On this episode of Dare to Lead
In this episode, I talk with Eric Mosley, CEO and co-founder of Workhuman, about his new book, Making Work Human: How Human-Centered Companies Are Changing the Future of Work and the World. His transformative work is based on 50 million data points and is leading the charge to dismantle old HR processes and challenge organizations to build new ways to connect the modern workforce. This is data with a heart and research with a goal to rehumanize.
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Making Work Human: How Human-Centered Companies Are Changing the Future of Work and the World, by Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine
Brené Brown: Hi, everyone. I’m Brené Brown and welcome to the Dare to Lead podcast. Today, I am talking with Eric Mosley on what it takes to make work human. Eric is the CEO and co-founder of Workhuman, and he is the guy leading the charge to dismantle old HR processes and challenge organizations to build new ways to connect the modern workforce. And we are going to talk about his new book, Making Work Human: How Human-Centered Companies Are Changing the Future of Work and the World. And what I love about this conversation is not only his unbridled optimism about where we can take work and human connection, and the power of seeing each other, but also 50 million data points. This is data with a heart, research with a goal to rehumanize. We’re going to talk about purpose, we’re going to talk about meaning, we’re going to talk about the power of social recognition. I can’t wait to get started.
BB: So Eric Mosley, again, is the CEO and co-founder of Workhuman and he is an HR visionary and author, and the force behind the Workhuman movement. He is the author of The Crowdsourced Performance Review and co-author of the award-winning book, The Power of Thanks, as well as the book that we’re going to be talking about, Making Work Human. He’s also a regular contributor to Forbes on the topics of recognition and humanity in the workplace, as well as other prominent publications. Let’s get started.
BB: I’ve got a million questions for you and we have one hour, but I want to start with your story and how you got here.
Eric Mosley: Where do you want to start?
BB: Start from the beginning. I know you because I have spoken at several Workhuman conferences and I have the reigning title of Workhumany, [chuckle] that my work is very Workhumany, which I take as a huge compliment because you were inviting bleeding edge speakers and thinkers way before other people around race, around gender, around courage and vulnerability and shame. So I know you from attending some of your events, which I’ve loved, but tell me how you ended up here writing a book, a manifesto, as you say, about the importance of making work human?
EM: I suppose my background… As you can tell from my accent, which I still have, I live in the Boston area for the past 15 years. But, I’m from Ireland, from Dublin. I grew up in Dublin, came from pretty humble area of Dublin and had a very modest upbringing, and went into an engineering degree, electronic engineering. And I was always very interested in computers and technology but I was always trying to break out… When I look back on it now, it was very modest circumstances. My mother and father split up when I was probably six or seven. And one of my earliest memories… I think I was seven and I was at the bottom of the stairs, and I saw my dad come down the stairs with two suitcases, and it’s like it’s been tattooed on my brain, that image.
EM: When I think back on it, I think, “How did they let me see that?” [laughter] Well, it was a very different time and what happened then is… And in Dublin, in late ’70s and ’80s, there was no marriage breakup, and so we had to hide it. It was like a burden that myself and my sister had. And so we had this weight to carry, this shame of that kind of upbringing. And of course it was very difficult for my mother at the time as well because we didn’t have any money. So when you’ve gone through that period of time, it kind of ages you. I went from age seven to age 40 [chuckle] and yet you end up with a drive to break out of that and never go back.
EM: People often say, “Oh, we were poor but we didn’t know it.” Well, I knew it at the time and I knew I never wanted to go back there. So it’s one of the things that drove me to do more and escape and it was something that has pushed me my whole life. And that’s why I wanted to be an entrepreneur from a very early age, always thinking about business ideas, always looking at advertisements on the television, trying to figure out why they were doing what they were doing and saying what they were saying. And so that was just the way my brain worked and eventually, I started Workhuman.
EM: We had the idea for a global gift giving service for consumers and for businesses, but what happened was businesses latched on to it and started to use that service for incentives and recognition programs for their employees. And so we realized that this is where you could build a scalable business, and that’s where it all started. We pivoted into just the corporate world, from that gift giving service, and started to innovate around recognition and what it could be in culture management, in creating community and culture in companies.
EM: So for me, it’s just a part of my make-up. And I remember always thinking, “When I’ve made it, I’ll be able to relax. Now, I would be able to kickback.” And what I’ve come to realize is that’s not how it works. You immediately realize that none of it matters, that that’s just how your brain is wired, and I eventually had to make peace with that, that I have this insatiable appetite for striving and an obsession and a passion and I’m never going to get a release from it. [laughter] I’m never going to get away, but I’ve just made my peace with it. That’s just the way my brain works. And thank God, our business has done so well and we’ve become so relevant to the world in terms of business and how it’s evolved and how management has evolved, and especially even in the last few years.
BB: Let me ask you this question. Is it happenstance that the business that you built and that’s so successful is also making the world a better place and making people feel a sense of belonging and a sense of gratitude? Love is part of your business. Is that… Because that’s what consumer wants, or is that part of you?
EM: Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? I have to admit that the business and what we do is uniquely relevant to my personality. There’s no doubt about that. This is the way I think, and this is what gets me passionate. So, if I had been in a completely different business, maybe it wouldn’t have been as successful because it’s a great unification of my kind of interest and what I think about all the time and what the business actually is. But what we’ve seen evolve over the last 10 years is the complete dismantling of the old command and control type of management, this kind of testosterone driven, the worshipping of machismo, this kind of very male-dominated strength view of management. And what started to replace it is the recognition that we live in a world where it’s not sheer output that counts as much as… I think products these days are art, it’s almost art.
EM: Technology products, a great example of that, I think would be the likes of Steve Jobs, very complex individual, obviously. But there’s nobody who had a deeper sense of aesthetic and taste in the products that he wanted to create. And they were the things that move people emotionally, because people respond to emotion and beauty. It’s art. And so what we’ve seen over the past 10 years is a company like Apple has become the most valuable company in the world. And that’s proven that all the old modes don’t matter anymore, that everything has changed and that ultimately at the very center of success is this moving human emotion through an artistic approach to products. And for me, that’s kind of uniquely suited to my kind of make-up, it’s kind of how I think. And then you add to that the emotional aspect of recognition, of appreciation and gratitude, and how to scale that in a business environment. That’s what gets me excited.
BB: Okay, so you say work might be the last best place to realize our full humanity. You call this the human decade. What is the human decade?
EM: What we’re seeing and what a lot of research has shown is that people trust their companies, their employers, almost more now than they’ve ever trusted. If you go back a decade or two, you would see people would learn their morality through family and church and those other kind of paradigms. And if you look at it now, what’s happening is that people trust their companies more than they trust governments or schools, or even church. And so I almost think that work and companies are the last best place to influence the course of almost morality in work, in society. And so that’s something that we’ve very much invested in. Our Workhuman Cloud is a portfolio of applications which allows employees to recognize one another and celebrate the humanity in each other. It is an application which allows employees to celebrate the things that happen in their colleagues’ lives that are outside of work, like they get married or they have a baby, or these monumental things that happen in life. In the old days, you had to separate that. You almost wouldn’t have known if your colleague had gotten married.
BB: No. Yes.
EM: Or had a baby, especially if they are a man. And it’s just ludicrous to think that something monumental like that is not affecting them in work as well. So we have to embrace that, and so to make it work more human, you have to realize that people are going through life as they go through their career. I’ve worked with people for 20 years, and if you look at what’s happened to them in their lives, they were young when they joined and they got married and they had children and a family, they moved countries… A whole life was lived while they worked for Workhuman. And I sometimes reflect on that, and I just find it so inspiring that we got to witness that and be involved and celebrate that. We want to make everyone celebrate those monumental things that happen in our lives, and just open the door to humanity to come into the workplace because you can’t leave it at the door anymore.
EM: We are who we are.
BB: I think based on what I know about people, you never could. And that compartmentalizing and orphaning those parts of ourselves left us less than whole at work contributing less than. So let’s just jump right in. So you have done research on behavior in the workplace, which includes more than 50 million data points. And you’ve created a framework for your findings, three pillars that you say are the future of performance management or culture management. Tell me about the three pillars.
EM: Well, it’s kind of like a framework for modern culture management. Companies that have great deep cultures tend to outperform other companies.
EM: If you have an engaged workforce that’s very energized and they’re passionate and they’re all aligned, and you’re competing against another company whose employee base is demoralized and they all are looking for jobs and they want to leave, well, of course, you’re going to beat them in that sale. Culture is everything. And so for us, the framework is three pillars of Thank, Talk, and Celebrate. And so Thank is gratitude, it’s social recognition, and it’s so much more powerful if it comes from peers rather than from management. If a manager gives a subordinate an award or a thank you moment, there’s sometimes a quid pro quo going on there, there’s sometimes an element of, well, did you really pay me enough for the action that you’re saying thank you for because there’s a background to that relationship. But if a colleague gives a colleague a thank you moment with a gift attached, there is no such cynicism because that peer did not have to do that. They were simply inspired by the work that that person exhibited, and they wanted to say, “Thank you.” And so that creates a very authentic moment, a human moment that matters for those two individuals. And so the thanking, in that instance when it comes from peers, it lifts the giver, the giver is almost changed…
EM: By giving that gratitude. Their mindset for the rest of that day is, I’ve had to think about what’s positive about this colleague instead of my usual griping. [chuckle] And now, I’m in a different mindset about them. The receiver obviously feels great because they did some good work, and now they feel like they were seen, somebody appreciated it, that’s wonderful. And the relationship between the two of them is deepened because now they have an authentic, honest moment of shared respect and appreciation. And now if you multiply that by tens of thousands of those occasions, those moments happening in a company, just think of the social fabric, the infrastructure of all of those moments, all of those deeper relationships, how everyone is lifted. And what you find is that the culture gets just deeper, you’re making deposits into it like a positivity bank for that company, that in the future they could draw down if they need to because now everybody’s closer together.
EM: And that’s one of the things we’re missing in this COVID world, this work-from-home, is we’re seeing… I don’t know, you’ve probably seen it with companies that you’ve worked for, but there’s certainly a decaying. It’s a slow incipid decaying of culture in a lot of companies. Because yes, they’re talking on Zoom and it’s working to a certain extent, but that human connection is not as frequent, and the interaction is a little bit more transactional. So it’s not as pleasant, not as much kind of small talk that empires are built on that creates human connection. And there’s very little of that going on now because you get onto your Zoom and you get off your Zoom.
EM: And so companies that have a deep gratitude culture, a peer-to-peer recognition culture, they can keep that going, they can keep that human connection going. That’s why we’re seeing our business kind of take off in the last six months. We’ve become… It’s like the last savior for some of these companies. We have customers that have given out awards and thank you moments to 100,000 employees in 150 countries all over the world, just to say, “Thank you for such a terrible hard year.” And for the work that their employee base has done. And what happened when they did that was amazing. It was almost like a cathartic moment. The employee base, 100,000 people, all came back to the senior leaders with, “Thank you so much for recognizing us and thank you for doing what you’re doing through these tough times.” It almost unleashed this amazing, cathartic moment of shared humanity. So those companies, and we have a lot of customers who have done that kind of global kind of gratitude, they’ve just been lifted in a way that’s just amazing.
BB: It’s so funny that you say, “The well,” because we, after meeting you and working with you for the last several years, we have really tried to implement your practices in our culture, in our organization. And we’re small, we’re really small, there’s only 30 of us. But it’s so true what you said, because when COVID started and the shit hit the fan for us, because we’re in a big event-based business so we lost 80% of our revenue in 48 hours because every event across the world got cancelled. And I remember thinking a month into it, “We’re okay. Why are we okay?” And then someone on my team said, “We had a very deep well.”
EM: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
BB: We had a deep well of 30 people who saw each other, loved each other, buried parents together, celebrated births together, bought waffle makers for housewarming gifts together, we had a deep well. But I imagine for companies going into COVID that don’t have a deep well.
EM: And there’s very many of them. I travel the world and people ask me what I do and I explain what we do. And the most common reaction is, “Oh man, we need that here.”
EM: Because the amount of toxic cultures, it’s like an epidemic in the world. And those companies going through this work-from-home kind of shock, they don’t have a well. They have no social infrastructure that they can count on. Whereas companies that do and have invested in that way, they do and we’re seeing that. But companies are doubling down on that because I don’t think that well lasts forever.
EM: I think you have to nurture it and keep investing in it. And it’s tough, you have to continuously try and think of new ways of having human connection remotely. At the end of the day, we all can’t wait for this to be over. [chuckle]
BB: Yeah, hell yes.
EM: But we have to do what we can to close the gap over these months. And that’s why I was kind of shocked at the start in March and April when you saw these Silicon Valley companies talk about, “Working well, productivity is up, we’re never going to have an office again.” And I kind of thought, “It’s such a knee-jerk reaction.” The only reason why it’s working well is because of that shared experience you had before, and now that’s kind of going to decay over time.
BB: That’s right.
EM: And then what are you going to do? So I’m a big believer, humans, you put them together, they have fun, they give each other energy, and that produces amazing things, and we need to invest in that as much as possible.
BB: Okay, so the first one is, Thank, and then the other two are Talk…
EM: And Celebrate.
EM: And it’s amazing, Harvard had a study where they talked about the efficacy of check-ins, of regular check-ins with managers, and whether it made people perform better, and obviously, the answer was yes. What I thought was interesting about it was that it didn’t actually matter what they talked about. You would imagine they have to talk about performance or work or goals, but just having any sort of conversation about the weather, just something regular, the performance was lifted. And again, that’s the power of human connection. So talk is about making sure that there’s an infrastructure, a cadence, a frequency of interaction. Because look, we all fall off the horse. We’re trying hard and sometimes life gets in the way, and suddenly it’s gone a month and we haven’t had an interaction. But by investing in making sure that talking and interaction and having conversations is a part of our culture management ritual, if we do that, we’ll be in a better place. And it’ll be nice if we talk about work sometimes too. [chuckle]
BB: I love that some of the leaders that work with me have standing meetings with their teams. And just recently, I asked Suzanne, one of my colleagues, “What’s your agenda?” And she said, “No agenda. We don’t talk about work on the meetings on Tuesday.”
BB: And I thought, “God, that’s amazing. That’s humanity.” Okay, now I know celebrate is the third one, and I know that we have underestimated, according to your research and work, we underestimate the power of celebration. Say more.
EM: We, as I mentioned earlier, we can release this application and it helps people celebrate outside of work events in their lives. At the end of your career, maybe you won’t be as fixated on what you’ve achieved, but maybe the friends you met along the way. And it’s that human capital. Ultimately, it’s connection and love and companionship is part of the human experience. But it’s something that I was so excited about it this year, and it’s repaid that excitement many times over, and one of the days that showed me how powerful it was because we implemented it for our own company. We always implement our own products. And it was in the COVID right in March when everything locked down, and I came back from a business trip and I came into the office. And the news was Massachusetts, we were locking down and nobody was going to go into the office again, so we all went back to our homes. The next Monday, we were all Zooming in, trying to do business meetings and detention. And people kind of forget what it was like at the start. There was real fear. Yeah, everywhere.
BB: Oh, god, yeah.
EM: Yeah, just panic, fear, sadness at what was happening in the world. Now, I felt it myself. And I remember opening up my browser, and I saw that right in the heart of that moment, one of our colleagues had her baby and there was a little picture of the baby. And then the whole company jumped on and started congratulating her and saying the baby is beautiful, and even some of them pull out pictures of their own babies and gave tips and tricks on a new mother what to do with this bundle of joy. And it was the most life-affirming moment I’ve had in work in a long, long time because it just showed me that in the doom and gloom of that moment, it reminded us that life goes on, we will all get through this, and that what’s really precious is each other. And then it also showed me that we were on the right track that this was a powerful, powerful application.
BB: God, yes. I have to say that, again, we’re small, we’re 30. We’re kind of stratified age-wise. We have those of us who have… My kids are 15 and 21, and then we have a lot of single, kind of out-of-college junior folks, and we have a few late 30s, 40s, and we had our first baby born this year. And what was so remarkable to me is, still when we post those baby because it’s our first BBEARG, that’s the name of our organization, our first BBEARG baby, when we post those, people’s responses are basically, “Thank you. I needed that today. This made my day, and I thought about this so much.” I, along with a lot of our other leaders, are in our 50s, and we’re losing parents. I’ve lost a parent in the last two or three years, so have three of the people who report to me. And it’s like there used to be a time at work where if you could get through that without anyone knowing, you are doing your job well.
BB: And now we do these check-ins when we start work, like two-word check-ins about how we’re feeling and where we are, and it’s like we have cried together, we have celebrated together, we buried people together, we’ve sent baby gifts together. I think we come together as an organization, as a company, as a community, to see each other, to be there for each other, and to mark these life moments together. I want you to help me and help the listeners walk through this. You say the moral case for this, for re-humanizing work, is the business case.
EM: Well, first of all, I lost my own mother two years ago. And as I said at the start, I had an upbringing where it was myself and my mother and my sister, and we were like a little team against the world. And we were all very close and it was the tough times and still is. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.
EM: It’s part of me. And so this concept of, “I can just deny that this is a part of me,” is ridiculous. It’s the human experience, the human condition. So I think in terms of the moral case and the business case, ultimately, the way business works, and we were talking about this earlier in terms of, “It’s more art than engineering these days. It’s more art than operations. It’s more art than finance.” But art is a delicate activity. It takes confidence, it takes imagination, and you have to be free to be yourself, to express yourself, and to express ideas. And ideas are precious, and they can be squashed so fast. And so when we create an environment where we are allowed be who we are and be vulnerable as you have taught the world, we create a space for us to be our most innovative and our most imaginative, and that’s what ultimately creates the best companies, is that freedom to express those thoughts that you have inside you.
EM: And so when you create a thanking culture, you celebrate each other, you’re creating a kind of a social infrastructure which allows people to be who they are, and that ultimately allows them to get to the place where they can do the best work of their lives. And without that, you are not going to be as powerful of a company as an equivalent company that has been able to inspire people in that way. And I take the culture of our own company extremely seriously. And the employees that we’ve had, it’s so funny to hear you say about your first company baby, I remember that so well, and I remember the first marriage where the two people met at work.
EM: It’s like we’re creating families here. It’s a wonderful thing. If nothing else, we’ve created that amazing little family unit, and I get emotional when I see people be happy in that way, and I know that they have a place where they have a community. And when you have a community, you have a foundation to express yourself, and that’s what leads to amazing work, and that amazing work leads to success. And so, it is the business case. Everything else is plumbing. It’s admin. That’s where everything should be focused.
BB: For everyone listening, one of the things I loved, again, the book is called Making Work Human: How Human-Centered Companies are Changing the Future of Work and the World. One of the reasons I was drawn to Workhuman and why I loved participating in your… I mean, if you ever have a chance to go to a Workhuman conference, do not skip that opportunity because it is fun and crazy and just amazing. But one of the reasons I was very drawn to your work is how… maybe this is your engineering side… how data-driven you are.
BB: So when your research team asks employees across industry, what is the one thing you would want to change about your organization’s culture? The top response that you heard over and over again. And again, I’ll go back to the fact that you have 50 million data points that you have collected. The answer was, people want a culture of appreciation for who they are and what they do. In short, mutual respect among the people in a company from the very top to the very bottom. People also said, what they want is purpose, meaning, and gratitude. So let’s start with a culture of appreciation. Why is that important?
EM: I think appreciation and feeling seen, as a human being, is just so enormously important to happiness, and we’re all striving for happiness. I don’t want to talk about Psychology 101 in terms of the hierarchy of human needs and all that stuff. But ultimately, once we get over the basic needs that we have, we are immediately into the psychological needs of need for love and connection and…
EM: Need to be recognized and appreciated. And then it needs to be who we want to be. Now, the need to be appreciated. I believe that when somebody does work, there’s almost a deficit of appreciation instantiated in the world. And until there’s closure on that, that deficit kind of nags at that person. And so if you continue to build up a culture where you’re not ever saying thank you for the work that somebody does, you start to build up a lot of those little nagging deficits and you create cynicism and you create a backlash. I’ve worked in this area for a long time and in all of my first thousand meetings where we were presenting social recognition, there’s always one, there’s always one sitting at the table. And they say, “What is this? Is this youth sports where everyone gets a medal?” And they want to storm out of the room because this is hogwash, it’s too soft.
EM: And you take the time to explain that it’s not like that, it’s not that one person wins recognition. It’s that everybody who works should feel recognized and appreciated for the work that they do because it’s a core human need. You will create eventually cynicism and they will not contribute. They won’t want to contribute anymore. And so what you really want to do is make sure that 90% of your employee base are frequently recognized by their peers, especially, also by management but mostly by peers.
EM: And when you do that, forget about your value judgment on whether they should get the medal or not, because you don’t want them to get fake appreciation. If you have to think about it, just by business perspective, just think about it, that those people will be happier and we’ll work harder because that’s what the research will show. And so you can get him to cross the line a little bit there. Lately, I really realized as well that those people, they’re insecure.
BB: Oh God, yeah.
EM: That’s at the heart of that cynicism is they don’t believe they deserve it. That they don’t believe they deserve thanks for the work that they do. And then they resent a little bit other people expecting it. I do believe it’s dying out because I’m getting the question less over the last couple of years. But for the first thousand meetings, I got it in every meeting.
BB: Because cynicism is such a form of armor to protect a fragile ego.
EM: Yeah, it’s a barrier. You’re putting a moat up around your psychological health so that you are not exposed. So then you think about this is happening in all these big companies and we have some of the biggest customers in the world. And we have five million employees in 150 countries on our platform, on this platform, every day right now, all giving each other these thank-you moments and lifting each other. And that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to know is happening out there.
EM: But what’s also happening is this all ends up on a database. And that database is filled with tens of millions of these moments where people have described why they’re inspired to say thank you. They’ve had that little vulnerable kind of authentic moment where they’ve had to write a paragraph to say why they felt compelled to give this appreciation. And now, you have this data-store where you can start to mine it with data scientists to find out, are there any patterns or insights to this?
EM: And that we’ve been blown away over the last few years at what we’ve been able to uncover. We’ve been able to link the amount of gratitude that somebody receives in a year with a propensity to leave the company. So we know that even in high-tech Silicon Valley technology companies, all the way to oil and gas services industrial companies, once you get over five moments of thank-you moments in a year, your propensity to leave halves basically. It goes from 15% all the way down to 7%. And if you can get them up to 12 moments of thank you, thank-you moments in a year, it goes all the way down to 2%. So you’re basically keeping all of those people. And the ones that receive no thank-yous, which might not be anything to do with their work, it could be to do with the culture in that office, or the manager in that office, their propensity to leave is over 15%.
EM: So that’s really remarkable, to be able to demonstrate that. Because the financial return to a company for investing in this kind of thing, you can prove to them just in the cost of re-hiring all of that talent. But we’ve also been able to see it. you talk about social justice, and we talk about some of these bigger themes. We’ve also been able to show that the differences in gender, for example, and in race, around the giving and receiving of recognition.
EM: So for example, women receive more awards than men on our platform in 150 countries around the world, a little bit more, but they receive less value per award. So they receive, I think it’s 12% less value than the same award going to a male colleague. And in fact women, they follow that pattern. They give other women 12% less than they give to their male colleagues. So to be able to see that, that’s one of the things that inspired us to go down the root of trying to help.
EM: I believe we can help society at large with the work that we’re doing. Because we can help to kind of fix that. And we can help to fix that in work, it can proliferate outside of work as well. And try and catch them in the moment where they’re making that little mistake of judgment and remind them of what the company wants, which is that everybody is held in equal esteem and rewarded kind of equally. It was very inspirational to see it come out of the data that you can actually prove these things in so many different ways. Of course, when I say that to a room full of women, they always say, “Oh, are you the last person to know this on earth?” [chuckle]
BB: The socialization is real. Tell me what you learned about race.
EM: Race is the same in terms of the Black community, the Latino community, Asian-Americans, they have lower values that they receive and the same from that cohort, within that cohort. And I think it’s unfortunately white people receive… Let’s say they receive 100%, well, Asian-Americans will receive 90%, and then LatinX will receive below that, and then Black American will receive even less than that again. To be able to show that in something as innocent, as innocent and pure as somebody giving positivity to a colleague is remarkable, but it’s also a fantastic tool for chief diversity officers in these companies to now have a benchmark of where they are. So that they can do things to fix it and then measure it in the future by looking at that data again. So I think we’ve a place to provide value here.
BB: Yeah. And I think that when you look at people of color, when you look at the Black community, you look at women, we’ve internalized and bought into the messages. I saw this quote the other day that said, “How can a woman do this to another woman?” and the answer was, “The patriarchy is not the shark, the patriarchy is the water.” It’s like we just start swimming in it and we just know it ourselves.
BB: I love what you say here in the book, let me read something you… You said that, “The three things that employees want most are purpose, meaning, and gratitude.” You say that, “meaning is different than purpose, purpose is shared, meaning is personal, and gratitude is the great connector.” I want to say that one more time. I want to read that to folks one more time because as someone who studies these constructs, I just thought that was so beautifully framed and so reflective of what I found in my own work, “People want purpose, meaning, and gratitude. Purpose is shared, meaning is personal, and gratitude is the great connector.” Can you tell me some practical, real ways to implement a sense of purpose, meaning, and gratitude? For example, one of the things that you say is that organizations should budget about 1% of payroll to help drive and cultivate purpose, meaning, and gratitude. What are some other specifics that you’ve seen be effective in your data?
EM: I think the number one thing is to enlist the help of the employee base. I think this old construct of, that the management leadership team is going to be able to impart purpose to everyone, and meaning to everyone, and that’s going to work. In today’s world, you need to inspire, you need to get their help, you need to delegate the management of people’s happiness to each other, even just the visibility of the work that goes on in a company is not seen by management all the time anymore. But it is seen collectively by all the people, and so they are in the ideal place to be able to notice it and appreciate it. So I think when we say 1% of payroll, what we mean by that is you can put one cent out of every dollar aside so that 99 cents out of every dollar, the judgement on who gets it is by the management hierarchy.
EM: They say what your bonus structure is, what your salary is, and when you get a raise, but that one cent out of every dollar is given to the people, and it’s given to the people with the instruction of, “We’re not going to dictate where you give this to each other, we’re just going to sit back and let you notice great work associated with our mission as a company, and with our values as a company, and when you see those things, I want you to recognize those colleagues. If you give them enough ammunition, they will be on the look out.
EM: Now what happens then is everybody’s thinking about the values and the mission of the company by virtue of how it’s linked with the recognition activity. So it’s top of mind for everyone, and that’s how it starts to sink in, because every day they’re saying thank you and they have to associate that with one of values of the company and how it pertains to the mission of the company. And so the act of making people think about it just so frequently, then you ask them six months later, what is our mission? What is our values? What is… And they’ll be able to tell you immediately.
EM: Whereas there is very little older mechanisms to make those things go so deep into people’s psyche as enlisting their help to recognize behavior associated with those elements every day in their work. So I think that’s number one thing. I think meaning is personal and different for everyone, and I think that’s something that the rise of mentors as well as managers is really critical to help people achieve that meaning, because a manager… They do have an ulterior motive, they do have a motive to have business success. There’s no doubt about that. So they want to help you in your career, and most good managers really want to help and they want to inspire you to your next position, but they also want to get work done and they want to meet their targets, and that’s just a reality of business. Whereas the mentor-type infrastructure can divorce the protection and nurturing of somebody’s career from the immediate business results.
BB: That’s right.
EM: And so that can be very, very effective. I’m always amazed… I started the company many, many, 20 years ago, and was an engineer before that. I’m still amazed when people… I talk to them, maybe help them with some big decision, or mentor them in some way, and the look on their face will be that that was really instrumental and important to them, and they’re really appreciative of it. I am always shocked even now, totally shocked, that my words had that effect. So I have to be continuously remind myself that it’s free for me, and I need to do it more, and I need to maybe have a bit more confidence that what I say is… Can be valuable to somebody who hasn’t lived my journey, which I did under duress half the time.
BB: I was surprised to read in the book that in one of the research studies 58% of employees said they never hear thanks from their boss, and 37% of leaders say they avoid giving feedback. So when you tell me that you’re surprised about the weight of your words, the value of your words, I think that is a pandemic in companies. People don’t understand what their thanks means, their recognition means, people don’t understand what feedback is. There’s this quote in here that I wanted to pin in my study, “Transparency has the power to break through some of the unconscious walls we put up around ourselves in the workplace.” Just transparent feedback, transparent recognition. Asking for help.
EM: Yeah, yeah. And you’d mentioned those statistics, even lately in the pandemic, 50% of people haven’t heard a single thank you from their manager for the work that they’ve done under duress in this pandemic work-from-home world. Which I thought was really shocking because I thought everybody was cognizant of the sacrifice that people are making to work from home, in sometimes really arduous circumstances, like they’ve no place to work. You have two people working at a kitchen table, there’s kids and dogs and cats running around and noise, and people had certainly in the first six months, had such awful time with that, some people who didn’t have ideal circumstances, and we heard so much about some of our employees having to do conference calls in their car, in the driveway and then come back in and it almost broke some people in terms of how hard it was. And it’s not their fault.
EM: This is a terrible tragedy that’s happened to the world. And our mantra was always, “Well, look, productivity may be down for some people, and that’s just the way it is, we need to carry them collectively through this.” And because it is what it is, you’re not going to be able to convince people that the circumstances are going to disappear, the circumstances are what it is, and you need to have empathy. Empathy is everything. Empathy is everything.
EM: In life. For me in management, in politics, it is everything, and so if you can show that, you got to have it though.
BB: Yeah you got to have it to show it. Yeah.
EM: If you can show that it comes back at you tenfold, and that is something we have tried to do in the pandemic. But I have seen people struggle so much, and worry that because their particular circumstance was more difficult than their colleague, that that was going to affect their career, because their productivity was down, and we have to make sure all of our managers were sitting people down and saying, “No, we’re just going to… We’re just going to push through on this, we’re taking you with us and that’s just the way it is.” Because that’s what they needed to hear.
BB: This is so everything I believe in. We’re in our 10th year of this leadership study, and this is just everything is right and true. I believe about what you’re saying. You write in the book that loneliness at work is one symptom of the fraying social fabric. And I do think people are intensely lonely, I think often work is family, seeing people, help me understand, maybe just personally, so maybe I can develop some empathy, because I’m lacking here. These companies that are saying, “We’re with you, we get this is hard, but this year’s metrics are even going to be harder and higher and the revenue standards, we’re going to bump ’em up from last year.” How do you hold those two things at the same time? How do you hold, “We see you, we care about you, and here’s 200 bucks for a good chair at home, and we better make even more money next year”?
EM: I don’t think you can. I think it’s not authentic, if you are telling people that you understand their circumstance, but all of that has to be ignored and the results have to be bigger and better than they were before, that’s not authentic, and I think people smell that off you immediately.
BB: Yes they do. Smells like bullshit. Yeah.
EM: And so you have to be realistic. It’s a lesson for every kind of manager or entrepreneur is that you need a big hairy audacious goal to achieve anything in business, but there has to be a thread of realism in it. If there isn’t some form of thread of realism, then you’re just going to disillusion everyone and that’s not authentic. You lose people. People don’t have confidence in you anymore. Now I have to say, there is a lot to be said for people sometimes don’t really understand what actually can be achieved, and they do have to be educated that the possibilities are bigger than they ever imagined. That happens all the time, and that’s not what I’m talking about.
BB: For sure.
EM: That is really important.
BB: No. That’s for sure.
EM: Giving them $200 for a nice chair and then saying, you’ve got to act in the same way and produce the same way as you did before, you’re just going to dismantle the social capital you’ve built in that culture very quickly in that way.
BB: Okay, last thing I want to read from the book, and then we’re going to get to our rapid fire, so get warmed up. This is how you define social recognition, you say, “Social recognition is the practice of people recognizing and rewarding each other’s efforts using positive feedback to unlock human potential. It’s the foundation for creating a more human workplace because it reinforces shared purpose, gives individual meaning through gratitude.” I really love that.
EM: Yeah. It’s funny, when we started, we were talking about work is the last best place maybe to tackle some of societies issues, but it’s also probably one of the last best places to enhance human connection and combat loneliness, as you mentioned. Society has changed and evolved. The idea that we’re all as deep socially with our neighbors as we were in the 50s and 60s or in years gone past, it’s not like that anymore for most people. But the connection at work has been enhanced because of the work of people like yourself and others. Now, people have recognized that this human connection is so important, so I do believe that work and that community has replaced a little bit of the outside community, and whether that’s good or bad is a whole different thing, but it has. And we might as well enhance it, and one of the best ways to enhance it is to allow people to just positively express goodwill to each other. And when they do, it just creates that emotional capital that builds relationships.
BB: 100%. I need you to crystal ball for me a little bit before we do this, what’s the future of work going to look like, what’s going to happen when this pandemic comes to a close and we get our vaccines… We know from research that habits have changed, so what does the future hold?
EM: I think there will be a lasting effect. I think, when I look at some of the commentary that said that we’re all going to work from home and it’s going to be a virtual office forever, a lot of times, that commentary came from people who worked in very high-cost cities, like San Francisco, where the cost of living was so high, that that was really the heart of that issue for them. And I think, from my perspective, our company, for example, would have had 10% probably of our workforce would have been remote. We may go to 15% or 20% over the next three or four years, but having a nucleus of community where those remote people come in very often and socially interact, that there’s a norm, there’s a center of gravity for the community, we have it both in the Boston area and in Dublin, in Ireland. And it’s just a wonderful thing and I think that’s never going to change for us. And I would agree, we have many people who are just itching to get back and see their friends and colleagues that they haven’t seen other than in a Zoom square in so long. They mean so much to each other.
EM: One of my colleagues sent a thank you moment to five of his colleagues, and I was privileged to be one of them, and he said, “I just had a day and I want to just say that, and he listed the five people, are so instrumental in my work and in my life. You’re my rap-pack and I just have deep appreciation for you, and all I wanted to do was to be able for us to be together again.” And so we’re all looking forward to being able to interact in that way but there will be a little bit more remote, and that’s more of a drive for talent that you can get into your company rather than any other kind of motivation.
BB: Yeah, rather than proof that we don’t need each other from the pandemic because the proof went the other way. Alright, you’re ready for rapid-fire?
EM: Sure, sure.
BB: Okay, number one, fill in the blank. Vulnerability is…
EM: Vulnerability, it’s open-heart surgery. [chuckle]
BB: Oh, good one. Number two, what is something people often get wrong about you?
EM: I’m kind of an open book, I have to say so. I don’t know whether they do get a lot wrong. [chuckle] Sometimes I can be humble with new people and they mistake that for inexperience, so that’s something. Yeah, I’m kind of an open book. I think people size me up pretty quick.
BB: What is one piece of leadership advice that you’ve been given that is so remarkable you need to share it with us or so crappy that you need to warn us?
EM: I think one of the things for me that has been proven time and time again is this concept of empathy for people and giving them room and space, understanding their reality, and that if you do that and demonstrate that, it comes back to you tenfold, and it really does. It really comes back to you tenfold. But in terms of the bad advice, I’d say, if you do that too much, if you serve people too much, they can bleed you dry, they can bleed every ounce of energy that you have, so you do have to keep a little bit. And this might not completely agree with all of your work, but you sometimes have to keep a little bit to protect your own energy. Your energy is so crucial to your output that you can’t let other people dictate your agenda. It’s like, if you just spend your day in the morning going through your inbox and email, you’re letting everybody else give you a to-do list, and you just can’t do that. You’ll never get to your to-do list if everybody is just writing a to-do list for you, which is just a list of emails you have to respond to. So you do have to have a little bit of space for yourself. So I would say, empathy to understand people, but keep something for yourself.
BB: Empathy and boundaries. It’s the magic combo, right? I bet you’re going to have a lot of answers to this, but give me one stereotype or myth about leadership that we need to let go of.
EM: I remember years ago, I was in the lobby of the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company and the CEO walked through the lobby. And I was probably younger at the time, but he walked through and it looked like there was a pole right up the back. His posture was just impeccable, and his chin was sculpted, and his aura was just confidence and strength. I was really blown away by it and I felt a little bit down after it because I realized, I’m never going to be that guy. I’m a CEO, but I’m never going to be that. I’m just not like that. That’s just not me. But I’ve since realized that that’s all crap [chuckle] and none of that actually matters. And the world has evolved and recognized that, and that’s why you look at the list of the most valuable companies in the world and it has been turned upside down in terms of what it was 15 years ago to what it is now. So those stereotypes that the masks that we wear, that the medium is the message, that’s wrong. All that matters is what your art of your work, the preciousness of your work, and if you just concentrate on that, you will inspire everyone around you.
BB: What is your best leadership quality?
EM: I think people will say to me that I’m quite passionate and it can be infectious. I don’t know where that comes from but again, I’m kind of an open book. I get passionate real fast and then everybody feels it. That’s a good thing, so probably that’s a positive. [chuckle]
BB: What’s the hard leadership lesson that the universe just keeps putting in front of you because you’ve got to learn it, or unlearn it, or relearn it?
EM: That’s a good one, you know. I suppose I’m so impatient, I want everything now, and I keep telling myself, “You give people some space. That people work at different paces and you have to give them some space.” And that’s great and then I forget, and I [laughter] do the bad thing again, and I want it this afternoon. And so I have to keep training myself to realize that everybody is different and they have their own pace and they have their own journey.
BB: Yeah, that’s a hard one. Yes, I’m an impatient, passionate person too, so it’s a tough one, and I will always have to keep learning it. What’s one thing that you’re really excited about right now?
EM: I’m 20 years doing this, and I’ve never been more excited about our work. I’m just being completely honest here. People don’t believe me when I say it but I really genuinely believe that we are just blessed to be in the right place at the right time to create an iconic company, one for the ages. I just really feel it, I just know it’s true. And this year has been terrible for so many reasons but it’s also proven to me, again, that our work is so important and the effect it has on millions of people is just amazing, and I want to keep investing every ounce of my energy in it. It drives me. It feeds me the energy to do it. So that’s what I’m excited about.
BB: Oh, your passion is definitely contagious. Okay, last one. Tell me one thing that you’re deeply grateful for right now.
EM: I am deeply grateful for my wife and my family. It’s all there is for me. A love in your life is everything. I couldn’t function without my wife and my children. It’s just an amazing blessing to have what I have at home.
BB: Alright, you gave us five songs you could not live without, and I have met your family, and you have a lovely, lovely, rauckus, big, loving, demonstrative family. When I met them the first time, we all hugged, yeah, they’re pretty great. Okay, you gave us five songs you couldn’t live without: “God,” by John Lennon, “All Along the Watchtower,” by Jimi Hendrix, “Walk On,” by U2, “Sign o’ the Times,” by Prince, “America,” by Simon and Garfunkel. In one sentence, what does this mix tape say about you, Eric Mosley?
EM: I have a bone to pick with you on this one. Music is so precious in my life.
BB: Me too.
EM: I have so many songs that are so important to me, and then I was told yesterday I have to come up with my top five. I need six months for that. I need six months for that.
BB: I know, that’s why I didn’t give it to you. I had to do it. You know what, Jimmy Fallon turned this interview on me and I had to do it, and I thought, “This is the meanest thing I’ve ever asked music lovers.” But what does this mix tape, just this one, I’ll concede that these are not all the songs you need in your life, but what does this mix tape say about you?
EM: I looked at it again this morning and one of the things that just jumped off the page when I looked at it again was that these people… It’s amazing, four out of the five lost their mothers when they were young. John Lennon’s mother died, Bono’s mother died, etcetera. And they’re kind of broken, you could say there’s an element of that in them, and they’re all geniuses. Prince is a genius, and John Lennon obviously is a musical genius. And I kind of think that genius comes from talent and energy. And when I looked at that list this morning, I thought, “It’s amazing that whatever was broken a little bit in their upbringing,” and maybe it reminded me of myself a little bit, “It was a font of energy for them.” Now, it wouldn’t have worked if they didn’t have the talent, but they had the talent, and then they got the energy, and then they created history. That’s what struck me when I went back and looked at the list.
BB: See, it’s a really good list just for that reason. That was poetic, that was beautiful. Alright, the book is Making Work Human, and Eric, thank you so much for joining us. This was just a really important, timely conversation, thank you.
EM: And thank you for all the work that you’ve done inspiring us, and you keep us on our toes. You inspire us and you inspire our audience and our community of customers and partners, and just thank you for all the stuff that you do. It’s amazing.
BB: This conversation was so energizing for me. And it’s such a reminder that when we create environments where we’re allowed to be who we are and be authentic and vulnerable, we create space for innovation, we create space for real change and disruption. This is the key, the key is our people. You can find Eric online at LinkedIn at Eric Mosley CEO, and on Twitter at @ericmosley.
BB: Just a few notes. Last week I talked to Dolly Parton about leadership, love, loss, staring pain in the face, and also living a life of joy and giving. It was just such a fun interview. Again, that’s Dolly Parton on Unlocking Us. And here’s the thing, y’all, reach out, tell someone you’re grateful for them, tell them thank you, tell them what they mean to you. There’s no better way to stay awkward, brave, and kind than to be generous and grateful. I will see y’all next week. Take good care.
BB: Dare to Lead is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown, and produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Kristen Acevedo, music by The Suffers. The song that you’re hearing right now, one of my favorites, maybe my mantra for 2021, baby, “Take Me to the Good Times.” Thanks y’all.
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