Human performance can be a mystery. We can’t control it, and every individual is unique and different.
How can we unlock team performance and bring the best out of our people? And how do we navigate the biggest shift in the last two years?
Claire Chandler joins us to walk through ways to unlock team performance and bring out the best in employees, including the importance of guiding organizations to tap into the unique qualities of their individuals.
- 1:01 – The biggest shift in the last two years that he’s seeing.
- 4:12 – How do you guide organizations to unlock the uniqueness within the individuals they have?
- 8:40 – How employee engagement and the culture within your workplace are a representation of your company’s culture.
- 12:08 – The importance of building a culture of trust within the company.
- 16:10 – Getting outside help is something that executives are willing to do.
- 18:28 – Why it’s so important for leaders from the very top of an organization to have a unifying mission.
- 22:40 – The whirlpool effect is a powerful example of what our business can do when we all get around that purpose and workflow.
- 26:58 – The importance of reconnecting with other children when they are still children.
Notes from the Show: Episode 32
Project Aristotle: research from Google (mentioned at 9:46)
Don’t Be That Guy: Five Soul-Crushing Behaviors of Toxic Leaders [Claire Chandler on Forbes.com]
At 22:40, Claire mentions The Whirlpool Effect, her book that invites you to inspire the whirlpool effect to motivate greater company performance.
Download Claire’s Growth on Purpose Guide
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Connect with Claire Chandler
Claire Chandler specializes in aligning HR and business leaders so they can deliver strategic outcomes… both today and in the future.
She taps into over 25 years of experience in people leadership, human resources, and business ownership to help leadership teams work together more effectively in less time, with less cultural resistance, so they can accelerate their business growth.
Claire has appeared as a guest on over 100 podcasts, is the author of several books on leadership and business strategy, and is a contributing writer for Forbes.
Episode 32 – Full Transcript
Aaron Lee 0:00
human performance can be a mystery. We can’t control it and every individual is unique and different. How can we unlock team performance and bring the best out of our people? I’m really excited for this conversation with Claire Chandler Claire specializes in aligning HR and business leaders so they can deliver strategic outcomes both today. And in the future. With over 25 years of experience in people leadership, she helps leadership teams work together more effectively, in less time with less cultural resistance, so they can accelerate their business growth. All right, let’s dive into this conversation with Claire Chandler. Welcome to the new generation leader podcast, we’re giving you the tools you need to lead in the digital world ready to reach your true potential. This is the new generation leader podcast. What are you seeing in the landscape of your work? Today, it’s new or different or surprising, based on being where we are in 2023.
Claire Chandler 1:01
So I would say that the biggest thing that I’m seeing in the last two years that I did not see, even five years ago, is that in between those two time periods has been COVID. fun time to be a business owner and leader and trying to follow leaders. I think the biggest shift has been, we’ve gotten over our aversion to being remote. And what I mean by that is prior to the pandemic, becoming our reality, there were a lot of companies and a lot of leaders and a lot of business owners who were struggling with making that shift toward more flexible working arrangement and managing remote teams or geographically dispersed teams. And I think the pandemic kind of forced everyone’s hand. And we’ve got through that learning curve of how do we lead? And how do we motivate? And how do we mobilize people that we don’t see, and are not in the same physical location with every day. So we think we’ve gotten over that hump. And I think the beautiful thing that has come out of that is that we have finally, as businesses and as leaders recognized how to bring forth and tap into our employees and our people’s individual unique talents and trying to bring those to bear versus just managing to a job description. So we think we are far more inclined and far better equipped to leverage the unique skills and talents and personalities of our employees than we were prior to COVID.
Aaron Lee 2:31
One of the headlines I’ve seen that resonates or aligns with what you’re describing there is we’ve moved from the great resignation to quiet quitting. Now in the last week or so talking about quiet hiring. And that sounds like what you’re describing, which is the way it should be and the way businesses need to run that you might have the very people you need under your roof. Yeah, you already know. And you don’t have to go out and find them and figure out if they fit the company culture.
Claire Chandler 3:05
Yeah. And it’s interesting, because this is what employees have been asking for, and longing for years, right? They have been given up on asking out loud and have sort of expressed this with their feet, that they want to be recognized for their uniqueness they want to be able to bring to bear their talents, their passions, their ways of working, which may not fit in the traditional corporate box. Again, COVID sort of forced their hand. But employers are now understanding, there’s a tremendous value to that there is value through retention, there is value through innovation, there’s value through increased efficiencies and performance in ways that they had not foreseen, because they were so traditionally managing to a job description and saying, Well, we can’t have people just going out and doing their own thing, because then that would be absolute chaos. Well, any good leader will tell you that you have to become comfortable, you have to know how to manage chaos, and make it look coordinated, right. And you have to get your team comfortable with ambiguity, because you are going to blur the lines if you want to get the best result.
Aaron Lee 4:12
Or one of my favorite examples ever of that is Google and their infamous percentage that employees were welcome to go pursue passion projects and eyelid projects that have turned into a number of great Google products. Not all of them, obviously. But there is a creativity and imagination and experimentation that comes from passion. And if we don’t unlock that passion, then we lose out on that. How do you guide organizations to unlock that uniqueness within the individuals who they have on their teams?
Claire Chandler 4:49
Yeah, great question. And I love that you that you introduced Google because I think that is absolutely a great example of of unleashing and allowing and giving permission to those individuals. passions. So the way that I work with my clients, I actually have incorporated some really cool diagnostic tools. And I don’t lead with those, but I do incorporate them into my advisory work. And those tools literally allow us to measure what motivates an individual. And it is very unique to the person. And I know some leaders hearing that are going to say, Well, that’s exactly our problem, right? It’s great that you can measure it. But if it’s so unique to the person, how are we going to manage that? Well, again, if you’ve spent even more than 10 days in a leadership role, you know that you have to manage people uniquely, you know, you have to, there’s no one size fits all management mentality, we are so far away now and evolved from that sort of command and control, do as I say, not as I do type of mentality. And so when I’m working with leadership teams, in particular, I will go through a bit of a diagnostic process, so that we can capture what they are uniquely good at, right? What comes naturally to them. Because the more time we can spend in our quote, unquote, fascinating, the more productive we’re going to feel, the better we’re going to feel about the contributions that we’re making. When we can align those fast lanes with things that uniquely motivate us, which we could also measure, then we get into deeper engagement, right? Because then we feel more fulfilled, we feel more energized than drained at the end of the day. And when’s the last time you heard an employee in a corporate environment, say at the end of the day, they felt energized, right, it’s always the opposite. And so I work with teams on measuring that so that we can better put people in the path of their unique greatness.
Aaron Lee 6:39
That’s a great process to walk through. And I think it’s so important for companies to understand who their people are, like you’ve described, there’s a paradigm shift happening from managing to a box, let’s say, and trying to fit people into a box, versus Who are you and what’s the box that you’re already in? And how can we map that to expectations to our goals, and to accomplish more, and maybe just maybe it gets a little messier in the middle. But what comes out at the end is far more spectacular than where we started?
Claire Chandler 7:18
Well, and it comes back to what you said about Google, right? That they they sort of created an environment where there’s a percentage of time that an employee can spend on passion projects, not all of which are successful. And that’s an important addition to that story, right? Because Google had created an environment where people could not only experiment and try to tap into and bring into into their job roles, what they were truly passionate about. But they also introduce the concept of failing forward. Right. And a lot of companies are so scared to death of doing that. And I think one of the causes that that gave rise to the greats that resignation and acquired quitting is this conflict between what companies say they want and what I actually want, right. And what I mean by that is every single company I’ve ever seen when they advertise a position, throws in that bullet that says, We’re looking for people with an entrepreneurial spirit. Wonderful, that sounds great. And then they hire people who say, Oh, I have that. And I want to express that in a unique way. And I want to bring my unique talents and passions to work. And then they’re handed a very black and white job description. And they’re told don’t stray outside the lines. And so when a company advertises for people with entrepreneurial spirit, and they attract that, and they get that they’re scratching their heads going, how can we can’t retain our best people, it’s because you then put them into a tightly lidded box, where you absolutely violated the brand promise that you put out into the world.
Aaron Lee 8:39
One of my friends, Scott Waldron is in marketing. And he talks about how employee engagement and the culture within your workplace are a representation of your culture. And so he shifted his work from marketing and expanded into this kind of work that we’re discussing and finding the potential of people. And helping business leaders understand just how important and vital that work is to the representation of their business. And I get this visual in my mind is, as you’re describing that, we put people into that job profile, but we don’t allow the job profile to grow with them. And what does that lead to? Well, if we’re hiring the right people who are expanding and growing themselves, then they are going to and so we’re going to need to grow with them. Or we end up watching them leave out the side door and go somewhere else that are matches who they have become. Absolutely. One of my favorite studies staying on Google for a minute is their work in Project Aristotle and project oxygen, and you describe failing forward. And that cultural dynamic is what they identified in that study that psychological safety is the number one predictor of high performing teams within their company that you can feel safe not only to fail with a project, but all the way back to the beginning, even to speak up and feel the freedom to share your ideas, share your thoughts, but your perspective out on the table, it’s a powerful shift that maybe allows us to hear new things or see a new perspective, and recognize that not everybody thinks like we do.
Claire Chandler 10:26
I’m so glad you went there, because it is absolutely vital. If a company is going to innovate, stay competitive, let alone stay in business, they have to create an environment where people can speak up and express themselves in that has to start at the very highest levels of an organization. We talk a lot about culture, and how if you don’t actively promote it, and build it and protect it and nurture it, it sort of forms on its own, and people assume that it forms from the bottom up. But actually, in my experience, I have found that the biggest impact on the culture of a company is the behavior of its leaders at the very top. Right? And how often have we seen leaders? Who, again, have that do as I say, not as I do mentality? Who say, yes, it’s important to us that we develop the pipeline of leaders, but leave us out of it, we got to the positions that we are in, we don’t need coaching, we don’t need to improve, we’ve gotten to sort of this pinnacle in our careers. And so we’re not going to take feedback, and they shut it down. And so I work with a lot of large organizations on trying to build an accelerate trust across their leadership team. Because I think one of the pleasant surprises that I’ve seen, to come back to your first question is that more companies are recognizing that that trust is missing, and it’s missing at the highest levels of the organization. And if people don’t trust each other, you’re not going to grow your company, they’re not going to contribute their best, they’re not going to speak up, they’re not going to seek out ideas and perspectives that may be different from their own, they’re going to shut those down. And they’re just going to say with blinders on. Let’s just keep doing things, the way that we’ve always done them. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. failing forward is a great concept for companies like Google, but we’re not Google. And you hear all of these things. And so working with a lot of these executive leadership teams, building, and refreshing this atmosphere of trust, which gets to your point about psychological safety, because too often even high level leaders, you know, sort of say to me, I keep getting shut down, my ideas are not heard, if I challenge the leader in the room, I am admonished for that. And it shouldn’t be that way. And yes, you have to be respectful when you disagree, certainly with the C suite, right. But there has to be this environment where we can challenge each other. And we can challenge the highest levels of leadership, if our intention truly is to make the company better to make it an environment that I want to show up in every day and look forward to contributing to, I used to work in a corporate environment, and I knew it was time to go, when the closer I got to the corporate office, the more my stomach turned in knots. And it’s a feeling a lot of employees feel. And it’s such the direct opposite of psychological safety. And it’s why people are leaving, or it’s why people are checking out and staying because the upper levels of leadership don’t even notice.
Aaron Lee 13:32
So for those listening, who are maybe in management or leadership, at some level, from the middle to the top of their company, who are starting to see blinders are falling off, they’re starting to recognize, hey, we need to do something, what would your encouragement be to them? To start that conversation within their company?
Claire Chandler 13:57
The first thing that comes to mind is to absolutely make sure that they are ready. And the way that they can do that is to ask themselves a very basic question. When is the last time you changed your mind based on someone on your team, whether it’s a leader or a frontline contributor, said to you? And it’s a very important question, right? Because it does get to the heart of the willingness and the capacity for those senior level leaders to truly welcome other perspectives that are different from their own. And if the answer to that is it’s just never been a factor because I always know the right thing to do. You’re not ready. And honestly, I don’t want to work with you, right? Because if you’re saying you’re ready, but you’re not really ready because you’ve never changed your perspective based on the input of someone else. What that indicates is you are shutting down ideas you are creating an environment of conformity, not of collaboration, and you are the type of company that is advertising for entrepreneurial spirit and then putting that into a tight little box. So the first thing is to calibrate that you truly are ready And then when you are ready, invite in internally, your senior level leadership to say this is something that we recognize we need to work on. Because too many of these companies are super, super ambitious about where they want to get to five years from now. It’s funny before COVID, I was working with companies on their 10 and 20 year strategic plans. And those were really ambitious, right. And then, of course, the pandemic came and everyone switched to, we just need to figure out how to keep the lights on and the doors open. And so now they’ve come out of the back end of that saying, Well, that was super ambitious, it was unrealistic. So let’s build out really ambitious five year plans, because we still know we’re going to have to make course corrections along the way. But it’s far easier to sort of envision those and to evolve and to pivot based on a five year trajectory than a 10 or, or 20. But too many companies just sort of jump ahead to the strategic plan without building that basic foundation of trust first. And so that’s really the next key thing, right, is to sort of litmus test that you truly are ready to start to have conversations internally. And then more often than not get some out to help facilitate building out that that culture of trust.
Aaron Lee 16:10
I think that getting outside help is something that executives are certainly willing to do a number of them. We saw that in predictive indexes, CEO benchmarking report, in 2022, pretty significant portion of executives surveyed, were willing to get outside help. And sometimes it’s the philosophy of holding up a mirror that you need somebody else to hold up a mirror and say, Okay, do you recognize that you have some broccoli in your teeth, you need to fix this. There’s something to work on, you’re not as perfect as maybe you think or feel or expect. And that is a cultural shift, to be able to have that conversation to be willing and open and honest, to have those discussions. And I find myself here recently, I’ve had a number of conversations, asking people to think, and I’ve only asked them 1824 36 months out, and so many of them are struggling to think past tomorrow, because they’ve just been in this hamster wheel of change and stress and transition and upheaval, that it’s been hard to pull that vision forward. But vision is so important. And envisioning what’s to come helps paint a bright picture for employees, for leaders for everyone to get on board with how do we make this better? How do we accomplish more? How do we do more, but back to what we talked about earlier, not just do more production wise, but truly unlock the potential of all of the people we have. Yeah, I love
Claire Chandler 17:49
that. And I think you’re absolutely right, I think especially now that we have figured out how to get through a pandemic and kind of live alongside the residual effect, because we know it’s not totally gone. Not even getting back to business as usual. But moving on to business as next right. What does that look like now. And I think there is a significant cultural and mindset shift that the leaders at the top of an organization need to make just getting everyone to quote unquote, hunker down and crank out more work, because oh my gosh, look at all the momentum we lost during the height of COVID. And instead reconnecting with a magnetic purpose, right? You talk about vision, it is so important for leaders from the very top of an organization on down to the frontline boots on the ground, to have a unifying mission or vision or purpose that they can attach themselves to that they can see a connection between what we ask them to do on a day to day basis, and how it’s going to move the needle towards something loftier for me. Trust is sort of that golden word that has to be the foundation of culture. But it also starts with understanding what is our purpose? Why are we truly in business? Right? I know you’ve heard of Simon Sinek. He does a lot of work around this concept of starting with why there is a lot to that there is a lot to understanding fundamentally, why we are in business. It’s not just to make money. It’s not just to crank out widgets. It’s not just to hire people and give them a desk in a black and white job description. It’s to give them a magnetic purpose, something to believe in a culture to belong to, in a way for them to contribute their best talents in ways that fuel them and feed their internal passions. And it’s about harnessing all of that it’s not about suppressing it. It’s about getting it to fly in formation toward a purpose that we can all attach meaning to and go after enthusiastically.
Aaron Lee 19:49
Yes, nothing more to add my. So Claire, you’ve written a few books. Which one would you say is your Her favorite at this moment in time,
Claire Chandler 20:02
I have to say it’s the first one that I put out several years ago now. And it’s called the Whirlpool effect. And I have written several books since that are all evolutions are variations on themes of how do we unify under common purpose? And how do we get the right people in the right roles, the right motivations, but the Whirlpool effect I keep coming back to. And I think because the concept of the Whirlpool just strikes a chord in me because it comes from this childhood memory. So we were talking before we started recording that I’m based in New Jersey, well, I grew up in New Jersey. And as I’m sure based on where you live, the summers are quite hot, right. And so my childhood was spent in the backyard have any friends who had a pool, I did not. So my house was not where people visited in the summer, but we had friends who had pools. And when neighborhood kids would get together, we would kind of jump in the pool and cool off. And invariably, somebody would shout one word, Whirlpool. And we only would that meant we just stopped whatever we were doing. And we just started following each other in a circle. And after a few laps, we were able to pick up our feet and just be carried along with that current. And it was just a really cool thing, right. And that concept is the analogy for me of great followable leadership, right? You need one simple unifying message, your equivalent of shouting whirlpool in the middle of the crowd, that people can immediately connect with and enthusiastically contribute to. And so the Whirlpool effect is what happens when you have a purpose, a mission, a vision that is so magnetic, and so easily resonates with the people that you need to contribute to it, that they can’t wait to follow your lead, right. And then, of course, all the effects of that, that come out of unifying leadership and a magnetic purpose, more productivity and engagement and increased innovation and competitiveness. And of course, then bottom line profitability and sustainable growth. And so yeah, I always come back to that very first book, because it was a labor of love. But sort of coming back to that analogy that came out of my childhood, it fills me with joy. And that’s honestly, really the effect we’re trying to get out of our people, if they don’t feel joy, if they don’t feel fulfillment, if they don’t feel a stirring inside of them, that what they do for a paycheck, is actually giving them an opportunity to do their very best work in their very best way. And we’re doing something wrong.
Aaron Lee 22:40
That is a powerful example. And visual that you can’t help but envision in your mind. And think about that powerful example of what our business what our team, what our organization can do, when we do all get around that same purpose, and workflow, instead of feeling like we’re swimming upstream, going against the current, because that doesn’t work very well, for very long, right, just go with the flow, and the flow and the momentum carries us forward. One of the tools that I use, talking about the philosophy, the foundation, you’ve touched on a few of the keys to that, that you can know where you’re going, and your organizational structure, your alignment, and how you execute your plan. But it’s that foundation of trust. And so many organizations will just ebb and flow back and forth between how are we organized, let’s execute. But it’s the foundation of clear communication, trust centered relationships that then allow that flywheel to take off and the flywheel the Whirlpool, I might start hijacking your word. And please do please do example, instead of the flywheel because the Whirlpool makes sense. I don’t know that I’ve ever actually seen a flywheel at work. If I’m like anyone else, I’m sure the Whirlpool will make a whole lot more sense. Well, awesome. We’ll link to the Whirlpool effect in the show notes at New Generation leader.com/ 32. So Claire, I’ve found a few of your other resources as well. What would you say to people who want to reach out connect with you find out more about the work that you’re doing? Where would you point them to?
Claire Chandler 24:24
So the easiest place to go is to my website, which is Claire chandler.net. There are some really helpful resources there that people can download. And there’s also a link to if they would like to at least explore what it would look for us to work together. There’s a link to apply to work with me, where asked some questions, and I can get some recommendations. But yeah, I do encourage your audience to go there. You’ll learn much more about my backstory, my experience. If any of this resonates, I do encourage your audience to reach out at least to have a conversation.
Aaron Lee 24:57
Absolutely. Well, Claire, one last question. And this is the question we asked all of our guests. What have you learned over the course of your career that you wish you had learned earlier? Oh, I
Claire Chandler 25:09
love that one. So I would say, when I was a youngster, so somewhere past, you know, creating a whirlpool with my friends to where I really first entered the workforce, I think most of us enter with a lot of timidity, and a lot of self suppression of our true personality, and where we really want to kind of be and I share a story of my last year in corporate America before I struck out on my own, I was walking down the hall back to my office, my boss stopped me. And he said, You need to tone down your walk. And I said, What now? And he goes, your walk, it’s like really bouncing, happy, and you’re making people think you’re up to something that you know, something they don’t like, Huh, okay, well, thanks for that went back to my office was so symptomatic. And I guess emblematic of the corporate mentality. Again, this sort of false brand promise that we’re going to hire you for entrepreneurial spirit, and loosen the chains and sort of let you express yourself in your own unique way, when in fact, at every turn, a lot of leaders, not all leaders, because I’ve had some really good leaders, but that one in particular was sort of toxic, right. But a lot of those leaders, especially in corporate focus, first on getting you to conform, and conformity, never broke molds. Conformity never found cures to anything, conformity is not how you’re going to crush your competition. And so it’s a long winded answer to your question to say, I wish I understood and believed and embraced much sooner that you should never tone down your walk for anyone, because your walk when you stay true to it will attract the right people, the right environment and the right opportunities and repel the wrong ones. So never tone down your wall.
Aaron Lee 26:57
That’s so good. I remember multiple points where I was transitioning or preparing for a transition. And I started an exploration through a variety of assessments, any assessment, I could find strengths, Myers Briggs, any of those. But that didn’t happen until probably I was in my 20s, at least. And I’m just sitting here thinking, yesterday, I had a chance with my fifth grader to teach her class, the five voice is one of the tools that I use, and being able to walk through with them and help them understand just a little bit of how they are different from each other. Yeah, because even in a classroom, there’s so much where everybody tries to pursue the same goal of a grade or learning outcomes, but it’s in their uniqueness that they can truly find their potential their opportunity for growth and, and start charting their own path that may be unique to them and less some of their peers around them. So it was, I love
Claire Chandler 28:01
that. I love that. And I love the fact that like this memory about creating a whirlpool, you going back to fifth grade, and getting back in touch with youngsters, we so forget to have childlike enthusiasm and curiosity and joy in what we do. And we have an inner five year old, right, or an inner fifth grader if you want. And we just have to tap into that. Because again, if we can find ways that we get to do things that come naturally to us in ways that also motivate us internally, it’s channeling that inner child, the one that will spend hours just coloring or doing puzzles, or whatever it is that we love to do as children. Finding that equivalent as adults is so key to bringing your best self to work, combining all children, so to speak, are all of our inner children in ways that are going to move in a meaningful and measurable way toward our purpose. So reconnecting with other children, when they’re still children and kind of reminding ourselves, we can still have some of that is so important to our psychological safety, to use your term and to our mental health and to our ability to to really contribute in ways that fulfill us. So I love that. I love that you did that.
Aaron Lee 29:20
Yes, it was a lot of fun. My my fifth grader knows the tool. And so she has been asking me the whole school year. Can you come in and do this? Can you come in to do this? Oh, that’s awesome. It was a lot of fun. Now, it was a two hour workshop. And then down to I only had 20 minutes, but we made it happen. And hopefully it’ll spark some conversations to come not only in the classroom, but their families and in everywhere they go throughout their education and life. It was a lot of fun. That’s awesome. Well, let’s go out and and change the world. If you’re listening, and you’ve been listening to this conversation, there’s something about human performance potential that we can tap into the uniqueness, the individuality of the people around us. So let’s keep our eyes and ears open and pay attention to that potential and pursue it. And if you want to connect with Claire, we’ll have her information links to her book, and other resources her website in the show notes again at New Generation leader.com/ 32. Thanks so much, Claire.
Claire Chandler 30:26
Thank you. It’s been great to be here.
Aaron Lee 30:28
Thanks for listening to the new generation leader podcast subscribe today on your favorite podcasting platform, ready to solve your leadership crisis? Download the show notes and unlock your true leadership potential at New Generation leader.com/podcast. Thanks for listening today, and we look forward to seeing you next time on the new generation leader podcast