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Love as a Nice Strategy

EPISODE 25

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This week, we were joined by Marc Effron, best-selling author and founder of the Talent Strategy Group to talk about why "nice" cultures are not good for your business. Sometimes love means saying the tough things to your teammates, and that is often the nicest thing you can do for someone. 

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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.

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Jeff Ma
Host

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Marc Effron
Founder and President, The Talent Strategy Group

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Mohammad Anwar
President

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ChrisProfile

Chris Pitre
Vice President

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Transcript

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Jeff Ma
Hello and welcome to Love as a Business Strategy, a podcast that brings humanity to the workplace. We're here to talk about business, but we want to tackle topics that most business leaders shy away from. We believe that humanity and love should be at the center of every successful business. I'm your host, Jeff Ma and I'm a director at Softway, a company that helps businesses connect with their people to build resilience through culture-building products, leadership development, and technology. Today, I'm also joined by our President and CEO, Mohammad Anwar. Hello, Mohammad.

Mohammad Anwar
Hey, Jeff,

Jeff Ma
and our Vice President, Chris Pitre. Hey, Chris.

Chris Pitre
Hey.

Jeff Ma
As we know, in each episode, we dive into one element of business or strategy and test our theory of love against it. So today's topic has a bit of a cryptic title. It's 'Love as a Nice Strategy'. And actually, this topic of "nice" was inspired by our guest today, and I'm really excited to have him on the show. He's the founder and president of the Talent Strategy Group, Marc Effron, and Mark helps the world's biggest brands and most successful companies elevate the quality and impact of their talent. He leads transformational projects globally, in industries ranging from pharmaceuticals to consumer products to technology, and as the founder and president of the Talent Strategy Group, he leads the firm's global consulting, education, executive search and publishing businesses. He's co-authored the Harvard Business Review best-selling book 'One Page Talent Management', often called "The Talent Management Bible". His most recent book 'Eight Steps to High Performance' is quickly reaching bestseller status. And Marc co-founded the Talent Management Institute at the University of North Carolina's Kenan Flagler Business School, which has become the world's most popular executive education program on talent management with more than 3000 graduates. In the past, Marc has also served as a VP of talent management for Avon products, and led global leadership consulting practice for Aon Hewitt. He was also SVP of leadership development for Bank of America and a congressional staff assistant. On top of these accolades, Marc has also been published in or heard on Fast Company, Financial Times, BBC, Bloomberg radio, Harvard Business Review, and the New York Post just to name a few. He also publishes Talent Q magazine, which he founded in 2013, to help executives make smarter decisions about how to manage talent. And as far as education goes, Marc earned an MBA from the Yale University School of Management and a BA in political science from the University of Washington. Welcome to the show, Marc. It's a real pleasure to have you here with us today.

Marc Effron
Thank you, Jeff. It's an honor to be on the podcast or the show and look forward to the conversation.

Jeff Ma
Oh, the honor is all ours and we're definitely itching to unwrap the mystery around Love as a Nice Strategy. But there's still one thing we need to do before we get started, and that is our icebreaker. So I will, for the first time, look at these questions. I'm a little nervous, to be honest, but I'm nervous because of Chris. And we will see how he handles today's question. Chris, are you a traveler or a homebody?

Chris Pitre
I'm a traveler. But there are times when I want to be a homebody. So I'm a homebody traveler.

Jeff Ma
Okay, well, at least. Okay, good answer. Thank you, Chris. The joke here, Marc is that Chris never gives a straight answer. Even in now we like you can tell our executive producer is trying to give him a two-option question at this point. There's really no way but he still has to caveat.

Marc Effron
It's a good consulting skillset really depends on traveling versus homebody, each have their own advantages...

Jeff Ma
That's what he does.! That's what he does.

Marc Effron
Are you more interested in being a traveler or are you more interested in being a homebody?

Jeff Ma
Oh, my goodness. All right. Mohammad, are you more productive in the morning or in the evening?

Mohammad Anwar
More in the evening, for sure. Like late evenings.

Jeff Ma
That's a direct answer right there. See? No, no caveats. I love it. Marc.

Chris Pitre
He just gave a caveat, though, late evenings, so, but anyway...

Jeff Ma
Marc, if you could learn how to master one musical instrument in a day, what would it be?

Marc Effron
Piano.

Chris Pitre
I agree. All in on that one too.

Marc Effron
About to say. I don't give a lot of one word answers, but it kind of seemed like it sufficed. I mean, you can do anything you can make incredible sounds. Um, I used to play a little bit as a kid so I feel maybe a tiny bit of a head start.

Jeff Ma
That's a great answer. I actually 100% agree. Most composing is done on piano for a reason. It's a excellent foundational instrument. Thank you for that answer quick, concise,

Marc Effron
I should have been more esoteric. The recorder, I would like to master the recorder. That's a more interesting then as to why the recorder piano was like, Okay, good answer, fine, let's move on.

Jeff Ma
So, Marc, I want to start this conversation about so I'm sure people wondering what is what is this "nice" that we're talking about what is Love as a Nice Strategy. And it comes from an article that we wrote and we loved and we we started this conversation is titled don't have a nice culture. And you wrote the can you tell us about this article?

Marc Effron
Yeah, let me give you the moderate-length answer. Jump in along the way, if I'm getting too long. My background, I spent a lot of time consulting with big companies around the globe on talent issues. And the difficult part of helping companies isn't the technical side. processes, as you all know, are relatively easy and straightforward to build. The challenge is in companies to execute on the processes that they've said they're committed to. And as my colleagues and I travel around the world, working with companies, there is a very consistent refrain, when we ask them why they aren't doing what they've said, they really, really want to do. And it comes out no matter where we are, if you're in Minnesota, it's well, we're Minnesota nice, you know, we we couldn't tell people that they're not performing well, or I'll go to India, and I'll be well, a very hierarchical power distance culture here, or I'll go to Singapore as well respect elders, we, there's always a really good excuse why people don't want to do take the tough talent moves have tough conversations. And it's almost always packaged up in, we're nice, as if I guess others aren't nice, we're the only nice company everyone else is a bunch of jerks. But here at XYZ company, we're, we're sweet and wonderful. And I mean, it took a little slow, it took me a while to figure out that this is just a very common excuse of, I'm human. And I don't want to upset other humans, and therefore I'm not going to say things to them that might upset them. Now, part of that is just yeah, our brains are hard wired to get along with others. That's a very good thing, in most cases, but it's really easy for that to become a passive aggressive type of setup, where, you know, because I like Mohammad or Chris or Jeff, I don't want to make them feel bad by saying that last presentation wasn't their best. So we're gonna let that go. And then, you know, they never hear that. And 10 years later, we're saying now we have to have a tough conversation with them. Sorry, guys, not a job anymore. Because I was so nice to you. And so just the article really came out of this being an excuse that we only use about people. And I'll extend the story just a little bit more on, you would never hear a CEO responding on an investor call, say things like, Oh, you asked why our R&D pipeline is empty? Well, you know, the head of R&D is a really nice guy, and I did not want to hurt his feelings by telling him that he wasn't doing a good job. Well, you know, your books haven't been balanced properly in the year, what happened? Well, our CFO, she's the sweetest woman you'd ever want to meet, and she would feel so bad if we told her the numbers didn't add up. You would never hear a CEO respond that way. Yet we do with regularity when it comes to people. Well, she's great, and he's really nice. And so it's this seems a unique construct and harmful construct and how we interact with people. So that's kind of let me shut up there. That's kind of the moderate length explanation of what generated that article.

Jeff Ma
No, that's great. And it kind of comes down to like the topics centers around, you know, at a very dry way, from a dry perspective, managing people, right, like, it's you're talking about these types of decisions. And there's really this fear, really, to me, it's fear-based, of having tough conversations or having the right needed moves in business, right.

Marc Effron
Yeah, I mean, in many ways it is that we want outcome, but we don't want it badly enough to make the commitment. I mean, it's like anything else we do in life, you know, are you willing to go through the pain necessary to be successful, and when it comes to managing people, you know, let's say Chris is my boss. And Chris saw that last presentation was really flat. If Chris wants me to succeed, if he really wants me to succeed, he's gonna say, hey, Marc, I know you've got great presentations in you. That last one didn't stack up to what I know you can do. Let's talk about how it can be better. That's a very nice way of having that conversation. You could also say, that was horrible, don't ever have it. But you can have that conversation in a really nice and productive way. And I think that's where we we as people managers sometimes trip ourselves up is not recognizing you can have a wonderful supportive loving conversation with someone to help them get better that also redirects them. But in the, I'm channeling Marshall Goldsmith, I don't know if you're, you know, Marshall Goldsmith, great coach, he wrote the book, "What Got You Here Won't Get You There" feed forward, you don't have to say that what you did in the past that was horrid. You can get just as much reaction saying, hey, Marc, in your next presentation, the executive team actually likes really succinct deck. So go for three or four pages instead of anything longer. Now, that could have been hey, Marc, you brought 20 pages of thick material, it didn't work. I don't learn anything more from that comment that I learned from from Chris saying, hey, they love it when it's concise and perky. Let's work on that. Now, I might think in the back of my mind, is he saying it wasn't good. But that's not gonna be the focus, because he didn't, you know, kind of say, you know, bad presentation.

Jeff Ma
So, it's very simple in concept. But why do you think it's so hard? Like, I think I feel like I read your article. I'm like, yeah, it makes 100% sense. And yet, it's a huge problem everywhere. So what's your take on that?

Marc Effron
Yeah, I think there's probably a couple of factors intertwine. And I'd love to hear your guys thoughts on that as well, because you, you've all been around for a while and interacted with, you've been people managers, you've interacted with lots of clients. I think there is the underlying natural desire to get along with others. I mean, like, just let's start there, our brains are hard wired to be social and get along with other people. So doing something that might cause us not to get along, is going against something that our brains are saying, don't do that. I mean, that's kind of classic danger flashing in our minds, you might piss off, Jeff, you don't want to piss off, Jeff, you need to work with a guy, you're going to see him in the elevator tomorrow, all the things that naturally come, and it might not be front of the mind, but it's back of the mind, I need to get along with Jeff, therefore, I might not want to say this. So I think part of it is natural human condition. I think part of it is we're not rewarded for that in most workplaces. There's not a transparency award that I've seen given out in any company. Wow, Chris was the most transparent leader we have, yay! I've never seen that. I mean, maybe you guys have it. In the transparency award, we never praise people for doing that. And, um, we don't, I think we too often cast feedback as this horrible backward looking, I'm going to beat up on you thing, as opposed to I care enough about Mohammad that I want him to win every interaction, I want him to win. I'm gonna tell him this thing, he's going to win bigger and better the next time he does this. And that's not that's not a cute word trick or a disingenuous way of approaching it. If we truly love the people we work with and want them to win, we should want to give them all the insights around that. And then probably final pieces, sometimes we're just not skilled. It's like, I don't know how I'd have the conversation, what words should I use first. But a lot of that is, you know, kind of get a script, write it out. And it just reps after that. And a lot of it is once you've had a few reps of being honest, it becomes a lot easier.

Mohammad Anwar
It's funny, you know, like, we've spoken about Love as a Business Strategy and the Culture of Love quite a bit with our customers. And the first impression that they get from our title, our approach is, oh, it must be all about being nice and soft and not, you know, managing the people the way you need to manage. And we've had to come back and explain, no, it's actually the opposite. When you say Love as a Business Strategy, or a Culture of Love, and you love one another in your company, then you have to do what's needed to help the very person that you love. And that's where I see the correlation where it's, you're not really being nice to the person you love, if you're not really helping them grow if you're not helping them succeed. And so where this I see the tie into this is when you do love someone, it's about having the necessary conversations, no matter how tough it is, and we call it tough love. And you're having the coaching moments, just like you would with your children, because you love your kids and you want the best for them, you will have those moments where you are going to tell them, hey, this is where you need to improve, this is where you need to get better. But somehow, in a professional world, we we tend to avoid those type of conversations. And I totally resonate with your article that this is a big problem that exists in the workplace for sure.

Jeff Ma
That's a great analogy, Moh, because I'm never nice to my kids. That's a perfect analogy. Because if you really love someone, I mean how much time do you really have to be nice to them.

Marc Effron
And there's, one, most of us aren't, maybe except for Jeff, most of us aren't naturally good at doing that, um, I don't like I hate having tough conversations with people, I hate it. I just know it's the right thing to do. And so you grit your teeth, and you get through it. And I don't recall a single time when I've said, oh, I wish I hadn't had that conversation. I oftentimes say, I'm glad it's over. But I, I never say, oh, the fact that I hid from that person, a salient fact, for five years, that felt like the exact right move. I never, I don't think I've ever said that.

Jeff Ma
I think from our from our book, it's really easy to boil this concept of nice or not nice down to like feedback, or management, you know, styles and things like that. But from our perspective, it has a more systemic route around trust, right, and trust and relationships and vulnerability within that space. When you picture someone that you have to be, quote, unquote, nice to by that articles definition, it's someone that you just don't know very well, right? It's somebody that if you really knew or had a relationship with, you wouldn't, it wouldn't be hard, actually, it really wouldn't be hard to actually tell them what they need to hear. And they'll know you're coming from a good place, as well. And so I think that too, is one a big connection to our philosophy.

Marc Effron
Yeah, I mean, it's a really interesting point in that, let's say, Jeff, that, that we didn't know each other well, we worked at the same company, we're in different groups, and we came together in the same meeting room for a presentation. And I thought your presentation was fine. But your slides are super busy. We didn't know each other at all. Why wouldn't I, after that meeting, say, hey, Jeff loved a lot of stuff at the presentation. I thought some of the slides were a little busy. I don't know if that was intentional or not. But what I found sometimes is effective is x, y, or z. Now, part of it is you didn't ask for any feedback. And so I might feel well, gee, Jeff didn't ask for it, might be a little presumptuous of me just to go up. Or we could switch that and say, I'm going to take the risk to be vulnerable and say, I think Jeff's got a lot going for him. And if he shows up with less busy slides, that's just going to help him go even farther, faster. I really want him to win. And a Jeff, Jeff can respond to one of two ways, well 100 ways, but we'll go binary, either say, hey, thanks, I appreciate it. Or even say thanks, I appreciate it, you SOB, how dare you tell me how to present. But that on Jeff, that's not on me. If I come from a place of love, in that, hey, I, I like direction this guy is going, he's gonna go further faster. It's like, if you're driving along with 100 pound weight tied behind your car, I might pull up you next at the stoplight and say, you got a weight there, I don't now if you're trying to go fast or not, but if you cut that weight off, I bet you're gonna go faster, that would be a nice thing to do. That's all feedback is you're dragging a bunch of stuff behind you, you're probably gonna go slower than you should, you might want to cut the cord there.

Jeff Ma
And that's why we talk about Love as a Business Strategy. It's such it's at that business level, at a business strategy level. Because what happens is you have organizations that just by sheer size and logistics, you can't possibly build a relationship, a personal relationship between every single person, so you have to build a culture of feedback, a culture of this being the norm, that it's okay. Like, like, that's what we try to build. I mean, we're still working on it. But you know, the hope is that two people who don't normally work together, come through a presentation, and you will just have this this norm, like you said, a transparency award, you know, for for everyone should be on the table where they're just like, hey, I just want to share this feedback, hope it helps. And that's, that's, I think, the goal that we really want out of that.

Marc Effron
Yeah, there's another barrier I didn't mention, and actually one of my very smart colleagues, who I found at the Talent Management Institute with, Jim Shanley, reinforces a lot. Not everybody wants to be a higher performer. And not everyone is concerned about their team being high performers. And they may that may sound unusual to some folks. But I'm sure you've worked with people in your life. They're like, yeah, he's, he's okay, he's not perfect, but I don't need perfect in that job. It's fine. And what they mean is it's not worth dealing with. I don't care enough about high performance to replace that guy or coach that guy, it's fine. I think that's one of the other things that does get in our way is there are people who simply don't have that standard, therefore, they don't have any incentive. You know, if I think that Bob is average, and I don't really care, he's fine. He's not on the critical role. Why would I aggravate Bob and stress myself out by giving him any feedback? He's fine. So I think part of it is we can't expect every person to adopt that mindset of I'm going to be open to everyone because some folks just don't care.

Chris Pitre
That's interesting, because I would say that that mindset could actually breed a culture of toxic positivity, where you have this environment where saying negative things isn't even allowed, because it starts from that place of I don't have that standard. I don't care about the next person or for whatever reason, not every role here is critical. Why go through that? And why would I want to hear about all the problems at that point? Yeah, like, manage up, right, you start hearing those terms creep in, right, you start hearing that, that that veneer that everything is okay, is the norm, and what's accepted and anything that is not good, or anybody that is facing a problem, or any system that isn't working that needs to be addressed, let's not talk about that. Because if you can't frame it positively, I don't know if we're gonna actually want to hear it or care to fix it.

Marc Effron
Which is why I love a good crisis, because a good crisis cuts right through that. I mean, seriously. Now we need to cut costs, I need to have a conversation with Bob about his performance, because someone's looking down at me saying you better get 30% out of that, or, I mean, we work with what kind of phrases and we don't disclose anybody. We work a lot of financial firms. And I was having this conversation with a very profitable financial firm, who had let people in kind of the middle strata be there for longer than they should have been based on their performance because they had the financial largess to do it. No one's It was not gonna cost them a penny a share to have those people there. They're fine. We got plenty of money didn't drive any choices. Now luckily, they brought in the new CEO who said I don't care what they cost there aren't they aren't adding value either get them up or get them out. But sometimes the the financial largess of certain industries allows what you just described, Chris, to to happen, which is we got plenty of money. It's not worth the effort. Just kind of go on yet this, but what was your phrase? toxic? happiness? positivity?

Chris Pitre
Yeah, toxic positivity.

Marc Effron
One, ove the phrase. Yeah, absolutely. I think and, again, not to wish anything bad in any company. But a good crisis cleans up a lot of this, or points, a very bright light on weak managers very quickly.

Jeff Ma
Agreed.

Chris Pitre
Yeah. For sure.

Jeff Ma
Tell us tell us about it, you know what I mean? Go ahead, Moh.

Mohammad Anwar
No, I was just gonna say So what are some of the things that you would give advice to our listeners in terms of starting to, you know, go away from the nice culture to be being very nice or doing the things that the right thing to do? What kind of advice do you have?

Marc Effron
Yeah, I like starting just with one of the clear standards for how we manage people in our firm. We call it a talent philosophy. But it's really saying things like, you know, we have a structure, performance behaviors, accountability, transparency, and differentiation. What's your point of view in each of those areas? For things like behaviors, not do behaviors matter? Of course, they matter. But how well or how good do my behaviors have to be before something really positive happens to me or how bad they have to be before something negative happens? Transparency, how open do we believe in being with people about their performance and potential? There is no right answer, but there should be an answer. Accountability, how accountable do we want to hold everyone for building the quality and depth there teams and consequential accountability? What good things happen to you, if you build a strong team? What not as good things happen to if you don't? Just clarifying that is a great way to kind of say, hey, there's a standard for how we operate here. But then, what's the accountability to make that happen? How do we ensure that people not only stand it's our it's our belief system? But we're going to promote managers who who do this well, and we're not going to promote managers who don't do it well.

Mohammad Anwar
Got it. And with respect to like, cultures geographically, like you work with different world organizations, and how do you tackle the unique nuances of the cultural, you know, differences that might exist inside of the structure just because of their geographical proximity? Or where they're located? How do you handle that?

Marc Effron
I've been really surprised over the past 10, 11 years of consulting, how much consistency I see around the globe. And let me let me take a step back when I grew up in the HR field, the organizational development field, we were steeped in. Culture is different around the world. There were tools for managing cultural compare this country's culture to that country's culture. And I think maybe just because management tools become so common around the globe, when I travel around to different cultures, different industries, there's not a lot of variance in terms of how they think about getting stuff done. Now, are there cultural nuances? Yes, if I'm giving feedback in Japan, is it going to be couched a little bit differently than giving feedback in Boston? Sure. But the core underlying message of that person needs to understand what to do differently to move forward, still applies. And I think part of this is, personality doesn't change, we all have personalities set around the globe, there isn't a British personality and a Brazilian personality, personality is the same for every person, every age, every creed color around the globe. And in many ways, that means we're going to respond to the same stimuli in the same way. So if you're, if you're native Japanese, and I give you feedback that embarrasses you, you're gonna be embarrassed, if I do that in Brazil, you're going to be embarrassed, in the same, the same stimulus and response is going to happen, which allows us to say, we're going to come up with kind of the right way to get whatever talent activity is done. And then let's overlay on that any cultural nuances that need to apply, as opposed to what's your culture, let's build something that's right for you. We start with the assumption of you have people you're working in a company, okay, that tells us about 80% of the question. People who work in companies tend to do this. Now, let's figure out maybe your industry, your national culture. But also, as you guys know, so many companies are global these days that we find in many cases, it's the home country culture that dominates. If I'm working for BMW, I'm going to expect a Germanic culture, whether I'm sitting in Singapore or Sydney, or San Francisco. If I'm working for Oracle, same thing. I'm just like the US type of. So I also I find that company culture trumps country culture, in many situations. I mean, there's still always still a country, culture overlay. But if you sign up to work for BMW, you aren't saying, oh, but we're Singaporeans, so we manage this way. You're saying, okay, no, BMW managers this way. And we'll we'll adapt a bit if we need to.

Mohammad Anwar
Yeah, and I have a, I have a story to go with that. So, you know, we have an operation in India and in Houston. And my brother is the managing director of our company in India, in Bangalore. And as we were talking about company cultures, there was conversations that are involved in India, that's not how things happen. In India, that's not how people behave. That's not, that's not a part of our culture in India. And it took, it took me and him a little bit of going back and forth, and a few months to really understand that it's our company culture that trumps the culture of the region where you know, our offices are located. And the easiest example that I could use for him is whenever he travels to Houston, from India, and he drives in US, he follows every single traffic rule, all the speed limits, stay in the right side of the road, everything to the tee. And then as soon as he's in India, he's breaking all the traffic laws than you could ever imagine, honking all the time. And you know, all of a sudden, you behave differently in India, and then the minute you land in Houston, you're behaving differently. So the key that we ultimately arrived at was the environment that the organization has around their culture, these are the norms, this is the way we behave, this is the way we operate. No matter where you're born, no matter where you're raised, if you enter that environment, of the organization that has certain values and norms, people can adapt and behave in ways that are acceptable to that culture. So the philosophy that no Indians operate this way, or Europeans are this way, or Asia Pacific, you know, people operate differently. I, I don't completely agree. Like you mentioned people are people at the end of the day, it's the environment that sets how they behave.

Marc Effron
And I that rings true. I do a ton of work in India. And in my book, one page talent management, the second largest sales country is India. And so I guess these concepts are working at least two countries. But also, I've done a lot of consulting and you know, are there things like power distance and and is age a bigger factor interacting in India than it is in the US? Yeah, by a massive factor. Great. That's a nuance we need to account for. So maybe we aren't building upward feedback systems as often, okay, what's another way of ensuring that the big boss gets insights? So kind of the universal truth stay the same. And the way that we implement the solution to that truth might look a little bit different because you know, power distance or age is a bigger factor in India than it is in a different country. But your point, the universal human factors of whether I'm working with an Indian billionaire or the lunch wallet, they need feedback and feedback will help them do their job better. Therefore, what's the right way of making that happen?

Mohammad Anwar
Agreed. Totally agree.

Chris Pitre
No, that's funny you brought up BMW, because I had a friend who worked for an ad agency that supported BMW, and he said, no, we would have meetings that started at 8:37. Like, not like, you know, in USstandard, you know, half hour on the hour, he's like, no, the meeting invite will come for 8:37. And you were there at 8:37, and it started at 8:37. And he was like, that was a, we had to acclimate the account team to working with BMW because we're all in the US. Right. And when you are working with a client, you adhere to their rules. And so you have to do a training of sorts, like, here's German culture, here's what BMW is about. And here's how they operate. And this is how we're gonna operate. And so it is a shift.

Marc Effron
I love time as an indicator of national culture. I also love working with Swiss companies, German companies, and Austrian companies for that exact reason, Chris. The meeting started at 7:30, and you wouldn't even think about showing up at 7:39. Because then it's like, is he dead? What happened?

Chris Pitre
So I'm curious Marc, when it comes to, you know, this nice culture, what are ways to start, I don't wanna say undermining, but sort of dismantling nice, niceness? I know, we're talking about feedback. But you know, if you're in an organization where it's pervasive, like it's, it's so thick, you can almost swim in it, right? How do you start dismantling, being so nice that you're afraid to give that feedback or be transparent or, you know, do whatever needs to get done to get the information to people that need it?

Marc Effron
Yeah, I think it starts with what are our standards for interacting with each other? And that can be expressed in all sorts of different formats. But how do we in a very consistent way, say, this is how we expect people to interact with each other, and make it simple and clean and understandable? And direct enough where are we saying everyone interacts that way is that managers interact with their employees that way, but what's the clear standard we have for how people interact? And then to what we were talking about earlier, what's the accountability for doing that? There needs to be some teeth in that, because it's not a natural behavior for a lot of people. So what do those teeth look like? Is that in the performance evaluation system? Behaviors are not just a, you know, are you a nice guy, nice gal, or did you not lie, cheat or steal, but we're really clear, these are the few behaviors that matter most, and there's meaningful, meaningful weight in the evaluation around those. So some messaging, hey, we're serious about this, and good things are gonna happen to you if you do it and not so good things are gonna happen if you don't. And that's process-wise. A lot of it though, is in leadership, saying, I'm going to model that behavior, I'm going to be open with you, I want you to be open with me, we're going to create an environment where we show that we love each other by being open and honest. And also recognizing that, that transparency doesn't mean total disclosure, I don't need to tell everyone everything I know or think about them in order to be honest. But, um, my perception, my view would be that in most cases, we turn the dial down too far, then too high. I don't think most people are ever at a risk of being too transparent. So I think having the having very clear standards, here's what we think is the right way, the truly nice way to interact with people. Here's how we're going to make your life better if you do it and less pleasant if you don't. And if you look up the hierarchy, you're gonna see everybody doing exactly what we've just described. That should hopefully give it a pretty good push to get some momentum going. And recognizing again, a lot of it is reps. A lot of it is ,Chris comes out that statement, I'm like, I don't believe Chris. The moment I'm honest I'm gonna get whacked. And then I'm honest with Chris and he didn't get mad at me. Okay, and and he was honest with me and I didn't get mad at him. Okay, I'll try that again. Let's see if it happened. It was his lucky part of his just let's get honesty reps in and because again, some people are naturally not not trusting some personality traits or types should be very skeptical that that people are genuine or in interested, you got to get reps to to reinforce that behavior. But if the standard isn't there, and the accountability isn't there, it's difficult for anybody to even take that first rep.

Chris Pitre
And so I'm curious Marc, when you start this conversation, are you starting in the middle of the organization? Are you starting at the top of the organization? When it comes to your engagements when it comes when it comes to like working with a company that's trying to transform?

Marc Effron
Yeah, it's almost, not necessarily CEO, but it's always C-suite, just because that's who tends to buy our services. And also our viewers, that's where a lot of what we help organizations with that that's where it needs to start. Even the more we're talking about today. I'm not trying to create a bottom-up culture of transparency, because if you're at the bottom, you're saying, you first. That's very fair, a very fair thing to do.

Chris Pitre
Yeah. Yeah, no, that totally makes sense. And I just wanted our listeners to know that, in case they are the ones at the top, or who are the most senior...

Marc Effron
Yeah, no, if you're the top of the house, it's the oh, they aren't doing it. Yeah, that's you gotta man up, woman up and get going.

Jeff Ma
I know for Softway, you even have to be aware that like, like Mohammad, for instance, at the very top in Softway, but even with him, like, he'll in a single day, attend two separate large meetings, and have a very different, nice culture play out. They'll have, I'm talking about calls with like, 20 plus 30 people, right? You'll have one where it feels like, every one of those 30 people is willing to speak up real time, give feedback, no fear, you can't sense that you can sense the fun. And literally, you'll leave that meeting, go to another one with a different set of people, some of which overlap with the first meeting. And it'll just be crickets. And it'll just be, wait, your turn to speak. And it'll be very polite, and very cordial. And we've talked about this, Moh, like is like this, this. It's a tangible, palpable difference. And it really connects with me when I think of this nice culture, because everyone's being very nice. In those meetings, they're nice to each other, but we're not solving any problems. And we're not getting to the bottom of very many things. We're not willing to speak up about kind of all the dirty underbelly of what's happening.

Mohammad Anwar
Yeah, so I think it's absolutely true. Like, even from a team aspect, forget, like just leader to, you know, the team member, but the teams, even at a peer level, there's this whole nice culture thing, like we're describing where we're afraid to tell a teammate, hey, man, you let me down or, you know, you didn't deliver what you're supposed to deliver to me for me to do my job, because they're afraid to offend each other. And I can see teams that are high performing versus not so high performing. It comes down to this ability to have those candid conversations and the ability to give feedback and receive feedback in a way that they, they take it in a constructive manner. And with a growth mindset. And those are the teams that end up being far more successful. And, and a litmus test to that is to go into meeting and how they communicate with each other. If they are being extremely respectful, waiting for their turn, and not speaking up, then we know okay, this team definitely has a problem. Whereas another aspect of it could be seen as oh, they're just being professional. But at the end of the day, they are probably not going to be high performing, collectively as a group.

Marc Effron
And you can be polite and nice and honest at the same time. I think sometimes you think being honest, is not polite. I said something that Moh didn't like, therefore, it wasn't polite. No, I can say it in a very polite, respectful way. But still get that message across.

Mohammad Anwar
Agreed. Totally agree.

Chris Pitre
I think for me, the the biggest eye opener to what you've been talking about is when I started to travel internationally, because I always have these preconceived notions that different places, operated differently and wouldn't accept my American way of dealing with conflict or conversation. And just going to different companies and different cultures across the world has really shown me that humans are humans, no matter where you go. Right. And, you know, as you as you mentioned, everyone wants to get better, right, everybody wants to bond. But also, everyone typically shows up thinking that they are going to do or would like to do a great job. And so keeping that in mind, you can have you can literally give any type of feedback to someone as long as you of course, approach it the way that is going to be, one, well-received, but also from a place of love, where you want to see them successful.

Marc Effron
And that goes to our earlier, oh, sorry, Moh...

Mohammad Anwar
No, go ahead, finish Marc.

Marc Effron
So I was gonna go to earlier conversation about Indian culture. One of the first things I learned starting 20 years ago, working there was yes doesn't necessarily mean yes. It's like, so this will be back in my hotel, the laundry will be back in my hotel room by four. Yes. That was an acknowledgment that I had asked a question. That's all it was. And so part of it, yeah, learn the nuances. Because if you said, you know, the clients waiting for this at 8am, will it be there? Yes is the first part of the conversation, it's not the answer. Yeah. So I think understanding some of those nuances to your point, Chris, everybody wants to do the right thing. They might express it in a way that because we're not used to hearing that response. It's like, but he did let me down. No, he didn't. He aknowledged that you asked a question with the word "yes". We're not taking it the same way.

Chris Pitre
And Jeff had an immediate reaction. I think, Jeff, you have something to share?

Marc Effron
Jeff, never heard that before.

Jeff Ma
Flashbacks really, just PTSD.

Mohammad Anwar
So I was gonna talk about, you know, how we're talking about getting feedback and being nice. And we talked about a concept here about empathetic leadership versus sympathetic leadership. And what we've noticed at times is, if they're seeing a person, say, struggle, or have certain issues, or problems, the peers or the supervisors, they tend to think they're being empathetic to their situation. So they don't want to hurt them, they don't want to tell them what they need to hear. So in their mind, they think they're being empathetic. But really, what's happening is they're being sympathetic, and they are not, and sometimes going to the apathetic layer, because they think they're being empathetic. And they're not helping the very person that they're trying to empathize with. And the key is, if you truly empathize with your peer or your employee, then you will have the courage to help them get out of that situation, not just leave them there and feel bad for them or think you're being empathetic. When you're truly being sympathetic and apathetic, you're not really helping, you're not really caring for them, you're just letting them be who they are. And in your mind, you're thinking, you're being a nice boss, or a nice coworker, because, you know, I understand what he's going through, or I understand the situation. So I don't want to like, really hurt him any further or put any additional pressure on him. And that's actually counterintuitive and counterproductive.

Marc Effron
And how do you help managers, one, understand the difference between those two? And if they knew to make the shift from one style to the other, what do you find effective in doing that?

Mohammad Anwar
So scenario-based training. We try to take them through these exact same scenarios and talk to them about here's how a situation presents itself. An employee, for example, has kids, and it's a work from home environment, and you have children that you have to take care of, and feed and, you know, facilitate the well-being of their children. And in those situations, if you as a supervisor are not able to hold accountability to a task, or something that was delivered, or expected of them. And you end up avoiding having those conversations, because you think you're being empathetic and say no, you know, this employee has kids, they have to take care of the children. So I don't want to put that additional burden of asking them why they didn't finish a particular deliverable when they needed to.

Jeff Ma
I'm right here, Moh.

Mohammad Anwar
I didn't know if you wanted to be named, but...

Jeff Ma
I mean, I can tell the story.

Mohammad Anwar
Go for it, Jeff, I'll let you finish.

Jeff Ma
This is about me. I mean, I'm an example of this. I mean, like, when, when the pandemic first hit, you know, we all we all kind of learned a new way to to operate. And so one of my ways is my kids are at home all the time and working from home, my wife's still worked. So just a lot of childcare mixed in. And so, I, you know, I was learning my groove. And, you know, the kids were a factor, you know, that they're, you know, during a meeting, they pop up, or I'd have to delay or reschedule things here and there. But, you know, I'll do my best trying to be you know, I don't think I was being disruptive or overly, you know, you know, checked out or anything, but, you know, the sympathy of my peers led conversations away from me the story to be, well, Jeff is too busy, he's not going to be able to make that or, you know, he's got kids right now, let's not let's not bother those try to work around that. And then it you know, through telephone games, it became, Jeff's complaining that that he's too busy with kids and he doesn't want you know, that it's me saying these things and this is where it got when it finally got around to you? I'm like what? Like, I'm like, I'm asking people why I'm not invited to a meeting. I'm like I I'm not looped in, I'm frustrated. And they're saying, well, you're the one who's struggling, right? I'm like, No, I'm not. What's wrong with you. And so that is that is the the kind of personal experience with what happens when niceness goes a little far.

Mohammad Anwar
It actually led to exclusion, it led to you not being even invited to meetings, because people thought they were being empathetic and being nice to Jeff and what they were doing without his permission. They wouldn't even invite him for meetings that was about his project or his deliverable. And it went that far. And I think genuinely, people thought they were helpful. And they were being nice, but really, what it led to was exclusion and not getting the outcomes that the business needs to achieve. And so we teach, okay, so in those scenarios, what we should have done is have that conversation with Jeff and say, hey, Jeff, do you need any accommodations? Or should be move the meeting? Should be, you know, what it is that can we do to help you get the deliverable met? Or is it even a problem? Instead of assuming and trying to be nice. So those are like some examples.

Chris Pitre
I was going to say, the other thing that we do is, you know, Mohammad, especially really tries to model the behavior, right? So just like you said before, like when they see what it looks like to, one, be held accountable for the work, but still, you know, have the ability to influence how that work gets done, which is where that empathetic leadership comes in. You know, once you experience it, it's a lot easier to take that forward. And be like, oh, okay, I like that, like, it worked for me, I'm gonna try that now with one of my colleagues, one of my teammates, or, you know, someone who reports to me.

Marc Effron
And I see a parallel to the story that you were describing, when we hear succession planning stories are really lack of succession planning, especially around senior level women. And it's that same sympathetic, I think she's got a couple of new kids. So we don't want to put her on this project over here, as opposed to, did you talk to her? Um, anyone actually asked her if she wants to go on the project? Because she's always done a lot of good stuff before. And yeah, I think it's, I would love to understand the psychology behind it. Now, I have to do homework because you brought this up. But, um, it is in a very interesting and probably widely-held misconception, or widely-demonstrated bad management technique to say, I care therefore, I'm going to avoid.

Chris Pitre
Paternalism. Paternalism is the word that most D&I professionals wiould use. I will make the decision for you. But I'm doing it out of care, I'm well-intentioned, but it's still making the call for you without even consulting or considering you in that decision making,

Jeff Ma
And I think the number one thing we hear from people who like question our approach, essentially, the naysayers, is that they they come with this assumption that there's, if you have, they always ask the challenge is like, well, how do you you know, if you're just going to love everybody all the time, then how do you like, how do you get things done? Like how do you you know, stop being nice is kind of the question they're asking. And that's what they're saying is what they're revealing about their mindset is that they only see the binary of an apathetic leadership style or sympathetic leadership style. In other words, you put the business first and put people completely aside so you're the type of manager who says bottom line I don't I don't want to hear it. I don't I don't care what you have, you know what's going on your life? Just give me the results that's apathetic and then sympathetic, which is I care a definitely care. So let me just take that off of your plate. Let me just let me just coddle you or just you know, remove this worry from you I care so much I'm so I'm so loving. And that's the they only see one or the other, and they miss what I think your article is trying to say, too, because your articles have been provocative saying, don't have a nice culture. But you're also saying don't have a mean culture, right? You're saying? You're saying let's redefine nice. Let's redefine what nice is and I love that, that that that's the answer. And I feel so I feel that resonation for sure.

Marc Effron
Well, and blowing up that binary to your point, I think is is so important in a lot of work interaction, a lot of interactions that we have with our clients, something as simple as it might be similar to the binary you just set up. Um, well, if we tell some people they're high potential, then everybody else will be upset. So there's a binary either you're high potential or you're a nobody. Well, yeah, those are the two camps, I'm gonna be pretty unhappy if I'm a nobody. But why aren't there points along the way? Hey, Mohammad, you're a high potential. Here's the fair deal on our company for that. Hey, Chris, you're a high performer. Here's the fair deal again for that. Jeff, great solid performer, love those behaviors, here's the fair deal for that. Different deal at each of those levels, but still a fair deal, I can still communicate that, hey, love you showed up this way, here's how we invest in people who show up your way. There can be lots of points along that continuum. So kind of that same mindset, it doesn't have to be, you know, we love some people, therefore, by definition, there's everybody else, you know, there should be lots of different points where you meet people where they are and have that conversation.

Jeff Ma
Absolutely. I think to your earlier, your earlier question about how do you how do we address getting to empathetic leadership, I think it's important to it's not a single tactic or symptom from our perspective, either. Like, you can't just say, I'm going to initiate this empathetic leadership, you know, push or campaign, it's so connected to, like I mentioned, trust, and relationships, and some vulnerability. And and, you know, it's tactical as well, like, how do you give feedback? How do you, you know, be bet leadership skills, if you will. But then if you only focus on that narrow perspective of, hey, in this, you know, we definitely do the scenario-based training, like Mohammad said, but scenario-based training alone, does not get leaders to understand the bigger picture and start building that true example. Because what we find is like things like this can't be faked, either. You can't exactly make it very far, being doing all the empathetic things with air quotes. But not actually believing, right, like caring that you're trying to help and trying to nurture and support those around you. servant leadership is a big part of part of this as well.

Marc Effron
So I'm curious, when you originally went out to the marketplace with Love as a Business Strategy, what did you hear from from folks? How much was, hey, that's novel, how much was that's the squishiest thing I've ever heard of? What was the array of responses that you all heard? Because when you first reached out to me, now I have, I'm super skeptical. I'm like 99th percentile. Anything I hear is bullshit, till it's proven not to be bullshit. And so when when you first reached out to me, I'm like, okay, what's behind this? And then I had a conversation. It's like, okay, this is kind of cool. Um, but I'm just kind of curious, what when you launched the firm, and you launched the brand, what did you hear?

Jeff Ma
From India, we heard yes.

Marc Effron
My clients are gonna kill me for calling them out.

Mohammad Anwar
I could start it off. But I'd love Jeff and Chris, you guys to also add on. But to be honest, I think we've encountered all types of responses, some very much curious and interested and wanting to hear more and say, hey, can you help us understand this? I'm intrigued, this sounds very interesting. And then we've had the skeptics, or you know, the non-believers, they're like, okay, that's just too soft. And this is not for me, that's not something we're interested in. And then we've seen a side where people immediately get it. They're like, yes, that makes like, that makes complete sense. Why can't we have that in the workplace? So we've seen like three different spectrums. And obviously, the ones that we've had most success with is the ones who are curious, who are willing to explore and trying to understand it further, because that means I think they have more awareness and recognition that, okay, there's something that is not working in the workplace today. And we're willing to explore something that's non traditional or not, you know, in the mainstream. And that's where we've had the most success is when organizations have certain enablers inside of their organization who, who start to explore and then become believers, and then they become early adopters and mobilizers into their organization. Jeff, Chris, I don't know if you want to add anything else.

Jeff Ma
I get the impression that no matter who we talk to, at first blush, people think they get what we're talking about, like they think no matter where you're coming from, whether you do get it or not. I feel like that people get it. They're like, oh, you're talking about culture. Like, oh, like, yeah, I know exactly what you're talking about. We already do that, or we already have programs for that. And I think the difference is that if we can get that first conversation, and this is why we started the podcast, right? If we can start talking about the details behind this, and what we, what we uncover is that there's a big difference between getting it and practicing it. And, and so that's the, that's the kind of differentiating factor that we try to really lean on is that we don't go anywhere trying to preach that we have the magic formula figured out and we have the steps, you know, completely laid out. We have more of a perspective is that we've, we've seen some stuff, we've done some stuff, we tried some stuff, and we're still doing some stuff and we're constantly being practitioners in this space. And that's where people start seeing, okay, well, that's, it's, I thought I got it. But when you put it that way, there's a lot more for me to think about this a lot more for me to see. So it's unraveling that for them is what we pride ourselves in doing.

Chris Pitre
Yep. And I think for me, the only thing I'll add is that the intentionality behind using Love as a Business Strategy is to polarize. Because we get the reaction that we need to understand faster. So if we're dealing with somebody who is a an inherent believer, that conversation is going to look totally different than someone who's a natural skeptic. And they need to be convinced a little bit more. And it's not that we're trying to sell them on anything right in that moment. But once you put that out there, Love as a Business Strategy, some people are naturally like, oh my gosh yeah, and they want to sort of dig into those, you know, details that Jeff was mentioning. And then those who are going to be like, woah , then we get to talk about, hey, what's happening in your environment, let's talk about what a lack of love is, let us define what love is from our lens, and what that looks like. So you can understand if there are pieces that you might find missing, right. And it's more about seed planting from that skeptical lens where it's like, you know what, today might be the day where you say that you're a believer, or you convert, but you go and have some more life experiences in your organization. And I'm pretty sure you'll understand when you're on the receiving end of a rant, or you know, a manager who's not considering your family or your needs or situations that are happening in your world, you'll come back to us, right? And that's kind of bold and whatnot. But it's sometimes the easiest way to cut through the noise and get people to tell you where they stand.

Marc Effron
Yeah, it feels like it's a very fast way of saying, um, for the audience who we know is going to love us. Let's not call it Bob's consulting firm. Let's be really direct about this is who we are. Let's build an on-ramp for the people we know want to drive here.

Jeff Ma
I love that. Well, Marc, first of all, this has been an incredible conversation. I think, you know, your time is very valuable. And we really appreciate you taking the time to have this conversation with us today, it was amazing. So thank you.

Marc Effron
Well, Jeff, Chris, Moh great to talk with all of you. You made my afternoon a lot lighter. So that's beautiful.

Jeff Ma
So Marc, you have the 'Don't Have a Nice Culture' article that people can find and 'One Page Talent Management', a great book and also 'Eight Steps to High Performance', right? Is there anything else that you know, listeners might be able to learn more about, you hear more from it that you'd like to share?

Marc Effron
Yeah, I have tons of my articles on the website. So everything's free on the website, talentstrategygroup.com articles, videos, everything's written very practically, it's all about here's exactly how to manage talent to get even better results. So I just encourage folks to dig into as much of that as they would like to.

Jeff Ma
Yeah, and we can vouch for the content, it is very, very, very good stuff. And, for at least, as far as this podcast goes, we're gonna keep going. We're gonna keep posting new episodes every Tuesday here. And if you like what you heard today, please do leave us a review, subscribe on Apple and Spotify. And please do check out Marc's stuff. And once again, I'd like to thank Marc, also Chris and Mohammad for this time, and we will see you guys next week.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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