People First, Professionals Second

Unless we can join forces and recognize each other’s humanity, how can we do business together, let alone make progress?
– Daniel Lubetzky

Take a moment to think about a time when a manager or colleague took a deep interest in your goals, your ambitions, and your life outside of work. Sure, you were collaborating in a professional environment, but she knew your personal story, how you got to the company, and what led up to your current role. In effect, she treated you like a human being rather than a resource. How did you feel? Were you motivated to go the extra mile?

In contrast, now think about a time when a manager or colleague knew you simply by name and function. You’re “John,” the guy in operations. You’re often introduced to others by your role, with a quick compliment filled with words like “great” or “awesome.” But that’s about it. Surface level and empty observations from a disconnected superior. In other words, you were treated like a expendable professional who could get something done for that person. How did that make you feel? How did your motivation suffer in this case?

I find this contrast to describe an incredibly difficult problem. As a company grows, expediency is hard to avoid. We are in a fast paced, global market where competition is at an all time high. We all have a lot on our plates, and every minute not spent being “productive” seems like wasted time. Getting things done is incredibly hard both within teams and cross-functionally. While trapped in this mindset, I find that some people, myself included, can start to treat people as vehicles to accomplish tasks. We can treat others as dispensable resources, rather than as people who share in the same human experience I believe in so deeply. As Fred Kofman speaks to here, we are focused on the “It” at the expense of the “We.”

I notice this damaging phenomenon playing out consistently in two distinct ways: one being in a Manager-Direct Report relationship, and the other is in collaborating with cross-functional colleagues. The following breaks down my understanding of each relationship:

Managers: David DeSteno points out in The Truth About Trust, “As a person’s power increases, their perceived trustworthiness goes down.” Managers have difficult jobs, facing pressures from above and below. Some managers have die-hard team members who are willing to go above and beyond for them and the company. Others have teams who operate on a baseline of bare minimum effort – just enough that they are not totally free riding. And most managers have teams that fall somewhere in the middle. With those three groups in mind, the pressure faced by every manager can cause genuine interest and care to drop, replaced by operational duties and efforts to manage up and grow their own career. Should a manager be expected to spend an extra five minutes learning about each team member? Or should they take care of that pressing email, or that request from their manager? Often, with no mal intent, the latter wins out.

However, Google’s Project Oxygen, a study in building better managers, states, “What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-one-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.”

Cross-functional collaboration: Companies often prosper or die depending on collaboration. Here at LinkedIn, Collaboration is one of our core cultural tenets. Often, like in most companies, groups of cross-functional people are tasked with something important that needs to get done under a tight deadline. Let’s say most of the team doesn’t know each other past function. They will most likely go into the first meeting introducing themselves in the following way; “Hi, my name is Sarah, I work in biz ops…” BOOM! Right there, we have already started a cross-functional relationship treating each other as no more than business assets, instead of people who are all interested in a common objective. We are reduced to objects that are simply present for the purpose of moving a project forward.

When a company focused on improving collaboration fails in this regard, it leads me to believe it is a deep, underlying problem that affects the sustainable well-being of both individuals and companies.

  • At an individual level, I bet every person reading this has at one point felt more like a cog in a wheel than a person who has friends, family, a dog…a life!! How sustainable is that feeling? And when you feel this way, how willing are you to put in extra effort?
  • At an enterprise level, a level no more complex than the sum of all individual human beings in a private or public company, we are all pressured to perform. Doing so requires people to collaborate effectively. And at its core, collaborating effectively is a function of trust. Who do you trust more – people who genuinelycare to know what makes you tick and to work towards solutions that benefit both of your needs? Or people who are pushing to get something done with no regard to your unique value? As an enterprise seeking to build trust within the company, belief in the former setting is critical. This bedrock of trust lies at the intersection of employee engagement and improved business performance.

There is plenty of wonderful research, including this study done by Interaction Associates, that shows higher trust = higher performance. There is also a number of practical recommendations on building trust, such as creating consistent communication, a common language, and demonstrating behavior expected of teams.

That said, the following reference from an HBR article sums it up in my mind: “If people trust each other and their leaders, they’ll be able to work through disagreements. They’ll take smarter risks. They’ll work harder, stay with the company longer, contribute better ideas, and dig deeper than anyone has a right to ask.”

Treating others as people first, professionals second is critical to trust-building, leading to individual and company success. However, it is important to note the difference between genuine interest in one another and niceties in which you ask someone how they’re doing and continue to look at your phone while they respond. I know I struggle with it myself. As a collective, though, if we can consciously work towards actively engaging with those around us, rather than with our cell phones and laptop, I genuinely believe that we can create better and more productive workplaces.

In order to start treating our fellow women and men as people first, professionals second, I want to share a few actionable thoughts for Leaders and collaborators both in and outside of your company:

  • If you are a Manager: Find some personal common ground between you and your employee. David DeSteno cites the importance of finding similarity to build trust in this study. Additionally, find out what makes the individuals on your team tick. As Reid HoffmanBen Casnocha, and Chris Yeh speak to in The Alliance, it is critical to performance of a company to find the place where they are helping serve the interests of individual team members while collectively eliciting team members’ commitment to work towards the company’s vision.
  • If you are collaborating: Get to know the stakeholders you are working with. I recognize that you cannot know every person in your company, but before jumping into the work, take time to learn what personally drives or motivates each member of the team. Go around the room to learn about each person and ask openly what an ideal outcome would be as you work together. What is important to them as an individual? We are social creatures and I genuinely believe you will build more trust, collaborate more effectively, and have more fun as you invest in team culture and unity.

To be clear, this process is not meant to be easy or exhaustive. It’s a hard problem comprised of many contributing factors. But I believe if we can fundamentally approach each other as people first, professionals second, we will be more likely to create a set of conditions that lead to happier employees, more productive collaboration, and ultimately, stronger companies.

Written by Prakash Raman    

*Big thanks to Max Hogan for his generous time and help!

Dear Leaders, Your People Are Not Flawed

The other day, a close friend and I had the following conversation:

“You know what the problem with my team is Prakash?”

“ What’s that?” I asked.

“They need to coach their teams more. They need to collaborate more. They need to prioritize better. We would function so much better if They were more disciplined to do these things.”

“Wow, sounds like a lot of things to focus on. Just to focus on one of those, let me ask, do you coach your teams consistently?” I asked.

“Well…when I have time.”

Now, I love this friend dearly, but I have so many issues with this kind of conversation. And unfortunately, this exchange is not unique and happens to be quite common in my work.

As leaders we have to recognize there is no “They vs. Us”…there is only “WE.”

To elaborate, I often hear leaders speak to team issues such as global collaboration, team culture, prioritization, etc. All are real and difficult to fix. However, when approached with the “they vs. us” mindset, a leader separates from the team and creates tension. In essence, leaders speak about their reports as if they are flawed – “My teams need to coach their teams more. My teams need to better prioritize,” and on and on it goes.

As a leader, ask yourself, “Are you coaching your teams consistently? Are your priorities clear to the extent that your reports know how their priorities ladder up to yours?” Whether I work with a first time leader or senior leader, there is a tendency to assume that we have mastered the skills that we want to see in our direct reports. That we are whole and they are flawed. In this “they vs. us” mindset, we ultimately lose the beginner’s mind.

There are two core challenges I see with this “they vs. us” style of leadership. First, we cannot build authentic trust with our teams. Second, in organizations we rise and fall collectively, and therefore, there can only be WE.

Trust

When we separate ourselves from the members of our team, it becomes impossible to build sustainable trust. And yes, I know that most leaders are aware of areas of improvement and have no intention of being hurtful or damaging, yet danger still looms. Even in the team’s absence, adopting the “they vs. us” mindset as a leader can lead to a veil of arrogance and distance. As Marshall Goldsmith points out in his post titled “The #1 Sign Someone Isn’t A Great Leader,” leadership arrogance at all levels leads to little collective improvement:

“When your boss acts like he or she is perfect and tells everyone else they need to improve this is a sure sign that the leader isn’t great. Worse yet, this behavior can be copied at every level of management. Every level then points out how the level below it needs to change. The end result: No one gets much better.”

Additionally, this mindset can become hypocritical and erosive. By maintaining a superior mindset, we as leaders can fail to demonstrate the key behaviors we most want to see in our direct reports. One of my mentors, Fred Kofman, speaks to creating the culture you want to see by Defining, Demonstrating, and then Demanding certain standards. In the “they vs. us” mindset, we often demand a standard of behavior without defining or demonstrating those same standards. Leaders, consider this – is there anything you do that your manager does not define or demonstrate? If your manager is not coaching you consistently, then you’re most likely not coaching your team consistently. It’s a matter separate from the love and appreciation you have for your team. Rather it is an inherent problem in failing to define what is important and demonstrating said behaviors. With this lack of definition and consistent communication, prioritization suffers and entire chains of teams can fall prey to stalled progress and improvement.

When The Ship Sinks, You Go Down With It

Let’s say you or your manager is still unconvinced of the importance of “softer” skills and practices like trust and healthy communication lines. I’d invite you to think of it differently:

Consider the following question – If your team is not exhibiting the behaviors you as a leader believe are vital to success, is it only the individuals on your team that suffer?

Of course not. They may suffer by slower professional growth and an inability to achieve their fullest potential, but so does the organization. The organization suffers by not getting everyone’s best. And of course, you suffer too because you are part of the team and organization!

As a leader, reflect on your ability to set clear expectations and execute on the changes and behaviors you bring to your team. If there is solid evidence that you have accomplished these things, then it becomes critical to address your team as a whole to ensure the highest contribution possible to your organization’s mission.

In my work with the Conscious Business Academy at LinkedIn, I have found that the mindset of WE is not only critical to trust building and team health, but it is the only way to approach leadership when aiming to collectively improve the performance and achievement of the entire organization and its mission.

To reiterate, the “They vs. Us” mindset hurts any team and organization. The WE mindset build sustainable trust and is the only mindset to adopt given the fact that an organization succeeds or fails collectively.

As you move forward in your professional journey as a leader, I challenge you to honestly assess yourself based on two questions:

  1. Do I have a “they vs. us” mindset, or do I genuinely believe and exhibit the “WE” mindset?
  2. If I ask my direct reports to exhibit a behavior, am I leading by example?

I challenge you to stop thinking of yourself as different from your team. Let’s start looking at the members of our team with the mindset that they are whole, not flawed. We are all in this together and we all share in this human experience. I believe if we adopt the WE mindset, we will build more trust, learn more through our beginner’s mind, and see increased individual and collective success.

Written by Prakash Raman             

*Big thanks to Max Hogan for his generous time and help!

The Power of The Shared Human Experience

Let me pose a simple question – do you want to be happy?

Now, ask a few of the people around you the same question. My bet is that most, if not all, said yes.

This straightforward idea has been my focus all summer. It has been an incredibly divisive few months, filled with violence, continued prejudice, and polarizing political environments. Recent events and our more general societal realities seems to constantly pit people against each other. Debates ensue and it is easy to see how differences are twisted and amplified to drive groups apart.

Why do we spend so much of our time obsessing over these differences? How has the “outlier” become so increasingly explosive and problematic in public rhetoric?

Ultimately, no matter what opinion you hold on a multitude of topics whirling around lately, one thing remains true: everyone seeks fulfillment, happiness, and health.

It is the Shared Human Experience. It is proof that we are so much more similar than we are different.

We all want to be happy. We all want to protect and provide for those we love. We all want to feel pride and advancement in our endeavors. We all care for our parents, children, spouses, friends. We also have similar underlying insecurities and fears. Whether we fear rejection or death, universal insecurities exist on all levels. And it is only when we hit pause that we realize that our experience as humans is more parallel than it is divergent.

To switch perspectives, even biologically we are strikingly similar to one another. Riccardo Sabatini supports this claim in his Ted Talk in which he and his colleagues describe coding the human genome. To bring his results to life, he created physical pages of his work that comprise 26 books, each 1,000 pages long. The books total a mind boggling 3 billion letters! These 3 billion letters describe the scientific makeup of any given human being.

Do you know how many of those 3 billion letters separates you and I?

5 million

That is 0.17%

Other than this portion, you and I are absolutely identical. No different.

99.83% of our physical being is shared.

Why is it so hard for us to embrace this shared nature? How can we live out this biological similarity in both life and work?

In life, we fail because of many forms of prejudice, classism, racism, elitism, etc.

This can show up at work too. And an opportunity to start embracing the Shared Human Experience can start right here.

Why work? Because it is where we spend so much time, and if done correctly, we are productive and are able to work towards a better community.

However, all too often we bring a mindset that we are different from the people across the table, people that we must collaborate with to succeed. Imagine if we took an extra moment each day to remember that they, just like you, want to do well and excel at work. They want to be happy and impress their managers too. What if we approached co-workers as people with needs, wants, and hopes rather than objects that are different in some way, large or small. What if we took time to understand their values?

My belief is that at least two great things would happen

  1. Your happiness will increase because you will be building strong relationships with your colleagues. As the Harvard Study of Adult Development says, the single most important thing to a happy, healthy, and long life is strong relationships.
  2. Second, in approaching people with the mindset of the shared human experience, you will be engaged, have more compassion, and listen more effectively. Ultimately, this will lead to stronger collaboration towards a shared goal. This makes teams more effective and businesses initiatives more productive.

I have written about this before and I continue to see singular and separate mindsets create anxiety in people’s hearts and waste in organizations and teams. While I am not suggesting we all conform or remain content with the status quo, I am arguing that a mindset of unity, similarity, and togetherness can make a monumental difference in the performance and well-being of teams and companies. There is clear, factual knowledge of our similarity and it’s something we can embrace right now in working beyond micro-goals of success and towards macro-goals of fulfillment.

So many events in the world and at work are a result of a confluence of factors, most beyond my comprehension. My simple point here is that we are fundamentally more similar than we are different, and I believe we can embrace that more. In doing so, we won’t be solving all of the world’s issues, but I certainly believe that we will augment individual happiness, build a society that has more compassion and understanding, and lead businesses to be more productive.

So I encourage us all to embrace the shared human experience mindset – when you meet someone who is seemingly different than you in life or at work, remind yourself that you are 99.83% the same. I think you’ll find a new world of fulfillment in doing so.

Written by .          

* As always, a big thanks to Max Hogan for his generous time and help!