S 2 E5

May 21st, 2020

EPISODE 5: Learning to Lead Better with Gilead and Merck

Jyoti Mehra, CHRO of Gilead Sciences, and Doug Shupinski, Head of Leadership Development at Merck are today’s guests. The discussion focuses on how Gilead is creating a culture of empathy, through leadership forums and developing a common language, and how Merck is meeting people where they are to keep learning and development going strong.

Episode Transcript

Chris Weller (Host):

Several days ago, the biotech company Moderna made headlines for passing Phase 1 trials for a coronavirus vaccine, showing the vaccine to be safe on eight people ranging from ages 18 to 55.

This news was the first glimmer of an answer to the question a lot of us have been asking: Will we ever get a vaccine?

The people working hard within these organizations—the operators, the chemists, the team leads—these are the ones doing the innovating. And it’s on top of the already important work they’re doing to develop better drugs to fight cancer and other diseases.

So, as they work hard to help us, who’s helping them?

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, you’ll hear from Jyoti Mehra, CHRO of Gilead Sciences, and Doug Shupinski, Head of Leadership Development at Merck. The discussion focuses on how Gilead is creating a culture of empathy, through leadership forums and developing a common language, and how Merck is meeting people where they are to keep learning and development going strong.

Enjoy.
Dr. David Rock:
Excellent, thanks very much everyone for joining us. Jyoti and Doug thanks a lot for being here with us. Jyoti we’ll hear from you first as we explore what’s happening over at Gilead, a very public organization right now with remdesivir. Then Doug we’ll come to you with Merck. Those of you who don’t know, Merck are in the vaccine business. Who cared about that a few months ago? Now we seem to all care a lot about it. We’re going to hear a little bit about what’s happening in that world. Thanks both of you for joining us. Jyoti do you want to join me here and we’ll have a conversation.

I have to kick off with saying thank you for everything that you’re doing there over at Gilead Sciences and thank you for making time for us given what an incredible situation you guys are in and how public as well. I know you look after all of people and talent at Gilead and thank you for training me how to say remdesivir as well last time we connected, that was great. Thanks for everything that you’re doing. How are you guys doing over there? What’s the vibe over at Gilead?
Jyoti Mehra:
David thank you. Well first of all thank you for having me join this morning with the colleagues from all over the world and a very warm morning. Good afternoon, good evening to all of you. I see you all are joining us from different parts of the world, so delighted to be connected with you. We are here at Gilead, we are filled with pride. Gilead, as many of you know, is a biotech company, life science company that is really a leader in the antiviral space and we are feeling like we are very fortunate that we are in a position to really explore our investigational drug remdesivir as David talked about, and really be in ability to bring that out to the communities and to the patients.
Our teams are working incredibly hard. People that are on remdesivir, ever since the outbreak of this crisis and pandemic at the beginning of the year they have been heads down really thinking about what more can we do scientifically, and those things that are not working in remdesivir are really coming to support these teams by helping in all other ways possible. It’s been terrific. Our purpose, our core purpose of why we exist and the work that we do has never been more clear and more true, so really it’s a great sense of pride and privilege to lead this organization.
Dr. David Rock:
Thanks, that’s great to hear. How do you think the threat levels have been in the organization? What’s your sense of that and how are people doing?
Jyoti Mehra:
Yeah, so I mean much like many of our other organizations, the organizations that you all come from, it’s an evolving situation I would say. David, you had joined us a few weeks ago where we did much like this, an online poll, where we really pulsed the organization to understand where they were. I would say mostly level one and two, but it’s shifting and evolving rapidly. I also think that now we’re getting ready to at least plan the return to site, we’re not calling it return to work, return to site. I think we’re seeing some anxieties go up and the psychological safety and a lot of what you were talking about is beginning to play out as well. I would say it’s shifting but mostly in the level one or two, and of course you’re also talking about some frontline workers, so we have those of our colleagues that are on physical location dependent on role and manufacturing or in the research part of the organizations. They certainly at the front of our mission but also at the front of exposure to the possibilities of this.
Dr. David Rock:
That’s right. It’s interesting, threat level isn’t really about how much you have to do and how scary things are. A lot of it is about also is it in the service of something important and do you feel some control. You can actually do something really scary and really difficult and work incredibly hard and still only have level one threat if you feel if it’s for a greater good and you actually have a sense of control and sense of what’s going on. I think your folks, when I connected with you last, are working incredibly hard and on one level they should be really threatened but actually I think the shared goal that you have there and the power of that shared goal, which also raises their sense of status and their sense of fairness and their sense of relatedness, with the [inaudible 00:20:41], and even a little bit of certainty. I think that shared goal really buffers people a lot.
Jyoti Mehra:
It really does and our opportunity is as our teams are rising to this challenge, we are continuing from a human capital perspective, we’re trying to think about how do we support and deeply care for our employees. That looks differently for different people, so that’s part of what we are really trying to constantly think about.
Dr. David Rock:
I think just a quick final thing on that Jyoti, there’s actually research on that when you are with people and have shared goals you literally can take higher amounts of pain before it become overwhelming. There’s all sorts of research on that, so I think their sense of shared purpose isn’t just a psychological thing, actually has physiological benefits to people in immune system and threat level and all these things. I’m going to ask a question that was exactly what I wanted to ask you. What’s been most helpful? I know you’ve done lots of different things to help. What do you think has been most helpful for people to feel looked after and to help them with the psychological safety part I guess? What’s been most helpful?
Jyoti Mehra:
Yeah, maybe I’ll talk about three things and then I’ll answer your question head on. The three areas that we have focused on is first of all listening to our employees. There is something about everybody’s going through this situation in their own way. Well first of all everybody is impacted by it, so I mean there is a universality to how we as human beings are effected by this, but really listening deeply and early on in the early, early stages of the crisis. We were actually getting ready to do things like our global employee survey, we were getting ready to doing some big cultural initiative, and we paused it and we said, “Obviously the people don’t have the head space right now to think about these things.”

Then very quickly, and to the credit of my team, they said, “Well this is even more important a time that we listen deeply to our employees.” Yes we’re not doing the standard 25 minute, 50 question global employee survey. At the same time how might we quickly get a pulse for where the organization is? I would say listening to employees has been an important component of our strategy. Offering support and caring deeply has been the second component I would say. In terms of the cadence of communication that we have tried to build, to give transparency and clarity to employees, the tools and resources. One of the things we found out earlier on in this crisis is there is a vast reservoir of resources that is available to all of us. The challenge is not information, the challenge is how do we curate that information.
Dr. David Rock:
Right, it’s a curation challenge, yeah.
Jyoti Mehra:
And really position it to the best of the goals that we’re trying to have. Then the third thing is because a lot of our… Early on a lot of our employees started to say, “How can we be part of giving back to our communities?” Of course we have our mission and core purpose is true, but we very quickly thought about what are ways in which we can find opportunities for our employees to give back to our communities? I would say those three were the key components. On the HR side our HR function, much like all the other organizations, is really at the forefront of providing the support. Even with the HR function we got quickly into the cadence of weekly HR briefing in two time zones to cover our global HR function. That has also gone a long way in terms of preparing the team that ultimately supports our employees and leaders across the organization.
Dr. David Rock:
Right, that’s great. I mean a quick couple comments on those three things. Firstly the listening deeply. I mean if people ask me what’s the one most important thing that leaders have to do it’s actually deep empathy right now. They have to have more empathy than they’ve ever probably had to have.
Jyoti Mehra:
Yeah.
Dr. David Rock:
We had Deb Bubb from IBM couple weeks back. She was saying that the first thing their top leaders did was actually take their teams through their homes and say, “This is my partner, this is my dog, this is my vegetable garden.” Really humanize themselves, so bring themselves off the pedestal they’re normally on and create that real human connection and really build that empathy. I think that’s such an important thing and I think a lot of leaders have struggled with that and a lot of leaders have been surprisingly amazing with that as well, we’ve heard that from organizations. If you have a hostage taker, that’s an unfortunate metaphor, but literally the way they train you to deal with in a hostage crisis is listen to that person more deeply than they’ve ever been listened to. It turns out really feeling heard deeply calms the nervous system and activates reward system. It’s such a big one. Various levels and surprises have been happening.

On the second point, it is a curation challenge more so than here’s resources. We’ve seen that. We’ve been leaning into try to work out just the right habits to help people focus and it’s such a curation challenge of what’s the one thing to do, and it turns out you can’t actually be prescriptive, people actually are quite different in different places. You got to give people some certainty of a few things within autonomy. Finally on the giving back, and I’ll come back to, they’re getting back it’s doing things to help others is actually one of the most rewarding things you can do. If you’ve got some resources it really calms the nervous system, especially if you’re isolated and feel really disconnected. Giving back to others is a deeply rewarding experience in terms of the brain. Any comments there?
Jyoti Mehra:
I agree with you David and two comments. On listening deeply, one of the things that we are also thoughtful about is what do you really do with that listening? Sometimes you need to listen to listen, which is really important. We’re not making long-action plans based on what people are necessarily feeding back. However, we are making tweaks. In the first pulse that we did it was clear that people were looking for more support from their managers, so we put in place these people manager forums where we are really providing our people managers with very specific forum at structured way in how they can support their employees.

Then the second point around caring deeply and offering support. This is not about treating all employees in a consistent way. We’ve had a very segmented approach in thinking about how you think about physically location dependent roles because their needs are different. How do you think about people that are walking from home? How do you think about people that are struggling with productivity challenges because of their children being at home? It was a very segmented approach in how we are trying to offer care for our employees, and honestly that is heartfelt by the leadership teams.
Dr. David Rock:
No that’s fantastic, actually that leads me to a question that someone’s asking. Specifically how have you been listening to employees? What kind of mechanisms have you been using to gather data? What tips or guidance can you share with folks here?
Jyoti Mehra:
Yeah, so it’s probably not rocket science but we are doing it both electronically and also virtually. Every week we are trying to reach anywhere between 2,000 to 3,000 employees through different forums that we have setup, so that’s a pretty large number. Not the same group of employees comes to those forums. What we have done is we’ve launched something called a staying connected initiative, and that’s really in partnership with our public affairs team. It has everything to do with staying connected with our teams, staying connected with the communities, staying connected with each other. We have, just to give you a few examples, we have setup these virtual staying connected coffee with leaders where two of the leadership team members meet with around 100 employees every week and we try to keep the numbers relatively small compared to our employee size, because we want those conversations to be intimate.

We have those forums, we have forums what we call our Gilead Light Event, actually that’s the event that David had joined us for where it’s an all employee meeting where we get an external thought leader and expert to really come and talk about topics that are really at the front of people’s minds. We do those. We also have things like Yammer, Microsoft Teams, those are ways in which we’re using to connect virtually. But we’re also emphasizing pick up the phone and talk to your colleagues. There is something about… Zoom is wonderful and lovely but I think like many of you, we’re also experiencing Zoom fatigue. If employee needs to take a day of Zoom so that they don’t always have to be visually present for each conversation, it may actually help you get them mentally more present with you. Those are some of the ways in which we’re thinking about this.
Dr. David Rock:
No that’s great, being really flexible. Some great ideas. I know IBM, when we had Deb Bubb she was talking about the work from home pledge that they developed, which you can find if you Google IBM work from home pledge.It’s a wonderful set of statements about really accepting individual variation, accepting some people won’t be going on camera some days, accepting the kids and the dogs. There’s this wonderful human acceptance that’s happening, and I hear that from you guys.
What have you been doing to help people managers and what do you think has been most effective with supporting? What have you curated I guess that’s been most effective for helping your people managers?
Jyoti Mehra:
Yeah, so there were three things David that we heard in the early days of the crisis and we are continuing to hear some of it, but it’s evolved to different topics. The three things we heard from employees is am I going to have a job? How are my goals going to be looked at as we get through the remainder of the years? How can I be most productive? Those were the three things that they were asking us or they were looking to get support on. Those were the three anchors that we used with our people managers. As I was saying, we’ve put a people manager forum every couple of weeks, two to three weeks actually. We have a frequency of getting together with our people managers. The first session we did with them was just setting the fundamentals of acknowledging where we are at. With the goal that they should be doing the same with their teams but giving them a framework to be able to do that.
The second one we did was actually where David you had joined us where we gave them a common vocabulary. The thing about people managers is, as we said, everybody’s situation is so unique and different. However, when you introduce a consistent frame on how to think about these issues, it gives the teams a common vocabulary to talk about it. I mean it’s one of the things David you and I had talked about when we did our Gilead Live Event. Some of us don’t know what to call the situation, the situation that we are in right now. Giving them a common vocabulary, also giving them permission. At the end of the day they’re also human beings, so giving them permission to say, “I may not have been as empathetic in that last conversation, but how do I have time to self-reflect and then move that forward?” Creating a bit of a community amongst them has also been some of the goals and objectives.
Then the last thing I would say is this month we’re really moving into, again much like all organizations, we’ve moved to virtual onboarding, virtual hiring, virtual summer internship, all of those have virtual offboarding so a lot of those things have been put into place. We are using that as a way to build capabilities of our people managers. They wanted to understand how best can they do virtual interviewing? We are going to use that concept but we will also take this opportunity to broaden and talk about how to best select talent and then put a specific measure around virtual interviewing, and then also performance management as well.
Dr. David Rock:
Yeah, fantastic, that’s great. I saw a piece in the New York Times this week from a Gallup survey that 60% of employees want to keep working from home. I don’t want to box you in a corner and make you say something that you’ll get in trouble with, but do you have a sense of how you’re going to think about that going forward?
Jyoti Mehra:
Yeah, so this is where our teams are really putting their heads together with employees actually to think about. Again, we have like many companies, have workplace flexibility policy and guideline, we call it G-flex. We’re very much looking to expand it and think about what the next iteration of it is and I’d be very interested to hear from Doug and other companies how they’re thinking about it. I do think that’ll it look different. I’m not sure, and this is my view as an individual, not necessarily as a Gilead HR professional. I’m not sure that we will go to everybody working from home all the time. I do think that it’ll be somewhat of a hybrid, which by the way has its own challenges.
I think we have to think about right now it feels very synchronis because everybody for the most part, more than 85% of our employees are working from home so it’s very synchronis. When you get into this hybrid situation where the one or two colleagues are the only ones in a team meeting that are working through Zoom, it does require different skills and capabilities. We are trying to foreshadow, the workplace flexibility is certainly top of mind. I do think that it’ll get expanded. What it will look like is something we’re trying to figure out.
Dr. David Rock:
Yeah, I think it’s going to be actually more complex in some ways as we get to it, it’s going to be more difficult. Right now it’s like, “Oh yeah, everyone’s at home, we know where they are and how to interact with them.” When we worked with BlackRock some years back on mitigating bias, we have a big practice bias mitigation, we’ve done some of you guys I know. One of the things they noticed is distance bias is really big in teams where you have some in the office and some at home, and they put in practice as an experiment at the time that if you have a virtual meeting and anyone’s not in the room than everyone’s not in the room. Everyone’s on their own individual Zoom, and they actually found it incredibly productive. It addressed the whole inclusion issue, it addressed the bias issue in terms of distance buyers, and it actually found it a great practice.
We might find some organizations experimenting with that. Actually we’re going to have Zooms so that people don’t feel left out and weird and all of that.
Jyoti Mehra:
Yeah, and one of the things that we did because we’re a global organization even before going… In the last couple of years, as we have global colleagues that sometimes join us by phone, sometimes on video, but when they join us by phone we actually put a place card with their name around the table as a way to recognize that they are very much part of the conversation even though you can’t see them.
Dr. David Rock:
Yeah, yeah no thanks. To close off before we wrap up, what’s been most inspiring? What’s been most inspiring in terms of what leaders are doing or employees are doing? What’s been most inspiring for you through this crisis at Gilead?
Jyoti Mehra:
Yeah, so I think for us at Gilead but probably for many of us, for us our guiding principle in this is what is our responsibility to the community, to the patients, and to the people. Gilead has long standing been a company that follows science. We bring therapeutics, we are in the business of really helping save lives, improve lives. One, the concept of people putting the larger purpose before their personal concerns has been deeply, deeply inspiring at so many levels. Second, I think it’s inspiring to see how we are responding to our responsibility both externally and internally. In a very real authentic way. I mean I think this is hard to make up. You can’t really pretend to care, and what’s been really great to see here at Gilead is the true sense of care, the deep listening, the not only saying that we feel responsible but our actions are supporting that sense of responsibility, and constantly thinking about how can we try to see around the bend?
The challenge with this crisis is nobody knows what’s going to really happen. How can we move at speed, but how can we try to offer support in the broadest way possible while trying to make it as personalized as possible. It’s really privilege.
Dr. David Rock:
That’s great, and what’s coming up for me is I think the organization shines a light on company’s true values, not their stated values. I think we start to see leaders actual values in a crisis, and the people who say they’re caring but then having been on camera ever a month later. It’s like, “Okay, I see.” I think it’s really shining a light on organizations real values and individuals real values. It’s hard to hide from them in this world. What I’ve seen from Gilead you guys are doing incredible work and such a pro-social set of values there about helping others, it’s intrinsic to everyone. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for everything that you’re doing both with remdesivir and everything else, and really appreciate the opportunity to chat with you and I think you inspired a ton of people. Stay with us. I know you have to jump off before the end but stay with us if you can to hear from Doug and thanks very much again.
Jyoti Mehra:
Thanks David. I’m looking forward to hearing from Doug, and for everybody out there hang in there. We’re going to come out of this stronger on the other side for sure.
Dr. David Rock:
Yeah we are, absolutely. Thanks so much Jyoti. Doug, great to have you. We heard from Jyoti who their organization is about reducing the risk if bad things happen, but you guys are in the vaccine business. We really want to hear from you. Is it next week? Is it the week after? Maybe three weeks from now are we going to have a handle? Where are we? That’s the feeling out there. Everyone’s so impatient. How are things over at Merck? Tell us the high level, how are people doing?
Doug Shupinski:
A couple of things. First of all, when I agreed to be on here I didn’t know and I wasn’t told I was going to have to follow Jyoti because if that had been the case I don’t know. She was pretty awesome. Clearly I’m in no position to make any public statements around our work with vaccines of course, but we are one of the few organizations, one of the few companies that does vaccine research. Suffice it to say, developing a vaccine is extremely complicated, it’s not nearly as straightforward as many a pharmaceutical product, and so know that we are putting efforts in that direction.

One of the things our CEO, Ken Fraizer had said recently, and I shared this with you David offline was when we have substantive information to share with the public, with the media we will do so and probably not before that. Hopefully stand by and hear with what we’re doing.
Dr. David Rock:
I know, thanks. We’re excited to talk to you and obviously we can’t talk the science of vaccines here, that would be a very bad idea, but we can talk the science of helping humans get through this and I know you lead leadership development and you’ve had a huge impact on the way that close to 100,000 people have been learning and what they’ve been learning, all sorts of things. Tell me about what do you think has been helping people the best in terms of the people practices at Merck? What’s been helping people the most? What’s been most useful?
Doug Shupinski:
I would say in NLI fashion I think of three things to keep to that theme. First of all, and I don’t think any of this is earth shattering but I think it’s worth reinforcing and acknowledging. The first would be the communication that we have from all levels of leadership, certainly from our CEO but also from that individual that’s most personal to you as an employee and that’s your next level manager. It’s the frequency of the communication, the substance of it, the honesty of it. I think Merck has done a great job of acknowledging what we know, and at the same time saying, “There are some things we don’t really know how this is going to go.” I think people appreciate that acknowledgment that we don’t have all of the answers, so that would be the first one.

The second would be the willingness to be flexible, the organization has said obviously not just with working from home but the way people are either needing or choosing to work. There are healthcare issues, there are childcare issues, everybody has their own unique scenario and I think Merck is an organization that’s been really patient and tolerant and accepting in the way that they’ve allowed people to manage their own situation. The third is, so things have been taken away. We have a lot of people that are in the manufacturing world or in the research world that you can’t put your Petri dish in your briefcase and take it home with you, you have to be in the lab to do things. Some of those people are and some of those people aren’t, and so what do we do with our time?

Merck people, just like Gilead people I’m certain, they are high performers, they are drivers, and to sit at home for some people is absolutely maddening. They want to contribute, they want to get things done. It’s not the full answer, please understand, but one of the parts of the solution is offering access to developmental options that people have. We have really redoubled and quadrupled our efforts to get people access to resources and information and whatever it might be that’s going to allow them to feel as if they’re not wasting time sitting for something to happen, they’re actually developing themselves.
Dr. David Rock:
That’s an interesting point actually, I might dig into that because we’ve seen that as a trend. We’ve seen that at NLI with people signing up for things. We normally get 100 people on an event, now we have 1,000, this kind of stuff. You’re seeing it in Facebook with people learning to cook this and study this and everyone’s using the time. I think it’s actually a good thing. Some companies have been pausing learning, pausing leadership development. What’s your position on say leadership development and how you’re supporting folks with developing themselves through this crisis?
Doug Shupinski:
It’s modifying not so much what we do but how we do it. Obviously we’re not running any live training, that’s not an option right now.
Dr. David Rock:
Good job.
Doug Shupinski:
In some cases I think it does make sense to pause some major learning initiatives that we have. We do have some programs, we have some key talent programs where we bring people in from around the world, and maybe it doesn’t make sense to run them completely as we had so we’re modifying the context of those problems, the length of the programs, obviously the manner, the modalities in which they’re delivered. We’re managing those things. I think one of the… I saw it in a two day strategy meeting that our L&D organization held this week.

I think looking down the road what we’re going to really… The trick is going to be when we come out of this, whenever that is, what do we keep in terms of things we’ve been doing differently and we say, “That’s not going to be a temporary solution, that’s going to be a permanent solution or offering, but not everything we put into place from an interim perspective should stay in place.” I think we need to be cautious in not saying, “Well it worked during the quarantine crisis so obviously we should keep it in place forever more.” I think that’s going to be the interesting time when we start coming out of this.
Dr. David Rock:
Right, right, I mean tell us, give us your early hunches. We won’t hold you to this but give us your early hunches. What’s been surprising in terms of works really well around leadership and learning? What’s been that you’re hoping to keep and maintain?
Doug Shupinski:
I’m glad to say you’re not going to hold me to it because I also said the Beatles would never make it. You have to be cautious in taking what I say. I think if you can imagine this grid or this chart where virtual learning, not just learning, everything, meetings, and working from home virtually. You saw this gradual upward movement on that graph over the last lets say five to 10 years. I think you’re going to see this inflection point that occurred in the first quarter of 2020 that will cause that acceptance with virtual interactions and perceived effectiveness and a willingness to experiment with.

I think you’re going to see some return to… And I think Jyoti had referenced this, some return to a large degree of people working, coming into a place to work. But I think there’s going to be more of a it’s okay to work from home if you don’t have a need to come in. I think our classroom programs people are not just going to say, “Well we’re okay with virtual sessions.” I think people are going to potentially demand that things be done virtually because we’re seeing that I think you get such a large percentage of the benefit in a virtual solution as you do to live solution, and you walk away from a lot of the financial or logistical or administrative aspects that make face to face classroom programs challenging is you don’t have to own all of those but you still get most of the benefit.
Dr. David Rock:
Yeah you get most of the benefits but you get this huge ability to scale and globally and this incredible opportunity for speed as well. Now you can hit 95,000 people in the same month with something. The way we think about it as well, maybe it’s only 80% as good but I can now hit everyone fast, whereas in the past I can hit a third of my population in two years. Now I can hit 100% of my population in a quarter and it’s only 80% as good. Here’s the thing that I’ve noticed though and we’ve been collecting data on this. When you get virtual right actually it’s better than workshops. We’ve actually got hard data from the same exact program run virtually versus workshops looking at people a month later how many people are activating the right habits. The actual to virtual actually wins hands down, hands down completely. We have a lot of biases around everything has to be workshops. It’s true virtual can be awful, virtual can do nothing, so can workshops, but I think when done right virtual has incredible potential. You want to speak to that, your experience there?
Doug Shupinski:
Yeah, I mean you are talking to Mr. Biased against virtual as of a number of years ago. I started into the L&D business, and specifically leadership development gosh 25 years ago and I started as a facilitator. I loved being in the classroom, that was my energy. That perspective, that bias was very hard to change, and it started I would say probably five or six years ago when our group was placed in a position again, both from a budget perspective and from a scaling perspective. The word came out that this whole idea of wait lists, we’re going to get good stuff to a fraction of the people because that’s what we can number one afford to do and number two we can reach them. That’s not going to work, we need to scale this virtually.

I went kicking and screaming, again these five or six years ago, and I’ve come to realize that the smaller pieces of learning that are followed with reflection time and application time, then you come back and you process. Maybe it’s a few days later, maybe it’s a week later. You come back and you process what you learned and what you applied and then took it to the next step. I absolutely agree with you David. I think there are significant advantages to virtual that are not offered in putting someone into a classroom for a day or two. That being said, I still believe classroom will always have a place. I just don’t think it’s as dramatic of a place as potentially it used to be.
Dr. David Rock:
Yeah, no we’ve got a ton of data on this. We started down this path about eight years ago when we were doing learning research. We developed the AGES model, I think you’ve seen that, it looks at the four conditions that has to be high for learning to stick attention, generation, emotion, spacing. Turns out workshops, stuff in person you actually get low attention after a couple hours because it’s-
Doug Shupinski:
Yeah.
Dr. David Rock:
The generation’s very high, the emotions can be very high but you get almost zero spacing. The research is clear you actually need all four of those conditions very high for maximum retention and the spacing effect has some big surprise benefits to it. We started rethinking and challenging ourselves the first time we did something completely virtual. We completely followed the science and did something that we had no idea if it would work but we did it as a pilot. It looked like it shouldn’t do anything at all and it did incredible things. We followed the science of if you can get people to care and get their attention, if you can get people to care and you can get them to have insights and you can get them to do that with others at the same time, and then you can do that over time actually is magic happens. Those are the conditions. Get them to care, pay attention, and get them to have insights, get them to do that and have conversations with each other.
Dr. David Rock:
Keep doing that week to week, it’s remarkable. I believe we can take a leadership development program of any intensity and actually make it better virtually, not accounting for also cheaper, faster, and all that. We’re starting to think about that. It’s going to be an interesting time. You guys have people in many, many parts of the world. In all sorts of different experiences. Tell me, what’s been most inspiring to you in this time as we think about the road ahead? What are you optimistic about and hopeful about or inspired about as you look ahead and look across the globe and your people everywhere?
Doug Shupinski:
I consider myself extremely fortunate, and I think almost everyone at Merck does as well because of the nature and Jyoti had talked about this at Gilead. The mission of Merck, what our organization does. It’s almost impossible to not be connected to and motivated by that mission, and knowing that everyday you come in and you’re saving people’s lives. We are literally curing cancer or trying to address that disease and everything that we do in terms of improving lives and saving lives. When you see people, and I made reference to this earlier, people are chomping at the bit to get the opportunity to do their part, to address, and not just address the situation, the COVID situation, that’s clearly at the forefront of everyone’s minds. As is sometimes the case, we’re not losing sight for the fact that there are millions of people that have cancer, that have heart disease, that have cholesterol issues, whatever it might be. Those people still need the products and the services that address their conditions. There is no one at Merck that’s throwing up their hands and saying, “Well good luck to them.” There is this constant focus and almost an obsession on the part of Merck employees to say, “Not only do we need to address this COVID thing but we need to continue to accomplish the mission that we’ve been accomplishing for all of these year.”
I learned a long time ago pressure doesn’t build character, pressure reveals character. When you see the character of the typical Merck employee, and it can be everyone from the operator on the shop floor to the chemist that’s on the research bench to the first line leader. It’s really cool to see people putting their money where their mouth is, so to speak. That’s what’s inspiring to me.
Dr. David Rock:
That’s fantastic. I mean similar to Jyoti from Gilead, I think there’s incredible pro-social, incredible vein of pro-social motivation inside your organization and I think people intrinsically and naturally want to be of service, want to help. Then when a crisis comes along that comes to the floor even more.
Doug Shupinski:
Yeah, it’s nice to see that it’s not just platitudes that our company has been… Not that I ever thought it was, but this has certainly proven that what we’ve been saying it’s legit.
Dr. David Rock:
Yeah, I think I want to write about that, how a crisis reveals a company’s true character. I think it’s a theme that I’m starting to see. I guess lots of people have talked about that in the armed services and other things, but I think it’s something that we’re starting to see as a society. What words of wisdom would you have for people thinking about what should they do with leadership and learning? Any closing comments? What words of wisdom would you have as a veteran in that space?
Doug Shupinski:
Yeah, I would say meet people where they are. Understand that this is an opportunity from both the leadership development as well as an L&D and a people management perspective.
I think you’re going to find that the average person realizes that they have capabilities, they have influences that they didn’t necessarily either realize that they had or weren’t able to bring to bear. I think if anyone thinks that the typical approach to leadership, the typical approach to L&D is going to come back in three or six months, I don’t think that’s correct. I think go with the flow, take what you’ve been given as an L&D and a leadership development professional as benefits to this and make it work in your favor because there are a lot of positive things.
Dr. David Rock:
Right, yeah that’s really interesting. We talk a lot about what people are doing with learning. We saw 50% of people are using the opportunity to radically reinvent their leadership development strategy radically, both content and process. I think it’s a really important thing. I think there’s a huge opportunity to radically reinvent what we do for leadership development and learning right now. Starting with reinventing leadership. What does it really mean to be a leader now in this environment? How much flexibility do you need? How much empathy do you really need? How much pro-social stuff do you need? I think we’re going to see new models of leadership and new models of developing leaders and we’re super psyched about that. Doug thanks so much for joining us.
Doug Shupinski:
My pleasure.
Dr. David Rock:
I’ve got some closing comments, feel free to stay on or jump off, but we really, really appreciate your insights there. Thanks for your inspiring comments.
Doug Shupinski:
I appreciate the invitation David.
Dr. David Rock:
Yeah, no great to have you with us and appreciate the ongoing partnership there as well. Couple or resources I want to share before we wrap up. We just started something this week, it’s an experiment, I don’t know if we’ll keep doing it but we’re going to do an experiment. We want to look at your entire learning strategy, leadership development, learning and give you a free audit. We actually want a bunch of organizations to call us or email us or whatever and say, “Actually we’d love you to look over our learning strategy and advise us. We’re doing free consulting, free advising on ways that your whole learning strategy could be much, much better in a virtual world, leadership development and more broadly. Drop us a line if you’re interested in that.

We’re also doing free C suite briefings on how to lead through crisis. We’ve been doing lots of those, I think we’re up to 30 or 40 top team CEOs and top teams that we’re actually briefing on what does it take to lead through crisis, we’re doing those. If it’s a bigger solution, we’re briefing all your people managers that tends to be something we charge for, but for the C suites we’re doing a lot of those. We’re also doing a lot of reinventing culture, learning or performance work, a lot of consulting. We have a big solution called focus. If you’re from an organization and you want to check that out we can give you a free place. We have an open enrollment program but we’re helping companies build habits at scale around greater focus, inclusion, growth mindset, and we have an open enrollment program for focus. We can give you a space in if you’re from an organization.

Also doing a lot of custom activation strategies that scale. We’re working with organizations to build some very specific strategies that build very specific habits across 100,000 people. We’re helping organizations that way. Click one of those to help us know if there’s a way we can help you and support you in any way. Doug was mentioning individual learning, we’ve got a ton of people signing up for our brain based coaching right now. Also certificate in the foundations of neuroleadership, which is a fantastic six month program. And we’re doing some weekly talent leader events as well.

In closing thank you so much to Jyoti and Doug for being here, for inspiring us all to think differently and really appreciate your comments. Thanks very much, take care of yourselves, look after each other, keep doing what matters. Thanks very much everyone.

Keep Listening


In this episode of Your Brain at Work, Dr. David Rock, the CEO and Co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute is joined by Dr. Jason Mitchell, a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. Together, they explore the concept of in-group and out-group, the effects it has on the brain and behavior, and what we can do about it to mitigate the negative effects and accentuate the positive. The two scientists unpack how we can leverage that knowledge to make interactions more positive and effective, and to make organizations more human.

In this episode of Your Brain at Work, Dr. David Rock, the CEO and Co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute is joined by Dr. Jason Mitchell, a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. Together, they explore the concept of in-group and out-group, the effects it has on the brain and behavior, and what we can do about it to mitigate the negative effects and accentuate the positive. The two scientists unpack how we can leverage that knowledge to make interactions more positive and effective, and to make organizations more human.

In this episode of Your Brain at Work, Dr. David Rock, the CEO and Co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute is joined by Dr. Jason Mitchell, a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. Together, they explore the concept of in-group and out-group, the effects it has on the brain and behavior, and what we can do about it to mitigate the negative effects and accentuate the positive. The two scientists unpack how we can leverage that knowledge to make interactions more positive and effective, and to make organizations more human.

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