Karin Hurt, author and founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international training firm, joins the program to discuss her diversity story and the need for leaders to be transparent and authentic. Karin shares how the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the importance of empathy and psychological safety in the workplace. Discover how to make sure everyone is included in a virtual work environment.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Karin’s diversity story and what she learned from her work as a leader (16:00)
- The importance of vulnerability for leaders (19:00)
- Some silver lining moments for parents during the pandemic (22:00)
- The connection between courage and psychological safety (27:30)
- A key responsibility for leaders (30:00
- The need to meet people where they are (34:00)
- How to support employees in times of adversity (38:30)
- The balancing act that organizations face (40:00)
- A shift that will likely last even after the pandemic is over (44:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Karin, welcome to the Will to Change.
KARIN HURT: Thanks so much for having me.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes I’m thrilled to have you. I always love having authors on that focus on leadership as you do and I’m really looking forward to talking about all things creative and courageous cultures today because that’s what your upcoming book is focusing on which is out July 28th, but available for preorder right now on Amazon and it’s called “Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro Innovators, Problem Solvers and Customer Advocates.” So I wanted to welcome you to the Will to Change and invite you as we always do to share whatever you consider to be your diversity story and I know you have a pithy one to share with us. So I will hand it over to you.
KARIN HURT: Yeah I had a pretty strong moment of time that really made me understand the importance of diversity and authenticity. I had just been promoted to my very first executive job at Verizon in human resources and it was concurrent with a merger at Verizon. So all of the players were new. We had a new head of HR, all new executive stakeholders to support and because life is sometimes messy, I was going through a divorce and I was working to navigate a new life in a new home, in a new role as a single mom. I did not tell a soul. Now we all know that this is illegal, but I was worried that people would say things like, “You know this is probably not the right time for her to be promoted.” Or, “How is she going to manage the travel from Baltimore to our headquarters in Manhattan?” So I just kept very quiet.
Now one of my very first big projects on this was to build a diversity strategy for the new merged organization, and the idea was to build a diversity council. So we brought together people of different race, age, gender, sexual orientation from all different aspects of the company. Call centers, and sales and marketing, IT, and the premise was we were going to tap into people’s personal experiences and let that inform our strategy as we were building the new merge culture. It was going really, really well. I was talking to Juan and he said, “Karin, I was at an executive off site the other day, and the senior leader, who should have known who I was, handed me his keys because he thought that I was the valet.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah.
KARIN HURT: Then a woman of color, Sharika, said, “I can sit in these meetings and I will say something, and it’s as if I have not spoken, and a white guy right next to me will say the exact same thing and suddenly we’re off to the races.” Susan, who was a single mom in our call center, said, “You know what? I am on a stage four for attendance because our call center is open 24/7, and my schedule keeps shifting every three weeks. I’m working in the Bronx. I can’t find daycare that… on a rapidly changing schedule like that. So I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job.” So we tapped into that. So we built this strategy, recommended this program and it was three weeks before we were getting ready to present the strategy to senior leadership, and Sharika burst into my office, and she picked up a picture on my desk and handed it to me. She said, “You are a fraud. I came by your office the other day to drop off some papers and there are pictures all over your desk of you and a little boy, and no man. You are a single mom.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, yeah.
KARIN HURT: And said, “All this time you were asking us to tap into our personal experiences to inform this strategy, and it doesn’t even occur to you that your experiences are relevant here. The truth is executives like you are afraid to be who you are at work, and if you’re afraid, we’re afraid. This strategy is completely incomplete, and you know it. We’ve got to talk about diversity at the executive level.” I mean she was totally and absolutely right. I had absolutely put my self protection ahead of the greater good of the work that I was asked to do.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, my goodness.
KARIN HURT: So I got everybody together on a conference call and I said, “You guys I have something to tell you. I’m a single mom.” They said, “Oh, yeah we know Sharika already told us.” We went back in and we built into this strategy some really powerful executive storytelling where senior leaders were revealing more about themselves, and our team was brought back a year later because we had won the Verizon Excellence Award for that power of that strategy. I looked across the table and I saw Sharika smiling, and I knew it was because she knew I was no longer a fraud because I wasn’t afraid.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, that is such an incredible story. Somebody was asking me on a call the other day, “just because we’re in the LGBTQ community we do diversity work, does it mean you need to be out?” Is it an important part of our credential or whatever? The question underneath the question was are we allowed to do this work without being out. I thought it was really interesting.
KARIN HURT: How did you answer that?
JENNIFER BROWN: Well, your story reminds me of it because I said, “Can you do the work without being out? Yes. But I would imagine it’s pretty exhausting. But even bigger than that it’s the… you’re missing some firepower that you could access. You’re missing some magic. You’re missing, I think, the conviction of…” and doing the work yourself is often important before you instruct others to do the work. Your journey really matters. You have to earn the credibility with others and I think if particularly people know you’re not out, it sends the opposite message, you’re right. I think it’s a fly in the ointment of the whole thing like it was in your strategy.
KARIN HURT: Yeah, yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right?
KARIN HURT: It’s interesting because I often tell this story on the keynote stage and there is always every single time a long line of single mothers afterwards and either they’re saying, “I resonate with this” or they’re saying, “Oh, do I have to tell?”
JENNIFER BROWN: Do I have to tell?
KARIN HURT: My answer to, “Oh do I have to tell?” Is not necessarily. But in my case I was asking my team to do something that I was unwilling to do. That was a problem.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. That’s out of alignment.
KARIN HURT: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: And increasingly of course in the pandemic I think fathers, in at least the heterosexual family constellation, are probably going to be lining up and saying, do I have to tell and the version of that might be that I really like staying home. That I really like spending more time with my kids. That I’ve realized through this pandemic situation that the sacrifices I’ve made I’m not happy with. I think there’s probably so many “aha!” moments happening for parents of all identities. It’s not all wine and roses. I mean some are probably saying, “Boy I really need an office to be productive. This is really hard.” But I think in terms of gender roles, there is so much that’s developing right now that I’m actually really optimistic about. At the same time as I’m deeply worried about people actually leaving the workplace and jobs because they just cannot balance what’s being asked of us right now.
KARIN HURT: Yeah the complexity of the relationships is really interesting. I was interviewing a woman yesterday who is going to be participating in one of our executive programs, and she was in the office physically. I was surprised, and she also told me she had three children, all under the age of 10. I said, “Oh, so who’s with them right now?” She said, “Well I’m in the office two days a week and my husband goes into the office two days a week. The other one works from the home the other two days.” I thought, wow I mean that’s really neat to hear the way they’re balancing it so at least sometimes they can have the focused time.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah it’s really intense. I am very concerned that I think anyone who was on the bubble already from either an identity perspective or a socioeconomic background or feeling a lack of engagement, which you and I know is a lot of people in the workplace. I think that some of this will exacerbate that and companies are going to have to tackle this differently. I mean I think to say these are whatever they are, soft skills, or to somehow diminish empathy as such an important part of leadership and management right now. I mean it’s not going to be … there is no returning. I think we’ve got to figure out a more humane way and not treat people as children or put the rules and regulations that diminish people’s happiness and engagement. But actually dive into this and really understand once and for all what has not worked about work for so many people?
KARIN HURT: Yes, right? What a great tale.
JENNIFER BROWN: And you told me an interesting story too about… you shared that story about an executive, a senior executive man, that I’m not sure if you were in a meeting with him or you heard this story, but with the kid on the lap and another running around, and the… what was happening.
KARIN HURT: This was just last week.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah tell us about that.
KARIN HURT: It was just last week. We were doing some discovery work for a curriculum development project we were doing so it was a focus group, but of course it was over Zoom, and we’re building an online program. So we’ve required everybody to be on camera as part of this focus group. So he was, but literally the toddler was crawling onto his lap. There was a nine month old that he was also trying to manage and the HR director was watching all this, and she called me later and said, “I think we’re going to have to do him again offline because I’m sure I know he’s got better ideas to offer than he was able to do in that context.” That’s fine, right? I mean I think we just have to say yep, we’re all doing the best we can with what we have from where we are right now. There just needs to be a little grace. She wasn’t upset, and it is going to be a little bit of rework, but I think that’s what we’re all needing to do.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right and the diversity lens on that of course is does the senior executive man who also might be a straight white man, get a second chance like that, and do others not get a second chance? You know what I mean? That’s what I hear in that story too. Fair is fair. I think that benefit of the doubt piece is I think such a pretentious, the lack of the benefit of the doubt given to certain people, right?
KARIN HURT: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: That somebody doesn’t have your back to give you a second chance because of bias, or stereotypes, or whatever it is. I mean there’s so many things, I think, preventing us from seeing… giving people a fair shot. Even though we think we’re fair people, right? We say, “Oh, of course I would never do something like that.” So sometimes it’s so subtle that giving somebody a second chance to show up better, you may not even notice yourself making that choice. But the data shows us that a lot of us make that choice all the time. We put Jose’s resume in one pile and Joe’s resume in another pile when they have the exact same background, and that’s been documented. We can believe we’re good people, but I think until we get really honest about our behaviors and truly take a hard look, things aren’t really going to change. So, second chances, third chances, as many chances as we need.
KARIN HURT: Yep. That’s assuming people are really trying. Give them the benefit of the doubt first in this crazy circumstance. If somebody shows up 15 minutes late, don’t assume that you know the reason why.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right, that’s right. So I know Dr. Amy Edmondson wrote you a forward to was it your last book or this upcoming book?
KARIN HURT: It’s this book, yeah the Courageous Cultures book, yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: How exciting. I love her work on psychological safety and that tension between psychological safety and courage. That’s one of the most interesting, that’s a real core diversity issue too right? Because courage to bring your full self and all of those perhaps stigmatized identities. But the psychological safety that I would say you need to have in order to take the leap to do so. I might argue who creates that psychological safety? Are you responsible for creating your own psychological safety? At the same time are you expected to be courageous and change the system you’re in? No. We, all of us, have to create the psychological safety, and this is where I think allies have a lot of work to do… yet to do and a lot of learning, and they need to go on that journey. But it struck me as we were talking about that, as we’re asking leaders to show up differently, and perhaps access frameworks and behaviors that they haven’t had to in the past, you’re getting some interesting comments, I know you work with a lot of executives, about how uncomfortable these times feel. How perhaps unfamiliar this terrain is. What does this management by walking around look like now? You can’t walk around. So what is the updated version of that and how are people responding in your world to how that feels?
KARIN HURT: Yeah so we talk about this concept of OCHTC, which is “Oh, crap here they come.” Which is a lot of times when management … people are doing management by walking around. They think they are doing it well, but really that’s what their people are saying.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so true.
KARIN HURT: So now it’s like what’s the acronym now? I’m like management by clicking around. So how do you do that well? How do you be deliberate in having skip level meetings and talking to people one on one and creating that human connection. So I think part of that is when Amy Edmondson was talking about, when we read the forward that she wrote, we’re like, “She said this so much better than we’ve said it yet.” She was saying it’s really the senior leader’s responsibility to create the psychological safety, and you have to do that in such a careful way. She spent a career really thinking about this. Then courage is also that’s what we’re asking the people to do. So the more psychological safety you have, the less courage that you need, and these really work hand in hand. Really the irony of a courageous culture is that it takes less daily courage to show up and share your ideas because it feels safe. So in an ideal world we wouldn’t be requiring anybody to be courageous because the psychological safety is there.
So in the work that we’ve been doing it’s been working at the senior level of how do you create clarity that yes, I absolutely do want to hear your best ideas. I want you to speak up. I want to share your best thinking. I want you to be who you are and bring your whole self to work and have a very deliberate way of asking. So be clear that you want it and also be clear about what kinds of contributions you’re looking for from people. How they can best show up and then to show up with real curiosity, asking strategic, what we call courageous questions, which are very specific. They assume there’s a problem.
So a courageous question could go something like, “what is the one thing that’s really ticking off our customers?” If I ask you it that way I’ve created some safety because I’m assuming something is ticking off our customers. Then how you, we call it respond with regard, how do you respond when somebody shares something with you that you didn’t really want to hear. Not like, “Oh, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.” But, “Thank you so much. Tell me more. Why do you think that? What has your experience been in this regard?” So that clarity and curiosity and then connection. Making sure that you are connecting with people at a human level and that really requires you showing up vulnerable. Because in my story we talked about in the opening, I was not being vulnerable and there was a massive lack of trust about that.
It’s been interesting for me as I’ve been running our business here, because every now and then I’ll be facing an all male audience, like customs and border patrol, or something like guy guys. I’m like oh, should I tell the single mom story? They’re like, “Karin if you don’t tell it, then you’re backing back into that-
JENNIFER BROWN: You’re a fraud again.
KARIN HURT: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Totally.
KARIN HURT: So that’s the one side, and then the courage side is then, “how do we give people the tools and resources to help them feel more comfortable speaking out?” So I think it’s an “and.” I think it’s a psychological safety AND courage and doing it from all the different angels and helping people come together.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that and I want to just share a couple stories you told me that I loved which is you coached one boss who he’s like, “Well I don’t know how to connect with people.” You said, “So where do you go to the bathroom typically?” Then you said, “Why don’t you go to a different bathroom, and your goal is to talk to five people along the way, not about work but about human stuff.” He said, “I can do that. That’s specific. It is a task.” You’re giving somebody a task that makes relating to people a task to be accomplished. I loved that. I think it’s actually very pertinent to … I mean now we may not have the physical office where we can choose to go to a different bathroom. So I do want to ask you about a technique you use to almost do management by calling around. That’s the other secret we could use, right?
But I also love, and I want you to share, to me this is very helpful to have in mind when inclusive leaders are on a journey of learning about, say allyship, often we get asked for the checklist of things to do, and there’s a bad reaction to that sometimes because it’s viewed as very passive and very, almost lazy. So it makes people mad. “Why should I have to give a checklist of the right things to do? Shouldn’t you know that?” But I know you and I are of the mind that we want to meet learners where they’re at, and for you, meeting this person where he was at the time anyway was like, okay, let me break this down into manageable pieces and then tasks, which is language that somebody understands. So it’s not a bad thing. It’s more of, to me, a learning style, and we need to give people things in bites, eating it one bit at a time.
But, so there’s that example, but I want you to talk about the management by calling around, because, I think, in the pandemic world of course we can’t rely on a physical workplace anymore to bump into people. We have to change that paradigm, and yet we still have to create, especially as leaders, the opportunity to connect informally. To build that psychological safety, so that we will hear and learn what we need to hear and learn from people and that there will be that trust there for people if they are courageous. That it isn’t necessarily so courageous because it’s just part of doing business everyday and almost normalizes it. So yeah, tell us about what you used to do when you were managing these giant teams.
KARIN HURT: Yeah so I head a large sales team that I was leading. So just to give you a little bit of context, I had spent a decade in human resources and call centers. Then I moved into this taking over the sales role, 14 direct reports, district managers. 12 out of 14 were guys, and 14 out of 14 had been in retail sales for their entire career. So kind of here comes HR chick. The guy that everybody thought was going to get the job, he was fantastic. He was really, really good. He would have been incredibly qualified, and he didn’t get it, and I got moved into this role. The whole team was looking at me like this is a diversity hire. I mean it was. I mean, I was given that chance because this was a gateway job to the regional president role, and there were very, very few women regional presidents. So they were deliberately grooming talent.
But I was a bit intimidated, right? One of the things I really had to do was build relationships, but everybody was remote. So, one of the things that I found that I did early on, and I caught myself doing it, was there were a couple of guys that were super friendly, and they were super supportive. So when I needed to figure something out I kept calling the same three guys. Then I wasn’t building the relationships with the others, which only made it worse. So, one of the things that I did was I began this process, and I called it dialing for DMs, dialing for district managers. A lot of my time was spent on the road. These stores that I was visiting were scattered over a nine hour radius. So I was driving most of the week from store to store. So I was walking around, but there’s a lot of windshield time. So I decided that every time I was in the car I would go in alphabetical order, and I would dial for DMs just to check in. Not micromanaging just like, “Oh, yeah what’s going on? How’s the traffic today in the store? What’s the best thing that happened? Anything to recognize? Can you put somebody on the phone so I can tell them what a good job they did?” Then great, thanks, short conversation.
But sometimes it would be crazy. “Karin somebody just drove a car through a plate glass window. Sometimes it would be really crazy stuff that was going on, and I would have found out about it eventually, but being there in the moment as things were happening by just calling and they got used to it. When they knew that was calling with no agenda they calmed down. I was starting to hear more of the funny stories, and there was a lot that we ended up doing. We had a breakthrough transformational success story, and we ended up leading the nation in small business sales and all kinds of good things. But it started by just showing up human with these folks and letting them see me as a human too. Not acting like I was walking around because I knew what I was doing, but showing up really curious because I didn’t.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that. That’s so great. So that’s so translatable into what we’re living through now. Clicking around, calling around.
KARIN HURT: You know what we do Jennifer in our online programs, we literally have a list of all the participants, and we’ll sit there and when people participate we check, make a check mark by their name. Just so we can look and say, “Oh we haven’t heard from Laura at all.” So that we can be deliberate in calling people out, and you can do that in meetings, right? You don’t even necessarily have to call her out. You can say, “Okay, Laura I’m going to hear from Joe and Mike, and then I really want to circle back to hear what you have to say.” So you’ve given her a heads up that you’re getting ready to call.
JENNIFER BROWN: There you go, there you go. So that’s good for introverts because it’s hard enough sometimes, or if you’re somebody that needs more time to process it’s hard to be put on the spot.
KARIN HURT: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: So, we do have to bear that in mind. We also have to bear in mind video and no video. I’m sure you’ve been thinking a lot about that in terms of people’s psychological safety, I think, is bound up in what’s visible about us right now. We are parachuting into, like it or not, each other’s living rooms, into each other’s lives. It’s such an intimate place, and there are things in the background that we have probably… some of us don’t want to talk about, have chosen not to share about. Would prefer to keep private, and it’s just not possible right now. So I do think also enabling people’s contributions to happen when and how they’re comfortable happening is an interesting balance. You want to give folks a lot of latitude right now.
KARIN HURT: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: But we still have to be productive and have outputs of course, and make sure that work is being apportioned fairly I suppose. But I even think that that is an interesting question because you have people homeschooling children, and working full time who probably aren’t showing up very well right now, and are horrified by it all. Then you’ve got other people who perhaps are showing up perhaps stronger than they ever have because of a lack of encumbrances or stability, or a great wireless connection, or a quiet place to work, or no kids. So the ability to perhaps focus and maybe those folks are overworking right now.
So if you were managing now and you’re looking at your team and your high performers have become technically your low performers … everything is re-sorting itself. I wonder, do you have any advice for managers who just feel like, “What am I trying to do here, and how do I get output when circumstances vary so much right now, and are so volatile, yet create that psychological safety for people to say look I’m really struggling, and I don’t know whether I need to reduce my hours right now so that I can be productive at least in the hours I am doing.” Then there are consequences of that because say that person is on a high potential track, how is it going to be okay coming out of this that people dial up and dial down as needed. We can still look at people and somehow keep them in the system, and on the track towards development, right? Traditionally in the past it’s like work harder, put in more face time. Take that tough assignment, that stretch assignment, right? That’s what’s been required to move up. You know what I mean? So many of us are dealing with constraints right now that we didn’t anticipate, and I worry about a whole generation of people getting derailed right now.
KARIN HURT: Yeah. But this is an issue that I’m wrestling with alongside pretty much every one of my senior level clients, and thinking about this for their organizations. One of the things that we’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about is how do you help each individual member of your team come up with their own success plan? What are the outcomes that they really need to achieve? What does success look like in terms of what are the most important things they absolutely need accomplished, and how do we get rid of some of those … What we’re seeing is a lot of trivial things where people are like, “You know what, that actually wasn’t that important so we’re not going to do that right now.” I think having those tough conversations and as a leader being willing to say, “Yeah that one we’re going to put on hold because we have to accomplish these things.” And being really clear with folks about what those big rocks are, right? But then I think the other is helping people think through the “how can we” questions for them.
So stop saying this is the mandatory meeting that we must have every morning at nine o’clock. I think that’s an unrealistic model for most folks right now. So, to say maybe there’s other ways we can approach it. Who needs to meet? Maybe not all 12 of us need to meet. Maybe we need to have people working and scheduling smaller times to get together on different projects when they can and we’re up doing the updates at different times. Another is really thinking about work hours. There is a lot of pressure. I know especially when I was at Verizon you’re expected to be online really from seven in the morning until sometime in the evening, and people were paying attention to who was doing that and who was not. I think now we need to say we need to focus on when people can get things done. You may have parents who say, “I’m not working from three to five, but I am getting back online after the kids are in bed at eight, and catching up on some things.” Letting that be okay.
JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Encouraging maybe mental health days or vacation, taking vacation is always something Americans are notoriously bad at. So I wonder how this summer is going to go because not being on Zoom meetings feels conspicuous in its own way too. This expectation of always on now that we’re all virtual is in some ways I think boundary-less. But you’ve got to work for a leader who is not only like you have permission to do this, but I actually think we have to move to almost mandating people. The expectation, it’s not permission giving, it’s literally when are you going to take time? When are you going to let me know about the mental health day that you choose or something. I mean thinking even about, because literally people are so job insecure too that I think permission doesn’t go far enough.
KARIN HURT: Yep.
JENNIFER BROWN: Our behaviors rely on what we’re allegedly permitting. And we all know that workaholism is so intense in our culture. So I do think too it’s like some of the companies I’ve been reading about who are requiring vacation or requiring parental leave. Requiring it of both parents. That kind of thing because they know that particularly men do not take parental leave, even when it’s offered. And why is that? It’s because there’s a stigma. I mean women know this well right? That’s why we don’t really tell the truth about a lot of things. But now better understanding that whole game too and so it’s I guess as the person with authority and power we have to be really cognizant of the way that we communicate these things and knowing that people will try to please, and particularly at times when they’re feeling that there’s so much that’s uncertain that could lead to really unhealthy behaviors in terms of ignoring the permission we’re giving.
KARIN HURT: I agree with you so much and the best example of this, and I’m not sure I can say the company name. But it’s a fortune 20 company, and this man, a very senior leader, called and said, “I want you to design something for my team. The primary objective is I want them to exhale during the session.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, my gosh what an ask.
KARIN HURT: Yeah. I don’t want it to feel like leadership development that they have all this work that they have to go do. I want this to be a gift for them to have a moment for us to talk about what’s really hard and to talk about these parameters of work life balance, and where do we draw the line. He said, “I want to talk about how are we going to thrive in the next 18 months because I’m tired and worried that people are thinking, ‘Oh we just got to get through it’ and I don’t think that’s healthy psychologically to just feeling like you’re surviving every single day. How do we talk about as a team, how can we tap into at our very best and to thrive.” It’s been an interesting challenge to build this, and we’re just going to do one hour sessions for five weeks straight. It’s been really fun to design though. But I thought good for him to have that awareness, and in this particular company has been dealing with this for a while because they have operations in China. He said, “So I’ve already seen this movie. I know how it’s going.”
When it was happening in China he’s like, “It never occurred to me that this would be a problem here too.” He’s like, “I was just dealing with over there and all of a sudden it’s everywhere.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Wow.
KARIN HURT: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Wow and this reminds me of something, an exercise you run. You run about fear, you call it … what do you call it?
KARIN HURT: The fear forage.
JENNIFER BROWN: Fear forage, tell us about that quickly because, I think, you and I, we walk into rooms and you just often even though you’re prepared by say a leader around what’s going on culturally, you walk in and you sense a lot is going on and you have a very limited time to reach people, and also to collect data in real time, so that you can meet the group where they are but also understand where each individual in the group is as well.
KARIN HURT: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s the beautiful challenge of consulting isn’t it? To sort of realign-
KARIN HURT: It really is. I discovered this one by accident. So we were working with a group, and so there were presidents of five different brands of this company, and then the other people in the room were people who were in succession planning to take their role. So about 20 people, fairly high level, and they were working. It wasn’t a training, it was more of a facilitation to help them think through a strategy that they were planning to roll out throughout the organization. I just got a sense that something was wrong, and I always have index cards in my purse. So I went and I gave everybody an index card and I said, “On the front of the card, write an H and tell me your hopes for this project. And on the back of the card write an F, and tell me your biggest fear for this project.”
The hopes were absolutely aligned with everything we were hoping to do, and almost out of the PowerPoint presentation of why we were there. The fears were consistent to a person, all 20 cards. “I don’t trust the people in this room to execute on what we agree to.” So I collected the cards, I read that out loud and everybody was stunned because they thought it was only them.
JENNIFER BROWN: Awe, that’s huge. What a great idea. You can just leave then-
KARIN HURT: I mean now we’re having the real conversation.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah exactly. You did your work.
KARIN HURT: If we hadn’t had that conversation everybody would agree to stop, and nothing would have happened.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah that’s so true. Then you probably pivoted as the facilitator, and how did the leader … did the leader give you the heads up that there was this undercurrent, or was the leader unaware as well that this was-
KARIN HURT: You know it was not the person who had brought me in, but it was a participant in the program that I had built some rapport with the night before over dinner.
JENNIFER BROWN: Okay, got it. I love those dinners before. Those are key.
KARIN HURT: Yep.
JENNIFER BROWN: Anything to warm up, get your engine turning before you have to walk into a room is a little pro tip for consultants that are listening to this. Always make that time. Take an earlier flight, get in. At least this was in the old pre-pandemic world, get on an earlier plane. Or do a pre-call and remember that the more people that are on the call the less honesty that you will have in that call. So, you might want to consider calling around to your earlier point. I always ask for quick conversations anytime I moderate anything. I like to … I really prefer to not do group things because I like to get into it person by person if I have the time to do that so that I can get a sense.
KARIN HURT: No it takes more time, but it always pays off. I have never regretted doing the pre-work like that.
JENNIFER BROWN: Me too, me too. It’s so fun to talk to another consultant.
KARIN HURT: Yes it is.
JENNIFER BROWN: It really is. So we are out of time, but I wonder do you have any advice or last thoughts for folks that are listening to this. They tend to be … our Will to Change audience is folks who lead diversity and talent and HR and also entrepreneurs. Lots of coaches and people who are more in the I would say maybe the healing and supporting arts so to speak. But I think what we all share is, as the title of the podcast is The Will to Change, it’s puzzling through how does behavior change happen and why? Is it a will problem? A skill problem? How do we tap into the motivation for something better? How do we unleash improvement, not just for an individual but for any group or organization? So right now what’s your favorite piece of advice you’re giving your clients about not only just coping, but actually thriving through these times?
KARIN HURT: Yeah it’s to show up with real curiosity and say, “how can we?” and really listen to the answers. I think just that question, because there’s so much that people think they can’t. What we are seeing again and again are some miraculous examples of micro innovation where people are really coming up with some things they would never have possibly dreamed of. So, making the human connection and then staying curious and saying, “how can we?” Then all leadership is going to get exaggerated in this time. The bad toxic leaders are going to become worse. Ones who are really focused on creating the human connection may thrive in new ways that they haven’t before. So, we always say be the leader you want your boss to be, and I think if everybody operated that way we would be in a better place.
JENNIFER BROWN: We certainly would. Oh, that’s such good advice. I’m a fan of those questions, “how can we?” One of my favorites is, “what could go right?”
KARIN HURT: I love that.
JENNIFER BROWN: “What do we need to go right? What could we build right now that would set a better course?” Then the other one I like is, “Why is this happening for us and not to us?” I find that… I think a lot about the opportunity in this crisis to get down to brass tacks around the foundational work that we’ve never had the excuse, or the reason, or the impetus, or the time perhaps to reinvent some of these pieces that have been broken. We often say in the diversity world working and laboring and systems built that weren’t built by and for so many of us. So a lot of work necessarily has been superficial because we don’t get to really do the deep stuff. I think there’s some deep stuff going on right now. We are really revisiting what good leadership looks like. We’re revisiting how do we talk about really difficult stuff in the organizations like racism, like socioeconomic differential outcomes for certain comminutes and how we’re seeing them be impacted.
Are we bringing our full self to work? Perhaps more in a virtual world. Is this going to mean that we can pay people less and outsource talent and what are going to be in the implications of many, many more people without that full time employment with benefits? Is that what’s going to happen? It’s going to be a nation of freelancers, even more than ever before. A lot of these things it’s really fascinating. I enjoy thinking about it and then I really enjoy asking the, “what could go right?” and right is in my opinion. It’s subjective right, because I have a vision for what I think it should look like.
KARIN HURT: I’m going to use that. I have a meeting this afternoon and that’s the question we need to be asking about, so thank you.
JENNIFER BROWN: You are welcome Karin. And on that note thanks for joining us. I want to remind everybody your book July 28th releasing Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro Innovators, Problem Solvers and Customer Advocates. Available for preorder and please follow Karin’s work. It’s incredible. I’ve really enjoyed … I love meeting senior executive women in particular who’ve managed thousands of people as you have because I know the odds that you’ve overcome. It is intense, and you broke through a lot of glass, and I think a lot of people stand on your shoulders. I always want to acknowledge what you went through in that time and what you broke through so that others of us could follow suit and walk through that door that you pried open. So I do want to acknowledge that too, that I am grateful for that. You laid that groundwork and, though, you’re continuing to remain deeply relevant which was very apparent in this conversation today. So thank you for everything you’re putting out there, and may we see those leaders or managers become the leaders we want them to be.
KARIN HURT: Amen.
JENNIFER BROWN: Amen. Thanks Karin.
KARIN HURT: Thank you. I really appreciate it.