Neil Pretty Helps Us Build a Resilient Workplace Culture

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In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with CEO, keynote speaker and cabinet maker Neil Pretty on the ingredients to building a resilient workplace culture and where we get it wrong.

A few reasons why he is awesome — he is the co-founder and CEO of Aristotle Performance, which works to empower organizations to develop high-performing resilient cultures through training and coaching, all driven by data, focused on people and all wrapped in developing psychological safety. Neil is a keynote speaker, serial entrepreneur and was named a Vancouver Top 100 Innovator in 2020.

Connect with, and learn more about, Neil on…

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KEY TAKEAWAYS 

  • The definition of resiliency.
  • Where intention for resiliency needs to start in an organization.
  • How resiliency should work for a healthy culture.
  • How we’ll know when resiliency efforts aren’t working.
  • What is the key to maintaining a resilient culture.
  • How relationships support resiliency.

“I think what most of the resiliency training out there, without actually admitting it, is to make people able to deal with shitty bosses. Like ‘put up with it until we can give you your paycheque.’”

Neil Pretty

FULL TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW

Russel Lolacher
And on the show today we have Neil pretty and here is why he is awesome. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Aristotle Performance, which works to empower organizations to develop high performing resilient cultures through training and coaching, all driven by data focused on people and wrapped in a beautiful little psychological safety bow. He’s a keynote speaker, serial entrepreneur and named a fancy 2020, Vancouver’s top 100 innovator. Here’s a pretty peculiarity and yes, I’m having fun with alliteration. After operating a landscaping business to pay for horticulture school, you would eventually work as a tree faller, arborist, cabinet maker and ski boot fitter, the renaissance man Neil Pretty. Welcome to the show, Neil. Hello.

Neil Pretty
Thank you. Hello, happy to be here. I don’t think I’ve had anybody ever introduced me with reference to some of my past careers before.

Russel Lolacher
Oh, I just wanted to challenge my pronunciation arborists. So I was really excited about this. Honestly, I, the show is about employee experience. And employee experience isn’t one job from beginning to end. It is the span of your entire career. So I find stuff like that. Super interesting, because and you’ll be the probably the first to tell me is you take some of those skills throughout all your career, which now I want to ask like what being a cabinet maker, an arborist and a tree follower has helped you sort of be a entrepreneur and move through your career?

Neil Pretty
Well, I’ll start start with cabin making, because like, my dad was a firefighter, but you know, firefighters always have side things. And his side thing was cabinetry. So you know, from the time I was seven, eight years old, I was in the shop, you know, so it’s like, I started work that was always just work in my hands. And you know, actually, this weekend, I was doing some cabinetry in my shop just for a home project, you know, and and I think it’s it, what it taught me was that I like to create things, and that it taught me the value of time and money in a different way. So I started mowing lawns, when I was 11, because the paper route had gotten too big, you had to have a car. So, you know, it was like mowing lawns. But then my brother taught me about the difference between hourly work and contract work. At 11am, I, my parents maybe paid taxes, I had to rent the lawnmower, I had to pay for gas, you know, I had to do the math for all that in there I am 11 years old doing all that and that, like, really, in my own head, I think of that as my first business. You know, because I go to go to people’s yards and say, hey, I’ll do your lawn for free the first time. And then I just make it look amazing four hours later, and then four hours of BS sort of my frame of reference for the contract. And I said, you know, I’ll do it. And I would quite literally arrange a subscription model, you know, it’s like, it’s like, this is a contract, I mean, but it what was interesting was was how natural all that was. And cabinetry was sort of an extension of that, when I started doing that. What it really taught me was like, people don’t understand the difference between IKEA and custom. And they have no idea the work that goes into it. So you have to sell to emotion, you have to sell to, you know, like people’s ego, you know, those kinds of things. So I learned that they’re selling ski boots and be a custom scheming, fitter. I’ve often said that the two hardest things I’ve ever had to sellers, custom scheming, fitting and psychological safety. Because you’re asking someone to take their perfectly engineered foot that’s evolved over eons and shove it into a piece of plastic, and trust you that eventually the like it. And it’s not like it’s the thing that makes people’s day good or terrible. So you’re bridging that gap. And there’s a huge amount of trust that you have to gain and earn in a very short period of time for what is ultimately a fairly low cost sale. But it’s a high price because it’s for an activity it right, it’s you know, six $700 And people who don’t want to spend $900, and you’re like, well, your life is gonna be a lot better for 200 bucks more. But you know, so you can’t just say that you have to get into the psychology of sales. And I think that really taught me a lot of the psychology of sales and the psychology of how to speak to people and how they think and why they do things motivation. I also worked in the live production industry that was all over North America, you know, I’d often have three or four teams in a day, and then I would roll right over to the night and have three or four teams at night. So, you know, I’ve led several 100 teams and I lead that but through all of this, what I learned was you take a human being and you put them in a certain context, they’re going to behave a certain way. We’re 98% animal and only 2% Human and people think that people turn into an animal when you’re at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. But it’s like at the middle we start turning in who we are sort of animalistic traits start coming out, we start having our cortisol spike, all these sorts of things happen. So a lot of this career, this career progression and change is show me how people show up when they’re threatened, how they show up when they’re challenged. And you know, being a tree guy. I mean, yeah, I use that all the time. You want to talk about things like resilience, things like psychological safety, things like respect in the workplace. I mean, man, I got more stories that are way too inappropriate for this podcast.

Russel Lolacher
You’d be surprised what’s inappropriate on this podcast. But before we do, I want to jump into the first question, before we get into all the resiliency is what’s your through that journey? What’s your best or worst employee experience, Neil?

Neil Pretty
Well, I can certainly say the best experience was working with a guy out of San Francisco, his name’s Ken Brown, with a company called large screen video, I worked with them in the live production industry. And he taught me that human beings can actually treat each other well. And at 3032 years old, it was the first time that I’ve really, that it’s the first time I’d really seen that an employer could treat somebody else well and not have some moment just waiting in the wings to sort of abuse you so to speak. But the worst one was, I had an employer, I was on a job site. This was many years before I moved into the corporate space. And my daughter was maybe three weeks old, three, four weeks old. And she hit her head. She had like, gone off the machine or rolled out of the baby carrier or something like that. I can’t remember exactly. But I got a call from my wife, this happened. We’re going to hospital. I’m like, Holy shit, I’m going to the hospital. Okay, so I called up my employer and said, Hey, do you want me to drive the truck back to the yard? Or do you mind if I take the truck to the hospital? And he says, Well, this isn’t gonna happen all the time, is it? I’m like, Sorry, what did you say? And it goes, well, you know, I just don’t really like do you really need to go this? Well? How about this, I’ll take that the truck back in the yard. And I’ll talk to you tomorrow. And I hung up there. And that was the moment that it’s like, you’d have these feelings about how you’re treated and how you’re seen in the world. And then there’s moments that crystallized those sort of subconscious beliefs. And that was a moment that I realized that I was absolutely a piece of meat. And it would not matter that what I produced what I did what I didn’t do, I was a piece of meat. And when I was used up I was gone. And as it turns out in that career, I you know, I’d broken my backup. I have three spinal fractures never missed a day at work. You know, and it’s because like I because I was a piece of meat. So that narrative got really crystallized in that moment, and it was completely changed the relationship and within you know, 18 months I quit, and I never went back.

Russel Lolacher
It’s shocking when you realize you’re just a means to an end. You’re just there to fix a problem. I worked in the restaurant industry forever. And literally, is your arm falling off? Oh, I’m sorry. You literally coughing up a lung. I don’t care. Can you come in and touch food? Can you come in and like it’s it was amazing what was and we’re talking early, early 20s. late teens, when you’re learning what work is, and that molds you for a long time throughout your career. So I want to get into resiliency. Let’s start first with definitions. What is resiliency, Neil? What are we even talking about resiliency in the workplace?

Neil Pretty
Well, it’s sort of interesting because resilience, the dictionary definition is the capacity to withstand or recover quickly. And it’s often just referred to as toughness. You know, and I think like when I think of metal, right, because I used to be a metal worker I did I was an iron worker for a little while to the I’ve seriously been around the block. But you know, when you heat metal you can make it rather tougher or harder. So you know hard metal tends to break when it bends and tough smell comes back. When you bend it so it’s more like a spring. So you know, depending on how you treat it, it becomes brittle or it becomes tough and I think people are kind of like that as well. Depending on on the kind of way you you know, like, heat treat them so to speak the way you challenge them the way you make them. Transform. You’ll get people that are brittle. Since terms that are brittle teams that are brittle, that break down at the first time sign of trouble. Or you’ll get teams, people and organizations systems as well, that are tough and resilient. So that means that like, they can absorb change, and come back to homeostasis, they can have someone say something that is maybe inappropriate or didn’t land well, and often things that are inappropriate, were never intended to be bad. They just happened to land poorly. And, you know, do teams have that capacity. So when we’re working with organizations, and we’re working with teams, one of the things that we talk about, like psychological safety is our niche. It’s sort of our bread and butter that that space, but we do that through leader development, we do that through team development, we do that through organizational analysis, consulting, you know, lots of different avenues that we helped build this one piece, and it’s like, why don’t we build it, because teams need to be able to learn together. So I mean, actually, what that means is that they have a high frequency of low stakes conflict. They’re challenging each other all the time. But every once in a while, there’s a mistake, and somebody doesn’t, you know, somebody had too many cups of coffee or something like that, you know, whatever it is, it can be, quite literally can be that small, and they react poorly. And things break down. So they can the team bounce back. So teams that are low in psychological safety, we work on that to raise it. Teams that have highly varied experiences, we work to close that gap, teams that are high in psychological safety, we work to build their ability to repair, which is ultimately their resilience, their level of resilience.

Russel Lolacher
A lot of organizations will go, we’ll talk about resiliency, but then we talk about culture at a larger level. So you’re mentioning teams, is that how you start introducing resiliency into an organization? is planting seeds at the team level, at the executive level? to influence the entire organization? How do you approach it?

Neil Pretty
Well, I think there’s a few different ways there’s sort of top down bottom upper middle up. Right? And so it depends on the organization. So I’m classic consultant, it depends. But the more elaborate answer, I guess, is that you have to look at who has power in the organization. And get them to understand the difference between building resilience and toughness, and being an asshole. And like I had a specialty working with high performance toxic leaders for a short while, my career sort of evolved through that. And I was doing that before I got into the space and doing what I’m doing now. But part of what that showed me was that very few people show up to work. And even people that we would deem as toxic or destructive, very few of them show up to work wanting to cause harm to anyone. And yet they do so you run into this issue where people don’t understand how to get their people engaged, get commitment, get buy in, get them willing to endure some struggle. And not just be an asshole cracking a whip. And that’s really the challenge. So So regardless of how we come in, if we come in, and we’re working with teams, and we’re going across the organization, Logitech is a perfect example of that, where we’re like going across the organization working with teams, as they feel called to do the work. Great. So there’s other organizations where we’ll come in large Assurance Company that we’re working with, you know, we’re, we’re start with leadership, we’re giving them skills, training them, all these sorts of things. Okay, great. It doesn’t really matter how you come in, what matters is that those are the centers of power, and that you can actually help them succeed together as a result of your work. So those are the two preconditions that matter the most. And then the next thing is, do the leaders have skills and competencies to get buy in to inspire with vision, create a vision for their team? Do they have skills to facilitate a conversation? And the biggest thing that we see is that the reason the number one reason why teams suffer is because leaders lack competencies, not because they’re incompetent, but because they’ve never been trained. So it’s just lack. It’s actually a lack of training, a lack of investment in leadership, as a skill and not leadership in the form of like, I have a Bachelor of Business or whatever. I have a BA in leadership. It’s like no, no, go lead people. Do it wrong a lot. Find mentors that know how to do it take a lot of leadership development training programs, that give you actual frameworks to lead better, that show you how you should be behaving differently. You know, those are the things and organizations simply don’t invest in them.

Russel Lolacher
But Neil, I have a piece of paper that makes me a leader, right? That was always a running joke. I mean, I’m a communications guy, it was always the worst communicators are the ones with communication degrees. And leaders are the ones of leadership degrees. Love those generalizations. So we’re talking about resiliency. What are we trying to be resilient against? Because one of the things I’ve heard is we talked about resiliency, but it’s talking about being resilient against shitty leadership, we need to be resilient. Are we talking about change? Are we talking because Sue’s horrible? Like what are we talking about?

Neil Pretty
Well, this is, this is my number one phone to pick with resilience, because I’m like, you want to be tough? Come with me. Like, I’ll take you to a worksite I’ll show you exactly how not tough you are. Right. You know, like, and, you know, I’ll take you to the mountains like there’s lots of different vehicles to show someone that they’re not nearly as tough as they think they are. And yet is like, is that the point? So yes, I think what most of the resiliency training is out there for without actually admitting it, is to make people able to deal with shitty bosses, like put up with it until we can give you your paycheck. Right. And that is really sad to me, because you can be tough without being an asshole. So okay, so this is the frame of reference I come from. So what are we being resilient for? Well, do we have the ability to navigate change? That’s number one. And when I say change, there’s two words I use often that a lot of people misunderstand. Number one is change. So that is new information. That’s all it is new information, can I navigate new information that I didn’t expect? That’s it. And we have that all the time. You know, COVID happened, I lost a huge quantity of work started in business, here we are several years later. It’s been it’s been a smashing success. But I said to my wife, I’m like you watch the people that your frame of reference for who a person is, will fundamentally change as a result of this, because how people show up in a crisis will become your new baseline. And sure enough, we have people in our neighborhood and extended groups of friends that it’s like, the level of trust for how they’ll show up, will forever be changed. So change comes to us all the time. It’s daily, we get lots of emails, all these kinds of things. And then the next one is learning and changes new information learning is can you let go of the past what you thought was right, and absorb new information. That doesn’t mean reading a book doesn’t mean going to school, it’s can you take in new information in and let go of past information that has been now shown to be incorrect. That’s it. But these are two really hard things, but they’re really hard for people to get, we write a story about the future to ourselves. And then if it changes we’re past, and like, immediately, everything goes wrong. Okay? So why does this matter for resilience, and the reason why is because if we want to be able to bounce back, we have to be able to absorb that new information. Right. And that’s where people get stuck is that they get new information, they and they just break down, well, I can’t accept that new information, therefore, it’s wrong, I’m not wrong, it’s wrong. And then event, you know, they might not notice it immediately. But eventually that will break this system that will break their team that will break them down. And that will revert them down to their sort of more basic human self even to a degree which I’ve seen several times and and a practical example of that is like really high performing team that I worked with, had one sarcastic comment one sarcastic comment caused two members to not talk for six months cost them millions of dollars. So this is this is the reality of like you can’t take in can’t take this income, that’s back in a new information that needed to be absorbed is that sometimes people say things and they don’t mean it and you should offer grace.

Russel Lolacher
When does it get impossible? When does it get where you’re like, I have to walk away from this you this is a culture that’s just never going to adopt resiliency, they’re just going to stick with their status quo because you’re just not getting it.

Neil Pretty
I think when it’s time to walk away is when there’s two indicators of engaged audience to me one is that people love it and two is that there’s a couple people that hate it. Right like if you don’t Have a skeptic skeptic in an audience, it’s because they don’t think you’re worth their time and effort to challenge when you get apathy is that it’s over. And the challenge with apathy is that you can’t see it can’t see it right away. But when in our work and what we’ve known and the research into psychological safety, and what’s interesting about it is that a lot of people don’t know they attribute the term psychological safety to Dr. Amy Edmondson of Harvard University. But she was actually the first person to start using that term in regards to a team. So the team construct this matters for teams and groups. And she started thinking of it that way. Prior to that, it had only been thought of as something that an individual experienced, and came out of research into learning readiness. So this ability to take in new information and let go of old. So now, when we talk about psychological safety, the goal is to create the conditions for learning if we’re not psychologically safe, if we don’t have accountability, we can’t learn and grow together. So we, this creates the conditions. But those are ideal conditions. Resilience is what allows us to maintain those conditions when the shit goes sideways. So even in small ways. So if we lower psychological safety, we increase anxiety, if there’s lots of accountability. If we lower accountability, we get comfort, and people billet behave that though like constantly try to recreate politeness or things down the road, they’ll use sarcasm, and they’ll downplay things. So there’s behaviors. And these are called impression management that people will use to recreate comfort, or engage in apathy. And see, so I said before, you can’t really see when people become apathetic, it’s because it’s really hard to see it unless you train and understand what you’re looking for. And you sort of have an idea of what’s going on that you can see apathy. And that’s when everything’s, it’s like it’s over, you’ve lost people. So people generally have two directions, they rather engage in the accountability stream, and they sort of get anxious and whatever, and they go through that cycle again, or they’re out the door.

Russel Lolacher
Why are we trying to be more resilient? You talk about the idea, like what? I’m going to be senior CEO, old white man. So what’s the ROI on this, Neil?

Neil Pretty
I would look at your recruitment costs. Recruitment is expensive. And you know, at top talent don’t want to be around assholes. They want to work where they have agency, and people don’t engage in agency when they are asked to be resilient all the time. So you have to be like, it’s like, what are you asking your people to be resilient about, because if you have high recruitment costs, for example, even 5% over industry norm, for example, one of the things that people are having to be resilient, over is new recruits coming in all the time, they got new people that aren’t fully up to speed that aren’t out 100%, not because they’re bad people or lack talent, but because they’re new. So you’re asking the rest of the organization in net to mitigate that, and perform like that’s not happening. So if you’re not solving that problem, you’re taking the efficiency and effectiveness from everybody else, one little piece at a time. So the question is, if you asked your people to engage in a culture that was more able to retain people, you would see an uptick in efficiency mediately. But not only that, people will be more engaged and more interested in what they’re doing, instead of fighting this problem, that isn’t really their problem. You’re just making it their problem. Now, all of a sudden, they’re interested, Bob, would you not expect to see an uptick in efficiency as a result of that change as well. So now you have these two separate items that are increasing efficiency. Now, let’s take the Met let’s do the math thing. Again. Let’s do all across your organization, if you increasing efficiency of your employees by 1%, what change is that going to make? Because what’s it costing you now is is big number.

Russel Lolacher
So let’s stay with cost a little bit because any investment that any organization makes, whether it’s an organization or any with resiliency, they bring you in you do your thing, fly little bird fly, then they want to they want to be successful at it. But that’s a maintenance thing. That’s a measurement thing. How does an organization maintain a resilient culture over time rather than And just that everything was perfect in this bubble during training, and then they have to go back to their reality.

Neil Pretty
Okay, so the this is the this is the rub, the thing is to keep training, it’s like the amount of organizations that we come into that are big, that don’t have any kind of, you know, regular leadership development. still shocks me absolutely shocks me. When they and these are the organizations by the way that also complain the most about cross silo communication, oh, we don’t have any cross cell communication, what do we do to well training? Get people learning together? Because, okay, so one of the things that has the largest impact on psychological safety is Team relationships in the APAC region, the research shows that psychological safety has 10x of 10 times an impact on team performance, then all other organizational factors combined. This is from the Singapore management University. So like in 2018, so like, this is relevant, it’s big, it was 400,000. People, you know, like huge, really big study. Yada, yada, yada. The Big Three, the big three Seinfeld reference.

Russel Lolacher
Got the right, the right demo, it’s okay.

Neil Pretty
Just find the young complexion, and you know, they have an old guy. But despite that, okay, so the three factors that lead to that leader behavior, do leaders walk the talk, Team relationships, do people know each other and an organizational context? Those are the big three all the time, we see this study after study all over the place. So leaders walking the talk, do they have the skills to do the to do what they say they’re going to do? And that’s a competency issue. Again, not because they’re bad, but because they probably don’t have them. But then when it comes to Team relationships, one of the things and the biggest misconception that we run into this is that people think that team relationships means they should know all the intimate details of somebody else’s life. And that’s not necessarily the case. Do you know how somebody gets work done? Do you know how they learn? Do you know how they think through a problem? All these kinds of things that we can know about somebody without knowing their personal life? Like, what? What brought you to this point, like you asked me about my career, like most people don’t ask me about my career. They just think like, oh, CEO, he’s a CEO. He’s a corporate guy. It’s like, I’ve been a corporate guy forever. You know, but the number one thing that shocked me when I came into the corporate world, what’s the pace of business is laughable? Like, it’s funny, wondering what pace of business I mean, like, this is not fast paced, you know. So my perspective is that the pace of business and corporate world is slow. Whereas most people don’t have that perspective. So now there’s a diversity of perspectives. So once you get to know each other, how they learn how they think, how they solve problems, how they like to interact, their their career history, and what diversity diverse experiences they might have. Now, you know, someone’s significantly better you can incorporate the diverse perspectives they have, you can start benefiting from this. So this relational aspect is really, really important. And people often skip it, or think that it doesn’t matter. And the number one way to gain that is to get people to learn together by solving a problem that isn’t like directly related to their work. Right, right. So that’s the learning environment, creating those conditions for them to learn together. Because then they can communicate, they know each other, if you don’t pick up the phone and just call someone randomly, unless you’re pranking them. Right, we’re old enough to remember the phonebook.

Russel Lolacher
And to get that dropped off at the front door, the the best team building experience I ever had was we did a I’m going to get the pronunciation here. Gregorian or Gregorian, not where you actually had, there was eight of us and we had to like there was arms and we had to link and untie each other. What made us successful is we were the only group that wasn’t able to do it. Everybody else succeed, we failed spectacularly. But then we ended up being the closest psychologically safe, highest performing because there was this trust in failure, or at least trust in trying that was outside of the academic world in which we did it. But it was so personalized, that it became such this touchstone of oh, we’re good at this. Remember the time we shit the bed on trying to do this moving forward. And it was exactly well, we’re really idiots but look at how good we’re doing now. So and what are people missing about psychological safety? Because it really is that relationships at work reason for the name of the show? What are we missing about that psychological safety that leaders just aren’t getting? Or employees aren’t getting?

Neil Pretty
Okay, so I actually love what you said earlier, just about this Gregorian not peace. So I was at high rigor for quite a while, was one of my jobs. And one of the challenges that I always had in that and one of the questions always in the back of my mind was like, I’ve actually broken things. I know what it takes to actually break a thing. From I’m working trees, knots robes, I actually wrote a book about knots. You know, like, it’s a whole thing. If you haven’t seen how people react when things break down, you don’t know who they are? Would you rather, you know, let’s play a quick game of would you rather. Would you rather know how somebody operates when everything’s going well? Or would you like to know how somebody operates when shit goes sideways? And the answer is, you want to know how people respond when things are not going well. You want to know what their baseline is. And so one of the things that we often ask teams to do is is like a failure party, it’s the simplest thing, but you know, it feels like a bit of it doesn’t feel quite connected enough. It’s like, your team should have a common story of what failure is for you and your team. Because if you don’t, what you have instead, is everybody’s individual beliefs, erroneous or otherwise, being the one that they default to closing, okay, well, if I put the period in the wrong place on this report, that’s a failure. So I’m going to spend two hours editing it. Why? Do we really care about that? Is that really the thing we care about? Now if the answer is yes, you better know that too. But if the answer is no, and you don’t know that, you’re wasting a huge amount of time, you got to do a report a week, that’s two times that’s two times 50 100 hours a year, searching for a period. That’s wrong. That’s a lot of time. That’s more than two and a half weeks you spent asked me how many days I’ve spent doing my mustache, trust me laugh like this.

Russel Lolacher
And that’s certainly not a failure. I’ll tell you that right now. That is not a test failure. So is that how we’re measuring success or resiliency is we wait till shit hits the fan? Because I mean, we went through a pandemic, and you brought this up earlier, where you were looking at leadership, and you either went, Wow, wait a step up, or oh, that’s, that’s who you really are. OK. Great. So as you’re trying to figure out resiliency and measure resiliency? Is it just is it workshopping? Is it putting failures and seeing how you… cause they’re not real failures if you’re just throwing it through a training process?

Neil Pretty
Well, this is great, though. Okay, so how do we as human beings learn? We actually learn by hearing and listening to stories of others. We learn more from that than anything else, right? Because what we’re doing even the rumor mill has been shown to be beneficial, because what it’s doing is warning us about other people. If you’re not in the warning, rumor mill, it’s actually there’s some research coming out. Now that’s showing that that means that people don’t care about you. Because they don’t care if you don’t get the warning signs that so and so is bad or whatever. And this is something that we’ve done as a society forever. So we listen to stories we want story. So the question is, do we have a story that’s relevant to our work? Because I can tell you stories about failure forever. But are they relevant to a leader who’s leading a sales team? Well, I’ve got some of those stories, too. So yeah, sure, we can talk about that. And I can create a challenge for that team to work through, so that they can learn together, and then pepper in some stories, so that they have something to arm them with tools for the future. So that’s how we get there. That’s how we get there is by building that toolbox of stories of previous knowledge. So that when we’re faced with the same issue, we go, oh, yeah, right. This is a mindset that I can have. These are tools that I can engage in, this is where I can reach out for help. This is the way it was solved in the past. So at least I can try that. And then you can move forward. So I think, you know, without just sitting around in circles and sharing stories, there is much more activity that we can do. But as human beings there’s a very short list of things that we do, and very naturally walk, procreate, eat, sleep, and sit in circles and share stories.

Russel Lolacher
How do you weather an organization that doesn’t embrace Leadership Competencies psychological safety in a team that is resilient. I mean, we talked about culture, but there are a million subcultures within an organization. And the cultures can be crazy resilient because they’re weathering a shitty organization. Oh, yeah. How you survive?

Neil Pretty
Yeah. I mean, this is really funny. Okay, so Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline, if you haven’t read it, and your leader read it. It’s certainly it’s sort of a seminal type of book. So that’s good. There’s work like that out there. But Peter Senge said that the the learning unit of an organization or the performance unit of an organization is the team. Good example of this kind of phenomenon is cortex, when they hit 150 people, they split the division. And the reason why they actually get a new separate physical office. And the reason why is because you can only know a certain amount of people, and they want their people to know who they can go to, to get things done. Cool. That’s part of their culture. But in a team at 12 people, that’s when we start to see some teams form. And you can see it in less. So we’ll, we’ll have someone come in and say, Oh, I have a team of 100 people like no, you business unit of 100 people, there are teams within that, like you don’t go and have a meeting with 100 people like, do you. Right? Because it’s unproductive, you’re telling them what to do, you’re broadcasting a message, you’re not getting work done together. So a team is a group that gets work done together. So that’s the first thing to know, the next thing is in one of the things that we see a lot and you asked me earlier, what do people miss about psychological safety? Okay, so my first leadership position ever was an Army Cadets. My dad was a firefighter, so paramilitaries like familiar, you know, this is this kind of thing, some of the most psychologically safe and highly productive performing learning units I’ve ever been in. We’re paramilitary, command and control. But we hear now command and control is bad. It’s like, No, it’s not necessarily. The question is, when you’re in a position of power, how do you wield that power? Do you use that to order people around? Or do you use that to set direction? For example? Are you engaging in two way feedback? Are you engaging in these learning behaviors? Right? So command and control isn’t necessarily bad. But what you see often in those kinds of teams paramilitary, you know, my time in, as a tree climber, my time in the life production industry is good leaders rally their team around something meaningful. They rally their team around a vision, you know, our team will be known for we were actually training this last night, our What do you want your team to be known for. And this can help you actually solve problems. If you’ve done it right, you can help you with decision making, it can help you with all these wonderful things. And when it comes to resiliency, inside an organization that has a shitty culture, you can be the greatest, like some of the greatest experiences in people’s careers have been in those teams. So the challenge is, it takes effort, the challenge is that you’re going to put effort in to try to navigate other teams that aren’t as good, that aren’t dealing with it as well. So what it does is it over time, regardless of how great it is, it becomes grating. And that’s the real challenge is that, you know, we’re not talking about timelines here. And like, you can be resilient. But every spring break, Dick breaks down. leaf springs eventually get chopped up and made into knives, because they just can’t hack it forever. Right. So like, even the toughest people eventually go, you know, I can’t thrive here, I can’t grow here. And there’s no future here for me. And, and that’s what the wall that people run into eventually. And often what happens is you have these teams that are really able to function in these, you know, generally toxic environments. And when one person leaves, the dynamic shifts, and then everyone else dissipate fairly rapidly. But regardless of organization, you scan a whole organization, psychological safety, 10 to 20%, are going to be low and psychological safety. Are you ever going to fix that? And the answer is, chances are, you’re going to be able to lower it. But really what you want to do is on what about the other 80 90%? Are you creating the conditions for them to improve by a factor of two? You know, they’re they’re twice as effective or if they’re even 5% better? You know, is that going to change the experience for most of the organization? Hell yeah, it is. That’s a big deal.

Russel Lolacher
I asked off the top that I was kind of curious and I want to circle back to that about you being a bit of a what we said renaissance man, but you got a lot of careers on your back. So how has resiliency and the cultural resiliency impacted you as someone whose employee experience has spanned It’s not one or two organizations, it’s been multiple, and you’ve driven and started some of them. So how does it speak to you as someone who’s had that kind of a career?

Neil Pretty
Well, I think the biggest… I mean, I often joke, you know, there’s plenty of times in my life where I can’t figure it out if I’m tough or dumb, because I just kept going. But I think, when it comes to my perspective on resilience for me, you know, how much does it matter to you? So, okay, so a vision or a goal that you’ve put in front of yourself? Does it matter, that really matter? Do the values that you’ve determined for yourself, and I don’t mean values, like integrity, and friendship, which is just social, you know, those are social idealisms, which are great, we need those, you know, I’ve got some of those tools, but like values, like real values, like I can orient my week around this, I can orient my, my hours and minutes, I know how high value or low value my time is, every minute of the day, right. And I feel connected to that. If you’re orienting towards those kinds of things, being resilience piece cake, it can be tough all day. But there’s also comes a point where you have to create the conditions for yourself to not be required to be tough to get things done. Because the part of the risk withstand or what recover. Right? So if you don’t recover, you’re not going to withstand any of it. Eventually, you’ll break, you know, Slinkies break. Right? So So I think that’s the other side of and that’s been the big lesson for me, is it like, yeah, I, I can be tough, I can out tough, most people I know, that’s not a badge of honor. Because the biggest challenge I have is giving myself space to recover grace to be imperfect grace to not be tough moments and say, like I need to tap out here. So it’s actually both, you know, if you don’t also engage in a process of training people on how and when to not cry uncle, but say, I need to recover so that I can continue to be resilient. You know, that capacity for recovery is just as important as your capacity to take in new things and change and all those sorts of pieces of practical pieces that are practical mindset pieces, as I should say, the recovery is just as important. So how you recover is critical.

Russel Lolacher
I got to wrap it up with the question I asked everybody in the aisle, which is what’s one simple action people can do right now to improve relationships at work?

Neil Pretty
So as an elder, millennial, as a young young Gen X, I’ve come to learn that there’s a really big difference between the generations, there’s a bit of a longer winded answer, I’ll get there. So the older generations understand that if you take responsibility for something, it gives you meaning. And my generation and younger, tend to believe that it’s your job to give me meaning. So you have a challenge as a leader, where some people understand this, and some people general and of course, I’m generalized, and this isn’t 100%. But there’s an opportunity here. So as a leader, in particular, as a team member, you can do this to pick up the phone and go for a walk with somebody. It is so easy. Now, as a leader that leads younger people, you have to also understand that like my daughter, for example, doesn’t have house phone to learn how to pick up the phone and say, Hello. So can I expect her to have that competency? And the answer is no. So a little bit of empathy goes a long ways when it’s like they’re uncomfortable picking up the phone. Okay, great. I understand that. Train them. Say, Hey, you know, I know this isn’t normal for you. But I think this is a good practice for us to engage in and just start doing it. Pick up the phone, say I’m going for a walk. If you want to go for a walk, wherever you are, that’s great. This is great for hybrid teams, and then just say, how are you and shut up? Key is to be silent, on good, be silent. It’s going to be uncomfortable, be uncomfortable, and like wait for people to start getting in how they’re actually doing, get to know them. And we have that and this is the number one thing we see. Leaders give feedback sessions once, twice, three, maybe four times a year. But work is happening every day. It’s like if you Know your people. Feedback happens all the time. If you don’t know your people, feedback happens once a year, your feedback session seriously, once a year, you’re telling somebody how they’re doing 364 days of the year, they don’t have a clue. The other rest of the time you’re going to feel here’s your one day, I’m going to tell you how you doing. No, that doesn’t work. But you need to have this foundation of a relationship with people. That like I said before, it does not have to be personal. It doesn’t have to be intimate, you know, but it needs to be rooted in understanding. And if you build that to build team success, the research is really clear on it then, especially teams with low psychological safety, for example. But if you get to know each other, you can be resilient together.

Russel Lolacher
That’s Neil Pretty. He is a speaker, former cabinet maker, and co founder and CEO of Aristotle Performance. Thanks so much for being here, Neil.

Neil Pretty
Thanks for having me.

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