“Are you practicing the art of the possible, or are your practicing the art of limitation?” That’s the question that inspired the conversation between Sean Kelly, host of the Awesome Office Show, and Chris Powell, Talmetrix’s, formerly BlackbookHR, CEO.
Knowing that Powell is a bit of a rarity in the world of HR tech—as he’s a CEO who has spent most of his career in HR as an exec at companies including Marriott, Scripps and Deloitte—Kelly wanted to sit down and talk about employee engagement with Powell. The two talked about how leaders can create high-performing workplaces where employees can find meaningful productivity, continue to learn and challenge themselves, and live and work authentically.
Here are 3 lessons from the podcast on how leaders can bring out the best in their people. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast, listen to it here.
1. Raise the bar by imagining what’s possible.
High-performing organizations are often those that are able to embrace the inevitability of change. “People are interesting and dynamic,” explained Powell, “and organizations are dynamic. There’s no such thing as boring when you’re in the people space.”
“The one thing that’s always guided me is how people are trying to create stasis—in terms of human behavior and organizations. It’s nearly impossible to create stasis with humans and organizations. It just can’t happen,” said Powell. Rather than fight change, learn to embrace and manage it, he explained.
“I learned early in my career, never to say what people will or won’t do, because the art of the possible leaves it wide open.” The “art of the possible” as Powell described it, is about what can be created. It’s about what innovation or improvement can change the way things are done now. “’The art of the possible’ [comes] from an initial thought—something that we’ve thought of from a creativity standpoint…Who knew that when I was 10 years old growing up in Memphis that we would be talking via computer? That’s the art of the possible.”
“So how do we just deal with it—versus trying to control it?” is the question leaders should be asking, said Powell. Instead of focusing on how to maintain the way things are at present, leaders can shift their mindset to look at how the art of the possible can be harnessed within their organization. Support the creative momentum and the dynamic nature of individuals, teams and organizations. Doing so can unlock new learning opportunities, innovation, and not to mention—greater engagement.
2. Interact and learn about your employees—just like you’d do with customers.
Powell said one mistake he sees with engagement initiatives is when organizations have more insights about their customers and their vendors, in terms of what their goals are and aspirations are, than they do about the very people that work for the company.
“The people that show up and work 8, 10, 12 hours a day—we know less about them than the folks we’re selling to. Something’s wrong with that, in my mind. You asked me what keeps me in this business: that’s what keeps me [in the HR space], is reversing that,” Powell told Kelly.
So what keeps leaders from not knowing more about each individual employee and their motivations, sentiments and ambitions? Powell said part of the answer is in being of afraid of “us.”
“Meaning, I think that there’s a lot of fear in that, ‘If I know your desires, aspirations and motivations, then all of a sudden I’ve got to act on everything you want,” explained Powell. But that fear or concern coming from leaders isn’t necessarily true, even though it can end up paralyzing a leader’s ability to know more and discover more about their people. “With customers you can stagger your information flow about them, and when you’re going to incorporate their feedback or not, [but] I think when it comes to the people that we’re most intimately involved with on a day-to-day basis, there’s a significant amount of fear.”
If we get beyond this fear, we can connect on a more meaningful level with colleagues. “We have to get beyond the fear of dealing with ourselves as individuals and as groups,” explained Powell. Part of that process means laying the groundwork with relationships. “So often, I think we assume that people want the same thing [as we do]—like we’re all cut from the same cloth. At the human level, yes we are—but at a desire, motivation and aspirational level, it is as diverse as the stars in the sky. But [we can] miss that about each other.”
3. Effective leadership starts with authenticity.
What’s really driving some of that fear in today’s workplace? Powell said part of it is about vulnerability: “Very few people want to show up at work fully transparent. The fact that people can’t show up with their authentic self—because of vulnerability—creates a lot of angst in organizations from leadership all the way down to the most junior person in the organization.”
It might be on its way to becoming a buzzword (and it’s packed with connotation), but authenticity is a powerful part of how people feel about themselves and about the work they are doing.
Leaders can start by being vulnerable, and by being authentic to who they are, and others will take notice. “Leaders themselves have to be vulnerable and authentic, and represent, and demonstrate, and role model that in an organization.”
Powell regularly shares his frustrations or vulnerabilities with his team. “I would hope that I’m creating an environment where people can show up, contribute, grow, expand, and raise their level of impact, influence and awareness—all of the stuff that keeps us in that ‘art of the possible.’ Anything that’s not keeping us in the art of possible is not what we want.”
And part of that is about openness, too. “That allows new thoughts, new experiences, new perspectives to come into play. When I personally find that I’m most vulnerable and authentic with people, I get so much more out of the conversation. I get so much more out of the moment. I get so much more out of the relationship.”
The Art of the Possible: Fuel High Performance in Your Organization
The only thing that’s going to stay the same in any organization is change. Start applying the same methods you use with consumers to your own employees with Talmetrix. Improve the questions you’re asking, be equipped to take action with the data you uncover, and know how to effectively communicate with employees with your results. Learn more about how you can use Talmetrix to measure real-time insights, source feedback and suggestions, and then leverage your findings to inform your action plan.
About Sean Kelly and the Association of Workplace Engagement
Sean Kelly is a speaker, social entrepreneur, and the CEO and co-founder of HUMAN (Helping Unite Mankind And Nutrition). The Association of Workplace Engagement (AWE) is an organization whose mission is to help companies create truly unique and inspiring workspaces that promote employee engagement, wellness, and productivity. Those spaces are deemed Awesome Offices. Find Sean and the Awesome Office podcast here.
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