Understanding People in the Workplace

0:00:00.7 S1: Welcome to Peernovation, the podcast with Leo Bottary and me, Randy Cantrell. Building on our previous shows, the year of the peer and what anyone can do, we turn our attention to helping business leaders build high-performing teams, we’ll talk with a diverse group of thought leaders who will share stories and insights that will help you and your teams achieve new heights. If you believe there are strength in numbers and that meeting the challenges of the future can only be achieved if we do it together, then join us for the conversation. Today’s guest is Jennifer Thornton, Founder of 304 Coaching. Jen has developed her expertise in talent strategy and leadership development over her exciting 20+ year career as an HR professional, she joins us today to talk about people, we welcome Jen Thornton to the Peernovation Podcast. Happy New Year and we welcome everybody back to… Well, it’s season 2021 of Peernovation, the podcast. The website is Peernovation.co. He is Leo Bottary. She is the special guest birthday girl as well. Jen Thornton, welcome to the show. Jen, I’m gonna turn it over to Leo.


0:01:21.8 S2: Thanks for having me. And on my birthday, how better can my birthday be?

0:01:26.7 S1: We love it, and actually Randy and I agreed that as your birthday present, we’re gonna have this produced and up and posted before the end of the day that it would be available to everyone and they can celebrate your birthday as well. Randy, when you talked about 2021, that’s music to a lot of people’s ears. I think even though we are still obviously in the throes of what we’ve been experienced through all of 2020, I think we’re obviously hopeful for a much better year overall and looking forward to that, Jen… Well, first of all, what I’d love for you to do because we had fun learning about your story, but since we have you here, we’d rather have you tell your story than us, we’d love to know, and here’s your company, it’s 304 Coaching and just love to know and have our listeners know how you were inspired to get into this work and what that’s like for you, and then we wanna get into some specifics about having the right people on the team, which we know is such a critical part of your work and then also talk about the innovation aspect as well, but hey, if you could just tell us a little about yourself to get started, that would be great.

0:02:47.0 S2: So my journey was actually in the retail industry, and I won’t date myself, especially since it’s my birthday, but it was definitely before the internet, and when hanging out the mall was very cool. So of course, I wanted to work at the mall. And dreams do come true. I worked at the mall, and it’s interesting, at a young age, I was leading people and making hiring decisions and scheduling decisions, and looking at numbers and KPIs, and I think that at that age, I was just hanging out at the mall and working… I thought it was really fun. I didn’t understand what I was learning and what I was doing. And what I found is that I got my results in a way that was very different than my peers, and I always felt a little off, like I’m not like my peers, I’m still a top performer, I’m still knocking the numbers out of the park, I’m making my year after year after year, coming… My own numbers, but I wasn’t competitive, I didn’t do it because I wanted to be number one. I did it because I wanted to have the best team, and I love hiring someone and talking to him about what they wanted to do and help them get there and help develop them and teach them, and so that was really the first half of my career as I worked on the operation side and all different leadership roles with a large retailer, and then halfway through my career, I went into the HR side because talent is what I had a passion for, and did all kinds of different roles within the HR functions.

0:04:14.6 S2: Tested out a lot of different departments. It’s a nice thing about HR, it’s really 10-20 different jobs inside of one group, and the last part of my career, I took an opportunity to move to Hong Kong for a few months and start opening stores internationally, and that led to the last chapter Being international HR, which was fantastic. I teams all over the world. We had a ton of fun, a lot of laughs. When you have a team that speak six different languages and you’re trying to explain something at once to all of them, it’s hysterical. So we had so much fun, it was a great team. But I just was missing something, I wanted to start building something for myself, I built for someone else, a company for years and years, and we all have those moments in time where you remember the sounds and the smells and exactly where you were sitting, and I remember I was actually in Hong Kong and I was in a board room and sometimes was said, and I just thought, it’s done everything in my body was like, You’re done, and you have to go out and explore and do your own thing.

0:05:17.7 S2: And so that’s when I started 304 coaching about six months after that kind of moment, and I wanted to focus on how when have strategic hiring plans and strategic development plans and really think about their talent in a different way into that… Match their business plans. And so that was kind of the inspiration for 304 and what we do today.

0:05:38.1 S1: So two things, one of the things that kinda made me laugh when you were talking about people speaking six different languages, I think people can be speaking six different languages even when they speak the same language. Ancient, the other thing too, maybe you can talk to our listeners about my failed attempt to figure out what 304 Coaching was and where it came from, and tell us the story around that.

0:06:05.5 S2: So it’s not the most glamorous story 304 Coaching, but I had decided to go off on my own, and someone I had worked with previously knew, and she gave me a call and she was like, I need you to pitch to our CEO tomorrow. And I’m like, I still have a job, I don’t even have a name for my company. And she’s like, I don’t care, figure it out tonight, ’cause I need you to pitch to him tomorrow, he needs to hire someone here the right fit, and he needs to know that tomorrow, I was like, Okay. And so I just was sitting at a blank piece of paper like, What do I call myself, and I didn’t want anything cheesy like results coming, your hair, whatever. She really… No, 304 is kind of my lucky number, it’s a combination of important dates, and so I just thought, You know what, I’ll go with my lucky number, and it was 304 Coaching and hey, it’s been pretty lucky, still

0:06:55.5 S1: Know, it’s interesting is here’s this person who was so sure that you were the right fit for the CEO and kind of challenged you to come up with the name, get it together, be ready for the meeting the following day, but I think it kind of speaks to what I felt in terms of researching what you do is the heart of what you talk about in terms of the right teams, is really getting the right people on the team is obviously very congruent with what we talk about with per innovation all the time, is you have to start with the right people and how do you figure out who those right people are, especially your specific organization. I talk often times with CEOS and I’ll say, Hey, can you relate to this scenario, and I’ll say… ’cause I’ve had my own company, I’ve run different divisions and things have had to hire people, and it’s like, Okay, I see this great resume, I have the person come in. Awesome interview. Everyone else interviews them, fantastic, three months later, this isn’t working, and we’re wondering what happened and everybody the room can relate to having had that, so maybe you can talk to us a little bit about how we can avoid either having that happen all together, or at least a lot less often.

0:08:06.8 S2: Yeah, I would love to say I’m a magic potion and it would never happen again, but I don’t think I do. And if so, I’m gonna buy my own island somewhere, but I think one of the biggest mistakes that we make as hiring managers or our companies make is when they go to hire someone, they don’t stop and really think about the work, and oftentimes we throw payroll at the problem… So a team is overwhelmed, so we’re just gonna hire someone to help them, where we don’t stop and say, As a team, overwhelmed because the work is incorrect, or do we have process problems, or do we need development and training? Why is this team overwhelmed? Does it truly work? We also spend a lot of time doing what I love to call vanity work, and that’s work that really does not impact the bottom line at all, but there’s someone up the food chain that thinks it’s really great and wants it done, and it can be as simple as this executive doesn’t wanna learn how to read the new reports that you can push a button and the system spits it out, and so someone has to re-figure these reports for hours for no reason.

0:09:10.8 S2: And so I think it’s really important to make sure that we have clarity on the work, and that’s the first piece, and the piece that I think that people miss out on. And the second piece is that hiring process and really understanding not only the job, but how has that job gonna be done? So for example, if your organization is highly innovative, then you do not wanna hire someone who’s more comfortable in a traditional job, even if their resume is great, and if you have a traditional company, you don’t wanna bring someone in who loves to break what’s working just for the fun of it, because they’re not gonna fit in, and that’s why we start to say good bye to people very early, it’s not their skills, but it’s a what their natural traits are and how they show up and make decisions. So when you think about those natural traits.

0:10:08.0 S1: Now we start thinking about… And you brought up some things that align with the culture, so beyond the role, beyond the work and all of that, there’s this idea of whether someone’s a good cultural fit with the organization, so when you are providing an assessment… And I’d love for you to tell us more about it, OAD… Correct, the assessment that you have it… What that looks like and how you kind of layer in the cultural aspect of this, because I’ve certainly worked with a lot of different places where same role, same job, but the culture really, really different, and the expectations of how you engage one another, what that looks like and all this and the difference being such that I would absolutely thrive in one culture, but not any other… At all, it would be really bad. So how does that factor into it then, because that would seem to me to be kind of at least we start getting closer to the magic potion where we can start figuring that out.

0:11:08.7 S2: Yeah, so I think there’s three things. One of them obviously is skills and knowledge, I mean that skill and knowledge bucket, we have to have that, we also have to have education experiences, and that’s all the stuff we interview for all day, every day, and we can’t interview for… What we can’t interview for is someone’s natural traits because most of us aren’t even really aware of how we think because it’s normal in our head, so everyone needs that way… Right, right. And so it’s really hard to interview people also, when you think of adding that piece, you’re bringing an assessment, so ad organization analysts and design is the one that we use here at 08, here at 30 for, and that we sell. And consult with… And the reason why is we’re science north at ad, we protect the science of it versus the marketing piece of it. So most people have never heard of us. We’re very small, we’re very… And that is on purpose because we really are passionate about a validation and how a tool is used versus the tiny pretty new object. So with O-A-D, what’s fascinating about it is you can learn about someone’s natural traits, and that is every…

0:12:22.9 S2: Everything from their section level, their detailed, their patient, how they communicate, are they more technical or more social or communication, and a lot of assessments give you that, and that’s fantastic. I think what the gold is and where people start to get where those matches are off is decision style, and so this tool helps you understand, do they like mic problem-solving or do they like innovative and creative problem solving, and are they making decisions emotionally, or are they making it only on fact or somewhere in between there, and that is the biggest important piece, because if you bring someone in and you don’t want them to rock the boat, but you hire someone who is off the chart, innovation and creativity, they’re not gonna be successful they’re going to have bad relationships, they’re going to be challenging people that do not want to be challenged, and so it’s really about making sure that you look at all the pieces. I don’t believe, and I’m sure people are gonna hate me right now, I don’t believe… It’s a one and done. You can only look at assessment and now it’s a package and it’s part of the story.

0:13:30.2 S2: And so that’s the one that I’ve used for years. I was actually on the client side for 15 years, and for the last three, four years now, I’ve been a sales consultant for them, so it’s a fantastic tool that really helps you finish off the story and who that person is and how they’ll show up and work for you.

0:13:47.6 S1: Once, we all talk about it, when we’re talking about hiring people, and I do some work with HR folks, particularly in the city government sector, and they’re always… And it’s interesting to me when I ask them, we’ll define that, and it’s hardly ever the same, so when we’re thinking about what we need or fit, what can we do on the hiring side or your insights for us to even figure out what that is, I find in so many of my conversations, sometimes we’ve got… We’ve got teams and we’ve got some people that are performing at a higher level than others, but we don’t necessarily fully understand why it makes it difficult. So how can we replicate that?

0:14:37.2 S2: I know, and that’s a really hard thing. And I think it starts with curiosity, and it’s really sitting down and even with a piece of paper in describing that ideal person and not necessarily their experience, because again, when we can interview for… But what does it show up when they sat down in their desk, how do they make other people feel, how do they build relationships? How do they make decisions? How do they manage conflict? Then I love to do this exercise because an executive will tell you all these things and then I’m like, Okay, let’s talk about what that looks like to manage that person, ’cause what you think you want isn’t necessarily always what you’re willing to manage, and so then that’s the next curiosity is, what are you willing to manage if someone says, I want someone that’s gonna come in here and take risk and make all kinds of changes, then I’m like, Okay, fantastic. The opposite of that is failure, how comfortable are you with risk takers, failing. And so those are the kind of conversations to really learn about the fit that we have to have, and the conversations that I don’t think we always have, we always point to a list of values and say, they’re supposed to do that.

0:15:47.2 S1: Yeah, I think everything that you’ve been talking about when you start, when you’re dealing with communication and all these things, aren’t really just about how an individual can fill a role, but how an individual can be part of a team and work with one another, which I would imagine is that next layer of what you’re talking about, right, as I don’t think too many people who even no matter how into assessments they are, would ever suggest that any one assessment would define us nor should… It’s just part of the data, it’s part of the information, it’s part of everything that comes to us, but they can be important and they can be really valuable, like you said, and they can provide us with information on things that aren’t always easily discerned from an interview or something like that, for sure. But is there any one particular thing you look at or look for with people regarding whether they would be a good teammate or not… Oh, it’s

0:16:47.2 S2: Such a good question. I think that one of the things I love to ask people in an interview and love to just anyone I’ve talked to, what did you… Love to find people who want to learn and are willing to learn daily, and so that’s what I look for when I hire people for my team. I look for people who want to learn, and so I ask a lot of questions about, Tell me what… Tell me a time, it didn’t go well. What did you learn from that? What did you learn at that job that you still utilized today? Because when I think about building partnerships and about building bridges and relationships in the workplace, it’s about willing to learn about that other person, learn what they do, learn what they take to the table or bring to the table and accept that. And that’s really hard, and if you’re not a natural person with curiosity, it’s really hard, I think, to build strong relationships. No, it’s great.

0:17:46.9 S1: It’s really good. And I think that’s spot on. You also mentioned something when it comes to risk-taking and creativity and other such things, and that’s about innovation, so it would be great to get a sense of what you have found among the teams that you’ve found to be most innovative, number one. And secondly, what is a company that may be not particularly… Is not particularly innovative right now, they’d like to be more of that, so how do we take everyone out of their comfort zone, including the leaders, and everybody has to ride that boat in terms of getting to a place where we recognize our very survival is going to have to depend on us, and it’s just doing things the way we do it right now, we’ve got to find a way to… And I think it’s really about tapping into the talent of the people you have and willing to listen and willing for them to be able to speak up and speak out, but what have you seen among the most innovative teams that you admire? And

0:18:51.9 S2: Then secondly, what advice would you have for companies who, if they’re honest with themselves, aren’t particularly innovative at the mood, like to be more so… So I think what’s interesting about innovation is you have to start with understanding how the brain actually processes information, and what’s fascinating I think too, is that what we know about the human brain, we’ve really only… Most of it we’ve only discovered over the last 20 years, and so when you think about innovation, that means you have to ensure that someone’s using their prefrontal cortex, right, so that’s where our new ideas come from, collaboration, decisions, all of that stuff is coming from that. It means you also have to get people out of their permanent brain, which is where fear sets, and so I know. Psychological safety is incredibly important to you. And that’s the big piece of it. People will always struggle no matter how naturally innovative they are, in an environment where there is judgment, where there is fear of failure, where there is fear that if I believe something that my supervisor doesn’t believe that I will be punished, it’s… I think to create innovation, we have to create an environment in which people are chemically using the right piece of their brain, and you think about leadership, and a lot of the stuff we’re taught was kind of born 50…

0:20:20.7 S2: 60 years ago, when we didn’t know about the brain and we didn’t understand chemicals and how it worked, so I think that there’s a lot of revolution to happen around understanding the chemicals in the brain, and I think that’s gonna lead to innovation, generated

0:20:35.2 S1: A lease… I was just gonna ask is when it comes to innovation, just my own personal experience, you know, I have found that congruence is a big deal when leaders say one thing, but staff call them whatever you will, they see something different, and it’s oftentimes… I’ve observed people frozen in fear, that primitive part of the brain that you mentioned, because it’s just easier to stand still because if I moved to the left or moved to the right, I’m gonna get it, and it’s just easier to stay still and still get it, but then nothing happens. I’m curious, your perspective as it relates to innovation for a team, the congruence of leadership when it comes to communication and our actions in being aligned, my personal experience, I have found that people leave jobs when it no longer makes sense. Yeah.

0:21:41.6 S2: That’s such a good question. When I talk to someone and the ones call and they wanna bring us in and help with their innovation and their leadership development, I always say, You know why, ’cause no one ever calls us when they’re in a good mood and their team’s fantastic. Right now, we never get those phone calls, and so I always ask what’s going on, and so I always get a long list and the exact list that you just kind of talked about, my team doesn’t make decisions, they just stand in fear, they don’t do this, they don’t do that. And my first question is always, what about your style has created an environment where they’re not comfortable to act, and that’s always… It’s like, Well, they back track, but we create that environment as leaders, and when you think of your actions, you’re imprinting unconsciously on everyone on your team, so if over the last six months you have been leading in a crisis mode, it was a tough year in 2020, you might be overly crisis-managing at this point, and so you’re heavily directive, you don’t ask questions, everything’s black and white, wrong or right, then you have created neuro pathways for your team to believe that that is always true and will always be true.

0:22:56.4 S2: And so as leaders, we have to create neuropathy in our team that says, We want innovation. And so you can do that by saying, I want you on Friday, product ABC is down 10%. I want you to bring me the most ridiculous ideas you can think of to turn this around while your team could be like, Oh, I have the answer, but they don’t really wanna hear it, so I’m gonna keep it to myself, which is never a good day, but it’s what happens most of the time. Or they could be saying, Hey, they really do want my ideas, and last time I gave them ridiculous ideas, we actually went with one and it helped. The other thing you can say, if you haven’t been doing this and you’re trying to change the environment, you’re trying to create innovation, you can say, Bring me your most ridiculous ideas, and in fact, I’m gonna reward you for the most ideas that we hear, or We’re gonna have an award, and it could be just bragging rights because you had the most insane idea, you wanted to take the product tomorrow, but that tells people I’m gonna get rewarded for risk and innovation, I will not be punished for it, and those are the new neural pathways you have to start to create with your team, if you want to create innovation.

0:24:08.1 S1: You mentioned something about learning that I think really fits well here. You could easily replace, we wanna be innovative. We wanna learn more. We wanna be a learning culture. One of the things that I talk about in the book, per innovation, and it’s about what Peer advisory groups can teach us about building high performing teams, is that we found that high-performing groups and high-performing teams in general, have what we refer to as a really robust learning, achieving cycle, so that the idea is they learn and the more they share their learning with one another… Right, we know we learn better when we learn together, there’s mountains of research or on social learning, but we also, in addition to being more comfortable with what we’ve learned, we give each other both the encouragement and the courage to act on that learning, and when we do and we start achieving some good results, even if there’s some little trial and error in there, it’s a cycle that we want to repeat and that great teams… If we were to think about it in sports terms, for example, when you look at teams that… In the NBA, right? Someone wants to win the NBA championship for the best teams, their goal isn’t to win the NBA championship, their goal is to get better every single day, and they know when they do that, they put themselves in a position whether they want it or not, they’re always there, they’re always among those top teams playing all the time, and those are the kind of winning organizations, and I think about what you said with regard to learning and innovation and all that is…

0:25:39.6 S1: So I guess it would seem less daunting to me if I’m a company who may not be or even see myself as particularly innovative, that seems like a big leap, but I think we can start learning more, I think we can start creating that. Do you think that would be an interim step on the pathway toward innovation, if we could just get people into your point earlier also be less judgmental, we’re all just here to learn, we’re all just trying to figure it out. We’re gonna make mistakes. That’s okay, so I’d love to get some of your thoughts on that too, ’cause you’ve seen a lot of this out there, and I think that’s what our listeners are looking for, is looking at what do you see happening out there around that and how we can just be more effective, you know?

0:26:26.3 S2: Yeah, every day is life as a practice, it’s a Uber master it. And you think of these great teams and it’s a practice to them, they go to practice, they never master, Tiger Woods never mastered his swing, we never master and so innovation, leadership, working with people, it’s a practice. And when we become an environment where every day we learn that learning is okay, we are providing evidence to our subconscious mind that learning is cool and that we can do it and survive, our brain has one job and that’s to make sure we don’t die, and so it doesn’t really understand the difference between a snake on your leg and my boss is gonna fire me, same chemical reaction, and so I think that if every single day you are making steps to let people fall and be excited about the learning and share that… If you are constantly getting curious and asking questions as a leader, and guess what, your team is gonna start asking questions, ’cause those are the pathways you’ve created in their mind, we ask questions and we learn from each other, and every single day, if you are making a step and somewhere in that broad direction, you are increasing your chances of innovation, which definitely in today’s world increases your opportunity for survival as an organization.

0:27:54.2 S1: Well, I think you should take the quote, you just said learning is cool, and just put that for every company should think about learning being cool, and that would be a good step in the right direction, right?

0:28:04.5 S2: Yeah, when I work with organizations and they’re like, I want you to come in and work with my managers and this… And I’m like, What? We gotta work together like, No, no, I’m cool, I’m good. I’m like, No, no. See, if you are learning and you talk about what you’re learning, and you and I or they see it’s in the office having a conversation, you’re setting the tone that all of us are here to learn, and then you’ll make a difference, but don’t waste your money. Just telling me to talk to someone at a lower level and hoping I’m gonna change your company ’cause I won’t… I can’t the only you can do that. And so I think that’s important for executives knows I have to participate and they have to make learning and growing coal if they want their team to do it.

0:28:45.1 S1: Right. And how do you see the distinction between science and art when it comes to leadership…

0:28:53.1 S2: What a question. Oh my gosh, I don’t know. Let’s see, distinguish between Art and Leadership. Is that what you said? Tease, I look at me as trying to take it a different way, so I think that… I don’t know what I think about that. That’s a good question. I think that as an artist that you… Whatever your art is, it can even be the art of leadership, the Arti friendship, the art of love, the art of painting, drawing, you only get better when you’re willing to take risks, and you’re only willing to get better when you push yourself, so science applies. You have to be in a mindset in which you feel creative and to do that, as you guys know, could you talk about all the time, you have to have psychological safety. And you hear about people who have writer’s block and then they work with someone and then they have a breakthrough because something was going on, and all of a sudden now they’re back to normal, so I think that they kinda go hand in hand. Good question.

0:29:57.3 S1: What’s your most remarkable coaching story, whether it was a turn around or where it was with a leader or a group, I’m curious. What really stands out in your mind?

0:30:09.5 S2: So there’s an organization I worked with for years, and they’re fantastic, and they’re very multi-culture, and so there’s a lot of cultures working in one building and a lot of different languages being spoken in one building, even though they’re here in the States, and so that causes some conflict, a natural conflict ’cause everyone’s culture is different, and so I was brought in to help bring everyone together. Now, I remind you, we’re on your… I’m just about to sign my fourth contract with them, so it doesn’t happen overnight, but what we did is we started with the executive team and we really helped them, and the CEO, he’s tough, he’s successful, self-made, and he is for a reason. And so we really worked with the executive team to learn how to manage collectively as a group and to not work in fear, because if the executives are working in fear of the CEO, then they’re protecting their department, they’re not protecting your company, and we spend a year individually and group coaching as an executive team, so that we learned it was okay to protect all of us versus fighting for our own well-being, and then after that, we actually started to move our way around down to our directors, and now we have leadership academies for all of their managers, their company has tripled in size since I started working with them, and so we continued to run programs and continue to teach people as they come in, This is how we work, and I don’t think it’s any surprise that their company has tripled and it’s because the CEO was willing to work on himself, I still coach him three and a half years later, if things get out of whack, I have permission to call him and say, Hey, here’s what’s going on, and he actually has me do 360 interviews with all of his executives three times a year and bring that feedback to him, and he’s willing to hear some tough stuff, and sometimes we’ve made progress and sometimes we switch back, two steps forward, one step back, but we’re making the progress.

0:32:20.0 S2: I think I’m most proud of that organization…

0:32:23.2 S1: Well, you should definitely be proud of a situation where if you’ve taken a cross-function of work team of senior leaders like that and got them to take off their king or queen of their department hat on and start wearing their enterprise hats and working together on behalf of the whole organization. That’s no small task. So congratulations for that. That is huge. So Encore listeners learn more about you and your work and all of that because we’ve so enjoyed talking to data, and I’m sure people may wanna learn more.

0:32:54.1 S2: So you can find us at 304Coaching.com, we have tons of resources, all kinds of fun stuff for you there, and you can also connect with me on LinkedIn, and you can find me on LinkedIn at Jen Thornton ACC.

0:33:08.5 S1: It’s been great having you and fellow Texan. So she’s here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on… We’ve got California numbered here. So we’re happy about that. And it’s Monday, January 4th. In case you were wondering what day her birthday is, we’re recording on January 4th, Monday, hopefully the podcast will be live today as well, it’s been great having you in. Our listeners can reach out to her, We’re gonna put links in our show notes, so if you didn’t catch that, you can catch it on our website at par Ovation CO and Happy New Year. And we’re glad that you’re here and we look forward to an exciting year together, and we feel really good about having kicked it off with Jen on her part. Day. Thanks, Jen. Well, things are having me… Yeah, happy birthday. And Happy New Year to you and everyone. Thanks, thank you. Perfect, thank you for joining us. To subscribe to the podcast and learn more about how you can engage herniation for your organization. Contact us on the website at her Ovation dot co until next week. Remember, the power of We begins with you.

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