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On Leading Happy Hybrid Teams

Karen Mangia
Zach Dunn
Published on

Karen Mangia: This challenges everything we think we know about how to be a manager or a leader. It challenges a lot of our long held beliefs about work. And also, it significantly destabilizes people managers, because if I'm no longer telling you what to do and I'm now asking and I'm facilitating and I'm connecting, there's a power base that gets challenged there. And the other thing too is, we all default to what we know and what's familiar and what's comfortable, and the playbook that has made us successful in the past. The only challenge with that playbook is everything has shifted.

Zach Dunn: What do you think is important to think about as companies are adopting hybrid work?

Karen Mangia: We need to remind ourselves that success is not a destination or a location and neither is work. Success and work are really available to anyone, anywhere, at any time. And what stands in our way of stepping into that freedom is the long held beliefs that we have about what work is and, where it needs to happen, and when it needs to happen, and the role of managers as it relates to work and the workforce. And when we entered this universal experiment simultaneously, called work from home, we were all immediately forced to confront the understanding that the technology and tools to work from anywhere have existed really for over a decade now. We've all known a person or two along the way who's working from a mountaintop, or a sailboat, or from some other exotic location by choice.

Zach Dunn: Beaches.

Karen Mangia: Beaches. I'm a big fan of beaches. And what we are coming to now is a reconciliation of the beliefs and the understanding, largely at the leadership level, that I don't have to see you for you to do your best work. For most companies right now, if you look in the direction of your results, I'm presently not aware of a single company that's publicly traded where their CEO has stood up and told Wall Street the reason they missed their projections is because of working from home. We talk about supply chain being the reason maybe, or maybe not finding enough workers. Working from home hasn't been cited as a reason. And so, when I think about work from anywhere, or success from anywhere, and what's possible, I would say, look at the results. It's not that it's not possible to be successful from anywhere, what stands in our way is our belief, or our preference, or candidly, the way we've always done things.

Zach Dunn: I think about when we went from largely cubicles to the open office, to now. Cutting edge would be what? Activity based work as far as office design goes and how each of those were different eras of the workplace. And now, we're getting a redefinition, it seems, of what the workplace actually includes, and that it's not just a synonym for the office. How do you think about that?

Karen Mangia: This topic of the future of work feels big and wide open. And that can be a little bit overwhelming at times. And I created a framework, I call it the Four Ws, to help individuals and teams and organizations really be thoughtful about what's shifting and what matters and what choices that you can create for yourself and for your organization within that future of work landscape. And it speaks to a little bit of what we were just talking about.

Karen Mangia: So the Four Ws are first of all, work. What is the work that needs to be done now in your organization? And how has that work fundamentally shifted? For just about every organization I know, something about the work has shifted and/or the outcomes we're trying to deliver now. Which means in some cases we're doing work that's no longer aligned with outcomes that are relevant. And in some cases, what we discover is employees sometimes lack clarity about the expectations tied to what work and outcomes they're supposed to be delivering now.

Karen Mangia: So after work, the second W that I think about is the workforce, who is it that needs to be doing this work. Do you need some flexible workers? What might be changing there? What new skills do these workers need? And I think critically important, particularly with what we're seeing right now, is what are the highest aspirations of your workforce?

And after work and workforce, I think about the workplace, where does work need to happen? When we bring people together in a physical space, we need to commit to gathering with purpose. What is the purpose of coming together and making that your workplace, versus being distributed? And in what use cases could you enable asynchronous work, versus when it needs to be synchronous? And how do you put some team agreements in place to support that?

And then after work, workforce, and workplace, I think about the fourth W, which might be near and dear to your hearts and the hearts of your listeners, which is the workflow. So how do we need to change our workflow to enable these changes within our work, our workforce, and our workplace? Knowledge management, when we could stand up and ask each other something in the office, where do I find this? How do I fix this? That's challenging. Spontaneity of bumping into and meeting new people in your office can be enabled with something like Slack Donut, for example. It's just, what's the workflow that you need to really support your success across those other three areas?

Zach Dunn: So I think one of the challenges is, maybe you've started to brush up on here, that a lot of the audience for this podcast, which is probably IT facilities, the people who are HR, and those folks who are responsible for moving their organization's workplace into this new era of flexibility and community almost, that doesn't rely solely on your office. They're also probably hitting some friction. My guess is, because there's not a whole lot of examples out there of people who have done it well. Because fortunately, we haven't had a whole lot of pandemics in the last few years. Well, aside from the one. So this is the first time that a lot of people are navigating this change. From your perspective, how does somebody know that they're on the right track with their workplace strategy?

Karen Mangia: Your employees will tell you everything you need to know to be successful, if only you will listen. And deep listening to your employees and understanding the message they're really trying to send means we need to take ego out of the conversation, so that some of these messages can be heard and internalized and acted upon. And what I've observed, and you may have noticed this as well, is that when we are trying something or we, as an organization, are committing to a transformation, we tend to think and act in terms of the grand gesture. The five year, five phase, $5 million roadmap.

And I think right now, we need to do the doable. Think big, act small. What could your $5, five minute, five person fix look like? What could you try? Because here's the reality, we can all find five minutes. If that leads to nowhere and it doesn't get you an outcome that you're seeking, you're not over-invested. There's not a big unwinding. On the flip side, if you discover something that works, you build a little momentum, because then you try the next thing and the next thing. And people are often shocked to discover that even if you only made a 1% daily improvement, you would more than double your results in 72 days. So think in terms of the five minute fix, do the doable, what could you try? And that five minute fix becomes a tool for rapid experimentation and discovery and building momentum. And when we show up with these plans and we think we know, what happens is, knowing becomes the enemy of discovering.

Zach Dunn: I know a few folks that have appeared in the news recently that might benefit from that, especially when they're talking about their office plans. What would you say to somebody who thinks that "Hey, all of this stuff sounds great, but it's really only for tech companies"?

Karen Mangia: When I read headlines about the Great Resignation, what I'm discovering is it's not just tech workers who are quitting their companies to pursue other interests and choices. It's people in every industry and in every category. And what I find fascinating is how often we equate success with more. We buy into this belief that we have to do more, to have more, to be more, and that will sum up to success. Whether that's more products, more profits, more activities, more accomplishments, we associate this with more mentality. And the message coming from every industry right now, and employees in all kinds of organizations and configurations, is that the more that employers are offering, even if that is more pay, more PTO, and more perks, is not summing up to success for them.

And so, I started thinking about that. If it's not more of what has worked in the past... Let's be honest, pay, and perks, and PTO would've worked brilliantly in the past. Today's playbook, I think, is about asking a different question. And it's more of what matters. People are searching right now for meaning, not mandates. And so, I think it's this pursuit of more of what matters and the opportunity to lead a meaningful life and work life that is sending people in organizations of all kinds, in every industry, out on this quest for more meaning and more of what matters. That's not unique to tech.

Zach Dunn: So one of the things we talk about a lot here is the importance of the workplace as a central community and workplace as a real source of an important community for the average person. Now, it's certainly not the only community that a person is part of, but it does shape a lot of their time. And their day is spent with people who are part of their workplace too. And so, there's a real challenge when that community is suddenly scattered throughout the country, the world. So what sort of communication tools do you see companies needing to reevaluate or adopt in order to successfully navigate that move from co-located to a little bit of both?

Karen Mangia: The core of community is belonging. Belonging and community are not about a physical gathering place. They're about how you feel when you are aligned with like-minded people. And this is really the message that comes through in every employee pulse survey, which isn't explicitly said. And that's that people in some senses feel that they are living outside of belonging within their teams and organizations. And when you think about it, living outside of belonging is this excruciating feeling that you are not needed and not wanted. And it's easier for us to believe in our minds that coming together in a physical place or even an online community, is what creates that sense of belonging. I would submit to you, it's something completely different. What happens in an office environment is something called blending. So you study the people, you learn their ways, and you blend in with them. You become masterfully adaptable, at what to wear, and when to show up, and who to have lunch with, and when to go get your coffee, your tea. Belonging-

Zach Dunn: Glorious routine, yes.

Karen Mangia: Right, glorious routine. Belonging is bonding, not blending. You and I are having a bonding experience right now. We are coming together around a shared interest about how humans can succeed at the future of work, how we can rework work together in a way that everyone can win. I don't need to be in the same place with you to feel that bond and a sense of belonging. Why? Because we are aligned on a set of shared values. Our bond is that we share purpose. Our bond is, a little bit, that we both work in tech circles. And so, we have that in common. We're not trying to blend our viewpoints into one another. And I think this is what organizations miss. Belonging is bonding, not blending. You can bond with someone who is thousands of miles away through co-creation, through shared outcomes, through shared values, through like-minded points of view and experiences, common interest. That's what we're looking for, that builds a sense of place.

Zach Dunn: I think about what happens to somebody who just enters the workforce. This is their first experience. They're learning professional skills for the first time, and all of that. How do we set them up for success when they're learning for the first time? And a lot of that apprenticeship, that training, historically has to happen in person, because you don't know when to ask for help, you don't know when to reach out. And so many remote needs... It makes it hard for that serendipitous sort of moment to happen.

Karen Mangia: Well, if I just know that onboarding an employee is really hard and it just can almost not be done in a virtual environment, well, I would ask some questions. Is that true? How do you know that is absolutely true beyond the shadow of a doubt? That it's impossible, you have to be together in person to onboard people? And my other question would be, who would we be without that story? What if the story was; onboarding virtual employees is better? And maybe, it's better when an organization takes the time to plan an onboarding path of not only what a new employee will learn, but who a new employee will meet. Oh, what might that change? What if onboarding includes a map that says, "I'm going to help you build your internal network because internal networks are how things get done"?

Karen Mangia: Well now, do I have to be in person? Because see, what I don't know when I start as a new employee is other employees. So if I, as an organization or as a leader, invest as much time in who the new employee will get to know, as what they will get to know, what might change? Maybe virtual onboarding becomes the best way to onboard because we're forced to think about it differently. And I think what we're talking about right here is the challenge we're all facing. We have these long held beliefs; onboarding has to happen in person, if you come into the office you care about your career, if you work at home you don't. Are those things true? And who would we be without those stories? Thinking that we know these things gets in the way of discovering what else could this be, what else might be possible.

Zach Dunn: If you were in charge of a workplace, a team today, you were in charge of defining a workplace strategy for, let's say, a company under 500 people, what are some of the things that you would want to address in that strategy? What do you think is important to build that strategy around right now?

Karen Mangia: Team agreements, deep listening, and choices. And here's what I mean by that; deep listening means connecting with who our workforce is now and understanding their greatest aspirations and how their expectations of us have shifted. When you think about what happened during the pandemic, we all shifted the expectations that we have of our leaders and our direct reporting chain. We suddenly expected them to start caring about and being invested in our physical safety, and our mental and emotional health and wellbeing. That is a shift in the employer-employee expectations that I think we need to acknowledge. Because now what happens? Once that line has moved, and now I stop asking you, "How are you doing? How are you feeling? Are you mentally okay?" How do you feel? It's like, "My manager used to care about me. They don't care about me anymore. Oh, my word, this is a bad sign. I'm going to be fired." Our expectations of our leaders have shifted because there was a significant context shift.

Also, because of the shift in how, and when, and where we are working, there are life scenarios that are unknown to us about our employees that provide critically important inputs into how to help them show up at their best and do their best work for, and with us. Deep listening is the beginning of that journey. Who are your employees now? And who can you include in the conversation who represents a portfolio of decision makers that's more diverse than the people who are likely sitting around the virtual table, making those decisions today?

Next piece, team agreements are a tool to help state clear expectations and to give employees the opportunity to have some ownership in their work life and how that works. And great team agreements include things like, "Are we going to commit as a team," for example, "to have a no meeting day or a no video meeting day? And if so, which day might that be? Are we going to potentially commit to a particular set of hours in which we all agree will be responsive within a certain timeframe and another set of hours we won't? Do we agree that the first way that we attempt to contact someone is an email, or is it a text?" These are the basis of putting out these unstated expectations and reconciling what that employer is willing to offer with what that employee expects.

Third piece is choice. We all want flexibility, autonomy, and choice. And one of my favorite examples is a company that was facing the challenge that we all hear, which is employees reporting a high sense of burnout. And so, they elected to roll out additional PTO. And fewer than 8% of their employees opted into this extra PTO and burnout levels still remained catastrophically high.

Zach Dunn: As in they didn't use it, even though they had it? So they kept below the old level?

Karen Mangia: They used it. But even if they used it, they didn't feel less burnt out. It didn't change anything. It wasn't a needle mover.

Zach Dunn: Diminishing returns, okay, got you.

Karen Mangia: Diminishing returns. And so, the leaders were perplexed. First of all, only 8% of people opted in. Also, it just did not move the needle on what they were trying to address, and they were perplexed. So they stepped away and did some employee listening, "Well, what would feel great? What might help?" And they also got deeply curious about brain science. How do our brains work when it comes to burnout, versus motivation, versus loyalty? And they went back to their employees and rolled out the Gift of Choice program. And within the Gift of Choice program, employees were offered three choices. One, more PTO. Two, more pay, literal cash. Third, donate to a not-for-profit of their choosing. Within 24 hours, 85% of employees had opted into the Gift of Choice program. So they went from 8% opt in to 85% opt in. And what do you guess was the number one choice? Was it more PTO, more pay, or donation to a not-for-profit?

Zach Dunn: I would almost guess the not-for-profit. Because I'm an optimist, I hope that is the right answer.

Karen Mangia: It was more PTO, and that's what makes this story so mind blowing. The employer got to the exact outcome they wanted, and the only difference was a mandate versus a choice. All human beings on planet Earth light up favorably when we are offered an unexpected set of choices that we view as favorable. They did the work to understand what those choices were from the employee's point of view. And then they said, "As an employer, what would we be willing to live with?" The power of choice. So I wouldn't be mandating anything. I would be doing deep listening. I would be providing a framework to create some team agreements and have thoughtful discussions and document those agreements. And then, this gift of choice, what might change if choice became a part of the workplace?

Zach Dunn: People management in a time like this seems super important. So I guess, what is a really good people manager doing in this sort of environment for their team?

Karen Mangia: Asking great questions, listening deeply and being fully present. Distractions are the new form of dismissal. Think about it, once upon a time if you were sitting across from your boss in a physical office, having a one-on-one conversation, for example, and what happens is you look at your boss and your boss looks like they're doing an email or they're not making eye contact with you, you think to yourself, "Oh, my goodness. They're not paying attention. Is what I'm saying not important?" And then, here we are in this world of distributed work, and we've all had these moments, you're having a conversation with your boss or someone else, and you can see that they're distracted. They've got their phone, they're talking to whoever walked or whatever, if it's a pet, came into the room.

And these little screens are like a jumbotron. And so, people notice distraction and feel the dismissiveness of it. So I would say, ask great questions, don't assume you know the answers. Listen deeply to the responses. And when you are with your people, be fully present and distraction free. Better to have 15 minutes of quality focused, fully present time, than 30 to 60 minutes of half distracted time filled with interruptions. It's in a sense back to the basics of what it means to connect as humans and to understand that little moves look very big on these video cameras and are much easier to detect and feel.

Zach Dunn: People who are in positions of upper management and leadership today, it's likely that they definitely came up in a very different workplace environment, and their playbook that they've developed, as I think you said, is going to feel different. So I would imagine that there's a lot of strain on how they can help elevate the organization to up tool them if those tools are no longer available. And I think that's a real challenge that we're going to all have to reckon with, or at least the importance of sharing what we learn along the way, makes it all that much more critical.

Karen Mangia: Yes. What's so exciting is this is a time of innovation if we choose to see it that way, and everyone can contribute. I don't know about you or your listeners, this is my first global pandemic. This is the first time seeing the entire world work at home, and then figuring out what this new set of choices or options might be. And what's so remarkable about that is everyone can contribute an idea or something we can try. There is no voice of reason that's been through this before that can lead us forward. And that's why an experimentation mindset is so powerful right now, along with a beginner's mindset, forgetting everything we think we knew about the playbook to succeed as a manager, as an organization, and creating one that's relevant and based on current context.

Zach Dunn: How did you get where you are today and what is it that you do all day?

Karen Mangia: My true north is storytelling and staying close to customers. So when I think about my career and even really my personal interests, I love to share stories. I love to hear people's stories. And really, when you think about what's at the heart of a good salesperson, or sales leader, or someone doing customer experience, or certainly now, my job as a thought leader, where I've been fortunate to write four books and lots of blogs, and do a video series, is it's really about storytelling. What can we discover? What can we share? How can we move forward together? And also for me, it's staying close to customers. I like the variety that comes with that. And I also like staying close to the flow and the pulse and the heartbeat of the business, because for me, it reminds me who we serve, why we serve, and the greatest good that we can deliver from that service. So it keeps me grounded in a sense of purpose.

Episode Notes

Karen's LinkedIn Profile


Zach’s LinkedIn Profile 

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Does your office collaboration need a reboot?

Find out if your workplace strategy is a hit or a miss.

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