S 6 Ein

October 18th, 2021

Your Brain At Work LIVE – S6:E04 – Beyond the Great Resignation: The State of Discontent

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.

Episode Transcript





[00:00:02] SW: Welcome back to season 6, episode 4 of Your Brain at Work podcast. 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 de-prioritized 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 nine-to-five 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 4 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. 


When looking deeper, this feels like more than just the Great Resignation. This is a state of discontent. And this week we dive deeper into what’s really going on and the science behind it. I’m Shelby Wilburn, and you’re listening to Your Brain at Work from the NeuroLeadership Institute. 


We continue to draw our episodes from a weekly Friday webinar series. This week, our interview style format is a conversation between two NLI leaders, Dr. David Rock, CEO and co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute; and Alyssa Abkowitz, VP of Content at the NeuroLeadership Institute. Enjoy.




[00:01:26] SW: Alyssa is a graduate of Emory University where she studied anthropology and journalism, and has a master’s from Columbia University. Prior to NLI, She was a reporter and editor for more than 15 years at The Wall Street Journal and a Head of Content for Korn Fairy. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek and Fortune Magazine. She now leads the content team at NLI, and we are so lucky to have her. So please join me in welcoming our new Head of Content, Alyssa Abkowitz. 


Alyssa, it’s great to have you here today.


[00:01:59] AA: Thank you so much, Shelby. It’s great to be here.


[00:02:00] SQ: Nice. And as always, our leader for today’s discussion, an Aussie turned New Yorker who coined the term NeuroLeadership when he co-founded NLI over two decades ago.With a professional doctorate, four successful books under his name and a multitude of bylines, a warm welcome as I pass the virtual mic to our co-founder and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute, Dr. David Rock. Off to you, David.


[00:02:23] DR: Thanks, Shelby. Great. Great to be back with you. Alyssa, great to have you on the team. Excited. Tell us about the plan today. Let’s let folks know.


[00:02:32] AA: So David, let’s start with a bit of perspective. U.S. Department of Labor in July says there were four million resignations and also 11 million job openings. This is record numbers in U.S. history. So can you give us some perspective of what’s happening in the workplace right now from a historical perspective? 


[00:02:51] DR: Yeah, it’s interesting, I saw that last year during the pandemic there was a really low number. Like people were staying put, right? And then suddenly it kind of feels like it’s almost over and there’s this huge burst. I mean, I think it’s a lot more than just kind of pent-up demand of people who would have changed jobs last year. There’re a number of things that are really happening. 


I think from a historical perspective, it’s interesting, it’s kind of a grand kind of moment where almost like planet earth said you’re all having a timeout. You’re all going to go and actually think a little bit about everything. And this doesn’t happen for a really long time. I mean, the last kind of major global event like this. I mean, this is bigger than the World Wars in many ways. The last event was maybe the last pandemic where kind of everything went on hold. 


Historically, it’s really, really different. It has this really interesting opportunity for organizations right now, because people’s minds are more open to different things than ever before. And also most of our – Or many of our systems are completely kind of unfrozen for the first time. It’s a really interesting time for organizations to be able to really reinvent how they work. And while having a choice of where your work has been really motivating, our research showed that who you work with and what you work on, having choice in those things, was even more motivating. 


So it’s this really interesting time where particularly kind of – And I said this before, but the sort of people who have revolutionaries and really want to change organizations, this may be the time to do your best work, maybe your entire career. Because organizations are more ready and open and able to change right now than maybe anytime in the last 100 years. 


[00:04:28] AA: So David, talk us through sort of from this retention standpoint, because we all see these numbers, and burnout, and engagement. This is coming up too. I mean, how do these connect? How are these all sort of coming together in the way that our brains think about change? 


[00:04:44] DR: I see burn out a lot and just kind of exhaustion and engagement, retention. This has had a really interesting effect on our brains. Firstly, and I sort of hinted this, but this is an opportunity people had to actually look at themselves for an extended period of time. Like huge parts of the economy are devoted to giving people tools to distract themselves, books, TV, movies, apps. 


[00:05:10] AA: Netflix binge watching.


[00:05:11] DR: Yeah, it’s incredible. So we have all these things. And suddenly, for a lot of people, kind of the internet ran out, right? Or Netflix certainly ran out. It’s like, “Oh my god. What am I going to do?” So people had all this time to reflect that they’d never kind of had before, and a lot of people didn’t like what they saw. A lot of people were like, “My company doesn’t really care about me.” Or, “I’m not that passionate about this kind of work. I just kind of fell into it. And maybe I have a choice.” So it was kind of this big opportunity for people to have a lot of time to really think. 


Now, of course, the other thing is people experience a really intense emotional experience as well. We all had this really strong emotional experience that left us a little raw and we’re all kind of still healing from that in many ways. And you’ll be able to see the effects of this in the brain if you studied it. In 20 years you’ll see that this changed the way people process dangers probably for the rest of their life. In a similar way that folks who lived through the Great Depression last century, those folks had a really different approach to their lives and to saving money, and building businesses and things. They were kind of affected by it. 


So I think we had this really big kind of emotional experience that left us kind of raw, and questioning, and opening as well. And then there’s a whole bunch of things that kind of happened in organizations as well, but back to you.


[00:06:30] AA: It’s interesting, we had this time to think. I also want to throw out there the idea that for some people, there was no time to think, because they became worker, and caregiver, and Zoom teacher. And it got to a breaking point for people of I can’t do this. I can’t handle this. 


So let’s talk about control a little bit, because I know people felt I can’t control things. So how does that play a role here in what we’re seeing in terms of changing jobs? 


[00:06:58] DR: Yeah. I mean, this is one of the big effects. And we actually studied this. We looked at all the reasons why people are doing this big move. And two factors really came up. We kind of coded people’s responses and looked at it. One effect that came up with sort of the second most important one was people’s sense of status that they saw this as an opportunity to kind of grow themselves and I’m going to change jobs because it’s a chance to get promoted, get a better job. I respect myself. I want to take care of myself better. I want to do better. 


So there’s a little bit of a status driver in this. And I think people also saw that there was a record number of job openings. So it’s like, “Hey, this is my chance to get that dream job.” So that was sort of the second biggest effect we saw in the data. The biggest effect that we saw was around this experience of autonomy and autonomy control. And the way to think about this is, during the pandemic, our sense of certainty plummeted. Obviously, we didn’t know what was going on. Our feeling of control of the world also plummeted. Although we got a little more control about our work generally, because we could work at home. But our overall feeling of control plummeted. Our feeling of relatedness plummeted for a lot of people’s status and fairness as well. So all five of the things that were really driving our sense of safety or opportunity in the world, all five things really were attacked for a lot of people. 


Now, coming out of the pandemic, we’re still kind of psychologically licking our wounds. We’re still trying to feel better. And one of the few things that you can do to feel better that you can sort of be active about is taking control of the big things in your life. Now, we can’t do much about our sense of certainty really. We can’t do much about the other things. But you can feel a lot more in control. 


Now, if you think about it, the three big things that you can really change that have a big ripple effect, I mean, you could change your breakfast cereal, you can change your light bulbs, you can change your garden. But if you really want to feel in control of your life, which is intrinsically rewarding, you can change your house. That’s kind of a lot of work. 


[00:08:51] AA: But we did see – I mean, if you look at real estate and what happened, I mean, people did do that.


[00:08:57] DR: Right. Right. And we did have record numbers of real estate movements. You can also change your relationship. Again, that could be really complex. But a lot of people did that. We had huge numbers in that. But the one that actually you’re probably going to go forward in feels easier, certainly a lot easier than a house or relationship is changing jobs. So for a lot of people, especially if they didn’t feel that their company really cared for them or they didn’t have – They weren’t being challenged. They weren’t growing as fast as they could. This kind of suddenly popped up as the best thing to focus on. Like, “Oh, if I change jobs, I’ll really be making big changes in my life out of this situation.” So I think from a psychological perspective, it gave people that reward state, that approach state of I’m doing something out of this. And maybe this is the good that comes out of this as well. 


[00:09:44] AA: Yes. It’s interesting that you say that, because there was some new data that just came out of a poll of a thousand employees saying why are you leaving your job and do you have a backup? And what was fascinating is that 28% of those workers left their job with absolutely no other job lined up. And it was even higher in some industries. If we looked in the food and healthcare sectors, 56% of the people who left had nothing lined up. So what are we to make of that? 


[00:10:11] DR: Yeah. I mean, look, a lot of people were experiencing tremendous crises, right? They were really dealing with people dying around them. I mean, I had drinks with a friend recently and like they had eight friends that they were sort of in their social network and all of them passed away or took their lives from – All of them. It was incredibly challenging for this person. So a lot of people just were overwhelmed. A lot of people passed away. A lot of people got very, very sick. I mean, incredible numbers. Of course, if you’re in health care, or food service, or other things, you’re also putting your own life at risk, particular points that was really poignant for people. So you add to that. you feel like your company doesn’t care at all. That’s a tough goal. I’m surprised we didn’t get more folks doing that.


[00:10:55] AA: We were chatting the other day about this idea of battery life and what sort of battery lives we have. Can you share with everyone here what you’re chatting about sort of how that battery works for us? 


[00:11:08] DR: Yeah. And I was talking about this early on in the pandemic that a lot of people were kind of – In the first few months, especially, we’re kind of going on adrenaline, right? We’ve gone through three stages, shock, pain and rehabilitation, as if we’d had a physical trauma. So the psychological trauma we’ve experienced, very similar profile and stages as physical trauma, shock, pain, rehabilitation. And certainly in the shock phase, and a lot of the pain phase, people are just kind of going, going, going on adrenaline. And that’s what you do when you’re in shock. But what happens is you kind of get to empty and then you crash. And a lot of people just didn’t build the practices so that you don’t actually get to empty. Because we’re sort of used to short crises. We’re not used to a two-year crises. We’re used to very short crises. And so that was part of it. 


And it reminds me a lot of what happened when cars were first invented that there were no road rules, no lanes, right? Just go as fast as you want. And there were incredible accidents and tragedies in that first. It was about a decade or so before they really said, “Okay, lanes, road rules, speed limits, all these stuff.” Many organizations are still struggling with this. If you just open someone’s calendar and say schedule meetings, people will really quickly have 8 to 12 hours of meetings five days a week. And it’s physically not possible to process that amount of information. 


There are some things you can do that help like turn your own camera off so that you can’t see yourself, that others can see you. You can hide self-view. It’s really easy. That makes it – I don’t know, 5%, 10%, 20% less exhausting because you’re not watching yourself all the time. But it’s not possible. So what we’re starting to see is organizations saying, “Look, we’re going to have minimal meeting Mondays because people can use that to really do that deeper thinking work. We’re going to try to leave the mornings open.” We call it minimal meeting mornings. It’s a principle. Not a rule. But it gives people space. So we need some of these practices to kind of make things more sustainable. 


[00:13:04] AA: Yeah. How do organizations need to rethink their philosophy or approach to address this discontent? Because we’ve now set the scene that like there’s burnout, there are people don’t feel valued.  They feel like they want to control something. So how can organizations meet this moment?


[00:13:23] DR: Well, I think, firstly, there’s a question to answer in your organization. And it’s a really difficult question, to be honest. It makes people really uncomfortable. It’s something we’re doing a lot more research into at the moment that we’re going to be presenting at our summit next year, kind of the whole pathway around this conversation. But, essentially, there are four ways of interacting with the people in your organization. If you’re a leader, there are four ways that you can essentially kind of approach humans, right? And if you think of managing, say, ten thousand people in a similar way to managing like a farm, or a mine, or a city, essentially, you’ve got to have an underpinning philosophy. And what we’ve seen is that there are four different philosophies people tend to have when approaching any kind of system. 


The one we tend to start at – Well, not everyone, but tends to have a lot is exploitative, which is essentially you don’t care whatsoever about the impact on that system. You just want the most you possibly can out of it. So if it was a farm, you’re just putting a huge amount of fertilizer to try and get the best you can every year. You don’t care about how the soil is going to do. You’re exploiting every square foot of the farm. And what we see in those situations is the soil stops producing after like three or four years and it becomes poisoned. And using all these pesticides kills off the biodiversity. It’s a problem. 


Exploitative is sort of where a lot of systems start, and kind of agriculture started there in many ways. But the step up from that is depletive. And that’s often managed by government regulation. It’s like, “Well, you can’t poison the soil. You’re not allowed to use DDT anymore.” With a mine, you can’t leave mercury in the waterways. There’s legislation. With humans, you can’t actually hurt them. You have to have safety issues in. But you’re really leaving that farm, or that mine, or that 10,000 people. You’re kind of leaving them worse than you found them. But you’re just not really hurting the system, right? So there’s exploitative. There’s depletive. 


Where everyone’s talking about is getting from depletive to sustainable. And sustainable means that, basically, it’s kind of net neutral, right? And from a farm perspective, it’s like you’re minimizing additional fertilizer. You’re using the natural processes. You’re not using harmful chemicals. And maybe even you’re leaving some things to fallow so that you can keep farming the same soil for years and years and years. And it’s an important frame. But there’s a step beyond that, which is really important. And particularly when it comes to humans, and never mind climate, we probably really need to get to this. And it’s not sustainable. It’s regenerative. So it’s essentially leaving the system better than you found it. Or in this case, the humans. 


So you’re looking at the system and what the system needs and saying, “How do we make this not just something that we can keep doing and we don’t burn people out, but that actually people are better off through working with us?” Every year they get not more burnt out, but more smart, and connected, and healthy, and wealthy and all those good things. So people are living better lives as a result of working with this organization. 


And there are a lot of firms who think like that. We did a fantastic interview with Dean Carter from Patagonia a while back on this topic. They have some really interesting practices. But it’s very, very new as a concept. But I think this is one of the big things that companies can think about right now. Like if we’re going to build a better normal, which we’ve been talking about, if we’re going to build a better normal, are we going to leave it as depletive around our talent practices. Are we going to get to sustainable? Are we going to pitch for regenerative? And I think it’s a really interesting time for companies to think about that. And certainly, when people are absolutely exhausted and there’s enormous burnout, you’re probably a depletive. 


[00:17:03] AA: I’m curious. What’s the cognitive impact of rapid workplace resignation on employees who stay sort of within that sort of four-step viewpoint? Because I would think that it’s hard to see a lot of people quit. And then that also sort of gets your brain going on like, “Well, should I too?” So talk us through sort of what’s going on in the brain there. 


[00:17:25] DR: You could have the best regenerative practices in the world, and if you lose 20% of your employees, everyone could be depletive again because the amount of work they have to do. We had a record year last year at NLI, but everyone was also exhausted because we grew so much and had so much demand. So it’s a double-edged sword. So the hiring issue is – The sort of hiring challenge has been a tough one. I mean, I know restaurants that just can’t open because they haven’t got the people, or customers are so annoyed it’s almost not worth opening, right? I went to pick up some food recently from a restaurant I love. It was like it was an hour wait. It was normally 20 minutes. Because they just don’t have the people. People that are there, it’s really tricky. 


And I think one of the strategies companies have to really invest in is accelerating their recruiting efforts so that they’re attracting obviously the right people fast enough. But in certain industries, it’s really, really hard. I know healthcare is really suffering. There’s a little bit of kind of inflation happening sort of, and we see that with hiring, that it’s talented people, everyone’s trying to pay more for them to get them. Yeah, I think you’ve got to really double down on the recruiting efforts and what you’re willing to invest, because the real cost of having most of your employees in depletive for a long time is very high. It might be worth really thinking about your recruiting strategy in a significant way.


[00:18:44] AA: On that point of recruiting strategy, the survey that I mentioned at the beginning, they also had some notes about what was attracting employees to their current job. And 40% said the ability to work remotely and have other forms of flexibility. And an additional 24% said not being restricted to complete job responsibilities during set working hours. So this goes back to that idea of control. So what do you think of these kinds of things in terms of recruiting strategies? 


[00:19:13] DR: Yeah, it’s really interesting. So this is a real conundrum. And a lot of CEOs have kind got gone into panic mode because they’re seeing the great resignation happen. And they’re saying, “When I poll people,” they say it’s because they don’t feel connected. So let’s bring everyone back in. It’s not necessarily the right answer. It kind of intuitively feels like it might be the right answer, but it’s not necessarily the right answer. And I’ll tell you the reason why.


There’s some really good data showing that about a third of people do want to come back in full time and they kind of want everyone else to be there. And those people feel that that’s where they’re most productive. They feel a little almost like unfair when others are not there, because like, “Hey, I can’t get my work done. I’ve got to work harder.” But that’s about a third of people. They want to be back in the office. And also maybe they don’t want to spend their whole life in their bedroom. They don’t have a home office. Maybe they love it when someone else feeds them for once. They like the social interactions. They could be more extroverted as well, or maybe just the situation is they want to get out of the house and they like the novelty. There’re all sorts of reasons. 


But those third feel – Some of them are really passionate about it and that they have real issue that not everyone’s there and some just kind of want. But on the whole, they’re pretty passionate about being in the office. But then there’s the polar opposite, and about a third of people are really, really passionate about staying at home. Those people tend to be even more passionate because they’re more productive, but they’re also more balanced. Now you can say the people going to the office are more balanced, but these folks have often now included like more regular exercise, better sleep, better diet. They feel like they’re a better parent. Many folks feel like the really, really important things they value a lot are improved working from home, parenting, health, to really big things to a lot of people, right? 


So you take that away, and it’s tricky. And the other thing is some interesting data from Microsoft said that people who want to be in the office and the people who want to be at home, those two camps, just a study just the last few weeks. What they found is that they had the exact same reason for doing it, which was productivity. So the same percentage of people said, “I want to be in the office because I’m most productive, as said, “I want to be at home because I’m most productive.” It was all about productivity. So you take that productivity away from people and then ask them to do a lot under pressure, it’s tricky. 


But then here’s a conundrum – Oh, and by the way, the other third wanted to mix it up. But here’s a really interesting conundrum in the data. There’s another study that showed, and I don’t have the exact details of the study in my head. I guess I should have read it more. But essentially, the act of making the choice was a huge part of it. Like feeling that they had the choice was deeply motivating. I think there was a 22% increase in engagement just by feeling like they had the choice independent of actually being more productive. And that showed up in other studies like letting people personalize their cubicle ended up being 25% more productive in one study, just personalizing your cubicle. 


So this feeling of having control over which one you’re doing seems to be really important. But that doesn’t mean give everyone the right to work – Make everyone work from home, right? Or as some CEOs are doing make everyone come back to the office. The best thing to do probably is give people the option of the three and then work out the issues in the backend. 


And we’ve been saying this for a while. We think it’s really important and really valuable to give people the option. And the companies that are experimenting with this, which include some pretty big firms, Uber, Splunk, Palo Alto Networks, Box, Pinterest, number brothers. The companies are experimenting with this, certainly finding some interesting challenges. But they’re finding that life isn’t some crazy disaster.




[00:22:40] SW: If you enjoy this podcast, you’re going to love our annual conference, The NeuroLeadership Summit coming to you virtually on February 15th through 16th, 2022. We’ll bring business leaders, academics and visionaries from around the globe to an incredible virtual gathering where we’ll zero-in on powerful insights, trends and breakthroughs, as well as the principles of NeuroLeadership all to help leaders and teams adapt faster in a transforming world. Join us online, February 15th through 16th, 2022 and attend sessions available across the globe. You can watch sessions live, participate in breakout rooms, interact with other members of the NLI community, or access content on demand. No matter how you prefer to engage, we promise you won’t want to miss it. To learn more and to save the date, visit summit.neuroleadership.com.




[00:23:38] AA: So I’m hearing a lot about give people choice. And we’ve talked a lot about how to do that for people who have white-collar jobs. How about people who are in factories who actually have to be in their physical location? How can you give them choice? 


[00:23:54] DR: It’s an interesting thing. So a lot of people will kind of have a fixed mindset accidentally about autonomy and just say, “Well, people have to be here. I run a Starbucks outlet. I can’t just give people autonomy. People just have to turn up when they turn up and do their shifts. And they can’t make coffee from home and send it out, right? Although maybe there’s a way. Starbucks might work it out. But right now it’s not what you do.


So what do you do for those people? Well, instead of throwing your hands in the air saying, “Well, they just need to be there.” If you understand how autonomy works, you can actually get a little creative. So it turns out that even a very small amount of autonomy, particularly if it’s unexpected, can have a really big effect. And we’ve been talking about this for a while. It’s kind of this wonderful tool, a very unused tool. So let me give an example. Folks that need to come in need to come in. They need to do eight hours. Any kind of autonomy you can give them especially if it’s something you’ve never given them before will actually be – It’ll feel like they’ve got more control and more respectful. Even if you just say, “Hey, we need you for an eight hour shift. You can choose between coming in at 8am finishing at 4, or 9am finishing at 5, or 10am finishing at 6.” If that worked, right? Or when you come in, you can choose to spend your entire day in this serve managing the customers or the entire day making the coffee, right? You can choose. 


Now you might have some back ends to think about. But it turns out that giving people even small choices that they haven’t had before is really, really rewarding. And in fact, one of the most famous studies on this literally showed it was the difference between life and death. This was a while back now, but it’s a widely reported study. It was essentially a retirement village, an aged home, two different groups of folks who were in there. And one group, they basically gave three relatively innocuous choices to and the other things just stayed as it was. And it was something like choice of where to put their bed. What kind of plant? And what kind of art? That was it. And otherwise, everything else was normal for everyone else. And literally, there’s people who had the three choices. They halved the death rate of that floor. The effect of autonomy is bigger than you might realize. And you don’t need to kind of go crazy with it to actually get some benefit. So get creative. 


The other thing is that we found that if you can’t play with where people are working – We have some hard data on this. Like who they work with, what they work on actually is more motivating to people. Like giving them some control over who they’re working with and what they’re working on might even be more motivating than where they’re working. And motivating means less burnt out, right? Motivating means people more engaged. So these are I think some important insights. 


[00:26:29] AA: So turning to sort of how leaders, what they can do to transform today’s challenges into opportunities. I mean, you’ve talked a lot about autonomy as a huge thing and this power of choice. What else can they do to help try to retain workers and also recruit better talent? 


[00:26:46] DR: Yeah. I’ll tell you some of the things that we think are important. And some of this we’ve been talking about for a while. But overall, I think a lot of organizations are feeling everyone’s like impatience and frustration and trying to make everyone feel better with like, “Hey, it’s all right. We’re all going to be back in the office by –” It was at one point July. And then it was September. And then it’s become November. It’s really January. It’s like, “Oh, it’s okay, we’re going to fix it then.” And honestly, we don’t know. And they’re kind of trying to maintain hope with it’s all going to be back to normal by then. And the truth is it’s not going to be back to normal for a long time maybe ever in terms of how it actually was, because most organizations are going to have large numbers of people working at home. Certainly much more than like the four, five six percent we used to have. That’s something. 


And I think we’ve got to stop saying, “Oh, it’s all going to be back to normal then.” And a lot of smart organizations were talking to are leaving that aside and saying, “We’re just not making any decisions until at least January. And come January, we’ll take a look then and we’ll let you know. But just no decisions right now. It’s too kind of jarring.” 


And so you’ve always got to fire your chief hope officer. Companies have this kind of chief hope officer you know trying to keep everyone’s spirits up. And the pandemic doesn’t care about that. It really doesn’t. The virus is going to do what it does, and we’ll see. So I think we ought to fire the chief hope officer is one thing. And advocate more for the Stockdale Paradox, which is expecting things are going to be really hard for a really long time and accepting that and then getting to work to make it a little better. 


A lot of what’s happening, not everyone, but for a lot of what’s happening the last month or two is the real depression after realizing it didn’t just go away over summer and that we’ve got another six months of chaos and maybe a lot more. And a lot of people were really struggling with that. I mean, to be honest, that’s straight out of the Stockdale Paradox story where he talked about the folks in the prisoner of war camp who said, “It’s okay. I’ll be home by Christmas,” and then just fell apart when they weren’t home by Christmas. So that’s one thing. Fire the chief hope officer. 


[00:28:46] AA: One more to add to the resignation list. 


[00:28:48] DR: Oh, gosh. And then the other thing is definitely a growth mindset, definitely. And we’ve been doing a lot of work with organizations pretty rapidly on embedding a growth mindset across the whole company pretty quickly. We can deploy that really fast. The wonderful thing about growth mindset is we see a quarter of people who learn it through our work actually shift their mindset every day. Like, literally, every day, they’re doing something to notice and shift from a fixed mindset of like, “Oh, I just can’t. It’s too hard.” To, “Oh, I wonder how I can.” And so it’s really having an impact and very quickly, very powerfully. But we see about 90% of people at least one to three times a week are actually shifting their mindset. But a quarter every day, right? So it’s a really helpful tool that actually makes an impact immediately. We think that’s important. 


Another thing that’s really important, we sort of talked about it, is weaving in autonomy and really explaining that to leaders. And then I think there’re road rules and speed limits to build to make things sustainable. So I think these are a number of things. But we have to care about how people are doing. We have to listen. We’re going to have to listen deeply to how people are doing. 


We just rolled out a survey at NLI. We relooked at what we’re doing and we kind of went much deeper to really collect some data from our 210 odd people. I think you’ll listen really deeply. I know next week we have a session on empathy with a scientist most of you won’t have heard from with us and you collaborated. So I think a lot of it’s going to be about empathy and understanding and kind of creating that connectedness.


[00:30:11] AA: How much is your company really focusing on culture? 


[00:30:16] DR: Our perspective is skewed, because we’re working with companies who are doing a complete overhaul or a significant focus. But quite a few, quite large firms are saying we’re going to really redo our definitions of values and our purpose and also kind of our expectations of leaders. Rebuilding a set of expectations of leaders is probably one of the biggest levels for changing culture, because it’s something that they use all the time. 


Yeah, it’s an interesting culture. I mean, as I said, the reflex action a lot of leaders are having is like we have to bring people back. But we did a session on this last week, Alyssa, just a quick thing, last week or the week before, that platform world is very likely here to stay. And I was in a meeting yesterday that was would have been so much better if everyone had been on a platform. There were folks in a room. We struggled by. But the quality of thinking, like I know the quality of thinking and the quality of insight and the quality of engagement would have been so much better if half dozen people in the room were actually individually on a platform. 


So platforms are going to be here to stay. And they actually have upsides that people haven’t studied. And I think that’s another thing we’ve got to do, is get really good at the upsides of platforms and stop lamenting the old days, because they have some really quirky curious upsides we talked about in the last few weeks.


Yeah, interesting to see how much coaching is helping there. We’ve actually seen a rise in interest in creating teams of internal coaches or coaching capability, either one, which is actually where we started. The organization was doing that for a long time before we started really focusing directly on performance and DEI, etc. So our heritage is a coaching organization, building coaching cultures. And it’s kind of flourished back. We’re helping a big hospital chain who’s really struggling creating some really fantastic deep coaching skills.


[00:31:58] AA: And then when things aren’t going well and being honest and transparent about it, how can organizations do that? Because I think that’s a really, really key point here.


[00:32:07] DR: Yeah, we’ve been talking about that a lot over this time, that you can’t do much about certainty, but you can do a lot about clarity. And we wrote a piece on this three ways to create clarity now, that clarity is like a proxy for certainty. And clarity is just kind of a little more of a sense you understand what’s happening. You’re still not certain, but it’s moved the needle a little bit, and it’s really, really helpful. 


Now, an interesting upside of a platform world, and when I use the world platform, I literally mean Microsoft Teams or Zoom, being on camera. And to be honest, you don’t get the benefits if most people are not on camera most the time. It’s kind of important. And also, that everyone can use the chat. Like there are tremendous upsides if you can see each other and you can use the chat. You can actually make meetings faster and better and all of this. 


But it’s such an interesting time for changing how we do interact if everyone’s on a platform. This is one way you could actually create clarity. You could say, “Hey, we want all meetings on a platform,” unless everyone’s in the office. We call that one virtual all virtual. We wrote about that recently. Honestly, the meetings are so much better if everyone’s individually on a platform if you have kind of anyone on. And that creates a lot of clarity, “Hey, this is our principle.” Can’t be a rule. You might have a meeting with a hundred people and two out. But as a principal, it creates a lot of clarity. So one way to create clarity is to kind of identify your principles and other ways to kind of take things off the table, like a lot of companies are saying, “We’re making zero decisions before January. We’re not even going to think about it.” That actually creates some clarity. 


But one of the other upsides of a platform, and I’ve had many companies saying this, is that you can physically see your leadership team and actually feel like you’re having a conversation with them like every week. And a lot of smart companies started doing that. Their leadership team that normally met once a quarter or once a month because they were dispersed, it was a lot of work. That leadership team could now meet weekly. And many of these folks were doing these kind of impromptu town halls weekly. Started early in the pandemic and has continued. And I think that’s a tremendous way of creating a sense of connection, as well as increasing clarity. 


Literally, you can now see your leadership every week and really hear from them and ask any question you want. We think that’s one of those unexpected upsides of a platform world that we should be actually leveraging. And you know what? People will feel more connected if that happens than if they were all back in the office and those meetings were now private and quarterly.


We’ve been saying that particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, the kind of three questions to really focus on was how are you really? Have you been winning to really focus on that positive stuff? Because everyone’s was really down on themselves, experiencing a lot of negative affects all the time. So have you been winning? Let’s talk about the have you been winning? And then, “Hey, what do you need help with?” It’s got relatedness from how are you really? It’s got a little bit of status boost and a little bit of autonomy and certainty boost from have you been winning? And then you’re really helping people unpack in a helpful way what do you need help with? You’re raising their status, their autonomy as well. So three really helpful questions that I think we could be asking each other. But we also could ask the whole organization as this organization has done. 


[00:35:17] AA: One of the things that I feel like leaders sometimes struggle with is balancing empathy with accountability. So how can you be empathetic while also making sure that your team is doing what your team needs to do? 


[00:35:29] DR: Yeah. It’s really interesting. I mean, there’s an interesting dynamic here. Maybe I’ll explain this from a brain perspective. Remember the old days when we worked by telephone mostly? We wouldn’t see people a lot. We’d have folks that we would work with for a long time maybe on calls and phone bridges and stuff and we’d never meet them or see them. And then we’d finally meet them and we’d be like, “Oh my gosh! You’re completely different, the image I had of you.” And like my mind is blown. And if we probably all had those moments of, “I can’t believe you look like that.” 


[00:35:56] AA: Absolutely. I met some old colleagues last summer and I could have sworn that this one colleague of mine was going to be like really tall, and she was so – She was like almost barely five feet. And I was just shocked.


[00:36:08] DR: Right. Right. So what happens is we create these representations in our head of people, but they’re quite light of people we haven’t seen. We kind of need to picture them. The brain kind of fills in the gaps, particularly because we have such a social brain. So what happens is often they’re wrong. But the problem is that the representation of that person is very light until we’ve seen them or until we’ve met them. And we haven’t really tagged them in the brain as a person. They’re kind of more of a concept. And when kind of this whole thing is filled out, what happens now, we understand like their motivations and their goals and their intentions and they really become more of a person. 


It’s interesting. There are two different networks you can think about people through. One is kind of a network for how they can be helpful to you and you’re more objectifying people. And the other is a network for their actual goals, and feelings, and all that. And what happens is you kind of need to have both with people. So you really need that experience of connecting on a human level as well as that ability to show them what great looks like and be able to talk about when they’re not there. You kind of need both, and a lot of people over index on one or the other. A lot of people are very, very good at empathy, but not good at you know setting stretch goals and challenging people. They don’t want to make them uncomfortable. Or other folks are really amazing drivers, fantastic at driving performance, but everyone seems to say that they’re an awful person and don’t care about humans. Ultimately, you need both. 


And in a platform world where we’re spending a lot of time on camera, sometimes meetings get impersonal. Sometimes the meetings are becoming kind of perfunctory. And it’s going to be important that you’re having the one-on-one that’s less task-focused and more just like a personal check-in. And if you’re not doing that once a month with people you’re working with, it’s probably a problem. Once a week might be too many. But you want to make sure you’re maintaining that human to human connection at a time when you’re not seeing them in the elevator and talking about the kids. So that you don’t just tag them as an object for you to get things done. So you want to kind of balance both of these things. 


[00:38:14] AA: When you mention that, that one-on-one, which I love. I know we do it here at NLI a lot. It’s really powerful. Talk to me about when you’re in those one-on-ones, how you can use –What we call SCARF, the social motivators, to understand what motivates your employees and how that can really help in terms of keeping your employees where they are. 


[00:38:35] DR: Yeah. I mean, SCARF is something we published in 2008 initially. It stood the test of time. And it’s now used in a lot of organizations as part of different work we’re doing to kind of ultimately help you interact better. But it’s really the neuroscience of inclusion, the neuroscience of engagement, the neuroscience of motivation. But it’s also a way of literally interacting better. And one of the ways to think about it is if you know your SCARF priorities and someone else’s SCARF priorities, you can kind of think about in the right way to interact. And we’re playing with some technology to actually kind of do this for you, which could be quite fun.


[00:39:13] AA: One of my SCARF motivators is autonomy. So if you were talking to me right now, David, how would you use autonomy to help motivate me? 


[00:39:23] DR: Yeah. So I’m going to like tell you what to do a lot less. I’m going to ask you a lot more questions. I’m going to say, “Tell me what you think you need to work on next.” Not tell you, “Tell me what your options are.” I’m going to talk about options. I’m going to ask you a lot more questions. I’m going to give you a lot less instruction. The challenge will be if I really like certainty, right? If I’m a certainty person, I might be trying to tell you exactly what you should do all the time because I want to make sure it gets done, right? So if I’m a certainty person, you’re autonomy person, sometimes will come, as would say in Australia, a cropper. But if we’re both autonomy people, great. I’m going to just like manage you the way I like to be managed, which is just like let you fly. It’s when they’re kind of different it’s often a problem. So there’s some real insight in that. We’re experimenting with kind of showing you the potential pitfalls and then the right pathways depending on what your profile is. There’s some fun things in the works that we’re working on now.


[00:40:16] AA: Great. I can’t wait to hear more. So to wrap up, because I know we only have a couple minutes left, it sounds like the best way that – And sort of the takeaways from today are to fire your chief hope officer and get really, really real about where we’re in. Adopt a growth mindset and be willing to sort of experiment. Give people autonomy where they can and figure out what motivates your employees to really help there. Am I leaving anything else? 


[00:40:43] DR: No. And I think just a huge dose of empathy, which creates a big sense of relatedness as well. So I would just close with huge empathy for where people are at. And they’re in such different places. The introvert germaphobes are having the time of their lives. Some people are struggling like they’ve never had ever. So you’ve got to be really kind of flexible and really listen deeply to people. I mean, we said this was a mantra when the George Floyd incident happened, but it’s kind of relevant a bit to thinking about your employees now, which is listen deeply, unite widely and then act boldly. We think that’s relevant beyond just the DEI issue that happened and is still there. I think that kind of you really got to listen to people and really connect them together and try to do this together.


Anyway, thanks very much, Alyssa. Great to partner with you. So happy to have you on the team.


[00:41:27] SW: Yeah, thank you guys so much for today’s discussion. It was so wonderful. They’ve covered most of our housekeeping notes. So just want to remind you that if you enjoyed this conversation, we are going to be doing our 2022 Summit. Please check it out. We have so many things lined up for you guys that we’re really excited about. So that’s at summit.neuroleadership.com so you can stay up to date on all of those updates. And then, also, if you enjoyed this conversation, it will be on our podcast, but we also have a ton of other episodes there. So look for Your Brain at Work on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen to yours. And make sure that you stay tuned for next week where we will be talking about managing humans, the neuroscience of empathy. And we have a wonderful guest for that as well. So we will have you back. And have a great weekend.




[00:42:18] SW: Your Brain at Work is produced by the NeuroLeadership Institute. You can help us make organizations more human by rating, reviewing and subscribing wherever you listen to your podcast. Our producers are Matt Holidack, Daniel Kirschenblatt, Ted Bower, Shadé Olasimbo, and me, Shelby Wilburn. Original music is by Grant Zubritzki. And logo design is by Catch Wear. We’ll see you here next time for a discussion about empathy and managing humans in trying times. This will be live on Friday, October 15th



Keep Listening

As we prepare for the 19th NeuroLeadership Summit, we invite you to learn about the most important things we've learned over the past 15 years at the NeuroLeadership Summit and get a sneak peek at what's to come at RECALIBRATE: The 2023 NeuroLeadership Summit.

On this episode of Your Brain at Work Live, Dr. David Rock (Co-Founder & CEO, NeuroLeadership Institute) and Janet M. Stovall (Global Head of DEI, NeuroLeadership Institute) investigate what it takes to zeitgeist-proof DEI. Together, we'll explore how to build objective, measurable strategies that can stand firm in tough times and realize true business impact.

In the third and final episode of our special series, future Proof Your Leadership with neuroscience, our global vice president of culture and leadership, Matt Summers, answers these questions and more with the help of special guest Kath Carmean, an Organizational Development Partner at The Aerospace Corporation.

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.