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On Creating Meaningful Feedback Loops

in the works podcast with drew fortin
Zach Dunn
Published on

Drew Fortin: There's the old saying, "You are hired for what you know and you're fired for who you are." And that's because we look at the resume and we say, "Well, this person's in this job and this is what they should be doing. And if they don't do those things, well, they should be fired. They're not meeting their job requirements." And that's a very myopic way to think about, well, this is a complex system. Your company is an organism in the way things work and there's way more, there's always more than meets the eye.

Zach Dunn: One of the things that I really wanted to make sure we touch on as much as possible is how you think about the impact of today's workplace and the change that we just went through on, you see teams growing talent, all of that. And something tells me that your work at Predictive Index may give you a special perspective on what sorts of things teams need to be thinking about as they're making sure that the people that they have today are well supported, as well as that they're bringing in folks that are ready for the next evolution of the workplace. So what is it that you do all day? Let's start there.

Drew Fortin: I spend a lot of time thinking about the world of work, and that's what we do at PI. We think about how work is ever changing and ever evolving. And we think about the constants in that, and that's people and that's human nature, and that's the part and that's work. The magic that the human element brings to differentiating your business, bringing your purpose, bringing your culture to life.

And you were talking about teams and the evolution of work. And there's this great paradox, I think, that we were all forced to question over the last several months or year. And that is, what comes first, strategy or team? Wow. We had this great plan, but it totally went to shit. And now, do we change our plan? But if we change our plan, how's that going to impact our team and our team's really going through a lot right now? So do we find a plan that-

Zach Dunn: Are you talking about company level plan strategy or?

Drew Fortin: Yeah. Yeah. A company level plan or strategy, and then every team has some restrictions on it from a higher level plan, and those limitations all changed. And so it forces us to be like, "So what are we doing this for? What am I doing with my life? What are we doing?" And so ultimately when you discover the human element, I think you're able to realize that there's this living, breathing organism in your work called your people.

And collectively they throw off this magic glow or value. We try to help establish that and standardize that a bit into a discipline we call talent optimization. And that's to try to say it takes something so ethereal, that's what we're talking about, and compartmentalize it a bit so we can approach it strategically from a design standpoint of your org and then giving some level of measurement so you can actually understand what's happening and the impact that you're having. We're still early days in all of this, and I think during this whole pandemic, we realized there's so much out of our control. So we have the opportunity to manage through it.

Zach Dunn: From what I understand, a big part of what you are thinking about is, how do we take this more people-centric mindset to the way that we build teams, grow teams, support teams, and also almost inspire really great morale? How do you have a really effective high morale team that trusts each other and really finds meaning in the work that they're doing and feel connected to their coworkers? And I think that's interesting. Is that how you think about it?

Drew Fortin: Yeah. I think it's very much how I think about it. There are things that our job requirements have listed that are just like, you must do these things. And a lot of us fall into these roles where it's like, ah, work. That's very much, I need to do this because it's my job. Versus, I want to. I want to do this because I know the impact that it's having. I want to do it because it makes me excited. I want to do it because it makes my team members happy. The difference between that need to/want to curve is what I think academics refer to as discretionary effort.

Zach Dunn: Okay.

Drew Fortin: Discretionary effort is increased. The more that we increase morale, the more that we increase, another word would be engagement. And that can all be defined as purpose, and I would say ownership. When somebody feels ownership over what they're doing, a little piece of ownership in their company. That doesn't mean they have to have equity.

Sometimes even just equity itself can give somebody a feeling of ownership, but also just knowing that they are in control and that they are part of this and realizing they're part in that, having that ownership, may have them make a decision or fight for something differently. Right?

Zach Dunn: Yes.

Drew Fortin: It's when we don't feel like we're a part of it, that we feel like we're being told to do, and we are just being given orders and we're pretty much told to just shut up and stick to our knitting, that doesn't happen.

Zach Dunn: What advice do you typically have for people in that leadership position that are facing this challenge and have to make some sort of a change to their organization?

Drew Fortin: Perception is reality. So I don't care what you think it is, how you feel it is as a leader. "Oh, they have it wrong. We're not that way." Or, "I don't know why they feel that way. We're much better than that." Their perception is reality. And so I think the way that you start to bring people on the journey you want to start, is simply just by listening.

What are you feeling? What are you concerned about? Empathy is super important. You can learn so much by just listening, trying to repeat back what you heard and put yourself in that person's shoes. So they know you are listening and so that you can also just for a moment, try to attempt to feel how they feel and to see it from their point of view. The moment that you lean in and you say, "Tell me more about that. Why do you feel this way? Is that the way you see it? I had no idea that's the way you saw it."

Zach Dunn: Obviously it's the wrong move, I think and data plays this out in a number of ways, for you to say, "Every Monday everybody's required to be in the office." Or make other mandates like that. But there is a certain amount of guidance and structure that I would think the average employee does expect from their manager, their...

Drew Fortin: Totally.

Zach Dunn: All of that. So I guess, how do you weigh those two things?

Drew Fortin: Let's say you are a company that is fully remote and then randomly you get a note that says, "We've decided that two Mondays from now, everyone needs to report back to the office. We totally get what you're going through though. So we want you to come on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and we're going to give you Tuesday, Thursday off, blah, blah, blah." Right?

Zach Dunn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Drew Fortin: It sounds like there was a lot of thought put into that. And maybe there were some hallway conversations or backroom Zooms and Slack conversations that occurred to try to get some data. Maybe they even did a survey to get open-ended responses, but it'd be a very different conversation if they said, "Hey, this is what we're trying to do. Being together in person is a magical experience. A lot of things happen that way. As we're moving out of not being in lockdown forever, we'd love to start introducing the serendipitous moments again."

And that may look like some hybrid arrangement where people are coming back to the office. Maybe all of us try to get back to the office one day a week or whatever. We're just trying to figure this out. In what I just said, I'm explaining the why, the requirements of this, and then I'm saying, "So what should we do about it?" Because now I think it's something that people could identify with. You're right, there is probably magic when we get together.

So let's start there. Now you're taking people on the journey with you, and whether or not you took their idea or not, they had the opportunity to contribute. And they had the opportunity to say, "Cool, I contributed to this idea." There's this thing that Jeff Bezos said, "Amazon is famous for the whole disagree and commit thing."

Now, I think that can get totally bastardized and distorted in many ways. And I think even in Amazon's culture, it has to some degree, which is the same thing, just disagree and do this. Versus, disagree and commit is, you should feel comfortable disagreeing and committing because you trust that everyone around you has your best interest and our best interest in mind. And you need to have that level of trust.

And I think what, on a personal note just as a people manager, I'm a huge fan of developing trust. If anybody's ever read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, it all starts with building trust. I tell team members this all the time, the opposite of trust is suspicion.

Zach Dunn: Interesting.

Drew Fortin: If you are suspicious of something, you are not going to show all your cards. You are not going to be vulnerable. You are not going to say what you think because you suspect that the information you give will be used in some way to conspire against you, work against you, terminate you. You will not be honest. You're going to do whatever you need to do to stay in the game or to win. Because it's all about winning.

That's not good. If you have trust, then you know that there's no suspect and you know that you can be vulnerable. And trust leads to the ability to have conflict. To be like, you know what? I don't agree with what you're saying. Because the reason I don't agree is, I see it this way. How come you see it that way? Now we have this, What I call healthy conflict. And it's through that act of healthy conflict, that fight, you're able to leave it all out on the table, put it all out there.

And then when a decision is made, it's like, cool. So all the information was considered. This is the path that we went on. I feel much better that we just, we vetted everything, but we're going in this direction. You're more likely to get buy-in and you're more likely to keep everyone engaged because they know that the next time the conflict happens, I might go the other way. And I don't think we've had enough of those conversations, right? Now...

Zach Dunn Definitely not.

Drew Fortin: Another thing that has transpired or has been transpiring, especially in the US jobs market, is this evolution from production, making trinket to do dads*, to develop software, to offer services. And these are industries that rely more on our head and more on hiring.

Zach Dunn: So just to be clear, you're definitely talking about a little wider time horizon than just the past two years.

Drew Fortin: 100%. This is ever evolving and it's going to be [crosstalk 00:12:03] decades.

Zach Dunn: Great. Yeah. Yes. Okay. Hundred decades. Got it.

Drew Fortin: But we're hiring people now more than ever for their mind and who they are. And there's the old saying, "You are hired for what you know and you're fired for who you are." And that's because we look at the resume and we say, "Well, this person's in this job and this is what they should be doing. And if they don't do those things, well, they should be fired. They're not meeting their job requirements." And that's a very myopic way to think about, well, this is a complex system. Your company is an organism in the way things work and there's way more, there's always more than meets the eye.

Zach Dunn: I love the quote that you just shared. The one that I've always liked about firing is, "Teams fire people before you do."

Drew Fortin: That's right.

Zach Dunn: When I look at that and I look at some of the team cohesion issues that hybrid raises, gosh, that seems like a real, real issue that we got to get ahead of.

Drew Forti: Hybrid's are the most difficult. Because you have people that are in the office. You have people that are alone. I think we all need to get way better at respecting and managing our remote counterparts when we're in the office. So I would just vote for a remote first philosophy. And so that is to say, let's always focus. If there's going to be, in a meeting of five people, one of those people is remote, let's focus on making the remote experience the best one.

And if we can do that, over time, we'll learn these different motions. Like now at PI, I go to the office. If there's just one person on the remote, everyone brings their laptop to a meeting because we all have our laptops open and we're all on Zoom. So we're able to talk to each other in person, but also the person in the room is able to see us. We have these cameras that try to show you the whole room or whatever, but it's not a personalized experience yet.

Zach Dunn: Yeah. It is a cool camera though.

Drew Fortin: It works great for the microphone in the middle and you have the holistic room but you can see who's sitting next to who. And what you don't get with a camera like that, is you don't get to see the reactions of others.

Zach Dunn: Yeah.

Drew Fortin: When we're in meetings, what are we trying to do? It's either a communication meeting, it's an influencing meeting, or it's a, let's get shit done meeting. And so that's going to be us on a whiteboard, working in a Miro, in a Figma, having a brainstorm and reacting, interacting with each other, doing breakout groups. So I definitely think technology is a huge part of this.

Zach Dunn: What are really good managers doing in a hybrid environment to build trust with their team?

Drew Fortin: One of the things that I would recommend to any team, whether you're hybrid or remote or in person, is to nail down your communication planning cadence. So I'm super diligent about this. By the way, my behavioral pattern at PI is what we call a Maverick. So I'm naturally not a fully organized, structured person. I'd love to just drive forward with things and we'll worry about the details later. But over time, I think I've skinned my knees enough to realize that people need to know what to expect. They need to know what's coming.

So if you were to say, "Hey, every year we have a plan, it's broken up into monthly performance and goals or roadmap items, that can be further broken down into weeks or biweekly sprints, whatever." Every quarter we're going to meet as a full department to review that plan, just to make sure we're on track, we'll even update on how things are evolving and what the theme's going to be.

Every month, we're going to review metrics and understand what's happening. Also, every month, we're just going to do a quick all hands to update on the metrics and say, "This is reading tea leaves, is what we should focus on for this next month." And every week, we're going to meet as a team and we're going to have accountability metrics. And we're just going to kick off the week with the cadence of how did things go last week? How are things going this week? What are things we should be aware of?

There are definitely other ceremonies and meetings and cadences that would happen. But if you were to lay it all out there and you to were say, "These are the expectations of each meeting," one of the things that I've realized, which is super easy is, outlining that and then kicking off the meeting, you're going to say, "This is the purpose of this meeting." I've been really pleased to see across teams at PI and my own team, people will be like, "Hey, this is the meeting we're in and this is the objective of this meeting. Now let's go."

Then it comes down to communication in and around said ceremonies. I think now more than ever, one to one, like on a Zoom call or whatever, is important just to check in. Hey, how are things going? What can I do better? What can you do better? So having a weekly check in with your direct reports is an obvious thing. Not a lot of people do it. I've talked to people that are like, "Oh, I've actually, we meet as a team once a week, but I don't do one-on-one." And I'm like, "Hmm, I should try to just incorporate that once in a while." So these are the communication bits and pieces.

Now, one of the things that I try to stress is the communication of a plan. And some teams are really good at that, which is to say, "Hey, this is what we're going to do. This is how we're going to do it. This is how we're going to break it out and chunk it out. This is how we're going to measure success." And that's communication of the plan. There's another part of communication that I don't think we get right all the time. And I call that communication about communication.

Zach Dunn: Interesting.

Drew Fortin: So, this is when I think we're going to be making the right decisions. This is when I'm going to communicate to you about that. This is who's going to be involved in each of those communications. And if you're getting anxious about something, don't worry because you're going to be included at this step.

So you communicated your plan, you have your communication about the communication. Now you move forward. You can remind people, hey, we are here. This is what's going to happen. This is the scope of what we're trying to do. You don't have to worry about it. Because what we are able to do in the office, is have side conversations that reduce our anxiety. Hey, I was wondering what happened to that project. So and so said they were going to do that, but I just don't know where it is right now. You can have that quick, okay, cool. So I don't need to do anything. Those are harder to have in the remote setting.

Zach Dunn: We've seen night and day differences, at least among our customers, when they're trying to solicit employee feedback, but also not get too rigid too soon in how they restructure the workplace to hybridize.

Drew Fortin: The other thing that I would say is, there's just different technologies that have helped, like for instance, video. We're on Zoom all the time but one of the things that we've realized at PI is, we used to in the past, assemble a bunch of people, a meeting with 30 people and it is likely not an interactive meeting. You're likely disseminating information.

So do you have to get all 30 people together at once? Could you record a video? Could you publish that video? There are great products. Like there's a product called Loom that you can use to record and it allows you to do emoji symbols throughout and you can comment within, you can see how many people viewed it. You can see who viewed it, who didn't. Now, I think at first, people are like, "Oh God, this is a production. I got to prepare for hours here to make a three-minute video."

The more that you do it, you realize like, oh, this is super casual. I'm going to bottle up some information for you. In a prior world, I would've typed a two-page email and sent it out and peppered everyone with it. But I'm just going to cover it in a video. I put together a couple slides for you. And if everybody could watch this video before the meeting, that would be great. And then the other thing that we do is we put a limit on it. You can't publish a video that's more than five minutes.

Zach Dunn: That's very masterful. Very masterful.

Drew Fortin: Right. And that actually is improving our own skills.

Zach Dunn: What do you view an engaged employee as today? What's a sign that an employee in today's world is engaged?

Drew Fortin: It goes back to that feeling of purpose and ownership. There's an identification. I am part of this community and I have people relying on me and I rely on others. There's a big difference between leaving or shutting down for the day and being like, "Oh, I'm so glad I'm done with that." And leaving and saying, "You know what? This is challenging, but I'm having a good time. And I like what I'm doing."

Now, at PI, what we do is we increase the chances and the likelihood of you making a perfect match between person and job, person and manager. And when I say making a perfect match, there are some parts of our product that allow you on the onset to be like, is this person right for this role? And how are they going to interact with their manager? But more often than not, we're already in it.

So how can we make the best out of the situation? What are your superpowers and caution areas? What are my superpowers and caution areas? How can we make the best work together? And when you have those conversations and you open up that dialogue and you say, "What's the work to be done and what are the gaps there?" Now you're able to have a conversation about truly making progress. Let's focus on these things. Let's lean into the things we're good at.

We are going to make very slow progress if we focus on the things we're not so good at. And what that opens the door to, is in a continuous feedback loop. It is not a natural thing that people do well to give feedback. You need to learn how to give feedback, and you need to learn how to ask for feedback. And you need to learn how to receive feedback and take action on feedback.

Zach Dunn: And all of those need a base level of trust. So I'm seeing a theme here.

Drew Fortin: But part of building the trust could be the act of saying, "Hey, every week, I want you to observe one... Every week we have a one-on-one, I want you to observe one thing over the prior week. And I want you to bring to the meeting as something I could be doing better. And I'll do the same thing for you." I think just a little bit over time and you really start to build that.

Now, when I say feedback, it doesn't have to be negative. It could be positive, but let's make sure it's specific. There's this great leadership coach named Michael Allosso. He's brilliant. He has this concept called TSP, and it's truthful, specific, positive feedback. And it is so hard when you're first learning, to give truthful, specific, positive feedback. Not, great job on that presentation. Well, that's cool.

Zach Dunn: You really worked hard. Yep.

Drew Fortin: Yeah.

Zach Dunn: Okay.

Drew Fortin: Hey, Zach, I really love that presentation. The way that you opened it up, you had everyone locked in from the start and you're just so good at that. You're so good at just getting the room to zoom in on you because you always open with a joke or something. That's awesome. I wish I could do that.

Zach Dunn: That's a meaningful point of feedback.

Drew Fortin: It's being deliberate and intentional about that all the time. That we don't know how to work in this remote setting, we were training ourselves for decades in that in-person setting. And now we're here. There's so much we have to learn. Opening up that feedback loop is exactly what PI helps you to do, because you understand someone's behavioral pattern. You understand the differences. You understand how that compares to the work to be done. And now it's just out there. It's like, how are we going to deal with this?

Episode Notes

Drew’s LinkedIn Profile

Predictive Index 

Zach’s LinkedIn Profile 

Robin Website

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