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April 15th, 2022

Your Brain At Work LIVE – S7:E02 – Boeing’s Most Significant Culture Change

Rapid change at scale is absolutely possible. Sara Bowen, VP of Global DEI at Boeing, knows this first hand. Boeing set out to create a culture in which every employee feels safe to speak up and believes that their voice matters. Two years of hard work culminated in “Seek, Speak, and Listen” Boeing’s new behavior change model that their CHRO recently characterized as the most significant culture effort in the company’s 106-year history. Tune in for an inspiring conversation and a remarkable story.

Episode Transcript



[00:00:02] SW: Welcome back to season seven, episode two of Your Brain at Work podcast. Rapid change at scale is possible. Sara Bowen, Vice President of Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Boeing company knows this firsthand. Boeing set out to create a culture in which every employee feels safe to speak up and believes their voice matters. Two years of hard work culminated in Seek, Speak and Listen, Boeing’s new behavior change model. Their CHRO recently mentioned the initiative as the most significant culture effort in the company’s 106-year history. For this week’s episode, listen to an inspiring conversation and a remarkable story. 


I’m Shelby Wilburn, and you’re listening to Your Brain at Work from the NeuroLeadership Institute. We continue to draw episodes from our weekly Friday webinar series. This week, our show is a conversation between Dr. David Rock, CEO and Co-Founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute; and Sara Bowen, Vice President of Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Boeing Company. Enjoy. 




[00:01:06] SW: Hello to all of our viewers across the world, and welcome to another week of Your Brain at Work Live. I’m your host, Shelby Wilburn. Last week, we kicked off the season with some recap insights from our recent summit. And now we’re going to continue that momentum today, as we discuss with one of our keynote panelists, Boeing’s biggest ever culture change. 


Now before we get started, we want to say hello, as always, to our registered Zoom participants, as well as all of our viewers who are out there on our streaming channels. We’re so excited to have you here. And regardless of what platform you’re on, let us know where you’re at in the comments. We would love to see where you are. 


Now, before we get started, for those of you that are regulars, welcome back. And for those of you that are new to Your brain at Work Live, welcome to the party. For some context, it is one of the titles of our best-selling book by our CEO and Co-Founder, Dr. David Rock. And it’s also the name of our blog. And as always, we suggest put your phone on do not disturb, close out of your email, give yourself the hour to really dive into these insights, because they’re great. 


So, as we get started, get your stretch in, grab some coffee and water and we are going to dive into this amazing conversation today with one of our top companies in the world. So before we do that, I’m going to introduce our speakers. For today’s first guest, she is the Vice President of Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Boeing Company. In this role, she is responsible for developing and executing the company’s global strategy on diversity and inclusion, building equity into the company’s systems and catalyzing a culture where every teammate feels valued, respected and inspired. She has nearly 20 years of experience in employment law, diversity and inclusion, human resource management and equal opportunity practices. A native of Northeastern Wisconsin, she earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Northwestern University and her law degree from Stanford Law School and resides in the Seattle metro area. Please join me in welcoming Vice President of Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Boeing Company, Sara Bowen. Thanks for being here today, Sara. 


[00:03:10] SW: Thanks so much, Shelby. It’s a pleasure. 


[00:03:13] DR: And our leader for today’s discussion, an Ausie turned New Yorker who coined the term neuroleadership when he cofounded NLI over two decades ago. With a professional doctorate, four successful books under his name and a multitude of bio lines ranging from the Harvard Business Review to the New York Times, and many more, a warm welcome as I pass the virtual mic to the Co-Founder and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute, Dr. David Rock. Off to you, David.


[00:03:38] DR: Thanks so much, Shelby. Thanks for your warm welcome and all the incredible work putting this program together. We’re so excited to be able to dig in. And Sara, thank you so much for being willing to come back so soon. You presented in the closing session at the summit along with the CEO of Procter and Gamble and the CFO of Avanade. And your session brought up so many questions for people, and it was such a hit. We got so much feedback from it that we wanted to go deeper than the kind of 10 or 15 minutes we had. 


So those of you who are watching that session, you’ll get a chance to kind of really dig a lot deeper and understand the initiative as well. So I really appreciate you being willing to come back quickly and kind of dive deeper, Sara. Thanks so much.


[00:04:15] SB: Thank you, David. It is a true pleasure not only to be here with you today and have this conversation. But it is the biggest privilege of my life to be able to lead this work. So, thank you.


[00:04:24] DR: That’s great. Before we begin, for those new to the podcast, or today’s webinar, or NLI overall, just a little context. We’re a research driven-leadership institute. Our vision is making organizations more human through science. And our mission is changing weeks, not years. And as you’ll hear with the Boeing case, this is probably one of the best examples of that happening in real-life. We’ll hear just how that was done. 


The heart of our work is research. We do original research, over 50 research papers, that look at the biological foundations of different talent challenges. And where this project came from, as Sara will talk about, is research we did on creating a culture of speaking up over two or three years. And then we launched out into the world. And then Boeing is one of the organizations that’s then applying this. We do a lot of research. We then advise organizations and help them drive change. We’re now up to over 60% of the Fortune 100. And we’re very, very much a global practice. 


So, let’s dig in. Sarah, maybe let’s start at the beginning. I know we covered some of this in the summit, but lots weren’t there. Just tell us how this project came about. Obviously, pretty much everyone’s aware of the real challenges that was happening in the organization. But how did this come about? And kind of what was the initial spark of this?


[00:05:36] SB: Yeah, it’s a great question, David. And the context in which it arose is important to this journey. So travel back in time to 2019, Boeing had just experienced two fatal crashes of our MAX airplanes. And the company was, to say, in a state of crisis is an understatement. We were facing the most intense scrutiny from outside the company and inside the company, warranted scrutiny, asking ourselves questions that we couldn’t answer. Questions like, “Do people here feel safe to speak up? If not, why not? What is driving the fear? And how do we rebuild the most important currency we have, and that is trust?” Not only with our external stakeholders, but our internal stakeholders. And it was with this in mind that I had the pleasure of attending the NeuroLeadership Institute Summit in New York City in November of 2019 along with a couple colleagues of mine, and we were sitting through the session on Speak Up, the session that NLI calls voice. And we look at each other during that session, all of us had this twinkle in our eyes, and we thought, “This is it. There is something here. We need to bring this back to Boeing.” And so we brought this back. We began socializing it with our stakeholder groups. And we kept hearing one piece of feedback consistently across these groups. Can you guess what that feedback was, David?


[00:07:04] DR: How do we make sure it feels like Boeing? Or looks like Boeing? Or would be one idea? Or it sounds too simple? I don’t know. What was it?


[00:07:12] SB: We did hear some of that. But the primary piece of feedback we heard was speaking up isn’t the issue. It’s listening. It’s listening. And if people feel safe that they will be listened to when they speak up, they will speak up. But it’s that listening muscle we need to build. And, of course, that makes sense, right? Because speaking up is the natural consequence of feeling like the people around you care about what you have to say. So we’ve sort of transitioned to this model of speak up and listen. We were getting a lot of positive feedback on that, especially with the simplicity of the model and the brain science. 


And then I set up a meeting with our new CEO. He’d been in the role for about three months. And I wanted to pitch him on what I believed was going to be the most important and foundational culture move we could make. And so I pitched him on this speak up and listen. And he listened very intently. And at the end of my pitch, he said, “This is really important. I can get behind this. But there’s one thing I want to add.” He said, “It’s this notion of my leaders not just listening when they’re spoken to, but actually going to those pockets of anxiety, those pockets where employees are feeling distressed and going there and learning what it is we need to learn to get better and smarter.” He said, “I want that in the DNA of every single one of my leaders. Call it what you want. But to me, it’s seeking out those pockets of anxiety.” And in that moment, seek, speak and listen was conceived. It really is the seek part of it that I think truly distinguishes this culture effort from so many others.


[00:08:57] DR: Hmm, interesting. Let me just give people a little context. So at NLI, we’re in the whole company culture change business. We’re passionate about helping organizations change in weeks, not years, in whatever way matters. And DEI focused initiatives are a big part of what we do. But we’re also in a number of other areas. And for us, the approach we have to company change is really different than you might see out there. So we’re not about kind of give your top leaders a deep experience so that the top of the house changes. We’re not a training company where we want to train 10% or 20% of your company in some new skills over time, or one-off. The way we think about it is, firstly, in terms of three big kinds of work you’ve got to do. You’ve got to set a clear set of priorities and make those sticky and memorable as simple as possible. And you’ve done a great job with this. Seek, speak and listen is really sticky, memorable. That’s the first thing. So you got to build a set of priorities. 


But then you’ve got to do the work to build real habits. And this is where most companies fail to create culture change. In fact, about three quarters of the reason culture changes fail is the company didn’t build habits. People just didn’t change what they were doing despite being clear about how they should change. They didn’t. And the third step is systems. So, priorities, habits and systems. We haven’t done much systems work with you guys. I expect a lot of it will happen internally over the next few years. But we helped you build a set of priorities, which was seek, speak and listen based on our off-the-shelf solution called VOICE. But customized or kind of tailored to your language and your experience. 


But the way we did it is we executed this habit activation strategy based on the science of really building habits and scale that to 140,000 people. 


So before we talk about the scaling, let’s talk a little bit about the habit, seek, speak and listen. Imagine someone knows nothing about that or our VOICE research. Can you bring alive for us, like, what would people learning around seek, speak and listen? May be one at a time? What were you learning if you’re learning this kind of seek habit? Bring it alive for folks if you will. 


[00:10:55] SB: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So when I think about speak, I immediately go to a story that a senior leader shared with me. He said that we’re working on certification, recertification with the FAA, and he was sitting in a room of engineers. And he was asking, “Okay, are we on plan? What do we need to do to hit these deadlines? And how’s it going?” And he said everyone in the room was looking really tense. No one was making eye contact. They were all kind of looking down. 


If you’re in a status quo, kind of a passive mindset, you look at your team and you say, “Okay, well get to it. Let me know how it’s going.” And you walk out of the room. But the seek mindset stops. It notices the moment that people in this room are not comfortable. That there’s some anxiety brewing. And the leader in that moment will say, “Hey, David, what am I missing here? What’s bothering you about this? What can we do better? What are we missing?” Right? Asking those questions. And this leader shared the story about asking each of the folks in the room, and slowly but surely, he drew them out. And he learned that they felt there was no way on earth they could hit the deadline. And they were experiencing extreme anxiety. And so the leader in that moment was able to say, “Okay, we’re going to go back, and we’re going to tell them we need more time. Because we have to do this right. We have to do it with quality every step of the way. 


I think that’s just such a wonderful example of that seeking muscle, right? It’s pausing, getting a little uncomfortable noticing that moment and navigating through it. That’s a very relevant example to business. But it also applies in the diversity and inclusion space. Seeking out those uncomfortable conversations. Seeking out the different perspectives. Looking around your team and saying, “What viewpoint or perspective are we not hearing?” And then going and finding it, right? Because the chart says, because awareness can teach us and help us improve. And if we’re in the business of continuous improvement, which we say we are, then this is the most important habit we can exercise. So that’s seek. A bit of a long story there on seek. But I think it’s really important. 


And then I love the work we did with NLI on speak, because it’s not just, “Hey, speak up to raise a concern, or speak up to raise an idea. It’s speak up because you may have thought of something that no one else has. And by speaking up, you’re doing the right thing for your team. And I love that so much, because it’s so empowering, especially for people who may be have brought up not to be the loudest voice in the room or to listen before speaking. But if you put them in the mindset of, “I’m speaking up for the benefit of my team as a demonstration of care and innovation. That’s why I do this.” It’s incredibly empowering, and it’s very, very effective. 


And then listen, not listening to respond. I think, David, you and I have talked about this a little bit that a lot of people listened, and they’re formulating their response. But setting that aside, and truly listening with curiosity, because that’s when we learn. And that’s what enables us to take constructive action. That’s a little background of the three habits.


[00:14:04] DR: Yeah. No, that’s great. And one of the things I’ve loved about collaborating with Boeing is you guys really respect science. And you’re hungry for data and research-based things. And so we’re able to kind of do our best work with, all those engineers and people who care deeply about science or hungries. So what we’re not going to talk about here is there’s a deep scientific explanation of why you need to seek, and then how to do it properly in each of the modules. So think of these as three separate habits. They weave together. But we taught these like one at a time to people. So in the seek module, people are learning about why you need to seek and how you need to seek. And our goal in designing this experience is giving people the strongest possible insight, which creates a really strong motivation. And we do that combining the science and the storytelling in the content. So there’s kind of a body of content for seek, a body of content to speak, a body for listen. And they’re actually taught over-time in that way. 


Can you tell us a little bit about kind of how that was done? Like if I was a participant, like, how did I experience this in time and space? Then we’ll get into sort of some of the stories of what happened when it hit people. But how would I have experienced this in time and space? Because this went out to 140,000 people in how long? It was like 140,000 people hit this – 


[00:15:22] SB: One month. 30 months. Yeah. 


[00:15:22] DR: One month. Right. 30 days, right? Changing weeks. Not years. So if I was a participant over that month, what was experiencing?


[00:15:30] SB: Yes. So this is one of the most brilliant things about this and why I think it’s been so effective, is that we did this together as a one Boeing team over the course of 30 days. So week one, all teams went through seek. We had the modules, the learning, the team interaction, the if-then planning. We really dove into that seek habit in week one. Week two was speak. Video, team discussion. And week three was listen. Week four, teams brought it all together with an action plan of how they were going to put these habits into practice. In every country where Boeing has teammates around the globe, we did this together. 


That social learning, that reinforcement, the peer reinforcement across the enterprise was really important for the habit formation. I will also add that we have a large manufacturing and production workforce. People who are working on the shop floor, they’re not sitting behind computers. And so we worked with NLI on a parallel module that didn’t involve any technology. They were discussions that teams were able to have in their daily stand up to build these habits in the same way, one habit per week for three weeks, and then a capstone at the end. So that’s how we rolled it out. And it’s a really brilliant model.


[00:16:46] DR: So essentially, to bring this alive, if you were a frontline, if you’re an employee, uses as an average example, your manager would have said, “Hey, we’ve got this initiative coming out. I want you to watch this video. And then we’re going to talk about this at our next team meeting.” And so the managers were given a guide like how to talk about it. And so everyone watched this video of just seek and covering like the science and the practice of why you need to do this and how to do it well. Very focused video. It’s only about five minutes, but it’s incredibly focused on generating insight. And so people would watch this on their own or together in the meeting, and then the manager would have this discussion about it. 


Now, the interesting thing about that is research shows that one of the most important factors of why people do something is they think everyone else is doing it. Knowing your whole team was doing this. But also knowing the whole company was doing this. In the same month, has this tremendous momentum that it creates, right? it shows this as a priority for the company that everyone is doing this, right? It’s very light on one level. And one of it is very, very light. Like people are just literally watching a five-minute video and then having a discussion with the manager. 


What’s not obvious is just how powerful that is when you do it at once and when you do it with your team, and then you do it every week for a month. And this is what we found. So can you speak to that a little bit, just kind of bring that alive a little bit more for folks? What was that like for the employees?


[00:18:08] SB: Yeah, it’s incredible. Because like you said, now everyone is working from the same score, or singing from the same score. And we started to see people in meetings or in one-on-one saying, “I have a seek, speak and listen moment I’d like to share.” They’re using it as a frame to be able to share a concern or an idea where they didn’t have that frame just last week, right? But because they frame it up as seek, speak, listen, everyone in the room understands, “Oh, these are the habits that we’ve all been talking about across the enterprise that everyone has said are going to be really important to evolving our culture.” So I think the learning together simultaneously and kind of in that quick sprint model is absolutely the way to go. I’m a huge fan of that model. Very, very effective across the globe. 


And then after those 30 days, many teams we saw spending some additional time. Like our teammates in Asia, dedicated a separate week to really go through this together and bring it to life for their regions, their teams and within their culture. The beautiful thing about these habits is that they are so universal and they can be so easily customized to the needs of that particular team, or the culture in which the team sits.


[00:19:31] DR: Right. Right. Now, there’s some great questions coming in. I’ll make sure we get to some of those. I’ll answer kind of a couple of the tactical things now. But I want to give people a really good sense of what really happened for folks. And they think it’s really strange. And I’ll show you the data in a minute on just how much change this happened. But it’s amazing how much real change can happen when you follow the science of giving a little bit to everyone at the same time, giving a little bit that’s actionable, like a few key habits that everyone can do. And giving this to everyone at same time creates a huge momentum. And so it’s not really training. It’s a culture change initiative. 


And literally like, it doesn’t matter how busy people are, you were asking them to watch a five-minute video. And then as part of an existing meeting, have a conversation. So this was like May 2021. This was an incredibly tense time. This was some of the dark days of the pandemic, and people were overwhelmed. But still, they participated fully because it’s not us. We’re not saying, “Hey, go on to do hours of training. Take time off.” This is really light. 


Now, for us, I mean, we worked for two and a half years to work out the habits that make the biggest difference to create a culture of speaking up. So there’s a lot of science to make it this simple. It’s not just like, “Hey, you could just go and work something out and roll it out.” You’ve got to give people the fewest possible habits. And you’ve got to give them the right habits. And then the really hard job is what’s the exact research that creates the strongest insight to get people to seek? What’s the science that really inspires and moves people to see that they have to seek, right? And what’s the story? What are the stories? In this case, we used a lot of Boeing stories. What are the stories that really inspire people to want to seek, right? So it’s the rational and the conceptual. 


So there’s a lot of work behind the scenes to make this work. But ultimately, what ends up happening is you really can create change in weeks, not years, across an entire company. Let’s go to the data and talk a little bit about sort of how we collected the data. And then we can come back to sort of the design a bit. But I think it’s good to show people just sort of how much this moved folks.


[00:21:31] SB: Yeah. So we do a quarterly pulse to a statistically significant set of our workforce every quarter on the seek, speak and listen habits. I think it’s eight questions long. Maybe it’s 10 Questions long. And so we’re tracking this over time. So 85% of our teammates say that they use to seek, speak and listen to habits in their day to day interactions. 85%. 


When it comes to speaking up, 74% of our teammates say that they feel comfortable speaking up. Now, would we like this number to be 100? Of course. It takes time to truly embed the habits and change the culture. 74% is where we are now. And we’re going to keep working at it. Southeast Asia, I mentioned they set aside a separate week to really lean into these habits. They saw a 31-point increase in teammates comfort speaking up. I mean, I get a chill every time I revisit this. Think about all the teammates who were holding things in, whether it was a concern or a brilliant idea that was being locked inside. And these habits are helping unlock that. So 31-point increase in Southeast Asia. In India, a 14-point increase when it came to seeking new perspective. So getting out of your comfort zone, going out and seeking different perspectives. Southeast Asia, 24-point increase in comfort. And across Europe, Russia and Israel, 15-point increase. So really, really dramatic change as a result of going through these habits. 


2.4 million employee engagement with the content, which demonstrates to us that there’s something about it that really resonates with people. They’re drawn to it. They’re drawn to the simplicity and the stickiness and the meaning behind the habits.


[00:23:22] DR: Right. 2.4 million engagements. And you’ve got 140,000 people roughly. So everyone is like engaging 20 times on average with the content in different ways. And we actually only asked them to engage four times. In theory, they should have just downloaded stuff and then kind of interacted four time. They’ve actually engaged about, on average, 20 times. That’s fantastic. 


And a lot of that comes back to – We’ve realized in NLI, we’ve realized people are overwhelmed and busy. And our goal is the shortest distance to insight, to the strongest possible insight. So our goal when we’re designing this kind of work is what’s the fastest way to give people the strongest insight? And when you design for insight like that, people have these useful insights, and they want the next piece, and they next piece, and they want the next piece. So it’s not like – And this wasn’t mandatory, right? There was nothing here that we said you have to go through this. This was all about compelling. Yes. Speak to us a little bit about how that was done, how it was rolled out, how it was launched?


[00:24:20] SB: Yeah, 96% of our teammates have gone through it. And it wasn’t mandatory. It was highly encouraged. At least, it an expectation that people learn these habits. We came from the very top, our CEOs, the biggest champion of these habits. Our CHR was a huge – All of our senior leaders are really big champions of these habits. And that makes a huge difference, as you know. Sorry. What question was I suppose to answer here, David? 


[00:24:46] DR: My brain is completely fried, because you just told me 96% of the company. And there’s like 140,000 people engaged with this content. That’s an exceptional result. It’s actually the highest result we’ve ever seen the last – We’d seen a 94% before. But 96% of people engaged with this content across 140,000 people. And it’s totally not mandatory. I mean, how did you get to that? How did you roll it out? Like what was done strategically that kind of made 96% of people want to do this?


[00:25:13] SB: Yeah. Well, I think our CEO championed it. And he put out the first video kind of introducing the habits and why they’re important. And remember, our company is in a state of crisis when we’re rolling this out. So not only did we have the max accidents. But then COVID hit, and the entire industry kind of collapsed. So we’re all looking around saying, “What do we do? How do we make ourselves better, stronger, smarter? How do we rebuild trust? These are the questions we’re asking ourselves every single day. 


So when this is offered up to us, people want to be successful. People want to see our companies thriving and being on top again. So I think people are also hungry for something that’s meaningful. And you just said something, David, that I think is really important and really true of these habits, which is there’s a reward system built into them from the get-go, right? 


So the moment you actually engage in listening in the way it’s intended to be, you learn something. It might be a small thing. It might be a big thing. But you learn something that’s going to make you more effective, make your team more successful. 


The example I gave about the leader who’s in the room with the people wringing their hands about the FAA deadline, right? That conversation led to a really important decision to extend the deadline, which meant that we were able to deliver with the quality standard we set for ourselves. There’s no more important outcome than that. 


So what I love about these habits is that they do appeal to our better nature, right? And I think that is its own reward system. So when I speak up, I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do. When I’m listening to my colleague, I’m engaged in an act of care. And when I seek, that might lead to something that could save a life. It’s just so powerful. I love that it appeals to our better nature, and that there’s this inherent reward system built into these habits. And I believe in the goodness of people. And I think people are drawn to the things that make them better and that make the organization stronger as a whole. And these habits do that.


[00:27:24] DR: Yeah. No, it’s great. My brain is reeling. We’ve done a lot of research over the years and done a session on like this one of the Fridays, it should be a podcast, on how you shift from kind of mandatory to compelling in any kind of change initiative. And for us, it’s really important that something is super compelling. And one of the things I love about what you guys did is you followed all our advice on how to make it compelling. And we did pretty much everything we’ve always said you should do. 


So one thing is your CEO launching it. That’s something we always try to do. You guys did that. We built on our existing videos, and tools, and guides from our voice solution, which some companies just use as is. But we actually highly tailored. So we had videos of engineers working on aeroplanes, and we had Boeing stories. So we used something that we spent years researching and building, but then we really tailored it so it felt exactly like Boeing, which is much better than trying to build a completely new solution. And then you guys did really good work in kind of preparing people and kind of laying the land. So it wasn’t just some surprise when suddenly that we’re getting confident.


So you just did a really good work around making something compelling and starts with the launch from the top, engaging top people. We’ve actually got data showing the percentage impact on habit activation when a top team is briefed first. And so your top team was engaged first. It also tied into real business issues. In many ways, you could think this is a DE&I initiative, diversity, equity and inclusion. But actually, it was so tied to business imperatives, and so driven by top leaders that it was really just like this is how we need to work now. So I think it was positioned really well. I mean, you guys just took a lot of really good research and applied it in how you focus on compelling. Not mandatory. 


I noticed a few comments on this. How do you make sure this works if it’s not mandatory? Well, what we see with mandatory, when you do mandatory training, a huge swathe of people just switch off, because it feels like they’re being forced to do something. We wrote a piece on this. There’s a whole piece we wrote on mandatory training can literally make people more biased. So it’s a whole body of work. 


And when we spoke about this earlier, you were telling me some of the stories. I mean, I’m not sure which ones you’re comfortable sharing. But some of the stories of just how people were different. And you told a great one already. But just some of the stories that bring it alive for folks of what did it look like when people were seeking, speaking and listening? And what are some of the stories that you saw or heard? Share some of that with us.


[00:29:46] SB: Yeah. So one of the things we did as we set up a seek, speak and listen website internally. And we have a seek, speak and listen moments section where teammates can go in and just share their experience with these habits and what insight they gained from it. And there are hundreds, David. Literally hundreds of stories that teammates are sharing. Some are really powerful. They range from – I spoke up about this thing that was happening on my team that made me feel excluded. To one person said, “I wrote this down because I found it so moving.” 


Someone in our Boeing Defense and Space organization said, “Seek, speak, speak and listen made me feel as though my opinion actually meant something. It was the first time I felt that in a long time.” Story after story like that. And again, I think, because this is at scale, right? This is 140,000 people. And if we’re unlocking people’s sense of empowerment to share their ideas and thoughts, to speak up when they see something that isn’t right. That is such powerful change. 


I’m thinking of other examples. People would put seek, speak and listen idea boxes in their work sites and let people submit ideas. People have gotten so creative with seek, speak and listen because they really see it as a way of continuously improving. It’s wonderful. 


[00:31:15] DR: When you get people to activate this habit of seek, what you’re doing is you’re actually reducing bias, for example, because you’re telling people – Some of the deeper research says you only ever seen one slice of reality. If you’re a lawyer, you see the lawyer’s slice of reality. If you’re a marketing person, you see the marketing person’s slice reality. Really different slices of reality. And you’ve really got to seek out other people’s perspectives to be able to make good decisions. 


So it’s creating this pool for people to want to learn from others, which is activating more of a growth mindset. It’s mitigating bias. It’s getting people to really lean in. The speaker is about speaking up and really sharing your perspectives. And then the listening, obviously, is super powerful, critical thing. So there’s a lot of kind of hidden science and habits under this, we won’t go into all of the habits in here. But essentially, and as someone was saying in the chat, “This isn’t really a DE&I initiative. And it wasn’t launched as one. But it has a huge impact on the DEI. This is really a culture change.” Can you speak to that a little bit? It’s sort of like a Trojan horse for DEI, but it’s not – 


[00:32:19] SB: It is. Yes. And that’s exactly the term we have used internally. I am the diversity, equity and inclusion leader for the company, but I was also the leader of this. And at the time we launched it, this is what we needed. Because these habits, when you think about what they’re doing, these are the foundation of inclusion, these habits. They are the tools for allyship, right? Imagine trying to build allies if we don’t have the basic habits of seeking, and listening, and speaking up effectively. I mean, those are the habits of allyship. 


So it has been a Trojan horse for inclusion, right? Sometimes you go into teams and you say, “Okay, we’re going to turn you all into allies.” You get a little bit of resistance sometimes. Or you say we’re launching this big diversity initiative, especially in the midst of crisis. It doesn’t always go over that well. But these habits, which are really driven to help everyone learn, build awareness, voice, have voice that’s meaningful, it affects everything. 


And some of the stats that we didn’t put on that slide, but that I’ll share here is close to 80% of our teammates, when surveyed, have said that the habits are helping them achieve better business outcomes. Close to 80% say habits help them achieve better outcomes. Help their teams collaborate, right? So that’s an inclusion thing, collaboration. And then thirdly, identify issues before they become problems. And that one, to me, makes my heart explode, because that’s what these are designed for. 


And I’ll tell, there was some – Because I’m the diversity leader. I engage in a lot of conversations with like our business resource groups and different groups around the company. There was some fear when we started to roll this out. People kind of looking around like, “Do the company really mean it? Like do they really want to hear what my experience has been? Am I really supposed to speak up? And like do I tell the whole truth or only part of the truth?” 


And I was talking with a mentee of mine earlier today, actually. And he said, “When we’re going through seek, speak and listen – He’s a black male, and his manager is a white male. And said his manager came to him and said, “Hey, have I ever said anything or done anything that has felt to you like bias or microaggression?” And the guy said, “Do you really want to hear the answer to that?” And the leader said, “Yes, I really, really do.” And they had this open conversation that they probably would not have had for seek, speak and listen. And that manager went on to create some of the most diverse teams at the company. He read white fragility. He’s done all this work now on himself, right? And is now a huge champion of diversity and inclusion who might not have gotten there through a traditional diversity program, but who got there because of seek, speak and listen, and the courage of teammates to share their experience.


[00:35:12] DR: Yeah, that’s super powerful. Thanks for sharing that story. I think the story has really helped bring this alive. A lot of people kind of wondering how you get to 96%? How do you get to people engaging with 20 times with this content that’s completely not managing? Honestly, the answer is you think about it very, very hard for 24 years. I mean, that’s what we’ve been doing. We’re in the business of change at scale, and changing weeks, not years. So I could talk for two days about everything that goes into making something compelling. But at high level, it’s like give a lot of people a few simple things to do one at a time all at the same time, and make sure these things are the most helpful things you could possibly do, right? And make sure you have an incredibly rational, clear explanation for why they’re the most important things you should do, right? And to treat people as adults and say, “Hey –” And give them one thing to do. Go and try this one thing, and then give the people who want more ability to go deeper and deeper and deeper. There’s deeper research into this if they want it. 


So I think, for us, it’s tie it to the business. Get the top team to launch it. Give people the fewest possible things to do that really make a difference. Give them really clear rational explanations of why they should do these things. Do it across teams, led by managers, not training, and then measure this. And this is one of our best case studies of kind of really doing culture change right. Now, doesn’t mean it’s perfect. It doesn’t mean there’s not more work to do. But we can see really meaningful change in the habits people are applying weekly. 


And I think one of the things we’re so moved by is what can happen when you think about habits and just focus on changing those habits. And that’s our work. Someone was sort of asking about that. And I think I go back to this, change initiatives fail because just people don’t change. And when I look at any change initiative, it’s really obvious to me exactly why people didn’t change, because they just didn’t describe the fewest possible habits. They described 10, right? Or five. Or they just weren’t clear. Or they didn’t explain rationally. Or they do it one at a time. There’s like a thousand ways to fail at creating culture change. But I think you guys followed the research in really good ways. Anyway, that’s my rant there.


[00:37:33] SB: Yeah. And I think, too, David, some of the reasons habit change or culture change fails is because you’re asking people to change, but you’re not changing the systems, structures and processes in which they work. And I had the great privilege of having – The program lead for seek, speak and listen on my team, Corinne Wolcott, is genius at ensuring integration and systemic change that integrates the seek, speak and listen to habits. So we didn’t just roll out habits and ask people to adopt them. We also changed the way we onboard new talent. We changed our performance enablement. We embedded seek, speak and listen into the one Boeing production system, right? All of these places, so that wherever you turn, whether it’s explicit or not, you’re seeing seek, speak and listen come to life. And that’s also why people kept going back to the seek, speak and listen website to engage with the materials. Because, again, I give credit to Corinne continuing to innovate meaningful, relevant tools that people could use to improve the way they work, right? Like I said before, it’s immediate reward system, because when you go to it, and you get the tool, and you put it to use, you get a better result. Who doesn’t want that, right?


[00:38:47] DR: Right. It’s giving people something they can use easily that will work. So to go back to PHS, priorities, habit systems, you create a set of priorities that are really sticky a memorable. You did the work to build the habits the way habits need to be built, which is just a few, one at a time, in social situations. Because when you learn socially, you recall and embed the information much more richly, right? You did that over a 30-day period. It was a good amount of time. 


But then also, this work has been in embedded into systems, as you’re saying. So it’s gone into the way you’re hiring, the way you’re giving feedback and all this stuff. Now you guys have done that without needing our help. Sometimes we come in and help with that. But it’s sort of everyone in the company would start to see where changes need to be made to systems. When you realize how important is to seek information from others instead of assuming, you start weaving that into everything, everywhere. 


We have this amazing piece of research launched at our summit two weeks ago on kind of empathy and understanding others. And we had a session in the morning. I think it was the morning of day two. Or no. The end of – Anyway, somewhere in the summer. It’s a blur now. On empathy. And we released a two and a half years research for us on empathy. And empathy is made up of these three different parts. If you think of empathy, it’s just accurately like understanding someone and responding adaptively. What we see is that there’s an automatic part of empathy, which is just kind of mirroring and sensing. We call it noticing. 


The part where empathy goes wrong is what’s called perspective taking, which is trying to understand other people. And then there’s a third part, which is acting and doing something compassionate, helping people. But it’s that middle stage of understanding people that people get wrong. 


And what’s terrifying is this quote from the researcher we worked with, is that when you teach people to try to take a perspective, like when you teach people to actively try to understand people, they actually become more confident that they understand people, but not more accurate. 


[00:40:45] SB: Oh, wow! 


[00:40:47] DR: Right? Let me just say that again. When you teach people that, to understand people, you have to really take their perspective, and you encourage them and even train them to try to take perspective of the people. They actually become more confident that they understand people, but they’re not more accurate at understanding people. 


And the punchline to that is what they’ve got to do is seek. What they’ve got to do is actually ask questions and not assume. They’ve actually got to seek information from people and not just assume. We’ll be writing about this a lot and coming out. So the whole campaign aligns with that research really beautifully. But it’s not about just trying to understand people. It’s actually about seeking their perspective and really, really leaning in. So kind of terrifying and exciting.


[00:41:27] SB: Yes, it is. It is.


[00:41:29] DR: Let me turn it to you, Sara. What do you think – What’s been some of the stories, sort of some of the most moving stories for you? Before we get sort of get tactical. Any other stories you’d like to share about kind of what the journey has been like for you personally or with your teams? Anything else you’d like to share?


[00:41:45] SB: Yeah. I mean, there’s so much, but I think one thing that comes up for me is these habits are not only the right thing to do to drive business outcomes, but they actually help us be more human to each other. Every time we engage in the habit of speaking, or listening, or speaking up because it’s the right thing to do, we’re engaged in acts of care. We’re using the word care now at our company. We didn’t use the word care when I joined. And that’s a really important shift, too, because the company is made up of its people. And we’re bringing the human – I think we’re bringing a lot of that human components back. 


We used seek, speak and listen during a really tough time with the vaccine mandate. That for so many organizations, that was an incredibly hot and divisive topic. People were angry, and frustrated, and defensive, and really didn’t know how to talk about religious accommodations, or medical accommodations, or just fear of the vaccine itself. And so we put together a one page seek, speak and listen discussion guide to help people navigate those tough discussions. And I’m not saying that solved everything, but at least it gave people some tools to navigate during a really, really challenging time. 


Our company is shifting to what we call a just culture. And just culture is kind of a term in the aviation industry, but also healthcare. It’s about shifting from individual blame to really understanding root cause and continuous improvement. And seek, speak and listen is setting us up so beautifully for this transition to just culture. And I’m really excited about that, because it’s where we need to head. And now we have these foundational tools for it. 


But, I mean, the stories are endless. Our executive council met a few months ago, and we had a one-page seek tip sheet for leaders on how to seek. What questions to ask? We’re making it very tactical and practical for these leaders. To end a meeting, before I end a meeting, if I haven’t heard from David Rock, I’m going to pause and I’m going to say, “Hey, David, I really want to know what you think about this. What might I be missing?” Right? It’s not that hard. But it makes a huge difference. 


My boss, our CHRO, will call me up and say, “Hey, Sara, how did I do in that presentation? And what advice do you have for me?” And it’s so effective in building trust and connection, and is really leading people to have conversations that they might not have had before. And it’s making us so much better and smarter.


[00:44:22] DR: No. Thanks. That’s fantastic. I want to kind of go back to something earlier about sort of how you make this work and compelling. We had Stanley Black & Decker a couple of years ago. We did some work with them. And they make all these tools and hardware and stuff. And I didn’t know until I went there, but they released like over a thousand new tools a year. I was like, “How do you release a thousand new tools? And how do you know which ones you should keep and throw out and all the stuff?” And they said, “Oh, it’s really simple. The ones that are really valuable are the ones that people use every week. We just kind of mystery shop out different people using our tools and we look for the ones that they’re using a lot and we invest more in those.” 


And one of the things we know is that people use easy tools. They use tools that are easy, right? The easier something is, the more people use it. And we had a whole session on this at the summit on fluency. We launched what we call the fact model, which is fluency, amount, coherence and time, which is a way of working within cognitive capacity of people. And what ends up happening is that it’s so easy to recall seek, speak and listen that it becomes the go to tool that you keep on your belt and you use all the time. 


And this is something that organizations miss all the time in doing change, is that if you can make something so simple that people use it many times a week, that’s when you start to win. And we had this result at Microsoft, which their framework was clarity, energy, success. That’s what leaders need to do. So simple. Easy to remember. But getting to simplicity is hard. As Mark Twain said, like getting something simple is difficult. And also, it can’t be simple. But now, there has to be real reasons why you’re choosing those things, they have to really make a difference. Anyone can come up with simple and banal. 


So fluency is a really, really important construct and a really big part of how this stuff works. But you can’t do fluency without real validity, biological validity. So we didn’t just pluck these habits out of the air. It was two and a half years of research to say, “These are the critical habits for creating a culture of speaking up.” And we debated internally and externally with experts literally for two and a half years to identify which habits really create a culture of speaking up. So there’s a lot behind it that I think is super important. 


A couple of last quick questions, Sara. Then we’ll let you go. A lot of people asking about sort of accountability, and measurement, and this kind of stuff. And it’s interesting, I see a lot of sort of the mandatory mindset coming in every time we talk about this stuff. Everything we’ve tried to do is sort of tried to be on the compelling side. But was there any processes that you did to sort of measure or create accountability or structure around this? Or is it all been on the kind of more growth mindset side? Anything you can say to that?


[00:46:59] SB: Yeah. I do think it’s a hybrid. And in fact, for 2021, we felt that seek, speak and listen was so important and so foundational to our future that it became the individual performance differentiator for our annual review cycle. And we didn’t complexify it. We kept it really simple. But we did say to leaders, part of a person’s evaluation is how well they embodied seek, speak and listen, the seek, speak and listen habits. 


So that has a very natural kind of forcing function. People want to be good at it when they know that they’re going to be sort of evaluated on it. But really, I think it’s that social pressure that you talked about, David, that it’s coming from our CEO. Our CEO has roundtables with employees. They’re called seek, speak and listen sessions. Are BU president do the same thing. 


So when your leaders are doing that, you better get on the train, because it’s going with or without you. So I think that that social pressure has been really important. But yeah, we had – I can’t even tell you the hours we spent debating whether this should be mandatory or not. But I think we ended in a really good place.


[00:48:07] DR: Yeah. At 96% and 2.4 million employee engagements. So I think you made the right decision, because those employee engagements were by choice. People wanted to be there. If, you could have done it mandatory, if I had to guess, you’d get literally a quarter of that. And a big chunk of those people would be annoyed. So it’s a really interesting way to think about. 


One last question here, is there any other data that you can share in terms of impact, like engagement scores, or other metrics? Is there anything you’ve been tracking that you’re able to share yet? It might be too soon. But anything you’re able to share there?


[00:48:38] SB: Well, we are tracking a lot of things. We’re also looking at how managers view their own seek, speak and listen versus individuals, and represented versus non-represented. So there’s a lot in the mix. But overall, what we’re seeing is that people continue to engage with the habits. They continue to say that the habits are helping them achieve their business outcomes, are helping them identify issues before they become problems. And there’s a higher sense that their teammates, care about them as people, and care about their happiness. 


And I know it may sound soft, or it may sound fluffy, but coming to a place of work where you feel cared for I think is baseline for innovation, creativity and teamwork. And those are the ingredients for success. So this work has been a gift not only to work on as a leader. But we’re so proud and so grateful to have done this work, partnered with NLI to have had the leaders we’ve had, to champion it and to see the uptake from our teammates. It’s the highlight of my career, really, doing this work.


[00:49:43] DR: Oh, I’m getting shivers. That’s amazing. I mean, I think the one take home is when your CEO starts doing seek, speak and listen sessions regularly. You know you’ve got something going. That’s a great test of an initiative really, really working. 


Sara, I’m so thrilled that we made the decision to invite you back, and even more thrilled that you were able to make the time. A number of people said this is our best event ever. So we’re thrilled that you’re able. And thanks for bringing this alive for people. A couple of people are asking about kind of how do I understand the habits? This is based on a voice solution, which was based on two and a half years of research on speaking up. 


Sara, thank you so much. You know, the thing I want to thank you most is just for your willingness to follow the science. We’re in the business of whole company change, and was so passionate about trying to find the right science. And we learn more every year. But we’re just so honored and privileged to partner with an organization that was willing to really, really think deeply about the science and then act boldly. It’s been an incredible initiative. 


I know we’re doing a write up soon. We’re working together on that. So there will be something out in public where we can share some of this. At the moment, there’s nothing public. Although if you Google seek, speak and listen Boeing, you can see a bit of the stuff that’s been put out by Boeing themselves. But there’ll be a case study white paper coming out at some point soon. 


So Sara, I’ll let you jump off. I’ve got a couple of quick announcements. Folks, stay with me for another 30 seconds while Sarah jumps off. But just a huge thank you again for being with us. A couple of really quick things. Folks, I want to tell you about a couple of big things happening. This is the first one. If you’re interested in the deeper science of this, we’re launching a practitioner masterclass. So six months of research, and practice, and application, particularly DE&I, first of all. We’re launching in a couple of months, but it’s officially happening. It’s a virtual program, online program that’s synchronous with peers. You’re going to have an opportunity to spend six months diving into our research on DEI and how you really launch this in an organization. 


So just put masterclass in and you’ll see some more information about this coming out. We’ve also launched what we call an in-practice series. So we’re going deeper on bias within in-practice series. We’ll go deeper on voice with an in-practice series. This is coming out as well. And we launched at a summit recently research on de-escalation, calm, the neuroscience of de-escalation, and also care, which is our work on empathy. So this is some new solutions coming out. 


I think that’s it for me. Just know that we’re passionate about staying closely connected to folks. If you’re from an organization and passionate about our work, visit neuroleadership.com/insiders. Get connected. We have a session once a month with people who just want to talk about the research and brainstorm together. It’s a great community. 


And then finally, we’re hiring. You’ll see in neuroleadership.comcareers. We talk a lot about the summit. Next year is the next big summit we’re going to run, November 2023, both in New York and virtual. Do a parallel. 


So thanks so much, everyone, for being here. Big thank you again to Sara. And take care of yourselves, look after each other and keep doing what matters. Thanks all. Bye-bye.


[00:52:41] SW: Thanks, everyone. Thank you so much, David and Sarah. Such an inspiring conversation. So have a great weekend, and we will see you next week. 




[00:52:53] 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, Mary Kelly, and me, Shelby Wilburn. Original music is by Grant Zubritsky. And logo design is by Catch Wear. Thanks for joining us. And we’ll see you next week.



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