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The Nature of Work with Jessica Kriegel

George Grombacher June 29, 2023

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The Nature of Work with Jessica Kriegel

LifeBlood: We talked about the nature of work, generational differences within organizations, what it means to have a good culture, how to have one at your company, and how to get started, with Jessica Kriegel, Chief Scientist of Culture with Culture Partners, speaker and author.      

Listen to learn why any organization can have a great culture!

You can learn more about Jessica at Culture.IO, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Jessica Kriegel

Jessica Kriegel

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
One lead for this is George G. And the time is right. welcome today’s guests during a powerful Jessica critical. Jessica, how you ready to do this?

Jessica Kriegel 0:08
I sure am. Thanks for having me.

george grombacher 0:10
All right, excited to have you on let’s go. Jessica is the chief scientist of workplace culture at culture partners. She’s a leader on research and strategy, best practices in workplace culture. She’s an author, speaker, and dynamic professional. Jessica, excited to have you on tell us a little about your personal last more about your work, and why you do what you do.

Speaker 2 0:33
Sure, thank you. Yeah, I my personal life, I live in Sacramento, California, I’m raising a little six year old girl. And she is the reason that I do what I do. And I think about when I was first entering the workforce, and I had my very first performance evaluation, I absolutely felt so grateful for the job, I was working in the tech industry, I had just finished my MBA was 2008. So the fact that I even had a job was just the bee’s knees. And my very first performance review, I was told, you know, Jessica, you’re like one of those annoying kids that sits in the front of the room constantly raising their hand asking people to pick them pick them, you need to just chill a little bit. And all of my enthusiasm and engagement and excitement in my about my job just deflated instantly. And I felt so unfulfilled, so unseen, so unhappy at work, because no one got who I was. And that was workplace culture, that was a culture that valued getting people to know their place, I guess. And it affected so much about the rest of my life, it affected my mental health, it affected my relationships, it seeped into everywhere. My, my, my whole self went from this happy person to this less happy person in pretty significant measurable ways. And so that’s why I got really interested in culture was we spend eight hours a day at work, we need to like it, it needs to be meaningful, it needs to give us purpose, and it needs to not feel like it’s draining the life out of us. And so that’s where i That’s why I started studying this.

george grombacher 2:15
Why do you think that, that your manager, or the company wanted you to tone it down?

Speaker 2 2:21
I still to this day have no idea. She’s retired. And I’ve thought about asking her the question. But you know, what I did is I stopped working, I stopped I called it well, it was quiet quitting before quiet quitting was termed because this was back in 2008 2009. Right. But I went dark is what I called it. And I actually applied to doctoral to go do my doctoral schooling, I that’s what I ended up doing. I didn’t tell anyone at work, I was secretly going to school, because I had so much energy, and I needed to put that energy somewhere. So I put it into school. That’s where I studied generational dynamics in the workplace, and first got interested in that research. And a year later, when I had my performance review, again, I was given the feedback, you’re doing great. Thanks so much for taking that feedback. We think you’re just really fantastic now, and I was like, okay, it works. I mean, I was doing probably 20% effort, you know, and they thought it was fantastic.

george grombacher 3:20
You’re just killing it just that you are a model employee for organization.

Speaker 2 3:25
Thanks for being quiet and not helping any more. I mean, it was politics. If I had to guess it was politics. It was I was trying to, you know, know your place, pay your dues. That’s what they were reacting to. And I wanted to do more. I wanted to be involved in more strategic conversations, I wanted to help I wanted to learn, they were like, just shut up and do the work that you’re supposed to do. I was like, okay.

george grombacher 3:48
So I mean, obviously, there’s a million different contributing factors. There’s the pecking order, there’s ego there is the existing culture of the organization. It’s, it’s we have to work here to just stop, you know, stop sprinting ahead of us or making us look bad.

Speaker 2 4:07
Yeah, I mean, and frankly, it was also a generational dynamics issue, right? Because I was a millennial. Here’s the other part of the performance review that I didn’t mention. She said, you’re like one of those millennials, you just need to bake a little bit longer. And that was why when I did my doctoral degree, I studied generational dynamics in the workplace, because I had no idea what that meant. What do I need to bake what you know, she was obviously hinting at some kind of immaturity and naivete that I had. I mean, I completely was probably fairly immature. It was my first real corporate job after my MBA. And yet the feedback I received did not land because I did not understand it was really just judgment. And so I wanted to understand what makes Millennials tick. That’s why I studied that and here’s what I found out. That’s not a thing. People need to stop talking about millennials be In one way, valuing one thing having a certain persona, because that’s really just unconscious bias, hiding in a generational label, which is socially acceptable, but really, it’s ageism. And it’s it’s counterproductive. So if you mentioned I was an author, my first book was called unfairly labeled. And it’s all about how your workplace can benefit from ditching generational stereotypes, and start to actually see the person instead of just the label.

george grombacher 5:29
So because there are people from at every age and background and experience within organizations, this can feel like at least my perception is this is a big problem.

Speaker 2 5:41
Yeah, I mean, every generation is stereotyped. First of all, so baby boomers are stereotyped as being having strong work ethic, being more loyal to employers, but also not tech savvy, not innovative, right, millennials are viewed as having short attention spans, but being more innovative, and being more tech savvy. I mean, I’m a millennial. I’ve never had Facebook in my entire life. That’s not even a thing anymore. Is it meta, I’ve never had that, right. And yet, that doesn’t track with the stereotype of what a millennial does or looks like. And so that is the it’s just counterproductive. And it affects everyone. And it’s something we’ve done since the beginning of human consciousness, frankly, Socrates 2500 years ago, said, young people today value chatter instead of hard work. And they value luxuries too much. Those are the same complaints we have about young people today. And that was 2500 years ago. So it’s human nature to find something wrong with the next generation and blame changing trends in society on young people. And the reality is, everyone’s changing, and we’re all affected by those changes.

george grombacher 6:48
Or those kids just need to stay off my lawn. Exactly. Kids these days. Good news is for you millennials, that there’s another group that we’re starting to cast our ire upon?

Speaker 2 7:00
Yeah, Gen Z, and soon, the alpha generation, which is the one after Gen Z, and they’re terrible. They’re just the worst of the worst. Right? You know, it’s funny, you mentioned kids, because I worked at Oracle for 10 years. And the CEO at one point, rest in peace Mark Hurd talked about, we’re hiring lots of kids these days, you know, and he was referring to college graduates that we were hiring to code and to sell our software. But he referred to them as kids. And there was a slew of complaints after that townhall of people saying, Hey, I’m not a kid, dude, I’ve got a mortgage, you know, I work here. And so yeah, it’s just that that seeps into the language. And it can create negative culture and negative experiences, which is the foundation of culture

george grombacher 7:48
is this. Obviously, when I sit down with somebody, one on one, like, you and I are having a conversation, and I can clearly recognize that you’re not static, that you’re very dynamic. And you have different opinions that are that are separate from millennials, or from women or for men, whatever. Is the challenge when we get into large groups of people that it just becomes an unwieldly. Yeah, I

Speaker 2 8:17
mean, we create narratives to simplify the complex world around us, our brain loves patterns and predictability. And it feels uncomfortable with a lack of predictability, right. That’s just the way the brain works. So we’re trying to simplify this very complex world. And we do that by categorizing, putting into boxes labeling, and saying Millennials are this way, baby boomers are that way Gen Z is going to be that way. And that’s unconscious bias. I mean, that’s what that is. It’s just a way of oversimplifying the complexities of human behavior based on, you know, a 20 year wide age bracket that someone happens to fall within. And, you know, when I’ve worked with organizations around their workplace culture, we use this model that really simplifies culture, because culture can feel really hard to define. And the model that we use is experiences that shape beliefs, which drive people’s actions are what gets results. That’s it. That’s culture experiences, shaping beliefs, driving actions, that get us results. And that is how culture is defined in a workplace setting. But that’s also how humanity develops. At all levels. We as children have experiences that shape our beliefs about the world around us. And those beliefs are what drive our actions and those actions are what get us results. But that’s true for everyone. And COVID, for example, was an experience that we all had that shaped a belief for all of us, it didn’t just affect the youngest generation and yet, the changing employee expectations that we’re seeing in the workplace now you’re seeing the great resignation and quiet quitting and rage applying and quit talking and all of these work terms. are getting created right now to try and explain what’s happening in the workplace. And it’s being blamed on the youngest generation. But the reality is people of all ages are rethinking the nature of work. They’re asking really thoughtful questions about why do we work? What is the purpose of work? And where do I fit into that and how important is work to me really doesn’t really add as much value to my life as I thought. And I can identify with my, my ego with work as much as I used to, or should I maybe spend more time with family. And that’s just a changing dynamics of the world. Thanks to this big moment, we had this pandemic, where we all went home for a while, and then said, Wow, I haven’t spent this much time with my family in a while, maybe this is something I want to do more of, right? That’s not a millennial thing. It’s just a world thing.

george grombacher 10:49
And that’s healthy. Yeah, I

Speaker 2 10:51
think it’s absolutely healthy, to revisit our priorities in the silver lining of COVID, at least for me, I’ll speak about my experience, I realized that my ego and my self worth was really wrapped up in my work and my success or lack of success. When I was doing well, I felt good about myself, when I wasn’t doing well, I didn’t feel good about myself. And I needed external validation in the form of bonuses in the form of recognition in the form of followers on, you know, whatever, LinkedIn, you know, all of those things are where I found my worth. And I kind of hit a bottom and COVID, because all of that came crashing down for a while. And I had to search elsewhere. For that validation, I got to do an internal, you know, seeking process, I went on a spiritual journey, so to speak, and, and suddenly found different meaning different ways to motivate myself different purpose. I still love my work. I’m not as wrapped up in the identity I have as a worker, as it was before. And I think a lot of people went through a similar process.

george grombacher 11:54
No, totally agree. I think it’s a very healthy thing. And is this? No, it’s probably a stupid question that falls into the trap that that we’ve been talking about, is this something that that I, as an employee, as a contributor should expect my employer to engage with me in? And or that I should? Just do personally?

Speaker 2 12:18
Yeah, that’s not a stupid question. It’s actually a great question. Should you expect? I mean, I don’t know. Should you expect, let me say it this way, the companies that are winning right now, that are not losing talent at fast levels? are the companies that are engaging at this level, they’re the companies who are thinking about purpose, I developed a model called the culture equation, and the culture equation is all about your purpose, the why of work, right? Why does this organization exist? And the strategy for how you go about achieving that purpose needs to be amplified by culture. That’s what gets results purpose plus strategy, powered by culture gets results. That’s the culture equation. And so it always starts with purpose. And I, you know, I’m constantly interviewing CEOs, I’m talking to them on the phone about what’s working, what’s not. We’re doing research right now at Stanford, on culture versus strategy, focus, and what really drives financial performance. And the results are coming back and saying, culture, organizations that focus on culture are much more likely to drive significant financial growth than companies that focus on process and strategy. And when I asked CEOs if that surprises them, they say, No, it doesn’t surprise me. When we started focusing on culture, we saw significant change. And yet the mindshare of the average CEO is still spending most of their efforts on strategy, rather than culture. And the reason is because they don’t know how to change culture. There’s not a systematic way to operationalize culture. And actually, there is and that’s what we focus on is how do you activate culture by creating intentional experiences, that shaped beliefs that will help you drive actions that are going to get you to drive those results that you’re trying to achieve? That’s what we’re all about that that is what a winning company looks like, if your company doesn’t care about helping you find purpose. If that company isn’t helping you amplify culture to drive intentional experiences that are going to get you results, then, you know, maybe you’re not at the right company, maybe you want to go find one where you’re gonna find more alignment.

george grombacher 14:23
That’s super powerful. And that makes it makes so much sense operationalizing culture, because we can put our strategy in place and we can, you know, focus on that that’s a tool that I could pick up and I know how to use it. But this I just want to call it touchy feely stuff, talking about purpose and talking about, well, what is it that you really want? What is a great day look like? How do you you know, what would make you feel good about your work? But but it is possible to actually systematize and operationalize that.

Speaker 2 14:55
Yeah, because you’re either gonna have a culture that’s managing you or you’re gonna manage culture, right? We help companies create intentional culture rather than accidental culture, because everyone has a culture. And it’s either intentionally created or it’s accidentally created. And there are ways to make culture intentional. And it has nothing to do with ping pong tables in the lobby, or Thirsty Thursdays or even team building retreats. You know, you people think that the answer to culture is getting everyone together for three days to do Myers Briggs assessment. And that is a fun social engagement that gets people to know each other a little bit better, you create some connection, it feels good, that high from that retreat lasts about three days, and then you go back to work, and everything is the same the way that it was before you know, and so it’s really about creating intentional experiences on a day to day basis systematizing those experiences towards intentional beliefs, beliefs that you know, are going to help your organization drive results and achieve your purpose. And, you know, when I were writing a book right now on how to get people to give a give a rip, about the work that they do, and I ask every CEO, have you figured that out how to get people to care about the work they’re doing. And almost all of them say, when people understand how what we’re doing here is improving the lives of others, they care, because we want to be helpful, we want to be of service that is also by you know, not coincidentally, the thing I learned when I did my own spiritual journey after COVID was like, I want to be of service. And when I am of service, I feel like there’s meaning in my life, I feel like that that hole in my heart is filled. And it’s not through fame, and it’s not through money. And it’s not through success at work. It’s through being of service. And so when you look at work through that lens, something changes, you know, suddenly your life has purpose,

george grombacher 16:49
then everybody seeks a purpose driven life. Yeah.

Speaker 2 16:53
And if not, they hit a bottom, they spiral to enter until they hit a bottom, and then they start seeking a purpose driven life. There’s a great book called Falling upwards, which is sometimes you gotta fall to go up, you know.

george grombacher 17:06
And this is something that any organization is capable of.

Speaker 2 17:09
Yeah, absolutely. If it’s managed intentionally, you know, it’s just a matter of understanding that culture is not water cooler talk. It’s about intentional experience, trances on a day to day basis.

george grombacher 17:25
So, how can I help? Can, are there examples of some of these experiences?

Speaker 2 17:31
Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I was working with a technology company, and they wanted to be more innovative. They saw a need to amplify and increase innovation within the organization. And so they started talking to people, we need you to be more innovative, we need you to be more innovative, and most leaders focus on actions, right. They’re talking to people about, we need to restructure to facilitate innovation, you know, or we need to hire new people to facilitate innovation, or we need to train people on how to be innovative. And they brought in these consultants to do design thinking training. And that’s typically where most leaders stop is in that action focus, right? And what really needs to happen is you that model I talked about earlier experiences are what drive beliefs. Beliefs are what shape actions and actions get you results. So you need to go beneath actions to beliefs. Ask yourself, What beliefs do people need to hold in order to be more innovative, rather than what actions can we do to make people innovate more? And the beliefs are? Well, that innovation is embraced here. And what does innovation require? It requires risk, right? Because innovation means you’re going to fail a little bit in order to take a risk and find that new thing that no one has thought of before. And so risk needs to be embraced. And so then you revert continue reverse engineering that well, if you need people to believe that innovation is embraced here, which means risk is embraced here by leadership, what experiences would you need in order to believe that and the experiences that the employee said was, well, we need to see you budgeting for risk, being willing to lose something, if we do innovate, we also need to see that there’s psychological safety and risking. And so what they ended up doing at this one company is they created a innovation program in which failure resumes were required to enter and everyone in the company had to submit a failure resume and it started with leadership. The CEO and leader shared their failure resumes publicly and talked about the failures they’ve experienced and how that helped them lead to innovation at some level. They also ended up literally creating a line item on their budget for failure for risk and they said this is we’ve got room here. They hired an innovation person that was you know, had previous experience with was to lead the effort. And so they really systematized experiences for all of the employees to see that there was a psychological safety to take a risk to innovate, which led to a belief, okay, I see the change belief, you know, the belief now is that innovation is welcomed, and they started to take those chances. And they started to act differently and innovate. And that got new results. Within 14 months, they had three new product lines that they previously hadn’t had because of that innovation efforts. So that’s different than just training people on innovation. It’s they, they, they knew how to innovate, they did not believe that it was okay. Because they didn’t see that psychological safety. That’s culture change and action.

george grombacher 20:43
I love it. Thank you. Well, Jessica, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? How can they engage with you?

Jessica Kriegel 20:51
We’ve got a lot of tools on how to facilitate culture management, and also research that we’ve done that I mentioned some of it online, if you go to podcast.culture.io, then people can download those tools there and I’m on LinkedIn, I’ve got a newsletter that goes out every week called This Week in culture, and you can follow me there too.

george grombacher 21:12
Excellent. If you enjoyed as much as I did, show, Jessica, your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas go to podcast.culture.io and check out all great things and resources to just because created and is working on and find her on LinkedIn as well. And I’ll list all of those in the notes of the show. It’s good, Jessica.

Jessica Kriegel 21:35
Thanks so much for having me. And until

george grombacher 21:36
next time, remember to your part by doing your best

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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