S 2 E3

May 7th, 2020

EPISODE 3: Inclusion Matters More Than Ever with IBM and Gartner

Brian Kropp, Group Vice President at Gartner, and Deb Bubb, Head of Leadership, Learning, and Inclusion at IBM, discuss the growing importance of inclusive habits at work: respecting people’s capacity to get things done, the challenges of playing multiple roles, and helping teams see that they really are in this together.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00]

::Intro Music::

In 2019, a major study looked at publicly traded companies before and after the 2009 global recession. The researchers wanted to know which companies succumbed to financial collapse, and which ones stayed afloat, or even thrived. It turned out you could distinguish between the companies that collapsed versus the ones that flourished with one metric: whether that company kept investing in diversity and inclusion.

That is, whether the company made it a priority to create teams made up of people from different backgrounds and experiences, and actually listen to their perspectives.

The study found that while the S&P 500 saw a 35.5% decline in stock performance between 2007 and 2009, the companies that remained focused on D&I saw an average gain of 14.4%. So, how come? And what can we learn this time around?

I’m Chris Weller, and you’re listening to Your brain at Work, from the NeuroLeadership Institute.

For this episode, and the ones that follow, we’ll be drawing from a weekly webinar series that NLI has been hosting every Friday, between our Co-Founder and CEO, Dr. David Rock, and two distinguished guests. Together they discuss the science of leading through crisis and what impact they have seen as leaders.

In today’s episode, our guests are Brian Kropp Group Vice President Gartner and Deb Bubb, Head of Leadership, Learning, and Inclusion at IBM. Together they discuss the growing importance of inclusive habits at work: respecting people’s capacity to get things done, the challenges of playing multiple roles, and helping teams see that they really are in this together.

::End of Intro::

David Rock (1:37):

Deb and Brian, thanks for joining us today. I know we got to chat one-on-one recently and just in the middle of a conversation I was like, “We should be having this conversation with lots of people listening.” And you both just immediately said, “That sounds great.” And so here we are. And with just such important and interesting conversations, I think about what you’re each saying and Brian, your perspective is across thousands of companies and really the whole HR space involved in Gartner and I know you were heading up CEB the HR practice before that. So you’ve got a long, deep history of understanding that space and Deb as the head of leadership, learning and inclusion at one of the world’s biggest companies, you’re seeing incredible trends and so we’ll hear a bit more about in that company, what’s actually happening and what you’re seeing as well.

David Rock:

So it’s that sort of big picture and then go down. So Brian, over to you. Great to have you here. And I know we just had a great conversation a few weeks ago where I said, “Hey, what are you seeing all about HR? What are you seeing?” We started talking and I said, “We should have this conversation with other people listening.” So thanks for agreeing to join us.

Brian Kropp:

Thanks for having me.

David Rock:

I go back to the question, what are you seeing out there? And kind of what’s been surprising and what do you think is really working on the people’s side of things?

Brian Kropp:

Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s when coronavirus hit, it was very much an immediate sense that we have to respond to it, get employees out of workplaces, put safety in place, those sort of things. And what companies are moving to at this point is kind of moving from that respond to recover and then some companies are even starting to move from recovery to renew. As working about what the phases look like, and

Brian Kopp (3:04):

what’s interesting as we’re moving into this recover phase where a lot of organizations are coming up with new ways to work, new ways to support their employees, realizing that where we are now was likely to be where we’re going to be for a while. There’s a lot of really fascinating things that we’re learning about how to actually get work to work in a way that helps the organization achieve its outcomes and employees achieve theirs and be successful.

You know one of the things that it’s actually really interesting about this, and you mentioned this idea of taking care of yourself. There’s actually a company I was talking to earlier this week and they have a set of initiatives where the employees wear Fitbits to keep track of steps and those sorts of things. And they have been doing it for a while with a goal of more steps

Brain Kropp (3:49):

savings on health benefits and all the things that are associated with good health. And I was talking to them earlier this week and they went back and actually looked at that data for the last month. Their average employee is taking about 60% fewer steps now compared to where they were pre Coronavirus. So you’re actually seeing all these health implications play out that we didn’t even think about that were there. But that’s just one of the really interesting things that we’re starting to learn and starting to see when these things occur and what’s going on from that perspective. In addition to all sorts of ways that we’re learning on how can we effectively engage and manage our remote employees in a better way.

David Rock:

Yeah. Tell me more about that. What are you saying about the remote employees? What are some of the trends you’re seeing and some of the interesting ideas?

Brian Kropp:

Yeah. So there’s a lot that we’re actually learning about what it takes to manage remote employees more effectively. And there’s just an amazing set of things that we’re learning from that perspective. One of the things that we’ve been able to see, and we’ve been surveying employees who were working remote

Brain Kropp (5:42):

before Coronavirus occurred, some data from employees that an employee is at work working remote before and then employees that are all now being pushed to work remotely. One of the most interesting things that we see is that the type of feedback that remote employees get is really different than the types of feedback that employees who come into the office get. And to kind of oversimplify it, we look at it as corrective feedback and affirming feedback. So corrective feedback is you did something wrong, do it differently next time. Affirming feedback is, hey, you did a good job on that.

And what we see is that employees who are working remote get twice as much corrective feedback and about half as much affirming feedback, even though, and this is comparing employees who are working remote versus not before Coronavirus. On average they get about the same performance score. Right? And we can talk all day long if performance review scores are a good idea or not, but as a reasonable proxy for someone doing a good job, it’s probably okay. But it is interesting that employees who are working remote are more likely to be told they did something wrong than to be told they did something right compared to employees that came into a workplace on an ongoing basis. So that’s really amazing.

David Rock:

That’s interesting. Let’s just pull that apart for a minute. I think there’s a couple of things there. One of the things in the brain is we’re trying to detect if every situation is good or bad, right? So we look at some food and we’re like, “Oh, is this going to be nice or is this going to taste awful?” And generally when something’s ambiguous, we are on the side of caution and assume it’s very bad. So if there’s some food we’ve never tasted before, it was like, “Oh, I don’t know. That could be awful.” It’s just safer that way. Right? And there’s actually studies on this literally looking at the brain’s threat system and showing people happy faces, angry faces, uncertain faces, we can’t tell. And the uncertain faces actually light up the threat system more than the angry faces. Right?

David Rock (6:33):

And so what we do with ambiguity, we default to the negative, I think that’s partly what’s going on. I think a second thing that’s happening that is actually concerning is there’s an overall avoidance environment. So there’s an overall threat environment, right? Someone was asking before on the question of is being at a toward state or a ward state better for creativity, there’s actually a huge difference between slightly positive state and a slightly negative state that you can’t even feel the difference of. There’s actually many hundreds of percent difference in creativity. So very, very different. And overall, we’re in this like more negative state, right? Most people are. And so in a negative state, what happens is negative things jump out more and something that might be neutral is now classified as negative, right?

David Rock:

So if you’re stressed and someone says, “Hey, how you doing?” You’re more likely to say, “Why do you ask?” Than if you are positive, right?

Brian Kropp:

Yeah.

David Rock:

So in an overall threat state, the negative jumps out, neutral things are seen as negative and even positive things might be seen as negative, right? And so people are noticing that negative stuff. And then secondly, of course, if you’re already anxious, then someone giving you negative feedback or corrective feedback is going to hit harder. So you’re also going to notice that. So I think there’s a few things happening that are an interesting challenge.

Brian Kropp (7:50):

Yeah. I think there’s also another part of it, which is simply that managers forget to do it. There’s a lot of time that managers would spend when someone’s in an office place where they’d walk by, they would say hello, they would check in to see how they were doing, all those sorts of things. And when you don’t have that sort of drive by management moments that you would normally have in a workplace, it’s just something that’s not top of mind for most managers. That what sticks in their head is, oh gosh, David did something wrong. I need to tell David that he did something wrong rather than good, because it takes that additional effort in a remote environment to then contact someone, call them, send them the email rather than simply mention it to them in person.

David Rock:

Right. walking past. Yeah.

Brian Kropp:

Yeah.

David Rock:

And there’s a distance bias that’s going to get in the way that the people feel far away because of it, they’re physically far away. And so it’s not going to feel as important as if you are literally walking past.

Brian Kropp:

Yeah.

David Rock:

Priming factor as well, so.

Brian Kropp:

Yeah, absolutely. So that’s one big thing that we see that’s really interesting in terms of the management. A second thing, and this is something that we saw a lot for employees who, looking at some analysis of people that were working remote before Coronavirus hit, but it’s starting to play out in terms of what’s going on now, which is social connections. What you see is that employees again on average who work remote were more likely to say they felt isolated, that they didn’t have friends at work, they didn’t have those social connections that are there. And what we’re finding now for employees that used to come into workplace who are working remote, what they’re reporting is the sense of feeling of isolation and loneliness. And this I think is true of everyone who is stuck at home, doesn’t have the same ability to go out before, but we’re seeing that play out in the workplace.

Brian Kropp:

And what’s interesting about it is it’s having some impacts on engagement and performance in the workplace now. But the bigger longer term risk for organizations is if those social relationships break down as working remote for an extended period of time, that you’re not going to see people quit right now. I mean [inaudible] a lot of jobs to go to, more than 75% of companies will now put hiring freezes in place, all those sorts of things. But at some point, the labor market will open back up and what it does if those social relationships aren’t strong, then when that labor market opens up, organizations are going to see retention risk at this point in time. But that’s the other thing of just how do you have friends that you used to have in work that you saw all the time that you just don’t see anymore. I mean, you don’t spend the same time with them and when you do, it’s on a call about work stuff. And that’s a really interesting trend that we’re seeing shift as well.

David Rock (10:22):

Yeah, no, interesting. I mean, this correlates to some of the signals that we’ve been talking about leaders need to send. And for us, we started researching this, it’s like when people are in a threat state, so you need to send positive signals. And for us, the positive signals are SCARF signals, they’re firstly status. And the first one you’re talking about with feedback is people are a bit of a threat state, so you’re going to need to send positive signals to them. And I think something that’s also happening is people, most people, not everyone, but most people are actually doing much worse at this than they thought they would. Like even I noticed myself, like about a week ago, I had this background story of I should be able to handle this better. I should be able to handle this better. Right? It’s a really, really tough situation, you know?

Brian Kropp:

Yeah.

David Rock:

And so I think people are doing worse than they thought they would. And that ends up being a status threat actually. Because status isn’t just you compared to others, it’s you compared to yourself and your imagined self as well. And so I think there’s a lot of people downing themselves with how hard they’re finding it and on the sort of of that, right?

Brian Kropp:

Yeah.

David Rock:

So leaders need to say, you know what, it’s actually hard for everyone and you’re actually doing okay and look at the progress you’ve made since yesterday and look at the progress you’ve made since the day before. I think those are key things to do. And then the relatedness one, and I’m curious if you have any data on this, the R and stuff, which relatedness is are you tracking the percentage of companies who are having these virtual coffee breaks and non work-focused social happy hours with the teams and things like that? You know what [crosstalk].

Brian Kropp:

Yeah. We hear a ton of that anecdotally. What we also hear though is that there’s a lot of employees who are like, “I spent my whole life on a Zoom call already and the last thing I want to do is spend more time on a Zoom call with people.” So it’s how do you balance all of the things that are going on from a work perspective and a lot of people have done and the activities in their personal life have all gone virtual. So you might have your virtual gym class, your kids might have their virtual soccer training, all these sorts of things. And one of the other things that we’ve seen is just the number of meetings that employees and people have to engage in now has actually increased dramatically. And part of that is the decisions that were made, the conversations that were made in the past around just a conversation in the hallway that got to a resolution, got something pushing forward, that’s turned into a scheduled meeting with a thing that you have to dial into.

Brian Kropp:

And what a lot of companies are starting to see and feel from their employees is all this time on video calls and video conferences is actually exhausting. You have to feel like you’re paying more attention to it, you’re just spending more hours there. And how do you do it in a way that is engaging for employees? Because it’s not from an employee perspective, and this is kind of a mistake that a lot of companies make. They look at it and say, well, here are the things we’re doing from my company perspective to this employee. But that employee is actually a person who does a lot of stuff outside of work that might be with their church, with, like I said, their kids stuff, with their friends and so on. And so the person is experiencing all of that video time and that’s where it feels overwhelming.

Brian Kropp:

So as you’re thinking about the employee experience from this perspective, you have to look at the bigger picture and look at all that’s impacting that person, not what you’re doing to that employee from an organizational perspective alone. And that changes the dynamic of what it feels like. And as you’re thinking about these things, it changed the dynamic of the burden that you’re putting on your employees in a lot of ways from all these different dimensions.

David Rock:

Right? No, that’s some really good points. And one of the things that you want to be careful of is going from one meeting straight to the next and you want to be doing the 25 minute meeting, the 50 minute meeting, the brain needs time to quiet down for the networks involved and all the thoughts to quiet down to re animate new networks there. So you can’t just go from one to the next. And I think the second thing is that, and this is a really important one, is that should this be a meeting or should this be a Skype chat with a few people and not have that experience bias of every decision we need to make, we need to schedule a meeting. So I’m hearing this as well for many companies, there’s just way too many things just kind of automatically becoming meetings, which are [crosstalk].

Brian Kropp:

And what’s interesting is that a lot of the early advice that organizations gave to managers was frequent check ins. And so frequent check ins were not just, “Hey, how are you doing? Let’s schedule a 30 minute check in.” And so this idea of frequent check in could just be a quick five minute call rather than scheduled.

David Rock:

Yeah, it should be.

Brian Kropp:

Taking up time on the calendar and all those sorts of things. And so we’re starting to learn about a lot of this. And then one of the other things that we found that’s actually really interesting, and a big mistake that companies are making is they’ve got a mental shift, which as well, if someone’s working remote and even if they used to be on a lot of teams before, they’re kind of like an individual contributor and so they’re doing their work. What you actually see when you look at employees that worked remote before and employees that are working remote, one of the evolutions that’s occurring within organizations is that the number of projects that people are engaged on has actually increased dramatically.

Brian Kropp:

So remote employees historically worked on more projects, not as deep, but more, as employees went from in the workplace to remote, they’ve been spread across more projects and so they actually have to have a lot more interactions with a lot more people than they did before. So just to give you a sense, employees that historically would come into workplace, less than 10% of them were involved in five or more big projects. For employees that are working remote, it’s about 35% of them are involved in five or more big projects. So it’s just all of this interaction that’s there, and even with the improvements that have been made with video capabilities meaning capabilities making them collaborative and interconnected and feeling like a team experience, it’s still not quite there. But knowing how much that’s increased and how the work patterns of employees who are working remote is evolving to be less individualistic, more collaborative also it’s an important thing for us to be aware of in terms of how we want to manage and work with our employees [crosstalk].

David Rock (16:32):

Right. Interesting, interesting. I mean it’s also, a couple of things to add, this is, it’s an attention problem partially. And when we studied learning and we developed the ages model, we looked at the four things that basically make up people remembering things, right? Attention, generation, emotion, spacing. One of the things where the tension is it actually needs to shift about every 15, 20 minutes. It needs to stop doing what it was doing, so if you’re really staring at a screen, you need to like pause for a few minutes, do something else then come back. So your attentional circuits do actually tire in a period of about 15, 20 minutes. So you can’t just be on a computer all day staring at a screen with no breaks, you’ve got to really mix it up, and 15, 20 minutes is a good amount of time.

David Rock:

It’s also a capacity issue. So it’s an essential issue, it’s also a capacity issue in that all these meetings work in serial, like basically people talking one after the other. And for a lot of meetings actually, that’s extremely inefficient. And just the simplest idea of like adding hand signals, right? Getting everyone on camera adding hand signals can literally half the time of meetings. You just… I did this this week, I presented an idea I thought it was great. We had our top 20 leaders in the business, I explained it for two minutes and I say, “Hey everyone, give me a rating out of five back and see. Well, give me a rating out of five. Five is amazing, we should do it. Four is pretty good, et cetera, and just hold your fingers up. And I just got all these twos and threes. I’m like, okay, [crosstalk] I thought I was going to get fours and fives, but that conversation was two minutes, right?

Brian Kropp:

Yeah.

David Rock (18:03):

If I’d presented it and said, “Let’s hear from you,” I mean at least seven or eight of the people would have had to speak and then argue with each other like half an hour to an hour.

Brian Kropp:

Well, there’s also this thing that’s really interesting. There’s patterns in terms of how they play out. Employees are concerned about what’s going on, what’s happening from a job perspective, and they want to be seen and heard and acknowledged for something that they’re doing. Because one of the things that we saw happening around the global financial crisis, which was really interesting, what’s the demand for employee feedback… Oh, sorry, employee recognition shot through the roof. But it became one of the most important things that employees wanted. And so what you see actually happening when you’ve got those sorts of meetings, everybody feels like they have to contribute in part to be recognized so [inaudible ] they’re doing something and it just becomes a long investment of time that perhaps is not as productive as we need it to be. But that’s what’s driving some of that behavior is concern of employees. It’s like, “Hey boss, I’m actually doing stuff.”

David Rock:

Right. Right, right. And ends up being what we would call over inclusion in some ways. Right? So over inclusion is where a meeting that should take 15 minutes is an hour, unnecessarily. You actually can be more inclusive with the right strategies in 15 minutes, it turns out, where everyone can actually be fully heard in 15 minutes and that everyone’s more energized in an hour. So we need to think about literally the dynamics of processing in a virtual world and get much more kind of studying much more how to make these meetings much faster and more efficient and better. And I think there’s some ways to do that.

Brian Kropp:

Yeah. The next question that if for example we’re starting to think about is just this return to workplace part of it. And that’s going to be a huge question that’s coming up in terms of having that experience around it. And there’s a lot of stuff that other folks can share insights around around the safety part of it, designing offices to [inaudible]. But what I will say on that one though is how you shape that experience for your employees is going to be incredibly important, because what a lot of companies are thinking about as they’re beginning that thought process of how will we actually get people back to the workplace, just how do we make sure it’s safe, which is important, but only half the equation.

Brian Kropp:

The other part of the equation is how do we make sure that they feel safe going back to it and managing that perception of safety is arguably more important from an employee engagement perspective, employee performance, productivity perspective, all those sorts of things. And what organizations aren’t spending enough time thinking about right now is what is that perception of safety? So am I going to feel unsafe if I step into that elevator bank to go to my building or not, which may or may not in fact be a safe or unsafe way, but the way you do it and the shaping of that experience for employees to get that perception of safety is going to be incredibly important as organizations are starting to get their employees to come back to your workplace at some slow pace, but it’s starting to move in that direction and companies are starting to wonder, how do we make that happen?

David Rock:

Yeah, it’s a really good point. They’re thinking about the physical stuff and physical safety, but not the psychological safety. Literally like what threat level are people experiencing when they imagine walking back to work, walking back to the office. It’s going to matter what-

Brian Kropp:

Like a very simple thing, like when people walk into their building for the first time, a lot of companies want to put temperature checks right there for very good logical safety reasons, but how does that make you feel as an employee if you’re walking into a building and you have to go through all these health checks before you’re [inaudible] does that put you in a place where you can’t even be productive at work even if you wanted to be because you’re so worried about these sorts of things around you? And employees essentially get paralyzed in place over their perception of safety in addition to the reality of safety.

David Rock:

Right, right. Yeah, no, absolutely. And it’s a tricky one because there’s so many asymptomatic people and they might be asymmetric too. But there are certainly asymptomatic people out there that it’s the percentage is something like half. So it’s not a sort of false sense of safety taking temperature

Brian Kropp:

Yeah, that was fine. There’s one coming [inaudible] literally yesterday and they’ve done a series of focus groups starting to think about the back to workplace decision. And the biggest takeaway they’ve gotten from this focus groups that they’ve done and they’ve done it virtually and those sorts of things to try to get it to work, was employees don’t want their temperature to be checked or give information about their own experiences, but they want everyone else to. But it’s like, that’s going to be hard to pull off, I imagine. [inaudible 00:36:04] that’s the mindset that these employees have as they’re debating the back… should they come back to work or not, even if their organization is opening up their workplace.

David Rock (22:27):

That’s a tricky one. Any other insights on the back to work challenge?

Brian Kropp:

There’s the experience around it, there’s understanding that part of it. There is also the reality that as best as we can figure right now based upon data we collected before, what we’re starting to see from the executives that we’re working with, we’re going to be in this mixed mode environment for extended time. So before Coronavirus hit, [inaudible] the jobs where someone could work remote, only about 10% of employees chose to work remote, and another 20% did occasionally. And so you get to about 30% of employees that were working remote, at least some of the time out of the jobs where you could do. So not all the jobs out of there, but all the jobs here. Our best estimate now by serving employees, HR executives, finance, real estate, all the sorts of folks are going to be involved in that decision. That number is going to be close to 50% that do it at least some of the time.

Brian Kropp:

And what organizations are really looking at is as you think about social distancing in the workplace, is all sorts of ideas around if your last name is H through K you get to come in on Mondays and Wednesdays. If it’s L through Z you get to come in on Tuesday or Thursday sorts of things, or adjusting what looks like.

The most interesting thing that we’ve actually heard from companies though is there’s some companies, not that many, about 16% who bought new software to track the performance of the remote employees during this time period. And what they’re actually… And a lot of them logged in and did that to see if remote employees were actually working. What’s kind of the mindset going into that. But some of the smartest, most progressive companies are able to actually now look at that data and say, gosh, there’s some people who are just more productive in the morning and other people that are more productive in the afternoon and those sorts of things. And starting to use that data to then time shift when they’d have people come in.

So the more productive people coming in in the morning and say it’s like, “Look, we’ve analyzed your work behavior, your work patterns, we think you’d be better off on the morning part and this other person’s better off the afternoon part.” So we’re starting to see companies get really smart about how they can think about bringing people gradually back into the workplace.

David Rock:

Right.

Brian Kropp:

There’s going to be a lot of work that still needs to be done there, but that’s kind of the next big set of questions that are starting to pile up that we don’t have any good insights or answers for, yeah, starting to get there, but that’s the next big wave [crosstalk ].

David Rock (24:43):

Yeah. We’re at the start of the road ahead and I think I agree with you. It’s going to be a long middle… that’s going to be a long middle before anything feels like anything like normal. And that long could be very much longer than we’d all like. Let’s go to Deb and then we’ll come back to you. But thanks for sharing, some of those percentages are really interesting and as we think about sort of what’s happening overall, but I think my big insight from hearing from you Brian, is that companies should work harder to think about the human implications of this stuff more so than just the physical implications.

Brian Kropp:

Yeah, absolutely.

:: (25:13) COMMERCIAL BREAK ::

David Rock (25:54):

Deb thanks so much for joining us. Great to have you with us. Tell us how things are going at IBM. You guys have 400,000 something people, what’s been happening there? Have you guys been leading through crisis? I guess tell us that a little bit first.

Deb Bubb:

Sure. Thanks so much for having me, David, and this has been an [inaudible] experience for a solid IBM. We’re all suddenly at home and marshaling that kind of transition, thinking about our employees and their safety, our clients and their transformation and thriving in difficult situations has been a really unprecedented leadership challenge. I think to point at what’s essential about what we’ve done, not comprehensive, to sort of focus on a few key things that have helped us really weather this challenge pretty successfully. I would say the first bit has been about communication and very quickly, we set up sort of one source of truth for IBMers everywhere. And I think this corresponds to the SCARF threat around certainty that everyone is feeling, to have a place to go where everyone around the world can access the most current accurate information I think has been really important.

Deb Bubb:

And folks having a sense of trust and establishing some clarity about what’s known and what’s unknown. We also set up within 48 hours, a specific set of resources for managers to sort of equip them with really curated pointed solutions to help them think about themselves, taking care of themselves in the crisis and equipping them with immediate tools and information and templates to help get them up to speed. So we were suddenly at home, we have the infrastructure to do that, but it’s not just what to do, it’s how we do it that became very important. So first bit was about communication. I think the second piece was really about resilience and empathy and adaptability. You mentioned the criticality of starting with taking care of yourself. If you can’t, as a person facing this crisis, if you can’t sort of feel safe and secure in your own environment is very difficult to do anything else.

Deb Bubb:

So resilience came to the forefront as an important urgent issue. And within 48 hours we had a resilience toolkit, digitally scalable resilience toolkit up and running, focusing on the behaviors and habits and practices that would help every IBMer cultivate personal resilience in the face of crisis. I think the third and probably most important component is really listening and co-creating solutions. Here, we have many Slack channels, we have Ask Me Anything sessions, many ways that our big community can talk back about what they’re experiencing. We learned from our colleagues in China and all over Asia and Europe who are ahead of us on the curve, learned from their experiences, asked what worked and what didn’t. And we’ve been co-creating solutions along the way, which I think has made a big difference.

David Rock:

Yeah, no, that’s great. It’s a deeply human crisis isn’t it? It’s something none of us kind of prepared for. I think accurate metaphor is kind of waking up in a war zone with no warning or training or skills and kind of what just happened. And the work we’ve got to do in ourselves is really intense as well. We were having a conversation last week, you started telling me about something that you were doing at home personally to help with the crisis at home because this is the part of the crisis where everyone is actually a very, very personal crisis, which is like juggling these kids now and schooling as well and all this other stuff.

David Rock:

And I’ve actually noticed a lot of the time we’ve been teaching these personal buffers and the SCARF signals to others, they’ve been coming back with stories of what they did. I thought your story was really fun. You want to share what you did there?

Deb Bubb:

You bet. You bet. So we sort of… I’m a working parent, my spouse is also a working, I have two children. They’re twins, they’re 11. And so our house is now a place where we live and work and school all at the same time. And we’re calling it sort of Bubb Academy here.

Deb Bubb (30:25):

We sat down with our kids and we really thought about this could go a bunch of different directions, but really what’s happening at the Metta level is we have a new team and a new set of purposes and challenges ahead of us. So we thought we can either turn this into a heavy parental, like let’s establish new rules and we can fight about screen time or we can do what we would do at work. And so we decided to think it through like team Bubb is reforming and we used sort of SCARF as a frame to think about it.

Deb Bubb:

We thought about engaging their sense of status, helping them with a sense of certainty, giving them things they could be autonomous over, really investing in our relationships and trying to approach it from a perspective of fairness. So here’s what we did. We sat down, we very simply started talking about what was happening in the world and their role by staying home in making it better. And I think that really appealed to them from a sense of status that they were important in this crisis. That by staying home they were helping the world. We gave them a sense of certainty, like we’re going to establish some boundaries, here’s what’s clear, what’s not negotiable, but also a sense of autonomy.

Deb Bubb:

We asked them to co-create with us and we did a sort of pet peeves exercise with them where we each put up our pet peeves. They could only put up a pet peeve but they also had a sort of a thing that we could help them with about it. So there was nice sort of design thinking involved there. We invested in relatedness with them and a sort of fairness routine and some incentives for them. If they stick to the schedule we all agree to and if they actually exhibit the habits we all agreed to, then they get a little of an extra thing that they both asked for.

Deb Bubb:

So just sort of the things that you would normally do at work when you’re building a new team, we deploy those for team Bubb and my kids have been really incredibly resilient in the face of this challenge. And I think part of it is just listening for those SCARF signals and giving them a few SCARF offers and helping them find their way through.

David Rock (32:35):

Yeah, no, that’s great. It’s a lot of emotion in that as we think. For all of us, I think as we think about how we can do this differently with our kids. SCARF has been this framework that kind of came back alive for us a few months ago. It was like we started looking at the crisis and we just realized it was a massive crisis of certainty in like eight domains all at once. A massive crisis of autonomy, like no feeling of control and a massive crisis of relatedness that made it all worse. And that was the reason why people are in such a state. And that you needed to put buffers in the domains that you could influence the most, which ended up actually being certainty, autonomy and relatedness.

So we’ve been trying to kind of study the right buffers personally, that really have an impact and we’ve got a few that were kind of getting clear on. But then the signals part is like the metaphor we’ve had, I think you did this beautifully with your kids. The metaphor we’ve had is you want to leave your team better than you found them in every interaction, right? You want to interact with your team and literally they are now in a toward state when they’re in a threat state, before you arrived. And it could be any of the domains of SCARF and sometimes all of them as you’ve done, it’s going to leave people better off. That’s a very intentional thing. And I think one of the insights we’ve been having is just how much more intentional people need to be about taking care of themselves and about looking after each other. There’s like a prioritizing of that and a kind of focusing on that more than ever.

David Rock:

I mean, tell us what’s been working for you in the workplace. What do you think has been working for you either in your team or organizationally? Because SCARF is also relevant at the organizational level. There’s buffers for you, systems… sorry, signals for others and systems for the organization. So we’ve been talking to companies who were saying we’ve really had to address the fairness thing at an organizational level. But so from your perspective, from your team, what are the signals that you’ve been sending the most or organizationally, what’s been happening with some of those systems?

Deb Bubb:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think both in terms of empathy and resilience, one of the most important signals we’ve been sending as a leadership team is that it starts with taking care of yourself first. The senior leaders across the organization have been posting videos welcoming the wider organization into their homes, just to acknowledge what’s happening. You’re in my house, you’re in my… Let me tell you a little bit about where I am and show you a little bit more about who I am. That sort of warmth and openness and inviting and talking very explicitly about putting on your own oxygen mask, taking care of yourself first. We heard a signal from the organization very clearly that one of the biggest struggles for people who have others at home they need to care for is balancing these new roles at the same time.

Deb Bubb:

So we really listened to that signal and organically developed with the organization a work from home pledge. You may have seen it circulating in your newsfeed. People are starting to share it externally. This was not something that was a top down edict, this came, it emerged out of people telling their personal stories, making space to talk about personal resilience and challenges and emerged these sort of pledges. Now we have thousands of people internally who’ve taken this pledge-

David Rock (35:58):

Go back a little, the work from home pledge. Give me more. We’re all like, wait, what? So what do you mean the work from home pledge? Tell me more.

Deb Bubb:

So it emerged out of a recognition that while we all have the best of intentions, we’re in each other’s homes in a radically different way now. And many of us are balancing multiple roles at the same time where we might be homeschooling our kids, parenting, caring for someone directly impacted by COVID 19, worried about the world and also worried about our clients and being productive. There’s a lot going on here. So what emerged out of this very open dialogue and this very careful listening and co-creating was a set of pledges that are very grounded in the current moment, they’re not highly architected. This isn’t a policy statement. This is a personal pledge to attempt to make this experience as positive as it can be for all of us.

It’s managers pledging to be aware of other people, to be empathetic, flexible, and adaptive. It’s employees pledging to be honest about what they need. The beauty of it, I think, David, is that it’s organic coming from the organization. It’s co-created. It’s about listening and being flexible and being adaptive and leveraging the insights you can gain from these scale digital tools about what people really need right now and being a little kind of creative about that.

David Rock:

Right, right. As we’re thinking about the signals to send to others, if we were to sort of put them in order, it would be ARSCF, not SCARF. You would start with relatedness, but it’s just not as elegant. But when you’re sending signals to other, the first one has to be a sense of relatedness and relatedness is shared experience and shared goals. And I’m noticing this divide where there are some leaders who are never on camera, they’re just not willing because they haven’t had a haircut for a month. They’re just like, “How are you doing it? You’re looking so good.” I don’t know [inaudible].

But there are people who are just like, “I’m not going to go on camera and I’m not, I’m just going to be normal.” Right? And then there were leaders who were like, “Wow, this is really rough for all of us. Let me show you how rough it is for me as well. Let’s walk you through, I’ll show you my situation. You show me yours.” And just creating this humanity right, between people of different status normally. Right? And there are some people who are not comfortable with that. Right? Related to some status are different, you know?

Deb Bubb (38:19):

I love the way you’re articulating that and there is something really incredible about the experience that we’re all going through it together. We’re all going through it at the same time and we’re in different positions, different timing so we can help one another differently and share the load differently if we’re willing to be open and transparent with one another and walk that path.

David Rock:

It’s such an important thing to start with for leaders to have that relatedness, I think a shared human experience. And then you can go to shared goals. Now that we’ve got each other, now we can move to shared goals. Just a quick comment on digital tools because I know you guys do a lot of that. We’re hearing anecdotally, people are actually using all these online digital tools like Yammers and different platforms and stuff like kind of craving them. Almost like they used to be like a very small population of people using them, now they’re flooded. What’s your experience at IBM being with the digital tools?

Deb Bubb:

Absolutely. And it connects directly with what you’re talking about in terms of prioritization as well. So I’ll answer both questions. The digital tools are an incredible enabler for us and I think what we’ve uncovered is there’s a really big difference between trying to hold a good meeting that you would have handled face-to-face online, and really designing a digital experience that brings out the best in everyone. These digital tools can create a different basis for collaboration. We’ve been using, for example, Mural to enliven online collaboration, allowing people to really create at scale quickly together, insights and creativity and fun. We’ve been using Trello for prioritization and really enabling a reset of what’s most important now, what’s most important in the near term and what can wait for later. And so these tools like Slack and Trello and Mural and there are many others, have really helped us sort of create an environment internally where we’re not just trying to do things okay online, but instead we’re actually designing fully digital first experiences, whether it’s all of our HR processes or rethinking what a meeting is about or how can we quickly get the right digital tools and experiences to people so that we can thrive in this environment.

Deb Bubb:

That’s a bit about the digital experience. I think the prioritization thing is also super important. So very quickly, we reaffirm to IBMers that our strategic direction is unchanged. It’s clear. But what’s important now has changed. And so one thing that I think is important is we structured cross discipline crisis teams to go after the urgent things that needed to happen and then really tried to reprioritize and compartmentalize the rest of the work so that we could focus on what matters most.

David Rock:

What are the changes you’ve been making around the talent practices? What have you been de prioritizing? So we had HP and Netflix and a big utility company and some others on recently, Patagonia and they were saying, “Look, we’ve just frozen talent management conversations, we’ve frozen the 360s, we’ve frozen performance management and we’re just focusing.” What are some of the things that you’ve parked and what are some of the things that you are holding dear in terms of your talent practices? Brian, do you maybe want to go first on that? Just what have you seen trend wise in terms of what people are parking and keeping?

Brian Kropp (41:47):

Yeah. So we’ve seen a lot of companies that have obviously frozen compensation, increases in compensation decisions as far as [inaudible] cash or from that perspective, that hasn’t set a lot of publications the organization because if you still have a whole set of high potential employees that still have career aspirations and you want to be able to engage them and work with them. So what we’re seeing from some of the smartest, most progressive companies is they’re continuing to invest in that hypo group and putting their talent investments, talent work towards that. Obviously most companies, like I said, 75% having a hiring freeze in place, have got rid of a lot of recruiting onboarding practices from that perspective. The hidden one though that we’re seeing organizations not think hard enough about is their DNI strategies at this point in time.

David Rock:

Right.

Brian Kropp:

For a couple of reasons. One, there’s different types of people that are more effective at engaging in a virtual environment versus a non virtual one, and there’s all sorts of questions from a DNI perspective to that point as well. There’s another thing that’s really interesting, as a company we’re working with the other day where they had a DNI strategy where they were trying to find entry points for more diverse talent in their organization. That was also sadly a lot of the same jobs that they didn’t technologically enable. So they’re having their more diverse employees come into the organization and actually exposing themselves to a greater health risk that’s there from that perspective.

David Rock:

Right.

Brian Kropp:

So ensuring that your DNI strategy doesn’t get forgotten about with all the urgency that’s going on is perhaps the one that is most important [crosstalk] during this time period.

David Rock:

Right. And diversity and inclusion for those who are new to it, it’s a really big one. We’re starting to run groups every week now, one for folks involved in performance management, one separately for folks involved in diversity inclusion, one separately, folks in [inaudible] development. Is kind of small groups and we’re getting together and getting people sharing. And the DNI ones are, people are really quite anxious about what they’re going to do in this situation. But Deb, what are you seeing?

Deb Bubb:

I find it really interesting on diversity inclusion. From our perspective, diversity and inclusion is right at the heart of this challenge and couldn’t be more important to everything we’re doing. Inclusion is central right now to managers and employees being able to navigate the issues that are coming up and working fully virtually. The inclusive leadership capability we’ve been working on for many years. And it is central to our culture is one of the keys to making sure people can function in this time. We have absolutely recommitted to our intern programs, all of our diversity programs across the company and really leveraging our diverse constituency groups as a major channel to reach out to diverse employees across the company and their allies to connect around how do we make sure that we’re being fully inclusive and resisting any compulsion to bias that might emerge in this environment.

David Rock (44:52):

Right. I mean, bias increases under cognitive load, right? Bias increases under high cognitive loads, so it’s really important actually to offset that. We’re starting to look at how companies can do that as well. What other talent practices are you seeing maybe being paused or deprioritized or reprioritized? And Deb, any other comments there?

Deb Bubb:

I think in the spirit of prioritization, there was an initial effort by the senior leadership of HR at IBM to really look at what was most important now and what we can push to the second half of the year. So there were some process oriented things that we looked at and decided this is not actually what’s most important now, we’ll come back to it when it’s ready to make room for the serious focus on stabilizing the organization. We looked at things like, to the extent we had talent reviews. Right now, people don’t have the space to conceive of that as important, we have much more important [inaudible] to work. So still important for our talent strategy, but not something we need to do right by now.

David Rock:

Right now. Right. Yeah.

Deb Bubb:

thing that we focused on.

David Rock:

Right. We’ve heard companies saying, we’re going to just park the quarterly goals and the quarterly goal sessions and things and just, we’re going to work on monthly and weekly goals and we’re just going to pack some of those processes for now. They’re not saying they’re going to kill them, but they’re just going to pack them. Brian, any other comments?

Brian Kropp (46:10):

I would just… We’re hearing that company’s doing that same thing. I think what’s really hard about that though is that you do have a set of employees who are incredibly motivated by understanding what their goals are, what they’re trying to accomplish, what needs to get done. And so you have to balance, I mean, there’s just a practical reality which is the world’s been thrown upside down. The things that we were talking about doing on January 1st don’t make much sense now, for sure. But there are certain types of employees like sales employees for example, that need to know what that goal is from a financial perspective and how do you appropriately adjust goaling and objectives in a way that works for the different segments of your workforce? And for some segments it’s completely right answered, they’re like, “We’re just not going to worry about that. Here’s what we need to get done this week, we’ll deal with performance reviews, performance evaluations at some point.”

Brian Kropp:

But sales employees, high potential employees, there’s a set of employees in every company that are high aspiration, that want to know if they’re progressing in their career and how do you manage and shape those folks in a way that meets their needs? Because if you don’t, you’re going to be in trouble because the thing that we keep reminding the executives that we’re working with is the talent decisions you make across the next three months are going to shape your employment brand for the next three years.

David Rock:

Right.

Brian Kropp:

If you can make good decisions, you’re going to be in a much better space for the long haul. And if you make bad decisions or expedient, not thoughtful decisions, you’re going to be trouble because one opens back up, the question every candidate is going to ask is how did you treat your employees during the spring and summer of 2020. You want to have a really good answer to that question because it’s [inaudible].

David Rock:

What you do now will become folklore for decades-

Brian Kropp:

Absolutely.

David Rock (48:02):

… as leaders. It’s such an important thing. A couple of closing comments before people jump off. Thank you so much for being here with us. Just literally, we just want one minute to walk people through kind of different ways we can help. As an individual, we actually relaunched our virtual brain-based coaching. We used to do it and we’ve relaunched it so you can literally train as a coach now completely virtually. We have a fantastic six months certificate in really understanding the science. And if you’re from an organization, we have weekly events now every week on specific talent topics with your peers. We’re also exploring targeted learning. From an organization, we’re doing massively scalable virtual solutions are actually better than workshops. So one talent trend we’re seeing, which we want you to pause on is don’t necessarily cancel all your leadership development or hypo development, it can actually be better online.

David Rock:

We have solutions that show that they’re much better for habit activation online than they are as workshops. So just be careful with that. We’re still doing lots of work on growth mindset, inclusion. Mitigating bias is actually really important more than ever. We’re building custom habit activation strategies for farmers and also as in biopharma for like how to get people to really understand the different pharmaceuticals that are coming. So we’re doing all sorts of really interesting work at the moment. One of the big things is just helping whole companies focus. We have a solution called Focus that scales through an entire company of any size in a month. We have an open enrollment version of that, which if you’re from an organization, we’ll give you a pass to attend and check out. And individuals can get into that as well.

David Rock:

So that starting every week at the moment. And we’re doing a lot of briefings for C-suites and HR teams as well on kind of how to think through this and how to work through this. So get in touch with anyone you know, [inaudible] if we can be helpful at all. And just in closing, this is the toughest moment for many people’s lives. Not everyone, some people are actually having an okay time, some people are enjoying the quiet, but on the whole there’s a lot of people in a very intense crisis and we need to help them through this. Deb, Brian, thank you so much for your insights and connections. You’ve opened up a ton of thoughts for people and ton of insights and really appreciate your collaboration through this hour. Thanks so much for being here.

Keep Listening


The initial challenges of 2020 have continued into 2021 for many. With pandemic-related deaths, massive job loss, and burnout on the rise- work was deprioritized on the scale of importance. As news coverage of civil unrest, political polarization, and major events became normal, we as a society were challenged to reflect beyond the scope of our 9-5 life. Fast forward and now we’re seeing the outcomes of this shift in perspective: “The Great Resignation”. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly four million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021 alone. The resignation rate in the U.S. is now at a two-decade high, with more than 11 million jobs open. One recent study found that 95% of workers would consider a job change. Harvard Business Review noted that employees between the ages of 30 and 45 have had the greatest jump in resignation rates, with an average increase of more than 20% between 2020 and 2021. This reflects more than just “The Great Resignation”. This is a state of discontent. Join us for this episode, as we dive deeper into what is taking place in the workforce and the science behind it.

Employers have continued to fluctuate between work policies, throughout the pandemic. Repeatedly shifting strategic courses and still lacking clarity on how to effectively approach change for their teams. Many organizations, like some of you listening, have not physically seen each other in up to 22 months. Considering this isolation paired with the heightened frequency of current events taking place, it can feel chaotic. This places a large amount of onus on leaders to take responsibility for the well-being of their teams. How do they keep teams connected when they are physically distanced? What’s the science behind connection? Why do we crave it so much? How valuable are stories in the new manager-employee contract? That’s the focus of Season 6, Episode 3 of Your Brain At Work: How can we keep teams and people connected in times of chaos?

As work – and our connection to work – keeps shifting, many popular thought pieces and research are rooted in the same foundational question: What does a manager need to do now? How have managerial roles evolved as a result of the pandemic and remote/hybrid models? One of the major ways is a shift from “surveillance” focus – i.e. “I value having strong oversight of my teams and what they’re working on,” to prioritizing focus on "outcomes", which is aligned to achieving key goals. This is a massive adjustment for some managers and organizations- and adaptation can prove even more challenging.

This site uses cookies to provide you with a personalized browsing experience. By using this site you agree to our use of cookies as explained in our Privacy Policy. Please read our Privacy Policy for more information.