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Love as a Humanizing Initiative Part 2

EPISODE 27

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This week, we are joined again by the Humanizing Initiative to continue our conversation around humanistic leadership. We use this episode to examine the problem statement that many businesses are facing: why is what we're learning wrong? 

 

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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.

JeffProfile

Jeff Ma
Director

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MohProfile

Mohammad Anwar
President

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Shaista Khilji - square

Dr. Shaista Khilji
Founder of  Humanizing Initiative

Jason Smith - square

Jason Smith
Co-Founder of Humanizing Initiative

Mia Amato Caliendo - square

Mia Amato Caliendo
Co-Founder of Humanizing Initiative

Zoe King - square

Zoe King
Co-Founder of Humanizing Initiative

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. I'm a director at Softway, a company that helps businesses connect with their people to build resilience through culture-building products, leadership development, and technology. Today, I'm joined by our president and CEO, Mohammad Anwar. Hey, Moh, how's it going?

Mohammad Anwar
Hello, everyone.

Jeff Ma
And, Moh, I'm excited because today we are diving into part two of a series that we began a while back in part one, we started the Humanizing Initiative series, the Love as a Humanizing Initiative series, which was an amazing conversation that we had, where we started unpacking this passion that we share between Softway and the group at Humanizing Initiative. And, you know, we're just diving into that there's a better way to do business, right, and to lead teams to work together as an awesome conversation. So I've been really looking forward to this follow up here. And I'm excited to have another opportunity to chat with this group. So without further ado, I'd like to welcome back the four co-founders of the Humanizing Initiative, Dr. Shaista Khilji, Jason Smith, Mia Amato Caliendo, and Zoe King. And rather than having all four of you just be like, oh, hi, and just like blurred into the microphone. I thought I'd just insert some icebreakers. So you each get a chance to, to let everyone get to know you. And Mohammad, I'm gonna start with you though. Because you know, they are guests and we should be gracious. So I have not read these. I'm going to open up the envelope, figuratively. Moh, what are you most looking forward to over the holidays?

Mohammad Anwar
Sleep. I want to sleep. Yeah, it's, it's, it's something I love doing. I just have to make sure that, you know, my kids, though they wake up at the same time every day, no matter when DST kicks in or not or weekend or not. So that's the only thing I gotta navigate. But otherwise, I'm looking forward to sleep.

Jeff Ma
I feel that man. All right. We're moving over to Shaita, are you ready?

Shaista Khilji
I am ready. And I love sleep too. And when you have kids, it's very hard. I hear you, Moh, completely. Every morning, 5:30 in the morning, I don't know how...

Jeff Ma
5:30??

Shaista Khilji
And last night, last night I finished at 9pm too. I would say downtime, you know sleep, some downtime. I am so looking forward to working on some papers, which have been sitting on my desk for some time. Since the semester is coming to an end, I'll be finished with grading, I'll have time, no meetings, I'll be able to focus on some writing. So I'm looking forward to that.

Mohammad Anwar
Awesome.

Jeff Ma
That's great. But as a bonus for the listeners, I actually have a question prepared for you that's different. So, I'm gonna ask you anyways. I actually want to know the answer to this. What is the best advice you've ever been given?

Shaista Khilji
Yeah, you know, I think about when you ask me this question, somehow I go back to my parents. And the best advice that I was given, which has stuck with me, and which is very hard at times, is follow your heart and live your life according to some principles, and everyone chooses those principles themselves, but of course, they're based on certain values that we have or we grew up with. I would say that's an advice that has stuck with me.

Jeff Ma
Nice. Thank you for sharing that. Jason, what show have you binged recently?

Jason Smith
Oh, boy. What have I binged? Well, so not binged necessarily, but the Mandalorian oh my gosh, that is like the best show on television for my money these days. And I understand that tonight's episode or the is like really great. So I'm looking forward to to watching that after after this actually.

Jeff Ma
Awesome. Mia, what has been your favorite quarantine purchase?

Shaista Khilji
There are too many, Mia.

Mia Amata Caliendo
There are a few I'm not gonna lie. Ah, such a good one. Honestly, I bought a I bought new dishes. at a thrift store, and I love them more every day. They're made in Bulgaria. I saw them months ago. And I couldn't stop thinking about them. And I called the store. It's a small store in like South Miami, and I called them and they said, yeah, we still have them. They'd been there for like, I don't know, at least six months was the time in between when I saw them. And every time I eat it, I not only do I love food, obviously, but I love the dishes too.

Jeff Ma
Awesome.

Mia Amata Caliendo
Yeah.

Jeff Ma
Zoe, what is the hardest part about working virtually for you?

Zoe King
Oh, I feel like I'm getting into the groove of it. But I still miss being able to pop my head into someone's cubicle and ask a quick question. I feel like now we have like instant messenger. But I just kind of miss that water cooler, going to the break room, getting a coffee, wasting 30 minutes, not only distracting coworkers, but also just kind of missing that that in person interaction for sure.

Jeff Ma
I totally agree. 100%. So thank you all for your icebreakers. And I want to dive in. And I'll open us with my own personal kind of perspective. I remember, when first meeting all of you at the Humanizing Initiative, when we first had our initial conversations, something that got me really excited is that you, all of you kept using the word unlearning in various contexts, and that's like, one of my favorite words in the world. Alvin Toffler has a quote, "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write. But those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn." And that's something that at Softway, that quote is like, I mean, if we had a wall right now, it would probably be up on the wall, because literally, that's what everything we've been trying to achieve in 2020, for sure. And so the theme of this, this episode in this series is going to be just on the first part of that learning. We want to break this up, because there's a lot to talk about. We'll talk about unlearning and relearning later. But when it comes to learning, we have a very unique kind of perspective on it. We're talking about workplace culture, we're talking about behaviors. We're talking about love and humanizing. So when we talk about learning, we're actually talking about what have we learned? Because everyone's been learning, I don't think learning is the hard part for the world right now. We've learned many things. We have many habits built through what we've learned in work through our interactions, we've all gotten to where we are doing the things that we already know. So today, it's it's a bit of a conversation around that problem statement, like we've been, we started broaching this topic last last episode in this series. And I really want to start breaking it down. And I want to start with you, Shaista, on your perspective of the problem statement. Can you summarize the problem statement for us? What have we, what if what have people learned that's wrong?

Shaista Khilji
Such a good question. Should I go on for 30 minutes, 40 minutes?

Jeff Ma
Go for it.

Shaista Khilji
I think I'm just gonna present a very macro picture. And what my friends here can do is sort of expand on that. You talked about deconstructing right. And you talked about problem statement, right? So what I want to do from a very macro perspective is deconstruct the problem, right? Because oftentimes, what we consider to be the problem is actually not the problem, we need to deconstruct it. So that we, we can look at the underlying causes. And we need to identify those underlying causes so that we can address those causes in order to create or construct solutions. And, of course, we can look at the problem of business, this is how I'm gonna identify it in so many different ways. When I talk about it, obviously, I take a very particular perspective. So I'm gonna, you know, in terms of the underlying causes or underlying issue, I believe it's the dominant narrative that we have in organizations and the dominant narrative that we use in order to develop our leaders. And what is that narrative? From my perspective, it's about emphasis on rationality. It's making an assumption that systems structures are very objective in nature, and we need to objectify in terms of quantifying items. Right, and that we need conformity. So what has it ended up? What has it resulted in is control and compliance within organizations. And I'm going to take that even backwards, right, we're we're thinking in terms of business, but businesses are part of the society, right. And, you know, somehow we've come to believe, or we've convinced ourselves as leaders that business, the purpose of business is to serve shareholders, and it's not to serve the society. So we've removed the society from the business. And we've tried to create these systems, cultures, structures that are very objective, we think are very objective, we think are very, very rational. And the problem with that approach is that whose rationality are we talking about? As human beings, we have this tremendous ability to rationalize anything that we want to rationalize, right? So we've ended up in a place that with an illusion that organizations are like machines, and we need to maximize efficiency, and we need to maximize results. And what has, you know, it has really left, it left us in a very, sort of precarious situation, because we have forgotten what it is like to understand human beings, and what is what it is like to understand humanity, as well. So I'm gonna sort of stop here. But you know, going back to the problem statement, redefining it in terms of the balance, right, we need to maintain a balance in terms of, you know, if there's purpose, if there's profit, there's also purpose, right? If there's rationality, there's also foolishness. If there is inclusion, there's also control, if there's control, there's also inclusion. So really, we need to learn to balance different approaches, in order to understand the complexity of human experience, and in order to also centralize the human experience, in our understanding of organizations in our understanding of business as well. And we need to understand that organizations exist within the society, their purpose is to serve the society as well, profits are important. I'm not saying they're not important. But also this idea of stakeholder, this idea of existing so that you serve the society is very important as well.

Mia Amata Caliendo
Yeah. And, Jeff, I'd love to just add on that, because I don't know how far we will go back. And I know we, we all have some opinions about how far to go back. But even we were just go back a couple decades. This comes from, you know, Milton Friedman in the 80s won a Nobel Prize in Economics. And it was really about how shareholder value is really the only thing that you need to focus on. And that's really a part of how we've created what success looks like in organizations.

Jeff Ma
Was there what was there a time before the 80s, then then, that this was not an issue? Like I'm curious, this is this, this is how the system is designed from the get go? Is there is a slow change to where we are today?

Shaista Khilji
No, I think this is a from my perspective, I think this is how we've structured our economies. If you go back to economics as a discipline, who said that economies are all about efficiency and production. Economies are made by people. Economies are also composed of cultures, economies are also composed of human motivation. And in the process of really establishing economics as a discipline, which many economists are talking about, now, we've completely forgotten the other side of the equation, the other side of this very, very important dilemma that we're faced with in societies these days. And, you know, just to finish my thought, you know, as we, as you know, leadership scholars and management scholars and organizational scholars or practitioners, you know, when we started working on our discipline, or the growth of our discipline, we started mimicking what was happening in economics, we borrowed heavily from economics. And consequently, we started developing leaders are focused so much on efficiency, focus, so much on results focused so much on shareholders, and we completely forgot that we also have responsibility towards our stakeholders towards the environment. And we ended up creating systems that are only serving a few or not serving everyone within the society.

Jeff Ma
Well said. Zoe, I'm gonna pretty much pose the same question to you, but I actually just want your take on it specifically from the angle of like, how would you pose what's wrong with what we have learned as a society, what is what? What is? Like? Can you define that in your perspective?

Zoe King
Yeah, and I'm gonna borrow a quote from Shaniqua Golding, she wrote a medium story kind of surrounding the demonstrations around George Floyd's death. And she had this quote, and it has stuck with me ever since. And she said, "When did we decide that professionalism, equated to a divorce from our humanity?" And I think when we look at the way that we have done business, the way that we have constructed organizations, the way that we evaluate performance, I think, kind of pulling back on what Dr. Khilji was talking about, we focus so much on that rationality, and we focus so much and we reward you know, some of those leadership behaviors that don't really take into account our full humanity. And I think, you know, what we've done is we've taken that human piece out of the workplace. And in doing that, I think that that's what we're seeing with with employee burnout, this really awesome organization, WorkHuman did a work study, survey, and they surveyed over 2100 employees, and they found that over 54% of them reported having burnout at some point over their career. And that was taken just last year. So I can't even imagine what those figures are going to look like this year. And I think a lot of that comes from sort of this performance of, you know, showing up to work and not necessarily, you know, being able to show up as your full human self. And I think that, you know, we could look back at, you know, performance evaluation, and, you know, what are those leadership behaviors that we applied? Like Dr. Khilji, said, rationality, strength, but what are those kind of softer skills, emotional intelligence, how do we start to build those into our systems, so that people feel like they can kind of show up to work and, and maybe they aren't strong that day, you know, maybe they need to bring their humanity, maybe they're a caregiver, and then they need to bring that self that side of themselves to work that day. So I think it's, you know, us kind of needing to really reckon with how we have evaluated strong leaders and how we have evaluated success and where we have not incorporated, you know, the full spectrum of humanity, kind of within that conversation.

Mohammad Anwar
I think to add to the burnout situation that you mentioned, I think what's happening in the corporate workplace today is also moral injury, people are not just getting burnt out by doing the same amount of same type of work or long hours of work. But people are faced with moral injury, when you see your co-workers being laid off, while the C-suite is getting rewarded bonuses at the same time, you know, you're, you're laying off thousands of people and you're witnessing all of this, you're seeing this and then you're seeing issues in the healthcare vertical, where practitioners in the healthcare field are having to witness people dying with COVID, for example, and they know that the situation that has led to this is a failure on the part of you know, how we've handled those crises, or corporate greed at times leads to operating the way you do. And it leads to issues. I think, humans are faced with moral injury in the workplace that leads to almost the same result as burnout, but different where they get disconnected. They don't want to work anymore, or change their profession, or leave those organizations because they are just injured from the morality, or the lack of it, that they're witnessing.

Shaista Khilji
And I want to dispel a myth here, right? The distinction we have created between the hard and the soft. Hard is what's easy to obtain because it's objective, you know, that's an assumption we've made. And then soft is something we can dismiss because we don't think it's important. That's the kind of culture or those are the systems that we operate in. But you know, if you just sort of shift your lens and think about human motivation, human experience, happiness, well-being, dignity, this is real hard work. So if you shift your lens, I don't think these are soft measures the way they are expected to be. I think this is requires an immense amount of hard work every single day for for a leader who wants to be responsible, a leader who cares about morals, ethics, who lives by certain principles to live by those principals on a daily basis in an environment that's not conducive to those principles? I would say. I would say it's real hard work. So, you know, I would really urge all of us to shift our lens and not create this distinction between hard and soft measures, as we've always done when we think about, you know, looking at measures, how should we? How should we measure the success of an organization? How should we measure the success for people?

Jason Smith
You know, I think to that, to that point, Dr. Khilji, I think about something like empathy and about like real listening to somebody, and like, think about how much courage it takes to sit in front of somebody who you vehemently disagree with and listen to them empathetically. And one of my, I don't know if we're allowed to talk about other podcasts on this podcast, but one of my favorite podcasts is by Alan Alda. It's called Clear and Vivid. And he has a lovely quote about empathy. And it is, it is that is that if you're really listening to somebody, you're opening yourself up to being changed by them. And even coming out of my mouth, I have a little bit of a reaction to that. Because there's something I'm holding on to about being right, or about being strong or about being whatever. But the soft skills, to me, are the are the hardest skills and take the most courage to bring out into the workplace.

Jeff Ma
Moh, I feel like we we at Softway have, I don't even know where to begin with that exact struggle of, you know, coming into 2020 we knew we wanted to make a big change even before all the pandemic situation, but then the pandemic forced our hand. And we knew we wanted to take this chance to really push hard on all the things we believe in really have a revamp. And, man, it's been a rewarding year, but it's been hard to do the soft things. It's been hard to really live everything we because we're so because we're so human, right?

Mohammad Anwar
Yes.

Jeff Ma
And, you know, you can you can, you know, bust your ass for two weeks trying to do everything right, and you'll have one person take something the wrong way and consider your intents to be bad, and all these things. And you're sitting here wondering why why. And this is where that this is where that problem statement comes back in. Where I feel like I have learned somehow, through somewhere in my career, that wouldn't it just be easier to just forget all that and just get the work done. And just, you know, why do I have to jump through these hoops to make people happy when when really this is a job. This is like these types of thoughts if I'm, if I'm honest, will pop up because it's the easiest way out, like I want to be done with the problem. And that is the way out. I think when it comes to I think something that everybody kind of touched on was this work-self versus, I guess personal-life-self division, which I think everyone can relate to that being I mean, some people make that. I've heard people give that advice as like sage advice, like, Hey, you know, the best advice I can give you is, don't bring your personal life to work. And like that's like, like, people will start a new job and that's the first thing their boss tells them. That's the best advice they can give. And it's so backwards to me. Jason, I guess I'd like your I'd actually like your, your take on what, where's that coming? We're talking about learning, right? What's that learned from like, why are we like that?

Jason Smith
Well, Jeff, I go back to your comment just a minute agi, like, wouldn't it be nice if we could just get the job done not have to worry about all these feelings and all of this, like messiness that people bring with them and the answer to that is, to my end, my answer is always Yes. That would be great. I think if you know, and I think that that kind of thinking and, and I think it's it's easy. Anybody who's been on a team who's ran a team can relate to that. I think it's probably also the kind of thinking that underpins Milton Friedman's, all you got to worry about is prophets statement. It's like, wow, that's incredibly freeing. It also does not reflect the complexity with with you know, of this existence and the centrality of humans to it. And to your point about like, you know, bringing your bring your whole self into the workplace. You know, I'm, I'm optimistic about this because we're having this conversation. And I feel like we're in a process of maturation and integration. Where, where, for a long time, I think we, we encourage people not to bring their personal lives into work. And if you've got somebody that's standing on an assembly line, and are pulling widgets off of it, well, you could probably do that without, you know, and think about whatever is bothering you from home. But if I'm at work, and I'm you're expecting me to be creative or solve complex problems, there's a very different type of thing that are that is happening there. And I think that, you know, we, we have to be able to take to create an atmosphere where people feel supported enough to be able to talk through these things and bring them into the workplace. But and here's the other thing, the only thing I can bring into work is my whole self. As far as I can tell, I have never been able to check anything at the door, nobody's ever offered me a coat closet, or something where I can stow my junk. So let's create some systems that actually account for it.

Jeff Ma
That's such a good point. I love the way you put that. Go ahead, please.

Shaista Khilji
So I was thinking in terms of how, you know, going back to the same problem that I was considering earlier on, you know, we have this tendency, as a society to compartmentalize everything, right. And we have this also tendency to engage in binary thinking, either or approach, right? Either you can do this, or you can do that, right. And I think that's problematic at many levels. But since you asked this question about your whole self, and dividing that into professional self, and personal self, I think it has definitely, it's definitely the result of compartmentalization that we value so much as a society. When we develop these structures, systems, economies, organizations, we decided someone, someone decided that we want people to bring only their professional selves, because we don't want to be engaged with that messy stuff, that messy personal stuff. So when you walk in the door, you're going to check your personal stuff outside, and then you're going to walk in with your professional self. And it's become so deeply embedded, so deeply entrenched in our ways of thinking. That it's very, very difficult for organizations to support your whole self. But I also want to be a devil's advocate here, because though I actually wrote a blog on it fairly recently. And I want to be a devil's advocate right now. Because if you think about this problem, and for someone who wants to bring their personal self, to an organization whose culture doesn't support that personal self, it's going to be very problematic. That person is going to meet with a lot of resistance. People, you know, from a diversity, equity inclusion perspective, when we bring our personal self to the organization, we're oftentimes faced with biases. And we're oftentimes judged by others. So even if I wanted to take my personal self to work, because it's very hard for me to leave it behind. The organizational culture doesn't support it. So whereas this idea of, you know, bringing personal professional self is an important one, and I think that should be the case. But in order for us to get there, we need to change the culture of the organization where it can be supported.

Jeff Ma
That's so well put, because I feel like when we talk about learning and unlearning, which we'll cover, it is really talking about that organizational level and that culture level, because it's much easier to unlearn in within an individual, something that you've that you've built up, even though it can be difficult. The real challenge is, is changing that entire environment that is preventing anyone else from learning and relearning in the new way. Like, I think the way you put it there really strikes me as important to understand when it comes to this is that, you know, if you have if you walk into a room if you're that person to leave your personal life at the door somehow. But you walk into a room where everyone is comfortable and sharing and warm and welcoming. And I mean, it won't take more than, you know, a day or two to start bringing yourself to work. And that's that's something really magical to kind of imagine and I think we can all kind of imagine that situation. Unfortunately, many of us have never seen anything close to that when it comes to a professional environment.

Mohammad Anwar
I have a question for anyone here is why is it that the decisions that are made In the corporate workplace today, so easy to justify layoffs or, you know, decisions that are focused on profit over people, and and such, like any insights, what have you learned through these years of building our economies and our workplaces that has led to this point? Because I look at it as especially what's happening now with COVID crisis. It's a humanitarian need. This couldn't be a better example of when we need more of our humanity. And yet we see organizations, corporations, making decisions around laying off people at the site of you know, reduced profits even. So what is your take on that? How did we get here? Why are we here? And how to how do we? How do people in positions of power, make decisions so easily at the cost of humans and their jobs?

Mia Amata Caliendo
Mohammad, I'm curious, have you ever listened to the podcast 1619?

Mohammad Anwar
I have not.

Mia Amata Caliendo
Nicole Hannah Jones facilitates a, an episode about the American economy. And she talks about slavery and how part of slavery was getting the most out of your slave, and how she, she sort of fast forwards and talks about an experience that she had one of her first jobs working at in a telecommunication facility, and how just like as a slave, you had specific quotas. And if you didn't meet those quotas, you were violently beaten. So there was an element of fear instilled. And when you were in, as she was working in a telecommunication facility, at a call center, she had also a quota. And if you know, your quota was sort of based on what your productivity was the prior week. So you didn't want to, like exceed that. Because then you'd be sort of expected to exceed that the next time. And so I think what has happened, and what what is discussed in this podcast, among many other things that's been that's really interesting, I encourage you to listen to is we really think about what how can we get the most out of that person? And I think that that is a core issue that addresses the question that you asked, and how are we getting the most out of this person, if we're not getting the most out of this person, then we're going to move move on, right. And I think that, you know, mass layoffs in a time, during a pandemic, there's a lot more complexity that goes into that. And I can't say that that's the, you know, the sole reason for why those things are happening, I think it's a lot bigger of a of an issue. But when think about, as you mentioned, you know, CEOs taking bonuses during that time, you think about how when, like, if you go back and you look at slavery, and you saw how, you know, all of the slave owners grew incredible wealth from the work that the slaves were doing, and not just the slave owners, but the entire country grew incredible wealth because of cotton. And that all went into a very specific group of people that were able to attain that wealth. And I think that that has perpetuated, or you know, sort of evolved as time has gone on and to organizations.

Mohammad Anwar
Interesting.

Shaista Khilji
And I would also sort of describe that, as the result of these. If Look, if you look at organizations as systems, which they are, they inherently perpetuate inequities. So this idea of the CEO, serving shareholders, and your compensation being tied to profits or shareholder wealth, and not really serving the society and not really serving the employees or other stakeholders. It has ended up perpetuating and inequities both inside as well as outside the organization. And then there's this idea of elitism as well, right. CEOs today probably make 280 times more than an average production worker 30 years ago, they made probably 100 times more than an average production worker. So I think what we've witnessed over a particularly I would say the past 20 years is an acceleration of those inequities that we ourselves, as individuals, as societies have, have developed, have promoted but now we're at a stage we look at COVID-19 and we hope that is a wake up call. And I hope that too, but I don't think COVID-19 is the problem. The problem is the inequities that continue to exist within our systems, what COVID-19 has done is just made us more aware of those inequities.

Mohammad Anwar
Got it.

Jeff Ma
I, I hear a resonating kind of tone of like when I'm, I'm thinking around the terms of what have we learned to do to get to today, like how have we learned these habits and these these standards that that exist. And I keep thinking of the word fear. Because to me, it seems that that's the tool that is consistent. Amongst these examples we're giving. It's the fear of, it's that fear that's being used as a tool to drive results and outcomes, even if it's not like this fear mongering kind of fear, but more just like, you know, fear of retribution, fear of losing your job, fear of not getting that promotion, fear of being judged, all these different fears. It's what makes you like, hate going to work, like if someone doesn't want to wake up to go to work is because they're afraid of walk in the door and what they have to deal with. They're afraid of not being able to deliver and the pressure and all those things that comes from a source of fear. And that's really standing out to me, as one of the key things that have been learned as the right way to do things. And Mia, when you're giving your example. It's just, it's like, yeah, it's standing out to me that that fear's there. And it's not so much that that was the right way to do things in the beginning, I think it was just the easy way to do things the beginning. Like today, today, we are in a society where as we've already mentioned, we're dealing with complex problems, creative solutions, it's not just cogs on an assembly line that we're just putting together. If that person has fear, it's not going to change your results and your outcomes in theory. So that's, that's how the Industrial Revolution came up with the entire structure of how companies should be built, right? You have an assembly line of you know, 100 workers, you pick the very best cog assembler, and you make him or her the boss of all other 99 of them. Like that makes sense. But today, we know that leadership is not the best worker, it's a separate skill that leads others through their, you know, kind of situations. And yet, we still see evidence that leaders are still brought up that way, that leaders are still selected that way, and because they don't have the skills to lead, they only have the tool of fear, to then get the results they're looking for. And it's just that's that's how I picture this, what how we got here, essentially,

Shaista Khilji
Also, I think, what do we reward? What behaviors do we reward? And how do we reward them? So whatever we reward is going to be promoted and perpetuated. You know, I was in a class yesterday, and one of my students gives such a beautiful example. He said, you know, the human nature is that if you see someone fall right in front of you, you need I mean, instinctively, we go up to them and help them out, right? And I don't know how, where we have gone wrong. This is how he expressed himself that we no longer do that. It's all about competition. It's not about collaboration. And Mohammad, as you talked about, you know, that that moral sacrifice that we've made, why, absolutely because of fear, but also because we do not reward the right behaviors.

Jeff Ma
That's so powerful.

Zoe King
I think too with that Dr. Khilji, I'm thinking about like, you know, organizations, what are the organizations that we recognize and that we herald? You know, I think what we recognize as success for a business is profitability, and, you know, I think, you know, innovation here or there, but I think at the end of the day, it's, you know, what is the the company that is making the most money that is, you know, has the, you know, the most profit, least amount of overhead. And I really do think I, I think a lot about these organizations that are trying to build in sustainability practices and are, you know, diversifying their workforce and are trying to kind of do business the right way. Um, but I still think that we, you know, kind of as a culture are lagging in truly recognizing those organizations and I think that there is a sacrifice inherent there. I think a lot about Amazon and the fact that, you know, we can order something and depending on what it is, you could get it that day, you could get it in two days. Um, I think we as a culture, are kind of willing to take that sacrifice of convenience over, you know, maybe some more humanistic practices. And I think that when you talk about recognition, how can we start to change, you know, the ways that we consume, the ways that we think about how goods are delivered, the ways that we, you know, look at successful businesses. And I think that as long as we have, you know, these tech giants where, you know, profit rules all that will kind of be the model. And if you are doing something differently, and you're disrupting the space, you're an anomaly. And it's really hard to for those companies to get momentum. So I think a lot about, you know, how can we start to really invest and, you know, whether it's us as being more conscious consumers, but how can we really start to look at these companies that are transparent about their, you know, production that are transparent about the way that they pay their employees and their business structures? I think it's so important that we start to really value those countries, those companies and really start to, you know, lift up those companies for their achievements, because I think right now, that dominant kind of profit over people still kind of stands as the the best practice.

Jason Smith
You know, I'm reading or listening to a book called Doing the Most Good by Peter Singer. And he talks about, you know, effective altruism, so like putting, putting, you know, a portion of your money aside and donating it to causes that actually are saving lives and how this one person did a calculation and realized that they put this much aside, they can, they can save the lives of 100 people from from being being killed by malaria by just providing them nets to go over their beds. And when we think about that, right, like in the example, he is like, well, you could run into a burning building and save 100 people you would, and yet there is this dissonance that we we have that allows us to behave differently. And I think that when we talk about like, you know, the big companies out there, it's like profitability, it's like, if you take the dissonance away for a second and really see it for what it is like what a terrible measure of anything other than how much money that company made, I mean, we really should be looking at companies that do the most good, that are taking care of the most stakeholders. And if we flip that just tweak it a little bit, it changes a lot of the equation that we're talking about.

Jeff Ma
That's really well put. I'm still stuck on this concept of reward, because it, it's all connected, when you have these businesses that are only focused on that objective, their rewards reflect that. And I think of some of the corporations that come to mind when I think of problematic cultures. And I try to identify right now, what is their reward? Kind of a common thread is that they treat being able to work there as the reward, and everything else is a punishment. So you either live up to it, you made it so. And to me, that's the people that I interact with, and see, I see them working in ways only to not be fired, or only only to not stand out, nobody is, you know, they might have an idea for an amazing new product, or something that could really help people and really improve the business. They're not going to speak up because if they make noise, if they make waves, they risk losing the reward of just being part of this machine. And I think it's really powerful to think of rewards that way. Because it seems problematic in and of itself right now. That that it seems like hey, you know, we want we're growing. So let's just keep upping salaries, because just working here, our salaries are just you have nothing to complain about. What right do you have to be unhappy when you make this much money? Go home and enjoy it and come back tomorrow and suffer some more. So that that's just what stood out to me from that.

Jason Smith
Well, there's that fear again, you know, it's the fear of it's the fear of losing your job, it's the fear of standing out like it's a fear of that and, and it it works to get people to comply, it doesn't work to get people to be exceptional, and it certainly undercuts happiness and well being.

Shaista Khilji
And that balance that is so important for our well being whether it is the balance between professional self and personal self or it is the balance between living my life for profits for money or for purpose, right?

Jeff Ma
Mohammad, I know you're not gonna like this, but he doesn't like to brag on himself but I want to brag on him a little bit. I'd like you to, could you share just a little bit about what Softway when the pandemic hit earlier this year, and we we you had a decision to make in terms of how to handle that, and what to do with our financial situation and the employees. I think you had a really tough decision to make. And I was hoping you could just share a little bit about what we ended up doing as an organization. He's already uncomfortable.

Mohammad Anwar
I don't know which point you're referring to so I'll try to see where you want me to go. So when we were up at the pandemic, this year, we lost 80% of our commitments and projects for the rest of the year. I had a staff of almost 200 employees, and I had to make a tough decision. What do I do as a business? Do we go forward with layoffs? Do we, do I take all the retained earnings out and shut down the business? What's the right thing to do? What's the rational thing to do? And my rational side was, oh, shut down the business, take the money that's in the bank and move on and start something else, or go go later into in the future in the pandemic's or you start over all over again. But at what cost? Right? To me, personally, I I'd walk away as a millionaire, and or what do I do? And so the right thing to do is obviously to take all the retained earnings and the profits that we had made over the years and put it back into the company and try to sustain all of the people's jobs, and keep them employed, and so forth. So I did have to go through short-term furloughs for about six weeks for our US staff, a portion of our US staff, but I was then able to sell my personal investment property, put the money back in and get people back from furlough earlier. But those are all tough decisions and fighting rationality versus what's right. But at the end of it, I can tell you, I have no remorse. Going into it, it was tough, but after the fact, like, I'm like, I'm happy. I feel like that was the right thing to do. And every business advisor, every other person out there, like what are you doing? My banker is like, what are you doing, like, what's wrong with you? But at the end of the day, I couldn't have that moral conscience to let go of people's jobs. And especially now no health can lose their healthcare benefits go into the pandemic, with no chance of getting jobs or income. And, and make that easy decision, I wouldn't be able to live with myself. So those are some of the tough things that as a business owner, I had to come across during this pandemic.

Jeff Ma
I bring it up. And again, thank you, Moh, for sharing, and not just trying to brag on him, but I bring it up for a point because you have to understand that that you know, Softway isn't, you know, we don't have, you know, shareholders we don't have, you know, investors that we have to, you know, set like Mohammad essentially, you know, had control because he had every ability to basically take what was in there and go do whatever you want with it and just say, you know, close the doors and say you guys figure it out. And it's not so much just that moral decision, but I compare it to what would be considered correct. And like if like, he's like, you mentioned the bankers and the analyst would say, what are you doing? Because most people would reach that point and go, okay, if I keep the business open, do I have a chance? Do I have an avenue to come back around and regain what I lose during this time? Like, do I have the ability to rebuild stronger and better, I mean, those all sound like sound reasonings and decisions, but Mohammad was never saying those things during that time. He was saying things like, what are these people going to do? And how could I live with myself? If, if I'm, what am I gonna do with this money if people are struggling or suffering and I think that decision point is something we've lost. I'm using an extreme situation. But those type situations happen all the time at smaller scales, when we make business decisions, when we make decisions to hire, fire, layoff, or even just assign projects and all these little smaller decisions. They're all driven by these, these these very seemingly irrational decision points and reasonings. And yet, there's always another way to look at it. And I'm just I'm sorry, I'm just really proud of what we've been able to do since that, and I actually drive I really pushed myself to do what I can to make sure that Mohammad feels like he made the right decision at the time. And I think that matters too, right?

Mohammad Anwar
Thank you, I can tell you at the end of the day, I don't think it's misaligned from making profits or being successful in serving the purpose, I think it's not an either or I think there's a way forward, which I'm sure we'll, we'll uncover in our next episode, which is how you can have a balance of serving purpose in serving all stakeholders and still have an opportunity to be a successful business and, and make profit and, and also serve your stakeholders, hareholders, I mean, so it's just a matter of uncovering that. And that's my, that's my belief and philosophy that if you take care of our people or society, then there's a higher purpose for why a business must exist. And we will find ways to, you know, make profit by doing what is right. And not just always what is rational.

Shaista Khilji
Mohammad, that's so impressive. And I imagine or just consider not imagine, consider all the sort of goodwill that you've created within your own company, as a result of the decision that you made. And a lot of leaders forget that because I've seen leaders during this pandemic, laying off employees and saying, well, business is really going rough. It's really not doing well, but not being creative and thinking about other ways in which they can, in which they can be creative and find other solutions, right? So it's very, very impressive.

Mohammad Anwar
Thank you.

Jeff Ma
So I'd like to round our conversation off with kind of a question to kind of really pull it all together, because we all kind of agree that this is the problem statement. We agree that this is what's going on, this is what we've learned. So if it's so clear to us, why is there resistance to this approach? Why is it that other businesses are unable to embrace this? Or it hasn't? You know, where are we in this journey of trying to have more realization around this?

Jason Smith
I, I think this is this is my opinion. I think it's more complicated. I think it's more complex. I think if we're just worried about shareholders and profits, that's very, it's a simple equation. And I think when we start bringing in human well-being, stakeholders, the environment, and all of a sudden, this, like, all of a sudden, the decisions we're making in this boardroom, aren't just about what's happening in the building that we're in, but they're about the community. And they're about the you know, the nation, and they're about the, you know, the broader society. And that, that is a complication that is necessary and makes things harder, at least initially, to get your head around. I think the good news is, is a long term, if you, if you if you move pas that either or thinking and start to see it that way, I think that there are major benefits for business and for people and for everybody else.

Shaista Khilji
I would add to that, and I think I said that before as well, I think it's the cultures that we've developed, our cultures reward certain behavior. And because we promote certain values, and change and if you don't demonstrate the behaviors that are expected or rewarded, then you're faced with a lot of resistance. And I think this is what you have experienced as a company, and something that we have individually experienced as well in our own organizations, and also in creating this humanizing initiative as well is going against the tide, and changing the culture. Because these values are so deeply embedded in our ways of thinking, in order to change the culture, we have to change the values and in order to change the values, we have to change our mindset as well. And it's not going to be easy work. But fortunately, there are so many people like us, we're not alone. I think people are waking up, people are realizing that the culture that we have developed, or the way we conceptualize and operate our organizations and economies, it's not sustainable. It's not good for human well-being. It's not good for the planet, and it's not good for individual sense of worth as well. I think people are slowly gradually waking up to the fact that we need to fix the system.

Mia Amata Caliendo
And I think we've just tilted this scale. Like if we think about sort of the four drives of, you know, humanistic leadership. And you think about the drive to acquire, the drive to defend which sort of we share with all mammals, all animals, and then the drive to bond and the drive to comprehend. We have tilted so heavy on this drive to acquire. And I think you see these, you know, massive billionaires with so much money that not one person could spend in their entire lifetime, and this incredible inequity. And is it a fear that, oh, I have to hold on to this? Or is it you know, something else, like they're holding on to it, because they want to be able to protect those that they, you know, love care, family, you know, whatever it is. But I think that we've tilted this, this imbalance to bring it back to that conversation, we've really put such an emphasis on those two things. And as humans, those are really just part of it, right? We can't ignore that we do have a drive to acquire and defend. But we also really want to understand and we also really want, we're social beings. So that drive to bond is another equally important piece that we need to sort of rebalance.

Zoe King
So Mia, I think this moment really is kind of asking us to reassess the way that we've done things. I think that this whole year has brought so much to the fore. And I think what business leaders, I think what businesses are starting to realize is in such a competitive global marketplace, if we are to be innovative, and if you are to, you know, disrupt spaces and kind of you know, set your organization apart, you need to have that space for your employees to have that creativity, and to have that space to fail. And I think with that comes that your rationality and the messiness of the human experience. But I think as we kind of begin to shift this narrative, and people feel like they can kind of show up more fully to work, I think that they're going to be more creative, they're going to be more apt to take risk. And I think that those business returns, and I think, you know, you'll see it in product development and you know, different ways that we're going to have to innovate in this new phase of life that, you know, we're entering into in 2021, I think it's going to be so important that we start to lead with these conversations in order for people to show up fully, so that we can really tap into their full potential of creativity and innovation.

Jeff Ma
Awesome. And I think all these closing statements from you guys have been really just pointing at this turning point to start unlearning all these things that we've learned, which is the perfect segue, because when we next get together, I really want to start unpacking that I really want to start talking about, what is unlearning? What does it look like? And maybe getting tactical with that, and helping people understand what it's going to take to unlearn these things that we just talked about. This has been an amazing conversation. And I think the problem has never been more clear to me. But now I'm really anxious to talk about what we do about it. And so the next episode, we're gonna unpack and talk about unlearning and relearning better ways to do things and what that might look like. So thank you so much to the humanizing initiative, Zoe, Mia Shaista, Jason, and Mohammad, thank you for joining as well. This is another amazing conversation. I really look forward to the next episode in this series. So thank you all for for joining me today.

Mohammad Anwar
Thank you.

Shaista Khilji
Thank you for having us.

Mia Amata Caliendo
Thank you.

Jeff Ma
And to the listener, I really appreciate you tuning in as well. We post new episodes every Tuesday. So if next Tuesday is something you want to hear about, please let us know at softway.com/LAABS. And if you liked it, please consider leaving a review and subscribe. So with that, I will bid you guys farewell and we will chat soon.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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