How to Understand Leadership Influence

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In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with authors and Edelman Executive Vice-Presidents Elena Grotto and Felicia Joy on understanding leadership influence and its impact on teams and workplace culture.

A few reasons why they are awesome  —  they are both Executive VPs at the Global Communications firm – Edelman. Felicia Joy is the Executive Vice President & US Head of Behaviour Science; Corporate Advisory & Business Transformation. She’s also working on her doctorate on behavioural sciences. Elena Grotto is the Executive VP and Business Transformation Head. Together, they serve as Co-professors of Culture as a Competitive Business Advantage and Culture: A Competitive Business Asset or Risk at The University of Chicago. And they’ve written a book I Don’t Just Work Here: The New Purpose of Workplace Culture

Connect with, and learn more about Elena and Joy on their…



  • Continuous learning and adaption as leaders.
  • Balancing humanity and productivity.
  • The modern workplace as a laboratory for co-creation and experimentation.
  • Changing employee expectations and involvement.
  • Bridging the executive-employee gap.
  • Importance of relationships and flexibility.
  • Intentional relationship building.

“From a leadership perspective, gone are the days where employees are a captive audience… employees need to be considered in many of the same ways that companies consider their consumer base in terms of they have some expectations.”

Felicia Joy

“Leadership is about inspiring followership. Can you get others on board and advance the values that are core to the organization where you work, or if you’re an individual, or if you’re in a family environment, a leader would be the values that are important to you as an individual or family.”

Elena Grotto


Russel Lolacher: And on the show today, we have Elena Grotto and Felicia Joy. And here is why they are awesome. Both are executive VPs at the global communications firm Edelman. Felicia is an executive vice president and U.S. Head of Behavior Science, Corporate Advisory, and Business Transformation. Huge business card. She’s also working on her doctorate on behavioral sciences.

Elena Grotto is the executive VP and Business Transformation Head. Don’t worry, Elena. You’ll get some more words on your card, eventually. And they’re written a book.

I’m really excited about this book. I Don’t Just Work Here, The New Purpose of Workplace Culture. I have a feeling we’re going to touch on that quite a bit today, because we’re talking about influence. Leadership influence on workplace culture. Hello to you both.

Elena Grotto: Hello.

Felicia Joy: Hey Russel, how are you? Good to be here.

Russel Lolacher: I’m delightful. We’re both at varying degrees of morning. So I think I’ve had more coffee than you, as you can tell from that introduction, but, but let’s get going. Oh, okay. Thank you for that. I appreciate your solidarity there. Appreciate that. Let’s start with the first question, I ask all of my guests to both of you, which is I’ve heard, it’s an interesting one because you’re actually going to share a combo.

The first question is, what’s your best or worst employee experience?

Felicia Joy: Yeah, Russel, this answer for us is reflective of best and worst in the same story. So, we were working together. We’ve been working together for several years, and we were working together when George Floyd happened. And when that happened, that was a really hard experience for both of us. I can remember like yesterday that when it happened at the time, that was such an experience that nobody had had, collectively in the way that our social context was at the time because of Covid. So a lot of people were working virtually. We were. And I can remember just seeing it in the news and just working that day and feeling very down. But nobody was saying anything about it. Everyone was kind of working as usual. And I remember a coworker reaching out to me and saying, Hey, how are you feeling?

And nobody had ever reached out to me before about anything that had ever happened in the world to say, Hey, how are you feeling? And I had kind of been repressing how I was feeling up until that moment. And that question kind of brought it to the surface for me. And so then I started getting kind of really sad and, feeling a lot of emotions at the surface that I didn’t usually feel or show at work and thinking, is anybody going to say anything?

Is anybody at this company going to say anything about this? This is something I feel like we should talk about. But across companies, across the business landscape, people were so paralyzed that initially nobody said anything. So before we go, so, so that was the worst because I just remember feeling sad, depressed, dread, paralyzed, confused, expectant, and not having those emotions addressed, initially. So that was worse for me, Elena, what was it like for you?

Elena Grotto: I think that, what, what, why that same day was the worst for me was I felt a sense of being paralyzed. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. And I was on some calls with Felicia. I could tell something was wrong. I didn’t, I, but I didn’t know what to do. And I think that in a position where we’re consultants, our job is to solve problems.

It felt very scary to, to be so unsure that you just kind of shut down and that, that was really hard.

Felicia Joy: So that was the worst for us, Russel, but the best that came out of that is in business, we talk a lot about scale and metrics and performance, and sometimes in the midst of that, we can lose sight of the fact that we’re humans, that our humanity, we need to always be standing in our humanity while we do business. So when everyone came out of that space of being paralyzed and saying, this is a time that we need to stand in our humanity. That’s exactly what happened. And we saw that across businesses, including at our own company. And our CEO did end up making a statement and my own manager called me and I can remember it to this day. And we are as different as different can be. I’m a black woman. He’s a white man. He called me and that conversation literally changed our working dynamic. And our friendship forever. It stirred me so much what he said to me to show that humanity and that support. And I saw that reflected across our company in conversations that happened from that day forward. And I think our company was different, and our country became different from that day forward as well. And business became different. We see that reflected even in data to this day, the expectations that employees have of culture and leaders when it comes to societal issues.

Elena Grotto: I would say that from that experience of, of paralysis to then ventilation, like being able to do something and talk about this together. Was the impetus that Felicia kind of… Felicia and I went from being colleagues who did work together to being partners who wanted to take a pass at contributing to how we all can do better at work when we don’t know how to do something, we should be able to figure out a way to do it.

And oftentimes when we’re in the unknown, it’s powerful to have a partner in doing that. The, the unknown feels a lot less scary if you have a partner, and we certainly developed, I think, from that day onward because of the, I think the vulnerability that we had together and talking through the very different life experiences that brought us to that societal moment that we formed a partnership and therefore wanted to start taking a pass at some of the trickier situations in the workplace today. So it went from from colleagues to partners on that day.

Russel Lolacher: Any story that ends in humanity is a good story. Two things I want to bring up for that. One is Felicia, you mentioned a question that has come up a few times on the show, which is the question, how are you feeling? I remember talking to a former guest named James Pickles, who was asked that question as well, and he was going through a horrible time, different scenario, but due to burnout.

And he gave the stock answer because nobody listens to the question. Usually, how are you doing? It’d be like, they just go fine. I’m good. And then they work on, they move on their day to go to their 17th meeting. However it happened, the leader in that moment said, okay, but how are you feeling? And then used the word ‘really’ at the end, you bypass the really part.

But then he literally broke down and started crying because it was finally like, Oh no, humanity. It’s not just a check box exercise. They actually care about the words that are going to come out of my mouth. So I am absolutely thrilled to hear any organization, any leader, any colleague, that will bypass and especially you on the other side of that, taking it for what it actually meant, not as a, oh, this is just something we do because we’re colleagues, not because we actually care about people as individuals.

Love that.

Felicia Joy: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that story. It prompts me to say, to put a fine point on it, Russel, that Elena, I saw and have seen since then, doing that a lot more too, because she said it actually scared her how we had those conversations and I was so emotional in those one to one conversations. And then we got on client calls in the days following that when I was still hurting and many people were still hurting and would be completely polished and buttoned up. And she kind of prompted me to say, you know, you don’t have to do that if that’s really not how you’re feeling right now. There’s a way to do both to hold authentic space for how you are feeling, but still show up professional. And prior to that, my definition of professional didn’t include being able to be real about how I really was feeling.

Russel Lolacher: I’ve found ‘professional’ to be the biggest barrier to humanity in the workplace as a term. It’s so if you’re not the old white guy at the top, you’re not being professional. If you’re not exactly this cookie cutter of what success has been for the last 50 years, that’s not professional. I’m trying to use the word ‘respectful’ more often than the word professional.

Just I feel…

Elena Grotto: I have another one, Russel. Yeah, I have one for you. I have one for you to consider.

Yeah, I’ve been thinking and I heard a leader recently talk about it, really landed well with me was ‘civility’. Maybe instead of professional, we need to be civil. I mean, there are some standards in the workplace that are expected, and I, and I stand by that.

I don’t think that the move towards bringing your whole self to work means that this is that anything goes in the workplace. I don’t think that’s what, what we’re saying. It’s rather about honoring those pillars of, of what is acceptable with the human side of being a part of the civic society with so many contemporary issues.

And I, I loved that word of civility versus professional, perhaps as a counterpoint.

Russel Lolacher: No, I, I love it. I mean, it’s along the same lines of we just need to get away from this word that has meant some, you don’t dress like, act like, what has gone before, so it must be wrong. So I love the idea of civility. I love the idea of respectfulness because we’re reexamining a word that has been used as a barrier for change, diversity, inclusivity for so long.

Yeah. Thank you for that. The other, the other thing I want to bring up is that point in time… George Floyd, the pandemic, it was also such a litmus test for leaders because as much as the world changed, a lot of leaders did not. So it was very interesting in that moment where either leaders stood up, like you’ve given examples here where they’re like, no, this is how we can lead.

This is what leadership actually should be versus leaders who aren’t really leaders. They’re just graduated managers who have never been challenged before and suddenly are in a situation they can’t handle, don’t have the people skills because they’re not actually leaders, but nobody’s ever called them out on it.

So they leave or they quit or everybody quits around them. But I think the pandemic was such an influence over corporate culture and what leadership could and should be versus what it had been historically to that moment.

Felicia Joy: Yeah, I totally agree. And if folks have received the training and support and experience they need and they’re deliberately or seemingly willfully doing things that are not helpful to the culture and their people, then perhaps they should be called out. But Elena and I think actually, more often folks need to be coached up than called out because they, in a lot of cases, to your point because they are competent in their technical skill set, get the opportunity to lead people.

But then executive leadership and companies haven’t invested in the skill building in the training and in the exposure and experience that people need to be excellent leaders. So how would they be? And that was really one of the reasons we’ve written this book, I Don’t Just Work Here: The New Purpose Of Workplace culture because people need a field guide.

Leaders need a field guide. Even if they’re being supported, well supported, they need a field guide. But for sure, if they’re not, then this could be a good place for them to start because we just find that often it’s lacking.

Elena Grotto: Let me put a fine point on that. What we, what we got frustrated by in our own journey, you know, kind of navigating this in our own teams after George Floyd’s murder and in just observing and with our clients was it seemed that once leaders, it was obvious that employees were expecting to talk about issues and, and bring more topics to the workplace, it seemed that leaders fell into camps. One, they were kind of naturally good at this. Like they just, it came more, fluidly to them, to talk and ask questions and ask, how are you feeling, and things like that. Or they were specifically like they had a lot of formal, formal, formal coaching. Like they maybe were very senior and they had a team that could be talking to them about what to say, but there’s so many of us in that interim period that maybe just have to run a team meeting on Tuesday morning and don’t really know what to say about something, but can understand that it would be very loud to not say anything. And so that’s where we, we thought we can take a pass at this. We, we as leaders need a field guide, as Felicia mentioned, to quickly upskill ourselves. This is a journey. We’re all going to be on a journey to figure out the new purpose of workplace culture for a long time. But in the interim, if we’re not on either ends of the spectrum where maybe it feels kind of natural to us, or maybe we’ve been formally trained to do this, there’s a lot that we can just quickly do. And that’s where, again, that’s where we came to write this book was trying to pinpoint the specific quick skills that we could all upskill ourselves on in this journey to be stronger managers for today’s workplace.

Russel Lolacher: Love that. I mean, the same, you can’t read enough surveys that say leadership isn’t leadership in your thirties because people are just put in positions because they fixed a problem or because somebody liked them and then they get the training in their executive first junior executive year for the first time in their forties.

There’s this huge gap where people are basically drowning and not taught how to swim until they get to a certain level of That’s not how you teach people how to swim. You can’t wait for them to drown before you do. So I love that you put this book together. So I want to get into this conversation about our topic, which is, of course, leadership influence.

Big thing for me is defining terms. We don’t define things enough. Leadership is a perfect example of that because what one organization thinks of leadership is, somebody who reads Brene Brown might think is differently. It depends. So, what are we talking when we talk about influence? What are we talking about when we talk about leadership’s influence?

Elena Grotto: I would say that for me, leadership is about inspiring followership. Can you get others on board and advance the values that are core to the organization where you work, or if you’re an individual, or if you’re in a family environment, a leader would be the values that are important to you as an individual or family. But it’s about inspiring followership for me.

Felicia Joy: Yeah, I would say leadership is about aligning people. So similar to what Elena said, aligning, being able to align people around a goal or leadership is even at an individual level. So align yourself. And that sounds maybe a little bit funny. But think about sometimes when we’re kind of off track for a personal goal or something that we’re working on a team with. But our personal contribution is lacking. Often it’s because we haven’t connected everything within our actions with our mindset. So when we bring that alignment within ourselves and then a leader of a team brings that alignment across the team that we all know where we’re going. Kind of like what you’re doing with asking us this question.

What does this mean? You’re aligning us around an understanding that then helps us have a clear conversation and but by us having a clear conversation, we’re better able to help the audience understand what we’re talking about. That’s exactly what happens when a leader is excellent at leadership.

There’s alignment that brings understanding that helps with implementation of whatever needs to be done.

Russel Lolacher: So we’ve talked about humanity, but you also talked about what needs to get done, which is a productivity thing. So what are we influencing? Because they’re not the same thing and yet they go so hand in hand with each other. So are there things leaders should be influencing and shouldn’t be influencing?

Felicia Joy: Absolutely think leaders influence the environment. People really, people do have values and they behave according to those values, but in a certain context, in a certain environment, they can be influenced to behave in a different way, depending on what’s happening in that environment. We think about culture and work on culture a lot. Influence is what is being modeled in terms of the behavior and what is being talked about the most that then produces some outcomes. So that’s what influence is, affect on people’s mindset, affect on people’s behavior and affect on people’s outcome.

Elena Grotto: I think about influence as having two components. You have to inspire someone and you have to drive action. And oftentimes we need to be inspired first to drive action, but it comes back to me. I mean, that’s that humanity part that you’re mentioning, Russel, is we have to figure out, what is going to inspire someone?

Because that’s very different. I will be very as close as Felicia and I are. What inspires me is very different than what inspires Felicia in some cases. And figuring out what that is, is also the role of the leader. That is where I get back to being inspiring followership. You’re going to have to take a customized approach.

And so inspiration and then monitoring or driving action, I think, is, is another key part of influence for sure. Otherwise you just have a lot of inspired people, but you’re not accomplishing anything. And we do live in a practical world where we have to meet our goals. I think we have to think about those things as joint.

Felicia Joy: I think this creates a lot of anxiety, Russel, for leaders. Oh, we talk in the book about the fact that the purpose of workplace culture today is to take care of the whole human, not just the working human and influence is a big part of taking care of that whole human. If you don’t feel like you are one of those people that naturally has those skills and you haven’t been properly trained on it that’s what can kind of create that anxiety.

So this, this idea of influence is really important and thinking through as a leader, what we can bring to bear to have that influence to drive action is really important.

Russel Lolacher: Now, not all leaders are the same. Some of them have different styles. How does that influence culture when one is more an authoritarian while another one might be a little bit more collaborative? Because we’re all not cookie cutter here.

Felicia Joy: Elaine, I know you want to speak to this one.

Elena Grotto: I completely agree. I think that what we have to do is on our end… So I want to speak from the leader and then from the team perspective. From the leader perspective, we can be aware of our default styles. But then we have to know how to flex to other styles because what works for us is not always going to be receptive to someone else.

And I think we have to be okay with that. I was on a training recently where the facilitator emphasized that we can all operate in other styles. It just takes more energy. I loved thinking about it that way. That it’s not… I cannot say as a leader, Oh, I just don’t do it that way. That’s actually not going to be successful to me in inspiring followership back to my point. But I, so I have to learn how to operate in other leadership styles, depending on the situation I’m in, but I have to also know that it will take more energy for me to do that. And therefore I’m going to have to plan accordingly. I’m going to either have to, you know, really mentally prepare for this situation, or I’m going to have to ask for help from a collaborator, or I’m going to have to, you know, think about, I don’t know, other elements to kind of buttress my experience so that the energy it takes to exert and work in a different way is possible. So I think that’s what’s key from a leadership perspective is knowing that you have to become comfortable operating in a style that’s different than your default, but be aware that it will take a lot more energy for you to do so. But we do have the capacity to do that. I think that is what my big takeaway from this recent training.

It was really impactful for me. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. On the team side, I think that if I am looking at a leader whose style is just not say, I’m a part of a team that say I’m making this up, but 10 people and the leader of our team, let’s say, is just having a style that’s different than my own. I think that instead of just throwing my hands up and saying, this is not working for me, this is not a fit, I need to look at other, get other leadership styles from other people. We have to create kind of an ecosystem of, of, of, support for ourselves. And one leader is not going to give us every direction we need.

We need to kind of go work the phones a little bit. You know, Felicia and I work with a colleague whose background is in politics, and, and I see so much of him kind of working the phone sometimes. And I think that that is something that we need to take from other industries of, of get getting some opinions from lots of different people versus staying in our own silos. Felicia, what would you add?

Felicia Joy: I think acceptance is really important here. I’m not always expecting that others will adapt to our style. That would be fantastic if they do. And hopefully leaders get the skills and training that they need to be able to do that. But I think, managing ourselves in a way where we really have awareness of ourself. And then we’re able to accept other people’s styles. So if we all have awareness of ourselves and accept other people’s styles, it makes that rhythm that Elena is describing much easier because as we work toward flexing into other styles, if there’s greater acceptance in the culture that’s going to be much easier.

Russel Lolacher: You’ve both mentioned a superpower that leaders should have, but not all do, which is self awareness. Your influence, it’s not always good influence. Sometimes it’s bad. Sometimes it’s good, but we, as leaders may need to audit ourselves to understand what our leadership actually is before we can adjust one way or the other.

How do you know what your influence is as a leader within an organization to even start from?

Felicia Joy: Yeah, I think it goes back to what Elena was just saying. She was mentioning working the phones getting opinions about perhaps an issue, but I think working the phones, so to speak, meaning just having conversations. Having conversations with an openness and a desire to hear what people have to say. We actually do that in our own culture, 360 feedback, where we hear from people who are senior to us, who are at our level and who are junior to us to understand what experience do people have when they’re working with us and being really open to that feedback. That’s how leaders will learn the truth is when they ask questions with openness, because some leaders will say they want to understand the experience that they’re shaping for others, but then their behavior or their reaction to the feedback suggests otherwise. So a culture of openness to feedback, and again, going back to that acceptance is really critical to getting the truth and being able to then react differently as a result going forward.

Russel Lolacher: What are the expectations? I know Elena, you sort of tipped on it a bit with the, the, the talk of a team. What are the expectations employees have changed possibly through the pandemic pandemic till now? It’s not even a tongue twister and I can’t say it. When it comes to leadership influence, because how employees now look at leadership has changed, what their expectations of those leaders has changed.

So how do leaders take that change into consideration in their influence?

Elena Grotto: I think that that we shouldn’t talk about expectations as changed in the past tense because I think they are changing. I think the workplace is one big lab right now, a laboratory. We are trying, this is a, this is a experience right now in the workplace that is one of innovation. We are trying to figure out what the changing expectations are and what works to engage and retain top talent in this changing environment. Our, our company Edelman put out some fantastic research, the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report on the Workplace that pointed out that vast majority of employees today are expecting a work life reset. And what that exactly means.

There’s lots of data on those specific like categories. But the idea of a reset is it’s active. We are resetting right now. So I think a lot of this is approaching this as let’s see what works. Some things are not going to work. Some things are, but approaching it as in this laboratory environment, I think is really important. And some of the research from that report pointed out that employees expect to co create with their employer. And increasingly, they’re trying to make change from within versus going external. I think that’s such a fascinating trend that it’s not, yes, employees today want change, but they’re increasingly interested in doing it from within from this point of co creation. So I think that as leaders, we need to be open to trying things to saying we’re going to co create. And some of the co creations are not going to work. And some are going to work. And we’re going to be right there with you trying to figure this out. But having that attitude that we have not figured this out, the workforce has not changed, and therefore they’re static. And now we just need to figure out how to manage them. They are changing, and this is going to be a pursuit of innovation right now.

Felicia Joy: Yeah, from a leadership perspective, gone are the days where employees are a captive audience. I think in the past, companies have focused a lot on their consumers, for example, thinking we have to innovate. We have to market differently. We have to make sure we understand our consumers so they’ll purchase our products or services.

And we have market share and we grow revenue. And employees need a paycheck so we can make whatever policies we want, implement whatever rules we want, and they’ll just go along. That is no longer the case that employees will just go along. They need to be considered in, in many of the same ways that companies consider their consumer base in terms of they have some expectations.

What are those expectations? If we want to keep growing our company, we need to think about what those are and take them into consideration. It’s a consideration from an employee perspective. That’s what employees are looking for today is to be a part of creating. And companies are going to have to respond to that to keep the best talent.

Russel Lolacher: So I love the lab example. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of organizations where executives like, great, go in the lab, close the door and they go somewhere else. There are so many surveys that basically demonstrate what executive thinks and what employees know. And that seems to be a growing gap because I don’t want to equate executive with leadership.

It’s not the same thing. But I mean, I remember doing that in a keynote presentation. I had executive going, that can’t be true. And he was like, Googling. He’s Oh, it’s true. Yeah, there are so many studies out there where this gap seems to be growing. How do you get executive on board with this expectation, with this laboratory?

When they’re looking at their watch going, great. Have we fixed the culture yet?

Felicia Joy: That’s where the executive leadership team is really important because executives, I used to work for someone who called it managing by walking around, not just staying in an office or behind a virtual screen, not just looking at the data, frankly. We need to look at data. We absolutely need to look at data.

The world is data driven, but looking at the quantitative data is one thing. We need the qualitative insights as well. Let’s contextualize those numbers. Let’s get out and talk to people. Let’s understand what’s going on and believe them when they’re telling us because that’s the other thing is sometimes employees share and leaders don’t listen. And I think it takes more than just one leader, it needs to be the group of leaders, the team of leaders having these conversations, getting these qualitative insights that conceptualize the quantitative data that they’re collecting and surveys and so forth and really better understanding the workforce. And we use technology a lot these days to do some of that listening and to understand what’s happening. And then making changes accordingly. Elena and I worked on a project where employees stopped giving feedback that kind of stopped the innovation of the company and we did some of that qualitative listening that I’m talking about. And we learned from the employees that they have been giving feedback in the past, and it wasn’t that they were afraid to give feedback. It was that when they gave the feedback, they didn’t like the response. The response of the managers at that middle level was such that they didn’t want to give any more feedback.

It wasn’t that they thought all their ideas would be implemented, and that’s what leadership thought. So to your point about the disconnect, leadership was thinking, Oh, they’re not giving feedback anymore because we don’t implement their ideas, and they have this unrealistic expectation that we’re going to implement all their ideas when in fact it was no, we know not all of our ideas are going to be implemented, but we just want the response to our feedback to be a good response. And a welcoming response.

Elena Grotto: I was working with that. Sorry, Russel.

Russel Lolacher: I was going to say, that’s the civility we were talking about. Go ahead.

Elena Grotto: I was working with a client recently, and we were outlining that the communications for something needed to be really smart and thoughtful, of course, for those who are going to be impacted by this particular announcement. And we said, but at the same time, we need to have just as thoughtful of a communications plan for those who aren’t going to get the access to the thing that these people are getting. And the idea was, today’s workforce is in what we’re starting to see it in certain companies and every company is different. But if you’re doing good workforce listening, you would understand in some environments that people are fine being told that they, that they’re not going to get something if they understand why. And so having it, it’s like we, we kind of sometimes think that if someone’s not going to be impacted, we shouldn’t tell them like secretive. But having this thoughtful communications plan of speaking to the whole human again of these people are getting this for these reasons. These people are not getting this for these reasons.

This is why not. Like the why and the why not. The whole human wants all that. Now, we definitely want lots of information and we’re used to that. And I think that that’s a little bit of juggling back and forth of thinking through how to really engage is, is why and why not in a lot of these communications.

Russel Lolacher: And I think executive and leaders don’t get the point that not responding is also influencing culture. That is also a way that they’re for the worse, but they are… it’s like talking about trust in the workplace. I’m like, there’s two types of trust. I also trust some leaders not to do a thing, to not have my back.

So trust still exists. It just might not be the kind of trust you think. So the flip side of influence is an interesting one. I want to talk about the D E I and B of it as well because we talk about culture, which is hilarious because culture is not one thing. There are 1500 cultures almost in every organization from a team of two to a team of 20 to an ERGs.

As a leader trying to have influence, do you look at the larger picture? I know we were talking about diversity within a smaller team to understand it from a personalization standpoint, but I want to pull back a bit. How can you influence an organization where the culture could be? So it’s not just people that buy in and people that don’t buy in.

It is a keleidoscope. It is very different across the board. How do you influence a culture like that?

Elena Grotto: Yeah. I think we need to consider that we have two main tools oftentimes when designing workplace cultures. Well, there’s many tools, but just work with me on this one. We have structure and we have flexibility. And we need to know when to use each one. The thing about during the pandemic is I think Felicia and I’ve written about this, but we kind of went to the point where preferences dominate. And what’s sticky about preferences, my preference is very different than Felicia’s preference. And it was fine when we were all remote, largely that we didn’t really notice each other’s preferences that much. And so they didn’t become an issue. But now that we’re starting to be more together again in various capacities, when, when my preference is different than Felicia’s preference, it’s starting to grate people.

And and it’s causing some interesting frictions in the workplace. Therefore, to mitigate preferences dominating, I think we need to focus on those two tools again of structure and flexibility. And so there are some things that we should have some structures around. And there are others where we should very much lean into flexibility. And I think that knowing when to use which ones is, is a new art in the, in the workplace. I’ll give you an example. I think that when it comes down to, work life balance, I think that’s an interesting one. We can have some guiding principles around what work life balance looks like and mental health, respecting people’s mental health.

There should be an infrastructure at the, at the company level around what that is. But I do think we need to be okay within small micro cultures that how one team manages something could be different than another. And that’s okay. But we do also, we can’t just do flexibility. Otherwise it turns into preferences. We do need some infrastructure at the company level to, to again to organize all of this. And, and I think that that’s what’s knowing how being okay, that we are still going to have flexibility, but we also do need some infrastructure in place, some structure is essential too.

Felicia Joy: Yeah, to, to have that influence that you’re talking about, Russel, with all these different, as you said, cultures, the microcultures that occur because people are different at each level, it does go back to what Elena just said. And I’ll reference some research. So, Ayelet Fishbach at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business did some research on what makes people feel happiest in a relationship.

And that’s any kind of relationship. So working relationship, romantic relationship, whatever the case may be. And with the exception of one relationship, it’s when people feel that they are known. When people feel that they are known, they feel happiest in a relationship and that’s when they can be most influenced. The only relationship in which it was the opposite direction was the parent child relationship. Parents feel happiest when they know their kids the best. And if, if they’re, if they don’t really feel like their kids know them that well, that doesn’t affect their happiness. They’re really more about really knowing their children. So, yes, the structure and flexibility are critical, and that’s what helps at that macro level of that full organizational company level. But even with, as you say, this kaleidoscope, what’s really going to allow for the influence across all these people, across this organization and for the culture broadly is the people need to feel known, and that is the role of a manager, and that is the role of a teammate. The Gallup organization did research that shows that 70 percent of engagement is at a local level. The few people that you interact with the most every day when you’re doing your work. So, it’s about relationships. It’s about getting to know those people that we’re working most closely with. It’s about having those values, going back to what Elena just said. Values of the organization are part of that structure and then having those relationships and all of us being aligned around those values. That’s when we’re able to influence people because we’re all working in the same direction, but everyone at some level is feeling known and that is allowing for influence.

Elena Grotto: Russel in our book, we outlined that there, something Felicia and I found in our research, was that community leaders were taught skills on how to relate to Felicia’s point of feeling known, how to do this work that’s now expected in the corporate environment. In some cases, community and faith based leaders were actually taught this in an, in structure as part of their training, as part of their education, how to make people feel heard, feel known. And so we have a few profiles in our book about how they talk about learning these skills that now we’re expected to master in the corporate environment. And, and that was such a fascinating insight, I think, during our research was, it’s not that all of us are new to this. It’s actually community and faith based leaders do know how to do this well, and we in the corporate environment could take a nod from some of their skills on how to make our people feel more, to Felicia’s point, known in the workplace.

Russel Lolacher: There’s a lot of leaders that I’ve, I’ve talked to that completely understand this, but then you talk about remote and hybrid work and they suddenly shut up and get nervous and then go, well, I don’t know what to do with remote. That’s different. That’s completely different. How would you, we’ve talked about technology a bit and we’ve talked about this, well, there’s this push and pull about coming into the office, not coming to the office. Study saying you’re more productive at home, leaders that don’t want to listen.

So as leaders that are influential in the remote sense, how did they flex that influence when they don’t see your face as much or you have maybe off hours than they do in their work in this new way of working, how does that work?

Felicia Joy: In two words, be deliberate. It takes being more deliberate. So that just kind of happens organically when you’re in the same physical space. But again, we’ve talked about a number of things here in this conversation, and being able to adapt is critical. We’ve, we’ve advanced technology. We’ve advanced many things in terms of operations of businesses. We have to advance in the area of culture. And people and relationships in the workplace, and that’s one of the ways in which we’re having to adapt in advance is being more deliberate for these hybrid and remote scenarios where you’re not going to bump into them. You’ve got to be deliberate about reaching out to them, and that’s part of new part of a leader’s job. So it’s something that we may not have always thought about, but that we have to think about now.

Russel Lolacher: I find it funny. I’m going to tie it back to the professionalism challenge that we both we all started talking about at the beginning is that for whatever reason, as soon as you mentioned things like remote hybrid technology workplace, suddenly there’s this disconnect between Of what? What we know works when it comes to building friends and families and trust building.

But as soon as you turn a computer or walk into a building, it’s suddenly something different. Like trust is a different thing with colleagues than it is with the best friend. So when you talk about intention, I don’t see that as any different than a friend you haven’t talked to in a couple of months.

You have to be intentional to keep that relationship going because they’re just not front and center, whether it’s daily, monthly, yearly. But leaders just look at this as Oh, I don’t know what to do. I’m like, do you have any friends? Do you have any family members that you talk to? Because the same skills and things you need to do around trust are the exact same things.

Do you show up? Are you consistent? Do you, are you open communication? Are you available? It suddenly is this mystical, magical thing in the corporate world. did you find that…?

Elena Grotto: Well…

Russel Lolacher: Go ahead.

Elena Grotto: I would say though, that back to our thing about the workplace being a lab, there are so many new variables in this experiment. And we do know what works with friends at a coffee shop. Fewer variables there. It’s this, it, we, we, we have that relationship. It feels steady or constant. The workplace has been massively changed.

I mean, we all know that, we say that all the time, but the most clear description of what’s going on, I heard on The Daily podcast recently, which was talking about the remote hybrid challenges of building culture during this changed workplace, and they pointed out rightfully that it took, I think they said centuries to kind of, not perfect, but to really build the previous workplace that was dismantled in a week.

And now we’re back. It is going to take decades to figure this out. We are in a lab again for this for sure. When you say we know what works in relationships in our personal life. There’s new variables that are throwing off the experiment in the workplace. New expectations. Like I said, preferences that we didn’t have before. Expectations that are evolving. Grudges or skepticism or, or frustrations that are, are… people are feeling. And, and so all of this is coming together. And so what, what we know works isn’t working. And so I think that that is, and we’re not going to figure this out. I do get frustrated when we get requests for the three things that work in a remote hybrid environment. I don’t know. It depends on your environment and your workplace. Every environment is so different. And I think we are in a total place of experimentation, even though, of course, it would be better if we could write up the top 10 things that work. But it’s going to take a long time to figure this out.

Russel Lolacher: Notice I didn’t ask you that question. Yeah, the podcast. I mean, the whole point of this is mindset shifting, right? Because I can give you the top 10 checklist to do, and it may or may not work for you based on who you work around. So, and if we don’t have the right mindset, it’s not going to matter anyway.

So I appreciate that you wrote the book to sort of absolutely help those that are in it, that need it, to support them in this.

Elena Grotto: It’s hard. We say in the book, this work is hard. It will continue to be hard, but we’re not going to sit… Felicia and I are not going to sit around saying this is hard. We wanted to take a pass at it. We want, we are figuring this out too. And, and there are some concrete things we can all get better at.

Russel Lolacher: The last question of the day to both of you, which is what’s one simple action you believe people can do right now to improve their relationships at work?

Felicia Joy: Elena, you take it first.

Elena Grotto: I think, I think about a quote I heard from an athlete once that just athletes have short memory. Good athletes have short memories. That’s what it was. We have to be able to get… we have a whole chapter on forgiveness. We have to be able to realize that we’re, we can make mistakes. And I think I’m saying this out loud to remind myself, cause I certainly can sink in and be, be stubborn. But I think we have to have short memories sometimes and move on. We’re all in this together. The workplace is like I said, this is hard. This is going to continue to be hard. Let’s forgive each other and we will continue on and try again. I think we have to be present and show up. We might bumble something one day.

We got to get back and be present and try again, Felicia over to you.

Felicia Joy: Connected to what Elena said and to this conversation we’ve had with you today, Russel I would say that sometimes when folks get frustrated, they don’t want to talk. So I would say one action is it’s okay to have a conversation, no matter what the emotion is. Having a conversation with civility, going back to what Elena said will help advance things.

Often people are holding on to something and your colleague or your manager or leadership doesn’t even know. Or for leaders, they’re holding on to something, not wanting to work with a colleague or a teammate who may be fumbled on an assignment and they don’t have the conversation. Have the conversation with civility and that is what is going to enable us to move forward in alignment and do the great work that we’re there to do.

Russel Lolacher: That is Elena Grotto and Felicia Joy, both executive VPs at Edelman and co authors of a book you really need to check out called I Don’t Just Work Here, The New Purpose of Workplace Culture. Thank you so much for both being here.

Felicia Joy: Thank you.


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