0:00:01.8 S1: You’re listening to the Aim to Win Podcast. I’m Wade Thomas, and I believe that every one of you has a wealth of potential, just waiting to come out, and I’m here to help you reach that potential. So now, here’s the Aim to Win Podcast. Today I’m delighted to have Jennifer Thornton on the show with me. Jennifer has developed her expertise in talent strategy and leadership professional development of her exciting 20-plus year career as an HR professional, she’s led international teams across Greater China, Mexico, the UK and the US, to expand into new markets, managing franchise retailers and developing key strategic partnerships. All exceeding business objectives and financial results, the rapid growth of our consulting firm, 304 Coaching has been largely due to Jennifer’s unconventional approach to building innovative workforce development solutions for companies who are facing breakthrough growth and accelerated hiring patterns. She’s a sought after business strategist, specializing in start-ups and large value-based organizations. She lives in Texas with her family and her rescues. In her free time, she enjoys reading, historic preservation, remodeling her lake home and spending time with friends. So welcome to the show, Jennifer.
0:01:15.9 S2: Thanks for having me. It’ll be a fun afternoon.
0:01:18.5 S1: Looking forward to it. So one of the things that I ask everybody when they come on, so that people listening now, who there’s listening too, is tell your story. How did you get to where you are? And anything you wanna talk about along those lines?
0:01:33.5 S2: Gosh, how did I get to where I am? So probably not the most conventional road as a young girl, we won’t mention my age, but this will give it away, as a young girl, I loved hanging out in the mall, I loved shopping, I loved fashion, and all I ever wanted to do was work in the mall. And so as I got older, I guess what I did, I worked in the mall. And I got into the retail industry and worked my way up and started managing retail stores, and you know when I was young, all I wanted to do was get a great discount on clothes and have fun with my friends at the mall. But what I now know what was happening as I was learning how to be a leader to a really young age, when you walk into your local mall, but we oftentimes don’t think about is those people leading those stores are leading multi-million dollar businesses at a young age, I was making decisions around scheduling, hiring, Employee Relations, I had to know my KPIS every day, I woke up to score card, I knew if I needed to make my numbers, I knew who to put where on my schedule and all of those types of things to move my numbers, so when everyone else out that I should be working in an office 805 and something more respectable, I was like, No, I’m having the best time at the mall, and so that progressed.
0:02:58.2 S2: I stayed in the retail industry for years, I spent half my career on the operation side, and the second half I moved into HR, and that is always where I got my results. I wasn’t like my peers, they were highly competitive, and I was competitive in a different way, I didn’t wanna compete just to win, I really wanted this most amazing team, it was really about the people I surrounded myself with and who they were, and so since I was known for more the talent side, that’s when I moved into HR and that progressed. I did all types of different things in HR, and then that progressed into an international HR career, and so I was fortunate enough to do all kinds of interesting short-term living assignments in other countries, and started taking on the HR International Division for the retailer. I worked for so I’ve done a lot in my career, and five years ago, I woke up one day and said, Well, I wanna try this on my own, and so I started 304 coaching, and today we do all types of different things, but the core of what we do is we help companies create great cultures, great education, and really this environment where people can do their best work, and so they hopefully every day wake up, they enjoy going to work.
0:04:15.4 S1: Excellent, it’s really interesting. We have very similar backgrounds. I start off in retail as well as… Fantastic. So the same approach, just he realized that building Nest team was the leader success, and then plankton carew want very similar path. I think erecting into this, you had the ultra-competitive competitors, right, but you’re here building this team… How did that work out? Did you find you were just as competitive…
0:04:51.7 S2: I often won. I was very rarely, not the top performer, but I think that I was a top performer consistently because I approached it different than everyone else, and I think that’s kind of basics of business, if you walk into a business situation and you’re going after every single other person, then there’s nothing about what you’re doing that will get you a bigger bang or get you above your competitors, or allow you to do something new and different, and I really just didn’t care that they were all go in one direction, I went the other. It didn’t bother me to be different, it didn’t bother me to look at things different, and I think that was the secret to my success is I was like at the end of the day, especially in the retail world… And in any industry, there’s a lot of hours of operating business, and there’s a lot of things that have to be done, and so if you don’t start with your talent, you’ll never, ever win, and it’s the core of everything, and I just showed up every day and believe that and know that. And while of them were fighting over who was gonna be number one, I was quietly on other side of the room building a team.
0:06:01.9 S1: And then you took that through your whole career… Building a building cultures. Say more about that. How did you go about building a team? What did that look like? The team that was kind of an ultra competitive, ultra successful team.
0:06:18.6 S2: So I’ve built a lot of teams in all different parts of the world and locally and internationally, and then my team I have on my company today, but when I look at what I believe in from a team… There’s a couple of things. One is, I believe in hiring people who do what they love to do, and I don’t ask them to do anything else, because too often as leaders, we try to hire generalists, we create these unicorn job descriptions where you want someone to basically be able to write with her left and right hand equally at all times, and so when we do that, we create people who are gonna disappoint us 50% of the time, and when we do that, we’re creating a fire people at half their work, and so they’re not gonna stick around and do it. And so I think that’s a big piece of what I do is what… What does this person really good at? What do they want to do, what you’re good at and what you wanna do? Sometimes two different things. Now, there’s always a percentage of work that you gotta do, but in general, that’s a huge piece of it, allowing people to really do what they love to do, and knowing what they love to do, really getting to know your people.
0:07:22.5 S2: I think the other thing is really understanding how to lead by the reduction of fear, how we’ve been taught to lead, all of our best practices that we’ve been taught since the early 1900s are very fear-based, and when we are working from a fear-based leadership viewpoint, or the more fear we create in our people, the less access they actually have to their prefrontal cortex, which is what you… Unique, they’re learning their problem-solving. Or emotional control everything you want, you’re basically turning off the more fear you add into the conversation, and so that was one of the big pieces too, is How do I reduce fear, how do I make sure people feel secure in their work and if they’re doing what they love, they’re gonna be more secure. And being a partner and you know, growing alongside with the team, I think is a big piece too of so many things that I could talk about, but I think those are some of my three three big basics that I look at is being a partner, reducing fear, and allowing people to do what they do best.
0:08:30.4 S1: I’m trying to figure out what to dive into first, I just finished a conversation right before we got on that talked about convergent differentiation versus divergent differentiation, which is getting at the idea, Do we treat everybody the same, or do we look at how different people are wired and over-certifying there. But it kinda goes into the idea of letting people do what they do best, and it seems like when we try to do that, we run up against these objections, like It’s not fair, how come they get to do that? And I don’t get to do that. How do you manage to that, how do you create an environment where people can do it to do best?
0:09:16.2 S2: So I think one of the great things of about today’s world is that’s actually allowing us to get more creative with how we look at work and who we hire and how we design the structure of our organizations through remote, through blend, through in-person, through contract workers, part-time flex schedules, we have all these options that we didn’t have that long ago, it’s only been recently that we’ve had all these options, and so I need to allow someone to do what they do or What… Do what they love to do. You have to get creative and be open to saying goodbye to being 100% traditional in the way you look at things, and so if you need someone who is an expert and data analytics, and say You need someone to go into an expert position, and you’re like, I need that, but it’s not enough for one job, and our old mentality, we would just tack on a bunch of work that didn’t have any sense, just a bunch of stuff that needed to get done, and so we’d hire someone to do the core of the work and the rest of it would just be a mass…
0:10:19.4 S2: Well, in today’s the world, you can say, You know what, I’m gonna hire someone to do that, and I’m gonna find someone who does that all the time, maybe it’s through contract, maybe it’s through a 1099, and so again, you can get creative and allow people to do things and to come in and do their work, because we have all these options now that we didn’t have even two, three years ago, and I think the companies that are open to Flexible work schedules or looking at employment or contracts differently, I think they’re gonna be winning war on talent.
0:10:51.6 S1: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. That’s a hard leap. I wanna tackle another difficult one, and that’s the whole idea of reduction of fear, and we say makes sense, but it’s a hard concept, right, because it’s still out there. You still watch movies that kind of have that fear-based approach, leadership, whether it be military movies, sports movies, whatever it might be, Plato accepted, right? So you have that in the culture still, and we have high profile leaders that still managed to fear and so lead through fear at all levels of society, and our parents came out of that in Italy and… So when you’re saying at top of the organization, it’s one thing for you to Get fear out of it, but how do you get everybody in organization to kinda go to that… This new leadership style that is not fear-based.
0:11:58.9 S2: So it’s a process. I would love to say I can come in and turn on a light switch and make everyone this happy, cohesive group, but it takes time, and when I start working with organizations around the neuroscience of leadership and neuroscience of fear and our language and all of those types of things where I start is with every leader, they have to understand their own fears, they have to understand their own limiting beliefs, they have to understand what they’re saying in their head to themselves, and so first we have to help each individual understand their own fear, reduce their fear, then they can become a more fearless leader, but it’s very hard to tell someone who has a lot of internal fear to reduce fear in your team, you actually… I don’t know if you could do that, you probably couldn’t, because when you are in fear, you roll with fear ’cause that just how the world works. But when we were kind of growing up through leadership and when things are being taught to us, a lot of those kind of passed me down best practices were built in the early 1900s, and the workforce looked a lot different, the work we did looked a lot different, and unfortunately, we haven’t really said our day, the world is different.
0:13:18.1 S2: How do we lead in today’s world differently? I think we’re forced to… I think the current generation is forcing leaders to start to think about things differently, are the younger generations right now? I’ve never lived in a shortage of jobs like I have, or some of your listeners might have, and so they don’t have that same fear of, if I lose this job today, what am I gonna do? They’re like, There’s 1000 jobs out there. I can contract, I can Uber, I can do this. There’s so many ways to make a dollar in today’s world, and because of that, they’re not in fear of their job, I might have been when I all… There was only a four jobs you could pick when I was young, and so they’re working without fear because of that, and so as leaders, we have to learn how to manage them that way so that they stay on board and continue to work with us.
0:14:10.3 S1: Yeah, it’s so important. And you said something out in there, I picked up on language… Yeah, say more about that. How does language come into play here?
0:14:20.2 S2: Oh gosh, language is… I wish that we talked about language more often, I wish we had more language or about language, but language is where it starts, and so if two people are at work or really in any kind of conversation to people in any kind of conversation, we start interpreting their language with our own filter, our own mind map, our own experiences, all the stuff that was ours, and then we put our own twist on it, and then we kind of think that’s what happens, that’s how memories are created. Memories are created through emotions and not necessarily fact, and so language is incredibly important because our language tells people what to predict from us in future, and really simple things leaders can do, for example, maybe you have something on your team and they can come to you with this big goal of this big idea, and you’re like… You’re thinking, Well, that’s impossible. That’ll never work. And so what we do is we say, Oh, that was sweet, but now it’ll never work, or… No, no, thank you. And we send people back out there and we tell them, We don’t wanna hear their ideas, and then the road, we say things like, Well, they never have any new ideas, well, that’s…
0:15:29.4 S2: Because you told them not to through your language, and so simply saying, Hey, I don’t see it, like, I don’t get where you’re going with this, but… That’s okay. Change my mind. And then that from your language is very simple of, I don’t see it, but I’m open to learning, I’m open to seeing your viewpoint, I’m open to hearing it, and then through that, you have a great conversation and who knows you might change your mind, but you’ll probably learn a thing or two also, and so really creating this atmosphere where people can use their language, we clarify language, we think about how our words impact people, that’s the kind of stuff that makes such a big difference. I have a whole series on YouTube called say this, not that, and it’s examples like that because what we’ve been told to say is really her based, the old say are on a podcast, so I’ll make it clean the poop sandwich, say something nice and then give bad feedback and say something nice. Well, it’s really passive aggressive, be nice and mean in the same sentence, I mean that is a definition of passive aggressiveness, and so those are the types of things that we’ve all been taught that just really don’t work through language and creates more fear.
0:16:46.0 S1: Yeah, there’s a lot of power in that. And I also like what you said about the South fear, and I think it works a couple of ways, the leader who’s afraid is gonna manage to fear, but the leader, the leader who has fear is going to show it, it’s gonna be in your language, it’s gonna be and everything else. And then it’s gonna spread. Right. How do you get that leader off of that?
0:17:16.9 S2: So there’s a few things. One, I think executive coaching is a huge piece of that, because when it’s all in your head and it’s all bundled up and it’s all mixing around with whatever your chemicals are that day, the way you feel, this person said that person… If leaders don’t have a really good coach or a private place where they can get things out, and it’s amazing, I’ll be talking to someone in a coaching session and they’ll be all spun up at the beginning of it, and they’ll be like, Here’s what happened, and then once they say it out loud and once they play it out, they’re like, Oh, actually… I’m not upset about that. Actually, I think this now… And so I think that’s a huge piece of it. You have to have a safe place to work through your thoughts, to work through your fear, you have to have a safe place to strategize, knowing you have options, reduces fear, because again, our brains are a predictive model, they always are trying to predict things and the predictive through fear, to keep us alive, that’s how we’ve stayed alive through all these many, many years of evolution, and so when we don’t really know what’s happening or we’re in fear, we make up stories, that’s…
0:18:27.1 S2: Our brain processes information, but we always make up the story from a fear-based, and so when we are in that fear, we are making assumptions, some of the best practices are to rewrite the story, re-write the story where you’re the hero, rewrite the story where you’re amazing. And because it will instantly change the chemicals in your your mind, which will make you feel different, we’ll open up new places in your brain that were closed out and it will allow you to work through whatever you’re in fear of…
0:18:53.8 S1: Yeah, that’s amazingly powerful. I wanna switch gears a little bit. So today, building that team that is a top performing team and successful, it’s a lot harder, organizations are… Many organizations report is a real difficulty in finding the right people… What are your thoughts on that?
0:19:19.1 S2: It’s true. That is the truth, it is harder to find people than it was a couple of years ago, I think we had to get honest on why it’s harder to find people… I think it’s easy to say things like, people just don’t wanna work anymore, well or unemployment low it’s ever been, so that doesn’t really work. That story isn’t really working out, I think we tell ourselves that because that’s easier then it’s easier to tell us, tell ourselves that it’s everyone else, because then as a leader, we don’t have to take ownership, so… Blame feels good. Limit on someone else. And I think the thing is, we have to start to be open to to change, we have to say, I’m in, I’m gonna lead different and I’m gonna look at evaluating people different, I’m gonna look at how we work together to different… Those are the types of things will allow you to retain who you have and actually attract more talent, and it’s as simple as, how do we evaluate performance? There were a lot of years or we evaluated performance by the person who was in the chair of the longest, it didn’t make them the best, but boy, we thought…
0:20:24.4 S2: So they were there when we got there at work, and they were there when we left, well, they could have been sitting there for 12 hours doing nothing, but in our mind, they were amazing, they were so committed to the company, they were always working so hard, and the person next to them might have been 10 times smarter, 10 times or more talented and could do all that work in six hours, and so there’s just this time period in which we have to say, how do we evaluate work different… How do we look at the jobs differently from a flexibility standpoint, how do we find out what makes someone tick, and how do we really get to know people, especially in a virtual environment, the ability to know what what someone’s personal values are and their goals, not only at work, but personally make a huge difference ’cause you can help them with that, and I think that looking at the person more holistically, we’ve been taught to work as soon as you come to work, you turn it off at the door, and those types of comments which is old school leadership? I think when you lead the holistic person, you get a better result.
0:21:25.8 S2: An example, I woke up this morning, one of the girls on my team, her and her husband are trying to buy a house, so she needed all this paperwork for her loan, and so I got it to her at 7 30 this morning, and her first… And I was like, I’m so excited for you, I’m so proud of you. This is an amazing… And her email back was like, Thank you for getting this to me so quickly… Well, it was important to her. So it was important to me, and by responding to her right away with what she needed, I said to her, You are important, not just your work, and it’s small stuff like that that make a huge difference.
0:22:00.9 S1: Yeah, that’s kind of interesting because that’s not a solution for the whole organization, it’s not a policy, you just recognize the individual… And a lot of companies, especially larger companies. Well, they’ve got policies. We’re gonna get your information three to five business days. Yeah, exactly. By 3 o’clock and triplet, we don’t think about the real power of the individual, and there’s a lot about the silver bold approach. I get that question all the time and yeah, how do I find people? Or How do I keep people… And there’s not one that’s really understanding the individual, and you just say, great example on your team today and… Yeah, and you can let go or be re…
0:22:46.7 S2: Yeah, exactly, yeah. And when I got that email back thanking me to get over so fast, it didn’t dawn on me that that would mean something to her. I just knew that it was important. So it was important to me. And so that’s why I kinda was on top of my mind ’cause I thought, Wow, that really made a difference to her, ’cause she thanked me for that quick turnaround, but she’s been talking about it for a long time, and I know it’s important to her, so… Yeah, no, it’s important to the people on your team because if it’s important to them and it’s not important to you, they will go somewhere where someone does find it valuable and important…
0:23:20.3 S1: No, yep, absolutely. Excellent, so that’s kind of how you keep your employees… How do you find… How do you attract employees…
0:23:32.4 S2: Oh man, if you and I could solve that, we’d be on a Peterson’s not a one decision makes it all happen. It is something you have to plug away at every single day, I think that organizations who have put work behind what’s called employer branding, really getting clarity on who they are and who works for them, and they’re out there marketing that I think they’re going to be winning the war faster, because as a consumer, I may be happy in my job, but a year from now I may not, and I… I seen things on LinkedIn or talk to friends who love their job, and I’m ready to find a job, I’m gonna go to those places, and hiring people as a long-term strategy, and I think too often, we look at it as a short-term strategy, it is not just where to post your jobs, it is how do you make your current population love their jobs that they’re up recruiting for you, how do you talk about what your culture is out in the market place, so when someone is ready, they’re ready for you. The other thing that when you do really good employer branding and you’re really out there talking to the community about what it’s like working at your business, when someone comes on in their first day, they already know how they’re supposed to act, you’ve told them…
0:25:00.7 S2: And so the onboarding time actually shortens and you can spiral that great culture faster because someone comes on and they know, gosh, I’ve been watching for six months that you celebrate these types of things. So therefore, by gosh, I’m gonna do those things. And so it just really changes how over time, how quickly you can get people onboarded, how you can keep your culture nice and tight, but it is a long-term game, and I think… Companies don’t understand that it’s a long-term game. There’s a lot of components that takes time, it takes money, it takes great leadership. Any time you lost one to be on your team that isn’t treating people within your culture is a higher down the road that you will not be able to make… And there’s so much, so much that goes into it, you and I could probably do like a… I don’t know, probably a year-long podcast on all the things to lay and great people, but I guess walk away with the fact that it is a long-term game that everything happens in your organization impacts your ability to make your next hire.
0:26:07.9 S1: Yeah, you know, that’s the thing, about 30 minutes to say. You only get in it so far, really good stuff do. I think a lot of really good key takeaways. So I have one more question before I let you get out of here, and that is, how do people find you?
0:26:36.6 S1: Excellent. Line all that up in the show notes. And I appreciate you being on today. Just a lot of good stuff and really timely.
0:26:44.8 S2: Thanks so much for having me, it was a great conversation.
0:26:48.0 S1: And thanks for listening to the Aim To Win Podcast. As always, make sure you like follow us. All that good stuff. And if you’re looking for me… The best way to find me is on LinkedIn.