Talent Experience Podcast

Ep. 46 Patti Johnson - Embracing Change in a New Work Era

February 17, 2022 Fuel50 / Patti Johnson Season 1 Episode 46
Talent Experience Podcast
Ep. 46 Patti Johnson - Embracing Change in a New Work Era
Show Notes Transcript

Check out the newest episode of the Talent Experience Podcast featuring Patti Johnson! Patti has expertise in change leadership, communications, people strategy & design, and is CEO of PeopleResults – when she speaks it's impossible to miss the passion in her voice and dedication she brings to helping others reach their full potential.

In episode 46 of the podcast, Patti is joined by John Hollon as they discuss how the world has changed after going through a pandemic, and how we can learn to adapt in this new era of work. Patti believes that the world of work will never go back to how it was pre-pandemic, but that we have a huge opportunity to change for the better. Have a listen for more insightful information on hybrid work, company culture, productivity, and more!

Connect with Patti on LinkedIn, Twitter @PattiBJohnson, or at  https://www.people-results.com/.

For more insightful conversations, visit www.talentexperiencepodcast.com. We hope you enjoy this episode of the Talent Experience Podcast!

John Hollon  00:24
Hello, I'm John Hollon and welcome to the Talent Experience Podcast. Today's guest is Patti Johnson. Patti is the CEO of PeopleResults, a highly successful change and learning consulting firm she founded back in 2004. Patti and her team advise clients including companies such as PepsiCo, Microsoft, 7/11, Accenture, McKesson, Frito-Lay, and many others on creating positive change in their leaders and organizations. She's also the author of Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life. The host of the Be a Wave Maker: Conversations on Change Podcast, and an adjunct professor on leading change at the Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business. Before founding PeopleResults, Patti was a Managing Director at Accenture and held numerous global leadership positions, including leading the global people and talent function, while specializing in client projects with complex people transitions. So, Patti, you know a lot about people in the workforce. And how are you doing? How's life in Texas?

Patti Johnson  01:33
It's great. It's very snowy, and a good day here. Enjoying the snow here while we can't it won't last long. So great to be here. Thank you, John.

John Hollon  01:42
Great. Okay, let's get started. There seems to be a lot of discussion these days about remote and hybrid work, and what it means for our workforce and our cultures. But some people get confused when we talk about remote and hybrid work, kind of don't really know what we are talking about there. So maybe you could start off by giving us what you think a good definition is of hybrid work. Just what is it? And does it vary a lot depending on the type of organization that it is?

Patti Johnson  02:20
Well, first off, one thing sometimes people will do is replace or think that virtual working and hybrid working are synonymous, they are not. Hybrid working to me is a blend of you have people all different places, some people are in the office, some people working virtually, and those same people might be in the opposite place on another day. So, you've got a workforce that is working from a variety of different places, and you have to adapt to it. So, I think it's a way of working that's here to stay. But you can't assume everybody is in one place all the time. It's just not going to be that way anymore.

John Hollon  02:58
So, when you're talking about leading people, and that's sort of the core of what I think we're going to talk about here. In a hybrid work environment, how does that compare to the more traditional work environment that we had sort of pre pandemic, which I get for a lot of places may be gone now, or maybe taking a long time to come back. But talk about the differences that we've seen over the last few years, as this has sort of evolved for a number of companies.

Patti Johnson  03:32
Sure! I guess the best advice I would give a leader is, if you haven't hit reset on how you are leading today, you're still relying on your same tools and tricks that you used four or five years ago, you're probably out of step. So very important that you completely stop and think about that again, because when you have people working in all different shapes, fashion’s, locations, you can't keep using the same tricks you had before. Whether you were all in the office, or in my case, a lot of us worked virtually, have worked for a long, long time. So, I think that's the most important thing. And I also think the other thing for leaders is some of the things you might have been doing any way you need to just turn the dial up on, like establishing sense of connection, culture, collaboration, all those things, we would say, of course, those are important as leaders, but when you're not all together, you got to turn the dial-up and give it a lot more emphasis than you would have maybe a few years ago, especially if you're in the office.

John Hollon  04:34
Well, you know, I find myself in that same boat, I find that I'll be talking about something and referring to how we did it in 2019 or prior, and I have to stop myself and say, you know that's probably changed, I probably shouldn't be referring to that. I'm sure it's a lot different now.

Patti Johnson  04:55
Yeah, I think that's right. And I think leaders, most people who are leaders have been working for a few years, and so they develop some habits we all have. And it's time to take a fresh look at them. What am I doing? How am I doing it? And what changes do I need to make?

John Hollon  05:11
Well I know you one of the things that you do, which is why I think you're so good to have on the podcast is that you do a lot of work with CEOs and with organizations that are in the midst of change. What's your take on how CEOs in general, if you can even talk about it in that way, how do they feel about hybrid work? You know, do they see it as a natural evolution of the workforce? Or do they think it's a stopgap measure that's largely pandemic driven, or it's something else entirely? 

Patti Johnson  05:46
Okay. I will say CEOs and top leaders, one of the things we've seen with many of our clients and dealing with these issues, is there is a generational difference. And so, people who have come through an organization working a certain way, again, back to those habits and behaviours we have in our little personal backpack, they tend to think that's what works best, and so that I want to return to that. So I have seen not just at the CEO level, but the VP level, often there's a disconnect, I'm thinking of one of our clients, and we just had a meeting with a couple of days ago, where if you look at the data of what the teams of people across the organization think and what they want, there's a little bit of a difference, some of the top of the organization, they do kind of want that return, let's get it back the way it was. So, I'm making a broad-brush statement. Certainly, that's not true for everybody. But I think that's one of the issues. And for people who are in talent in change roles out there in organizations, that is one of the things I am hearing a lot about, is how do I convince some of my senior leaders that we can still work in a different way, and we can still be successful, we can still get everything done. So, some of that is influence. And it's a change effort, which that's what we all do on most days anyway. 

John Hollon  07:00
Well, you know, I read in a business publication, I can't recall if it was the Wall Street Journal or where, but something about the difficulties with hybrid work, because people who've been working remotely, even when they go to a hybrid schedule, where they're at home working on their own part of the time, they've lost some degree of autonomy as to when they have to be in the office. And you know, maybe it's like, "Hey, you got to be in the office every Monday and Friday." And they struggle with that in many, many cases. Are you hearing much about that? And are there organizations that are kind of continuing to dabble and how do we set this up? Because it seems to me there's a lot of people who are struggling going back from just remote and being at home, or being in some remote environment, coming back. Particularly if it means being back in the workforce on given days.

 Patti Johnson  08:05
Yes, it's funny, you mentioned that John, because just last week, we were in conversation with one of our clients, and the number one complaint of people who are largely virtual, but go into the office and some cases, they'll go to the office and spend all day on Zoom calls with people who are working virtually. So, what that tells you though, is that back to you know we're talking about leaders and leaders need to be really smart in putting up some ground rules of saying, "Okay, if you're in the office, Tuesdays and Fridays are collaboration days, right? That's when we want to work together and those are when we should have some of our team meetings where being in person really has value." So, I think that the organizations that I've seen that are having the most success are people who are, they know the business boundaries, and they know this from their leaders, but they are listening to all their employees and figuring out how to do this in a way that is going to work. The other backdrop in all of this, obviously, is the talent market right now. And it is wildly competitive. And so, you don't want to alienate part of your workforce because now all of a sudden, now I have to work differently than what I signed up for, so how do I change that up and do it in a way that still those people are going to stay committed and want to be part of the organization? So that's the other backdrop by saying you got to get we've got to get this right, definitely. And by the way, there's not going to be snapped back. It was part of your question earlier. Anybody waiting for everything to go back to exactly where it was before, it's just not gonna happen.

John Hollon  09:33
Oh, yeah. That's the thing. I keep catching myself talking about it. And it's like, yeah, you know, whatever it was, it's not gonna be that again, and I don't even know how close we're going to get back to that if we get close at all. So, it's a real challenge. But one thing that has been on my mind a lot has been culture. My take is that strong workforce cultures happen when people share the values that flow from the top of the organization and a lot of times bubble up from the lower parts. I've talked about it about collaboration, how sometimes that happens when you're in the break room or the coffee room at the office, getting a cup of coffee, and you bump into a person and you're chit-chatting about something, and boom, you start talking about some joint problem that you've been trying to solve. How do you do that kind of stuff, if you do it at all, and build a culture when so many people are not around anymore that and their schedules are here and there? How do you do that? Because it seems to me that the greatest thing we might lose is culture being a real driver of strong businesses and the businesses that get their hands around how to do that, in this different environment now are going to be the ones that really succeed in the future,

Patti Johnson  11:01
For sure. Yes, and I think if you talk to, at least in our conversations, our senior leaders that we talked to, that's the biggest concern. Like how are we going to pass on our culture and collaboration, the way we work? So, I think there's two or three things. One of them as for those of us who are in talent change professionals, is to be more deliberate around what our culture means, this is who we are, and call it out, versus let other people who may be able to join, and they would have picked it up by osmosis by watching others. So be more deliberate on defining, this is a very simple way, this is how we do things. The second thing, and I've struggled with this one myself, and that is almost going counterintuitive. So, most of us have been in business where it's productivity efficiency. So as an example, I get on a meeting, I've got three things I want to cover, I want to cover those things, boom, we're done, we're on to the next thing. And I think what we have to be willing to do is to allow time on calls for conversations about the weekend, for hearing what's happening in people's lives, and allow some breathing room for conversation. And that is counterintuitive to a lot of people who are really focused on outcomes productivity, and this is something I have had to learn too. And also try your best to replace the in-person experience. So, somebody you would have normally had a lunch, wedding shower for someone, do it virtually there are so many creative things you can try to do. The last one is hopefully here, you know, as we can kind of get past a little bit, some of the pandemic is figuring out allowing budget for some in-person time, right? People that have just joined a new organization, if I've never, ever met any of these people in person, it can have just a huge impact, even if it's not all the time, but it's occasionally in really using it. So those are two or three things. That's a big conversation, and I think that's the $50,000 question like, how do we do that? Right? Because that's a hard one for sure.

John Hollon  13:10
You know one of the things and you touched on this is that when I'm on a zoom call, frequently, I'm one of the first people there. And what I find is that people sort of straggle in the way they used to do in an office. We've got to go to a conference room, and they take time straggling in. But when we're in that moment, you start chatting about something maybe with the other person who's an early bird on Zoom. And that's what leads to sort of have in 5-10, maybe even 15 minutes of conversation about just personal stuff and where things are and how are things where do you live now, I work with people who are half a world away from me. So, it's a little bit different, and we can't get together ever, at least in the short term. But it's I find that there's sort of a natural thing about zoom that allows that to happen, not unlike what you used to get, I felt in the best office environments when people came in and chit chatted at the start of a meeting. But it seems to me that on Zoom or a remote system, you don't shut it down immediately when the leader starts you kind of keep on chatting for like a bit.

Patti Johnson  14:28
Yes! And in fact, one of our clients a very senior person who is one of the most effective efficient people I know said, I have started, you know if I have a meeting from 11 to 12, I will intentionally not really start the agenda till 11:15 for this exact reason. And she said it you know; it's made a world of difference. I can pick up the time on some of the work stuff but that's been her new habit. So, I think you know, doing some of those things that are counterintuitive for all of us who've been taught productivity and get as much done as you can it sometimes feels a little unnatural, but it might help.

John Hollon  15:03
Have you bumped into any CEOs who are really, really struggling with the want to go back to a pre-pandemic way of work? And yet, you can't really do it as you pointed out.

Patti Johnson  15:19
Yes, and I would say the constant theme I hear from and not just CEOs, but really those VP people that head up divisions, big functions, one of the things I struggle with the most, and I would call it accountability. Okay, I can't see you, right? So, when I see you, it's my shortcut for knowing you're working hard, you're in the office all the time, you know, you're not off, you know, watching Netflix, I know you're focused. And it gives me comfort, because I can lay eyes on what you are doing. And so that accountability issue is to me and what I've seen with our clients, and some of the surveys we've used, that is the biggest struggle, and are we still going to get stuff done? So, I think what we've encouraged is, as with any good performance, right, you want to know focus on outcomes, focus on are you doing what you say you're going to do? And how do you kind of walk people through, coach people through, guide them through the outcomes versus, "Well, boy, John, he comes in at seven and he didn't even leave till 7:30. He is working so hard. He's doing so good." When maybe John isn't, maybe John's not getting everything done, but it sure looks like he is. So, it's stuff we know anyway. But I think it's helping those CEOs and senior leaders. You're gonna have to rely on something else besides your eyes.

John Hollon  16:35
Well, as we were talking about what we were going to talk about here today on this podcast, one of the questions you kick to me is, you know, what changes you would be thinking about in the talent space? So what changes should we be thinking about?

Patti Johnson  16:47
Well, I think a few things, I would say my advice to anybody in the talent space is don't treat what you're doing as a snapback, right? Where we just got to get back to the way it was, or it's just a return to the office. I always viewed this as a huge opportunity for us to try some new things, experiment, do some things differently, that we've always wanted to do. Educate your leaders, you can change your policies all you want, if you are not enabling your leaders and helping them figure out how do I operate in this new world. And maybe step one, recognizing it is a new world, then we're really missing it. I saw a great example, again, I can think of by my client experience, where the CHRO said to the CEO, you can try to get everything back just the way you want it, but you're going to lose some people in the process. If you're willing to do that, by trying to return back to where you feel comfortable, then we can talk about it, that there's going to be a price to pay for trying to get everything back the way it was two, three years ago. So, I thought that was great. And they've worked really hard at trying to get some of those changes in place. But use it as an opportunity, I would say there, we've got a big one. Anxiety can really open a door to try some new things, you know?

John Hollon  17:25
It would seem to me that trying to get back to the way things were is gonna be a futile task that you're gonna end up chasing your tail and trying to get back there. Maybe you can get some elements like they were a few. And maybe that'll be enough for folks but feels like we're really still in a big transition now. And who knows where it's gonna land in a year or two or three. Well, you know, these always go really quickly, way too quickly when we do the podcast, but there's a question we ask everybody who comes on the Talent Experience Podcast because at Fuel50 we wholeheartedly believe everyone should have a job that they're really passionate about. So, Patti, what do you love about your job and what you do? What are you passionate about?

Patti Johnson  18:59
I think the thing that I get most excited about is helping, like if you help a client, a person, do something big that they wouldn't have done without you being there. Just feel like okay, I'm helping them advance their career, I'm helping them make their mark in the organization that's big. Our team at PeopleResults is incredible. We have great relationships, so that makes it a lot more fun. Plus, I like the variety, the creativity, being able to bring new ideas. So, for me, I'm pretty fortunate I kind of have a little Trifecta here. The stuff that I care most about it kind of on most days, lines up pretty well.

John Hollon  19:37
It seems to me too you're the type of person who loves when you're working with a person, and you see the light bulb go off. When they get it and you could see that they got it, that struck me to be something that that you are really good at.

Patti Johnson  19:54
Thank you. That's true, true statement.

John Hollon  19:56
Anyway, Patti, thank you so much!

Patti Johnson  19:58
Thank you for having me!

Patti Johnson  20:00
Thanks for being here with us here today on the Talent Experience Podcast. You have such great insights and we really appreciate you being here and sharing them with everybody who's in our podcast audience.

Patti Johnson  20:12
Thank you, honored to be here. Thanks a bunch, John.

John Hollon  20:15
Great. Thanks again. So, for the Talent Experience Podcast, this is John Hollon. Thanks again for listening.