I want to help you get your shift together! This podcast is where business strategy and culture finally meet, exploring shifts of all sorts that are required for your own, your team’s, and your organization’s success. On today’s episode, I am going to give you a brief overview of my background and what compelled me to start The LeaderShift Project. I will also describe my mission and how I plan on helping you achieve success. Stay tuned for more!
Episode 1: Welcome to the LeaderShift Show
Shani: Hello LeaderShifters, welcome to episode numero uno of The Leadershift Show. I’m your host Shani, thank you so much for joining me today. This show is going to be about any and every way that leaders can make shifts, whether it’s shifts in strategy, shifts in culture, shifts in mindset, shift in behavior, shift in attitude, shift in performance, you name it, I want to help you get your shifts together.
I am feeling so grateful today and thought it was a perfect day to just do episode 1. I’ve just finished a week-long leadership retreat. I’m in a town outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, working with a client. This is my fourth week of leadership training with them over the past couple of years; they bring different cohorts of leaders in. I’ve got to tell you, this group I worked with this week was special, so amazing. They learned so much. I can’t even describe how rewarding it was to work with this group, their gratitude, everything they learned, the observations, the Aha moments, their excitement to bring the tools they learned this week back to their teams to up their game.
I might babble today, but I’m just super excited to get going with The Leadershift Project. As some of you know, this is a bit of a brand shift for me from The Better Boss Project, and I’ll explain how and why this is coming to pass. First, I think I want to take you back a little bit to what brought me into this space in the first place – why have I landed in the space of leadership development, personal development, executive coaching, and trying to encourage leaders and businesses to merge their business strategy in their culture.
That is my ultimate call to action – that business strategy and culture have to fucking meet because not enough companies take it seriously. Enough of the bullshit posters on the wall; it’s time to turn rhetoric into real results. How did I get here? My business before I rebranded as The Leadershift Project was The Better Boss Project. That started many years ago when I was at Goldman Sachs, or at least the seeds were planted many years ago when I was working at Goldman Sachs as an analyst, then an associate and then a vice president.
The culture at Goldman Sachs was overall excellent, really setting the bar high, not just for Wall Street, but other companies. They invested in leadership development and personal professional development, but that’s not why I say Goldman was a great place to work for me culturally speaking. It was really about some of the great bosses that I had in my time there that influenced me from then until this day forward and will forever. My first job there was as an analyst in the Energy Investment Banking Group.
We had a boss there, a partner who ran the group who was exceptional at creating a great culture where we all willingly worked our asses off seven days a week, pulling all-nighters, nights, weekends, you name it because we were engaged, we were inspired, we felt appreciated, we were learning, and it felt even though we were giving giving giving, we felt we got so much back. He just created that culture. I’ll say for starters, that was the benchmark for me of what great culture looks like, was what this man created in the Energy Group.
Then, fast forward to my next job at Goldman after I was promoted to associate and I moved up to the High-Yield trading floor and I was working in the High-Yield bond business, the “junk bond” industry created in the late ’80s early ’90s by none other than Michael Milken.
This was a coveted seat at Goldman Sachs and on the Fixed-Income trading floor, and we were doing really fun exciting things back then. Again, that might have been enough to say awesome culture, amazing team, we accomplished great things, but my experience was far more personal than that. When I first moved to New York, I didn’t know a whole lot of people, but I quickly gained a lot of friends, including my roommate Wendy. We would go out many nights.
The first year that I lived in New York, this is just before I joined Goldman, we were out one night on the Upper West Side and she ran into a guy that she went to high school with at Bronx Science in New York City. He was with a friend from medical school (because Adam was in medical school at that time), and Wendy was busy catching up with Adam. There was no Facebook or anything back then, so you couldn’t keep in touch with people from high school unless you really were intentional about it. Wendy and Adam hadn’t seen each other in many years since high school, so I got to talking to Adam’s friend, Alan.
We hit it off. Long story short, Alan and I started dating. He was in Mount Sinai Medical School as well. We developed an amazing relationship; we quickly became girlfriend and boyfriend and we ended up moving in together and got engaged. Frankly, the only reason we didn’t get married at that point was we were so young we thought we had plenty of time. By the time we moved in together, he was a resident in the surgery program at Mount Sinai working a hours a week, and I was a banker at Goldman Sachs, also working a million hours a week, so living together was really the only way we could spend time together.
Anyway, my first year in the High-Yield group, Alan was unexpectedly out of nowhere diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. He was 27, I was 26, and as you can imagine this completely devastated both of us. Unfortunately, when you’re that young and you get colon cancer, it spreads very rapidly. It was only 7 months from the day he was diagnosed until the day he passed away, and during that seven months when we were living together, I cared for him pretty much around the clock, especially when he was out of the hospital and he was home in our apartment with all the equipment.
I was giving him all his medication, his chemotherapy for the brief amount of time that he was actually on it. Long story, but he was only able to be on chemo for a couple of months before his kidneys started failing and they had to take him off the chemo. The chemo was never going to cure the cancer anyway; it was really just a way to slow it down to extend his life by maybe a couple of months. My bosses at Goldman Sachs were so amazing during this time.
They were so understanding, so empathic, so supportive. There was not a minute where I felt the least bit self-conscious about taking care of Alan and doing what I needed to do in that part of my life. My boss and my boss’s boss, both said to me, “Listen, this is more important, do what you need to do, take all the time you need. Come into the office if you want to, don’t come in if you don’t want to. You don’t want to have any regrets during this awful time.”
Sure enough, that’s what I did, I came into the office sometimes and most of the time I was either with him at the hospital, running through the various and sundry tests, or I was with him at home. After he passed away and I had finished the mourning period, I came back to work and still had a bit of a tough adjustment getting back to work, but nevertheless, they were still incredibly supportive and understanding.
Didn’t dock my salary, didn’t decrease my bonus, they took the long view. They considered me to be a very valuable employee and they knew that what was most important for me in that period of my life was to take care of Alan and be with Alan during that time. That eventually, I’d be back with my head screwed on right, working my ass off on the desk. And I eventually did, but the loyalty that they garnered from me from the way they treated me, like a human being, like they would have wanted to be treated in a similar situation, was a recipe for lifelong loyalty for me.
When I finally came back and had my head back in the game, there was nothing I wouldn’t do for these people. I’m still in touch with both of them. Fantastic human beings and role models. That is really what I’m talking about when I say creating a culture of engagement, treating people like human beings, like you would want to be treated because that’s what gets people loyal, and engaged, and happy, and committed, and going the extra mile for you, and your team, and your organization. When we start to treat people like commodities or like machines, they check out, they don’t go the extra mile, they don’t stick around.
The consequences of that, end up building up and having a really bad impact on your business. Essentially, that’s why I do what I do, was many years ago, early in my career, I had really supportive bosses who created great cultures on our individual teams and in an organization that, generally speaking, had a pretty amazing high reputation culture. Now, what I do is support individuals from the early manager stage, all the way to the C-suite stage, in teams and organizations, trying to help them improve their performance.
It starts with the individual human being, it starts with knowing yourself, being able to relate well to others. I do everything from strategic planning, cultural planning, coaching, communication protocols, team-building retreats, anything that increases the connectivity between people because that’s really what’s at the heart of business success, is people. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are or what industry you work in, we’re all just human beings.
I feel like, in today’s day and age, a lot of the humanity has been stripped out of the workplace. People aren’t having real conversations anymore. We’re too involved on these devices and our computers. We get carried away, and we use that as a substitute to communicate. Well, there is no substitute for real, authentic face-to-face communication between one human being and another. That’s why I got into this business, that’s why I created The Better Boss Project and wrote a lot of my ideas down in The Better Boss Blueprint, and why I’m now morphing my brand into The LeaderShift Project because I want to elevate leaders and elevate the thinking among leaders about culture because that is where the rubber meets the road. Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and I couldn’t agree with him more.
My mission now is to get executives at the highest levels understanding that culture needs to be up here with their business strategy. Business strategy and culture have to be on the same level. We have to cut the bullshit and raise the bar or else performance is not going to be sustainable or repeatable in our businesses. What I want to tell you now– Let me look at my trusty outline because I feel like I just went on and on about my personal story, but really that’s why I got into it and that’s really why I bring so much heart to what I do. I guess the next thing I really want to do is share a professional story about how the work I do can impact a business.
I’m going to share the story of a startup technology-oriented company that I’ve been working with now for several years. They have been growing like gang busters. They’ve been raising additional rounds of capital, they’ve been hiring people left, right, and center. The management team, the president, and the CEO were like, “Hold on. We need to get a handle on our culture as we grow, because it’s a lot easier to maintain a culture when we’re small, but as we expand, it gets more and more challenging to maintain a great culture.” They called me in to help them out with that.
The very first thing that we did is what I would normally do when I’m engaged for this type of work, which is to get a gauge on current situation. What’s the status as it stands now? I used my favorite tool, which is the Leadership Culture Survey. It’s a tool that I’m certified to administer to gauge the culture of an organization. It’s from the same people who do the Leadership Circle Profile, which is the best leadership assessment tool, bar none, in the business. We could talk about that on a future podcast.
The Leadership Culture Survey measures the gap between what the actual culture is as perceived by employees, not as perceived from high up on the thrones of the management versus the aspirational culture that people would like to see. It gives you measurements across a whole bunch of different aspects that are important to driving effective leadership, shows you what those gaps are. That’s the first thing we did, was do this culture survey. I’ve got to tell you, they were a bit apoplectic with the results because they thought the culture was pretty well-received.
Not that they expected it to be perfect, but they didn’t expect to see the gaps that they saw between what the actual perception of the culture is and what the perception they thought their culture had. They had really mixed emotions there. They were confused, maybe a little pissed, and they were like, “Well, we thought we’ve been doing everything right. We’ve been building this culture. What the hell is going on here? Is it the fact that millennials have expectations that no one could possibly meet and they’re unrealistic, or are we just not delivering?” I said, “Quite frankly, it’s probably a combination of both, and I’m going to help you figure that out.”
We dug into the data from the culture survey. I asked them a whole bunch of questions about how they communicate in the organization from top-down, from peer-to-peer, from bottom-up. I asked them questions about the internal messaging that they have in the whole cycle from recruiting, all the way to exit interviews. Net-net what we found was a couple of key causes for the gap that we identified. One was they were overpromising and underdelivering in the recruiting, interviewing, and onboarding stage.
They were painting a picture for prospective and new employees that wasn’t really that realistic. It was like a pie in the sky. Yes, good culture, they had a lot of amazing things built and baked into their culture, but it’s like they were promising things that, A, weren’t necessarily realistic to deliver on, and, B, that their middle managers, frankly, were not trained to deliver on those promises. The other thing that was going on was we figured out that there wasn’t quite enough openness and transparency in the communication from the top down. Here are the shifts that this client decided to make after we spent a lot of time diagnosing cause, effect, and evaluating what the options were.
First of all, they decided to adjust the messaging in their recruiting, and hiring, and onboarding, and training process. Not to underpromise and overdeliver, but just to get the messaging closer to reflect reality so that people weren’t expecting something up here and getting something here, because a lot of times, it’s about expectation management.
They shifted what they were saying to people in the interview and recruiting process, they shifted some of the messaging in onboarding and in training.
Alongside of that, they started training some of their managers a little bit better. They brought me in, and I did a manager coach program for them to teach their managers how to coach their people better, how to communicate and be more on the same page. Then, thirdly, they decided that at the senior level, they needed to be more open, transparent, and frequent in the communication that they were having with the whole company and not just expect stuff to trickle down through the company. All of those things were implemented, and the results so far are excellent. I would say turnover’s down at this company, people really appreciate the transparency.
In fact, at the very next offsite that the company had, they shared the results of the culture survey, and they said, “Hey, this is what you guys told us. We get it. These are all the things we’ve been talking about. We want to make some changes. We get it.” In addition to explaining the results of the culture survey and some of their interpretations and measures that they wanted to take, they also solicited interest from anyone in the company who was interested in being part of a employee-driven culture committee that could make culture-specific recommendations to the senior leadership team for them to evaluate.
Not a guarantee that all the recommendations will be implemented, but at least the employees really feeling like they had a representative voice among them to communicate up directly to the senior leadership team. Hugely successful story. I applaud the client for being open-minded enough to hear the feedback that wasn’t always easy to hear, some of it was rather difficult to hear, and being willing to make the shifts necessary to guarantee their success going forward. They made shifts in behavior. They made shifts in communication. They made shifts in their own behavior. They made shifts in their own mindsets. They made shifts in expectations. The list goes on and on. Again, hence The LeaderShift Project because we’re constantly shifting, not just from A to B, but in response to all the changes happening in our environment.
This is another example, again, of why I continue to say your business strategy and your culture have to meet up. If they don’t, we’re not going to get the results that we want. Those are the consequences. If our culture isn’t correctly teed up, we will not have employees who are engaged, who are loyal, and who are performing at the level that they need to be, to be driving the business results that you want and you need to keep your business successful. I think we know why this is important.
Some of you may be thinking, “This is bullshit. This is soft skill. I’m the boss, people just need to do what I’m saying.” Some of you may be thinking that. Well, I’m here to tell you, you think that at your own risk because creating a culture where people thrive, creates hard dollar returns for you. You can call coaching, communication, and culture a soft skill, but you’re missing out on hard bottom-line dollars. That’s all I’ll say. What are some tips? How can you get started?
Tip number one, and I’ve alluded to this already, elevate culture to the C-suite. Culture does not belong relegated to some subcommittee in the HR function. Sure, you need HR support. You need everybody’s support. Every functional area needs to be accountable for creating the culture, but culture has to be created at the top. Culture is what leaders tolerate of themselves and other people. Everyone’s looking at the leaders. If the leaders aren’t walking the walk and talking the talk, the culture will fall apart.
It doesn’t matter what the fucking posters on the wall say or what the values on the website say. If leaders aren’t behaving in a way that is supportive of those values and of those cultural norms that they claim they’re creating, nobody else in the organization is going to take it upon themselves to follow those things as well. That’s number one, elevate the culture role and responsibility up to the level of the C-suite.
Number two, define the culture very clearly. It’s not just about taking ownership of it. It’s then what do you do with that ownership of it. Leaders have to merge the culture strategy into the times when they’re creating the business strategy.
They have to be very clear about what the culture is that they’ve created. An amazing example of this is Ray Dalio, from investment management firm Bridgewater Associates. He does one of the best jobs I’ve ever seen of inculcating his expectations of culture across the organization. He creates a culture that they refer to – I want to read this so I don’t get it wrong – radical truth and transparency, radical truth and transparency. You can ask anyone that’s ever worked at Bridgewater what that means on a day-to-day basis.
They are respectfully but candidly honest with each other all the time. They debrief and do postmortems all the time. Feedback is relentless at that place. It’s not because people are trying to be assholes. It’s because they have a spirit of ongoing and continuous improvement, and they know that results will not improve unless they’re constantly communicating with each other and giving each other that radical true and transparent feedback. This is possible in organizations. It can be possible in yours as well.
The third piece of advice I’ll give you is to codify the specific behaviors that go along with supporting the culture that you have defined and are supporting at the C-suite level. We have to sometimes be very specific. If we’re still vague, people will color outside the lines if you will. There won’t be enough clarity. People’s vision of what something means will vary from person to person. In many cases, especially as it relates to things like diversity and inclusion and equality and that sort of thing, sometimes have to be almost anally defined in terms of behaviors and what that means because behaviors will either improve the culture or detract from the culture.
We need to be really specific about that. What gets rewarded and what gets penalized. That’s what needs to be defined. We see phenomenal cultures being sustained even at big companies like Google, for example. Are they perfect? No. As they’ve grown, have they still been able to maintain the most amazing culture that probably exists in a corporate environment among them? Yes. That’s because they stick to their guns. Their leaders walk the talk and hold people accountable to maintaining the culture.
They take it very seriously. They spend their own resources researching it. We’ll talk about that in another podcast, some of the best practices that we see at Google because they are really worth sharing. Once again, culture, business strategy, get them on the same level. Take that rhetoric, all the talk, talk, talk, and the posters and the mousepads and take that rhetoric and turn it into results by being more intentional about how you create your culture because everyone has a right to be happy professionally and to create the kind of culture that they want.
Even if it’s not happening at the senior-most level of your organization, you can do something about it wherever you are. You can affect the sphere of influence that you can impact. You can start to do any of these things that I’ve mentioned within the confines of your sphere of influence, your group. Be like my bosses at Goldman Sachs. Treat people like human beings. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Give them the space to be human so that they can come back and perform for you at the top of their game. Be like my client. Be willing to make changes. Be willing to look underneath the kimono and see what’s really happening.
Do culture surveys and other sorts of work to understand what’s really happening in your organizations. Please don’t delude yourself and think that things are perfect when they’re not. I’m here to help. This is what I do. This is what I’m passionate about, this is why I chose this random day to do episode number one of podcasts while I’m on the road. I’m outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, as I said at the beginning of this podcast, not exactly where I planned to do episode one, but I don’t care. I am in the mood to share my passion because I have just worked with a company that takes culture so seriously that they fly people in from all over the world to Little Rock, Arkansas, which isn’t exactly a hub.
It’s not easy for people to get here. They spend a ton of money all week feeding the people, training the people, doing team-building activities. It’s just been the most amazing week and my heart is open wide just seeing how well received it was and how people are going to go back to their home countries and to their teams transformed forever. It’s why I do what I do. Thanks for joining me today on episode number one of The LeaderShift Show for my newly rebranded business, The LeaderShift Project. I, of course, still want people to be better bosses and I want better bosses to get elevated into leaders who are willing to shift.
If there are topics that you’d like to see addressed on The LeaderShift Show, reach out to me, either through email or by any social media. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, my mission is to help people get their shift together. I will be back again continuously hitting you hard with LeaderShift lessons because we collectively need to turn the leader shit that is out there into leader shift and great leadership. Again, thanks for joining me. I’m Shani and it has been my absolute pleasure to chat with you today. Thanks so much for joining me.