mindset + agility = profitability
Episode Aired on April 3, 2019
In this episode Pamela Reveals:
- How agility directly contributes to the success of your organization.
- Tips to use resources to transform challenges into opportunities and plan for the unexpected.
- Methods to adapt to trends in order to better serve your business and employee needs.
Amy Dufrane: On today’s podcast interview Joe and I are going to be talking to Dr. Pamela Meyer, she is the author of The Agility Shift, and has spent a majority of her career looking at how business leaders can recognize the need to shift their way of thinking to sustain their organization’s relevance and competitiveness in this rapidly changing marketplace. Pam has such an interesting background because she weaves together her expertise and experience in theater with how to increase the effectiveness of businesses.
Amy Dufrane: And she had a fantastic way of weaving this all together and Joe and I are excited to share our discussion with you. Let me welcome to the studio, Pamela Meyer.
Pamela Meyer: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Joe Mechlinski: Awesome.
Amy Dufrane: Pamela, we’re so excited to hear and talk to you about some of the recent research that you’ve done, but first we wanted to start by having you talk a little bit about yourself. How did you get to where you are right now?
Pamela Meyer: Yeah, excellent. Well, like most people it was not a straight line, I actually started as I think you may both know, I started my work in the theater, which was my first career as a director and producer. And it was really there where I started getting immersed in the work of creative collaborative teams. And I essentially just kept following my passion over the years and paying attention to the kinds of things that were happening in rehearsal halls. And I was lucky enough to have landed in Chicago at a really exciting time in Chicago theater where there was a lot of interdisciplinary work going on.
And of course Chicago’s the heartbeat of improvisation, so I started collaborating with a lot of artists and improvisers from different disciplines. And then discovering the power of improvisation beyond the rehearsal hall. And I had always thought of it really just as warmup activity before you got to the scripted material, but I really discovered was it was a doorway to human potential, and capacities that a lot of us have forgotten. We knew early on in our lives.
And so as that work evolved and I started doing more study and more graduate work in the area of creativity and innovation, that led me to start teaching at DePaul University in our adult program. And I was doing a lot of exercises for business people in classrooms that I had initially experimented with in rehearsal halls. And then they started asking me if I could do workshops for them in their organizations. And that led to a thriving consulting and workshop practice, and actually led to my doctoral research which was to discover what was really happening for people as they were learning to improvise, because I kept hearing so many amazing stories of transformation that people were attributing to these experiential activities that renewed their confidence in their ability to respond to the unexpected and unplanned. And think on their feet.
And that over the years has evolved to broader organizational systems work, which was the focus of my doctoral work in human and organizational systems. So it’s really been a process of continuing to follow my curiosity, my own engagement, and has led me to the work that I’m doing now with organizations. Which is largely focused in many ways still connected to those early roots in the theater, but to the [inaudible 00:04:29] organizations are paying attention to, which is largely agility and innovation, and related to Joe’s work in terms of engagement and how people are bringing their whole selves to work, to work at their best.
Amy Dufrane: I love it. If you could spend a little bit more time talking about agility. What is it? How do you define it? And talk a little bit more about that.
Pamela Meyer: Yeah, absolutely. And I like to define agility really more in terms of competent statement or a performance statement rather than a dictionary definition. So I talk about it as our ability to respond effectively to the unexpected and unplanned, and quickly turn challenges into opportunities. And that is true for the individual level of individual leaders, teams, and even the entire organization. And from there I work with organization on developing the six dynamics of what I call the “agility shift”. And I discovered these over the last 20 years working with organizations across sectors and doing my own research in this area.
And it starts with what I refer to as the “relational web” of skills, knowledge, talent and resources that you need to be able to tap at a moment’s notice, especially when things don’t go as planned. But it also includes your [inaudible 00:05:50] to stay relevant as needed, to be responsive, resilient, reflective. And very important to be resourceful, which means not just being able to be effective when you have optimal resources, which of course we rarely due. But to be able to make optimal use of available resources.
So all of those dynamics make up the agility shift. And I call them dynamics because they’re not one shot initiatives. They require us to continually be reinvesting and trust ourselves, because we all know that routine is the death of our ability to stay in the present moment and continue learning and innovating. So it’s about, how do we continue to stay at the top of our game, not getting over complacent because we’ve just met a challenge and then gone back to normal as soon as we could.
Joe Mechlinski: That’s awesome. By the way, I love the word agility, I think it’s one of the neatest things. It’s a play of certainly of resiliency or grit, but your ability to be agile is certainly a pretty relevant topic today. What are you seeing just from an organizational standpoint, like of the ones that become woke, right? What are they seeing? This doesn’t seem like a big idea that people shouldn’t be excited about, yet I can tell you just from we probably walk the same halls in a lot of ways, and people still aren’t there. And so to me, what are you seeing that really helps either enlighten or awaken, if you will, organizations, I guess, their interest or their knowing that this is an important piece moving forward?
Pamela Meyer: Yeah, absolutely. It is amazing to me because it does on one level seem like perhaps the most obvious business imperative, organizational imperative even if you’re in the public sector. So what I see, the companies that call me are usually in a couple of stages. One is they may have really bumped up against their capacity to be agile, they’ve really hit a limitation, whether they’re recognizing that they’ve got an issue with management mindset and attitude. Or they’ve been in business for many years and they know to stay competitive they’ve really got to finally stop just doing things they way they’ve always done them, and shift mindset and their business practices.
I also am often contacted by companies either their CEO or one of their leaders has made agility a stop strategic priority, they’ve become woke, but they really don’t know where to start. And they want to both be sure there’s assured understanding across the organization of what we’re talking about when we talk about agility, but then how that trickles down to the level of individual leadership mindset, teams and organizations.
But then I also work with a number of companies, and this is increasing, where they’re in some stage of adopting agile methodology. Which as we know comes from software development, but more and more is being used across organizations. And for people who aren’t familiar with agile methodology, in a nutshell it’s a shift in project management strategy where you’re not simply getting all of the requirements upfront and planning everything out and having a big debut at the end. You’re shifting to a much more iterative way of collaborating and learning and testing and failing and learning and testing, with the idea that you’re moving the lessons learned much earlier in the process and minimizing risk and accelerating development.
But I’m often called in when an organization is adopting agile or maybe scaling it beyond simply their IT function. And in many organizations are using it that are beyond. I’m working with a pharmaceutical company right now that’s using agile in some very exciting cross disciplinary ways outside of their RND function. But they want to be sure they don’t simply reduce it to a methodology, because if it does get reduced to that it’s yet another set of check boxes and systems that, again, ultimately we can miss the point of what we’re really trying to do. Which is the spirit of continuous learning and innovating and drawing on a wide range of resources and input.
Joe Mechlinski: That’s great.
Amy Dufrane: What do you think when an organization is trying to implement this, what are the biggest obstacles and opportunities for improving agility?
Pamela Meyer: Certainly, and you both know this well I’m sure, as all of your listeners the mindset is the be all and end all really that … And I see this again and again, that if we haven’t first adopted a mindset for agility, and this really is about moving from an emphasis on planning and control to one of continuous learning and adaptation. And it doesn’t mean that we don’t it, it means that we hold those plans lightly and are continually innovating and don’t think of things as ever ultimately being a finished product because there’ll always be new information and new opportunity.
So those old mindsets die hard, especially for people who’ve been in the workforce for many years. They may have worked their way up through a much more kind of mechanistic hierarchical structure, and they’ve finally gotten there. And darn it, now you’re telling it’s a different story and anybody can be a leader based on their ability to respond effectively in the moment, and make an impact. So those are some of the things that we bump up against.
And I find the best starting place is to give people … First we often make the business case. That’s not hard to do, I mean we know that organizations across industries that are sustaining their success are continuously adapting to changes in the marketplace, responding to the competition, they’re actively. I mean certainly these are some of the changes both of you are spearheading in your organizations.
So we know that’s where lies. And it’s both a head and heart shift because I see the business case be made and still people resist, so we need to also engage people.
Often in real time I do a lot of in person workshops and opportunities for people to really when in real time and we’re learning together and shifting. And that’s really where we see some of the most exciting impact and real shifts starting to happen.
Joe Mechlinski: That’s awesome. And so as you think about some of the future trends that are happening in the workplace, everything from certainly becoming more in tune with the business environment and how fast technology is changing. I think the other thing that Amy and I were thinking about as we had these conversations about starting this conversation with folks is, frankly just some of the practical things that people are doing to keep up with some of these trends. And so this could go everything from the way in which they’re allowing flex time at the office.
It’s almost like in order for an organization to be agile, I would think, and you tell me if I’m wrong. But they have to be agile with their workforce too. And so it’s not just an external market facing strategy, it’s got to be something that’s got to hit the inside. So what are you seeing around how they’re starting to almost re-write the rules of their relationship with their employees?
Pamela Meyer: Yes, it’s really true because I mean certainly, and we’re in a high employment marketplace right now. Which means we have to be even more responsive to the needs of the workplace. And at the same time, be sure we’re serving the needs of the business because flex time is great if that serves the needs of the business. If it doesn’t, then we have to find other ways to adapt and be sure that everybody’s needs are being met, to the best of our ability within the particular marketplace or sector.
You know what I do see is that although individuals want to work for organizations where they’re given the opportunity to continuously learn and stretch and adapt and grow, and that doesn’t necessarily need to be a typical corporate ladder, that really is fallen by the wayside in a lot of organizations. But if they’re continuously given stretch opportunities, and a chance to be on exciting new projects then, that often is where a lot of the engagement happens. And Joe, you’ve written a lot about people having that opportunity to follow their passion and find meaning in the workplace.
Pamela Meyer: And I think we’re paying more attention to those kinds of things, where the value really lies. And certainly we’re learning a lot from millennials in terms of how we can marry meaning and profit. And we’re seeing a lot more organizations that are making that part of their mission statement. So the good news is, that also translates into business results, so that in fact we see one of the biggest strategies for keeping people agile is being sure they do continuous have those stretch experiences. That where they’re experiencing enough disruption to keep them engaged, not so much disruption that they run for the hills and shut down. But it keeps us all on our toes, and it keeps us in a positive learning mode.
But that does mean the organizations, we have to work whether it’s through HR, learning management strategies in general. Like we’re setting people up for success, and being sure that we’re providing the appropriate opportunities. That we’re not just only thinking about the needs of the business, but we’re also paying attention and listening to the workforce and individual workers and colleagues. Where are their passions? How can we make those nice matches between new work projects that are coming in and the talent we have? Or being in new talent so that there’s always a positive fit.
And I’m seeing a lot of organizations that are moving in that direction, very much with a learning component as part of it. And really wanting to give more and more of their workers an opportunity to make learning a core of their workplace responsibility.
Amy Dufrane: I mean you’ve worked with a lot of organizations around the globe, and impacted their capability to be more agile. Are there some specific examples that you can give of the companies that you’ve worked with, and some of the changes that they’ve made as a result of integrating this mind shift into their workplace?
Pamela Meyer: Yeah, you know we did a, in fact, a wonderful HRCI webinar not too long ago where we had the opportunity to have some of the leaders from T-Mobile where we’ve done some comprehensive work over the last few years. Who shared in some detail, and I really recommend, I’m sure we’ll share the link for that webinar afterwards. But starting with of course a major corporate initiative, and in fact a company like T-Mobile has staked its brand reputation on its ability to be agile and responsive. Their moniker is that they’re the un-carrier and they’re famous for these un-carrier moves to surprise and delight customers along the way. And attract more customers.
But that certainly creates all kinds of disruptions for the workforce, and they shared some wonderful stories about how their ability to be agile in response to these wonderful disruptions was a big part, and continues to be a big part of their success. But we’ve developed a two-day immersive management program that they’ve actually taken almost 5,000 managers through. And they’re starting to see some exciting results, which they share in the webinar that I’m referring to. Both the immediate results about the impact of the learning experience, but they’ve now done an analysis to look at learning transfer and seeing a very high percentage of people who report that this mindset shift and the practices they learn actually impacted the business bottom line.
Whether it was anything from retaining an employee that might otherwise have been cut loose, but they were able to respond to saving major customer account. I mean all kinds of things that either the individual employee might not have previously felt empowered to do, or felt they had the confidence or the resources. But because they made this intentional mindset shift and we also spent time helping people understand the agility shift dynamics, what it looks like in their particular role. And then a lot of experiential learning so that people can develop their confidence.
Because agility is one of those wonderful areas where we can have all kinds of intellectual understanding, but if we haven’t had the lived experience of it, and that wonderful opportunity in a safe learning environment to practice and test that, and build that capacity, it might not ever actually show up in practice. And so we’re seeing a lot. And T-Mobile is … We can never draw a straight line between our learning initiatives and results, but in this past year they opened 1,500 new stores, brought on 10,000 new employees and saw an 8.6 increase in their revenue. And I think their overall revenue has gone up to something like 40 some billion.
So we’re seeing at least co-occurring, to use my research terms. Some real exciting parallel trajectory with the embracing of agility as a learning and development, as a management strategy, as a top strategic priority and profitability. And we can see that across industries. I often cite the MIT study of 649 firms across industries and they showed that agile firms grow revenue 37% faster and have a 30% higher profitability overall. So we definitely can make the business case for agility and show that the results are there.
Not all of the clients I work with, and you’re right, I do work across industries and a number of international companies. I’m not always with them long enough that we can absolutely say, oh this work we did with this management group immediately translated into business [inaudible 00:21:15]. But we know it starts the process. And that’s so important. If we don’t at least get the process going we know for sure that we’re not going to see the sustained business results.
Amy Dufrane: I think those are impressive business results for sure. The ROI of really embracing this kind of culture shift within your organization to embrace agility, amazing. I’m curious if you know of any researcher, or you’ve done this on, is there a different mind shift that needs to happen based on the generation for which somebody comes from? Or is the training different for each generation? Or is this all the same, and this is more of a culture shift that the organization’s trying to make and you make the proclamation that we are shifting, and not differentiate it that way?
Pamela Meyer: Right. No, I think that’s such a great question. And while we definitely want to be sensitive to, I would put, you know generational difference, cultural differences. Even some people ask me, are there some people personality-wise who are just more adept at agility and others who aren’t? And on one level I would say there’s some validity to that, and the overall research and my own experience shows that the core principles of agility and collaboration and communication remain the same. And across all interest groups and I have worked with a number of cross culturally and in a number of international groups where we might say, oh this tends to be a more conservative culture. This tends to be a more authority driven culture.
All of those things may be true, and we know that agility improves when we see things like … And we’ve just done some research on this, that the more intentional people are in making and building connections across the organization, the more we strengthen and diversify the relational web, for example. We see that coinciding with other important agility behaviors, and that have direct impact that research shows on overall agility.
So where we tend to focus is on the core concepts and behaviors, knowing that an introvert might enact those behaviors in one way, an extrovert another. There’s not specific prescription. But we don’t say, oh this person will probably not be as agile as that person, because when we’re talking about core business practices, those actually remain pretty solid across. And I will say, and this is my private crusade of a little bit of wariness of people that are so enamored of various kinds of personality profiles and things. And I don’t necessarily dissuade them, but I actually worked with an organization that had gone as far as had people put their Myers-Briggs acronym outside their front door by their name plate.
So literally if you were going to walk in somebody’s office you already knew what their personality profile is. And the challenge with that is especially when it comes to agility is, it gives us preconceptions about how somebody will behave and how somebody might contribute. Where often those contributions are very contextual. And I’ve seen, and this is years of teaching improve. The steepest most reserved introvert tapping into a passion and a level of extroversion that’s surprised everybody. And we often, in a group setting especially, we again to use a somewhat academic term, we socially construct our identities and then …
So the idea that based on somebody’s personality profile if we start with an expectation about how they’ll behave we might be short-changing both them and the group. And I’ve seen these preconceptions be dispelled so many times over the years. And that I’ve learned not to focus too much on either generations or personality profiles, or cultural. Be sensitive and create a safe and challenging space. We always want to be sure we have that balance. But within that we often see some wonderful and surprising things happen for people.
Amy Dufrane: Hey, Inevitable the Future of Work listeners, if you’re HRCI certified you’re eligible to receive one general research vacation credit for listening to today’s episode. To obtain the program ID code for this episode, visit inevitablefutureofwork.com and click on the HRCI credits tab. That’s, inevitablefutureofwork.com.
Pamela, if you can talk to us a little bit about the improv. You’ve been talking a lot about this and I’m curious to learn more about this. As somebody who hasn’t done improve as I would define it, but if you could talk a little bit about how you taught that and how you’re integrating that into what you’re doing now?
Pamela Meyer: Sure. And I was just thinking about this the other day, that it’s actually be years since I regularly used the term improvisation or improve in the business settings because I’m mostly focused on, what are the competencies and capacities that people are trying to develop? And often improvisation, people think, uh-oh that means we haven’t planned well enough. And when in fact, it actually means, we’re trying to balance the competencies of planning, which are the things we can control. Planning and analysis, with preparing, which is a state of readiness. And that’s really where the opportunity to use some of the lessons from improvisation come in, is to help people develop their competence, their capacity and their confidence in their ability to be responding in the moment to the unexpected and unplanned. And turn challenges into opportunities.
Pamela Meyer: So in the way when I’m working with a group live, whether it’s with a workshop, even when I keynote I often will do some interactive things to give people a taste of what I’m talking about. And I will simply say, I want to give you a chance now to practice what we’ve just been talking about. Or I’ll talk very little about it and have the experience first and then we’ll extract the learning afterwards. But the goal is to give people those learning experiences that call for adaptive responses, that call for them to think on their feet and tap really their innate ability.
Pamela Meyer: And I often create very low-risk experiences so that people are setup for success, they rediscover their own capacity. Which many of us have forgotten and we don’t trust. We’re often, we’re listening to a voicemail and we’re rehearsing what we’re going to say before we even leave a voicemail message. Or we think we have to have everything completely planned, or very likely we won’t succeed. And the gift of some of the lessons from my early days working in the theater is, we can actually develop a lot of these capacities experientially, and then apply them large. Whether they’re as leaders, as teams as we work together, and even extend these capacities through the entire organization.
Joe Mechlinski: So I love that answer, and I think you and I will definitely have lots of fun conversations after this interview’s over. And, having said all that, one thing that we here at SHIFT challenge ourselves and our challenge with our clients is like, how do you measure it? And so I’m dying to know, how do you measure agility? Whether it’s at the organizational level, or whether at the individual level, I love, love, love everything that you’ve said so far. And totally, totally buy into it as a world view. And what comes next? How do you count this, if it’s even countable?
Pamela Meyer: It’s a really great question, and I’m asked it a lot. And I will tell you a couple of things. One is the overall metric for agility is not agility itself, that’s the enabler of sustained organizational success. So we want to see sustained results over time, so that’s ultimately the metric. Now, I will say, internally there are a lot of metrics that are almost the levers for agility, or internal indicators. It can be anything from market share, we see things like employee retention, engagement. We know that we don’t see a lot of agility without engagement, so that’s absolutely in the wheelhouse of your work, Joe.
But there are also things like decision speed. I mean that’s a very specific metric that we can track around who has decision, how quickly are they making decisions? In fact, we’ve seen from some of the research that decision speed is one of the most important factors related to agility. And that’s something that.
And I say this all the time, especially in customer facing businesses, if people don’t feel empowered to make decisions on the spot and respond immediately, or feel like they’ve got the resources available to solve an issue, then not only do we start to see customer satisfaction issues, we start to see retention issues. But that same scenario can apply whether you’re talking about an internal customer or an external customer. So there are a number of things that are actionable that give us a little bit of a pulse, or we could setup a dashboard to look at, how are we doing related to some of the internal indicators? And then, how do we track those against our overall business results?
Another area that our own internal research has shown, and I’ll talk more about the agility shift inventory where we collected some of this data. Is that in the area of workload, so we simply asked people the question, do you experience your workload as manageable? And what we saw was interesting that people that experienced their workload as relatively manageable also have a number of behaviors linked to agility. They have the room and they take initiative in expanding their awareness of available resources, they’re intentionally building relationships, they’re taking responsibility for their own learning.
And that makes a lot of sense. And if you think about, if your workload is at 110%, you feel like you’ve got no additional capacity, the chances that you’re going to also be able to be responsive when things don’t go as planned, or spot a new opportunity and do some additional learning to be sure you’re ready for it, those are the kinds of things that we see direct correlation to. So it’s exciting, there are actionable things we can do inside organizations that directly impact the overall individual, leadership, team, and organizational agility.
Amy Dufrane: I’m sitting her processing some of the wonderful information that you’ve given us on agility. Is there a place that I could go as an individual to assess my own agility? And is there a place that I could go for as an organization to assess, are we meeting some of these internal indicators of engagement and decision speed that I think are important measures that an organization should be looking at? So do you have any tangible resources that somebody listening to this says, I really want to measure myself and my organization against this?
Pamela Meyer: Yes, absolutely. And we’ll share this link I think at the end of the podcast, but we’ve developed the agility shift inventory. And now have more than 1,000 respondents, which is where some of this research and these correlations that I’ve cited are coming out. But as an individual there’s a complimentary version, only takes about five minutes to take and you can find it on my website at Pamela-meyer.com. Or directly at theagilityshift.com.
And what you’ll get at the end of this inventory, you’ll get a graphic that will give you a sense of where your strengths and opportunities lie as it relates to those six dynamics of agility that I mentioned. But also a complimentary conversation and catalyst guide to start you thinking about, what could you do differently? Or, where are your areas of opportunity? Where might you best put your resources and your time if you were going to enhance your own agility? And I’ve had people take their results to their mentor, we also offer some coaching services so people can get some coaching around their individual inventory results.
But we also offer a fee for service version that we’re working with a number of clients on, where an intact team can take the team version of the inventory. And we do some analysis of those results and then work with the teams on, how can you as a team, or even assess the entire organization, where should you best be putting your resources if we’re working at [inaudible 00:35:14], making that mindset shift, but also the shift toward systems, processes, behaviors that will enhance agility and sustain it over time.
Amy Dufrane: That’s great. I’m excited to go look at this and learn more about it.
Pamela Meyer: And one of the things, one of the reasons we created the inventory, you know after I just given you my little treatise on assessments, and here I am sharing one. We really designed it to be a conversation starter, and it’s very contextual. So as you take it you’ll be thinking about your current work team, or your current work situation. It might be that if you took it two days later and you thought about a different context, you would get different results. Because we do know that agility is very contextual, so this is not a referendum on your ability for all time to be agile. Because we know that agility is dependent on a lot of variables, and so it gets you thinking about, what are the things that are within my span of influence, my span of control that I might want to start taking responsibility for?
Or, who might I engage in conversation if for example I find that, oh you know what, I’m not consistently learning the lessons of experience and carrying them forward, which is a big component of sustained agility. That might not be an individual endeavor, that might be something I want to engage my team with, or my colleagues, or a coach or a mentor I work with. So we get that conversation started, and think of it as an ongoing and dynamic process.
Joe Mechlinski: Very cool. So I heard a stat, a client of ours is a big exec at a Fortune 50 company. And he told me, and I have yet to cite this, or at least do the research, but his company is operating off the premise that 48% of the Fortune 500 back in 2003 are gone. Not, no longer in the Fortune 500, they’re gone. Now I have yet to dig into this, but I have to think that the body of work that you’ve been working on around agility is definitely going to be … could be something you look back on retrospectively and say, that’s why. Right? They weren’t able to adjust to the changing times.
Pamela Meyer: It’s so true. A big percent … And it’s often cited that in search of excellence a huge number of those companies are either no longer, or they certainly didn’t sustain their results. And even the good to great in more recent years, there have been a number of challenges with some of those companies. So we do see, you know back to the idea that the overall goal is sustained success over time, and the ability to consistently learn and adapt in response to changes.
Many of those changes are outside of an individual organization’s control, but they have to be consistently adapting. Now some of those organizations certainly it’s through merger, acquisition, or some more strategic business reason, but we certainly know all kinds of brands. And there are legendary stories that are often repeated of companies that poo pooed the shifts on the horizon, whether we talk about Kodak and digital, or a number of companies that in retrospect we say, oh see, they didn’t sustain their success with their ability to adapt.
So I think you’re absolutely right, that’s a really core ingredient. And it’s why I think agility, whether we start one day calling it something else, I don’t care what we call it, because we never want to be flavor of the month, or guilty of buzz word consulting or organizational work. But the ultimate goal is sustaining success over time, and that imperative is never going away. So we think about, how do we sustain success over time? We need to be sure people have the capacity and the confidence, and capability to respond to changes. And that requires that they’re always learning and adapting, and they have the confidence to do that at all levels of the organization. Not just organizational leaders, but in fact, especially that we’re developing a workforce that is sharing responsibility and partnering in learning.
Not just waiting for HR or the talent development team to tell them what training sessions to go to. But in fact a number of clients I’m working with are shifting their entire people development strategy toward these shared partnerships so that they expect people, if they send them to a conference to come back and do a lunch and learn, or write some blog posts, or disseminate their knowledge. They’re expecting people to do some learning on their own time.
There’s a huge process that AT&T is going through with 265,000 of their employees across the organization, the entire organization are being expected to share responsibility for their learning, to think faster. Many are learning to code, that were up on telephone poles a few years earlier, and now they’re learning entirely new skillsets. So that expectation is cutting across industries.
That’s great. So my last question is, so given that it comes and starts with mindset, are there questions that organizations can ask themselves now to help change their viewpoint or their vantage point, their perspective as they think about this next decade? Whether it’s Moore’s Law in automation and computing power, or AI and blockchain and all the different technologies that are going to disrupt the workplace. To me, it’s like the old adage, you can take a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. I think that to me totally rings true, or when the student’s ready the teacher will appear. I mean grab you’re favorite idiom or analogy here.
For you in the work, Pamela, that you’ve done, what are some questions that organizations should ask to get there even faster? If that’s even possible.
Right, and there are a couple of questions. I often like to get people thinking about, even though we’ve got tons of great business research on the ROI, I like to get people thinking about their own particular business industry. Even their personal role. And I ask them to think about, what would be improved if you personally, or your team were more agile, or think about the entire organization, what would your ROI be?
And if they’re challenged to think about that, I sometimes ask the flip version of the question and say, tell me what will it cost you not to become more agile? And sometimes those are the more revealing questions, and we start to realize, oh boy. What’s our competitor doing here? And even in the public sector we see lots of competition. We used to even years ago cite the post office as the one institution that didn’t have to worry about these things, but even the post office of course now has all kinds of competitors.
So we know that we have to make the business case, or we won’t get leadership buy-in, which is crucial no matter how we slice it. But we also need to address the attitudes toward it and give people an understanding that what’s in it for them on the human side that we see literally more happiness and wholeness when people are given a chance to work at the top of their capacity, and they’re given these wonderful stretch experiences and new learning experiences.
So we have to almost give people a taste of it often before, because we can write it all out, and it all sounds good on paper, but until we really have that lived experience of the possibility we sometimes don’t see that sustained engagement.
Amy Dufrane: That’s great. So I have one final question, and that is, what are you personally doing? What are you reading? What podcasts are you listening to? What blogs are you reading? What books are you reading right now that you might want to share with people are of interest to you? And they should consider adding to their libraries.
Pamela Meyer: Oh, boy, oh man. That’s a good one. You know I’ve always got a stack, and I tend to read across sectors. So interestingly I’m currently doing some research on … You know I’ve come back to skiing in mid-life, and I think you may know I’ve started competing again in downhill racing. And so interestingly I’ve been reading a lot of research on masters athletes and what sustains engagement in the life of a masters athlete over time.
Pamela Meyer: And some really exciting findings that are very relevant to our conversation today about the role of community, of comradery, of competition. The importance of identity as people over time work to stay competitive and relevant in their sport, but how that translates back to their work if they are still working. I’ve been interviewing people up into their mid 80s who are still out there competing year after year, and inspiring their friends and those of us who are younger. So I often do like to …
Pamela Meyer: One of my favorite organizational theorists, Carl White, says if you want to understand organizations study something else. So I do like to read off the reservation a lot. But actually I was just previewing Joe’s most recent book, so he’s next on my reading-
Joe Mechlinski: Thank you. You’ll be the one.
Pamela Meyer: But boy, so I read everything from travel. I find that the life experiences and getting yourself out there into other kinds of organizations and cultures is also one of the best ways. And I often talk about I have to put my money where my mouth is, so I spent this summer … You know I often talk about encouraging people to do things that scar them. And so my own development strategy is always giving myself stretch experience, whether that’s traveling to countries and cultures that are outside of my comfort zone. Or doing work.
This summer I worked on learning to juggle and I’ve got a unicycle sitting in my corner. I have not mastered it yet, but always trying to give myself those stretch experiences because I feel like I can’t be encouraging other people to stay agile if I’m not always pushing myself beyond my comfort zone. So I’m always trying to do that for myself, and looking for stories and inspiration of people who are doing that as well.
Amy Dufrane: Well Pamela Meyer, as a 2018 giant slalom gold medalist and future unicyclist, I am excited to talk to you and to share the experiences with you on agility and hear the great work that you’ve done. I think that organizations that invest in this, you have very quantitative data of a very large global organization that’s integrated this into their thinking and into their organization. And I think that looking at what they’ve done and looking at some of these internal indicators that we can look at are amazing for us all to think about and to consider.
Amy Dufrane: So thank you for spending some time with us today. It’s been great, enlightening for me.
Joe Mechlinski: Big time, thank you. And-
Pamela Meyer: Oh thanks to both, it’s been a pleasure. You know I enjoy talking about this, so I’m thrilled. And I know you’ll share some additional resources so we can keep the conversation going and send folks to ways that they can start exploring this in their own organizations.
Joe Mechlinski: So let’s do that real quick before you sign off. How can people find you?
Pamela Meyer: Yeah, so the best, certainly we can throw all kinds of social media, LinkedIn, but I would send people to my website. Again that’s, Pamela-meyer, M-E-Y-E-R, .com. And there you’ll find links to my book, The Agility Shift, the inventory, all kinds of recent blog posts. You can sign up for my not very regular newsletter, and all kinds of ways that we can stay in touch and continue to be resources.
I often encourage as they’re expanding their relational web of skills, knowledge and resources to be sure to add me to it for people as well.
Joe Mechlinski: Well thank you for being here.
Amy Dufrane: Thank you very much.
Pamela Meyer: Excellent, my pleasure.