Leading with Discomfort
Helen Keighron presented “Leading with Discomfort” at Leadership By Design: Home Edition. Enjoy!
The following transcript may contain typographical errors. Please forgive any mistakes!
I am explicitly saying with discomfort here and not through, it would just be pretty disingenuous to pretend that we were through anything, so in the US, obviously, the volatility of our situation has not lessened and we’re just kind of acclimate as things shift around us, so we’re leading uncomfortable people while also experiencing personal discomfort, and the question that that is on my mind is How can we continue to introduce clarity and predictability all in a situation that is taking a very human touch and as so just a high cost all around. So I wanted to flash back for a little context of me, this is how my year has gone, so tiny story back in February, time still had meaning, and I was really busy shopping for captains and sandals. So we were gonna go to Mexico and we were very excited about school vacation, and then my daughter came home a few days before we were supposed to leave and she just had a horrible fever out of nowhere, and then she caught right in my face and I… In non that moment, none of us were gonna go to Mexico. And just to read a little bit of complication to this, we had just started a kitchen remodel, which is wonderful, but we were thinking that we were gonna be out of the house… We started this locked down situation without in or plumbing, and you truly have a lived until you’ve gone out in the cold and really heated up the Canadians on your barbecue grill, and then for bonus pins, when a Rico comes out to his U and now take the easy you do what the record says. So my illness did not break a continue til the end of March, I ended up in the ER with pneumonia, and luckily though my little Superman Hospital where I live, they told me it was not cover because I had not been to China, so that is very easily.
Recently, I just basically decided like, Hey, why not a resort area and destruction, we can do both.
So today, I’ve decided to learn my favorite captain, just because I like to honor… My name is Air and I encourage my team to do the same.
So we are in a situation where something has clearly gone wrong, and why do we feel some discomfort, we have many of… Many questions. But where do you even start to try to get answers to your questions?
It often helps to start where you are and figure out exactly what’s going on right now and what we need, so on the right, there’s a non to the Kanu and framework, that is a Welsh word, and you certainly don’t say it like You spell it, and I’m gonna give you sort of the appetizer version of this today, and I am also gonna drop some resources on this in our Slack channel, so you can peruse them at your your leisure, but essentially the framework helps such judge, were there problems that we may encounter and live in the unpredictable world, over the left or in the predictive world, but Ron the right, each pointer is a domain with its own set of rules and basically a prescribed order for working through problems that land in that domain, and if you don’t know where the problem lives at all, you’re probably in disorder, which may actually be where we’re all starting from, our goal is to always take the unpredictable situations and move those elements over into the zona predictability as much as possible.
The problem domain that you start with is a pretty big clue on how much you can ask you relying on your existing systems versus meaning to make a series of bets or additional place to restore or this one place to yourself as well. So if you are in disorder personally, your first step is communicating what is useful to you right now, and find some resources that move your problems to a place where they’re actually manageable. So in my case, I felt like the world was falling apart at the same time, but I was really not physically at my best, and others picked up the slack for me and I made sure that I communicated explicitly about exactly what I needed, so wanted to do for me, so that kind of made all the difference in that case… So if we do a mount a little bit from the very metric version, I definitely believe in putting that oxygen mask on first, but as part of a software company, homespun has also over 400 employees at this point. And over there on the right of the slide, I really cruel represented the nearly 130 wonderful, talented people in our design organization that make our product, and each of these people has their own set of circumstance and they need some form of support, but at scale, you really cannot quickly talk to everyone individually, so you got to ensure your flow of information through your existing channels is have this and clearly, and people don’t have the capacity at a time like that to process in essential messaging. So you really have to figure out what are they most concerned with, and meet them where they are, and also share a call to action. So it’s something to kind of fill that void.
So I would say that basically empathetic communication is not only the right thing to do, but rationally, and it is a resource conservation strategy, I hear some people consider a touchy-feely or an essential, but it is really what enables you to stay ahead of the fear uncertainty and out, and I feel like somebody just messed with my slides or maybe the sides are haunted.
Alright, so these are the principles that our C-Suite put up for us in the very early days of the pandemic, it was basically just a master class in crisis communication, and we were very lucky to have that model for us as leaders. But these principles are what we asked everyone in the company, they’re simple, they’re decisive, they’re bearing, and they modeled the same approach when they’ve addressed other tough issues like addressing police violence against black Americans and of talking about our efforts to become an anti-racist company, the focus is always on, how can we do a smaller set of things really well versus run and do everything all at once and potentially fail at those things.
Now, all organizations had arms, owes to speak first, and ideally, you are in a place where there is a swift federal response in resource consolidation happens and failing that, and I guess we’ve never seen that fail before, so that would be new. But if you look around and you don’t see that happening, congratulations, you could to make that first move, so you may not be able to speak to the whole company, but you can definitely step up and work within your sphere of influence and talk to your team.
So this team of resilience has been core for us all along, so again, in that very first company meeting after we went remote, the CEO took time to reassure everyone, jobs were secure and the company was diversified, Well, cable, we could really put those fears and concerns on the shelf and think about how are we gonna help customers, how are we gonna help each other, how are we gonna be flexible through the situation, and it’s okay to be really transparent and let people know when things are gonna be difficult, possibly even holy and noble, so caring that with a glimpse of what those things mean for you personally really normalizes that situation and helps us imagine finding that resilience together.
So here’s our old friend, amygdala, why does all this clarity matter? We basically meet animated by these strategical impulses, and we have to get other electric meets together to try to serve a commission, so that tiny red dot in there, that is the source of all of our woes, armadillos trying to identify threats and tell us when we should run away because we’re about to be eaten, and when it takes over, you’re just not in a position to perceive logically, so when you have a framework to help yourself, you’re not even able to use it if you are too busy thinking about… Although the worst case scenarios, so when you feel over whom the first step is getting still take a using breath and remember that you control the case more than you may think, so you want deliver consistency, not grantor NC. If you regulate yourselves, you can regulate others, that really is messaging from the executive team, I really hit the bottom rung of masses heraclea, so it covered off on fears about health and safety and belonging, and that really gave us that breathing room to slow down… I fall back into the systems that keep us on track, so the other thing about being fostered is it could be really talking to just throw all of your rituals and routines from The before times out to make room for something. I don’t know what, but remember that we wanna move towards predictability guides us to think about the fact that our rituals and routines actually make up our system, so all the existing norms to support those systems will actually help us get back on track faster. So you may just have to adopt the form and that could we now send lots of little rooms, I’ve sorta short… Instead of long emails, we’ve also taken existing rituals like as, which is a format where anyone can ask older in the company, any question anonymously, we really want that up. So those are on MoUs questions are really great way to take the pull some of what people are thinking The… But they’re scared about what they might not even bring to you intentionally, and they also give you a position where you can demonstrate vulnerability and empathy, and I really lead with that discomfort mean into… I acknowledge it, but don’t want it over power you.
The best new virtual we probably developed was I sat down with all the managers who report to me, and we did a calendar taro, and we had a goal of just slicing through 50% just right off the top, and giving people that explicit permission to balance things so they can attend to other needs in their life, are grieving or whatever those needs may be, is amazing, so you can imagine just this cleansing wave crashing over your calendar, washing away it the fun committee in the book club and other things that may serve you in normal times, but don’t actually contribute to let your fundamental systems long-term… Thanks for us to see. Let’s see, systems health reinforce the behaviors that serve your word, shared goals, and we have a mantra that total alignment is or more than the most native strategy, systems are the Kanata. If you can’t name the systems in your organization, definitely spend some time and map them, and I’ve got three sort of key systems for us listed here, our design system canvas, which you can go for it, UL, if you’re so inclined, compass, our annual planning process, which ensures that we do our highest value work, and then customers, which we put at the center of each decision that we make, and I can go into depth on any of these, obviously not with a couple of minutes left, but on Slack, if something feature Idris in happy to talk about it.
But the real trick is, the set of things that work for us, it falls within a particular set of content and resources, and it may not work for you at all, so think about every time somebody has asked to do the Spotify model… So here’s our simplest and perhaps most powerful tool, and you can eat definitely easily adapt this concept. I take no credit for creating a… Unfortunately, it’s been in place for a couple of years, but you call in or an sale, and it’s a system of systems that tells everyone really what matters to us as an organization, so teams have SLA is against everything on the lower main sale and for the UX work that is, we have a system in JIRA that helps us track and usability sarees, we put a lot of emphasis on transparency around these main call commitments, we have dashboards, Eve, a monthly read-out, and everyone really, truly gets the fact that you have to put in the work in order to be successful at the highest level.
So lead in to how I’ve been thinking about how mass hierarchy translates sensor team needs and how those needs dictate where I allocate my time as a leader of the design community loves to talk about vision and delivering vision, and we absolutely should. But the hard truth is, it’s really hard to create real impact and develop real insight that leads you to the next thing, if you’ve got just organizational weaknesses of that are lower down in your garment, they’re creating trash and execution.
In reality, I think my time break down is something like an 8 in 2010 situation, so 80% is really focused on maintaining or upgrading data day word functionality, 20% nurturing culture and demonstrating impact, and 10% is about fire farmers in Mark and you don’t have to do all those things yourself, you are a leader, so you can choose to delegate a more partner on it, but getting those lower runs, it ultimately dictates how inclusive you can be is attained. So all this great ideas Michelle shared this morning, you can’t get there if you fail in terms of your execution in those areas, I’m not gonna let you off the hook without thinking about your own personal ban sales. So whatever that is for you, I’m certainly none of us are actually drinking enough water, work from home has made it oddly disruptive for me and just were basic things like water or food at regular times, and if I missed that stuff up, it makes me crabby and then I’m not useful to the next person that I go to, so I think hard about what are those guard rails on your personal man sale and what systems are in place to reinforce those guardrails.
Now, at the end of the day, a culture, which is a shared set of beliefs and values, this is sort of the Uber system that binds all of this together, the most brutally honest definition that I’ve ever heard is, your culture is the behaviors you reward and punish, so we reward following our guardrails to reach our goals, and we don’t punish things like asking tough questions or running experiments that failed, so there again, on my right, my 130 teammates and our culture rewards me for reading my personal needs so that can take care of them. And I can report reinforce the thing to take care of each other, maybe even me when I need it, intern, so I’m taking a couple of days off next week, and I made a point yesterday when I was kicking off for all hands to really leave loudly and explicitly say, Hey, I’m not gonna be here. And by the way, what is your next plan, time off, new leaders often how this… The idea is that you’re gonna go in and like change culture, but as my brilliant friend Maria, we hear from later says You don’t design culture all by yourself, and that is perhaps the most uncomfortable truth of all, we are interdependent and not independent, we are not islands of this trance leadership, it’s really just a big sea of people helping other people… Alright, thanks for being uncomfortable with me today, and if you ever find your current culture is not allowed you to honor your own personal guardrails, please do come as out of… I’m happy to talk to anyone I was looking, and I’m gonna drop a number of roles, both in the US and Ireland in our job saccha.