There are a lot of things that go under when building up a business. Part of those is doing HR and organizational tasks in the most effective and valuable way. Dubbed as “Father of Modern HR” and “HR Leader of the Decade,” Dave Ulrich talks about how HR adds value to your business. He also covers about the essence of being a true leader as someone who knows how to navigate through the inherent paradox of work. Touching as well the importance of having soft skills and curiosity, he explains that everything is not always about the outcome but the process that went under. Dave also speaks about something close to his heart which is how organization helps people.
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How HR Adds Value To Your Business with Dave Ulrich
I am here with Dave Ulrich. He is ranked as the number one management guru by Business Week. He is profiled by Fast Company as one of the world’s top ten creative people in business. He is a top five coach in Forbes and recognized on Thinkers50 as one of the world’s leading business thinkers. His bestselling books and popular speeches shaped the corporate agenda. He has written 30 books and more than 200 articles. He is known as the Father of Modern HR and HR Thought Leader of the Decade. It’s so nice to have you here, Dave.
Diane, when you read that, I get exhausted.
I am fascinated by your work. I’ve done a little bit of research. I know you are a professor at the University of Michigan. You were an English major, but you moved from Law to Organizational Behavior and you have a PhD in Statistics and Taxonomy.
Now, you’ve made me not only tired but also aged. That’s all true.
You wanted to be an English major and you were interested in Law and you had to tell your parents you wanted to go into Organizational Behavior, which is quite a difference. What led to your interest in going into HR to begin with?
I don’t think I grew up and said, “When I grow up, I want to be an HR.” That wasn’t my desire. For some reason, I got into Law and thought, “To get into Law you study English,” so I studied English. As I was taking English and I was having fun in taking English, I thought, “I need another course.” A colleague said, “Take this course in OB,” Organizational Behavior. I’d never heard much about that. I did and the professor just captivated me. He said, “I have no assignments. Look at the organizations where you work. Live, play, and figure out how they work and how they shape the lives of the people,” and it captivated me. Being a hypergraphic, I’m almost addicted to writing. I started writing and ended up writing fifteen, ten to twelve-page papers for the professor, one a week. I cheated the issues of power and paradise lost the Beowulf, the ideal organization man. I took my papers in, cheated and turned them to my English professors in Shakespeare and my Organizational Behavior professor.
My professor said, “This is weird stuff. This is great. Why are you going to Law? Why would anybody do that to themselves? Take another course.” I did. He said, “Start to study organizations.” I said, “I’m going to study the English department.” I decided I’d do an assessment of the English department and surveyed alumni, surveyed faculty, compared them to other English departments. My report was not very positive. After I presented it to the English department, the faculty said, “We met after your report and decided it was a great report. You should not graduate in English.” They threw me out of the department as a young college student. I went to my OB professor and said, “You caused this.”
He laughed and said, “This is the greatest thing ever. You’ve learned about organizations. This is so good.” He got me to start studying more and I still have great allegiance to him as one of my many mentors. That got me into the field and the rest would be history. I called my parents and said, “Mom and dad, I’m not going to go into law school, I’m going to go into OB.” They said, “This is okay. You’re going to be a doctor.” I said, “No, it’s Organizational Behavior. They said, “What’s that?” and I said, “I have no clue but it captures me.” I assume, Diane, you’ve interviewed so many people, you can see that little nugget of light that gets captured and sparked and that’s what sparked me.You have to build on your strengths so that you’ll strengthen others. Click To Tweet
I was thinking when you said about Beowulf, it comes to mind everyone in my family went into English degrees and I think of Woody Allen talking about how painful it was to get through Beowulf. Do you miss any of that? Do you still do a lot of reading?
I do a lot of reading. English is one of the great preparatory degrees because it teaches you to think and to write. I’ve never regretted any of that. Being in Organizational Behavior is a blessing because you think about organizations and it’s a curse. My friend of 40 years, we traveled eleven days together. At the end of our trip he said, “Dave, you’ve never changed in 40 years. You cannot let an organization go by without changing it.” He said, “We’d fly to this airport and the airport is not organized very well. You spend ten minutes lamenting about how you would restructure the flow of traffic and the service.” I am a horrible dinner date because I’ll call the Maître d’ and the owner over and we’ll rearrange the structure. That’s the passion for organizations that I just haven’t lost. It’s still there.
Do you also correct their grammar? Do you get upset if they say, “Between you and I?”
I probably don’t. Diane, what was your undergraduate in?
All my degrees are in Business Management.
In business, I don’t correct your I. You’ve been sparked with ideas. You’re writing history, you’re teaching history, and you’re interviewing history. Sometimes it’s fun to have something that sparks you. For me, it’s organizations. I enjoy observing, thinking about and trying to figure out how to make an organization work better.
You said that you’re passionate about how to add value and how HR can add value. I’ve worked in a couple of organizations where it seems like everybody uses the word value proposition. What does that mean to you? We’re overusing that. How do we add value? Why is that your hot button?
It’s a simple premise. Value has so many different definitions. It’s like a strategery. For me, value is very simple. It’s the outcome that the receiver gets. Value is defined by the receiver, not the giver. I’ve been in a relationship with my wife for over 40 years and when I get her a gift, she defines the value of the gift, I don’t. In any transaction, it’s not what I give that matters, it’s what the other person gets. It changes our assumptions. In the business world they say, “Build on your strengths,” and my comment is, “That’s insufficient.” You have to build on your strengths so that they’ll strengthen others. Leadership authenticity is not enough. If you’re authentic but you’re not creating value for somebody else, that’s not good leadership.
What I’m intrigued with is not the activity, but how the activity creates value for a receiver. That receiver could be an employee of a company. It could be the company itself, a customer, and an investor. Behind most of my work, it’s not what I do. It’s how people get value because of what I do. When I coach leaders I often say, “Tell me who you are creating value for.” They often don’t have a clear answer because they’re so impressed with, “I want to be trustworthy and I want to be authentic,” that’s good but that’s not leadership. That’s self-interest. That’s in some way is narcissism. What matters about leadership is that you’re making somebody else better. You’re building on strengths and strengthen others. That’s the agenda that I’ve been pretty passionate about.
We met through Professor Rao, he introduced us. He’s a Soft Leadership Expert and you don’t hear soft leadership here. You hear soft skills, you hear leadership and you hear management. What do you think about how we’re teaching soft skills? Is HR the one that should be doing this? Is it universities or families? How come we’re having such issues with people being fired for their behaviors?
I’m not an expert in business school education but I’ve been around it for a long time. I think business schools started with an agenda around the technical parts of the business: economics, finance, marketing, statistics and information technology. What we find now is smart students can get that almost anywhere. You can get that through exceptional business courses and through exceptional online courses. What differentiates a future business leader is not the hard skill. You’ve got to have those. If you can’t read an income statement or balance sheet but you can learn that, it’s the subjective stuff. It’s those soft skills that are hard to teach and hard to acquire. Defining what they are, how you build them and how you develop them becomes a critical force of a business school education as well as leadership. The soft skills become the hard part of good leadership.
They do become the hard part and so many people get fired because of that. I know that just from my speaking and from what I do, a lot of it is around those. They are always asking for things that fall into that area of what they want you to come to speak about. I’m working on this book about curiosity. You mentioned assumptions and I found that there were four things that held us back from curiosity. They were fear, assumption, technology, and environment. They were the things that my fun factor analysis found were the four areas that were involved in that. What are we doing that we could help people at work become more curious? With the focus on artificial intelligence and some of the stuff that is coming out. Many people want to be more innovative. Everybody wants to be productive. Everybody wants to improve and engagement. Do you see much of a tie with improving in the area of curiosity and what’s your input on that?
There are so many ways to go with that answer. I enjoy the work by Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford. She is definitely a thought leader. Have you met her? I’ve never met her.
I haven’t met her but Mindset is such a great book. I love her work. You can get a lot out of that book.
She has a website, Curious.com. My wife has her PhD in Positive Psychology from the University of Michigan. She did her graduate work and she works in that area of growth mindset. For me, growth mindset is founded on the premise of curiosity. It’s founded on inquiry and discovery. When there’s a problem, do I come to that problem with curiosity, with learning, with the desire to do something new? I like that probably because it’s something that I feel a personal passion about as well. I’ll go personal and then more business oriented. In my personal work, I do talks as we all do and sometimes have PowerPoint presentations. My rule of thumb for the past number of decades has been, do I have 20% to 25% new material every eighteen to 24 months?
You go, “That’s not a big deal,” and you go, “Holy smokes.” It’s easy when you’re starting, you have all new material, but it’s very easy to get locked into what works. In fact, in some people in our field, I can tell the time of day by their joke. They’re not presenters, they’re performers and they’re doing a Shakespeare play and they might as well be on video. When I present, I never get as good with ratings because I’m creating 20% new stuff. For me, that’s the essence of growth mindset. That’s the essence of curiosity. Am I willing to overcome the four things you talked about, the fear of failure? Am I willing to experiment? Am I willing to try? My sense is that’s legitimate in organizations at two levels.
One, is it a personal level? Individuals have to reinvent themselves. Marshall Goldsmith’s great book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, is so insightful because he says, “The things that made you successful are not the things that are going to make you successful in the future.” The second applies at an organizational level. The tendency for most organizations is to die because they don’t reinvent, they don’t recreate and they don’t come up with new stuff. The challenge is how do you create settings for individuals and organizations to continue to have that spark of curiosity that leads to the growth mindset and that leads to a growing organization? That area of inquiry is fascinating.
I’m interested in Carol Dweck’s work. That was part of the course that I researched in. A lot of the things she focused on is environmental. I’m trying to think of the examples she gave but if you told somebody, “You’re a natural at this,” that you’re not helping them because then they think they don’t have to try so much because it’s natural.
I don’t know, and we haven’t gotten that personally around kids. We have three kids and we used to say, “I’m so proud of you. You’ve got an A or you’ve got a B.” That’s the wrong response. It’s such unnatural for a parenting response. “I’m proud of you because of the grade.” No, “I’m proud of you because of the work that you put in to get the grade.” The focus is not on the outcome, it’s in the process. The downside is if you focus on the outcome; “I’m proud of you because you got these high marks. That’s wonderful.” What happens when you take Chemistry and you get a bad mark? Am I no longer proud of you? “I’m still proud of you.” For me, this is one of the powerful things with this growth mindset.
My wife teaches this stuff a lot and she says, “It’s always fascinating to ask people. Think of something that hasn’t gone well in your life.” We all got those, I can raise both hands and both feet. There are always some things that haven’t gone well. What did you learn and how did that change what’s happened since? When I did the exercise, it’s fascinating for people to suddenly begin to go, “That experience that didn’t go well became a foundation for growth and learning.” It could have been at work. It could have been in a relationship. It could have been in any number of settings. The growth mindset issue is that we’re not failing, we’re learning. That’s the message and that failing forward. The curiosity is not about the event, it’s about the process that led up to the event.
Back in my English class, my professor taught me that without having the same language they have today. He said, “What did you learn? You’ve got kicked out of an English degree a semester before you graduated.” He said, “I’m not interested that you got kicked out. That’s fine. You graduated, you’ll be fine but what did you learn? Could you have done it differently? Could you have presented it differently? Did you have an impact?” I said, “No, I just irritated people.” He said, “The goal of a change agent is to be an irritant but to be an irritant that leads people to change. What did you learn? How did you get better? It didn’t go the way you wanted. How did you learn from that?” That was really helpful to process. I’ve had those things happen. I’m sure you’ve not had any of those mistakes. I’ve had those career setbacks over and over and they became stepping stones for the future. That’s the curiosity. It’s not about the event but it’s about the process behind the event.
I’ve seen a big change in how they view failure in organizations. I’m from the Boomer generation and you weren’t allowed to fail when I first got into the workplace. Now, they do see it as more of a learning experience. I like seeing that change, at least my experience has been that. I love Marshall Goldsmith. He was on my show and I’ve met many of his MG 100 group, a lot of them had been on. They’re all so fascinating because they deal with the stuff that I’m interested in. That’s what we’re talking about is how we get the people to make the changes to grow and to not just keep doing the same thing. I could feel your pain on the speaking, changing what you have to talk about. I couldn’t give that same talk over and over even if it was successful because I would be bored to death. After a while, you’d be great at delivery but maybe not after a certain point.
Now that we’re trying to keep up with the Millennials who want to make a change in the world and they want more feedback. There’s such a different kind of workplace than what I experienced in the ‘70s and ‘80s and it’s just a different time. I’m very fascinated by what we can do to make us continue to be more innovative, creative, and successful. With my work, I’d like to get in front of the leaders, the CEOs, to get their influence and their input to get workers more curious about what they do and to get them involved. Somebody interviewed me on their show. She asked me a question that was very challenging. I’m going to ask you the same question she asked me and want to hear your advice. If leaders don’t want to change and they have a negative culture, if they’re unethical, are not growing or whatever it is in the company, how can employees do anything about it?If you’re not curious, you’re not learning. Click To Tweet
I should find out how you answered them. I’ve written a number of books and you alluded to that. I’m trying to have ideas that have an impact on distribution. I started posting on LinkedIn every Tuesday and I’m finding that fascinating because you have to write on LinkedIn either 150 words short post or a 1,200-word article. The article I posted was How Can I Follow a Leader I Don’t Necessarily Like. It’s an interesting issue that there are times in work, in politics and in life that we have leaders who may have policies or practices that resulted in good outcomes that we tend to favor, but their personal style just doesn’t work.
It’s an interesting choice and people have responded to this. I’ve gotten a lot of comments. They said, “Just leave them.” That’s naïve. To pretend that they don’t exist, that’s simplistic. “Get them to change.” There are times when leaders don’t change. How do I begin to deal with these leaders? Hopefully, it’s a leader like you who is charming, personal, interpersonal, with great skills, and great outcomes. What if they get the outcomes without the skills and they’re not able to change? How do you manage that? I’ve struggled with that in a whole host of different settings. There was a fascinating metaphor that I like. When I was growing up, Christmas tree lights were on a parallel sequence of electricity. If one bulb went out the whole light went out and so we had to change every light. Today, if one light goes dim, the string stays good.
That’s one of the issues we have to recognize in our lives today. With leaders and even in interpersonal relationships, not every light is going to be shining all the time. I’ve been into marriage over 40 years and we get along well. There are still times when some of the light bulbs aren’t shining as bright and that’s okay. In philosophy, they talk about the thesis, antithesis and synthesis. The thesis is I’m in love, everything’s wonderful. The antithesis is I can’t stand you anymore. The synthesis is I’m in love with you and some of the bulbs are dim. Some of the issues with leadership is how do I follow a leader even though all the behaviors may not be right? There may be a point at which it crosses my values. The behavior that they’re exhibiting gets so dysfunctional that it takes away from their ability to accomplish their outcomes. I can’t support that.
It’s a very challenging thing to me to ask that question because if a leader doesn’t want to embrace change, it’s going to be most impossible to do it from the bottom-up. I always wonder how difficult it would be to work for somebody who had maybe great outcomes but may have personality issues. Steve Jobs, for example, would he be somebody you’d have difficulty working for or not?
He left Apple and came back. I was on the road and my assistant got a call and said, “Dave, somebody called for you named Steve Jobs. Have you heard of him?” I got on the phone. He said, “I’m coming back into Apple. I know I’ve got to create a new culture because the culture that we started with has had to evolve. Who do you know that might help me with that?” I should have said me but I didn’t and so I gave him some leads. You begin to say, “Does the end justify the means?” I’ve worked with some very tough leaders and been on both sides of the equation. I did an enormous amount of work with Jack Welch.
I was on the good side and ended up on the bad side. That’s why there’s a question of, “How do I follow a leader when I may not like everything the leader does?” It’s a very tough question and it becomes a principle of choice and agency. Can I respect myself? Can I look at myself in the psychological mirror in the morning and say, “We’re doing stuff that’s making a difference.” That’s a very difficult setting. Going back to your theory, am I curious about it? Am I willing? I think ignorance is not a bliss, hiding it and saying, “I’m going to pretend these behaviors don’t exist.” That’s the ostrich’s head in the sand and it doesn’t work. I’m conscious of this tradeoff that I’m making. In some of the work I’ve done and when I went to my PhD program, coming out of an English major, I ended up doing Statistics and Taxonomy. Taxonomy is the science of simplicity. It’s how do you find order in complexity. A lot of what I’ve done throughout my career is to say, “The world is complex. What makes a great leader?” There are 50,000 things and you’ve had these great people on your shows. My job is to say, “What’s the simple message?” We’ve got pieces on that, but leaders have to be authentic. They have to add value to others. They have to have emotional intelligence, curiosity.
What we have found next is they have to navigate paradox, that these are cumulative skill sets. If you’re not authentic, nobody’s going to listen to you. If you don’t add value to others, who cares who you are. If you’re not curious, you’re not learning. Paradox is the navigation of tension. I have to be long-term and short-term. I have to care about people and systems. I have to manage top-down and bottom-up. I have to ask questions and give answers. What we’re finding in our research is that leaders who can navigate this inherent paradox tend to be those that are going to be more successful. Does emotional intelligence matter? Absolutely, but it’s not all that matters.
You’ve also got to have social intelligence. You’ve got to have curiosity. Is curiosity enough? No, you’ve got to take curiosity and turn it into action. It’s at that nexus of paradox where leadership ultimately makes its most powerful impact. Our latest research on leadership is how do you help leaders navigate paradoxes and we just laid out one. The leader gets results that their behaviors may not be the ones I’m comfortable with. That’s a paradox. It’s a tension and good followers have to constantly navigate some of that inherent tension. Can I disagree without being disagreeable? Can I have tension without contention? That’s the kind of things that we’re finding when I have the privilege of coaching leaders. Do you want to get results? Absolutely, I want to get results. Can you navigate the paradox that leads to those results? That’s some of the work we’ve been doing in leadership work.Growth mindset is founded on the premise of curiosity, inquiry, and discovery. Click To Tweet
Your work is fascinating and you’re making me think of the reason I was writing what I wrote about curiosity. I didn’t want to just find out are you curious or not? I wanted to know what’s holding you back and then what do you do about it? Some of the work out there sometimes identifies issues but then they don’t give you a real action plan of what you do next. It’s tough to be all things. You were reminding me of taking piano when you were saying, “Can you do this? Can you do that?” I was okay on the piano as long as I did just my right hand. Then you’re doing both things at the same time and it starts to get very challenging. There’s a lot of identifying but not what to do once you’ve discovered what the issues are. Is that just my perception?
I totally agree. If I were having the privilege of sitting down with you in saying, “Diane, your work on curiosity is so good. Let me give you two words to fill in the blank. I want to help people be curious so that.” What’s the outcome? Curiosity, is it activity? What’s the outcome that I’m more interested in? Then the other side is, because of. If you put curiosity as below the page, on the left-hand side is because of, that’s what leads to curiosity and on the right-hand side is the outcome, so that. It’s managing that inherent tension because of and so that. That helps me develop some of that curiosity and it sounds like you’re doing that quite brilliantly. I wanted to study curiosity so that people can have better well-being in their lives, so that organizations can adapt to the incredibly rapid changing world in which we live.
We talk about the next generation and I love these LinkedIn pieces that forced me to be clear. One of my friends and colleague teaches IT technology at a university. Every semester the student comes in and says, “I’ve got the latest greatest app. It’s going to change the world. Help me get my app out there. I’m going to be the next Steve Jobs. I’m going to be the next Elon Musk. I’m going to change the world. What would you recommend?” The professor says, “Take a class on how to code.” The student goes, “You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s boring.”
There is something to be said about learning the basics back to the business school. You do have to read an income statement and a balance sheet. You have to do a marketing plan. This is a paradox. You’ve got to do some of these basics. Bill Gates was an exceptional coder before he created Microsoft. Steve Jobs learned some basic skills that enabled him to do the work he did. To the Millennials, I don’t think we want to get obsessed with basics, but we’ve got to say there are some basic skills that are necessary to enable you to be successful at what you want to do. That’s the navigating paradox. How do we help people be comfortable with those basics and then begin to exercise the curiosity and creativity to create the future?Not every light is going to be shining all the time. Click To Tweet
I’m glad you brought up the Millennial issue because I was listening to your talk. Millennials spend six to seven hours a day in front of a screen and so there’s a challenge of how you use tech to build connection and experience among people. We have a generation and the situation where there’s so much virtual working out there. There are so many people who are becoming more isolated and you’ve looked at the research about what isolation does to people. Can you talk a little bit about that?
One of my passions is how do you create organizations that deliver value to people? How do I help people have better well-being that relies on the organizations where they live, work and play? In the spirit of Taxonomy or simplicity, we look for easy answers to that. There are three things. An organization helps people have a sense of belief, a sense of purpose, a sense of personal identity. Number two, an organization helps people become better. I learn skills. If I work at Ford University or wherever I work, I can learn skills. Third, it helps me believe, become and belong. That’s Taxonomy, really simple. The belonging piece is so critical. You’ve highlighted some of the research we’ve seen and there are some studies.
What’s the leading cause of mortality? Is it obesity? Is it smoking? Is it hypertension? What is it? The leading cause of mortality is social isolation. When people become socially isolated, it has horrible outcomes: depression, discouragement and mortality. Such a key issue is in the technology world. We’ve often used technology to isolate us. I’ve walked through airports. What percent of people have headphones on? You’ve taught universities. What percent of students have headphones on a college campus? You’ve done a lot of work with online learning. I love the idea of online learning. The dilemma is how do you do that in a way that connects people and that doesn’t isolate people? Blended learning and that social isolation, believe, purpose becomes improved. That’s growth mindset. Then belong, organizations should become tribes or communities where we have this sense of belonging and technology should be a vehicle to enhance that, not isolated. That’s what we’re starting to see in organizations. How do you use technology to help people create community?
I was going to ask you more about working virtually and its impact on isolation and eLearning and in different aspects of it. You mentioned the Forbes School of business. We have a great professor, Dr. Katie Thiry who runs the Master’s and the Bachelor of HR there. Part of what she’s done to try and get the virtual learning students into a blended learning situation is create programs through LinkedIn in different ways for people to communicate, be a part of a tribe and have a value proposition. It’s all the things that we’ve talked about. It’s very challenging in eLearning because it is a different way of learning. I’ve received degrees in different formats. I have done traditional and online universities, and I’ve done different things.
For me, I love eLearning and some people say they could never do it. They would never be motivated. It would never interest them at all. For me, I’m much more efficient that way. I learned well. It was fascinating to me to see MOOC come out to give people more access to education. Those are an eLearning situation and I’m curious what you think of MOOC. Have they taken off as much as you thought and what do you think the future is of massive open online courses like the ones we see at Harvard and some of the other universities that have opened up education to the world?
This is a paradox but here’s the good news, it opened up education to the world and there are people like you for whom that is a remarkable growth mindset. Curiosity and it works. Overall, what they’re finding in MOOC is they’re not working. The graduation rates are lower, that you can learn how to do math, two plus two equals four, but those soft skills, empathy, understanding, relationship, curiosity, it’s hard to do that in MOOC. Those are soft skills that require some form of interpersonal connection. Where I think that’s heading thesis, antithesis, synthesis, all learning should be online. That’s stupid. All learning should be in a classroom. That’s equally stupid. Synthesis, how do we do blended learning? How do we do some of the learning, eLearning, self-paced online, which I also tend to love but that’s probably my self-motivation as yours? How do we then create community?
At the business school, at the University of Michigan, they’ve started an online course but you come together frequently in small teams, in communities. You begin to create these tribes or these small communities, project groups where you learn to build those relationships. You’ll have empathy, you begin to learn to manage conflict and this is the paradox. You try to navigate these different approaches to learning so that the better learning begins the report. It’s dangerous to say MOOC are all successful if they’re all failures. We’re getting subtler in saying, there are times and places to do some or both of those.
It’s interesting you brought up something that I’ve talked to a lot of people about in the past in terms of the future of education. A lot of people say, “Millennials like to get pieces of information in smaller bites. Maybe they won’t like to get complete degrees in the future. It won’t be as valued as it has been in the past.” What would happen if we had more of an ala carte? I’ll pick this and I’ll pick that. This is what I want to learn. If I was Steve Jobs, I might take calligraphy instead of taking this. You get all these things. You talk about the importance of soft skills and to me, the humanities and soft skills and some of the stuff that you may not pick if you pick ala carte. What you’re learning is all this stuff is the glue that holds what you’ve learned together, you get the package together. I worry about what will happen in the future.
When you do the online learning, how do you bring the soft skills, the relationship and connection pieces to your courses? What do you do to make that happen?
Critical thinking is something that they try to put into every single course. There are certain skills that just come automatically. A lot of it, you have to deal with tone and there’s an etiquette. There are so many different ways, online etiquette. We have certain things that I’ve taught everything from the first level, first day courses that the bachelors are taking when they’re going into college to doctoral students doing their dissertations. I have taught all different types of levels, but those first courses are the most critical because you’re teaching people what’s the appropriate behavior in online education. You’re going to help people with a lot of those soft skills in terms of, you don’t type in all caps which means you’re yelling. Even though it’s in the technology realm, you’re getting through to them what’s okay and what’s not okay in terms of behaviors.Organizations tend to die because they don’t reinvent, recreate, and come up with new stuff. Click To Tweet
They do a lot of that in those first level classes. You may think that there’s not a lot of that going on because it’s an eLearning environment. There are surprisingly some great courses out there and some of it is not just typed content. You can embed videos, you have synchronous and asynchronous learning, there’s all different format. Some schools have required office hours where they can call you and talk. You can go out of your way to call and talk to the students. It doesn’t mean that there’s a one-size-fits-all approach, which is important.
That’s one of the beauties of blended learning is you can begin to customize. Our daughter has her PhD in Sociology, which if you want to think is a useless degree. She teaches and started teaching in Arkansas. She’s got favorable reviews. Now, she’s married with kids and is doing almost exclusively online. I’ve appreciated her insights around when she started. When she did classes, she got great ratings and became the Teacher of the Year at the university to a whole bunch of stuff. When she went online, her ratings fell from zero to five, they fell into the mid threes.
She has now worked with it and done a lot of what you’ve talked about. She’s now said, “Dad, I’m getting the same ratings online that I was getting in person.” There’s a whole different set of skills being accessible to students, giving feedback, learning etiquette, and how do students feel like they’re able to connect with me. This is one of my 20%, I need to learn more how to do that because it’s going to be the future. It comes back to how do I use technology to create a feeling of belonging? It’s one of the reasons I’ve been experimenting on LinkedIn in the last year. I think the social media can create movements. Students in high school who had been mistreated or there’s been some kind of a crisis can create a social movement, but that’s not a personal relationship that the relationship that comes from belonging becomes so critical.
I’m trying to learn how to make that happen better. Your advice was very helpful. One of the things we found in organizations is there’s a time to stay connected through technology and there’s a time to stay connected in person. A simple research, if we’re going to have a high performing team distributed around the world, we do a 24-hour manufacturing. Make sure that they meet in person first so that you have face-to-face so that you get the social signals, you get the social cues. Then go off to India, to Europe, to America and do your 24-hour team manufacturing but then come back together. Move in and out of this blended learning or paradoxical learning where we learn to work with each other. We’re seeing some of that begin to happen in good organizations.
I’m curious, are you an extrovert or an introvert?
I’m 100% introvert.
I find a lot of online students are more introverted and they prefer that not having that pressure on them to answer immediately. I’ve seen you mentioned that TED Talks are great but they’re not super engaging. They are just a different way to deliver information. I agree that TED Talks have just amazing content and there’s a place for them. Those are the things that I add to courses to help students in certain ways. A lot of the things you were talking about are just ways to interact.
There are different preferences for learning based on our personality types. I’m more of an extrovert. You think, “Maybe I’d want to teach more in a face-to-face setting. I do get a lot of interaction.” It’s just maybe not in person but in that kind of setting. It is fascinating to see how everybody gets drawn to what they get drawn into. I also noticed that you’re doing something at RBL Institute where you have these many forums. You’re using technology to get connected with small groups, five, ten people at a time to facilitate topics. How are you doing that?
Those of us who have predispositions of introvert or extrovert can play the other role. I can be an extrovert when I’m on the phone or when I teach, but at the end of the day, I need to go sit and read my John Clancy novel. One of the things we’ve learned when teams come together is that they come together even from different places, managing time and content. We formed an institute where companies pay a fee to join and they’re companies from all over the world. We pick a topic, how do you manage retention of people in China? It’s a fairly narrow topic. We don’t want more than five to ten people on a phone call and we do one-hour many forms. We never go more than an hour. It’s somewhat prescriptive. It says, “What’s the challenge you face around rotating employees in China? Can you share quickly what that is?” Good. We’ve got six people to share. What’s something you’re doing that helps and people share? Then we say, “Do you have questions? Ask each other.”
One of the things for me is a test of technology, does it enable what the psychologists call a bid? In the marriage research by John Gottman, marriages or relationships that stay together in 80% to 90% of the time you respond to a bid in a favorable way. I say, “Diane, that’s a great topic. Can we have a cup of coffee?” I’ve made a bid. In relationships that work, the bid is responded to. A bid could be, “I’m having trouble today. I’m really struggling. Do people join you in HR?” For me, this is where the test of technology comes through. In LinkedIn, I had all these people liked my articles.
Suddenly I’m cool. Am I connected enough with them that if I made a request for bid, would they respond? Organizations should be places where people respond. We were doing work with a hospital. I wasn’t doing the work. They did the work. In the Robina Hospital, they had to hire 400 people in three months. Two months into it, the HR person had hired 200. They had to hire 200 people in a month. He put out a technology request, “I’m really struggling, I’ve got to hire 200 people in 30 days,” which is being open, being emotionally vulnerable. The next 48 hours twenty people showed up and said, “We’re here.”
You put out a bid through technology because we are a community, we’re here. They said, “We’re flying in our talented people. You’ve got us. We’re going to solve this.” They did and I’ve got goosebumps. That’s the kind of stuff technology can enable if there’s a relationship that a bid is responded to. I wonder if I went out on LinkedIn and said, “I’m really depressed.” What do you think I get? I get light but I’m not sure if I get a response and that’s the nugget I haven’t yet discovered. It’s the acorn I haven’t grown into a tree. How do we create this sense of community so that when a bid is extended and we get that, this is John Gottman’s incredible research about how do relationships endure over time?
One of the keys is if I make a bid to my wife, I know that 90% or 100% she’ll respond. One of our kids makes a bid, “Dad, my husband is sick. I’m on the way to the hospital. I’m scared.” That’s a bid from our daughter. “Run the flight.” “You’re going to miss work.” “How dare you tell us we’re missing work. We’re there, you made a bid.” That’s what we want to create in organizations where through technology we can make and respond to those bids in a positive way.
Is that your new book?
No. I tend to write books on personal stuff. We did a book called The Why of Work and this is a book on organization. Sometimes it’s so hard to get the simplicity on the other side of complexity but this is what the book is about. On TV, I saw a scene where the mother, her sons and the grandmother were at the beach in Florida. The boys got caught in a riptide and were being pulled out in the ocean. The mother jumped in and she’s pulled out. The grandmother jumps in, suddenly four people were in a riptide. Then within two minutes, 80 people joined arms. It’s just such a powerful visual. When they’re standing on the beach or when the water’s too deep, they have boogie boards, balls or surfboards. They joined arms and they saved the four people. Here’s the question, how do you create an organization with tens of thousands of employees who can do that? You go create a startup from doing radio shows and get ten people. You join arms and you go make it happen. How do you scale that in a huge company? Arthur Yeung in China said, “Dave, that’s what we’re doing at Tencent, Alibaba, Haier and Huawei.” The Chinese firms that are private-owned enterprises have figured out how you scale this incredibly rapid market response to opportunity and scale it in a huge global organization. Our book shows how to make that happen.
That’s going to be a huge seller then.
I doubt it will sell. It’s drafted. We haven’t ever done this. In fact, we decided to write the whole book because it’s got Chinese companies and it’s Facebook, Amazon, Google and US companies that seem to be doing this. We’ve had access to those companies, but because it’s a complicated answer. We’ve got 80 people join arms and we saved these family. That I get that but how do you scale that? Arthur and I decided we’re going to write the entire book, it’s drafted and now we’ve got a couple of publishers saying, “That’s interesting.” China is where some of the most innovative work is going on. We’ve gone into depth on some of those. This is not a book on personal change. It’s more a book on organizational agility.
Everybody’s trying to go and do things at scale in marketing. Is it going to be something that they can use? I remember writing in brand publishing course before I left Forbes School of Business where we were talking the biggest thing that the CMOs were all complaining about was being able to get their message out at scale. Are there any applicable issues?
We haven’t taken that angle on it because we’re both coming out of the organizational paradigm, but absolutely. It’s how do you move quickly into market opportunities? How do you brand? How do you create agility and not doing it? Look at Toys ‘R Us. They had a cache, they had a brand marketing for 25 years, but when the world changed to being online and Lego is struggling with that, one of the great toy companies of the world. How do you create this curiosity, your real growth mindset, agility, whatever you want to call it? How do you move so quickly that you can respond? That’s the book we’ve written and I’m excited about it.
It sounds like a very proactive approach and I know your books in the past have done amazingly well. I’m looking forward to that and I’m sure a lot of people will want to know when this book comes out? This is probably a good time to find out how can people reach you. How can they learn more about what you’re doing?
Follow me on LinkedIn. I am trying to post every week. Previously I’ve posted, How do you see the good in other people rather than the bad? How do you work with a leader you don’t like? HR is not about the structure enrolled. It’s about relationships, which we did talk about. How do you build relationships that work? I’m pretty good at email too and it’s Dou@UMich.edu. I loved the world of ideas. Tell me the thing in the curiosity world where you’re getting very grounded. What’s something you’re focused on next? I raised for you a couple of acorn questions, the ones that haven’t grown up yet and that I still am struggling with. What are some of the questions you were thinking about, Diane?The focus is not on the outcome; it’s on the process. Click To Tweet
The question is, would I survive learning how to do the statistics required to do this? To me, the next level is I want to know how to get CEOs interested in how important curiosity is to the success of their organizations. I just think with artificial intelligence, since the focus on innovation is going to take over with what everybody’s going to be concerned with and you’ve got to get down to the basic levels. My goal is to connect with leaders out there and get their insight as to what they think they’re going to do to keep up and to not become Toys ‘R Us.
Where do you think does that start? In order to get a leader, a CEO or senior manager to connected to curiosity, where would that discussion begin?
You need to start with the people you have connections with major CEOs. I have very good connections with working on a lot of important advisors groups. If you can get some of them well known people to just start with small groups and see what it does to look at these levels and what they can accomplish by finding out what’s holding them back and what they can do next. A lot of it is word of mouth. I found that CEOs like to hear from other CEOs. They want to know that it’s working for someone else. That’s the starting point for me. Any suggestion from you?
You’ve got a process starting point, which is what you just said, which is brilliant. We learn from those we respect. For me, the content would be also critical. What is it I want CEOs to talk about? Where I would probably start is where we began our discussion, values defined by the outcome I care about. I don’t think CEOs care about curiosity. I’d even go beyond that. CEOs care about winning in the marketplace and it could be stock values. One of the last books I’m excited that we did was we called The Leadership Capital Index. CEOs don’t care about leadership competencies, they care about stock price. To say, “Would you like to increase your stock price by 20% for the same earnings?” “Let me think about that. Yes.”
If you can demonstrate to the investment community that you have a quality of leadership that is better than your competitors, the investors will give you an intangible premium of 20%. “Really?” “Yes. Here’s the evidence.” I’m going to go do a leadership training program. It’s not just to get my leaders trained well, I totally agree with that, but so that my investors that’s the “so that,” will give me a 20% premium or customers, “Would you like to get more revenue from your targeted customers?” Let’s show how Disney does that. Why is Disney able to charge double for Disney Hotel? It’s not because they have soap with mouse ears. It’s because they’ve created an identity in the marketplace. That’s your branding that people will pay a premium for the Disney experience. “Would you like to do that?” “Yes, I’d like to get a premium.” “Let me tell you what you need to do with your curiosity, your people, and your internal.” The process you’ve laid out is brilliant. You start with a pebble in the pond and it expands to others.
The content is where I find HR people often making a mistake. They talk about their content. I’m going to hire people. I’m going to pay people. I’m going to train people. I don’t see CEOs are particularly worried about that. They worry about, “What’s my stock price? What’s my customer share?” Those are things CEOs should be worried about. When I can make the bridge between the outcomes they care about, that’s the value thereafter and what I know something about then we have a win-win situation.
I want to thank you so much for adding so much value to what we do on this show. I was looking forward to this and Professor Rao was nice to introduce us. I want to thank you for being such a wonderful guest.
Thank you. You have great questions. You’ve done your homework and I can tell your curiosity is adding value to many people.
Thank you. If you want to know more about the Curiosity Code, go to CuriosityCode.com. Hope you join us in the next episode.
About Dave Ulrich
- Dave Ulrich
- What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
- How Can I Follow a Leader I Don’t Necessarily Like
- The Why of Work
- Dave Ulrich on LinkedIn
- The Leadership Capital Index