to take time off, they need to think about their own lives before they can relate it to others.

SF: So, how did that play into what you had to do to get senior male leadership to understand the diversity challenge facing Lehman when you were first given this charge by Joe Gregory to create your own pack?

AE: When we would go to campuses to recruit, 58% of all undergrads were female. If you are recruiting a class that’s 90% male then you’ve actually lowered the standard because you haven’t taken equal parts of the intelligence that exists. Often we say, “you’re pulling an all-male class or an all-white class, how much talent have you left on the table?” You often have to appeal to the fact that, one, diversity in thought and perspective actually better solves problems, and two, to get that diversity of thought and perspective you can’t have a class coming out of school that is not diverse. You need to get them to really want to appeal to difference to bring them on board.

SF: How did you get them to be more open to see why it was important to invest in programs that were going to enrich and broaden the talent pool?

AE: First, you expose them to philanthropy and engage them with organizations like Prep for Prep in New York City where you see this amazingly talented group of African American students having opportunities to go private schools, get special tutoring, and access to training and experiences that ultimately put them in some of the best schools in the country. Seeing this, executives are much more open to looking at talent more broadly.

SF: Giving people opportunities that they may not have had otherwise helps them get a greater sense of emotional understanding. I guess that’s the way to characterize the sense of empathy.

AE: Absolutely, and we talk to them about what are some of the best ideas generated within teams. We try to highlight and understand that when you bring in multiple perspectives ultimately that will better solve problems.

SF: There is probably a lot you cannot say about the fall of Lehman. But I’m wondering if there is something you could tell our listeners about what was the biggest takeaway for you in terms of the fall of that great firm? How it went down. What did you take from that as a kind of life or leadership lesson?

AE: It was similar to Bloomberg in that it had an incredibly well defined and beloved culture. People loved being part of the organization. They genuinely believed in the mission. They genuinely believed in the leadership.  In 2001 we lost our buildings on September 11. And there was always this sense of being an underdog, and if we worked hard enough, if we fought hard enough, and we stayed together it would work. People genuinely believed that it would not happen to us. Being part of that culture, I was absolutely devastated along with the rest of folks that this had happened. One of my great learning’s was I believed so much in the company that I sacrificed many important times in my life for the company.  I had young children and worked late nights and weekends, giving up important events.   I realized that something that is here today and gone tomorrow was something I actually sacrificed very important aspects of my family life for that will never come back. That was how much I believed in a corporate entity. I ultimately learned, as trite as it may sound, that family trumps. Family decisions should sometimes, more often than I allowed them to, trump some of the work-life decisions that I made during that time.

SF: Now let’s get back to the Bloomberg story. So, you start there. Linda Wolf invites you to take responsibility for the leadership track. How did you become head of HR? And that lesson you learned at the fall of Lehman, how did that inform your own leadership act at Bloomberg?

AE: When I arrived at Bloomberg, it was a tough re-start.  It was a completely different culture, and I was an outsider coming in at a relatively senior level. Bloomberg had always grown organically over time, and we were in a time of great growth where we were going out and acquiring talent, both junior and senior.  Again, my point on empathy is as your designing programs to onboard senior leaders, you have to apply your own experiences of what you would’ve liked when you first came onboard. My focus was on building a culture of leadership. I think what I learned at Lehman, which I applied at Bloomberg, was in order to do that it always has to be in tune with what the business strategies are. And at Bloomberg, we have five different businesses: R&D, media, sales, data acquisition, corporate. And each one had very unique needs that you had to incorporate into whatever leadership training agenda you put in place. A training program for a journalist might be a bit different than the way you might approach the R&D folks. And that’s something that I really made very signature to my tenure; build an HR organization that was in tune with business strategy.

SF:  Looking back what do you think was your most significant accomplishment at Bloomberg?

AE: My most significant accomplishment was the establishment and roll out of a leadership program for our most senior leaders in which we were able to establish, at a time again of great growth, one common message about who we were as a company, what was expected of them as leaders, and have them all sing off the same song sheet, both new as well as long-tenured employees. This Global Leaders Forum was sponsored and led by the top leaders of our company. And to get them together to engage in the content and delivery (we did about 13 programs over the course of two years) was really a group effort. What I enjoyed most about that program was that all of our leaders ultimately went through individual coaching and I got to know many of them quite well before I became the Chief Human Resources Officer.

SF: Which I’m sure was crucial for your success in that role. Melila is joining us from Toronto. Welcome to the show, Melila. What is your question?

Melila: Hi, it’s very interesting that you are talking about corporate culture because in Canada we’re very multi-cultural and I suppose diversity for us is beyond women.  What I’m wondering is how do you start to build a corporate culture which recognizes and embraces the diversity but at the same time be able to unify the company and the culture so that you all start to speak on behalf of one organization? And start to have one corporate life experience?

AE: Great question. I have worked at two global organizations. At Bloomberg we are in over a hundred and ninety countries. What is so critical to the success of the company is making sure you are attracting, developing, and advancing local talent, and that not all of the decisions are coming out of the home office. And to do that you have to make sure that you understand local markets, that you’ve developed a recruiting strategy that brings in the right talent. But once they’re in the door, and I mentioned this earlier, creating the right onboarding experiences is critical. Hopefully, through the interview process you’ve designed the questions and the right type of corporate fit that you’re looking for. But once they’re in the door, it’s really helping them onboard and learn the corporate culture. At the same time, make sure leaders understand how to be inclusive in the way they manage them day-to-day.

Melila: In terms of the onboarding, is that a process that is owned by HR or is it a combined process between HR, the direct supervisor, and the communications team?

AE: I believe HR should create the infrastructure and the frameworks, but engage leaders in the process. For example, onboarding is not just day one where they sign papers and get some information about the company. It’s really about managers checking in with individuals, day 30, day 90, day 180. And also bringing together new hires over the course of the year so they can form networks, and be able to listen to each other, and talk about their common experiences. That piece of it absolutely needs to be led by both the managers of those individuals and some of the senior line managers. And to your earlier point about how do you build a corporate culture that embraces difference, you need to bring all those folks together and constantly expose them, as a group, to senior leaders and have senior leaders engage with them.

SF: But that takes so much time Anne. Who has time for all of that, if I can ask the devil’s advocate question?

AE: First of all, it’s very expensive to acquire talent, but it’s more expensive to lose talent. So, if you look at the economics, a typical rule of thumb is that it costs 1.5 times the compensation of a new employee. And we would often look at the cost of recruiting, which is significant as well.  Invest a few hours a year checking in and doing what we used to call a “stay interview” to see how the employee’s doing to get them to stay. You can ask them, “How are things going? What are you experiencing? What about our culture? How can I best support you?” Those small gestures by either your direct manager or senior leader in your group can really yield great results. I think often what you find is some managers will tend to connect, sponsor, and mentor folks that are more like them.   We need to embrace all new joiners to the company and make sure they get equal access to that stay opportunity.

SF: Melila, thanks for that wonderful question. I want to find out why you left this extremely cool job, and what you have been doing since you’ve left. How did you come to that decision?

AE: It was truly one of the hardest decisions I ever made in my life. My career was never more exciting. I had a great opportunity to work with senior leaders and Mike [Bloomberg] himself. He is an incredible visionary and leader. But it was also a crossroads in my life.  I recently celebrated a big birthday.   More importantly I have spent the majority of my HR career in the last fifteen years creating policies and practices to help individuals navigate work/life issues. So, for example, at Bloomberg created the first flexible leave programs. We were working on creating different types of long-term leave programs – maternity leave, paternity leave —  trying to make it accessible to all employees. We call them leaves of absence, and do not have differentiated leaves. So, if you were a gay parent and adopted a child, you were going to get one period of time. And if you were a female and were giving birth you would get another period of time. What I really wanted to make sure was that all employees had equal options and equal time. Bloomberg is always on the cutting edge of most policies and incredibly generous, but there were outdated approaches. The very last thing I got approved before I left was an updated modern approach to leaves, which essentially put our leave policy on the cutting edge in terms of length of time away and support that we provide.   We did primary caregiver and secondary caregiver, so that makes it gender neutral and it also makes it neutral across whether you’re a hetero- or homosexual couple.  It benchmarked incredibly well against those with whom we were competing for talent.


This passion for creating options for people led me to think what about me? I was going through a point in my life where certain things were going on that I would never get back.  For example I brought up two children and my daughter is 24 and lives in London. She has already flown the coup. And I have a son who was a rising senior in high school and I always said to my family — my husband and my mom, who is one of my great confidants – that when Noah’s in his junior year I want to know what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom. I pushed through 28 years in my career in a very fast paced, high powered, high pressured environment working 12, 14, 16 hours a day because I wanted to succeed. I wanted to get to that next level. I wanted to do the best job possible. As I said earlier about Lehman, since I was being paid to do that job it often trumped family decisions. But I knew that if I waited until my son went to college, and all of a sudden I had the time and money to take time off, what was it worth? I knew it was a very important time in any high school kid’s life when they start to look at colleges, when they start to work on applications, and I didn’t have any of that time.


Often, when I went on a college tour, something would happen at work, and I’d spend time sitting in the car, while my husband walked around campus with my son. Or on a weekend, we were going to work on his list that he had to give to his guidance counselor and I was in the office and I didn’t have time.  I also have elderly parents. I’m part of the sandwich generation.  My dad has Alzheimer’s and is 81.  You feel a different kind of obligation not only to support the parent with Alzheimer’s but really more to support my mother who is taking care of my dad. And they need support to make difficult decisions they may not be seeing objectively. And there is my husband.  He and I had equally intense careers, and he has been an incredible supporter of mine throughout it all. And often when he would pick me up from work, and I’d get in the car, I was the one who spilled the beans first.  I’d talk about decisions I had to make, problems, or politics I was dealing with at work. And we haven’t spent a lot of time focusing on his career. Also, for my marriage it was a very important thing for me to spend more time focusing on him. I really came to this point where I had to make this decision: I can continue to keep my head down and plow through it like I’ve done at every other stage of my career, or am I going to exercise the option that I put in place for everybody else.


And I have to tell you, Stew, I shocked everybody. No one knew that I was going through this sense of personal pain. No one really knew the toll it was taking on me personally in terms of lack of sleep, and the inability to do what I really wanted to do.  I spent two weeks on vacation – my first vacation in fifteen or twenty years and during that two weeks I felt a sense of freedom. This was in December and January of 2014 going into 2015. I was in Uruguay, South America.   Far away. No cell phone reception. And it was during that time that I decided that I need more of this time. But I needed to sit on that thought. I needed to think it through. I needed several months before ultimately approaching my boss to say that I needed to take some time off. And there was a great discussion about should we change my job, would I be interested in doing something else, but I really felt that I needed a genuine break, time to focus on family, to experience for myself what it meant to be a stay-at-home mom after being a professional mom for my whole life. I resigned in early March. My last day was May first. I stayed on to help with an orderly transition. I’ve stayed in close touch with most members of my team, but I really took the summer off and did the things I set out to do.

SF: So, was this understood to be a sabbatical where you would return/might return/might not return? What’s the mutual understanding if you can talk about that?

AE: Sure, I can. Bloomberg had a no re-hire policy.  It’s quite public and Mike [Bloomberg] writes about it in “Bloomberg by Bloomberg.” Over the years many people who were incredible performers had to leave for personal or professional reasons, but ultimately realized that they might want to come back. So we have hired back several key people. When the announcement went out that I was going to be leaving Bloomberg to pursue family pursuits, first of all, there were lots of snickers like “oh, sure you’re going to take care of your family,” or I was being fired or something more sinister. I knew it was the euphemism often used, but it was the truth for me. But I was so honored and pleased when it was written “Anne will be returning at some point.” So while I didn’t go on a formal sabbatical because we don’t have sabbaticals at Bloomberg, there was absolutely an agreement and opportunity that should I want to return that I could go back and talk about what potential opportunities exist, which I haven’t yet done.

SF: So, you’re now in this interim period. Noah, your younger child is now a senior.  So, you’ve got a year?

AE:  That’s correct. We did the visits over the summer, we worked on his list, he’s worked on his essay. And I think he’s in a terrific place where he genuinely knows the direction he wants to go in. I’ve spent a great deal of time with my mom. We’re working on getting care at home. We’re looking at what long-term care looks like, looking at homes. I’m going to D.C. next week to do that with her. I was actually most surprised about the space I’ve made for myself, and my own personal nurturing. I love to entertain. I love to cook. So, I spent a great deal of time working on that this summer. And I’ve also done a great deal of research. Because the question is: Do I want to go back to doing what I did, or is this an opportunity to pivot, change direction? I did a great deal of research on “great women” or “high-powered women” that have made career changes. I’ve been studying that quite hard, Stew.

SF: So, what have you taken away from your study?

AE: There are lots of people that have worked in the White House, or state department, or in investment banking, or in media that came up with an idea, and took some time off, and then went in completely different direction.  Someone like a Martha Stewart, she worked in the state department. Or Ina Garten, who’s the Barefoot Contessa, who worked in the White House and now has an incredible food network brand and global following. There are entertainers who have built multi-billion dollar businesses. Jessica Alba, she’s a billionaire. So, there are great examples that have been inspiring to me.   I have a notebook, which is in front of me here, which has the ideas that I’m thinking about. But also, I’m thinking about whether I want the portfolio career, my own entrepreneurial venture, or do I want to go back to the corporate world. And that’s sort of the crossroads I’m finding myself in now, and I’m looking to January 2016 to make that decision.

SF: Wow!   That’s only a few months away.  You’re going to have to come back to tell us what you ultimately decided and why. As you think about the next phase of your journey of discovery, as you referred to it on the break, what’s going to be paramount in your thinking because there are some competing interests here? You can’t just do everything. How do you come to understand what’s really most important to you now and where you want to invest your precious moments and energy in your life?

AE: One of the things I’ve always made a core principle as I decide what to do is: can I make an impact? Am I empowered to make an impact?  When Joe Gregory tapped me on the shoulder and said men run in packs, women don’t, he put money behind it. I had a pool of compensation that I could reward for engaging. He put his money where his mouth was. When I was at Bloomberg, I was working with senior leadership. They completely put the right resources behind us. So, whatever I do has to have the right resourcing for me to have the kind of impact that I want.  That’s a core principle. Impact can be measured in dollars or political capital.  One of the other aspects I’m exploring is the whole notion of ‘affiliative capital,’ ‘affiliative power.’   The extent that you’re working for someone as amazing and world-renowned as a Mike Bloomberg, that’s an incredible affiliative capital to be able to have in order to get things done. The question is whatever I do next, do I need affiliative capital or does my own capital carry itself. I’ve always been part of a corporate system, and I’ve always had that benefit.  I would say the third criteria that I’m setting is:  I do want to have more freedom. So, whether it’s a portfolio approach, perhaps consulting, or whether it’s going back to corporate, it’s going to need to have more flexibility than I’ve been able to have in previous roles.

SF: Which is what we know everybody wants: greater freedom to pursue the things that matter in ways that enable them to have the kind of impact that they want to have. That’s what the show is about and what all of my work is about: to create opportunities for people to be supported to pursue the lives they want to live. Of course that happens at the level of social policy, corporate practice, and empowering and skilling up of individuals to claim that power.  As you think now about your kids and their future, and of the millennials generally, what did you learn in your experiences most recently at Bloomberg? What did you learn about how the rising generation sees the whole issue of work and life? And what is the most pressing concern for business with respect to addressing those needs and interests?

AE: I think whether you’re a millennial or a baby boomer, what has changed all of our lives is technology and the ability to work 24/7. You’re reachable 24/7 pretty much anywhere in the world, except where you can’t get reception. I think that has blurred work and life. I think the millennials are doing a much better job at navigating that and being able to leverage that to get their work done.   But on the other hand, I think they’re much more intent on making sure that they have a distinction between their work and life. And that whatever they are working on has meaning. And one of the things I was incredibly proud of while working at Bloomberg was the fact that we were able to work so closely with the Bloomberg Foundation, which is one of the most high-impact foundations in the world, and engage particularly our millennials in a lot of the volunteerism. I think bringing that meaning to the office and allowing employees to, for example, clean beaches, or clean schools, or work on a myriad of projects, that was incredibly meaningful to the next generation. It’s blurring the lines because they can come to work and then go work on the beach, or when they go to the beach and they may be working on a proposal. They’re able to integrate it, but we have to make sure that we are very much more intentional in providing them meaning as it relates to work.

SF: Absolutely, we did a study comparing the class of 1992 to the class of 2012 at Wharton, and one of the major findings of that study was how much more the current generation values having meaningful impact through their works, especially women, but men too. The growth in that value as expressed by women is really powerful and it makes perfect sense that a company like Bloomberg would invest heavily to create opportunities for people to have a greater sense of meaning through their work, and not just through volunteer projects, but the everyday. So, were there ways that you did this at Bloomberg For other business leaders listening in, what advice would you have for them to create a greater sense of meaning and purpose for millennials, to fully engage them?

AE: It goes back to our opening conversation about corporate culture, and I think that it’s really important for any company to define what is the ‘there there’. What are we ultimately accomplishing?  At a place like Bloomberg, which provides incredible transparency to global markets, which ultimately feeds economies and affects everyone, it was something everybody believed in and understood. People understood what Bloomberg did, whether it was Bloomberg media bringing information and breaking news, or whether it was allowing you to get data and analytic overlays that help you make better decisions. People believed in that mission. But the other thing that I thought was just incredible about working at Bloomberg was the fact that a large percentage of every dollar was going to philanthropy. It’s a privately held company, and people knew the profits we were making were for a higher purpose. A very large percentage, a majority of the profits, were going to fund the Foundation and the Foundation was going to re-distribute that to really important projects, which by the way were highly measurable.

SF: That’s a part of the Bloomberg world that not many people know all that much about, so I’m glad that you pointed that out. Before we sign off, Anne, let me ask you as you advise younger people coming out of school as they think about their careers based on what you’ve seen in the financial services world and tech and media world, what is the most important thing for young people to know as they’re launching their careers?

AE: I think the most important thing to know is that every magic carpet ride is going to experience some turbulence. You really need to do what you love, what you believe in, and work for a company that will help you understand the ultimate purpose of what you do every day.  And understand that a career is long-term. There will be good days and bad days, but ultimately being focused on the higher purpose is such an important thing for all of us to do. Otherwise, it becomes a drudge day in and day out.

I want to say one last thing, Stew. When I graduated from SAIS with my masters in International Affairs, I wanted to go into the government because I wanted to do good in the world. But the best piece of advice I ever received was go to the private sector, understand how it works, accumulate your own power, your own wealth, and with that then you can affect real change.   Then go back to the public sector. So, I think really understanding ultimately what you want to do, you need to have your own influence and your own power to be able to make that happen.

About the Author

Ali Ahmed Ali Ahmedis an undergraduate senior majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Cinema Studies.

Leading with Creativity for Social Impact

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Jason Harris, President and CEO of an award-winning creative agency called Mekanism, which works with brands to create shareable and provocative campaigns. His methods have been covered by Harvard Business School, and under his leadership his agency has been profiled by The New York Times and ABC’s NIGHTLINE. Friedman and Harris discussed the nature of leading a firm of creative people in ways that produce positive economic and social impact.

Stew Friedman: Mekanism?

Jason Harris: jason harris 2Mekanism is spelled with a “k” because when we went to register it, the “ch” was taken. So, it doesn’t have a very weighted story. Except now it’s a “k” and we love it.

SF: What do you love about the “k”?

JH: People think there’s a mythology behind Mekanism with the “k”, but I just spilled the beans. That’s all we have.

SF: That’s it? No “ch” was available?

JH: When you work with a lot of partners, it’s hard to come up with a name everyone likes. We couldn’t change the name, so we changed the spelling.

SF: So, that’s the creativity, right? Adjusting to what’s available and using it the best you can.

JH: Yeah, using jujitsu and being flexible. And now we are thrilled it doesn’t have a “ch”.

SF: Why is that?

JH: When you’re doing radio interviews you now have to spell it out. That’s the number one reason. That’s the primary reason.

SF: It has a kind of unique value.

So tell us about Mekanism. You are known for working at the cutting-edge of innovation and new markets and using new media. How did you get started?

JH: I always knew I wanted to be in advertising since I was 12 or 13, which is very strange. I watched a lot of TV. I really liked TV. And I realized there were these fun, entertaining shorts in between all the shows, and I thought well someone has to be doing those.  It seems like that could be a job.  Very strange for a young kid, but I always thought I wanted to do that. I majored in business and started doing the traditional advertising agencies.  I started my own company basically flipping the script and creating broadcast productions for brands like Adidas, Xbox, and Levis where we would produce 44 minutes of content, give that to a network, the network would get the production for free, it would be branded content from these brands, and they would sell advertising space. So, they essentially got free production they didn’t have to pay for and the advertisers got a lot of air – much more than a 30-second commercial. So, I started that company and did that for a while.  My friend had a small digital agency called Mekanism, and we merged those companies together and that’s what Mekanism is today – an advertising agency. It’s independent, and we are always looking to do innovative work, never been done before work.

SF: Can you give us a couple of examples of projects that you’re particularly proud of, or that you’re working on now that got your juices going?

JH: We launched a campaign for North Face called “This Land”, which is a TV campaign about North Face owning the idea of exploration. We used the classic Woody Guthrie song, “This Land Is Your Land” and did all the proceeds from that song went to the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps.  We drove a lot of downloads, we helped a lot of people, and helped build a brand at the same time. That’s one that just recently launched.

We did a Super Bowl ad with Pepsi when Beyoncé did the Super Bowl. It was completely comprised of user photos, so the audience created the ad for us, a truly crowd-sourced product that we’re proud of. And I would say that the number one project that we’re working on currently, that we’re really proud of, is with The White House. It’s a campaign called It’s On Us.  It was launched by Barack Obama last September. On the anniversary of it we’re doing another round of work.  You see it on college campuses. That stats are that one out of five women are sexually assaulted in college, primarily in their freshman and sophomore years.  The White House reached out to us because we do a lot of work with Millennial audiences, and we came up with a campaign called It’s On Us.  We do not typically do cause-related marketing. We launched this like we would do a deodorant or a soap or a shampoo; we launched it like a brand. And we came up with a name called, It’s On Us, and a logo.  We launched it with a TV spot that had John Hamm [of Mad Men], Kerry Washington, and a lot of other celebrities. We created a social badge, so if you went to the website and took the pledge – itsonus.org, very easy to remember – the badge would be on your profile. We’ve had toolkits developed so schools can create their own ads. I think we’ve had 400 colleges and universities participate and create their own ads. We had the number one video on YouTube. And we created a brand with t-shirts. We even got Joe Biden to wear one of our t-shirts, which was not an uneasy feat. But it’s been a fantastic campaign and it’s really been making a difference so that’s one that we’re really proud of.

SF: What kind of results have you seen?

JH: This is really about driving awareness and their measuring the impact of recorded incidences. What we’re really trying to do is get more incidences reported, which seems contrarian  — that you want the numbers to go up. But you really want this to be out in the public. We also want colleges and universities to sign up for having more resources on college campuses to protect the victims, or survivors rather. I saw something as I was walking through the halls here coming to the studio that is very ad propelled. It said “Business for Good is Good for Business”, which I absolutely loved. And I think this type of campaign summarizes that. It has really helped the company galvanize behind this issue and you can create brands for everything from soda to good causes. So, it’s been really powerful.

SF: How has it affected the culture of your workplace to be working on projects where you’re clearly having a direct impact on a major social issue of the day and your client is The White House?

JH:  It has had a huge impact. It really has felt that for the company not only can we do advertising and build brands for big companies, but we can do it for causes. And everyone feels really responsible, personally responsible, for this issue. So, it’s created a really great culture. We want to do a lot more of it.

SF: Can you just drill down a bit?  How have you seen the impact on the way that people show up at work?  How they think of their role in the organization? And what it means for them as a citizen, and how that kind of enrichment of their own identity is something that creates value for your business, through the work that you’re doing in this cause-related marketing?

JH:  There’s been about 3 billion impressions throughout this campaign. We had a lot of great partners along the way.   Generation Progress, which is the not-for-profit public company that helped get in-kind media donations for the campaign and the White House. We worked on this campaign together. And the biggest impact it has made in the company is to see a small agency partner with the White House with no funding and have this type of impact – I’m doing this pro bono, that’s right Stew. So, it’s a huge investment. That investment and this particular issue have shown the employees how much we care about something more than just dollars, more than just business. It’s also shown that an agency our size can have this kind of impact across colleges and universities across the country. It’s inspirational and it makes people feel like if you put your mind to it, and , work together, anything is possible.

SF: So how many people work in your agency?

JH: We have about 85 people. We have two offices: San Francisco and New York  about equally split.

SF: So what are others looking at when they look at your firm? What are they trying to steal from you or learn from your practices that help to advance what great advertising looks like in 2015?

JH: I don’t know what they see or what they look at. But I can tell you fundamental principles we believe in that steer the culture and affect the type of innovative work that we do. One of those is that we’re driven by a culture of innovation and friendship and collaboration. The heart of it is the company is motivated and created for the love of creativity. That’s why we started this company. That’s why we’re still doing it ten years later and trying to grow it because everyone that works there is bonded by this love of creativity and this friendship. When everyone starts at the company, they get a book – a Mekanism book – that outlines our founding principles and our DNA. The first one is that we are optimistic. So, as a culture we’re optimistic. We hire optimistic, positive people because advertising can be a nasty, dirty business. It can be a knife fight sometimes. It’s very competitive. We need people that are always looking at the positive and always optimistic, not through rose-colored glasses, mind you. They have to be grounded, but we need optimistic people, we need fearless people.

SF: Optimistic and fearless. How do you screen for that?

JH: I think it’s less that we screen for them, that it’s more gut-instinct. We have a pretty rigorous interview process. And if someone is the right cultural fit, we hand them this sort of DNA that we believe in. We want them to embody that spirit, and you will quickly know if people abide by that spirit.

SF: How do you know?

JH: You can tell pretty quickly. You never know until you start working with someone, but when you start working with someone you can see how they interact with the culture. Another one is we tend to be a little off-center; we tend to be a little weird, a little quirky. So, we tend to hire people that way.

SF: So you get that by the way people dress or what their resume looks like?

JH: I think it’s usually their career path. People that have had a roundabout way of getting to where they are. Someone who’s sort of had the mapped out plan usually wouldn’t be exactly the right fit. We like people that come from all walks. One other principle we believe in is loyalty, and loyalty doesn’t mean that people don’t leave because people always leave. People come and go. That’s the nature. Loyalty means that we have each other’s backs, and in a work environment we keep the politics on the outside. So, our clients and the brands we work with bring enough politics with them and enough issues with them that we don’t need that in the building. So, the building has to be political-free. It has to be a loyal environment where we all work together to accomplish something. And of course there’s going to be one-offs that don’t fit that, but in general that’s what we need as a company.

SF: How do you maintain, especially as you’re growing more successful, how do you maintain that culture of friendship and creativity as you get bigger? You must be thinking about that.

JH: Absolutely. We’re starting to think about additional offices and more hires and more accounts. We really don’t have the answer, but we’re trying to come up with a rigorous process to keep the culture. It’s easy when you’re small the keep the culture nice and tight. As you get bigger, it gets more challenging. There’s one more fundamental belief that we have that I want to cover. Optimistic, off-center, fearless, loyal, and then the last one is the power of story telling. This is a philosophy that everyone has to believe in.  And this is what makes us slightly different. We’re an advertising agency that believes that people hate advertising. So, that would be like a professor assuming that people don’t want to come to school. But the idea behind that is that no one is sitting around waiting for you to interrupt them. No one is sitting around waiting for your ad. No one is sitting around on their computer or in front of their TV or on their phone waiting for you to cram your message down their throat. So, if you believe that everybody hates advertising, another truth is that everybody loves a great story. So, if you can think about connecting with an audience through a great story and the power of that, the power of nailing a truth of whatever you’re advertising, whatever you’re communicating, wrapped in a story, that has power. That has entertainment. And that gets people interested and it makes them listen to your message. And so, that’s a little way for an advertising agency to come at things a little differently.

SF: Is that distinctive? Aren’t all ad agencies going after the power of compelling narrative that has bonded people since the dawn of time?

JH: Yes, but I think they may approach it, and sure a lot of agencies do tell great stories, but I think they may look at as: we’re going to have a message, we’re going to tell it to the audience, and we’re going to tell it to them the same way. We’re going to pound it into submission until they know that our message has gotten in there. We just fundamentally come at it a little bit differently.  In our creative teams, we believe that people aren’t just waiting around to hear what we have to say because they’re not.

SF: They’re not.  And that is an assumption that is important to make if you’re going to be able to connect to their hearts and minds. So, the North Face piece I have seen. It is a compelling story with beautiful music and a great song. A song that in my playlist for my East Street radio segment, I started with Bruce Springsteen’s cover of “This Land Is Your Land”, which he did back in the late 70’s. It’s a song that I believe should be our national anthem. That is an important song and important theme to bring to that story about what North Face is all about. It’s more than just exploration. It’s also about a shared ownership of our nation and our future.

JH: That’s the next level down, that’s correct.

SF: So, tell us what it’s like to be managing creative people. So you got these positive, optimistic, fearless, off-centered people who don’t want to deal with the political stuff, but want to get the work done, which of course everyone wants that. What do you do personally as the CEO to make sure that continues to be the way that things are?

JH: That’s a great question. It’s a constant struggle, frankly. But I think you do that through lots of sharing, lots of communication, lots of storytelling. One thing that we do every year is the whole company goes on a retreat. This year we went to Mexico, and the company all goes. We take three days, which can be challenging for spouses and boyfriends and girlfriends because it’s just the whole company. We do an off-site. We’ve done it for the past four years. And the idea is we have artists, we have speakers, we outline what we’re all going to accomplish that year together. And then at the end of the year, we measure what we all did together. So, the idea behind that is that sometimes working together and collaborating is getting off the merry-go-round and spending time together, and getting to know people on a level deeper than being in a meeting with them. We found that to be incredibly effective way to build both the vision for what we’re going to do together, and also to build bonds for people that have to work together or are cross functional in different departments so they normally wouldn’t spend time together. It’s been key. And then throughout the year we have all company meetings every Monday where we have different people in the company talking about what’s happening within the company. So everyone has a voice. The idea is that everyone should feel part of it and be able to stand up and speak in front of everyone else.

SF: So, how do you keep people motivated working on the more commercial clients when you have the White House as a client? I know you’re working with the U.N. Doesn’t everybody want to work with those social causes?

JH: We do work with Ben & Jerry’s. We do Jim Bean. We’re doing work right now with the NFL. We do Nordstrom Rack. So, there’s a lot of clients in there. One filter we have is we tend to work only with clients that we think people will want to work on, and they tell us. We tend not to go after or pitch clients that won’t get people excited. So, that’s one way we do it. And we try to tailor – football oriented people on NFL, fashion-oriented people on Nordstrom. So that’s one way to do it.  We don’t always get it right

SF: And that’s an important way to find out what people really care about. We’re almost out of time here, Jason. I have to ask you, you call yourself a functioning workaholic. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I also know you’re a dad. So, what’s it like being a dad and a CEO of a dynamic company like this? What kind of dad are you, or can you be as a CEO?

JH: I think that’s fundamental to your life’s work — the balance between those and the integration. I call myself a workaholic, but I would also call myself a ‘familyaholic’ as well. That’s pretty much what I spend my time doing. I’m passionate about both. I don’t always make the right choice, but you have to make selections of where you’re spending your time. And there’s sacrifice on one end, but you really try to weed out a lot of the extraneous stuff from your life to really set your goals and make sure you’re not working a lot, adding in other things that take you away from your family, but you try to focus on those two things. That’s one thing that I’ve found, whether it’s the right way to do it, it works for me, which is really just focusing on workaholic/familyaholic.

SF: Committing to those two and to work that has a positive social impact. So, in the last fifteen seconds here, what’s the one piece of advice you want to give to our listeners throughout the U.S. and Canada about how to be in a senior executive role and be an effective parent too.

JH: Well, that’s a big question. I would say it’s cliché and you’ve hear it a lot, but it’s the truth: if you are going to spend your energy and your time, then it has to somehow relate to a passion of yours if you are going to be successful and if you’re going to be content and happy. It doesn’t have to be the exact thing you want to do, but it has to be related to something that you’re passionate about. That’s sort of the key to success.

SF: I couldn’t agree more based on everything that I’ve seen and heard, and I appreciate you sharing that simple but powerful wisdom. Jason thank you for joining me today.

To learn more visit http://www.mekanism.com/ and follow Jason on Twitter @jason_harris.

Ali Ahmed Ali Ahmedis an undergraduate senior majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Cinema Studies.

Creating a Connection Culture at Work — Mike Stallard

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Mike Stallard, the former Chief Marketing Officer for Morgan Stanley’s private wealth management business. He also worked for Charles Schwab. He’s the co-founder and president of E Pluribus Partners, which helps leaders to build “connection cultures” at work. He’s authored Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity and Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work. Stallard and Friedman spoke about the value of fostering a connection culture at work and encouraging leaders to take action to connect with employees. They also spoke about how the benefits of that can spread into one’s personal life.

Stew Friedman:  Mike, you have a background in marketing and degrees in both business and law. How did you get from there to the human side of business – the connections between employees and between employees and employers?

Mike Stallard: stallardIt is an unusual career shift. I saw, working on Wall Street, that so often mergers didn’t work. And I became interested in how work cultures were different. And I wondered, is there a best culture? That curiosity led me to eventually leave Wall Street, spend several years doing research, and start a firm that focuses on that. My first book came out in 2007.

SF: Was there a critical episode that led you to saying “I have got to go and figure this thing out for myself and then help other people to figure it out”?

MS: There were several. It was a confluence of events. One, was seeing financial services mergers.   The Morgan Stanley-Dean Witter merger, Charles Schwab and U.S. Trust — that merger influenced me, Morgan Stanley and Van Kampen American Capital. Then, also the deals over the course of my career. I saw cultures that were different. Finally, I had a very unusual situation happen where my wife, Katie, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, and ovarian cancer in 2004.  She’s healthy and thriving today.  But she had three episodes of cancer over the last decade. There was a time when we were going to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and we were walking towards the entrance, and there was a doorman named Nick Medley, who’s now a concierge. Nick locked his eyes on Katie and greeted her like a returning friend. And it really caught me by surprise.  People don’t typically make eye contact in New York City. Then, the receptionist was calling everyone ‘honey’, and the security people and administrative people were helpful and friendly in this particular part of Sloan Kettering. And her oncologist spent an hour with us.  She was upbeat, and optimistic, and answered our questions, and educated us about treatment options. And at the end of the day I had two reactions. One was I had done research and I knew that this was the best – one of the best – teams worldwide to treat advanced ovarian cancer. And the second, I knew they cared.  I observed a culture when I was there. It was such a contrast from what I experienced on Wall Street. And I decided I really wanted more of that culture. A culture where people felt connected to the work they were doing, that it was helping others, they felt connected to one another and to people they serve, their patients and their families.

SF: So that connection was inspiring to you?

MS: It really was.  I was just seeing the importance of connection. Matthew Lieberman, a neuroscientist at UCLA, has described human connection as a super power, that it makes us more productive, happier, and healthier. And I was seeing that in research after research. And then having that personal experience where I really felt a sense of connection and could observe that among the workers, doctors, and professionals; everyone in this gynecological oncology group really influenced me.

SF: That is a healthcare providing service and that is their purpose. It’s different than the rough-and-tumble world of Wall Street where the game is a lot of different. So, you expect a different culture right?

MS: Well, you do. On the other hand, Wall Street, because it does bring a lot of money, power, and fame to people who work there, attracts a lot of people who long for that. So, it’s focused on task excellence and results, and not so much on relationships. Relationships with clients have been more for the purpose of landing deals and generating revenue. And truly building strong personal relationships with clients doesn’t have to be that way. Because if you think about the purpose of Wall Street, the allocation of capital in our society has huge ramifications for people world-wide. And so it’s work that ultimately benefits individuals, but few people in Wall Street really bring that mindset. There’s a Manfred Kets de Vries article that described it. Everyone kind of has their number. Kets de Vries calls it the “F you” number, which, when you hit that number you can take off and you don’t have to work at Wall Street anymore. And I found it was the predominant attitude. A lot of people wanted to reach a certain wealth level and get the heck out because it’s just not a very healthy culture.

SF: So you saw a different path and saw the value in it. And it certainly is a topic and an issue that has become a very important one in the study of organizations. Over thirty years ago, when I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, I did a study of organizational culture. And this was when the field was just emerging, following Peters’ and Waterman’s In Search of Excellence, which really brought the idea to the fore. And in the thirty years since, the term organizational culture in our understanding of its power and value has just become mainstream.  Now you’ve seen its power and you studied it, and now have developed a way of thinking about it and changing it that you refer to as “connection culture”, which you also wrote about in Fired Up or Burned Out. So, tell us what is connection culture? I think you’ve given us a hint. Tell us a little bit more about what it looks like and how to create it?

MS: We see, predominantly, three types of relational cultures. There are technical cultures, and sales and marketing cultures. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about relational cultures. We found that there are three types of relational cultures. A culture where people feel connected to the work they do because it fits well with their strengths and provides the right kind of challenge. They feel connected to their teammates, to their supervisor, to the organization’s identity, its mission and values, its reputation, and to senior management. Those connections motivate, they inspire people, move people to give their best efforts, align their behavior with organizational goals, more fully communicate so decision-makers have best information to make optimal decisions, and they contribute to conversations on innovation and creativity, and help advance the firm.

The other cultures we found were the cultures of control, which is pretty descriptive. Most of us have experienced that. And the culture we see growing rapidly, because this is growing in our broader society, is a culture of indifference. Where people are becoming so busy and overwhelmed by tasks and becoming addicted to iPhones, and smartphones, and media, and other activities that we don’t take time for relationships. It’s squeezing out time for relationships. And that was certainly my story on Wall Street.   With the commute and long work hours, the first thing to go was time with my friends. And eventually I had some challenges where when I was home, Stew, I wasn’t mentally home. I wasn’t present. Because I wasn’t trying to figure out how to crack the code on some culture issues related to mergers I was involved in. I grew lonely, and I didn’t feel well, and it affected my health. I needed more coffee to get going, and exercise to stimulate me and keep going, and alcohol at night to slow me down. As I looked at the research, the opposite of connection is loneliness and addiction — just to self-medicate. And that is certainly what I experienced. So, the research really aligns with my personal experiences. That’s why I am really passionate about this.

SF: So, the missing link is the connection to other people, meaningful relationships, where you’re helping each other, you’re aware of each other’s core values and needs and interests in a way that the good people at Sloan Kettering are able to express. It’s a critical element to satisfaction at work, and of course all of our relationships outside of work. So how do you bring that in to an organization that’s crying for it?

MS: I think helping them, providing a language to understand these differences between connection, control, and indifference. Examples, case studies are great.

SF: So, it starts with awareness? There are different kinds of cultures, and here’s what yours might look like, and really letting people understand and have more refined, sophisticated understanding that there are variations. And that it’s not by magic or accident that they occur.

MS: We do find that people pretty quickly get the idea of what control, indifference, and connection feels like. We find that about half report they are in a culture of indifference, 25% in a culture of control, and 25% in a connection culture. And then we go on to describe culture. There’s been so much written about culture, but it’s almost come to mean everything. So, we boil it down to the predominant attitudes, language that is used, and behavior, both individual and organizational behaviors that bring about a connection culture, culture of control, or culture of indifference. So we focus on those things because we do a lot of work with technical communities, like the engineering section for the NASA Johnson Space Center. We worked with them for three years. We’ve been in MD Anderson Cancer Center and Yale-New Haven Health. We’ll spend a lot of time helping them understand the science. Now you would think that the medical community would understand the science. But I found they really don’t. We get into stress response versus a state of homeostasis in the body and when we’re lonely, when we feel unsupported, left out, or lonely, we’re more vulnerable to addiction because the body is in a state of stress response.  When we’re in a state of stress response, the body allocates blood glucose and oxygen to the fight-or-flight systems, the heart, the lungs, the big muscles. But it depletes, or under-allocates, those resources to parts of the brain, the digestive system, the immune system, and the reproductive systems. So, it has an effect on our health and will shave years off our lives.

SF: So, the workplace is doing that. I guess what you’re saying, Mike, is that connection cultures are the ones we want to have?

MS: Right and that’s where you see that strong sense of camaraderie, a sense of connection and unity and community across the group, whether it’s a team or organization.

SF: So, identifying it, that’s the first step. Giving people some tools for understanding the attitudes, the language, the stories that get told, the behaviors that lead to the different kinds of cultures. Then, what happens?

MS: We do an assessment. We have employee engagement surveys, that really is a connection survey. And when you look at employee engagement surveys, that’s what they are. They assess these different aspects of connection. Because really it’s the subcultures that matter the most. For example, in one multi-national corporation we worked with over the last year we surveyed their employees in sixteen different languages. And we were able to go to the CEO and say, “here’s where connection exists and here’s where it doesn’t exist.” And then it was really up to him and his human resources department to decide where do we make leadership changes, which he did, and where do we need to really become involved and provide coaching and training to certain leaders who we think have potential to change.

SF: So, the primary means for intervention here is to work on an individual basis with senior leaders?

MS: Yes, ultimately. Giving everyone the training, so there’s a common language in the organization, understanding how important it is, and then assessing to see where the needs really exist. Also, identifying where the strengths are. I can think of one example where a CEO took one of the best leaders in the organization who really created a connection culture and made him vice chairman. And now that leader is mentoring other leaders who need help around the world.

SF:  What does that look like, the shift, a senior leader’s approach to how she conveys attitudes, values, and beliefs that support a connection culture. Can you walk us through what the change process looks like?

MS:  We believe it could be very different in terms of the attitudes, the language, the behavior depending on the context whether you’re in, say healthcare, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, or you’re at investment bank across town.  We tend to use a tool we call “a hundred ways to connect”. Just having conversations with individual managers to think through what are some things they can do based on the feedback we’ve seen through the employee engagement survey to strengthen connection in this particular area.

SF: So, you have some specific ideas there? We got Vincent calling from Texas. Vincent, welcome to Work and Life. What’s your question?

Vincent: Thanks. I work at a software company and I’m in sales. And I’m curious what are some of the action items that you would recommend to have that connection culture because so much of a sales organization is individualistic performance and metrics. It’s really easy to get caught up in your own little world and microcosm of things you need to perform. And you kind of lose sight of relationships with peers as well as treating a customer like in that healthcare example you used because you’re so concerned about hitting your goal so you do well financially, but also for yourself.

SF: Great question, Vincent. Mike, what do you have to say?

MS: Yeah Vincent, great question. You know, I find sales can be very lonely. If you’re out on the road, and calling on prospects, and working with your customers to gain greater loyalty, and you’re doing that alone. You really need that relational support. So, number one, helping sales people who are in that type of position to understand that they need connection. So, they need to be intentional. And Stew, this fits well with your work really living an integrated life, and therefore, the different domains you talk about. Connection needs can also be met from your relationships outside of work. It’s good to have them at work also. There are just a number of things you can do. Everything from taking time to get to know the stories of some of the people you work with, even if it’s over the telephone or Skype. I always tell sales managers they really need to be proactive in staying in contact with the sales people who they are responsible for leading. Learning to be present in conversations, developing a habit of emphasizing positives.

SF: Let’s go with that ‘learning to be present in conversations’, which is something that Vincent may or may not be experiencing in his world, but is probably pretty common. What do you do to help people to do that? Because I hear that a lot as a very important need. How do you stay focused and psychologically present?
MS: Well, number one, just understand that people are in different modes. Some people could be in deep connection mode, really focusing on one individual. Another person you’re interacting with could be in a more multi-tasking rhythm at this particular time and day.  There could be a disconnect because you are wanting to connect on a deeper level or just to get to know them socially. If people interrupt you and you’re in a state of flow, immersed and focusing on a project, sometimes it’s not easy to come out of that mode and interact with them. So, I think understanding some of these different rhythms that we get in, and how we get into these situations. Giving people language to help make smoother transitions. Those are just some of the examples.

SF: Vincent, thanks for your call. I hope that was helpful in giving you some ideas. The basic concept here is to form those human connections wherever you can. Let me pick up on this further, if I can, Mike. So, what if you don’t know your team well, or you’re not connected because you’re in a different location? How you get that relationship going to begin with is an issue for some people.

MS: There are a number of questions you can ask. So, for example, just simple things, like,  What have your experiences been in the past in terms of work in the past? And that’s a very natural question for a supervisor to ask. What managers have you worked for? What are some of the things they did that really inspired you, energized you that you really liked? And what are some of the things that aggravated you, or were energy-drainers? You can learn about that. The question I love to ask is what are your interests outside of work? What do you like to do in your free time? I just find it so fascinating — some of their hobbies, interests, passions – it really gives you an opportunity to connect. Also, when there are opportunities to empathize, really seize those opportunities because when we feel another person’s emotions, if it’s a positive emotion it enhances that positive emotion for them. And if it’s a painful emotion they’re experiencing, empathize and feel how that emotional connection diminishes their pain. And in both instances, it connects us. So, little things like that, Stew.

SF: And they can have a really big impact. Mike, we’re just about at the end of our time here. What’s the big idea you would like to leave our listeners with about what you discovered with the work you bring to the world?

MS: Our broader society is becoming more disconnected. And I know for me, this was not something I was aware of, Stew. I didn’t realize I was hardwired to connect, so I was dysfunctional and developing addictions. And you see that in the broader society when you see the decline of health of Americans under 50. Now Americans under 50 have the lowest life expectancies versus the sixteen other wealthiest countries, according to the Institute for Medicine. I think a lot of this is loneliness driven. We’re hardwired to connect and we need to be intentional about connecting and meeting that need for ourselves and for the people we’re responsible for leading and the people we love in our lives.

SF: And that’s going to have a ripple effect, right, in terms of the other parts of your life?

MS: Absolutely. It helps the whole life. If you don’t connect in your life outside of work, then chances are you’re not doing a good job connecting at work. And when you’re intentional and you become a stronger connector in the workplace context, it spills over and strengthens those connections with your loved ones and friends.

SF: Absolutely. That’s certainly something I’ve seen and you speak about it with a lot of authority based on real experience.

For more information about Michael Stallard visit his website http://connectionculture.com and follow him on Twitter @Michael Stallard.

About the Author

Ali Ahmed Ali Ahmedis an undergraduate senior majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Cinema Studies.