TalentX - The Talent Experience Podcast

Ep. 19 - China Gorman

December 31, 2020 Fuel50 / China Gorman Season 1 Episode 19
TalentX - The Talent Experience Podcast
Ep. 19 - China Gorman
Chapters
TalentX - The Talent Experience Podcast
Ep. 19 - China Gorman
Dec 31, 2020 Season 1 Episode 19
Fuel50 / China Gorman

Host John Hollon sits down with our guest China Gorman, an advisor, speaker and board member of HRCI and Workforce Institute at UKG, to chat about how workplace culture has fared in the wake of the pandemic. It’s been hard times and a lot of the responsibility lies with leaders, China shares her best rule of thumb for leaders as we continue through and advice to get the organization out the other side stronger. In this episode they also delve into building a strong workplace culture with a remote workforce through her personal leadership experiences of what techniques have been successful in the past.

Growing revenue and profitability, improving business competitiveness via a strong workplace culture and driving increased brand influence and impact are the hallmarks of China’s leadership. Connect with China Gorman at https://chinagorman.com, on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/chinagorman/ or on Twitter @ChinaGorman.


For more insightful conversations, visit www.talentxpodcast.com. We hope you enjoy this episode of the TalentX podcast!

Show Notes Transcript

Host John Hollon sits down with our guest China Gorman, an advisor, speaker and board member of HRCI and Workforce Institute at UKG, to chat about how workplace culture has fared in the wake of the pandemic. It’s been hard times and a lot of the responsibility lies with leaders, China shares her best rule of thumb for leaders as we continue through and advice to get the organization out the other side stronger. In this episode they also delve into building a strong workplace culture with a remote workforce through her personal leadership experiences of what techniques have been successful in the past.

Growing revenue and profitability, improving business competitiveness via a strong workplace culture and driving increased brand influence and impact are the hallmarks of China’s leadership. Connect with China Gorman at https://chinagorman.com, on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/chinagorman/ or on Twitter @ChinaGorman.


For more insightful conversations, visit www.talentxpodcast.com. We hope you enjoy this episode of the TalentX podcast!

John Hollon  00:26
Hello, I'm John Hollon and welcome to TalentX, the Talent Experience Podcast. Today's guest is China Gorman. China is a highly sought after consultant, speaker and writer. She brings the CEO perspective to building cultures that foster strong employee engagement for top performance and innovation. She's well known for her tenure as CEO of the Great Place To Work Institute, and as Chief Operating Officer and interim CEO of SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, which is the world's largest professional organization for HR professionals and for her work as global president of Lee Hecht Harrison. China also leads the American operations of UNLEASH, the world's largest event organizer for the future of work in HR tech and she sits on the corporate boards of NetForce Global and Motivis Learning, is vice chair of HRCI's board of directors and if that's not enough serves with me on the advisory board of the Workforce Institute at Kronos. China did I miss anything? You've done a lot, but I may have missed a few important things along the way.

China Gorman  01:35
No, I think you hit the high point. I will say though, because of the world we live in right now I'm no longer affiliated with the UNLEASH group, as they were a live event company and so they've drawn back and really are recasting themselves as a content provider in an amazing way. So no longer affiliated there, but those other things keep me busy. Absolutely. 

John Hollon  02:12
Okay, that's great. That's good to hear. We have a lot to talk about and our time is tight so let me start with this: you've written a great deal on workplace culture, so tell me how has workplace culture fared in the wake of the pandemic and global lockdown? I've always thought of culture as the real secret sauce of great organizations and that employee engagement flows from that. So what is the state of workforce culture when so many organizations are struggling with just doing what they can do to survive in the wake of the global lockdown? 

China Gorman  02:43
You know, that's such a great question and having been sort of locked down myself, I'm observing sort of from afar as everyone else is. There are some standouts who are doing it right and there are some standouts who are doing it not right. Then as with most things, that great big middle of folks who are just kind of trying their best, maybe, and sort of poking along. When it comes to culture, it's all about leadership. It's just simply all about leadership. If your leaders are trustworthy and open communicators, there's almost no wrong step you can make, right? 

03:36
So those organizations that we see where the CEO is out in front, doesn't say everything right every single time, she might screw it up one time, or he might go overboard or not exactly use the appropriate language. Employees know if their leaders are trustworthy. Employees know if they can believe the words coming out of the mouths of their leaders and if they feel like they have a relationship with those leaders, they are able to sort of be forgiving if they misspeak. But on the other hand, if boneheaded things come out of their mouths, or they, as we have seen over the last over the last several months, and it's not just the pandemic, it's also the larger social justice environment, particularly in the United States. US companies got hit with a double whammy. There's just no question the pandemic, and the social justice issues and so very senior leaders were struggling, are still struggling. How do you handle political speech in your organization? At the same time, you're dealing with the very real threat of can the business sustain itself during these pandemic times and government regulations that in many cases are putting small and medium sized businesses out of business. 

05:08
So it all really comes down to leadership, the kind of relationship you have with your employees, whether you tell the truth or not and whether you have a personal relationship. We'll talk about that a little bit later in one of your other questions but the best rule of thumb I have for leaders at this point, be honest, be real, be human, be human more than anything else, and always tell the truth. If telling the truth means, I can't talk about that right now, because of we're a publicly traded company and it goes against SEC guidelines, or we've got some things in the work that I think you'll be pleased about, but I can't speak about them now. Always tell the truth, whether it's good news or bad news, but never ever prevaricate. Never, ever leave breadcrumbs that go in the wrong direction, never ever make promises that you know, you cannot keep. That's the path towards engagement going away, right alongside your employees going away.

John Hollon  06:19
Is technology any help in all of this? The debate over building culture and trying to better engage workers has gone on for a number of years. I know I've written about it a lot. And it's been a struggle. But now the growth of AI and data driven solutions seems to offer some hope, and I know at Fuel50 we get a lot of companies who believe that technology may be the answer to all their prayers. What's your take on this? Do you think that technology can help?

China Gorman  06:49
I do. I absolutely do. Let me say again, if your leaders are not trustworthy, if they cannot be believed, no amount of technology is going to make that better, right. So if we're starting at a point of your leaders tell the truth, technology can be a big help. Whether it's communications, whether it's giving props and thank yous to employees, whether it's timecard management, whether it's payroll. Technology systems that help employers and employees be together on the same page will always help. They'll help with engagement as long as your leaders are trustworthy, honest, and believable.

John Hollon  07:49
One of the questions that we sort of kicked around and is something that I know you think a lot about, and you've touched on it a little bit as we chatted here, but what's the responsibility of our top leaders in all of this? I know you've talked about that a little bit. Do you think that CEOs and other senior leaders are doing what needs to be done to help their people, and ultimately, their organizations get through this difficult period?

China Gorman  08:18
I think many are. I think many leaders, big companies, global companies, medium sized companies, startups, small companies, the leaders are really turning inward in some ways to really strengthen the relationship of their employees to the culture. So I look at really three things and this comes out of the work when I was the, it kind of pulled it all together for me when I was the CEO of the Great Place to Work institute and I know their models have changed somewhat over the last five years but what really resonated with me was that I really think for a leader to be seen as human, as somebody that you want to have a relationship with there are three characteristics. You have to be trustworthy and fair, without fail. If you stumble, you have to own it instantly. You can't hide it, you can't try to talk it away. You have to be trustworthy and fair in all your decisions. You can't have favorites, if the rules are the rules, and somebody you really like breaks them there have to be consequences and everybody has to know. 

09:35
The second thing is, leaders now more than ever have to be personal, accessible, approachable, you have to be human. You can't be one of these leaders, and this is an example I use all the time, who gets on an elevator, not that anybody's getting on elevators anymore, but who gets on an elevator full of employees, turns their back to the employees doesn't say a word and gets off as fast as they can. You need to be that leader who gets on the crowded elevator full of your employees, turns around and starts engaging the employees. I don't think I've met you, who are you and where do you work? We don't get to talk ever what should I know? You know that I'm the CEO, what should I know? Right? Personal, accessible and approachable. 

10:19
Then the third thing that I think really leaders these days, the good ones, are excelling at is really providing and acknowledging meaning in the workplace. So for every employee there's got to be a, not a guideline, a hard line to the culture, a hard line to the mission, a hard line to the work that we're doing for our customers, whoever they are. So great leaders make sure that every employee knows what those hard lines are,creates opportunities for every employee to see exactly why what they're doing, moves the mission of the organization forward. Whether it's a service organization, a manufacturing organization, whatever it is, if every employee's leaders spends time with them so that they really understand what their piece of it is, even if it's really small, even if it's really huge but they understand exactly how they fit in to the mission and to the work at hand. 

11:26
So those are the three things about being a human, I think very successful, leader. To be trustworthy and fair, always, no exceptions. Be personal, accessible, and approachable, be a person. Be a human being with other human beings and then provide and acknowledge the meaning of the work of the organization, but of every employee.

John Hollon  11:49
So how do you do all that with the new wrinkle that so many companies are dealing with, and that is, so many of their people are working remotely, before the pandemic, I think there was some sense of maybe 10% of workers in the United States, were working from home and now that figure, depending who you hear, runs between 40 and 50%. So a large number of our workers aren't around and one of the things I used to do as a manager was try to walk around a lot, you know, the old management by walking around when you're visible. I always found people told me things when I was just stopping by to say hi that you never would imagine getting and they were really important. How do you get that stuff now though with so many people working from home, how does remote work factor into trying to build a strong workplace culture?

China Gorman  12:48
Well, I'll share a quick story when I became the CEO of a large global organization. It was an organization in transition and so we needed to get a lot done in a short period of time. Because I really believe having personal relationships with the employees is really critical and because it was a global organization, and I spent like the first six months on airplanes, traveling from country to country to country to meet with employees. I started on my first week, and I thought I was going to just do this for maybe, I don't know, a month, six weeks, two months tops, on Fridays I would send out an email to all employees saying, I know you haven't seen me except for the people in these countries, here's what I've been doing, here's what I hear about what you're doing (and it's fabulous) and thank you! 

13:40
So every week, for the first couple of months, I sent an email, it was three, four paragraphs, mostly about I know you can't see me, but here's what I'm doing and here's what I hear you're doing and it's fabulous. That really was the message week over week over week. So after the third month I'd been in a lot of places and I wasn't gonna be traveling quite so much I talked to a couple of my direct reports and I said, so I think I'm just going to do one of these once a month now and they said, Oh my gosh, it's the best thing ever. You can't stop, you can't stop. As long as I was the CEO in that organization every single Friday, I sent out an email. And the connection, I got emails back so when I went to a new city and was meeting with people, I sort of already had a relationship with them. It was an email relationship, but I sort of already had a relationship with them that we could just really start moving forward really quickly. It was maybe an accidental genius move on my part because it tied us all super closely together. 

15:01
In some ways, communicating now, because we do have the connectivity of a zoom call, which everybody makes fun of now, particularly after this week and we have email, and we have all kinds of ways to communicate. In some ways, communicating and creating those kinds of relationships now isn't as hard as it could have been, right? Because we have lots and lots of ways to connect with our employees to be that trustworthy, fair, personal and accessible leader who's providing contexts of meaning for everybody. I think in some organizations where technology isn't pervasive, it might be a little harder. But in many organizations, and maybe even most organizations, technology is so pervasive that the ability to connect via technology is there and so there's really no excuse for not having really strong outreach and really strong connectivity with your employees.

John Hollon  16:09
Yeah, I have found that it's really hard to over communicate that the more you communicate with people, the more they want and that sort of answers the last question I have is that what advice would you give to a fellow leader who sought out your opinion on what they should be doing to get their organization through these times, and my guess would be you tell them, communicate more communicate, communicate, communicate?

China Gorman  16:35
Yeah, and be super grateful. Every opportunity that you have be super grateful. Our employees, wherever they are in the world, whether they're working from home, or they're trembling into an office, no matter how and where they're working this is a hard time. This is a super hard time and those employees who are sticking with us in our organizations, who are innovative, who are solving problems for our customers, problems they've never seen before, they deserve our gratitude and our thanks more more than ever. Not only can you not communicate enough, you cannot say thank you enough.

John Hollon  17:19
Well, China, I told you this was going to go really quickly and it has, but we're not done. So we always have one more question we ask at the end of every guest we have on the TalentX Podcast. On the TalentX Podcast, we wholeheartedly believe everyone should have a job that they love, that they're passionate about. So China, what do you love about what you do?

China Gorman  17:42
Well, so I was a CEO, Chief Operating Officer for a long time so really in the guts of the business, the operations, and I loved it so much. I really I loved it so much. Now I mostly serve on boards of directors, and not being so involved with the operations. Of course, it's not the role of the board. But being really more engaged in strategy, more engaged in future planning and future proofing the organization. I'm loving this, this is really intellectually engaging in a way and satisfying in a way that's so different than leading operations and fixing operational problems and you know, measuring yourself against all the data points and all the goals. Being really future oriented is really fun. It's really fun.

John Hollon  18:44
Well, China, that's a great way to end and thank you so much for spending a little time with us. I wish we could chat more. But we very much appreciate you being here and talking with us. So for Fuel50's TalentX podcast, this is John Hollon. Thanks for listening.