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Episode 50:

LAABS: Remember the Seneca Pilot?

This week we're joined by two of Softway's Associate Directors who were a part of the inception of our leadership transformation experience, Seneca Leaders. We dig deep into some of our biggest learnings from that time and discuss what real empowerment looks like.

Speakers

Feel the love! We aren't experts - we're practitioners. With a passion that's a mix of equal parts strategy and love, we explore the human (and fun) side of work and business every week together.

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Jeff Ma
Host

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MohProfile

Mohammad Anwar
President

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erin pool_bw_square

Erin Pool
Associate Director

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Ashley Vega
Associate Director

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Transcript

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Jeff Ma
hello and welcome to love as a business strategy a podcast that brings humanity to the workplace we're here to talk about business but we want to tackle topics that most business leaders shy away from we believe that humanity and love should be at the center of every successful business i'm your host jeff ma and i'm a director at Softway a business to employee solutions company that creates products and offers services that help build resilience and high performance company cultures. At Softway we have a belief that our best learnings come from being uncomfortable so today we're going to practice some more of that we're going to continue our series in which we look back at particular moments in our past talk about what happened what we learned about it and see where it's gotten us today so just a little bit of awkwardness with a little bit of learning a little bit of vulnerability hopefully that's the formula we have brewing and today i have some hopefully by now familiar faces joining me we have Erin Pool Associate Director of Softway welcome back Erin

Erin Pool
thanks hey guys

Jeff Ma
and we have Ashley Vega Associate Director of Softway welcome Ashley

Ashley Vega
thanks Jeff

Jeff Ma
and once again Mohammad Anwar President CEO hey Moh how's it going

Mohammad Anwar
hey everyone

Jeff Ma
and so i've gathered us together again to talk about the past and today's topic as our audience may be familiar we run a a show called Seneca, a specific a very unique experience for leaders to work on their behaviors and their self awareness and their it's it's kind of our flagship product here as Softway and this show that we run this program is come through many different iterations it's been built over experiences and all that kind of good stuff and we have some stories i guess i guess we have some stories of the early days of Seneca when this thing was still getting off the ground you know this was built from the ground up and learn through trial by fire blood sweat and tears late nights long weeks all these things and so i've assembled us together today because that's one of the this is where we go way back i mean we've obviously worked together for years but i mean the story of Seneca is something that the four of us plus many others who aren't with us but the four of us have watched be have seen birth from nothing into to where we are today and so i'm going to pick your brains a little bit about about the beginning errors of Seneca in particular i know that this was not something that was created without conflict it was not something that was created without a little bit of disagreement a little bit of you know just team dynamic issues and just being able to we had a lot a lot of learnings i would say seneca has created so many learnings versus individuals as teams as organization so i'm gonna pick on Ashley's start here today just to set the stage so really tell us about i mean the how you know the the time period we're in and what was going on this time tell us about seneca in the early days

Ashley Vega
sure so back in 2018 which seems like yesterday but also seems like it was a long time ago because we've done so much since then we came apart across an opportunity it was one of our clients where they were they were really interested in how we had transformed our culture and they wanted to bring that into their organization and so it was one of these things were like oh well we don't we don't really do that like that was all internal and they were like no we want you to do that so so we gathered a bunch of people we put our heads together in a room we started brainstorming and thinking like can we do this what does it look like what do we need to do and that's how Seneca leaders was born from there we Erin and i both had clients that were interested in it so we we ended up doing like a pilot which was just to make sure that this was something that they wanted to invest in and we lot we learned a lot of things from that pilot there was a lot of brainstorming and content creation a lot of logistical things that we had to kind of figure out and learn as we went even from like audio visual breakout rooms like just all of the things that you could think of i think of it as like we were planning a wedding and we didn't know what we didn't know we're not formal like wedding glitters wasn't a wedding but you get the point like do you want ivory napkins or do you want what's the party favor and i think that if i think back to that time number one it was absolutely crazy what we accomplished we had to get this pilot done in like less than three weeks, we didn't have a venue, we wouldn't have anything. And we made it happen. And it was an incredible feat on our team and our team dynamic because I don't think any of us had worked together that closely at that point. Is that enough? scene setting? What do you think?

Jeff Ma
I think a wedding was probably the best literal like kind of analogy for the audience to understand, because they've never been to a Seneca because they don't understand the production that it is. It's a keep using the word show. It's not technically a show. But you know, you can kind of look at this training programs across two days, at a venue with everything very much, you know, like designed to be an experience from end to end. So I think the way the wedding analogy really struck me as appropriate. Yeah, I think that's some good scene setting. So I guess, from there, I like to talk about specifically our team dynamics within that space. I know, you know, maybe I'll start with Mohammad here. Because over during this time, obviously, this is a big deal. And there's a huge opportunity. So there's a lot that can go wrong. And there's a lot that we want to go right. So can you tell us a little bit about like the mindset, we're going into this? And kind of Yeah, where where you're at at that time?

Mohammad Anwar
Sure. So this is a opportunity that kind of just landed on our laps, right? Like, we aren't in the business of doing, we've learned, at least at that time, the business of doing leadership experiences. However, one of our largest clients, you know, saw our own culture going through its own transformation, and they wanted to see that for themselves. And so they came to us and told us, hey, go do this. And I told our customers that, hey, we've never done this before, for customers, and they were like, No, we know it. We know you've never done it, but we trust you. We trust that you guys will be able to pull this out better than anybody else in the marketplace. And that trust that our customers showed towards me and Softway and our team just unlocked this sheer desire to not disappoint our client or customer. And that trust that they bestowed on this and empowered us with, like, meet our team jump loops and hoops and everything we could to make sure that you know we made this a successful event. And, and yeah, like make sure it has the outcomes. That's not just important for our business. But at the end of the day, that that that feeling of being empowered by someone like that, and trusting you even despite you've never done it before, you've never had experience doing this, when someone bestows that level of trust upon you. I think it just just unleashes this desire, not out of fear, but out of like shared desire to not disappoint the other person. So I think that drove us a lot to take on the challenge. We knew it was a challenge. It was a three week challenge. None of us at the organization had ever thrown an event like this, neither are event planners, or have any idea of how to like, you know, orchestrate a two day experience that we were asked. So I think from there, like it was a decision that I had to make to go forward with this. But I obviously took the confidence that my that the team came and demonstrated to me and said, Hey, Moh, we got this, we can take care of this. You know, some of us have some experiences, when you someone has I've experienced that this and that we'll figure it out. Let's take it on. It's pretty big deal for the company. So that's kind of how we accepted the challenge, sign a contract. And when, you know, on this race, it was a sprint, three weeks making this a reality. And I think for me personally, being a very, I would say I'm a very, I'm gonna have to admit, I think I'd micromanaged a lot. Back in the day, and for me to try to, like kind of pass on that trust that we were bestowed upon our customer to everyone else on our team to go do what they needed to do was very difficult for me. I but I think in the first week of doing this, I realize oh my gosh, I can't do this by myself. I can be everywhere, trying to do everything, trying to be involved in the middle of everything. I just can't do it. But I didn't let go even despite that it was ultimately you know, Ashley, you you. You came to me one day and you're like, Moh, just back off we go This just leave, leave me the hell alone. Like, I'll take care of this. You need to worry about this. And I still remember that conversation you had with me and I'm like, Whoa, okay. Okay, Ashley, I, deep down. I'm like, I don't know if she should be speaking to me that way. But also, I was like, glad you did. Because I was I was dying. I was like, I needed help. But I wasn't willing to ask for help, because I was so arrogant. And like, you know, so I had so much ego about myself that when you came and said that I was like, I didn't know what to make out of it. Except like, actually, I'm glad you did that, though. That's how I remember like, that's how it started with the team trying to then take empowerment, like trying to own their empowerment and advocate for themselves. Like, Ashley, you did a great job advocating for yourself and saying, Mohammad, don't worry, I got this, please step away. And that I think was very important for me to hear which I think I could have easily reacted a different way with you. But I mean, that's just one instance. But actually, I don't know if you have anything to say about that. What? How did you feel coming up to me and saying that?

Ashley Vega
Okay, so I was still pretty new at I've got some event planning background. So I was feeling pumped, because I'm like, this is cool. How did I land here where I get to do this other thing that I like to do in my like, project manager job. So pretty cool. But also like three weeks, I'm over here looking ahead. And I'm like, okay, we have like 8 million things to do. And everybody is stepping on each other's toes. There was a group of people that were creating content, and that we're going to be facilitating, and like they were just all up in the logistics business and including Mohammad. Like we had a team Erin and I were on a team, we had a couple other people. And it was also weird dynamic with Erin and I too, because the pilot was actually her client, but she was going to be out of town for the day of the pilot. And then my client was interested too, and was like really close to signing. So there's some weird dynamic things even between Erin and I, but I remember I was like, we were getting nowhere. So the logistics team had a meeting, we're like, this isn't working. And I was like, Alright, I'm gonna go talk to Mohammad. I, like had my notes I had written down what I was gonna say, I was worried about you reacting badly. And I remember I went in there and I was like, I need your airplane. Right? Typically, what I said to you, like, you got I was like, we're putting on a show like, this is a production, you need to focus on the content, the content is key. If the contents not good, the rest of it is going to be bad, and we're not going to do what we need to do. I was like, I need you to trust me. And he was like, Well, okay, and I was like, No, I need you to trust me. Like, it's gonna be okay. And I was like, and we're gonna mess up. And that's okay, too, because we've never done this before. And we're going to work it out. It's gonna be okay. And you were like, all right, and then you look a little bit ahead and everything went well successful. We find some contracts, Erin and I both started doing a bunch of stuff and traveling. And I remember, like, Mohammad, do you want to look at this contract for for Singapore venue? Like, you know, it's in the front? It's not even in USD, like, do you want to look at this? He's like, Nope, just fine. It's fine. Like, do you want to know how much it costs? He's like, no, it's fine. I trust you. Like we just like one at a time. Okay, well, I guess I'm like signing contracts for across the world now. And then he trusts me hope I don't mess it up.

Jeff Ma
Erin, what is your take on on all of this from those early days of Seneca

Erin Pool
um, it was like a very much a whirlwind. Just looking back or thinking back on that. There were so many people involved, and I do not have any event planning background. But I know Ashley and I are definitely the type of people it's like, oh, can you get this done? And we're like, yeah, again, no problem. So you know, looking at the fact that I did not have any event planning experience. I like that. Yeah, no problem.Let's just get it done. And luckily, there's other people around me that did but yeah, it was it was a little terrifying in the beginning, but one of those like, yeah, it's gonna it's gonna work out. You know, we did have some hiccups in the pilot, but I think that with that allowed us to be able to pivot. Even better for the next hiccup in the next show, and all the subsequent ones after that, basically turn this thing into a well oiled machine. We've, you know, traveled all around the world. There's been hiccups that for, you know, with venues with transportation with no God knows what but you know i think by every single one of those hiccups we really learn how to deal with one another in those moments how to respond not react and how to how to create learning moments every step of the way so that by the time you know these happen in another country where you don't speak language you're like no problem we got this so that's kind of

Mohammad Anwar
one story like we were in London doing a Seneca session and the radios that play on the monitors for the presentation i have a video that in my section that i presented for it it stopped working it didn't work and i basically was like in the middle of the show the very last like presentation in the video that possibly doesn't play so i look back to it was actually in Chelsea and i look back to you guys and i said hey i guess this isn't working and i got this look from them i got a look we're like you never tell something's not working in front of the audience and i got like lectured and like told afterwards you never ever in the middle of a show say something's not working you just keep going like oh my gosh okay got it got it got it like from here and after that that was actually a very good tip because a lot of things would go wrong in there it's normal technical glitches or something wouldn't work or audio would stop working and like internet problems you know we reincarnated all our clicker problems oh my gosh clicker problems had lots of issues so but that taught us to trust each other where i'm like i'm up on the stage i'm presenting if something doesn't work the team has got my back they will fix it they will take care of it you just keep the show running and i think i learned a very like that tip that was like never say that there's a problem from that day on even when we had problems we were able to without ever even communicating with each other we knew things are gonna get fixed things are gonna get taken care of just maintain your composure and keep going and in you know i've had several attendees come to me and tell me you know what Mohammad you're teaching us about not reacting and responding and being patient you know we saw that in demonstration today with how you responded when your presentation stopped working and how you you know basically the good examples they were like you guys you know i didn't see you misbehave or react or yell at anybody for things are working and you know it actually became a lesson in real time when things go wrong how did leaders handle it and like that's how we kind of like ended up becoming became a lesson that we weren't planning on teaching so yeah incidents like including food we had an instance where we we had a i think it was the first piloted selfie i think we miscalculated the amount of food we had to order and we ended up having less food remember Ashley oh you want to describe that situation so

Ashley Vega
here's what happened so remember this is our first time i've ever done it we have a lot of big ideas and from a logistics team standpoint all of the big ideas have like 18 steps that need to be executed it's like oh well we want to do three breakout rooms like our event doesn't have three breakout room spaces let's figure that out oh we want to you know do have a box where we put in cards like okay now i need a box i need markers i need a car i need all these things so this idea came in trying to show i think it was an exercise in equity and so we were like okay the idea idea was like we would give part of the guests a smaller portion of food and the rest of the guests would get a larger portion of food it was just kind of like a social experiment to see if anybody would notice and we did that and we ordered the food and we did all the things except the caterer we went with i don't know exactly what happened but basically the larger portion of food equated to like an appetizer salad and so when we finished the exercise everybody was like oh yeah really cool and then they're like but where's the rest of my people were so upset we went to the next like topic and you could tell people were chatting and they were like oh i'm gonna order pizza like they were starving we didn't give them enough food by far and so we're all in the back and we're like trying to figure out what we're gonna do or like listen we're just gonna order pizza the Moh was like look i'm gonna Go on it. So he goes up to the front. He's like, Guys, listen, I know we didn't, we missed the mark on the food, we know that you're hungry, we're going to order pizza. And so we brought in a bunch of pizzas, and figured out a way to like get pizza in the building within like 45 minutes, so everybody could eat. And everybody was really, really grateful. But it was definitely we know, you should see some of the food spreads we come up with now, because we're like, we're never doing that, again. We're ordering too much food, because that will never happen again, in Seneca history. So Erin, you weren't there. You were in Japan. But I know Jeff and Mohammad were there. I know, you've heard about

Erin Pool
why I booked the caterer and based off of, you know, recommendations from people who had worked with with, you know, these caterers before and who had done a bit planning. So I was like, heck, yeah, let's just get somebody that somebody knows, right? Everything's gonna go well, if you do that, and you know, I remember calling them talking on the phone and emailing, like, here's the logistics of what's going to happen. Like, does that make sense? Do you get it? Do you understand? And they're like, Uh huh. So my perks were by No need to double check anything. We nailed it. In budget. I told them what my budget was I put it in budget for me. And we're good to go. No problem here. And then I was Yeah. In Japan when all the problems happen. So sorry about that. Yeah.

Mohammad Anwar
So sorry, what the funny thing is, like, that incident actually made that experience that much more meaningful for the attendees. Because, you know, Seneca is all about, yeah, and it was all about practicing vulnerability and taking ownership. And you know, how leaders have a hard time taking ownership and stuff. So that accident or incident left everyone with a bad taste in their mouth, no pun intended. But so, so when we were like trying to figure out how do we like solve this problem? You know, in terms of solving the problem with pizza, we also went up into full ownership. And we said, you know, what we messed up, we completely apologize, we didn't intend to, like, have less food ordered, and stuff. So people actually took that took more learning from that incident and the actual topics you're talking about, because they're like, Oh, my gosh, you guys, your team demonstrated everything that you're talking about today that you can teach us, you guys actually practice it and your relationship, your care for each other, the way you behave with each other, makes this Seneca Sessions is that much more impactful? And so we didn't do all of that intentionally. It just happened. And I guess how we treated each other in the moment was actually a lesson for many. So I thought that was pretty cool, as well.

Erin Pool
And I can't I'm going to take full credit for the successful pilot, you know, I knew y'all had it had that in y'all. I'm so proud of you guys.

Jeff Ma
I think I think when it comes to what we call, you know, high performance teams, or high performing teams, high reliable teams like these, you know, it's hard to define exactly what that is, like, 100% every team is different. Every team has its ups and downs and flaws and something I want when we as we talk about these these days of early workings together, I really look back and see this tangible, like early kind of turning point for us as individuals, this this team of works. Focus on Seneca and then Softway as a whole. I mean, our our lives definitely changed in those moments, right. Like, I mean, today, this is what we this isn't the main thing we do is Seneca and what we bring to leaders around the world like that, at that time, that moment, it's hard to imagine but we this was just like the very first kind of foray into that that realm and but what I see is that there's these moments where Mohammad you mentioned we were empowered as an organization as a team to go do something we've never done before. And then that critical, that critical moment where Mohammad and other leaders had to practice paying that empowerment forward. Where Okay, it's not okay Mohammad dev I remember you took on that as a you took that challenge on very personally, you were like, I'm not going to mess this up. This is our as our shot. And but instead of holding on to it and being like I better make this perfect, you actually paid it for it like Ashley and Erin and others saying Okay, then I'm going to also trust you to be empowered as well and that kept paying for I think we did that in many ways, even onto our caterers and onto others, like we kept having this trust built and I look back and I'm really proud of where we are today because our you know, we talk about vulnerable trust quite a bit. And I think this team holds a lot of vulnerable trust for each other. And we're very close in that way. And so much of it was forged in the fire of just these things going wrong and things that we had to adjust. And this trust of everyone saying, you know, what we're, like, we've made so many mistakes in front of each other, all of us that it's almost like, like, expected, super Okay, and we support each other through all of them at this point. It's just like, that's just how it feels to me. But I don't know, I just wanted to share that that thought,

Mohammad Anwar
yeah, I think, sorry, go ahead, Erin

Erin Pool
I think in that moment, just Mohammad Jeff, any of y'all could have been like, Erin mess this up. She had no event planning experience, get her off this project, you know, no more for her. And that was definitely not the reaction at all. So um, I think just the amount of trust, like was a hiccup but you know, that's okay. Let's keep going. You know, really showed the empowerment that y'all and trust that y'all have, for me.

Mohammad Anwar
Somebody that I know, Jeff, he coined the phrase power of empowerment, when you empower people, and from a vulnerable place and truly empower them, you unleash what we call the power of empowerment, this is when the teams are able to do things that might seem impossible for regular teams or pull off results that, you know, in a normal situation would seem impossible to do. And that's the power of empowerment. I mean, that's ultimately, our biggest takeaway, like we learned it through the trials and tribulations of hosting these events and shows right now, I think our team is more a firm believer in our environment than we've ever been.

Ashley Vega
I think that sorry, Jeff, one last thing, I think that it was really interesting when this all went down, because this was a group of essentially leaders, right, that were content brainstorming and facilitating, and then us as these project managers are coming in, and there is a dynamic that lives right between leaders and project managers. But it all got blurry. And it had to because, you know, during the day of event, like that's, that's our show, we have to make sure we're on time, we have to make sure all the pieces move and flow. And we make decisions on the pivots. And we work together as a team. And I think that it really elevated our role on this team. Because we were able to see each other as peers and nobody's ideas were too small. And maybe we can make this tweak and even around content, right? That wasn't necessarily Erin and I's forte, but we were able to look at body language and make adjustments and make suggestions even around content, and be active contributors on this team, which definitely wasn't my experience prior, like prior, you're a project manager, these are your your functions, your responsibilities, here's what you do. You own it in this way. And this was just completely different. And I thought, I think that we, our team has come so far. And we can talk about anything, like really anything. I can walk into a room and be like, Mohammad, that that was bad. Let's talk Where did that come from? What's wrong? Or look, I'm just not here today, I, I'm gonna go. I'll be back. You know, like we can have these kind of conversations in real moments. I think that's all from that vulnerability based trust. Before we were operating before I had that conversation in the hallway where I'm like, you got to let this go. It was very much like, predictive based stress, like, this is all they can do. This is what I know them to do. And then you just kind of you let us go and trusted that we were going to make it happen. And here we are.

Jeff Ma
Yeah, absolutely. I personally, joke sometimes, but not really, that Ashley, you, you and Erin, are people I would trust with my life. And it's like, well, why not? I've seen you do tons of things successfully that you've never done before. So it's all it's all from these moments that we've been through. It's just something really powerful and I can't say enough about it. So this was actually really fun to walk down this memory lane here and really be proud of of a lot of things now that we've gotten a chance to just talk about it. So you know, not all of these episodes have to be all awkward and putting Mohammad in weird awkward positions. But we can also talk about all these nice warm fuzzy feelings. I love it. I love it. So thank you Erin, Ashley, Mohammed for joining me on another trip down memory lane. Here at love his business strategy. We are posting episodes every Tuesday. If there's a topic you'd like to cover, or any feedback you have, please let us know softway.com/laabs if you like what you heard, as always please do share, please do. Send it leave us a review rate us on Apple, Spotify, all that good stuff. And with that, thank you all for joining thank you to my guests and my team members here. We will see you all next week. Have a good one.

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