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Healthy Value Exchange with Bob Gower

George Grombacher March 24, 2023

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Healthy Value Exchange with Bob Gower

LifeBlood: We talked about ensuring a healthy value exchange between employers and employees, creating sustainable success for organizations, how to determine what you need to start, stop and continue doing, and why small changes are better than big ones, with Bob Gower, cult survivor turned organizational designer, author, speaker and consultant.   

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Bob Gower

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
Well, hello, this is George G. And the time is right. Welcome. Today’s guests are on the powerful Bob Gower, Bob, are you ready to do this?

Bob Gower 0:08
I am. Let’s do it.

george grombacher 0:09
All right, let’s go. Bob is a cult survivor turned organizational designer. He is a leading voice of agile development, lean theory and responsible, responsive organizational design. He’s a two time author. He’s a speaker and advisor and a partner at the ready. Bob, excited to have you on, tell us a little about your personal laughs more about your work, why you do what you do?

Bob Gower 0:31
Yeah, so I’m an organization designer, which means that I care about helping organizations be more efficient, more effective, and helping their people to be more engaged. You mentioned I was a cult survivor. And I think I got into this work partially because I’ve experienced a lot of, let’s call it abuse inside of organizations. And I want to create more pro social organization. So not only do I want to create organizations that make more money, but I want to create organizations that are a net positive for the world. So I care about things like sustainability, and equity and as well as efficiency and business performance.

george grombacher 1:10
So creating well run organizations with human beings that that are hanging out there being as engaged as possible. Have we just described a cult to a degree?

Bob Gower 1:28
Well, it’s interesting, when you say as engaged as possible, I think that is where we begin to tip over into cults. So cults are, you know, they are characterized by extreme devotion. Also, usually there is some manipulative persuasion techniques going on. And then there is harm being caused to individuals either in the organization or outside of the organization. And so I like to contrast that extreme devotion with appropriate levels of engagement, right. So if I have a barista, making my coffee, I want that barista to be engaged in that process. But it doesn’t need to be a life and death situation. If I have someone operating on my heart, it is a little bit more of a life and death situation. But that person could be engaged because they’re curious about the mechanics of the heart. Or it could be that they lost somebody to heart disease at a young age. And now they’re very motivated by the sort of social good of it. I don’t really care necessarily why they’re motivated by it, but I want them to be present engaged and working on the thing for me. But when we start to demand extreme devotion, that this has to be your part, your life’s purpose. If a if a coffee shop says the barista has to, you know, like, make making coffee, their life’s purpose, then that could become a cult, right? You can make a cult out of almost anything, almost any kind of ideology. Yeah.

george grombacher 2:44
Yeah. And I’m sure that there’s plenty of organizations that and maybe even plenty of cults that that started off with a great mission or a great purpose. And either maybe on accident veered into the kind of the bad side of it.

Bob Gower 3:03
Yeah, well, I mean, the, what we always say is that people don’t join cults, they join good things, they join things that do good for them. So it’s certainly in my experience, and in most people’s experience, you don’t get involved in an organization, which is bad from the start, it always starts off as something that kind of good, and then it sort of morphs and changes over time. And I think any organization, especially one where you have a charismatic leader, and even like a strong sense of purpose, they can develop sort of cult, like dynamics, we’ve seen this in Theranos, we’ve seen this, I think, and we work we’ve seen this in Bernie Madoff, even Steve Jobs, you could say, right, and Apple, you could say to it has some kind of like cultic dynamics, sometimes it’s, you know, not to it’s a spectrum. So sometimes it veers into like the really harmful and dangerous. And sometimes it’s just merely, you know, interesting. And so I try to not be too judgmental about these things, and try to be more practical about them. But what my ultimate goal is, the organization needs to have a healthy value exchange, right? If I’m working for the organization, I need to be getting something out of it. If I’m making something for the organization that needs to be delivering value to somebody else, instead of when we have this sort of healthy value exchange. And unfortunately, a lot of organizations don’t have that. And sometimes they are purpose driven non profit. Sometimes they’re religious institutions, sometimes they are real estate, institutions, right. Again, you can kind of make bad organizations. You can organize them around almost any kind of topic that you want to

george grombacher 4:38
a healthy value exchange that that makes a lot of sense to me. Not everybody is going to feel like the job that they’re doing is their life’s purpose. But they can still feel like it’s like like it’s not drudgery and they don’t absolutely hate their existence. And then you can have some people who are going to feel like this is amazing. It’s checking all those boxes. But it needs to strike that right rhythm or chord.

Bob Gower 5:06
Yeah. Yeah, I really love that. I think there’s, you know, I always one of the things I railed against a lot is this idea that we call our workplaces families. And sometimes that comes from a good place, like people just work there. They’re like, hey, these, I work really hard with these people, and they feel like family to me, I don’t really worry about that too much. But sometimes we see bosses say, Hey, we’re like a family here. But you know, we’re gonna fire you if times get tough, right? Like, like they may, it may even come from a good place. But it’s often this kind of manipulation, that is designed to make people put their workplace at the center of their lives. And for many people, we just, they just don’t want to do that. Right. Many people, you know, you mentioned you have young kids at home, right? We have kids at home, we have other other things going on in our lives, but our work still serves a purpose. And so I think the more clear we can be about what that value exchange is about the transactional nature of that relationship and honor the transactional nature of that relationship, as well as the interpersonal. Like, it’s both and it’s not an either or, it’s not like either, you know, it’s just for money. And I’m just here to check boxes, and nor is it, it’s got to be my life’s purpose, we can kind of have, hey, I get some meaning I get some, some warmth, I enjoy the people I work with. And I clock out at five o’clock, and I go home, and I take care of my kids. Right. So we I think we can have those. And I think, actually we’re seeing Gen Z is asking for this more and more. So the next generation of workers is actually asking us to be a little more clear about the transaction that’s being offered in the work relationship.

george grombacher 6:36
When when, as you’re looking at other cultures, like, my perception is that in Europe, this will, we’re sort of just what you just talked about, has been valued for a lot longer than it has been in the United States. And now we have the new generation coming up. Do you think that’s a natural progression of things? Or is it a pendulum that’s swinging back and forth?

Bob Gower 7:00
You know, maybe so I have, my wife has a sister who’s much younger, and therefore have a different generation. And she doesn’t like to talk at all about what she does for a living, you know, like, she’s like, she’s like, oh, people in my generation, we just don’t talk about that. And that does remind me of experiences I had in Europe as a young man where, you know, in America, for one of the first things we ask is, what do you do, right? And in Europe, it was like, Why did you care what I do? Like, and maybe so maybe it is maybe that, you know, maybe there is sort of a a sort of a cross cultural thing. I also lived in Japan for many years where, you know, work was life. That was basically all people asked about this was back in the, in the mid 90s, when the economy was still booming there quite a bit. And, you know, people worked very, very hard. They worked very hard to get the lifetime employment of the job. And then once they were in the lifetime employment, the job it became their identity. And I like to think that that was due to the very difficult situation that Japan found itself in post war had to rebuild, and it needed everybody all hands on deck. But if we’re going to be living, the more prosperous times, maybe give us a little more freedom, potentially, I don’t know. It’s just a hypothesis. But

george grombacher 8:15
yeah, well, that. That sort of makes sense. But yeah. So as as you go into an organization, they say, Hey, Bob, we’d like to, we feel like we can probably, what, what, why do people normally call you in? Why am I guessing? I can just ask.

Bob Gower 8:33
Yeah, so it’s usually, you know, kind of the pieces I mentioned before, you always kind of rolls up into either some degree of efficiency, like, are we using our you know, and here I’m going to use when it business words, but human capital in the most efficient way possible? Are we using are we utilizing our people’s time in a way that actually is delivering value. And a lot of that is, is efficiency based, right? It’s just sort of, you know, doing as much as you can with as few resources as possible. There’s also I like to sort of separate that from effectiveness, because sometimes the most effective thing you can do is inefficient, you know, so I’m a writer, I spend a lot of my time writing. And one of the things I know is that if I get stuck writing, often, the thing I need to do is go on a bike ride or take a walk, or actually take my mind off of the thing for a while, even a week, I’ll take I’ll put projects on hold for a while, while they sort of just stayed inside of me, that may look really inefficient on the surface, but it’s the most effective way for me to get to the best product. And if you look at product development, sometimes as well like to get the best product, you have to kind of do things that look really sort of inefficient at times. And then the third piece third component is commitment or engagement, right? Like it’s sort of like how people feel inside the organization. So we frequently get calls after a particularly bad engagement surveys, you know, results come back and they’re like, why is everybody thinking about quitting? And so people ask us about that so easily either. It’s this sense that we’re not doing enough with what we’ve got, you know, so we’re not doing enough work, or that we may be doing the wrong work, right, which is where the efficient the effectiveness piece comes in, or that we are not treating our people, or we’re not building the kind of culture, the kind of community that attracts people and keeps people here because, you know, losing people and then rehired you know, like, that’s a that’s a quick treadmill to inefficiency, right? If you’re always, if you’re always retraining people, like keeping people is much better, usually for your bottom line than then trying to find new people constantly. And because it takes so long for people to become, you know, performers inside of organization. So, it but all of this rolls up to organizational performance, essentially team performance and organizational performance.

george grombacher 10:46
That makes a lot of sense. So, how do you help organizations? Figure out what that sustainable? What, what, what stasis looks like? Because there’s a lot of organizations that want growth every single year, it’s like this infinity war, which I don’t think is necessarily sustainable.

Bob Gower 11:09
Yeah, well, that’s often driven by their funding, right. So if you’re a publicly traded or if you’re venture funded, you’re often on that treadmill from the get go. And there’s very, you know, that almost becomes a design constraint that we have to work with work inside of because we’re like, okay, you know, your funders want continuous growth, we’ll figure well, let’s, let’s figure out how to get there. And then you use an interesting word, which is stasis. And I think the way we think about it, we treat organizations. And this is sort of a, this is a core concept of ours, but it can be a little hard to grasp, but we think of them as complex adaptive systems, which is, so we think of them less like an engine or a watch that you sort of tinker with and make efficient, and more like a forest or a garden, and something that you nurture and grows over time. And so stasis is just not really a thing, right? These, you know, organizations are full of emotional people every day. And those people are often changing, because you have some turnover in every organization. So organizations are always shifting, always changing, always flowing. And so our approach is to create a series of experiments. And so we start nudging the system different ways, what can we change, what can’t we change, sometimes you can’t change, a budgeting process, right? That’s a big, big lift and a lot of organizations, but you can begin to change how we think about the budgeting process or how budgeting decisions get made. And then we can slowly work our way towards some of these bigger issues, we operate from a very lean mindset, we want to do a lot of small changes, and then occasionally do some very, very big changes, once we built up the organizational trust and knowledge and perspective. So we can tackle those bigger changes, we are not going to come in we do not we do not usually come into organizations and say we’re going to restructure you all at once. That’s usually a That way lies madness, in my experience.

george grombacher 12:58
Yeah, I think that that makes sense. Small changes rather than great big changes. How important is is is empathy and patience, if at all.

Bob Gower 13:15
I would, I would say they’re essential. My most recent book is called Radical alignment. And it was a, it’s based on a process that my wife and I created, which is essentially about creating more empathy. It’s a way to talk to each other. It’s sort of a structured conversation you have before you do something important, like in a personal life, go on vacation, or have a child or get married or in business before you start a new project, start a new business start a redesign of the organization, for instance. And the idea is, is that different people can do the same thing for different reasons. And those reasons can be equally valid, right? So I can go on vacation, because I need rest and relaxation. And my wife can go on vacation, because she needs excitement and adventure. And if we know that upfront, we can design a vacation experience that serves both of those needs potentially, or we can figure out that we should be taking different vacations which actually we sometimes do. And so and the same is true in business, right? That some people can be there for the paycheck. Because that’s what they’re, you know, that’s where they are in life. They’ve got maybe young kids at home, and you know, they’ve they’ve already achieved a lot in their first few years of their career. And they’re ready just to sort of focus on something else. And then some people can be there to prove themselves, they can be there because they’re young, and they’re ambitious. And some people can be there because they want the company to grow. And they’re more strategic and they care more about the you know, the sort of the top line in the whole company, and the whole sort of ecosystem. When we develop empathy for each other, we can begin to develop processes and tools and team habits and a team landscape that honors everybody as an individual and yet also allows us to merge together as a whole as needed. And so I would say empathy is a huge part of that. And sort of and again, I mentioned we treat organizations that as complex systems, which means we are nudging them, we’re nurturing them. So I’m not saying like, I’m not giving somebody a goal and saying you have to double your revenue, you know, by next month, and then that, which leads to all kinds of dysfunction, those kinds of, you know, these kinds of targets sometimes do. Instead I’m saying, what’s working? And what can we? What can we improve? You know, what can how can we help? What’s working work even better? And what’s not working? And what can we stop doing? What should we stop doing? What should we start doing? And what should we continue doing? It’s often one of the main questions we’re asking, at organizations we work with.

george grombacher 15:33
What can we stop doing? What can we start doing?

Bob Gower 15:36
Stop, start continue? Yeah. And often stop is the is the is some of the most impactful things we can do. We love to look at people’s calendars a lot. And so sometimes we’ll go in, we’ll look at your, you know, like, how much of your day is meetings? How valuable are these meetings? How expensive are these meetings? Because often you have a 40 person meeting and everybody you know, like, you start calculating, like the the actual cost of that meeting. And so we’ll sometimes just say How about, we cancel all your meetings for a month and see what happens, see what’s essential, see what’s not essential, if it’s essential, we’ll get strong signal that that was essential. If it was in if it was in essential, we might, nothing might happen. And we’ll be like, okay, we can safely cancel that status update, meeting with 50 people in the room that happens, you know, every week that pisses everybody off and cost a lot of money and doesn’t deliver value to anybody. So stopping is often stopping is often where we start. But sometimes we also need to start new things, we need to try new things. And I’m sorry, I have a cat on my lap. Now. At some times we need to, you know, double down on the stuff that is working like let’s not you know if it works, like if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it even, you know, like, double down on that thing that is working. So those are the things that we’re we’re always kind of continually asking ourselves when we work with organizations.

george grombacher 16:48
Yeah, I think that that makes a lot of sense. You mentioned, I think it was just obviously just casual comment that if you come in and say we need to double revenue, and you know, a month, that’s going to create some kind of dysfunction. How do you? Is there a way you think about deadlines? Or does it just really depend?

Bob Gower 17:07
Yeah, so you know, deadlines can focus the mind. I think deadlines are valuable. Douglas Adams, one of my favorite writers always said he loved deadlines to make a wonderful whooshing sound as they fly past. And hence, which is often been my experience as a writer, I do think it’s important to focus, you know, like, I’m an old agile guy. And so I focused on like a two week sprint, what kind of value can we deliver in the next two weeks and, and then we can also sort of test and see how we did. One of the ironies, though, in the sort of the measurement world of the lean world that has really has really shown us is that when we make a measurement, a target, it ceases to be useful as a measurement anymore, because people start trying to game the system. I had a friend who was coaching a guy who was this is early days of the web, but the guy was was paid for, you know, pageviews. And the only way that was measured the time was how many times an image loaded on the page. And so my friend, the coach, who was rather unethical, I guess, he said, Why don’t we just cut each image in half. And so every single image becomes two images. So now you’re basically gaming the system you’re getting, even though it’s only one visual image loading, it’s measuring it’s you’re getting paid for two images loading at the same time, because you’ve just done like a little fancy, JPEG, Photoshop witchery. And I think but I think people do that kind of stuff all the time inside of business, right? As soon as you give them a target, they’re like, how can I get this done in the easiest way possible? And it may or may not serve the original intent of that goal? That measure?

george grombacher 18:38
Yeah, yeah, that’s really makes sense. You need to factor human nature into this. Yeah. Well, Bob, thank you so much for coming out. Where can people learn more about you? How can they engage with you?

Bob Gower 18:48
Yeah, if you go to Bob, that’s where you’ll find my writing my books, my speaking calendar, and all those things will also direct you to the ready, which is the And that’s the consulting company where I’m a partner. And that’s where I do all of my sort of facilitation and consulting work. So if you’re interested in my hiring me go to the ready. So ton of work there and a ton of other people there. And if you’re interested in my reading, and my writing and my speaking, go to Bob

george grombacher 19:16
Excellent. Well, if you enjoyed as much as I did, show, Bob your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, go to Bob b2b and check out all things. Bob Bauer has books, he’s reading his speaking. And then also check out the to find out the consulting opportunities for your company. Thanks. Goodbye. All right. Thank you, Josh. And until next time, remember, do your part by doing your best

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