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Transcript: The Secret to Optimising Hybrid Work in 2023 (EP97)


Brendan: Welcome to the Culture of Leadership. We have conversations that help you develop and become a more confident leader.  If you’re a leader looking to optimize your hybrid work environment, you don’t want to miss this episode. The pandemic continues to shape the way we work. Many organizations and leaders are grappling with the challenge of managing hybrid teams. 

In this episode I speak with Bretton Putter, author of Culture Decks Decoded and Own Your Culture, to discuss the secret to optimizing hybrid work. During the interview, Brett shares his expertise on how to successfully navigate the transition to hybrid work post pandemic. He talks about the importance of maintaining a strong company culture in a hybrid environment, the key elements of effective hybrid team management and the tools and techniques leaders can use to stay connected with their teams and ensure productivity and engagement. Stay tuned until the end for my three key takeaways from the interview. 

I’ll also share the 50% discount code Brett has provided our viewers for his online video training course Managing Hybrid Teams. The course equips leaders with the skills and knowledge needed to manage hybrid teams effectively. This is The Culture of Leadership, I am Brendan Rogers, to start I asked Brett’s perspective on the current state of the hybrid work environment post pandemic. Sit back and enjoy my conversation with Brett.

Brett: This is quite interesting, you would think that most leaders have had a fair amount of experience working in the office and leading in the office. They had about two years of pandemic enforced remote work, so you’d think that this transition to hybrid work should’ve gone quite well, but actually it’s not gone that well. The initial feeling I’d say around six months ago, and I was talking to the people, the clients that I work with, the HRDs and people in leadership roles was that the transition was going quite well.

I think six months later, I’d say that it’s going okay in some companies and not so well in a lot of companies. It should be expected, there are positives and there are also issues brought into surface. I think where it’s gone okay is companies talking about increased productivity, reduced costs. Improved work life balance, that kind of thing. Other companies are having difficulty maintaining team cohesion and communication. They're struggling to build culture. They're struggling to connect with culture. Their people are feeling disconnected.

I think, rarely, if we look at it, most companies are still in the process of figuring out how to implement hybrid work, because they’ve made a decision about the type of hybrid work they're going to do. Whether it’s mandated x number of days in the office or x percentage of days in the office, or the individual decides. They’ve made these decisions and they’ve decided on how they are going to pay people. They’ve decided more on the basics hoping that once they ticked the box, then hybrid work could get on with itself. But unfortunately, that’s not been the case. Hybrid work is proving and will continue to prove to be a real thorn in the side of most leaders I think.

Brendan: Can I just ask about the word flexibility and what’s that ideal use or ideal definition of the word flexibility in a hybrid work environment?

Brett: Flexibility is really important. It’s the thing that when people were enforced to work remote, they actually realized, we can be productive, but actually we love the flexibility. Flexibility has almost now becoming sales point or sales element for companies, saying, you can be as flexible as you need to be, as long as you're able to work and deliver what you need to deliver. I think what a lot of leaders who are struggling in hybrid work are doing is they're cutting back on flexibility because they can't control, they don’t really know how to lead in a hybrid work environment. That initially may work and it may work now for the next year or two during this more tightened belt moment that we’re going to go through.

But the best people are certainly going to insist on flexibility and flexibility of where they work, when they work and how they work. I think if you get hybrid work right, and if you build the right model for hybrid work, you're going to be able to offer flexibility inside of your model that will make candidates and make people want to join your company. I actually think that flexibility is the key to this. It’s the key to creating a successful hybrid work model.

Brendan: What are the core challenges that leaders are facing or are struggling with?

Brett: There has been some interesting research done recently. The survey of about 8000 plus hybrid workers and the core challenges are around people feeling less connected to the organization’s culture. There's decreased team collaboration. There's this thing building up of impaired working relationship with coworkers because we aren’t connecting well, we aren’t doing that face to face thing and what people are saying is affecting us in different ways because we’re losing the social connection element.

There’s reduced cross departmental or cross functional communication and collaboration. It’s more difficult to coordinate work schedules, tasks, timelines and that sort of thing. I think one of the big challenges that people are experiencing right now is that many managers are not adapting to hybrid work. Because they don’t actually know how to adapt to hybrid work. I think almost the umbrella for this is culture, because culture is the way we do things around here. Most leaders and leadership teams haven’t come up with a solution to building a hybrid work culture. It’s all happening by default right now.

Brendan: Taking that culture specifically, what are the impacts on culture? What are the impacts you’ve seen on culture, when leaders are operating by default, let’s say, they're not being deliberate about setting a hybrid work culture?

Brett: The impacts of this often with culture are hidden. They're not obvious. Really good HRDs and chief people officers, or chief HR officers are starting to see little effects of this happening. They're able to put the pieces of the puzzle together and see the cultural issues around us. Ultimately if you don’t define your culture, if you don’t say this is what our culture is, and if you don’t make it very clear then your people, especially in a hybrid work environment, people feel lost. They don’t have it in them to connect to. They forget why they're doing what they're doing. When you're in the office, you can hear somebody say, we rarely support that customer, that’s part of our culture, or you could see the culture in action. But when you're working from home, you can't see the culture in action. You can't experience it. It's a different experience. If you don’t make an effort, if you aren’t deliberate and intentional about your culture, even the people that have been with the company for a long time start to feel disconnected. I'm seeing the best companies. What they're doing is they're indexing no, they're starting to really invest heavily.

First of all, they culture pre-pandemic. What is different to the culture that they had immediately after the pandemic, because we over indexed on empathy and caring and looking after people. Now the culture that we’re trying to build is now trying to get a little bit more performance and results driven. We’re trying to balance this piece of empathy and caring with result and performance. Leaders are struggling to do that. Then there is the other element or what do we actually want a hybrid culture to be? How do we embed a hybrid culture? What do we do to embed a hybrid culture? Because the office was responsible for a lot of the formation, development, and learning about culture.

Now what do we do? We’re in the office two days a week or three days a week, but that’s not the same as being in the office five days a week, where we had a lot more time to learn and time for those water cooler moments, the serendipitous moments, the time where we could learn from others. Now, that office osmosis is gone. The proximity is gone. What do we do? This is the big challenge right now.

Brendan: Before we get into the obvious, what do we do, what do leaders need to start doing if they're not already doing it? Can I ask what’s your opinion on the HRD, human resource department, those chief people, what do you see is their responsibility in this to help and guide leaders potentially?

Brett: I would actually flip it around and I would almost say that the CEO or COO, president, it’s their responsibility to create a super powerful partnership with HRD, CHRO or  the CPO, the culture now is almost the most important aspect of what you need to do as a leader. The person who is going to be able to help you with that and guide you with that is the HRD. I think that smart leaders now are building that collaboration because they understand that in a lot of cases the culture they had is no longer pickable, there is that underlying culture still available, but it’s going to take somebody who understands how to build and develop culture to work with them and to collaborate with them. I think HRDs and that level of people executive is super important for the future of most organizations.

Brendan: In my experience, it’s a big assumption to make that HRDs know how to build culture, is your experience very different to mine?

Brett: No, and yes. I would say that there’s levels of knowing how to build culture. But if you compare the HDR’s capability to build culture versus the CEO’s understanding of it, it’s always going to be superior. In most cases, it’s going to be superior. Always is wrong, but in many cases, it’s going to be superior. We’ve been talking more intentionally and more deliberately about culture for five maybe even 10 years now. I think they don’t necessarily know how to build culture, but they have a lot more of a nuance understanding of the issues that are happening in the organization.

They will have an understanding of possibly what to do. I would agree with you that a lot don’t. But my rose-tinted glasses are more focused on the ones that do and the ones that know what to do about this, will have an idea. Nobody, very few leaders right now know what to do about hybrid work. That’s a fact. Even the best HRDs are going, what do we do now? How do we do this? How do we build culture? Even the best, the, the most experienced are going, we need to knuckle down. It’s a moment in time where many HRDs have been thrown into a dishwasher and go, okay, this is not what we were expecting.

The good news is, there are ways to build culture. It actually goes back to some of the fundamentals of Edgar Shine. It’s just a different way of applying it now. we can't rely on office osmosis, that gradual process of assimilating ideas and knowledge from our working environment. We can't rely on the learning that happened when we’re in the office five days a week. We can't rely on that now. We can't get a sense of the underlying culture. We have to now be deliberate and actually one of the keys is to stop learning from remote work companies. That’s a little bit further down the line.

Brendan: Let’s unpack this, let me just reflect back on what you said earlier about some of the impacts of people feeling less connected to the organization to what the culture is. There's less team collaboration. The coworkers that maybe were sitting close to each other not working as well together because they're not in the office, that osmosis is not happening and leaders are not adapting. These are some of the things you’ve mentioned. What’s the step forward that leaders, organizations need to take to start to get deliberate about creating this new culture in their hybrid working environment?

Brett: This is a very complicated all-encompassing challenge and problem that all leaders and organizations have. My belief and my recommendation is you simplify it down to three things. There are three key things, three key elements of hybrid work culture that need to be worked on. The first one is collaboration. Collaboration just happened way easier, it was part of the office. The second one is people management and once again people managers didn’t have to do the work that they now have to do. Then there is team culture. I think that from a leadership level, leaders need to understand, this is the hybrid environment we’ve decided to work on, is that mandated? How flexible is it? What are the rules? What have we decided?

Then work out how many of their people really want that versus we’re just going to force this down on our people. There is disconnection often between, leaders have decided this but everybody else wants that. Once we’ve decided whether or not we lose over the next two or three years 30% of our best people or 20% or we don’t lose anybody at all, how are we going to deliver on this? Ultimately, I believe that the key to delivering—middle managers have always been incredibly important for the execution of strategy, but actually for the execution of effective hybrid work, that management level is now vital and critical.

Because they are now working with a team and their team have five different personas in them. There is the persona that doesn’t want to be in the office. There's the persona that does want to be in the office. There's the persona that’s moved out of the city and doesn’t want to commute. There's the persona who wants to travel and then there’s the persona who has children and wants to come into the office around that. We didn’t have to worry about location before. But now, this is a big deal.

The only people who can really deal with it are the managers. I think managers need to be empowered, trained and developed around this because they’ve been thrown into the deep end. They don’t really know what to do about hybrid work. When it comes to hybrid culture, I think we need to work out how to adapt and overcome the loss of osmosis. This is the critical element because the office was responsible for a lot of the culture development and a lot of the culture that happened. How do we overcome this loss of osmosis, this loss of proximity?

Brendan: Where does the business needs fit in, first of all, in respect to what you talked about, the different personalities? Somebody’s moved out of the city and they don’t want to commute too much now. People have different requirements in their life, let’s say, in finding that flexibility, finding that balance. I just want to get some clarity from you on where does the business needs fall into this decision making process of what the environment looks like.

Brett: Ultimately, the business needs, there is a business requirement , there’s a business strategy that needs to be fulfilled. That business strategy, if you would’ve been to start a business fresh, the same business you're in now, and start it fresh, you would recruit people who understood what that strategy was? What your hybrid work model was and you would hire people for that model and that would be fine. You would all be focused on achieving that. You would hire people who are happy to be mandated three days a week, wanted that etc.

Now, what we did is, the business had a strategy pre-pandemic and everybody was happy to be on the office and deliver on that strategy, then they went through the pandemic, and they realized, hold on, we can be productive and have flexibility. Now you're saying, the business still has this strategy and the needs, but we’re either prepared to consider the individuals’ needs, but we’re not prepared to consider the individual needs, or we’re somewhat prepared to consider the individuals’ needs.  Ultimately, the business needs and the business strategy will only be fulfilled by the people inside the organization.

If the people are disengaged, low morale, unhappy with the situation, there is a possibility but it’s unlikely that it’s going to be pleasant achieving that strategy. The business needs are of course critical, but I think actually leaders need to develop confidence around hybrid work, and they can execute on hybrid work. They can allow their people to be flexible, allow their people to have the flexibility they need, the autonomy they need to balance their lives, and fulfill their potential. I think if you look at 100 people in an organization, 95% of them want to fulfill their potential, want to achieve, want to build, want to grow, want to develop. The other 5% may not, and they're lazy and useless.

Actually, the 95% do. The 95% want to grow and develop and want to succeed. They want the business to succeed. Give them the rope and give them the flexibility to do that, build the system and build the structure for them to do that. I think the business—the car needs to get from Melbourne to Perth, but if the driver is incapable and there is no fuel in the tank, it doesn’t matter what the business needs are.

Brendan: I appreciate this train analogy there as well mate, thank you. In regards to, like what you said, is spot on, absolutely where 95% of workers want to do a great job. I guess we can push that across to leaders wanting to be really great leaders. Pre-pandemic, some might have found that easier than  they are post pandemic in the hybrid work environment. Back to the point of creating confident leaders, and I know we’ll talk a little bit about the course at the end of our conversation that you’ve got going to help leaders develop in this area.

These three points, collaboration, people management, team culture. First of all, are you suggesting that’s a linear process that they start working on one and then go to the next and go to the next and put some time frames around it?

Brett: Not. The way I look at this is that the people at the cold phase, the people who are going to ultimately work out how their team should operate, the people managers need to, first of all understand where they're strong or weak. In collaboration, how are we doing? How does it feel? Are we collaborating well? Where are we weak? Where are we strong? If you consider that hybrid work is this combination of remote work and office work, most of us know how to work in an office. But most of us have not really worked in an environment where we’ve experienced remote work best practices. Where we know how to remote work something,

If we’re in the office two days a week and working from home three days a week, that means 60% of  our time is remote working. What does that mean? It means that we should probably go out from a collaboration point of view and understand remote work best practices. Understand where we’re strong and weak against the relevant remote work best practices. My recommendation is managers look at this and go, this is where I'm strong or weak in collaboration. This is where I'm strong or weak with people management. This is what I could do with culture development.

With people management, there’s a very interesting study by Georgia South University which was actually run pre-pandemic where they did some research and took 220 teams of four people each and they split them up. They said, you 110 and teams of four people, go and work in an office. Four people in an office, go and choose your manager. You 110 teams of four people, go and choose your manager but work remotely. The people who worked in the office shows what I call the alpha leader. The person who likes to talk, who likes to be heard, who likes to give instruction, who likes to delegate. Who uses the power of their personality as a leadership skill.

The people who worked remote chose leaders who were facilitators, coaches, project managers, operations focused. People who could help them get their job done. Fundamentally, you’ve got these two different leadership styles. As a people manager, what leadership style are you taking on board? Are you outcome focused or input focused? Are you going to trust your people? Are you going to be transparent with your people? To what extent are you going to take on remote work best practices to be an effective hybrid leader?

The third piece is the culture, which is rarely—managers did not have to worry about culture, because the culture of their team, strong or weak was a function of the broader culture of the organization and that was function of being in the office. As we could learn and experience culture in the office and feed off one another in the office. Now, we can't because we’re out of the office two, or three, or four days a week. The culture’s just completely not experienced in the same way. Now, team leaders have to go and say what do I do about the culture of my team inside the umbrella of the bigger culture of the organization? How do I build a cohesive, extremely high performing team inside—what culture do I build inside of the culture of the organization?

The long answer to your question is, you got to look at all three and decide where—don’t think you can do all of them at once. You can’t do culture and people management and collaboration, but you could for example say, the first thing we’re going to do is work on processes. Because processes and collaboration processes are key to hybrid work. We’re going to spend three months on processes and then we’re going to start working on social capital. Because social capital is critical to how we operate internally in the team and externally across the broader team.

I recommend that you take this in a step-by-step process. No status quo leader. No status quo manager. The manager who hasn’t really changed that much from pre-Covid to now, no  status quo managers are going to get this right in three or six months. This is a 24-month journey that they're going to go on to improve their hybrid leadership capabilities.

Brendan: Just going back to something you said a little bit earlier. Are you seeing evidence of certain personality type style of leaders having more success in a hybrid working environment than another [inaudible 00:29:26].

Brett: Absolutely. One of the big elements and you can see the impact of this. The leaders who want to come in more, who want to be in the office more, are struggling on a number of fronts. They're often the micromanager or the personality leader. The leader with a big personality, big voice. They're struggling incredibly, because they used to dictate, tell and though they didn’t actually have to necessarily demonstrate their leadership skills, they could just demonstrate the performance they could get out of the team however they’ve got it.

Actually in a broadly remote work environment, you can't do that anymore because the remote team members get a very immediate sense of how good you are at facilitating the way they work. How good you are at building out projects and helping them fulfill the projects. Helping them when they get to blockers or issues. What’s starting to happen is the managers that are not successful are starting to become irrelevant. There is an irrelevance threat to managers, because what people are doing is they're going to their colleagues and asking for advice.

Because their colleagues know about them. Their colleagues know what’s happening to them day to day, their colleagues know their situation. Rather than Ping my manager who I speak to once a month and he wants to know how I'm going against target, I’d rather speak to John, who's my colleague who I see once every two weeks in the office, because John knows where I am. John understands my issues. What lots of managers are not realizing is actually to be a better hybrid manager, you have to do more one to one. You have to connect with your people on a more deliberate and more intentional level than I bump into you in the office and find out how you are. Ask Jack how John is to find out if John’s okay. We can't do that anymore as a manager.

Yes, we’re definitely seeing managers struggling with relevance because their people are avoiding them, going around them. It’s not deliberate, it’s not backstabbing. It’s literally, I just need to get my job done. If you can't help me get my job done, I will get somebody else to help me get my job done.

Brendan: It also sounds like with some of the references you’ve made back to potentially your Own Your Culture book that you wrote the nine best practices around hybrid working. How does that link in?

Brett: Yeah. Actually the nine best practices were around remote working. This is the reason why I've been really fortunate. In 2018, I was approached by two remote work companies to help them with their culture development. I had no clue about nothing. No clue about remote work companies. I didn’t know, really that they were real or could succeed. Then my eyes were opened when I started working with these two companies. I decided to study and really dug deep into GitLab, [inaudible 00:32:58], Toptal and 10 or 15 others. That’s where the nine remote work best practices came, which has given me this incredible insight into what hybrid work companies need.

Because I am fortunate, I've spent 14 months studying these companies. I've worked with them. I've studied them. I've researched them and I followed them. In the course, I mentioned how do the company like GitLab go from less than 100 people in 2016 to 1300 in 2020? Then IPO, and they are now over 2000 people in 2023 fully remote. How did they do that? What do they do that’s different? Those best practices of remote work companies are what given me the insight of what hybrid environments and how you need to lead in a hybrid environment.

Brendan: We’ll certainly make sure we put a link to that in our show notes again mate. Back to the three points with collaboration, people management team, culture. Once again, in your experience in the conversations you're having and the learning you're taking in this space, is it one that you would recommend more often than not as a starting point that has a more immediate impact and starts to build that confidence in leaders that they can actually learn to lead in a remote environment.

Brett: I think collaboration is—if I would have to start somewhere—if I already doubted my leadership skills and I was struggling with it as a leader, I would go and dig into the leadership element, the people management element would be—it doesn’t matter what I do because if my fundamentals, my management fundamentals are that bad, I can just be like throwing darts at the wall and nothing’s going to stick. But if I feel I'm okay and got a pretty good rapport with my team and we’re on the same-ish page, then I would start looking at collaboration because ultimately, the distance, this disconnect from a distance point of view is what I need to overcome.

I need to work out how to collaborate better, how I work better with the team, and how the team work better with themselves, and then how the team work better with the rest of the organization. If I can start getting that right, then collaboration for me is process definition, documentation, and documentation capability. It’s about communication, it’s about balancing synchronous and asynchronous work, it’s about social connection and social capital bolding where you build that community and that cohesion.

Then it’s about trust and transparency. If you can get those five right, you're way ahead of every other manager in the organization.

Brendan: Those five things are almost like what success looks like in that collaboration pillar if I can call it a pillar.

Brett: Correct.

Brendan: Once again, you referred back to how a leader—first of all, they need to be, or a manager, or a supervisor team leader at that level with the people on the ground need to be having deliberate conversations about what does this look like today where we maybe strong or we’re not as strong as we need to be, how do we improve this, having some deliberate conversations. Off the back of that, where's an obvious next step to move forward on the collaboration piece first of all.

Brett: This didn’t work many times, but the reason we didn’t have to work so hard on culture development in the office is because the office did it for us. It just facilitated the formation of the culture, the development of the culture and then we started becoming deliberate about it when we had the traction, when we realized that the wheels could fall off if we didn’t. Now, if we step back and say okay, the office was the constant pre-pandemic, and we could build our culture either deliberately or not, the culture could be built on this constant.

What is the constant that we can build our culture on in a hybrid work environment? That is the fundamental question that most HRDs and CPOs are not asking themselves right now because they don’t know, to ask the question. It is probably the most important question that you could ask yourself if you are an HRD right now. What is the constant across remote work and office work? What is that thing? The answer to that question is collaborative processes.

If your processes are well defined, the steps you take in the process should not change whether you're in the office or working from home. The steps of the process are the same. The reason why I mentioned collaborative processes is because when you collaborate in a process is where you can share, where you can experience the culture.

Let me take this a step further. I believe that the constant, the one thing that hybrid work culture development should be built on is collaboration processes. I’ll give you an example of what we do at Culture Gene. At Culture Gene, we embed our values and our behaviors into the processes, specifically the collaboration processes. When it comes to the hiring process for example, what we do is we agree to the job spec and we sign off on the new role. We define the job spec and we write the job description. We then share the job description with external recruiters if we’re going to use them, we then have a discussion with the team about the values based interview questions and the behavior based interview questions we’re going to ask candidates. We then interview the candidates. We then put the offer to the candidates. We then onboard the candidates and we put the candidates to a probation period. That’s the process. Let’s say they're eight steps.

In each and every single one of those steps, whether you're in the office, working from home, they're pretty consistent. What we do is we say, okay, in the job description, we include the values, and behaviors, and the culture, a description of those things in the job description. We then share a little cheat sheet with the recruiters, the external recruiters so that they are able to communicate our culture and hopefully give us better candidates that are better suited for our values in the process.

When we work with the interview team, we talk about the interview questions they should be asking to evaluate the candidates on their values and behaviors. As you can see, what I'm doing is I go through this process step by step and we embed our values and behaviors into every step of the process which means that every part of the process understands the importance of the culture.

This is something that nobody is thinking about because it wasn’t necessary. It just happened when you're in the office. It just happened. But it doesn’t just happen anymore, so we have to make it happen and we have to be deliberate about it. Embedding through collaboration processes is one of the steps, the embedding steps that you do to make sure your culture is consistent and effective when people are in the office and when people are working from home.

Brendan: It’s almost an example where leaders on the ground how not across the board but they sort of got by more by luck than chance in some respects. If you’ve led like that, then you don’t even know what you need to do in the hybrid environment because you weren't deliberate about what you needed to do in the office environment which in a lot of these things you're talking about which is easier. It happened by default, it was sort of like an osmosis happening. I don’t want to be too brutal on leaders out there, but is that fundamentally what the story is?

Brett: Yeah. It’s as simple as that. Leaders have a tough role, it’s not easy. Culture was this thing that you knew was super important but you didn’t really have to work too hard on it, especially if you had quite a Steve Jobs or like a super powerful leader, or if you have that founder who could take you through, who you’ll learn from. I know they make mistakes but generally you’ll learn. Somebody with a really good understanding of culture whether it’s CRO or the HRD who would come in, okay, these are the stuff we need to do to back it up.

But even then, unless you're looking at companies like Netflix, and unless you're looking at companies on the extreme like Bridgewater, companies still didn’t treat culture in the way they should have done. Now, most leaders are going, okay, we just have to get back into the office because that’s how—they don’t even actually know their culture is the problem. Yes, there's a culture thing, and yes, we need to get people back in the office to get that touchy feeling going again. They don’t fully understand that it was actually the lube, it was actually the oil that was the thing that made everything run without friction.

Brendan: Let’s jump ahead. Have you put much thought into what organizations might look like in three or five years’ time if they don’t get deliberate about improving their leadership capabilities around particularly collaboration, people management, and team culture, and what that looks like for hybrid work environment?

Brett: Yeah. I think the nature of the beast of organizations is that it will be death by a thousand cuts. It won’t be decapitation. The best people will go and then the next best level will hang around for longer and they will go. The organization may be strong enough to just coast in a way, but ultimately, they will be—and I actually might be wrong, because now that people are more remote, they may just get sick and tired or fed up with it. The big unknown now is the big recession, how long, etcetera, are our leaders going to try and re-impose office work because they don’t really understand how to do hybrid culture.

To what extent are they going to become more intense about, again, now you're going to be in the office four days a week. The problem with that is the cat is out at the back. You can't now go and say, we don’t trust you because you're not productive. Actually, people have shown that they can be incredibly productive, more so, the [Gallup Poll 00:46:10] shows that productivity is up especially in companies where there is more flexibility and more trust.

Brendan: Do they distinguish between real productivity and what they’ve termed as false productivity?

Brett: I haven’t seen data on that. I don’t know. They do say there is a consistency at leadership level and below on both the challenges and advantages. There is consistency, but I don’t know to what extent that productivity question is answered.

Brendan: We made reference in relation to leaders specifically in certain styles that may be thriving or struggling in the post pandemic hybrid work environment world. Are you seeing any patterns around employees, individual contributor type roles on the ground? Are there any personality types and styles that are thriving more than others in this new environment?

Brett: I haven’t seen any data on this, and I haven’t spoken to people who have given me insights on this. But I would sort of relate that to the persona element that I mentioned, because we didn’t have to worry about the occasion pre-pandemic, it didn’t matter. Everybody sort of came down to the common denominator, their needs focused on the common denominator of the office and what happened in the office, and how they got into the office. But now, that has been blown apart. Actually, when I work with my clients, we build personas for managers, we are both 11 or 12 personas which would say, this is persona X, Jack, new employee, fits into persona X. These are the drivers needs of that persona. Jack is 24. Jack lives in the city. Jack has a girlfriend. Jack is into music. Jack is inexperienced. This is his second job after a year of working at a bank, so that’s the persona.

Then we look at, okay, how do we manage Jack? How do we lead Jack? How do we mentor him? How do we train him? How do we create the environment for Jack to fulfill his potential, but also succeed in our environment? We’ll start looking at things like task maturity and [inaudible 00:49:22] based on Jack’s capability to not just deliver on the project, but deliver on each step of the project.

Then we’ll look at Mary who has two children, one is just about to go into university, the other one’s end of university, just about to leave and get their first job. Mary is starting to look at exploring her passions and hobbies. Mary has been with a company for five years. What we do is we build this 11 personas or 12 personas and we go okay, as a manager, your new employee or that person over there, doesn’t fit exactly in the persona, but the persona will give you a pretty good idea of how you can view this person. It’s not the optimum way of looking at them, it’s not the perfect way of looking at them, but it’s a pretty good way of saying, I know what persona this is. 

Brendan: Getting back to being deliberate and linking this back, that sort of stuff could happen in the office just by a chat, having conversations, things to know and that could happen within a day or week, that sort of timeframe. Being deliberate, you need to be deliberate about maybe creating this persona which puts you ahead of the game. You still need to make that connection and opportunity to have some conversation. But you have to be deliberate about what you're doing, why you do this, what's the intention on this, and how it’s going to help you create a better experience for that person in the environment that you're leading, and ultimately better productivity, better outcomes, all those sorts of great things for businesses about achieving results. Is that fair to say?

Brett: Yeah. That’s spot on actually. This fits into that getting confident, the confident leader, giving them confidence because actually, hybrid has destroyed confidence, left, right, and center. The things we knew how to do, we don’t know how to do anymore. The things we relied on, we can't rely on anymore. The way we did things, we don’t do anymore.

That confidence, giving them the confidence, the persona is not the answer that it just gives you a little bit more confidence to go and say, I'm good here. I have an idea of this persona. It may not be 100% right, it may not even be 50% right, but I've never met them before, I didn’t bump into them in the office because I'm in the office once every three weeks. I haven’t had a chance to interact with them, but it is this persona.

The other thing that we do with leaders and those included in the courses, we build a social capital index of the team. Social capital is the value you get from knowing other people and then knowing you. Companies don’t necessarily think about building up social capital, but social capital in a team is incredibly important, because there's an internal social capital, in other words, how well do I know about—have we stood next to a bar at 2AM and have you told me about how much you love your Labrador or whatever it is. That’s not happening because we’re not going to the pub and getting hammered every Friday.

How does the team manager, the team leader, the people manager, build  up their social capital? We've got a process that we run people through that goes and says okay, first of all, on the social side, we have to sort that out. Let’s go and be deliberate about that. Let’s not allow it to happen by chance, let’s build a plan for social capital on a social interaction front. Then we look at the team and go, okay, how is the team gelling? Who knows what about who? That involves a one-to-one meeting, how do you know the rest of the team, what do you know about them? It’s not prying, but just like where you're at with everybody and then who do you know, who are you interacting with externally. Are you talking to Bob at ops? Okay, great. Have you spoken to Simon at product because Simon at product will be able to tell you about the new products that you need to be selling. Okay, cool. I’ll introduce you to Simon at products.

What you do is you build the social capital index of your team which allows you to go and say, we as a team, need to focus on working more with the engineering department or interacting more. Why don’t we get the two teams together and have a show and tell, or a sharing of, this is how we sell, this is how we develop software, this is how we work on a new product. The social capital index element that we built, allows the team leader once again to have the confidence in their team. The confidence in their team’s ability to interact internally, and externally, and collaborate, and then build out on that collaboration.

Brendan: Brett, in relation to collaboration, people management team, culture, those three pillars we've been referring to right through this conversation, can you give our listeners the latest out there? Just a point that they could focus on, or something that’s going to help them in each element of those areas. A point for collaboration, a point for people management, and a point for team culture.

Brett: Sure. From a collaboration point of view, there are two types of collaboration. There's a mandate of where we’re all in the office together and then we’re all remote working together, or some people are remote working, and some people are in the office. If you want to get this right, I think you need to work out on how to balance synchronous and asynchronous communication.

When people are working remotely, asynchronous communication is critical. You don’t need to direct people there, they can do the deep work and they can actually walk the dog or whatever they need to do while they're at home.

The thing about asynchronous communication is it doesn’t work if you're working on one project because you're then waiting for the asynchronous response. We work like this normally, we work on three or four projects. You can work on project one, work on project two, work on project three. I think getting your heads around asynchronous communication as a manager is vital. It’s a key requirement. When it comes to the people management side, remote work companies and teams, team managers, over index on communication. A company like [inaudible 00:57:58] or company like Buffer, they do one-to-one meetings with their teams, with the individuals in their team every week. They don’t do it once a month or once every three months, they know exactly what's going on, and they don’t do one-to-one’s about where are we with—it’s not a status report, it’s often not even about business. It’s about how are you? Where are you at? You lead the conversation.

One-to-one builds the connection that the manager requires so that the manager has multiple connection points and then can reinforce the connection points amongst the team. The third point around culture is first of all, team leaders must accept and understand that they are now responsible for culture. If this hasn’t happened in the organization, the first thing they need to do is to take the values and work with their team to define the teams’ interpretation of those values. What are our expected behaviors of those values? How do we demonstrate those values and action as a team?

It’s not going to compete with the group or the global element, but it’s going to give the team that sense of purpose and that sense of autonomy to actually execute on, we behave like this in our team. Those are the three things that I would focus on.

Brendan: Excellent mate. It makes very good sense. I guess we should say that leaders should work on this with their team because if they do not, they're potentially going to die a thousand cuts in three to five years, is that right?

Brett: They’ll experience [inaudible 00:59:38] cuts.

Brendan: They're already experiencing pain. Absolutely.

Brett: If any of your wonderful audience are nailing this, I will fly to wherever they are and spend a week with them. I really want to know what they're doing right.

Brendan: Fantastic. We’ll put the call out. You’ve also been spending some pivoted time on creating a course to help leaders better lead in the hybrid work environment to get this leadership competence going in this space. Tell us a bit about that and how it’s going to help.

Brett: Yeah. As you’ve mentioned, I wrote these books, and I swore that I would never write another book again, because I can hardly laugh in English. Writing a book is hugely painful. If it wasn’t for my wife, I definitely wouldn’t have had either of them written. I then decided to create a course, but I didn’t realize that actually to create a course, you're almost going to write a book. It’s 40,000 words. Not so smart, but anyway.

What I wanted to do was to really—because I was given this gift of being intrigued by remote work and then to really digging deep into these remote work companies that are doing incredible things. The GitLab company handle —it’s the most beautiful thing, it’s insane. It’s 2,000 pages, 3 million words, and it’s an operating document. The remote work companies are just doing incredible things. I thought, I had this understanding of remote work, I have this understanding of culture and how to develop culture. Hybrid work seems to be this combination of what I understand. The course really is broken down into these three areas of collaboration because collaboration is something we didn’t have to worry about in the office. People management because team leaders and leaders have just been—is literally being okay, you're now in the tornado, deal with it.

Culture, because culture has changed so much and culture development and culture—for me, it was just natural for me to want to explain what I know and an interactive video course is really  key. The course is this well balanced theory and action. Each lesson has an exercise, or a survey, or a questionnaire at the end of it. Those exercises can be applied immediately to your team the next day. Then you can see the improvement or the change within a couple of weeks. At the end of the course, once you’ve completed the four modules, the fifth module is, okay, what's the priority? Now, this is how you take those steps to execute on this priority.

The typical hybrid work course is a whole lot of fluff. It’s talking about the types of hybrid work and make sure everybody has got enough equipment and communicate. This course is going into the detail of what you need to do as a leader in a hybrid environment.

Brendan: Sounds exciting mate. How can they find it? How can they get into it?

Brett: The website is called culturegene.ai, www.culturegene.ai. Just click on the course. There's a training program as well. If any organization want us to help them roll this out, they can. The course is going to go live in exactly a month actually. Around about exactly a month. If people want to go on there and sign up, they can right now. There is a pre launch opportunity that we've created. People can take advantage of that. As part of the course, you get my books, you get a bunch of other bonuses as well, and we’re building a community around it. People will be able to learn from one another about what's working and what's not in terms of the initiatives they are driving.

Brendan: Excellent mate, it sounds fantastic. As always, we’ll put it in the show notes. I reckon by our timing of releasing this recording, we’ll be in pretty good alignment with the release of the course. It sounds like a perfect opportunity for me mate.

Brett: Excellent.

Brendan: Brett, what's helped to create a more confident leader in yourself?

Brett: With me, my Achilles heel is criticism. As is the way of the world, I married a lady who is incredibly good at it. We have our moments, but actually to improve my confidence, I've been over the last five years, I've been very proactive in asking for constructive criticism. I've asked people to write it down, I've asked people to tell me about it immediately. This for me has allowed me to not have a, almost physical response to criticism and has allowed me to adapt and I still get affected sometimes when I'm not in the right space by it and now I learned to deal with it and lead in it better.

For me, it’s about being proactive about feedback, critical feedback, and actually at the end of this Brendan, I will ask you for feedback on this discussion and ask you where I could get better at it so that you can give me some critical feedback because I would really appreciate it. It’s going to help.

Brendan: Thank you mate. You're putting me in the hot seat aren’t you? I love how you're being proactive with asking for feedback as well. It’s such a good thing to do, don’t leave it to chance, right? Are you going to turn the course into a book?

Brett: I'm not sure this is the right thing to say but I will say it anyway. There's more chances of me falling pregnant with triplets.

Brendan: It’s a no then.

Brett: It’s no, maybe.

Brendan: It’s a definite no. Alright, I've got the message. Mate, you're our first guest to come back a second time. I think it’s not because people haven’t asked to come back, they haven’t asked to come back, but I had this thing in my head that I probably wouldn’t ask anyone to come back until about episode 100 and we’re actually pretty close. I really appreciate the fact that you reached out to me and there's been a relationship ongoing. Thanks for reaching out. When we spoke about back in episode 40 on something, it was remote work specific and it was very opportunistic around the environment we were all living in and starting to live in and the same with us now. What you’ve taken the time to share with us is fantastic. I know it’s going to be super helpful for not only myself, I'm working with the leaders around some of these stuff because I've learned a bit today absolutely, but particularly for our listeners in the space, they are into trying to navigate these things, and then there's also this additional help through the course, but no book. Thank you very much for coming on and once again, first time and the second time, you’ve been a fantastic guest on The Culture of Leadership.

Brett: My pleasure Brendan. It’s great to be back on and I really enjoyed it as I did the first.

Brendan: Thank you buddy. Cheers.

Hybrid work has destroyed confidence in leaders. To ensure we have thriving businesses in the future, we need leaders to take back their confidence. To help you become more confident leading a hybrid team and ultimately building a culture that supports your work environment. Brett has released a new online course for managing hybrid teams. The course link is in the show notes. To access the exclusive 50% discount for The Culture of Leadership community use discount code hybrid50 at the checkout. 

These are my three key takeaways from my conversation with Brett.

My first key takeaway, confident leaders know flexibility is critical for successful hybrid work. Without flexibility, managers will struggle to adapt to the hybrid work model. Flexibility doesn’t mean you let people do whatever they want, it means you adapt your leadership style and try different approaches to optimize your hybrid work environment. 

My second key takeaway, confident leaders understand the three key elements of hybrid work. The three key elements are collaboration, people management, and team culture. Leaders need to review and analyze where they’re strong and where they’re weak in these three areas. Benchmark in other organizations to understand what works best in their environment.

 My third key takeaway, confident leaders understand their leadership style. They understand how their style works within their organization in the hybrid environment. Using a style to focus on building social capital, facilitating collaboration, and over indexing on communication will help your hybrid environment and team succeed. It will also contribute to your success as a confident leader, leading a hybrid environment.

 In summary, my three key takeaways were, confident leaders know flexibility is critical to successful hybrid work. Confident leaders understand the three key elements of hybrid work and confident leaders understand their leadership style.

What were your key takeaways? Let me know at thecultureofleadership.com on Youtube or [inaudible 00:59:07] socials. Thanks for joining me and remember the best outcome is on the other side of a genuine conversation. 

Thanks for listening to The Culture of Leadership. You can access the show notes at thecultureofleadership.com. If you enjoy the show, please follow, write, and give a review on your favorite podcast platform.