The workplace revolution has arrived.

Learn More

Listen on:

Apple PodcastIcon

Episode 43:

Love as a Culture Building Strategy

This week we had the privilege of sitting down with James Walker, SVP, Digital Innovation Practice Lead in Weber Shandwick’s Washington, D.C. office and have a conversation about culture and the internal side of things. We were able to dig deep on topics of how a leadership team thinks of their employees, in terms of goals, platforms and outcomes. We hope that you enjoy this episode!


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.


Frank Danna


James Walker
SVP, Digital Innovation Practice Lead in Weber Shandwick


Chris Pitre
Vice President



Hide Transcript

Jeff Ma

If you're interested in bringing love as a business strategy to your organization, we are now offering free mini sessions of our globally resonant Seneca Leaders training experience. These mini sessions dive into three topics to help begin transforming leadership behaviors and influencing culture for the better. Space is limited. So visit to learn more, and RSVP now, enjoy the show.

Frank Danna 0:05
Hello and welcome to love is 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. I'm just kidding. It's me. It's Frank, on the director at Softway, a business to employee solutions company that creates products and offers services that help build resilience and high performance company cultures. Each episode, we're diving into one element of business or strategy and testing our theory of love against it. Today we're talking culture, what it is, what it isn't, and how you can build a healthy and sustainable culture in your workplace. Today, we've got a very special guest, Chris, you are special. Chris is our VP at Softway, but I'm really talking about James. James Walker, everyone. Welcome to loves a business strategy.

James Walker 1:04
Thank you. Thank you. Glad to be here.

Frank Danna 1:07
James, I want to let everyone know a little bit more about you real quick. So James is a senior vice president digital innovation practice lead in Weber Shandwick, Washington, DC office, James has been fortunate enough to work in a global capacity, tackling communications and marketing challenges with his his team in the US, Switzerland, Hong Kong, China, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, and Mongolia, which we're gonna talk about in a bit. He holds an MBA from the Stern School of Business at NYU and a BA in communication from George Washington University. In addition, he is an adjunct professor at both George Washington University and Georgetown University. And he shares insight and strategies around tactics that can help communications and marketing professionals win via his podcast one quick point. Okay, let me reintroduce you, James, welcome to the podcast. All right.

James Walker 1:53
Thank you. Thank you. So Mongolia, we can get there now. We can get there later up to you.

Frank Danna 1:58
I actually want to get there in a few minutes because we do icebreaker questions around here. And I think this is this is the right time to get the icebreakers done, then we can jump to Mongolia and just go from there. So Chris, I'm gonna pick on you first. You ready?

Chris Pitre 2:12
I'm ready. I'm always okay.

Frank Danna 2:15
Would you rather have seven fingers on each hand? or seven toes on each foot?

Chris Pitre 2:24

I think I would rather have seven fingers. Because when I cook a lot, so I always feel like I'm short one finger when I'm trying to grab everything from the fridge and hold it like with my hands. It's like having those two extra digits would just allow me to grab more and reduce trips. Now just be an efficient, you know, cooking machine. Okay, that's my short answer.

Frank Danna 2:49
James, I'm gonna give you a chance to respond to his, you know,

James Walker 2:54
I have yet to sample your cooking. Chris. I we went to GW at no point during that process. Did I ever get offered a meal?

Frank Danna 3:01
Oh, my God,

Chris Pitre 3:02
Which is hilarious because I cook for a lot of people. So

James Walker 3:07
actually weren't. Okay.

Chris Pitre 3:09
Yeah. says no. So I think what it was, is that I was in the business school and you were in the Columbia College. Right? So I'm getting this heat as as, as you grow older inside of the University at GW, you really do start to gravitate towards your schools. And it's not that I didn't like James it was, you know, the the whole thing about being in a compact community towards your you're a senior most years, and you're like in classes of 20 people. And maybe that was it, you know, but I also think that, you know, I can own up to and say that I should have invited you. There you go.

Frank Danna 3:48
This is what this is. This is more of a therapy session than I imagined it to be no.

James Walker 3:54
Closing the wound all.

Frank Danna 3:57
Wow, we haven't even got to Mongolia. So James, let's talk a bit about your choice here with seven fingers on each hand or seven toes on each foot.

James Walker 4:04
Complete type of reverse background, I'm definitely picking seven fingers because I'm size 14 shoe. Adding more toes there. I don't even know where we're gonna end up with that, man. So let's just stick with the seven fingers. I can type faster.We'll do it like that.

Frank Danna 4:21
There we go. All right, James, here's your question. And then Chris will give you a chance to respond as well. Would you rather eat no candy on Halloween? Or no turkey on Thanksgiving?

James Walker 4:32
Who that one is actually a challenge because I think I have more candy that I dislike than candy that I like, but family's from the Caribbean. So like Turkey is very optional. Or any meal. It's way more about goat than oxtail and jerk chicken and everything else versus that. Alright, I'm gonna go with no turkey on Thanksgiving. It's just not necessary. I'm sorry. I know that hurts a lot of people's hearts.

Frank Danna 5:00
It really is it's actually getting smaller and smaller on my plate every year. It's it's about the sides. And Chris, you know, we've been sharing Okay, Maggie, our producer, executive producer Maggie said that's the right answer. So apparently that's the right answer. Chris, what about you? What do you think

Chris Pitre 5:14
I'm definitely skip the turkey. I have a sweet tooth naturally. But also growing up, I was never a fan of Turkey, I always found it to be dry. So in my house, my mom always made sure we had other options away from Turkey even though she claims that she makes the best Turkey. I can't vouch I cannot validate. I am so sorry that her business is now out there on the streets. But I have always gone for ham or we'll have like a roast or fried chicken even like anything but Turkey is typically it. Now I will say that in recent years. Honeybaked Ham Company has a Honey Baked Turkey. That is actually very delicious. And we've come to now grow into using or eating and having that at the table. But I could skip that if it meant that I keep my Halloween candy.

James Walker 6:03
There you go.

Frank Danna 6:03
I like it. Okay, there we go. We're ready to rock. So James, let's talk about Mongolia.

James Walker 6:09
Okay. So what I tell people from time to time is the best way to explain myself is that I feel like sometimes I'm in a movie trailer. Okay, to answer two questions. Where am I? And how did I get here? usually followed by a quick third, which is where am I going next. And the Mongolia situation was definitely that it was one of the things that was intentional, right up until I found out I would have to go to Mongolia. So I was working at this agency in DC, that was global. And so they had an exchange program. And I applied for it. And I got it and people thought was a big deal, because I got in my first year working there. And I went to China. I loved it. It was my first time in Asia. But while I was in China, I started to realize, wait, there are teams in places where we don't have offices? What are they doing? This is interesting. And so I found a way to get on to the list. And there was a list of like, Oh, well, these people get tapped for these projects. And so I got on the list, and the first place they were gonna send me was Kazakhstan. And I was like, I'm not really sure about this. This was around 2010. You know, there's the wars, things happening not far from there. I don't know. And so we didn't win that, thankfully. And for folks who are listening, yes, there's sometimes your agency's pitch, and they don't really think that it's a viable thing. And we moved on from that. But the next one was in Mongolia. And it was a three month scope. And from there, I thought, okay, we're gonna go in deploy, I'm a digital person, I'm gonna help them work on their website, their social strategy, and I'm out, not the case, I ended up being there for seven months. So I really kind of moved to Mongolia. And I went in with a team of two other people from the US I had not worked for work with from other offices, and three people from Europe and Asia. And we became this like Avengers team of six, all in me, basically training the team there on the client side, on how to operate as a global comm shop. And it was the one of the most if not the most, career defining experiences, because you had to do any and everything. And your two hands were your resources. You just made it happen.

Frank Danna 8:19
And you only had five fingers per hand,whichseverely limited you

James Walker 8:23
guys, we had had this conversation, I could have engineered two more for each hand.

Frank Danna 8:27

Chris Pitre 8:29
And I am really shy when it comes to knowledge on Mongolia. The only thing I know is Mongolian barbecue. And so I'm curious to know, if we've been sort of tricked into thinking that that is a part of Mongolia

Frank Danna 8:41
good question,

Chris Pitre 8:41
dining experience, or if there's more to it then what Americans have done to a lot of global cuisines. Yep.

James Walker 8:49
Oh, ding ding ding. turned that into what they want to turn it into the quick fun facts about Mongolia. It is right, kind of shaped like this in between China and Russia. It is about three sides three times the size of France. If you look at landmass, the population is around 3 million and there's 1 million in the capital city which is where we were the northern part thing super Russia cold, mountainous a little bit icy. The Southern part somewhat still kind of bounced between hot and cold but desert. And so you got Gobi Desert at the bottom down region at the top. And then on the sides. You got the eastern steppe here by the Mongolian steppe in the grasslands, beautiful, but so a lot of landscape. And so I went there to work for a mining company, and we were doing comms for them. So learned a lot about the extractive industry and all that good stuff. Culture wise, they are really into judo. They do like actual Eagle hunting. Crazy things happen because the country was a part of the Soviet region and then it kind of broke down but their parts of the country still very much kind of give you that vibe, their language In the characters is still based off the Cyrillic alphabet. So you kind of do feel a little bit of a Soviet kind of feel from the 70s. And the biggest thing, I guess, was a challenge for us. And what I didn't fully know going in is how cold it gets. And they tell you, it's gonna freeze I was there from August through March. And around Thanksgiving time, maybe a little bit earlier, it gets to about minus 10, minus 15. And it goes all the way to minus 40. And place and then if it gets to minus 50, that's when things really start to freeze over and you have a problem. animals die, things happen that you don't want to get there.

Frank Danna 10:40
Oh my gosh,

James Walker 10:41
you need serious gear to kind of live through that. And folks that are rough and tumble, they know how to handle it. They know their way around vodka. And you good parties can be had on

Frank Danna 10:54
Well, that's all we'll say. That's all we'll say on this podcast. Yeah, family friendly.I guarantee you we're not

Chris Pitre 11:01
and do they barbecue? Or is that just like, a fantasy that was working

James Walker 11:06
in the iteration we're seeing here is not traditional way. And that's okay,

Chris Pitre 11:12
again, duped again by the American education system. So Joke's on me. Yeah,

Frank Danna 11:16
they lied to us. So I think this is fascinating. And really, I think, you know, the idea of being able to spend so much time around the world in such a variety of different cultures. I want to talk to you about your personal mission. And and kind of ask about what what that is what that looks like for you. What are what are you focused on today.

James Walker 11:34
So today, I am focused on how I help people and brands, build platforms that they can leverage to do whatever that might be. I think early on in my career, even almost before I got into it, I was attracted to agency primarily because you get a variety of experiences, that where you can help people and brands do great things. And I got into the client service model and started to struggle a little bit, because you think, Okay, what are you building for yourself, and I realized a lot of my purpose is helping other people build. And I excited by seeing them do amazing things out there in the world. And so when I look at it my role now leading a team, I'm thinking about how do I help my team members build for the clients that I work with? How do we not only help them build, but help them go further than where they think they can go by building the right platform? And that's, that's a lot of what I spend time doing with my team. What's the jumping off point? What's the foundation we need to build so that they can actually kind of jump higher and better?

Frank Danna 12:29
So tell me a little bit about what is a platform? Like, let's let's give like a kind of a bare bones example for the layman out there of what you mean, an example of a platform may be and how that can help equip people?

James Walker 12:41
Sure. So what people are most likely going to think of from a cost standpoint, okay, a platform a set of messages, General branding statement, and guideline, that's important. Yes. But what I'm talking about a platform, I'm thinking holistically, if you know that you want to go from A to B, we need to understand what both of those points are, and what the the grounding and foundation we're going to build for you is. So to put that in the client context, you're a company and you're currently generating $1 billion in revenue. And you serve a specific client set you have a goal of getting to five, and you think you know how to get from here to there by attracting new audiences, I'm not only going to think help you think through what you need to do to reach your endpoint audience, say, let's just say everybody's reaching Gen Z, and generation alpha, like they're talking about that. Now, I'm not just going to tell you how to get to them. I'm going to tell you about how you build a platform through your thought leadership through the day to day messaging through the campaigns you're doing, and then what you do with your executives and your employees that help you build a strong base so that you can get to that 5 billion faster than you thought you would, and probably pick up some new learnings along the way. And it gives you some flexibility, because when you just kind of go straight for the bullseye without building the platform, you might not make it there, you might get lost a little bit, or the other piece of it is that is going to take you a lot longer. There are things that help you leapfrog in the process. And we try to make sure that you have the right foundation to do that.

Frank Danna 14:06
Got it very cool.

Chris Pitre 14:07
I'm really interested, you brought up employees and executives. So on this podcast, we talked a lot about like the internal side of things. Because I know when a lot of companies set goals, they really think about customer first and being customer oriented and customer centric, and all of those great things, which is very necessary, but many times that's invoice of or in place of sort of the internal side of that coin. And so I would love to learn more about like when you talk about these platforms and executives as well as employees, what does that look like internally? And how does how does a company or you know, a leadership team really think about employees in terms of those goals, platforms and outcomes.

James Walker 14:46
So I think it's extremely important, where you're talking about executives and employees to understand how understand what their motivations are and their passions to keep To get started, you know, Why are they here? How does being here working with you for you, help help. But then the next piece of it is understanding where their skills are. And marrying those two things up and aligning it with your plan. Most companies fail to pay enough attention to employees or do things that serve them. And then in the process, they forget that, or they fail to realize that you're dealing with your best advocates right here. These are people who understand your good and your bad, and it will help you happy, kept them informed and educated and continue to develop them, such that they can go out in the world and sing your praises, but also be the people that are going to give the most authentic take on it. I mean, think about it from an employer branding standpoint, the person who's going to give you the real on this is not maybe somebody from HR talent act, it's going to be somebody from any division in your company is going to say, this is what it's like to work here. And if you think about it, from a client standpoint, it's not necessarily going to be your front facing executive that's going to be in the weeds to help you solve a problem. It's that person two or three tears down in customer service. And if they're not happy with their job, they're not interested in doing a good job, they don't feel fed by the process, they don't see a development path for their growth, then you're just leaving cards on the table, and you're leaving cash on the table, everything else. So I think it's important to think through that. And there's been some things that I've tried to do with my team to start to align ourselves in that direction, so that we can better make sure that everybody's winning as we do the work.

Chris Pitre 16:20
Yeah. What are some of those things, so she teed it up, hopefully, this not digging too much into your personal

James Walker 16:25
but what happened was a very, you know, we talked about everybody has their own pandemic story was a little bit different for me. So I'm married, I have two kids under 3. I have a 3 year old and the 17 month old. And when the pandemic hit real, like, my wife works in the auditing space. And so it's like, we have to be online in front of these computers, how we're going to do this with the kids at home, figured it out slowly, painfully. But we figured it out. About two weeks into the pandemic, my supervisor who was then leading the team, let me know that she was leaving to go work back with one of her former colleagues in house, she was getting a great cmo role great for her, and that they had tapped me to take on the team leadership role, which was amazing, but also shocking, because this news comes at a time where I'm figuring out how am I going to do my current role, while everything else is going on. And so I moved into this role as the start of the pandemic. So I'm kind of really crossing that one year mark now. And what I had to figure out was the transition, because she was an amazing leader had a great personality, and people really kind of gravitate towards her as she shaped the culture. But now with a new leader, and we're not in the office. So we don't have the same norms. I'm trying to figure out how we're going to kind of rally the team in to begin with, then how do I rally the team around me so that we can start to move in a new direction. And so one of the things that I started to realize is that we needed a revamp of the central vision and values. So we had a good thing, I created a little small task force. And we started working through what that was. And we rolled that out. So we have a new mission and vision for the organization. The values are the same as the larger company, but our specific digital remit, we needed to define better and get some more buying with that. But also, some things that I didn't realize during the pandemic, from an employee standpoint, you just have to do. We're focused on billable hours, we're focused on getting the work done, making sure clients are okay. Sometimes we forget about us in our culture. And it's easy to do when you're together in office. But when you're remote, it has to be more intentional. And so we started having some more fun days. And the easiest thing to do when you're in that mode is to cancel your team meetings because oh, you know, this, just admins need to get work done. We don't have time for status. And I had to curtail that and say, okay, no, we're not gonna do that. Maybe we have it this week. Maybe we don't we're doing it every week. And what differences is that we're going to be intentional about who we bring in. So it's also an educational opportunity for people on the team. But every fourth week, that meeting is just going to be a fun meeting. So one of the things that we did for Christmas, I bought them a gift. We got them masterclass subscription so people could watch that and further their own development on their own time. But we were one session, we watched masterclass for another session, and we did a yoga session. We recently just played Family Feud as a group. And we've done trivia as well. And I think it's helped people not only realize that it's okay to take a break and take a break with your team. But it's also been a good breather for folks to realize that it's still fun to kind of hang out with your co workers, and it's okay, and the work, we'll get all that good stuff. So that's some of the things we've done to help put that together from a fun and culture standpoint. And the last thing I've done is focus on a career roadmap. One of my colleagues, a good friend of mine, she works at Nike. She came up with a roadmap and I saw it and was like, Can I steal this I want to share this with my team. And she definitely allowed me to, and it helps you put your career into context, not only for where you've been, but where you want to go, lining it up against skills, you think you have aspirations, and then things you're doing for your own personal developer. It. So it is your kind of walking 360, I would say you can kind of place it on the table as a placemat and look at your career and have an idea of exactly what you want to do. So working through culture, working through fun, and then working through a holistic view of professional development has helped me prioritize the team. And I think they're starting to lean in more and show up more, because they know that I truly care. So you think love is a business strategy. Paying attention to that culture is something that I hope is translating for them.

Frank Danna 20:29
Yeah, I think that's fantastic. And I love the idea of, you know, the too many meetings. Actually, I was joking with Maggie just before this, because we're like, it's really hard to get lunch, like lunch is a hard thing, because there's meetings and you have to like I was making a sandwich and our last last meeting, Chris, I don't know if you notice, but I was full on preparing a sandwich full bag of Lay's potato chips in the sandwich. That's how I roll by the way. But I think that's very interesting, like the idea of, of bringing that a little bit of levity, a little bit of kind of the human side, I want to ask you a little bit about your mission and vision, you said that you kind of revamped and retooled them for your specific area. How do you rally and reinforce around that mission and vision in your culture? How do you make that part of your, your conversations?

James Walker 21:16
Sure. So a lot of what we do in our day to day work is helping clients come up with an idea or the right strategy. And then we figure out if we're going to partner to execute, sometimes they do it themselves, sometimes they lean on us. And so what I found is, what people were getting lost in is that it was feeling monotonous. It was day to day, it was unrelenting, and they had lost a little bit of the purpose in the work. And where we netted out through our conversations. I did a survey online, I then did focus groups a little bit. And then the taskforce came together, we discussed it, we got to a place where we saw that we're really here to help execute and create life changing digital solutions. Now, what does that mean? Sounds big and lofty. But there's purpose in everything. So one of our clients is a very large mail and shipping client that's been in the news throughout the election. And they're usually a brand you don't hear a ton about. But they have boxes everywhere.

Frank Danna 22:10
got it understood.

James Walker 22:12
One of the things that you happen to have happen is when you especially when you're working on a b2b side of things, you get really stuck in Okay, I just need to hit the client with the right information to help them make the right decision. And that's about value. And that's about everything else. But what we realized, and I think the collective team started to see over the past 18 months is that this brand we're supporting is at the core of almost every person in America, somebody is receiving a letter, somebody is receiving a package, there's a carrier touching it, there's somebody who's an essential worker that's out there, through a period when many of us are holed up, that are making sure that we all stay connected as a nation and as person to person. And so the work that we're doing for them is not just to help increase their customer base. It's also this connection from person to person in America. And so our life changing digital solution is that our client is helping people stay connected, it's helping people get medication, it's helping people vote. It's there's so many different things that are baked into that work. And what I wanted to do was orient people around that as what we're really here to do. So in some cases, that would be something I'd remind people of in our meetings. In other cases, when we had a win, I'd remind them of that, or show them that when and show them what the tangible impact was. We also do a ton of work in social. So sometimes the comments help you Yes, there are a lot of customer complaints. But then there are a lot of people who love the brand. And they tell you amazing stories about something that happened that their carrier did, or something that they really needed. And they're just happy that people were there to help them. And sometimes you need a little bit of that external reinforcement to for you to feel value in what you do every day. So I try to find opportunities for that.

Chris Pitre 23:49
Never do all that went into sort of working for the North Pole. So thank you for sure. Yeah.

Frank Danna 23:54
Santa Claus.

Chris Pitre 23:54
Yeah, for sure. 100% was the brand that I was hearing?

James Walker 24:00
Was she's she's a tough one. Yeah,

Chris Pitre 24:03
I can imagine. No like that, that all like is really thought provoking. And I think many clients that we've talked to, as well as listeners that we've had the chance to meeting with and listening to, they struggle with that sort of team morale, and motivation, and inspiration, especially again this past year, but even beyond that, like in this new normal. What does that mean being sort of hybrid, you know, if that's going to be the situation that you're in? What does it mean to stay remote? If everybody else is sort of in the office? I think there's gonna be a lot of those conversations happening and having sort of real tools or real sort of things that you can do versus just the conceptual like, be vulnerable, right? Like, that's, that's great. But that isn't, that doesn't always translate into action or you know, knowing what to do. We'd love to see if you guys have started entering into that, like what does the next new normal look By post, you know, COVID.

James Walker 25:02
Right. So for our company, they've already announced that they're going to have a hybrid model for MIT, not for everybody. But for many people, the model will look like 60-40 split. So you'll ideally be in your office three days a week, two days remote. And I think they're still working out the kinks, they mainly wanted to announce it, that's an approach that can be taken when we're ready to go back. But in the interim, there's been some things that we tried to do once I, you know, I realized, then a few other folks realize it's gonna be longer than a year, as we work through this, we've got to figure out some other things. So one of the things that we did was, which was not popular amongst some was, I started to get a little bit more serious, intentional about the cam on policy, we really didn't have one and it was more so like it, just keep your sanity for the first year. If you know, and I had it there, you know, my kids, I have one kid here, somebody's crying, that that not great to be on camera. And I remember my son, when he was very little, I remember, I changed the shirt four times in a day, because he's been up on every single one. I can't do this. But so the part about getting on cam, though, was more so that people need to see each other. There was a point when you know, there's some people that I'm working with, that I hadn't seen in a month, you know, I don't know where you are, and you come on camera, and I'm like, Oh, your hair is now down to here and you got a different look, that's great. It's amazing. It's part of that that connection that you can have, when you see people. The other thing that we started to look at is how we staffed because a lot of the work was done geographically, unless you had a specific skill set. And I sit in DC, but I oversee the team working in Dallas and Baltimore. And so what we started looking at and we're still doing now is thinking through how we better connect those teams. So you might have somebody in Dallas who's going to be overseeing projects that's led by a largely DC team, so that there's more ways for people to have natural connections throughout their day. And then the last thing to kind of push out a little bit on the the normal pieces. Now they you know, have a big bias now. But I started sending things in the mail. And it'll be a little bit of a surprise to folks, I don't know if people in the team will see or hear this, by that point. Maybe they will receive their package already. But I've started leaning into kind of surprising people, because so much now is digital. How do we get something physical that can give be a little bit of surprise and delight. So one of the things that I did was we took that new mission and vision and I put it on a bookmark. And that's currently being mailed out to people in their homes. So there'll be a little bit of a surprise. And another reminder of you know, this is what we're here for, thanks to you for being the embodiment of that. And thanks in advance for your support as we build and grow. And so just trying to figure out how to have different touch points with people. And then the last thing I did was a little different. I'm a digital person had to experiment. And so far it's working out well, which is one way I tried to cut into meeting fatigue, and do less meetings was to start using audio. So basically, I podcast externally, I started an internal podcast, in called in case you're interested. And I would do these updates with the team, just to make sure that I had an opportunity to give people a voice moment, and truly was like the optional thing in case you're interested. If you want to hear from me, here's what it's about. If not, if you want to just go on with your day, please do that. But it gave me an opportunity to get in front of people on their own terms. And it was kind of exploiting this idea of like on demand leadership of how can I show up for people if they need something when they need to hear from me. And so it gave me a moment to talk about lighthearted things. But it also gave me a moment to talk about some of the tough stuff. So when we're working through, you know, the murder of George Floyd and other big things that happened in 2020, I was able to get a message out to folks when you want it to get to them. But it wasn't feasible to try to get 27 people in one place for a meeting. And so that has been a popular thing. And I've even done it for some account teams where we can't meet till five, but I know somebody on the team would benefit from hearing from me at 10 in the morning. So I can do a voice memo, drop that into our chat. And then people can listen at their leisure. Cool.

Frank Danna 29:02
That's fascinating, man. So on demand, it's like asynchronous leadership. It's like leadership when you need it. from someone who's anticipating the needs how, how do you get to the point where you are able to empathize with your team members in that in that way of kind of understanding or trying to meet expectations and meet needs? And then also how does how does their their feedback and kind of learning? How does that adjust your approach to on demand leadership?

James Walker 29:28
Sure. So I really when I did it, I needed to solve my own issue, which was odd to people and do it. But how I started to anticipate the needs as we started to kind of get little bits of information from different people in the team. So I started doing some one on ones and started to realize and not without a without a real purpose, mainly, pulse check. How are you doing what's happening? We have supervisory meetings with people manage folks on the team, what's going on, and I started to realize that people were feeling disconnected. They didn't always have an opportunity to see or hear from Me. And then when when company news was coming out, I often find that, you know, even in comms companies this happens, you have the best intentions with that email, once it makes its way through legal and makes it way where the departments, right, some of the initial sentiment is not there. And it has to be that way. But what I found is where I've been able to add my value is being that extra context on top. And so I would know that announcements coming out. And basically think about the part of the cascading process is not only timing, when you're going to tell senior leadership and when that's going to be cascaded to people have different levels in the company, but also being ready to have an additional leadership message to that that would be reassuring to folks, that would be something that would pump them up and get them excited if we wanted them to be excited about a new thing, holiday parties coming. I hope people are on cam and they show up and they're ready to go. You know, just thinking through what the vibe is you want people to have, and trying to help them get there, knowing that it's a challenge to even get your work done on a day to day when things feeling out of control.

Chris Pitre 31:02
Yeah, so it's almost like a recording artists say Beyonce when she's going to record, right, like, what do I do on this record? Right?

James Walker 31:10
We'll need to hear from her in the specific way. And exactly know that, you know, be that Halo?

Chris Pitre 31:15
No, yeah, yeah, exactly.

Frank Danna 31:18
Throw some lyrics at us. I think it's great, because we knew Chris was gonna do that we didn't know when we didn't know when but we got it. And I love it so much. It's interesting, it feels it feels very much like a very unique approach to change management in this space, right? where something that we use in Softway is responsible transparency, and it feels like you're able to add that additional layer, that additional communication approach that doesn't feel overwhelming or burdensome, right? Because you're providing some context that may have been redacted, essentially, right, some of the, the maybe more flowery terminology or the human centric approach to certain things, you're able to bring that to your team and help them still have that human connection to your organization.

James Walker 31:59
100%. And I think as you go through working with folks, and you're leading teams, you start to understand who might need more clarification, you understand personality types in the sense they're focusing on so it comes out, they're like, what does that mean? There's some people who are going to be anxious about it. So just making sure that you're paying attention to what your employees needs are and how you can be of help in getting them to a good place.

Chris Pitre 32:23
I want to ask, maybe this might put you in a place of, you know, embarrassment, but what's something that you learned it through failure? During this process is like, what's not? What didn't work? What? Yeah, what actually made things worse, or harder or more cumbersome for your team?

James Walker 32:41
To work? Um, that's a tough one, because there are a few different places. The one that I would say, really, if I'm thinking about, okay, this just didn't hit the way I thought it was going to, was really trying to rally everyone at the same time around new initiatives. So I mentioned Okay, we wrote about his mission, vision and values. But there have been other things that we're working through from a skills training perspective from others. And what I realized is that my leadership style and theirs and how they work with everybody is a little bit different. And it's misaligned. And some of it is because we're apart, we can't gather in a conference room and hash something out. So it needed to be on everybody's own terms. So this idea of me doing these audio updates as podcast, a, that was a reaction to a failure of me saying, okay, here are our priorities, I've released it to the team, assuming the same way we would rally if we're all together, we're going to do that. And then tomorrow, when we come back together, it will have progressed know, not everybody's on the same schedule. And in some cases, based on people's work environments, their home environments, not everybody has more to give. And so figuring out how to break things down into smaller groups. That's how we did the mission vision Task Force, there was a small group of people that had passion for it, they were interested in that, but they also have the time to give to it. At that time, then when we're working through skills training, now there's a different group that's working on that in a very specific way. And I'm able to basically delegate some of the interest in building out the needs for the team, and then still being able to support them while there are other things happening going on. So it's made me have to pay attention to the needs of people at specific times, and what they could really give to the process. Whereas before we could look at the whole leadership team and hash everything out together. It doesn't work that way. And now that we're going to be remote, it might continue to be that and we just rally on the key points and the big moments, but I'm kind of in many ways, just watching all the various points, and making sure that we're all moving in the right direction.

Frank Danna 34:37
Wow. Yeah, I can, I can imagine quite a few people listening to this going like, these are great ideas. These are very tangible, unique approaches to sustaining culture and a building culture because everything you talked about had nothing to do with perks and benefits. Everything you talked about had to do with bringing people together, connecting humanity right. And that is culture. Right. That's, that's what you're trying to build. And so I think you've given some incredible examples, tangible examples of how organizations can continue to drive their culture forward. Even in uncertainty.

James Walker 35:14
It's been a big learning. So I'm still learning. And I think it's part of the process, as we go through every phase, we figure out something new about it. But I found that at each turn, if you can prioritize employees in what they need, in order to get their work done, and to build their career, that's the other piece bigger than the work sometimes they'll give more, and they lean in more. And some of it is just amazing to see how things have changed in a year, in a way that I think, you know, if we were in the office, almost, I don't know if we would have gotten here. I think it's pulled on people in different ways. And, you know, it's unfortunate what it took to get here. But anyways, when people talk about the new normal and hoping that it doesn't all go back to the way it was, this is one that I plan to continue, as we look forward to what's what's to come the towards the end of this year, and insert next up thinking through how we can make sure that everybody's kind of moving on all cylinders, but in customized ways to them, that serve them, but also serve the greater team. Yep.

Chris Pitre 36:09
And I like hearing that, some of the things you're doing like when you think about inclusive leadership, and you know, trying to build spaces that people belong in, but not just belonging, but they can own and run with, but they don't feel left out from this other space that maybe another group is more passionate about, or is running. And they have that trust, like you start sort of seeing this microcosm, so to speak, of what it looks like to have a truly inclusive workspace, even if the rest of the business can't scale to that or, you know, other silos across the organization are still going through their journey. I think this is a really interesting sort of perspective and sort of use case. And case study around what does it mean as a leader, you know, within your remit to have the ability to build that inclusion, that sense of belonging, and sort of build the behaviors on your team that may they may serve the team, but not necessarily the full organization because of the scope that you have? Because of the work that you're doing? And because of the clients you serve?

James Walker 37:05
Definitely, definitely agree.

Frank Danna 37:08
Well, I actually have one more quick question for you. You have an internal podcast, the the in case you're interested podcast, but you also have an external podcast, one that all of us can listen to, can you before we close, give us a little kind of a brief elevator pitch of one quick point and what that that podcast is and how we can connect to it.

James Walker 37:28
Sure. So one quick point is a strategy focused podcast 100%, dedicated to the tools and tactics that comms and marketing folks can use to win. And when I say when you figured out what your strategy is, but you really are going for it, you you don't have the ability to do everything under the sun. But if you pick up one episode, you listen to it. The idea is you're going to pick up something that's going to help propel you forward. And you can access it on Apple podcasts. It's available on Spotify. So those two playing main places you could go to listen to it. And what I do is I feature a conversation much like what we're having here with a guest, and we've had everybody from strategists that have worked at Apple, and are working for Dollar Shave Club down to marketing folks and comms and PR folks from a range of agency environments, tech platforms and tech companies, and even some in house rules. So really, it's kind of your community speaking to you if you're in the content marketing space about what you can do to be successful and what you can do to win.

Frank Danna 38:26
So amazing. Well, everybody, hit that podcast up, please. Thank you. It sounds fantastic. And here at Love is a business strategy. We're posting new episodes every Tuesday. Is there a topic, maybe a business topic, maybe other topics that you'd like us to cover? Let us know st And if you liked what you heard today, please do leave us a five star review and subscribe on Apple and Spotify. If you know someone who might enjoy this content, don't forget to share the love as a business strategy. Pun intended. James Walker, thank you so much for your time today. It was an absolute pleasure. We'll see you all next week. All right. Thank you.

Chris Pitre 39:05
Thank you, James.

More Episodes