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October 17th, 2022

Your Brain At Work LIVE – S7:E15 | Using Growth Mindset to Build Your Flexible Workplace Strategy with Guest Akamai

As companies navigate the complex world of hybrid work, our research shows that cultivating a sense of autonomy and fairness across your organization can significantly improve employee commitment and performance. But while it can be easy to understand this in theory, in practice, many leaders find it difficult to adjust to new management habits.

In the next installment of our growth mindset series, we’ll connect with leaders from Akamai Technologies to explore how they’ve harnessed growth mindset to build out their global flex-based talent strategy providing a case study in how to make hybrid work at your organization.

Episode Transcript





[00:00:02] SW: Welcome back to season 7, episode 15 of Your Brain at Work podcast. As companies navigate the complex world of hybrid work, our research shows that cultivating a sense of autonomy and fairness across your organization can significantly improve employee commitment and performance. But while it can be easy to understand this in theory, in practice, many leaders find it difficult to adjust to new management habits.


In the next installment of our growth mindset series, we’ll connect with leaders from Akamai Technologies to explore how they’ve harnessed growth mindset to build out their global flex-based talent strategy providing a case study in how to make hybrid work at your organization. 


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 webinar series. This week, our show is a conversation between Marshall Bergmann, Senior Vice President of Corporate Solutions North America for the NeuroLeadership Institute, Michelle Bartlett, Director of Change Management at Akamai Technologies; and John Civello, Vice President of Global Real Estate and Workplace Productivity at Akamai Technologies. Enjoy.




[00:01:10] SW: Hello to all of our viewers across the world, and welcome back to another week of Your Brain at Work Live. I’m your host, Shelby Wilburn. In this week’s episode we’ll connect with leaders from Akamai Technologies to explore how they’ve harnessed growth mindset to build their global flex-based talent strategy. 


Now, before we get started, we’re sending a big hello out to our audience today. For our regulars, it’s great to have you back. For those of you that are new to Your Brain at Work Live, welcome to the party. For some context, it is the title of one of the best-selling books by our CEO and Co-Founder, Dr. David Rock, and it’s also the name of our blog and podcast. 


Now, let’s introduce our speakers for today. Our first guest worked for KBase, a cognizant company, for 11 years running a change management practice that consisted of 20 remote change practitioners. She spent those 11 years helping over 100 organizations, including Akamai, to move through change. Today, she serves at Akamai Technologies where she has the pleasure of working with leadership she thought she’d only imagined existing. She’s a certified Scrum Master, certified agile change agent, and president of the Association of Change Management Professionals New England Chapter, and former co-chair of the Celiac Support Group for Boston Children’s Hospital. Please join me in welcoming Director of Change Management at Akamai Technologies, Michelle Bartlett. Michelle, it’s great to have you here today.


[00:02:30] MBartlett: Thank you so much, Shelby. Looking forward to our conversation. 


[00:02:34] SW: Our next guest has held leadership positions in all aspects of corporate real estate, including site development, leasing, project management and workplace transformation over his 25-year career. He received his bachelor’s in economics from Boston University and began his career working at the Massachusetts port authority working in the aviation real estate department at Logan International Airport in Boston. 


Since his journey began, he’s previously served as vice president of corporate real estate and workplace at PTC Inc. and spent 17 years working in corporate real estate at EMC Corporation, ultimately driving global strategy and managing a diversified space portfolio of over 6 million square feet. Please join me in welcoming Vice President of Global Real Estate and Workplace Productivity for Akamai Technologies, John Civello. John, it’s great to have you here today. 


[00:03:24] JC: Great to be with you, Shelby. Looking forward to the discussion. 


[00:03:27] SW: And for our final guest, as captain of our sales content and marketing teams, he is no stranger to the business world. He’s a numbers guy, but also has an abundance of experience developing and implementing solutions and initiatives that transform the way leaders and their organizations think and behave. He’s also presented at TEDxGramercy about how the power of games can drive behavioral change in business. A warm welcome as I pass the mic to Senior Vice President of Corporate Solutions at the NeuroLeadership Institute, Marshall Bergman. Great to have you here, Marshall. And I’m passing it over to you. 


[00:03:58] MBergmann: Thanks, Shelby. Thank you for the wonderful welcome. And Michelle and John, thank you for joining us today. I’m really looking forward to the conversation. 


Before we get started, and I know this conversation’s going to be great, I’m just going to give you a quick overview of a little bit about the story of NLI and Akamai. Talk a little bit about the structure of today and make sure that all of our participants know how to get the most out of the experience. I’m really looking forward to it. 


As Shelby mentioned, my name is Marshall Bergmann. I’m the Senior Vice President of Corporate Solutions here at NLI. And I’m really excited to have Michelle and John here to talk about how their work at Akamai to deploy a flexible workplace strategy that not only enables Akamai’s ability to achieve its strategic and business goals, but actually keeps human beings at the center of it all. 


And for those who know NLI, our tagline is making organizations more human through science. And I’m really excited to talk with Michelle and John today, because they took not just what they needed to understand from the real estate world, in the change management world, but also some of the latest science on what do people actually need in workplaces of the future. Really looking forward to sharing that with you. 


And for those of you who don’t know Akamai, you really should. We can all thank akamai for us being able to have this event right here. For those who don’t know Akamai, probably runs roughly around 25% of the entire world’s Internet traffic across their servers. 


During the pandemic, if you were streaming some show, binge watching on a weekend, or trying to connect with your team members, you can thank Akamai and their team for all the work that they did. Really important work. And I highlight that, because when you’re designing a flexible workplace strategy for an organization that has such mission critical work, it really brings up some really interesting challenges. How do you meet your customers’ needs with zero percent downtime while still recognizing that the people who work for you have lives that they need to live and need workplaces and organizations that can be effective? 


Today’s interview is going to be organized into three chapters. First, we’re going to talk about the work that we’ve done with Akamai over the last three years that helped them evolve their culture in ways that really enabled them to be able to make these changes that they’re implementing right now. Chapter one, we’re going to talk about kind of the history of the work that we’ve done and how that set Akamai up for success. Chapter two, we’re going to get really into the actual flex-based program. What’s the design? What are some of the principles? And why did they make certain decisions that they made around the program? And then chapter three, we’re going to really talk about how the rollout’s been going. How are people reacting to it? What surprises has Michelle and John run into that they couldn’t expect? And what things they’ve been delighted about? And what things might they need to change in the future? Really be a story in three chapters. Really looking forward to having the conversation. 


Now, why don’t we start off with the first question? I think, Michelle, this one will go to you. Talk to us a little bit about the GROW program at Akamai and the kind of cultural evolution that you’ve been on over the last three years. Well, yeah. Why don’t we just start there? 


[00:06:58] MBartlett: That’s great. We had actually started our GROW program with NLI at Akamai two years prior to the pandemic. I think that was huge for us, because we already started sort of shifting our mindset and being more open to viewing changes as challenges versus threats. And so, I think that was really a great start for us. We were heavily into this program. 


And as NLI coaches us, we shouldn’t make this a required training, which we did not. But we were very thoughtful about having leadership who our sponsor, executive sponsor, was going to be. And it was our CEO, Tom Leighton, which really helped us there in getting the program out there and visible. And he was actively supporting that and visible. 


We really can thank Bill Willard, who is our Senior Director of Global Talent Development, for bringing this to us. And we started really talking about it a lot, right? We would have senior leaders posting about it and talking about using the word yet, “I’m not good at this yet.” It gave us a lot of help in kind of getting through that portion and just feeling like it’s okay that we’re not amazing at everything right now. We’re not there yet. 


I think it really helped us through this journey and getting prepared for the pandemic, although we didn’t know that was going to happen. But of course, that helped us learn things like relatedness. As we moved into the pandemic and we were sitting home and working from home, we could actually start our meetings by relating to each other no matter where we were in the world. We were all sort of going through the same things. We were either taking care of kids, or parents, or struggling with the fact that we didn’t have a great setup at home. And so, we could share insights to having the same issue. But here’s how I solved for that. And really learning from each other. I think that put us in a really good place to be prepared and help each other through the pandemic. 


[00:09:11] MBergmann: Wonderful. Thanks, Michelle. Just so people get a sense of what we’re talking about here, I’ll let Michelle – Or, John, you can comment on this just a moment. But what Michelle’s talking about is really they work with us to build a pathway of different solutions. These are actually NIL solutions but branded in a very Akamai way, which I love the branding by the way. It’s very, very cool. Focused on teaching people individual different habits. Grow around what Michelle was talking about. Learning to experiment. Learning to say that I don’t have to be great at everything yet. Include. Focusing on inclusion. Decide. Making decisions without bias. Voice. Creating a culture where people speak up. And then this activate program, which actually brought all of this into action so people could use it every day. 


I guess I’ll just – I think you were getting into a little bit of the habits around grow that you saw that people started to use the word yet. You talked about inclusion. Making that relatedness with people. And for those that who know NLI well, that really includes the SCARD model, which talks about social threat and reward. But Michelle or John, anything else from the program that you particularly saw change in Akamai? 


What I’d like to try to get to for this question is when you walked around the halls or you were on the video calls, what were you seeing differently? Like, how were people behaving differently after they started to experience some of this content? What did you see people do that was new or unexpected based on what they had learned? 


[00:10:32] MBartlett: Well, I think we have a lot of really smart, smart people at Akamai who also don’t want to kind of get things wrong or be speaking up if they’re not quite sure of the full solution. And so, really, GROW, helped them realize that we were okay with learning from failures. And I myself started sharing failures with my team, for example. I would basically tell them where I might have fallen down and might have made a mistake and what I learned from that. And actually, they helped me kind of talk through some things that they might do differently so that we could come up with different solutions. 


More people were kind of speaking up and actually feeling comfortable figuring out ways to be more inclusive, which our program, that John will get into, is a lot around, right? We wanted to figure out how to really make people feel included. How to make sure that we took away some of the stigma of them feeling like they have biases and they shouldn’t. By actually just labeling that and saying, “Hey, if you have a brain, you have bias. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re less smart. It doesn’t mean anything like that. It is just that we are human and we naturally have bias. And that’s okay. We just need to understand what that is. 


[00:12:01] MBergmann: Yeah. That’s a beautiful story. Thank you, Michelle. And what you were talking about here of an organization that was going through all sorts of change. Clients canceling workshops and things like that. Not sure what we were going to do. There’s always this tension as a leader to feel like I’ve got everything all figured out. And so, kudos to you just saying like, “Hey, I don’t have everything all figured out.” Showing that vulnerability. 


And what we’re sensing a lot right now these days is the more leaders can create that sense of psychological safety, that it’s okay to not be perfect every day, really is helping people be more effective at work, and keeping them at work, and keeping them engaged with their company. Well done for you. And it’s not easy to do that. As someone – You’re the change management expert, Michelle. How could you make a mistake? 


[00:12:47] MBartlett: There’s plenty of those to share. 


[00:12:49] MBergmann: What about you, John? Anything that you observed in your world? 


[00:12:52] JC: Yeah, I’ll just say – And I think Michelle touched on it. This training – These concepts were extremely helpful when we went through the crisis of going into a pandemic and sending everybody home, right? As she mentioned, we used and flexed the different skills. 


What I guess I’m particularly excited about is all of this moved in and filtered into our formal flex-based program. The training and the concepts that we went through with GROW not only got us through that crisis, but also became fundamental in the long-term workplace strategy for Akamai. 


And I can say that when we went down that road, in the beginning, I’m not sure I thought that would happen or was thinking in that manner. Because the training is so pervasive in the corporation and the culture now that it just worked out that way. It’s super exciting when I look back at the program we’ve created and see how these concepts are entwined with every aspect of our future workplace strategy. 


[00:13:40] MBergmann: Yeah, I love that. And we’ll tackle that. We’ll let you share about the future workplace strategy in just a moment. I think it’s really great you said that once these concepts become habits, as we talk about at NLI, they really become part of the DNA of your organization. Whenever you look at a problem, you’re looking at it through that lens of growth mindset. Or you’re looking through that lens of inclusion. It becomes part of your way of thinking. We call these breakthrough models, where it really changes the way you view the world. And so, I’m thrilled to hear that we were able to help you with that.


And for me personally, when I learned about growth mindset, I view all sorts of things differently because of that. I’m a sales leader, right? I have to focus on the numbers at the end of the month. But you can’t always achieve those numbers at the end of the month, right? You have to apply some of those concepts as well. That’s really great. 


John, I’m going to move ahead to your piece here. We can talk a little bit about the flex-based program. But one question I do want to hear about, because I’m intrigued by your background in the real estate world, how did you end up being one of the leads here around this flex-based program? Obviously, you’ve got to worry about all the square footage that you manage and all of that. But what was the involvement from a leadership perspective? Or even, who was that cross-functional team that worked on this together? 


[00:14:50] JC: Sure. I guess, an example, my own career trajectory. I started off in [inaudible 00:14:54] real estate, which is everything from finding a site, building it out, developing the plans, moving people into the space. And as I progressed in my career, I’ve just gravitated to more of the, I guess, less operational and more strategic aspects of the business. And I think it gets to the reason I wound up at Akamai, is I report to Anthony Williams, our Chief Human Resources Officer. I came to Akamai because I see what I do as strategically important to the business and part of the employee experience. That’s why I came to Akamai, because I’m part of the HR organization. 


I didn’t know a pandemic would happen right after I joined. But I look at my role as not just corporate real estate, but the workplace strategy and how people engage with the space and what we can do to foster collaboration and success. And we know that that’s different for everyone that comes into an office, whether it’s one day a week or five days a week. Now, the entire process has been turned on its head and transformed. I’m thrilled to be part of HR. I’m thrilled to be part of this organization, this team, that put together the program for me. This is really the high value activity that I can do on a day-to-day basis. Because it’s a way to really influence the trajectory and the success of the company.


[00:15:58] MBergmann: Love that. Fantastic. Well, thank you for that overview. Take us through the program that you’ve put together. 


[00:16:02] JC: Sure. Just quickly, to level set, before we move to our future work program. In October of 2019, when I joined Akamai, it was a very traditional strategy program. When I started, I went to my orientation. And they took me to the headquarters. And they brought me to my office with my name on the door. 


Like most of us have worked in the past, everyone had an assigned seat. Everybody was expected to come in on a daily basis. Although, on a Friday, admittedly, there’s probably less people in the office. Most people are working from home. But it was a traditional program. 


Obviously, when the pandemic came in March of 2020, we sent everybody home. We went from essentially everybody on-site to everybody remote. I would consider that for us like a crisis situation that we managed through. And it probably took us, I want to say, from March of 2020 through August to just kind of get stabilized and continue to operate our company with everyone remote and, of course, all the uncertainty with the virus. 


And it was in September of 2020 that Anthony pulled together a team of individuals to start working on future work at Akamai. We’ve been working on it for a long time. When you think about we started in September of 2020, and we launched the program formally in May of 2022. It’s been a long road. 


The philosophy, we want to promote flexibility. Because it supports our employees helps productivity and is good for our business. It’s important that employees know why we’re making this transformation. And then the guiding principles, I won’t read through all of them. But I think it’s important to know that we want to provide flexibility for our employees. Let them decide whether to work from home or the office. We want to be consistently defined about the role and the work performed. 


The approach of our program is we evaluated every role in the company and we decided which roles could be done remotely and which had some level of office requirements. We wanted to make really sure that this was not an arbitrary or inconsistent program. And that gets to the fact that we want to treat everyone equitably. And of course, we have to leverage the growth mindset, right? This is a major transformation. When you think all of us in our careers, we’ve worked in a traditional manner. Going to the office on a frequency or four or five days a week. Now you’re telling employees it’s up to them to make a choice about how often they want to engage in the space. The work that Michelle and her team are doing is absolutely critical for our success.


[00:18:09] MBergmann: Fantastic. I would imagine that there’s many people in the audience right now who are thinking those guiding principles look brilliant. That’s exactly what I want in my organization. But how can we get our leadership to understand that these are sort of core principles? Was there a lot of debate around any of these particular principles? Were there any that were more challenging than others for you all to decide on? 


[00:18:31] JC: Well, there was certainly a lot of debate. Absolutely. No doubt about it. It took a lot of work to get to this point. But generally, I have to say that our CEO and our senior leadership were very progressive in this area from the beginning, right? And that was a huge benefit to me and the rest of the team, that they were very open-minded. They saw the pandemic as a transformational event. That helped. And they also really embraced it and are leading by example. 


I had a concern that if we put in a program that was this progressive but our senior leaders all came into the office every day, you’d have a program. But they necessarily wouldn’t be living by it and setting an example. And they’re doing that, right? We’re super blessed to have leaders that are talking to talk, but walking the walk when it comes to the program. 


I think probably the biggest friction may have been around, frankly, managers. Managers have teams that they have to manage. And they’ve been doing it a certain way for a long time. This is myself included. I struggle with how do I keep my team connected. How do I keep people engaged? How do I share best practices? These are all things that we could do in the office previously. But again, I guess what you said earlier, we’ve acknowledged from the beginning, this is really hard, right? It’s going to be harder I think to be a manager in a hybrid world than maybe it was in the old world. 


But I think it’s okay. We have to acknowledge that. And then we have to equip managers with the training and the techniques to get through this. But we’ve made that acknowledgement right from the beginning that there are going to be challenges going forward with this model. But to think we can go back to the traditional way of working post-pandemic, that was recognized very early as not being realistic. 


[00:19:55] MBergmann: Yeah. I’ll come to you in just a moment, Michelle. I actually thought about, because a lot of our research has shown, and the research keeps tilting towards more flexibility, more autonomy for workers. But there is this tension that managers want less of that. Because the more autonomy I give my people, the less control I feel as a manager. And there’s just this fundamental tension there. 


[00:20:18] JC: Oh, absolutely. I mean, that’s the whole discussion between presence and performance, right? And that’s really hard. Jn my own career, when I started at EMC, I mean, you had to be in five days a week. And you better be there by eight. And don’t be leaving at five. And wear a suit. And I had a manager that would walk down the cubes at 5:15 on a Friday in July to see who was there and who wasn’t. It was about presence there. 


Now, we need to get managers thinking more about, “Okay, what is the performance? What’s the output?” regardless of where this employee is. And it gets to trust. Absolutely. I mean, trust is a huge element of the program, clearly. When we’re letting employees make a determination about what works best for them and where they work from, you have to have a substantial amount of trust in your people to implement a program like this. 


[00:21:00] MBergmann: Yeah, fantastic. Michelle, anything to add to that topic? 


[00:21:02] MBartlett: I mean, we did a ton of surveying on our employees. And I think it was a really key thing for us to do over the last couple years. Surveying them to understand what they wanted in the future? What they needed? Understanding you know how they felt about certain elements of the program without sort of releasing that. We got a lot of feedback from employees. And ultimately, we listened, right? 


And so, I think being able to show them, “You provided your feedback here. And this is what we’re doing in response to that,” I think was a really big deal for our employees. Because they weren’t sure that we were actually listening to that. We listen in surveys so much. That is what drives a lot of our decisions. And our leaders were just so amazing at that, looking at the feedback that they were giving and finding ways that we could do that and we could kind of flip the whole script and make that happen. I mean, ultimately, it’s employee feedback and it’s studied research. This solution answers all of that. We’re really proud to be able to offer exactly what our employees wanted. 


[00:22:16] MBergmann: Yeah. That’s actually sort of almost following the scientific principle there. Like, do the research. Experiment. Look at the data. And then adjust, right? And so, I think that a lot of organizations – And we’ve heard countless organizations just trying to figure out like, “What’s the best thing for the most people?” And what the data is showing is that there is no most people. Everyone is really different. And it’s really hard to pick one policy that works for everyone. Again, I think focusing like at this top where possible provide employees the flexibility of work at home makes a lot of sense. 


In terms of like virtual teams and configuration of real estate, have there been any changes in how you’ve organized your physical workspaces to support this structure? 


[00:23:00] JC: Well, sure. Absolutely. And there’s been some. I would say there’s a lot more coming in the future. The way we approached that was, when we launched our program, we asked employees to let us know how often they intended to come in, right? So, we’re given this opportunity. We socialized the program. Last summer in January, we launched our tool, where employees would go in, verify their home address, their location, the jurisdiction that their home is located in, and then make a declaration as to how often they intended to come to the office. Now, we’re not holding them to that. But we felt it was important to understand what level of mobility people would be looking for. 


And then we took that data and we provided it to our consultant, Gensler, who we’re working with globally. And Gensler has run models now about what they anticipate our future utilization will be in our offices. And obviously, that’s a much smaller number in terms of space. We know that requirement is going to change. But we also know that we have to change the physical space. We think that we’ll have more people collaborating when they come in. We think we’ll likely have, frankly, larger on-site meetings. Maybe fewer on-site meetings. But larger ones. We need to alter our space. 


We’re working on a standard that we’re going to implement globally around these concepts. We haven’t started off proactively. It’s been more of a reaction to see what people want. We’re surveying, as Michelle said, to get feedback. We have the ability to pull the data about meetings that are scheduled. How many people? How many big rooms are being used? How many small rooms? How many hollow rooms? We will be changing the build out of our offices, if you will, to support hybrid work. 


But we’re also, to your earlier point, are mindful of the fact that some people come into the office because they can’t work from home. And they need to come into the office to actually do focused work. It’s not a one-size-fits-all. It’s not, “Okay. Well, 80% of the people need collaboration. So, that’s we’re going to build to.” We really kind of have to dial it in. And to do that, we need to do more research, spend some more time. We’re anticipating a lot of changes to the physical space. Likely, more collaborative, more flexible. But we’re going to let people come back and experience hybrid work for a little bit and get their feedback before we start making major alterations. 


[00:24:59] MBartlett: I think we’re ultimately looking to have people experiment right now. We’ve been on multiple meetings, calls, where we’re suggesting to people, “You might not know what you prefer. Maybe you selected this in our system that you’re going to work from the office for two days.” And you go in on those two days and it’s a disaster for you. Then don’t do those two days. Choose two different days. Or maybe just play around with this and see what type of space works best for you.


Like John said, we only launched a month ago. We’re still trying to encourage people to experiment more and then provide us that feedback so that we can understand what that looks like and make some really informed decisions. 


[00:25:43] MBergmann: Amazing. I mean, this whole, obviously, growth mindset. I mean, I can literally see the different concepts from the programs that we’ve worked with you built into this, right? The top flexibilities all around. Autonomy from our SCARF program. Location requirements defined by the role and work performed. Not by manager preference. That’s clearly avoiding bias, right? Work treated equitably. That’s inclusion and bias, right? It’s all there. And then growth mindset. Literally, the language is used there. That’s great. 


I guess the question I have for you, Michelle, is, is everyone comfortable with that level of autonomy and flexibility? That people as eager to experiment as you or I might be? Tell me about that. 


[00:26:21] MBartlett: Yeah. It’s a really great question. And I think it has definitely evolved and changed. I think, at the beginning, some loved it, and some hated it. And I think part of that was fearfulness, right? They were just a little bit afraid. It was new concept to them. They weren’t sure how they would actually run their business. But if you think about the fact that we were sort of forced into this experimentation by the pandemic and saw that we actually didn’t lose productivity, we were very productive. And we still maintained our culture, which folks were afraid of us losing. But really, I think folks have learned that our culture is us. And we make that. 


And so, being able to experiment, voice their opinion, have some equal space in a meeting in our little boxes really helped folks kind of feel connected still and feel the fairness. I think it definitely took some time. I think we have a lot of engineers, too, that are extremely smart. They are also – Their job is basically to find problems that are woven in here. But we were just being clear, open and honest and giving that autonomy. And I think that’s hard for folks to get their arms around, though, because they’re supposed to. Their job is to find the issues that aren’t shown. 


And so, they poked a lot. And a lot of their questions really helped us understand where we needed to be more clear in our communication and maybe where we needed to do some scenario-based trainings to kind of talk through these things and experiment with each other and ask them for feedback, right? Give them a scenario and say, “How would you do this? Or how could you make this more inclusive? Or how could you do this? We posed a lot of questions to them that really helped us as well in designing the program. 


[00:28:24] MBergmann: I love that. I mean, you’re basically using your employees to identify problems. And then you’re crowdsourcing solutions those problems so that when they get the solutions back, if not Michelle or John’s solution, it’s, “Hey, this is the solution you all came back with. That’s brilliant.” Again, just great example of using that growth mindset to say like, “Hey, we might not be right. Let’s learn from each other.” And again, that’s hard for leaders in organizations to accept that this plan you’ve been – I mean, you worked on it for two years, right? It’s got to be perfect. Doesn’t it? But I think that your attitude of it, “Hey, it’s not going to be perfect even though we worked on it for two years.” There’s a very different way of thinking about it. 


Two questions for you. Number one is I’d love for one of you to comment. You’ve talked about the leadership a little bit. We, at NLI, always say like leadership, sponsorship. Making this important for people. Making sure people understand as a priority is really important. Any guidance that you can give our audience on how they should be encouraging their leaders to behave during changes like this would be great? And then the second thing was, how do you actually capture that feedback around how things are working? Was it formal? Was it informal? Was there certain surveys or questionnaires, Michelle, that you were asking? Michelle, you nodded on that last one. So, let me let you take that last question. Then maybe, John, talk a little bit about the leadership stuff. 


[00:29:34] MBartlett: Yeah, sure. There were a ton of ways that we got feedback and a ton of ways that we explored kind of socializing that. I’ll talk about our change team on this project. It’s a small change team. But Bill Bangs and I are both directors of change management in different areas, right? I sort of work in IT. He’s in HR. And we collaborate on this program. 


We established a group of change agents that we call change catalysts. And these folks really helped us – They were to help us get the messaging out, right? And we also have monthly meetings with these folks. We spent time sort of training them to be really good change agents and what that meant. And then we asked them to give us – It was two-way feedback. We would have monthly meetings with them. We have a teams chat with them where they can share feedback. But we also ask them to build narrative. And these narratives were around building belief. 


Essentially, we know that when someone believes in a change, they are more likely to actually you know support it. It increases job satisfaction, retention. This was important for us to understand and have them build the narratives. The reason they would build the narratives is because belief and the importance of certain things, certain items in that, are kind of different per business unit, or potentially per user. 


And so, we really wanted it to resonate with folks. They built these narratives and they would talk to their business units. Maybe in team meetings. Some were all hands for those different areas. And we get a lot of feedback on those. We were able to incorporate that. Bring that back to our flex-based team, John and Kerry, to sort of make some decisions that we could then take forward again and say, “Hey, we heard you.” And this is, “How about this?” We were able to iterate on certain things, certain aspects of the program with them. That was really helpful. 


We also had a great communications team. And our communications team really helped us in doing a video series for leaders. And leaders would share sort of their insights of some of the challenges they were experiencing. And it kind of, I think, put individuals a little bit more at ease seeing, “Oh, this isn’t just a walk in the park for them either. They’re going through the same thing I am.” And they could learn from you know their leaders. Kind of get some face time with them to hear that. 


And I think you know we sort of have folks learning from each other. We’re experimenting as we go the entire time where folks are blogging and sharing those insights. And we’re bringing those into a bi-weekly email series that we have to share those with the rest of the company. 


We’ve done a lot of reinforcement in many different ways, and crowdsourcing, and then taking that back and saying, “Hey, we adjusted. Here’s how we’re going to handle that.” 


[00:32:44] MBergmann: All amazing strategies. And again, just continually exhibiting that growth mindset. To me, I would just – Like, clearly, there is a great case here being made for growth mindset really helping in any sort of thing. 


Let’s shift gears a little bit over to John. And John, you can either talk about the leader question. Or I know you have a couple more here that you’d like to talk through. Either way is fine for me. 


[00:33:06] JC: Sure. Just quickly in the leadership question. We were lucky that our CEO established workplace transformation as one of the five top goals for the company. That’s great to get that type of sponsorship. Obviously, that’s massive pressure on the project team. It cuts both ways. But he’s been highly engaged throughout the process. 


And so have – There’s a group of the top six or seven executives in the company. As the broader team we’re creating the program – And that was a large team of maybe 20 to 30 people. Experts in everything. From real estate, taxation, payroll, all the different disciplines you’d need to have a global program. As we were creating the program, we were having regular checkpoints with that leadership team. And they’re very engaged and are happy to give you feedback. We were, to a certain extent, co-creating with the executive leadership throughout the process. And that’s how involved they were with the creation of the program. 


I can just give you an example. Flex-based is our program. We have two designations for all of our employees. You either at office, which means that you have some minimal requirement of coming into the office. It could be one day. It could be five days. Or you’re at flex, which means that you don’t have a dependency to be in office. 


I can tell you that when I first brought this forward, I think we had four different categories. And the response from leadership was way too complicated. And then I think went back with three. No. That’s not good. So, we got to two, right? That’s just a – It’s an anecdote. But it’s an example of the level of engagement we got from our senior leaders. They feel ownership in the program because they directly influenced the final product. 


[00:34:26] MBergmann: Wonderful. 


[00:34:26] JC: And I just wanted to see the percentages here, right? 95 are at flex. 5% have a requirement to come into the office. A lot of those folks are part of my team. If you’re in physical security, you kind of have to come into the office, right? And we have knocked people that have to come in on a regular basis. But the vast majority of employees are able to make a choice about how often they want to come into the office.


[00:34:45] MBergmann: Yeah. And I think what’s really – I mean, first of all, I think we always talk about giving people choice. But too much choice is too much. And making things easy for people to understand is incredibly valuable. Just having, “Oh, are you at work? Are you at flex?” Easy. One or the other – Everyone understands. I’m sure that that’s common language now. I’m sure that when you hire people, you say, “Oh, this is an at-flex job.” It just becomes so easy. 


There’s incredible power in simplicity of messaging for people. And people underestimate it. But just going back to the neuroscience, our poor little prefrontal cortex can’t keep lots of concepts present at any one time. And we’ve got a lot on our minds right now. Trying to figure out if you’re in one of eight different categories, way too complicated. Let’s just make it clear, “Hey, this is an at-office. This is an at-flex job. Great. Fantastic.” I love, love, love that. And again, great use of the neuroscience there. 


How are you handling those employees who clearly need to be micromanaged? Maybe there are people that need like very obvious supervision. And maybe they’re in an at-flex role. How are you giving that, kind of like you said, performance verse presence? How are you making sure that the performance levels stay for an entry-level job or someone who needs to answer and solve a bunch of help tickets in a certain amount of time? 


[00:36:05] MBartlett: We’re actually doing that in a little bit of a different way. We’re providing more support and training for our managers to really help them understand how to effectively you know handle performance issues. But a lot of it is around communication and setting expectations, right? 


And so, having that open communication and talking about what you expect of somebody. We’ve put out a lot of these sort of nudges, we call them, that we put out to our change catalyst to say, “Here are some suggestions around how you can have certain conversations,” right? Here are some conversation starters. But really understanding having managers and employees talking about that openly. What’s expected? What’s being achieved? That’s really an important part for us. 


We used to have something we call people manager essentials, PME info hours quarterly. But now we’ve increased it to monthly throughout the last two years. And really, what that was around was helping managers with that type of thing, right? Communicating that to them. Doing some scenario-based training and actually seeing where they were maybe struggling. And at times, I think we found that managers felt like they needed to micromanage. But that wasn’t necessarily the case, right? We saw it with productivity. 


I think understanding or taking a look and constantly revising how we’re measuring that and what we’re looking at is different, right? We had a lot of people that were just really open about issues they were having during COVID. Or maybe I need some time off. And we really helped to support each other through it. 


You saw a lot of teams sort of picking up slack for others. I think folks actually ultimately felt a little bit overworked, and we had to adjust the other way and help them through that piece. I think it’s mostly around training and around expectations.


[00:38:04] MBergmann: Got it. Yeah, we found, and our research has shown that managers, or many managers, I wouldn’t say all, are ill-equipped to handle the challenges of these new work environments. And we talk about when you’re driving a change initiative, we talk about there’s really three key elements to drive a change initiative. Making sure people understand it’s important. That’s the priority side of things. 


And so, I think, Michelle, you might have some nice things to share about the communications, the habits, which is the training. What do I do differently? You were just describing some of that. The habits of the different programs. Grow, include, decide. Those are habits as well. Saying yet and things like that. 


And then last but not least, the systems, right? Our reward systems. Our performance management systems. Our feedback systems. What are we putting in place differently? I guess I’ll open this one up to each of you. Are there any major changes or surprises or gaps that you think that you’ve noticed when it comes to communicating? When it comes to the habits or the training? And when it comes to the systems that are part of this evolution for you all? 


[00:39:05] MBartlett: We actually flipped that just a little bit. Instead of calling it systems, we actually call it practices, just because we are a tech company. And when we say systems, people think technology. We call that practices. But we actually co-authored with NLI that last – So, I think you may have seen activate, which is the last module of our grow pathway. And essentially, activate is to help us reinforce all of the habit that we’ve learned in all of the other modules. We did this, as well as we think that there’s a lot of training that was needed to work hybrid, right? We were all in the office. And then we were all remote. And now we have to go hybrid. And that’s very different. That’s not so easy to now just flip the script and do that. 


We’ve introduced other trainings as well to support how do you lead in a hybrid environment? And how do work in a hybrid environment so that we can kind of bring it all together? The activate is all about making the rest of the GROW program stick. And we flipped the model of how we trained on this as well. The rest of the modules all went to leadership first, down to managers, and individual contributors. They were all voluntary. You could take them. We encouraged it. 90% of our company took it. And that is incredible. We are so thankful. Definitely, we see it woven into our culture. And now we’ve introduced activate, which we’ve just actually launched this week. We’re super excited about this. 


But the purpose of flipping the script on activate and having individual contributors and managers take it and then our leadership, is because we’re getting feedback inactivate. And we’re getting individual contributors and people managers sharing how we can make changes to make our future better together. And then we’re bringing that to leaders so that we can actually implement some of those. We’re super excited about that. That’s been a good experience for us. 


[00:41:15] MBergmann: Oh, yeah, that’s amazing. And I think, again, any time we can reinforce the most important behaviors or systems, you’re going to have a big impact. Like we said, unless you’ve built a really robust habit, when other things happen, we lose some of our best practices. It’s a really smart thing. And I appreciate that. 


John, anything from you on either the priorities, habits, or not systems part of things? 


[00:41:37] JC: A couple observations. One is – I think for us, we launched our program in May. We’re in a challenging spot now. Because now we’re going really to a hybrid model, right? We worked traditionally. Then we all worked remotely. And I think we got pretty good at that, frankly, a year into that. And now, we’re changing it again, right? Now we kind of have some people in the office, some people home. We know people are struggling a little bit about, “Well, when should I come into the office? Is this a meeting I should come in for? Or can I stay remote?” I can just speak from my own perspective. It’s hard to go into the office when I have Webexes that start at 7:30 and go till 6:30. When am I going to drive? And I want to be on camera, because everyone else is. Like, these are all the things that everyone’s working through. I probably wasn’t frankly as prepared for this transition to hybrid. Or didn’t realize how impactful or different it would be. 


I think the other one – And this is no surprise to anyone I’m sure. But I feel like we’ve been kind of challenged in the minds of some people, but they want us to replicate the pre-pandemic workplace. And I think, invariably, some people just go back to what it was like in 2019. And why isn’t the cafeteria open every day? And why can’t I have a monthly parking pass? And there’s nobody here. I need stimulation of all my peers to be in the office. And those are hard conversations, because I wouldn’t tell anyone that we can create that again. I think it’s going to be different. And I think it’s going to be different long term. 


Folks that are really wanting to go back to that, I’m not sure we’ll be able to provide that for them, frankly, long term. And that’s a conversation you have to have with those individuals. And try to get them thinking about the advantages of hybrid work. And get them focused on, “Okay. Yeah, it’s a change. It’s different. But look at all the benefits.” When I think of a lot, especially nowadays, what all the attrition that we’re seeing in tech is now you can really hire from anywhere, right? You can open up whole new markets for talent that you maybe never looked at before because we didn’t have a physical office within 50 miles of Raleigh, North Carolina. But now you can hire talent anywhere with this new program. Trying to get people to not focus on what they’re missing and what’s different and try to have them focus on the positives of the future. 


[00:43:31] MBartlett: Yeah. I think it’s exciting. Now we’re starting to think about how we’re going to get employees to sort of imagine our future together. We sort of wanted to get them to this point, let’s see us live in it a little bit. And John’s been talking about this for a long time, let’s see what they do with the space and see how we can then alter to make it really what employees need. That’s really super exciting for us. 


One thing I did want to mention, too, about like making the GROW program stick. Lynn Hare, I have to say, she’s a director of global talent development for us, did an awesome thing, right? She used our Intranet and put out these fantastic little pieces of information about each of these modules, right? So now, we can sort of see it on demand as a refresher. There’s five-minute summary videos for each of these, which really helped us remind us of what that was about and what I need to think about there. And then there’s a little test your knowledge as well as a nudge to sort of conversation starter to talk with your teams about it so it helps us continue the conversation. 


I think as we go through this even more and start experimenting even more about our space, we can encourage people to kind of go back to this. Revisit it and come to a meeting to discuss this or provide survey results after considering some of these trainings that we’ve gone through. 


[00:45:00] MBergmann: Amazing. Yeah, that’s brilliant. How are you handling kind of the fairness challenge when some people have those jobs that require them to be in the office? Or like you said, some people will come to the office and they want more people in the office. And they think it’s not fair that they come to the office because that’s the only place they can work. How are you handling that? And any advice for the audience? 


[00:45:19] JC: Yeah. I mean, I think that we’ve done so much work building up to this over the two years that we’ve sort of been talking through all of these things in scenarios for so long that I think people are a bit more comfortable with it. Do fairness questions still come up? Yes. But I think, also, in the way that we decided job roles being either at office or at-flex, it makes it globally inclusive and fair. I think the way it was handled for our program being rolled out, I think the design of it had that fairness in mind. 


Some roles, they deal with security, or they deal with some pretty confidential things. They understand as well that their role is really that important, that it is confidential. I do think we’ll probably get more of those questions in the future. And we’ll have to iterate with our employees and our leaders to see if there are any changes that we can make on that. 


[00:46:22] JC: I’ll just say, with the folks that have an office requirement, it’s definitely important that we recognize that they have to come in, right? And we’ve talked about ways of doing that. In our headquarters, we’ve talked about giving those individuals reserved spots in the garage, right? Things that seem simple and small. But to just differentiate, the fact that they have a reason, like, they have to be there every day as opposed to those of us that come in when we feel like it, right? So, we’re thinking through that. 


I also think it’s kind of hard for the people that have gone through this transition with the company. Someone new coming into the organization understands at the beginning about the program, about flex-base, what status they are, or what their role is. It goes without saying that the individuals that are kind of being grandfathered through this process, I think it’s important that we acknowledge that. 


And we’ve been doing that, frankly. Those roles, those folks have been coming in through the whole pandemic. Our CEO has been acknowledging them consistently for the fact that they’re going over and above and coming into these facilities to serve our customers even during a global pandemic. So, they’ve gotten a lot of recognition for the efforts they’ve made in that area. 


[00:47:22] MBergmann: Wonderful. Yeah. I mean, that is a great example. Again, for those who are familiar with the SCARF model at NLI, what stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. And fairness – If you have a negative effect on someone’s fairness, you can overcome it by giving them other areas. Your example of having a reserve parking pass gives them more status. It also gives them more certainty, right? I don’t have to worry if I come in the office. I can frickin park, for God’s sake, right? Because John decided to come in and have a happy hour with his team or whatever. I’m just making that up, John. 


It’s really great to understand, “Hey, if I can’t give someone fairness, what else can I give them?” Whether it’s certainty, autonomy, relatedness. Hey, let’s get the whole team together that works in-person in the same floor so they’re all together. Whatever the case may be. Great example of that as well. 


I just want to thank both of you, Michelle and John. Amazing work. This is just kind of the program that we dreamed of at NLI when we thought about like what would hybrid that kept humans front and center look like. I know it’s not perfect yet. But I appreciate your growth mindset and continuing to grow. And we can’t wait to hear more or read more about it probably in Harvard Business Review in the next 6 to 12 months or so. That sounds like about right? But congratulations on the work. And thank you so much for your time. 


I’m just going to wrap up with a couple quick announcements and then I’ll pass it off to Shelby. I do want to highlight that as our team has mentioned here, NLI has a ton of programs here that can help you build a hybrid environment that’s inclusive, fair, growth-mindset-oriented. These are just a few of our solutions. 


I’m going to hand that off to Shelby. Shelby, back to you. 


[00:48:56] SW: Great. Wonderful. Thank you so much again, John and Michelle, for joining us, and Marshall, leading the conversation. It was super fruitful. And some announcements for you. We love to hear your feedback. The hybrid work saga continues for leaders and teams around the world. And we invite you to join in on some fun NLI research. Here’s how you can visit. Visit surveymonkey.com/r/hybridnext. That’s one word. We would love for you guys to be involved and contribute to that conversation. As well as our insider exchange. Specifically, for our senior executives, if you enjoy Your Brain at Work Live, we think that you’ll like the insider program. It’s an exclusive opportunity to talk directly with our team. Get some first looks at new research, roundtable discussions and so much more. 


And we’re hiring. If you’re looking to join our team and you’re interested in opportunities, go to neuroleadership.com/careers to learn more about open positions. And then just to keep it on your mind, Summit 2023 is going to be around the corner. Be on the lookout for more information later this year. You can look for Your Brain at Work Live wherever you listen to your podcast. 


And that is officially where we say farewell. On behalf of our team, thank you so much for joining us today. We look forward to having you here again next week on Thursday at noon. Have a great day. 




[00:50:13] 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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