Leading Below the Surface

LaTonya Wilkins discusses key topics from her new book Leading Below the Surface: How to Build Real (and Psychologically Safe) Relationships with People Who Are Different from You.

Drawing on lived experience, organizational culture research, social psychology, neuroscience frameworks, and her work hundreds of corporate clients, LaTonya exposes the superficial trappings of corporate culture and the behaviors that inhibit truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizations.

Leading Below the Surface will challenge the way you think about traditional leadership standards and explores the shifts needed to create lasting change.

LaTonya 0:00
Welcome, everybody. Good to see everybody here.

Matthew Parry 0:03
I am so excited to be doing this webinar with you LaTonya. This should be really, really fun. I've been digging into your book. And I've got a lot of questions for you. So LaTonya I, pardon me for reading this. I know that's a little bit rude. But I want to make sure I get all of this. So founder of the change coaches, LaTonya partners with executives, professionals, teams, to build cultures through highly customized coaching and consulting services. She's sought after keynote speaker inspired audiences all over the world. I know her as a Hone coach, I've watched some of her classes, they are amazing. She built her career working in HR talent management and learning development at Fortune 500. Companies, before teaching and taking on progressive leadership roles at University of Illinois, guys College of Business LaTonya was featured on the peer nominated list of most inclusive HR influencers in 2019. And she is the author of this lovely book leading below the surface. And it's available in Amazon in both Kindle and hardcover. So our poll was do you bring your full self to work? So I think that's a really good place to start. 38% of you said yes, a percent said no and 54% Sometime, and I just wanted to share this comment, because we kind of start talking about psychological safety is, is how norms and how company cultures try to make you fit in and maybe that doesn't really kind of mesh with who you are, and it makes makes you feel like you can't bring yourself to work. So with that LaTonya, can you? Oh, I think my screen is paused. I'm going to resume sharing. So yeah, with that, LaTonya, can you tell us a little bit about what it means to bring your whole self to work?

LaTonya 1:54
Yeah, that's an interesting question. Before I jump in, I want to thank everybody for coming. Matt did his assignment. So he's gonna ask me some deep questions. And so what does it mean to fit in at work? Is that what you asked me? I think so. And

Matthew Parry 2:11
or bring your whole self to work? So yeah, I talk about this a lot in the book with a lot of Yeah,

LaTonya 2:16
you know, it's, it's a really hard thing for me to talk about. Because I would say that I wasn't able to do that myself until maybe about five years ago or so. And what that means is, as you come to work, you feel safe, around who you are, you feel safe around how people are going to treat you. And you are not afraid about, you know, covering up things in your life. And it's just really hard to achieve, especially if you're someone who is from historically other groups, to bring your entire self to work, because you might have, you know, cultural differences, hobby differences, all those types of things. You might not be able to relate as well. But that's what it means. It means that you can go to work every single day, and you're feeling excited, you're feeling like there's really not a lot that's off limits, especially when it comes to you and how you contribute.

Matthew Parry 3:20
And so, as you're writing this puppet, can you tell us a little bit about why you wrote this book, and why you wrote it now?

LaTonya 3:26
Yeah. Yeah. So I get asked this question a lot. And it's actually a very deep and emotional topic for me because, as as Matt, you, when you introduced me, you talked about my career before I kind of went out on my own. And I worked in a lot of different like larger companies that had entire dei departments. And that never worked. For me, diversity, equity inclusion never worked. And no matter how big the department was, how senior the most senior leader was, it never never worked for me. Meanwhile, in my life, I had a very amazing inspiration throughout my life, who was my grandma Ruthie and I talked about her and my dedication. And one of the things I always saw her model is that she was really good with building real relationships with people who are different from her. And this was something she always did well, she was always a light. And she was so much of a light that at our funeral, I have a story about that. There was a woman that I never met before. And I learned that she was one of the granddaughters of her co workers. And she told me that my grandmother had adopted her and became her mother when her mother died. And so my grandma was just really good at this just with people who are different from her. She worked in a school cafeteria, and every student loved her. Even students that were different from her, and I got really frustrated with the because it didn't work in this way, it didn't help us build relationships with people who are different from us, it was full of, you know, dashboards, it was full of training, like all these things, that didn't really make a difference. And I couldn't feel at the level that I was at. And so I, I thought about this book for a long time, you know, I had some blow surface leaders, I didn't know what to call them, you know, people will call them good people, I'm like, that's not enough. That's not sufficient. And so about, maybe, maybe three years ago, I'm like, I'm gonna write this and then COVID, like the pandemic hits, and then that's like, then I said, Okay, I'm really going to do this, because my grandma had passed away, and I was feeling really inspired. And I knew that I could write this book really well. And so that's because of the unique perspective that I have. And so that's when I went for it. And that's why I wrote it, I wrote it. So create real change in the workplace. And so we could really think about how we treat each other first, and then the book, I call those, the, the house, we're always looking at the what's and the what's is like our like the revenue that's like, you know, what, we produce the widgets, but how we treat each other?

Matthew Parry 6:11
Yeah, you know, one of the things I really liked about your book, I love that story. But also, a lot of the stories that you relate are, I almost wanted to check your LinkedIn to make sure we didn't work at the same place. Because a lot of that felt really familiar to me how kind of workplaces tend to operate. And one of the things I really wanted to ask you, and it's sort of been thinking about is, you know, a lot of the core leadership values that, that companies love to kind of, you know, call their culture. It's about speed, meritocracy, decisiveness, being higher energy being relentless. And, and how those things can actually be detrimental to building an inclusive workplace. Can you talk a little bit about that? I never thought about it in those terms.

LaTonya 7:07
Yeah. So you said speed, meritocracy, decisive, high energy relentlessness. who identifies with that if you identify with those values, and those are your values, type yes, and chat. And if you don't then type know, in chat. Nobody identifies with these values, I don't know who made these up. So basically, what happens with corporate values a lot of the times is that these values are created, basically in isolation, with just a few people in a room for values to work towards a culture of belonging, they need to be shared, right. And we, we always leave that out. And these values are, I will tell you, they're they're usually not shared by by your employees. Also, these values are very competitive, right? You know, we're trying to, we're a lot of organizations are trying to talk about building cultures of belonging, building inclusive cultures, building cultures, where people want to work, I mean, we are in great resignation right now. So you want to build a culture where people want to work. And these that's not it. That's not it, these values are not it. And again, they are values that what I call in my book, I talk about a concept called KP ease, and its knowledge, perspectives and experiences. And I talk about the dominant leadership standard. And the reason why we have this dominant leadership standard, written mostly by men with, you know, values like this is because we have limited KPS. And so I will tell you a lot of those companies that have these values, they're written again, there. This is the dominant leadership standard and written by very few people. And they're really detrimental to the organization. So I'll start off with that answer, because I want to give you an opportunity to ask more questions. But don't get me started on meritocracies, because that's like the worst value any organization can ever have. And I talk about that quite a lot in my book. Well, I

Matthew Parry 9:06
do want to dig in just because I think it's so interesting, because the meritocracy point. I mean, I remember, I went to business school, and we would talk about Jack and GE and how you cut off the bottom 10%. And, and in a way you almost imagine it as being a fair thing, right? Like, everybody is able to kind of pull themselves up and go accomplish these things. But in the book, you talk about how that's not really always the case.

LaTonya 9:40
No, I mean, there's a there's a couple of things. One is equity. And so if you have a meritocracy, first of all, you're assuming that everyone has equitable access to the tools that they need to navigate their career successfully. And we know that's not true. For example, if you are saying you have a meritocracy, then you And then that's how people succeed. You're also saying that everyone has equitable access to leaders if they if they need it, in order to succeed in their careers. We know that's not true. I also talked about a, I cite a study in my book by Emilio Castillo, who was a researcher at MIT. And he did a he did a study with a large company on meritocracies. And what he found is, although this company basically bragged about being a meritocracy, when you when you actually dug a little bit deeper, bipoc employees, black indigenous people of color, and immigrant employees, people that were non US based, they even though they got similar or better performance scores than some of their white peers, they received lower raises, right? So let me repeat that, even though they got higher, or the same performance scores as their white counterparts, they received lower bonuses and wages. What does that tell you? What we're taught, cracy does not work, right? Again, there's so many biases that run some of these palette processes. And I talked a lot about that in the book that it just doesn't work it there's no such thing as a meritocracy.

Matthew Parry 11:15
So some of the best stories I think are about some of the leaders you encountered along your personal journey. And the notion that, you know, leaders shouldn't be necessarily encouraging competition among the people that they're managing, you know, really resonated, but you use, and it's the title of your book leading below the surface, can you can you kind of tell us what that means, like, what is surface level and what is leading below surface? And what makes a leader one or the other?

LaTonya 11:54
Yeah, so in my book, I talk again, I was talking, thinking about what I was going to call this, because throughout my life, I had different types of leaders. I had my first below the surface leader, and I'll give you that example. And then we'll talk about my first surface level leader. So below the surface leader, it was 911. And I was sitting in, I was working for a company that was a services company, and my assignment was on site at one of their clients. And they were already not doing well. So I was basically scraping by with the job. And I remember standing in that break room, and seeing the planes crash in to the towers. And I knew I wasn't going to have a job, I just knew because again, I was just very, barely hanging on by a string. And I was right. And what happened is, this was the first blue surface leader, I could remember that I had, she drove about my boss drove about 30 miles to come see me in person to kind of have a discussion about the fate of my role. And basically what it was is that I was going to lose my position, I could take a lower level position if I wanted. And that's pretty much all she could offer me, the way that she did, it was below the surface and that she came into my office, she practice empathy right away, she listened. She sat in a position that in a less powerful position than me where if she came to my office, it didn't make me go to a neutral space, she let me sit in the most powerful position in the room. And she she basically, just really empathized with me and kind of talked about her own fears around 911 In the future of the company. And so that was the first below the surface leader I had, what did she do? Well, the conversation was very psychologically safe. Like I felt like I could say anything, and there wouldn't be any repercussions. She was an empathetic listener, she was practicing both kinds of listening I talked about in the book, one is person to belonging, listening. So she was kind of being able to observe everything that I was doing, how was fitting into the conversation, how was engaging in the conversation. And then she also did practice real leadership, which I'll talk about a little bit later, which is relatable, equitable, aware and loyal. And she was doing all those things in our conversation. Surface leaders, my gosh, there's so many out there, and I've, I've had so many in my life. And the the one I remember the most, because it was the most devastating experience. And I talked about this in my book. I lost my sister at a pretty young age, you know, in adulthood. So I wasn't a child. I was in early adulthood. She was my only sister. And she, she passed away when I was early in my career, right, and, you know, I was trying to do a really good job. And so what happens is one of those surface leaders that as I call them, basically, I mean, I was doing really well on this company, doing great I'd gotten like the highest raises, you know, I was considered, you know, one of the top in in my department and what happened is that they started, my boss started telling me that my performance was declining, because my sister had passed away. And I was telling, I was trying to tell her, Hey, you know, this is really hard. And she's like, well, you have two weeks of vacation. So you could take that vacation. And that right there is a surface leader where there is stick to business, get this done, you know, work fast, work hard. There are no breaks, there is no empathy. There's no room for, you know, life and life happening. And and those are surface leaders, transitional leaders are kind of in between. Usually, those are surface leaders that have some awareness and are trying to get a little bit more below the surface. But yeah, that's that's a surface leader. And unfortunately, too many of us have had this happen to us with with surface leaders.

Matthew Parry 15:54
Yeah, I mean, I mean, when you talk about surface leaders that it almost feels like that's sort of our shared work culture in America is that, you know, you get the job done at all costs. It's, it's about the work and you know, your back and you should still be working. Yeah, that's really interesting. But you know, something that you said, too, as you're talking about below the surface leaders, and something you repeat throughout the book, is the idea that, you know, the practice of becoming below the surface leader. The ideas that you have to commit to aren't that hard, necessarily, it's the commitment that you make, to those ideals. And you talk a lot about empathy to about, you know, when in doubt, practice empathy, almost. You talk about how, you know, leadership should be thinking about tapping into empathy, and what that really means.

LaTonya 16:59
Yeah, I mean, in the book, I talk, I use the word access a lot, because I think all of us are capable of empathy, we just have to access it. And it's hard for some of us to access it, especially if we're trapped in surface environments. If you're trapped in surface environments, you're probably not going to access empathy, a lot, because your colleagues aren't in your organization isn't really kind of fostering that environment, to access empathy. So easy ways to kind of start and I talk about this a lot in the book is, one is listening. And you can really, even if you start here, and this is all you do after this webinar, try to listen better. And what I mean by that is, you practice what I call person to person listening. And when, for example, Matt's saying something to me, I'm playing back what he's saying. There are so many times when even all of us do it, right. We are we ask someone a question. And I want everybody to think about the last time this happened to you, you ask someone a question, and they answer the question, and you're spacing out doing something else checking your phone. So instead of doing that, I want you to practice playing back in your head with that person saying to, for me, I write it down, right, I write down, like some of the highlights of what I'm saying and some prompts. So I could play that back to the person try to match their energy. So another way you can practice personal personal listening, is when you know if Matt comes to me, and Matt's feeling stressed out about something, I can match that energy and say, oh, yeah, Matt, you're feeling really stretched, stressed. And, and I can get, I can access that level of empathy for him. One thing that an empathy don't is trying to fix something like, you know, Matt comes to me, and I'm like, and he comes to me stress and I'm like, Oh, my gosh, I gotta I gotta do something, how to fix that. But it's really trying to access where, where the other person is. And I think that's the easiest way to access empathy is, is to start with listening. I also have something sometimes I do with executives, and I have them do empathy interviews with their employees. And what that means is asking vulnerable questions of employees, again, with responding with active listening, and not trying to fix it and just sitting meandering in the muck. And I talk about that a lot where we're meandering in the human mock of what's going on in our employees again, instead of trying to move on trying to fix it, trying to evade what what their feelings are, and their experiences are in the workplace.

Matthew Parry 19:39
Yeah. Wow, that so I have a young daughter and it just sort of reminds me of something that I do with her that I've never really thought about it in a work environment. So there's another book, happiest toddler on the block. And one of the things you're supposed to do with young children, you know, is if you trying to match their energy so that they feel heard. So she wants a toy and she's crying about it. You're not, it's not matter of fact that you wanted that toy. You feel bad, don't you? You really wanted that toy? Well, here's how you know. And you try to sort of match how they're feeling so that they can feel that too. But I've never really honest, I've been a manager for a long time. And I've really thought about matching that in an empathetic way just in conversation.

LaTonya 20:30
Yeah, it's a different way of thinking, right? Because a lot of times, as humans, we want to make people feel better, or we want to fix it, or we want to tell people, Hey, you shouldn't feel that way. This is how you should feel. This is what really happens. And it's it's really just just practicing, not doing anything except listening and reflecting and playing it back.

Matthew Parry 20:53
Yeah. And the idea of, I think you said Miring. In the muck, it's sort of staying present through things that are unpleasant, right? That's kind of hard to do. Because you almost don't want to do that when you're talking to somebody, it's like, you kind of want to move to happy. Maybe that's not the way to go. Yeah,

LaTonya 21:17
it's so I call it meandering in the muck. And one of the one of the things where I see this a lot, and I challenge executives to do this is in listening sessions. So a lot of times, I'll run listening sessions with companies, and I will actually have executives sit there and listen to the experiences of their black employees, the raw experiences of their black employees, or the other employees of color, or even employees that like I did some listening sessions the other day, and employees were upset because they had to, they were being forced to come into the office. And 90% of the time, their executives are like, Oh, my gosh, we got to now that we have these sessions, I'm going to go talk to John, and you know, I'm going to straighten that out. No, I mean, you have to meander in the muck, and you're going to feel really uncomfortable. Meandering, and John's muck when John is talking about, you know, all these times where he might have experienced racism, and there's absolutely nothing you can do except listen and empathize. That is hard to do. And that's what I mean, by meandering, and the mark and I talked about the Kubler Ross change curve, because in that bottle, it talks about, you know, you have to, you have to get in the pit first before you can come back out of it. And if you don't go in the pit first, then you're going to try to you're going to try to cut corners. And that's not going to create real change.

Matthew Parry 22:40
Or maybe the person doesn't even feel heard, right, if you're trying to just move on to the next thing. So you mentioned persons person listening, but I think in the book, you also talk about a different kind of listening, which is a new thing to me as well. Can you talk about that? It's it's sort of listening to have it somebody fits into their environment, right? Yeah.

LaTonya 23:05
Yeah. So there's another type of listening I call person to belonging, listening. And what that is, is it's like, I want all of you to kind of imagine that you're in a room with your team, like whether you work on a team, in a company, or whether you work on a team, as an entrepreneur, or whatever, I want you to think about a time when like, I want you imagine that you're with your team. And I want you to imagine that instead of talking in that meeting, or directing that meeting, you're just observing people, right? You're observing people, and you're observing the extent to which they belong in the team, you're observing the extent to which they get an opportunity to talk, you're observing the extent to which people validate them, you're observing the the extent to which people defer to them. That's person two, belonging, listening. And that tells you a lot about a person and how well they belong to an environment. But the issue is, is that we we don't step back and do that too much. Because what we're usually doing is we think, as leaders, we're supposed to lead the meeting, right? We're supposed to run the meeting, we're supposed to keep it on time. But you know, we're stepping back. And letting your team run it, and you observe is so much more powerful, right? Because then you can observe the team dynamics, you can observe, if someone's dominating, you can observe, you know, who's got like the most cloud on the team, if people are feeling psychologically safe, all those things. And so that's what person a belonging listening is. And so I challenge all of you to try to tap into that, to listen more and observe your team rather than just trying to lead the meetings. Yeah.

Matthew Parry 24:51
And so one of the things that I think so we've been talking a lot about how sort of individuals especially managers are surface level or below the surface. But can you talk a little bit about how organizations or even how cultures can be that way like a culture can be, you know, just like a manager can be very surface level. A company culture could be surface level.

LaTonya 25:20
Yeah, it's everywhere. And I recently wrote about this an article in Fast Company where it's all about how do you interview for a job and get below the surface and accompany that? Or how do you how do you know that the company is surface. So chapter five is, is called navigating a surface world. And this was probably one of my favorite chapters to write because we live in a world that surface I mean, unfortunately, where, you know, one of the one of the stats that I heard early in my career, it was repeated over and over, was, okay, you have five seconds to, to, you know, show someone that or to prove your worth. And if you don't prove your worth in five seconds, and make our first impression in five seconds, forget it. How much more surface can you get, right? Like, you're gonna give me five seconds to make a first impression. What does that even mean? Right. And so a lot of organizations are built on this right where it is very surface. And there's an in group and there's an out group, and there's like, a way that there's a prototype, there's a way that you look, and it's very again, it's very surface, it's very up here. And it's like all those words that you describe, or that you said earlier, Matt, that those words describe a surface culture, right speed, meritocracy, religion, relentlessness. That's that prototype up here. And so it's it happens all the time. I mean, a lot of surface cultures. One of the things I talk about a lot with these is that they have like what they call like great Coulter's or cultures of fun. And it's very surface, like surface level, things are supposed to make you happy, like a happy hour. I mean, come on. Like, there are so many other ways to hang out with your peers than to drink, you know, copious amounts of alcohol, right? So, yeah, so it's, that's what a surface culture is. And again, if you have a bunch of surface leaders, you're going to be tracked, trapped in a surface culture,

Matthew Parry 27:21
how it reminded me of a specific story from your book, where I think you're interviewing at a company and they show you their fun room. It was like a room. Yeah. And it was empty. I've worked at places where we've had like, video games and stuff, and nobody's using them. But that that's, I think that's what you mean, right? I can, here's this thing. It should be fun. But there's no, there's no depth to it.

LaTonya 27:50
Yeah. I mean, it's like, don't give me video games. Give me a couple of wellness weeks off. You know, I was just hearing some of my, so my folks at Spotify, you know, had a Wellness Week, you know, it's like, would you rather have that or video games that no one's playing? I mean, what are so that's again, that's very surface, right? Where you can brag about that and think that people are gonna come work for you. It's like that shiny object that you want to show people that first impression after five seconds, right?

Matthew Parry 28:18
Yeah, I used to work for a video game company a long time ago. And they had consoles and every video game you could imagine because they reviewed video games. But there was one area that was set up. And it was right in front of the CEOs sort of fishbowl with glass panes. And the first thing that you said was never use that one. Don't ever use that one. Because again, like he would be judged almost immediately, they probably wouldn't matter what your album was. Right? But they would see. Mm hmm. So what about a below the surface culture? What what does that look like?

LaTonya 28:54
Yeah, so there are three prongs to below the surface leadership and cultures. The first like I said, is real leadership, relatable, equitable, aware and loyal. The one thing I want to talk about with with that acronym, are loyal leaders and loyal leaders are the like, they pose the opposite of a surface leader that I just talked about with when my sister passed away. A loyal leader would have been loyal with me through the process and known, hey, LaTonya just experience something very traumatic, something very rare for someone at her age. So I'm going to be loyal to her and be understanding to her and kind of help her get through this, this period of her life. Right? That that would be the opposite of what happened and that's again, that's below the surface. You know, what's interesting is in that company, some people were afforded that that privilege, but I was not right with a loyalty. So that's the first thing is there's equity in that privilege to be able to experience that loyalty and accompany. The second prong is empathetic leadership. Listening. And so if you're in a below the surface culture, you feel like people are empathetic, right? Like you feel like when you talk people listen, can you feel like they're matching your, your emotions where you're at? You feel like they're they're kind of observing. If you're fitting in or not, I tell a story about a below the surface leader, and in my past who, who actually was observing when I was at a party, and he knew never to throw a crazy party like that, for me ever again, that was that a way to reward me, right. And so that again, that's how you know. And the third one is psychological safety. I can't say enough about that. Amy Edmondson, wrote my Ford. And so that's another reason why I can't say enough, I knew I wanted her to be involved since the beginning. And psychological safety is, you know, when you can make a mistake, or when you can bring your whole self to work, and you're not experiencing repercussions. And you know, that because again, you can make a mistake, or something can fall off or, you know, you could speak up or, you know, you cannot impress someone in five seconds, and you're not going to be derailed instantly. So that's what a below the surface culture looks like. And it's a culture that you you want to go and you want to work in every day. And like, it's a culture where you actually feel human, you feel like, you know, people, you feel like, people can bring things up like no one's scared. And so it's a very unique thing. And if you have worked in a below the surface culture, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. It's probably been probably as a rare experience, maybe you've, if you have experienced it, maybe you've only experienced one or two or so. And it looks like you have a poll. So you're one step ahead of me, Matt.

Matthew Parry 31:47
Yeah, sorry, I was on mute. I put up the poll, because I wanted to kind of get a sense. Anybody who hasn't taken the poll, please put your answers in because I want to, I'm going to use this for the next question I have for LaTonya. So I'll give that one second. And I'm going to end it right now. So actually, this feels a bit more positive than I think I would have imagined. But, you know, I think there's also and something that you address, too, is the notion that you no one, even below the surface culture isn't below the surface all the time. And maybe you are working in a team that's below the surface, but your culture is a little bit more surface level. And so one of the things I wanted to maybe touch on was that the notion that you as an individual could do something, even if maybe your culture was celebrated surface level things, and maybe you you want to go a bit deeper, can you can you talk about that?

LaTonya 32:53
Yeah, so I talked about different tracks in my book, because I got sick of reading all these books, and it was like, Go big or go home. And I was like, Wait, I don't have a power to do any of this stuff. So I talked about different tracks, I talked about an individual track. And that's focusing on doing things within your team, maybe even with specific people. And on the individual track. As Matt said, a lot of us, we equate our organizational culture to our team culture. So you can create, you know, take those three prongs of what I said with below the surface leadership, psychological safety, empathetic leadership, and real leadership. And you can kind of develop that within your team. And even if your team is whether your team has 10 people or five people, you can start with with your team level. This, the second track is, you know, doing something like in a department level. And the way that you could do that is like if in your unit, let's say that you are like a designer, and you work on a small designer team. But maybe that whole department of designers, it once you start getting some things going on your team, you can kind of take that up to the department level and start, you know, advising some of those some of those managers also to come around. The third way is, I always call it the Go big or go home approach because that's the approach that that I always ran into. And that's if you if you have power in your organization, you can you can make a lot of change. And again, I think what like what Matt mentioned, when in doubt, be empathetic, you can start there, right? Just start with, you know, introducing what that is to to your managers, and ask them to practice empathy with their teams, also psychological safety crate that talk about that with your managers make that expectation to practice that with their team. So there's three different tracks there that I mentioned.

Matthew Parry 34:50
Yeah. With that, I want to go into some of the questions because some of the questions that I see are directly tied to this particular point. So This one from Tim, by the way, everybody who's listening right now, if you have questions, put them in the q&a so we can get to them. We're gonna just move right into some of the q&a stuff now. So So this question comes from Tim, it sounds like, I'll just read his question, can you address how to implement significant cultural change? An organization that's historically 30 plus years, been more hierarchical with a focus on surface issues. But we're staffed for a very detailed inclusion survey. So they did not feel they have a voice or a part in decision making or a true sense of belonging.

LaTonya 35:37
Here, yeah. So the way that I would say, to start there would if I were working with this group, I would probably start with team coaching at the executive level. It sounds like there were some surveys and people were hearing that there need to be some changes. But now the executive team is probably like, what do I do. And at that point, again, it starts to get again, executives, again, we a lot of executives operate, like with the speed and decisiveness and all that because I have to, because there's their shareholders. So there's probably going to be some sort of rollout of initiatives. But before you do that, it's like, like I said, that kind of meandering in the muck, and hearing a little bit more, what about what your employees are experiencing, experiencing what they're experiencing. And so starting with that, I probably also ask the executive team to do some empathy interviews with employees and take it one step further than a survey because a survey, you know, you can kind of hide behind a computer, and you can have guys spreadsheets, but really kind of conditioning them to be able to be at a different level with their employees, to be more real with their employees. And so that is really where it starts is there. From that point on, they could coach their teams to also change the culture on that level and create a little bit more psychological safety there. So So again, I think from there would, especially if it's a bit 30 years, it's you're not going to see much change unless this this team kind of looks inward and kind of embodies the path forward.

Matthew Parry 37:30
Yeah, and I like what you said earlier, too, about sort of the, the path of go big or go home, but there's also so many things that maybe you as a manager can start to implement inside of your teams. Okay, so I have another question. This one's for employees who are early in their careers. This one's from costus. He says, What advice do you have for employees who are early in their careers? And don't feel confident enough to take initiatives and speak up? What are some steps that employers and management can take to make them feel more empowered?

LaTonya 38:04
Hey, Kostas, how are ya? I haven't seen that name in a while. So I think it's the hostess. I'm thinking it is. Um, so I think your question is, if someone's a little bit more introverted or quiet, how can organizations help them speak up? Well, my first thing, my first pushback would be like, do they have to speak up? And what does that have to look like? So again, I would ask that manager, or if you're the manager, that's thinking about this practice person to belonging, listening, right? Where you can kind of observe the person that feels quiet, or might you might perceive to be quiet, and see like, like, how they communicate, like, maybe see how they successfully communicate and what that looks like. But just observe, and try not to, it's hard to build a true culture of belonging if you're trying to make people fit into a box and be extroverted or be that loudest voice. But so if you really can listen to them, and kind of discern, like, what, what helps them to speak up or even what helps them assert themselves. And it might be in a different way. I mean, you might have to just give them the floor, like I had an employee once where I had to give him the floor, I had to be like, hey, hey, what do you think, like every single time and I had to make it quiet. So I had the level again, that's equity. It's creating equity on your team. So people that are acquired or you're giving them a chance to speak up to another thing is that maybe it's not speaking up verbally, maybe they want to communicate via email or via other means, but again, providing that opportunity for them to express themselves in the way that they feel. They that they feel comfortable. The last thing I'll add here is if you have employees that you feel are quiet It are not asserting themselves. I want all of you to kind of go back and check your team culture. Is it rewarding? Some of those things that Matt talked about earlier? Is it rewarding the highest voice or the loudest voice? Is it? Is it rewarding the quickest voice? Is it rewarding the most dominant person? And think about that, because again, you have many different styles on the team. And if you're looking to change your team culture that that starts with you.

Matthew Parry 40:31
Right, and I have a few more questions I really want to get through because this one's interesting. So this one's from Barrett. So he's in a small company Wellness Week would just doesn't work really financially. And but he wants to keep employees engaged, and he wants to give them some of those benefits activities. How do you maximize for kind of below the surface activities? You've been if you're on a budget?

LaTonya 40:59
Hmm. Yeah, you know, I think just some of the things that I talked about, like, with the, with the game rooms, and with the weekly happy hours, that's, that's way more expensive, than your monitors, to sitting down with employees and getting to know them and getting to know what they want and what they need, right. Like, sometimes I think we overthink this, right? Where, again, we're trying to have like, something like, the one thing works for most, right? Where, okay, if people most people are going to want to bring their dog to work, most people are going to want to wear jeans to work, whatever. But a lot of times, again, you're making a lot of assumptions here. So there are little things you can do. And some examples on teams I had is like, you don't have to give them a Wellness Week, you can give them a wellness day and have everybody take it off on different days, right. You can give people development days, like where they can go off and, and do some development for themselves. You can you can kind of ask people what they want, or you can to kind of observe employees and hear what they like to do and hear what makes them tick and like, do something around that. Like maybe maybe some of your employees like nature hikes, and you can arrange an a nature hike together, right and leave the office, you know, a half day early and do that. So there's all these examples. And again, I think sometimes we think if we don't have a big, big budget, then that equals inferiority, but it's kind of the opposite, right? I think it's, again, that stuff is more expensive when you're trying to buy your employees happiness than when you're trying to, you know, make their happiness with them.

Matthew Parry 42:47
Yeah, it's a different, I think it's a different kind of happiness, right, just more fulfilling. So this one comes from anonymous attendee, they didn't put their name. But you mentioned earlier that some of the D AI programs you've been exposed to, you know, weren't really working. She asks, or he asks, what are some things you've observed or experience from company, the AI programs that are surface level, are not effective or didn't work for you?

LaTonya 43:18
Yeah, so in some of my roles, I worked in learning and development. So I have to admit that I was complicit in some of this stuff, too. And so but some of those things that I mentioned, that were surface training, especially mandatory training, if you look at the research, it does not work. Okay. So mandatory training doesn't work causes a lot of issues, right. I'm not saying we don't need mandatory compliance training. Great. But having mandatory training about how we treat each other is not going to that's, that's not going to move the needle at all. So I would say that training, I would say, quotas or dashboards. Again, yeah. Do we need have goals? Yes. But, again, you if you're going to have hiring goals, around, like the number of people that you bring in, that are different, before you do that you first have to think about or consider if you have the environment that these people even want to work in. Right. And so what was happening again, surface level, these companies were would would meet those hiring goals, and they would brag about these hiring goals, but those same people were gone within two years, right? Because they just didn't fit into the culture. Right. So that's another one. I think another one is, you know, just kind of bragging again, about, you know, the number of people that you have at different levels. Yeah, it doesn't tell the full story. Are those people happy? Are they not? When I personally and I know you didn't ask this, but I want to kind of give you the opposite view. Like how do I know when a company is really below the surface? especially when it comes to Dei. I know when they're not bragging about these things, when I could go to their website, I could see exactly where they are. And when I asked them about it, they're humble. And they say, oh, yeah, you're right. Our leadership team is all way. And this is, you're exactly right. And this is, this is where we're going with this. And these are some of the actions that we're taking right now. And when they tell me when they describe those actions, I listen in if they're below the surface actions, again, if they're like, Okay, we're going to do a training or we hired a Chief Diversity Officer, big deal. So what? So that's the kind of stuff that you're looking for, if you're looking for a below the surface culture, especially that that is that cares about the but again, those are the those are the things that you look for. And those are the things that you don't look for.

Matthew Parry 45:49
Various putting in some awesome ideas too for low budget, or thank you budget. Awesome, awesome idea. She's got some good ideas there in the chat. There was another question here. Let's see if I can find it. But I think the idea was, oh, here, it's from JD for leadership reviews, expectations, you have a recommendation to measure psychological safety, or how do you know if there's growth in that area? I guess how do you know if you are building sculpture?

LaTonya 46:23
I mean, I think the best way to do that, or I don't I hate the word best. But some good ways to do that would be survey. So survey data, have multiple questions about psychological safety. Measure it year over year, I think the second way, which is isn't as scalable, as the surveys would be annual listening sessions, not focus groups, listening sessions, listening sessions, around psychological safety, how it's happening in the teams, if it's happening in the teams, to what level, some of that stuff, you can only get to if you're listening, and doing these listening sessions. Because when you're doing listening sessions, a lot of a lot of times, people, when they're filling out a survey, they don't really understand truly what psychological safety is they think they know, but they know the definition, but they don't know what the experience actually feels like. But if you're doing listening sessions, you can actually ask that question, right, you can get to that question. And you can access again, that empathy around that, so that that employee is able to give you as many details as possible. But there's two ways again, and again, those listening sessions are not focus groups. And please, other people share if you like, I love how everybody's sharing ideas in the chat. Definitely, if you have other ideas of like low budget ways to to promote retention, and belonging, please put that in there. And also, if you have other ways that you measured psychological safety, I think the number one way these days again, are surveys. That's the most scalable, but listening sessions are another way.

Matthew Parry 48:10
Okay, I think we have time for one more question. And I think if we don't get to your question, hopefully I'll, I'll follow up with you, LaTanya. And maybe we can answer those one on one. But Barrett just put in a really interesting question. I really want to get your answer to this. So how do you get below the surface or below the surface effect if the team's remote? And so she's saying, we're struggling a bit with that we don't have a daily view in the team, and how they're doing the usual cues like body language or office drop in so I mean, we're all working remote. Now. How do you get below the surface when you're working remotely?

LaTonya 48:54
Yeah, so it's, there's a couple of different things I want you to consider with this question. So I think that a lot of companies when they went remote, they basically weren't really remote. They were just working from home. So they were keeping all the same practices in place, except they were working from home. And that was a disaster for many companies, because they they basically lost their grip on their culture, right. And so what I would challenge in that situation is for you to visualize all this, like what a workday would look like, if you were in the office. Right? What would a workday look like if you were in the office? So many of you are probably thinking about this and when I'm thinking about what my workday would look like, if I am in the office, I mean, I also work pretty much like 90% remotely. I would go in, I would probably have a stand up with my team. You know, I would go in my office, do some work, I'd probably go to some meetings. Mill I'd probably have lunch with a colleague. And then you know, I'd probably sit in a public space for a little while, do some work, and do that work collaboratively. So all those activities, doing the work collaboratively, having lunch with a colleague, doing a daily stand up, all that stuff can be done remotely. Right? All of it. And it can be done via zoom. It can be done via slack, it can be done many in many different areas. And so, create that, right, I think we have to create that. You know, I know there's a lot of backlash with people getting exhausted with having their cameras on all day. And I don't think your cameras should be on all day for zoom. But I do think that there should be some meetings where your cameras on and I always ask people to have their cameras on with me when I'm coaching them, because I have to see your face, and I have to see your body language. And otherwise, I'm just not gonna be a coach. So I think you have to pick the meetings that where you want to see people's faces, and you want to kind of practice some of that PDB listening, but also kind of think about, again, go through your day, and what would that look like in the office and create that, right, we can all create that, especially if you're going to be working remotely, basically, for the foreseeable future, or even forever, you have to create those opportunities to interact with each other on both formal and informal basis. Otherwise, you're just gonna be you in meetings all day, and doing your work all day. And that's again, that's not, that's not a way to build a culture of belonging.

Matthew Parry 51:41
tastic. Tony, I think we are at time. So I'm going to I'm going to do two things, I want to drop a couple of links into the chat for everybody. So the first is a link to go buy your book. So by LaTonya is buckets, an amazing book. But since you are here, since you're here today, fill out this type form, and we will send you a copy of her book. It's really awesome. And I'd like to invite everybody to check out Hone too. So just go to honehq.com LaTonya, lead some of our classes. Again, amazing facilitator, this has been an awesome discussion. So thank you, everybody. If you have trouble with those links, you can also send me a personal email, my email is Matt at honehq.com If you forget it's also team at honehq.com. And I'm all those things at the moment. So thank you, everybody, for coming. Thank you LaTonya. This is such an awesome chat. And I really am hoping everybody gets a chance to read your book.

LaTonya 52:50
Yeah, thank you for having me and everyone. Keep leading below the surface. We can all do this and let's Let's support each other while we're doing it.

Matthew Parry 53:02
Thank you. All right. Go fill out the survey everybody!


Meet The speakers


LaTonya Wilkins

Global culture leader, credentialed coach, speaker and author

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