Liz Kislik, founder of Liz Kislik Associates, recently joined The Staffing Show to talk about her experience with building her own management consulting firm. In this interview, she touches on the nuances of different communication methods in the workplace and the strengths and weaknesses of each method in particular situations. Liz also gives advice on strategies to help navigate the Great Resignation, as well as tips and tools for gathering specific and useful feedback from employees.
David Folwell: Hello everyone. Thank you for joining us for another episode of The Staffing Show. Today, I’m super excited to be joined by Liz Kislik. Liz Kislik has a pretty amazing background. I’m very excited to have you on the show today. For 30 years as a management consultant, executive coach, and facilitator, Liz Kislik has helped clients such as American Express, Orvis, The Girl Scouts, Guthy-Renker, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Highlights for Children solve their toughest problems while strengthening their top and bottom lines.
Her specialty is developing high-performing leaders and workforces for organizations from the Fortune 500 and national non-profits to family-run businesses. Liz has coached and mentored employees from the C-suite to the contact center, vice presidents, human resource professionals, and department supervisors, motivating them with her wisdom and humanity.
Liz is a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review and Forbes. And I had just most recently watched your TEDx talk. Very excited to have you on the call today. So, why don’t you go and kick things off and just tell us a little bit about yourself?
Liz Kislik: Great, David. Thank you. I’m so happy to be with you. In our meet-and-greet, one of the things I said impromptu was, “I like to have an interesting day.” And that’s actually true. And so, I have managed my career in a way to make sure that that’s possible.
After college, I started work at a small marketing agency and it was an incredibly instructive developmental experience. When I was 23 I was managing a 300-person call center, in over my head, dog paddling as fast as I could. And held a variety of roles there. When I left I was executive vice president and it made sense at the time. The firm was undercapitalized. The owner died. Stuff was in disarray. There were people in the industry who knew me. I left and in less than a week, other consultants were subcontracting work to me and I never stopped.
What I did do was shift the work that I did to make sure that it was fresh and current and interesting. And I could feel that I was having a real impact.
Folwell: That’s really amazing. And it’s also interesting that you started with the 300-person call center and have grown into what you’re doing now. Why don’t you tell me a little bit specifically about Liz Kislik Associates and what your organization offers?
Kislik: Okay. So, as you said in the intro, it’s a whole bunch of management consulting. Companies come to me when they have problems — a variety of different kinds of problems. Anything from significant interdepartmental conflict, which really is the subject of my TEDx, to succession planning, which is a very significant thing particularly because I work in quite a number of family businesses.
One of the things that I like about family business, it’s the real stuff. You are talking to the people who have the real power and who want things the way they want them and they can say so. And the directness of that and the ability to cut through bureaucratic red tape, I find that really valuable. I love my corporate clients but I get a charge out of the family business clients. And within those relationships and sometimes outside of them, I do a lot of leadership development in executive coaching because in addition to dealing with the structural problems in any business and the things that go wrong because they’ve gone wrong for 30 years.
In addition to all that people do sometimes need a little nudge to behave in ways that are actually effective. We develop very bad habits and if nobody helps us correct them, even if we want to do better, it’s often really challenging.
Folwell: Oh, that’s excellent. And I also think it probably resonates with a lot of our audience. Looking at your TEDx talk feed, “Why there’s so much conflict at work and what you can do to fix it” I was watching that earlier today and just recognizing that even with such a small team, as I have, we go through moments where we have conflict and trying to figure out how to communicate through that.
And one of the areas that I’d be interested in getting your insight on is, any best practices around it generally, anything maybe a summary of the TEDx talk. And then also I’m intrigued as to how this has changed since we’ve moved to a remote workforce and going fully remote, having Slack be the norm for communication. I feel like we’re missing the in-person pop-in in the morning with the coffee and like… which kind of smooths things over sometimes you build those relationships. So, any tips or advice on that front?
Kislik: Okay. So that’s a very big question I’m going to forget in the middle, but you can give me a prompt. So, let me start from the end and say, to your point, it’s hard not to see people. Now there are many, many wonderful things about working remotely. And for many people, it’s been a godsend. Whether it’s giving up the nasty commute or just the fact that it’s, in some cases, easier to manage your life from home than it is from work. And one of the things we learned during the pandemic is that everybody’s life keeps happening no matter what’s going on at the job. And we could pretend that wasn’t true in some organizations before the pandemic, right? It was as if your personal things were actually irrelevant, you had to take a half a day or a full day to go to the doctor.
Those kinds of things that now we know, people go to the doctor, and they have to take care of their dog, and their aging parents, and their crying children, and they show up in the Zooms. We know all this. It’s harder to pretend and that’s fantastic. What’s real is very important. It is really different across the spectrum. Different people have different connection needs. The ability to greet your colleagues in the morning, for some people, that is a burst of real energy that gets them off on their day. For other people, they are totally happy to never do that. They sneak in and out of the break room. We all know those people.
So, there is no one answer. That’s really the thing. And from a staffing perspective, the more you can do inside an organization to make it clear, not that you’ll solve every problem that every employee has or cater to every whim, but you want most people most of the time to have a work experience that actually serves their lives. That’s a useful stance. It is very complicated to structure and sustain, but it’s a really useful stance. It recognizes everybody’s humanity.
Folwell: I feel that ties into your most recent article about “How to Be a Compassionate Manager in a Heartless Organization.” And I think one of the things I’ve noticed just with our team is the different employees and different needs in terms of attention even and how that can be difficult when all of the communication is over Slack and you don’t have as much time to bump into each other in the office.
Have you seen any trends in terms of ways to handle that? Or any…sounds like being compassionate, generally. I don’t think there’s a silver bullet here by any means, but any recommendations that you would suggest?
Kislik: All right. Let’s talk about Slack specifically and Slack as the tip of a pyramid of Slack, regular texting, email, phone calls and Zoom — I put them together for a specific reason —, and in-person. So, as humans we survive by being connected to other humans. And for those of us who are introverts, too much connection wears us out, makes us cranky but no connection makes even introverts a little edgy.
So, the idea of, what’s the optimal amount of connection and how should we express it? That’s an important idea. The ability to see somebody and in a weird way know their temperature, “Are they running hot or cold?” You can’t get around the value of that if you actually want to know them and understand them. Once you really know them though, if you’ve been working with somebody for five years, even two years, you can sense some of that stuff in a Zoom call.
You know if they’re acting twitchy in some way. They’re having a day where they feel squirrely. You know what they get hot about. And in a phone call, if you think to use your phone calls this way, you know the second you pick up the phone you hear somebody’s voice. If it’s somebody who has power over you, you know right away. “Do you want to pitch them or not? Is it a good day or not a good day?” If it’s someone you have power over you may not be listening to them at all.
Tone of voice is actually really helpful in figuring out somebody’s state of mind or asking about it and showing that you care. So, in-person, Zoom, phone, I like them all the best. In-person when I can get it, but that’s me personally. And executives would do well to remember that what they love is not what everyone loves.
Folwell: Yeah. Absolutely.
Kislik: Everyone accommodates them because they must but it’s not what everybody loves. Okay. Now let’s get to the more difficult, more arcane modes of communication. Part of the problem with Slack and even with text, is we can be too fast, too short, too casual. And by that, I don’t mean what the specific language is or whether we have punctuation. But I mean, we go too fast and we don’t actually think enough first. It’s too reactive. And when we’re that way, even in-person, is when we’re more likely to do that.
You asked for tips? Okay. Here’s a tip: Slow down to think first, to think about, “How am I coming across? What’s going on with the other person?” In every interaction. This can be annoying but the value of thinking about the other person’s receptivity before you start the conversation is real value. And in Slack, you have the least opportunity to correct if you were wrong. In a phone call you hear the change of voice, you can adjust. In Zoom, you see somebody sit back in their chair, roll their eyes, whatever it is. And in-person, you can feel it.
But on Slack or in a text, if they feel icky when they read your message, you don’t know it. You don’t know why, you don’t know which portion did it and you lose valuable cues.
Folwell: I could not agree more. And I’ve also… I think I see in Slack where you can see sometimes a channel where two people will get into it, I think, starts spiraling out. And I’ll watch that go for 20 minutes and I’m like, “If they just called each other this would probably be done in two minutes.” And you can just see the miscommunication happening where their perspectives just don’t line up and they’re not quite in sync.
Over the years, I’ve had a fully remote team for seven years now, and one of the things that we’ve tried to do over the years is talk about how to use the different types of communication within the organization. Because what I saw when we first started was like, “Oh God, we have Slack. We can communicate all the time. It’s so much easier.” But then the problem was, everybody had the expectation that you should respond all the time. And we all were going nuts, myself included.
And so, we got to put some guidelines in of like, “Slack is also asynchronous. You can wait an hour. It doesn’t need to be instantaneous. If it’s instantaneous, call. If you need an answer now, call. If not Slack is a substitute to email, but it doesn’t need to be the, “I’m responding at 11:00 PM and 12:00 PM through the middle of the night.” So, that’s good advice though, on trying to read the person first and thinking about them before you communicate.
Kislik: You just laid out such a beautiful thing that goes back to your question about conflict. When you notice a pattern that doesn’t work, address the pattern. If the pattern is people spiraling out or people being disappointed and frustrated and resentful when they don’t get an answer right away, even though it’s unreasonable, you need to address it.
In too many organizations, because we think we don’t like conflict because we think conflict is like armed combat and to the death, we don’t want to engage at all. We’re afraid, we’re afraid it’s going to go bad. And therefore we let the bad habit persist. A simple rule like, “If you’ve had two exchanges on the same subject and you’re still asking exactly the same question, move your communication up a notch to phone or Zoom.” Because, exactly to your point, we misunderstand each other based on our perspective and how the other person communicates. So, our perspective is our perspective. It’s not that we just give it up right away. So, of course we come back to the exchange with the same perspective. And we misunderstand again. So, getting off the tool, which is a fantastic bridge, but also a distancer, you can’t read tone. I don’t care how many emojis you put in.
Sometimes we apologize with emojis and that’s good. It’s good to know there’s the apology even in that quirky way, but there is nothing like the better exchange. The other thing I just want to touch on that…. Oh, I want to go back to something else you said. So, you’ve been doing this for seven years remotely. I keep saying to people, “There have been global companies for decades. They have figured out how to work remotely. It can be done.” Right? So you’ve been doing it and when something comes up that doesn’t work you address it. That is the biggest rule. When it doesn’t work, address it. Don’t run away from it. It is only going to grow.
Folwell: Yeah. I feel like there’s so many organizations…organizations that I’ve worked with in the past where they don’t necessarily have a culture of talking about the things that don’t work. And I think that, from what I’ve seen, my own perspective is that, making space for that and we actually had on a weekly call, we’ll talk about what’s not working on a communication standpoint. We used to do that every week.
Now I feel like we are in a rhythm at this point but for quite a while it was, “All right. What’s working, what’s not? Should we adjust? Change…” Lots of minor adjustments to get to where we’re at now. So, one thing I’d be really interested to know about is just your background with consulting. If you have any favorite stories or almost like a case study, any experiences that you’ve had where you went in to fix a problem or a challenge, and if you could just share a little bit about what that was and the outcome on the other side.
Kislik: So, I’m going to turn that into more of how a lot of these assignments work.
Kislik: Because then people will have, not quite a methodology, but a sense of approach. So, it’s really funny how much of why people come to me is because they’ve been banging their head against a problem for a while. It’s not like it just came up and they thought, “Oh my goodness. We don’t know what this is. Let’s go find an expert.” It’s that they’ve been struggling. Sometimes struggling actively, sometimes struggling and then looking away for years even.
I have been…sometimes the length of time between when I meet someone and when they hire me, I think the longest so far has been six years. Which is….
Kislik: It’s funny to think that. But it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that we can’t figure this out ourselves. It makes more sense to bring someone in than to keep suffering. And we’re going to bring someone in even though she has told us, “This is going to be disruptive, we’re going to be uncomfortable. It’s not going to be smooth.”
So, when I go in, the biggest thing is I interview whoever the critical players are for the situation that is presented as the problem because taking one person or two people’s views is never enough. A real problem is more complex than that. It always is because it has the interpersonal aspects, it has the cultural norms, you’ve got the work procedures, and something that is really of issue for people dealing with staffing, you have compensation structures. Get those things tangled up, it’s very hard to pick your way through the minefield of pre-existing structures to say, “Oh, now it’s going to be better.”
So, I ask a lot of questions about how the work actually gets done. Not about the problem itself because the problem is the result of how the work gets done or how we work here. So, whenever it’s possible. Sometimes I just interview entire leadership teams. But whenever it’s possible, I like to get into at least a layer down. Because the leadership team often doesn’t know the exact details about how the work gets done. And so, it’s harder to diagnose. But when you really get a pretty full picture about the information flows, the procedures, the things that get in the way, then you can say, “Here are the things that are making everybody nuts.”
Folwell: That makes complete sense. And just to make it a little bit more solid even for myself and maybe for the audience, do you have any examples of the types of problems that you would see or go in and fix? Or do you just…interpersonal conflict within the team where people aren’t getting along. Or do you have any areas…I know you go across the spectrum for consulting but I’m just wondering if there’s any examples.
Kislik: So, I would say, and I’m going to give you a composite because I don’t like to expose any client.
Kislik: One of the most common things is when the needs and approaches of the people who do outward facing work, salespeople, sometimes servicing people, are in conflict with the needs and the approaches of the people who are more internal, which could be product developers, it could be designers, it could be service people who work internally and never are on the outside. These conflicts exist in every organization.
Folwell: Absolutely. The salesperson saying, “Oh, yeah. We’ll build that.” “Oh, yeah. We’ve got that already. It’s there.” And then coming back and saying, “Why isn’t it done yet?”
Kislik: Right. It is tribal in many ways. And the people say things like, “I love them as a person, but….” Right? So, then you know there’s all this undiscussed stuff. Because if you actually love them as a person in a strong and thoughtful way, you could talk about what the issues were between you that aren’t working.
But that’s why you got to look at how does the work, work? What are the big goals? Such a useful thing. If the big goal is to serve customers or clients and you can hold that as a large, overarching value, then you can always compare any detail against that mission.
Folwell: Yeah. That makes complete sense. So, going back to the overarching goal and then making sure they’re asking about the specifics on the actual process for the works you are digging into, getting a better understanding of what’s actually happening so you can come in and help resolve that. With that, it sounds like one of the steps that you could actually step in and help a lot of organizations with, are there any recommendations on how organizations can build that into their culture and make sure that they are looking at that in a more meaningful way on an ongoing basis?
Kislik: Yes. You know there are. It really starts with having respect for every person and giving every person their dignity. And that’s very conceptual. So, some of the ways you do that, and all kinds of leadership and management and psychology experts talk about this stuff all the time, but it is everything that goes into caring about all of your stakeholders and caring about them as exemplified by actually listening to them when they tell you what works and what doesn’t work.
And that’s as true for customers as it is for employees. You may not have the answer but the first thing is to understand, to really understand from their perspective what isn’t working. And then, because it’s always dangerous to ask a question you can’t afford to have the answer to, to commit to actually trying to work on the problem.
And often that means bringing in somebody else who isn’t mired in the problem. Sometimes that’s legal help, sometimes it’s psychological help, you need an EAP involved or something like that. But often it’s just looking at the work, which you can do internally. This is actually another reason that in-person is valuable from time to time. Whiteboarding works better in person. I still have not found an online application.
Folwell: It’s terrible. There’s no experience that matches in-person whiteboarding versus, yeah. There’s not…I haven’t found anything either. If you do find it let me know.
Kislik: Listen, if we could figure it out, we could make a zillion bucks because somebody ought to be figuring it out because you don’t want to do it every day. But once in a while there is nothing like drawing the stuff on the board.
Folwell: Yeah. I think there’s actually something to that when you’re in-person and just seeing. You say something and then it gets put up on the board. I think there’s actually an emotional response to even feeling heard in those moments which helps feel like you’re getting it all out there. So, you’re actually talking about the problem in a more holistic way.
Kislik: That’s exactly right. It does two things. One is when you have the visual, people can respond to it in a different way. Not everybody does great in conversation. The other thing though, is it starts to separate the bad feelings from the people. The problem is now on the whiteboard as opposed to the problem being the people. So, that would actually be a second tip which is to recognize that the problem is the problem. The people are living in or with the problem. The people are not inherently the problem.
Folwell: Absolutely. Now you’ve reminded me of my fiancé and nice conversations where I’m always like, “Let’s attack this problem together. Together as a team and separate it from us.”
Kislik: That’s exactly right. Supporting the relationship has more value than any one person.
Folwell: Absolutely. And with that, do you have any thoughts or things that you’ve seen work well for getting a consistent feedback loop to make sure that these things are bubbling up as I just…any regular meetings or how do you recommend leaders go about making sure they are identifying these problems so that they can address them?
Kislik: Depending on the style of the leader, meetings can be great, asking an asynchronous question and putting it out in any realm — I don’t recommend Slack for this, you know — but in any realm, putting out the question and saying, “Think about it and send me your answers.” And of course some people will answer off the top and that’s fine.
But one of the simplest and most basic tools is literally to use your calendar and to make a note that every 10 days, two weeks, whatever really works for you, you’re actually going to ask a question in some form or other. Because whatever you ask about, if you ask, and you really respond well with interest, with curiosity, with empathy, with compassion because you are willing to take action. And if there’s a habit of doing that, no matter what question you ask, someone will raise something that is a problem for them. Over time they’ll answer your question but they’ll also tell you something else because you’ve built the confidence, and this is a third thing: you’ve built a practice of creating safety around raising hard things.
Folwell: I love that. And I also like just the idea of having that be something that you mark and are intentional about, making sure you are asking questions on a regular basis because it’s very easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day and forget…and just be moving forward towards the goal without digging in deeper. With that in terms of the types of questions that you recommend asking, is it probing questions to try to figure out like, “Hey, how are things going?” Or is it more specific to a business process? Do you have any ideas, thoughts, around that?
Kislik: Both. For sure both. So you can always ask a question like, “Is anything in the way of your work, what is it?” And the reason I added the, “What is it?” is because, “Is anything in the way of your work?” is a closed question. It gets a yes or no answer, may not get a complete answer. You want something that gets people talking right away, particularly if they’re in front of you. So, “What’s in the way of your work?” is a better question. “What would help you do better with?” and that’s where you can be general, “Your job?” Specific, “Dealing with our XYZ client.” Very particular, “Dealing with the new software update that I know is making some of you a little stressed out.”
Folwell: Got it. That’s great. That’s super helpful to hear those examples as well with that. With that, and we’re talking about the ways to improve culture and make sure you’re getting that feedback in place, do you have any recommendations or thoughts around how you would measure the company culture? Or do you…is that something that you dig into as well?
Kislik: Okay. I actually have a mixed feeling about this. On the one hand, it is really useful to see a trend line, okay? And establishing a baseline and checking in on it at regular intervals. In principle, I think that is great. I have to say that in execution, I have come to many companies after they’ve started doing this kind of thing and they often don’t use it well. They get the results and they agonize over them instead of working on anything with the employees who gave them those results.
Folwell: Instead of talking to the people.
Kislik: Yes, right? Sitting in the conference room gnawing over it. That’s no good. Or not publishing the results, say you do it every quarter, not publishing the results until two weeks before the next one that does weird things with recency. So that’s problematic to me. If you’re going to use one, use it as grist for the note you put on your calendar to ask your real, live questions. Because those questions are structured to handle lots of companies and lots of kinds of situations. And the real value comes from handling your situation. So use them. Use them as a guide. That’s fantastic. And you want to be able to show your numbers are going up. Of course you do. But to do the work, get in a little deeper.
Folwell: Yeah. That makes complete sense. And I think I’ve done the employee NPS years ago. I’ve done the Q12 from Gallup for a while to try to measure engagement. One thing that did not go well, just as a personal story on this is we…years ago, I think the first two years of business, I was measuring, just one through 10 how happy are you with work right now?
And we did that publicly on a call every Thursday. And what the feedback after a while was, “Well now because other people are happy I feel like I have to say I’m happy, and I’m not.” And so, there’s this internal pressure that came from like, “All right. Well, I feel like I need to do this now. And I need to say I’m a 9 but I’m actually a 6.” And so, I found that wasn’t great.
Kislik: It’s too much. That makes me think of walking around that day in high school like, “What did you get on your SATs?” As if it’s tattooed on your forehead. If someone is a six in happiness, what does that mean?
Folwell: Yeah. What do you do with that?
Kislik: Okay. Do they hate the job? Or are they feeling miserable? The other thing about surveys — and we should not stop doing them — do not stop doing that. This is like, “Don’t stop your meds just because you hear about this other thing.” It aggregates too much data together in a way that makes it unusable.
If knowing that I had three months as an eight in happiness and then I have a month where I’m a seven and a half. What’s that about? Is my work more complicated? Am I thinking about my future in a different way? Unless you get into it, you could make up all kinds of weird stories about your people.
Folwell: Yeah. And then it goes back to the respect and compassion and on an individual level, I think that’s one of the key messages I’ve seen from your content. It’s like really understanding everybody’s different, everybody has different things that make them work, make them excited, and make them engaged.
Kislik: And that goes to another point that I think could be important from the staffing perspective. When those surveys are done, they’re done in human resources, or some senior person has the findings from that. How those are communicated to frontline managers, who then have to speak to the people actually doing the work and may not know how to, that’s a big gap in organizations. The fact…even if the data is incredibly useful, the way it cascades through the organization is often not helpful.
Folwell: Yeah. That makes complete sense. I could see that being a problem in many ways. And also just the delay as you mentioned earlier. That delay of like, “This is my frustration today.” When you get the survey. And then a month later they’re coming back to you and you’re like, “Well, that’s not even on my radar anymore.” So, I can see the issues with that there as well. And all of that said, still love having that trend line.
So, with that, I know another hot topic for our audience. A lot of the staffing agency owners are with the Great Resignation. They’re trying to figure out how to engage, retain, and attract the top talent. It’s a critical component for the success of the organizations right now and also something that it’s been challenging for, I think, every business at this time. Any thoughts on that front?
Kislik: The first one is to say, that if you are feeling stressed and crazy about this it’s legit. Because it’s just really hard right now. And the research about what’s going on with people is going in every direction at the same time. It is not clear what will actually work better. One of the things that works better to attract people is overpaying.
There’s no question that you can attract by explicitly overpaying. Sometimes that’s the most valuable thing you can do that creates terrible compression of the salary scale inside companies afterward. And you have to figure out how to deal with it but it is the most straightforward way in a tough time.
The other thing is exhausting and time-consuming. And it really is diligent person-by-person networking. Because again, the closer you can match an opportunity with a human and know what’s really good for that human because that human told you. And not just based on the words on their resume, then you are more likely to get a match that you can actually present to a client and have it stick.
Folwell: Yeah. That makes complete sense. And I feel like…is there anything when it comes to the engagement on an ongoing basis? Any areas on that where you would share any findings that you have?
Kislik: It’s really all the things we’ve been talking about, David. It is having people feel valued, that what they’re doing is worthwhile to themselves, to a customer, to their manager. We all need to feel that what we do is worth our time. So that’s really important. For this kind of thing, I like Dan Pink’s schema of, I think it’s mastery, autonomy, and purpose. He doesn’t give it in that sequence, but I like it because it gives you a map. Making sure that on the job, people have the tools, the resources, the support they need to understand the job well and do it competently. So, that whole piece of competence is crucial. When people feel stupid at work, they want to leave.
So, knowing the job, feeling that they can operate independently consistent with whatever their level is in the hierarchy, but that they can actually make decisions and that they’re not micromanaged, and that they can have their own thoughts and share them is important. And purpose in Pink’s schema, that it is meaningful to be able to do this work. I think those are all very valuable and worth checking in on over time to see if that’s still the case.
Folwell: Absolutely. And it’s interesting that you’ve…not surprising that your comments line up with all of the data that I’ve seen. But there was…we just did a survey asking people if they’re planning to look for a new job and 42% of people said, “yes,” that this year they’re planning to look for a new job.
Number-one reason was higher pay. And we were having conversations around that. Because it’s like that…people are looking to move for higher pay but then they leave the company because the culture’s bad. So, there was a stat by SHRM saying that the majority of people that leave an organization they’re leaving because the culture doesn’t align or fit with them, which is funny because they’re taking it for the pay, leaving because of the culture. So, there’s actually a discrepancy in how people are selecting jobs right now which might just continue to make it so that people are leaving jobs at a higher rate.
Kislik: We really won’t know until we can look back on it when the dust settles. Yes. And I would say you see that particularly when people leave what are actually good companies. Every company has weird stuff going on in it. Just like our lives all have weird stuff. So, people do leave because they think they could do better somewhere else but they often don’t realize just how weird it is in the other place.
Folwell: They think the grass is greener. It always feels that way. Yeah.
Kislik: Yeah. And I don’t know if it’s useful from the staffing side but anything you can do in the hiring company to make sure that candidates get to meet with people who will be their peers and are in those jobs today, that’s really valuable. Because sticking is better if they understand the job from the desk level.
Folwell: That makes sense. And also, that ties back to the…I think it’s one of the huge 12 questions of, “Do you have a best friend at work?” I think is one of them. And it’s like, if you like the people you work with, it’s way easier to work through the hard times. So, it’s easier to go through the crunchy times.
Shifting gears a little bit. But one of the other articles that you had a headline that, it caught my attention, I did not get a chance to dig into it. And I’m wondering if we could just get a summary of it maybe. But the, “Managing an Underperformer Who Thinks They’re Doing Great,” that title, I was going through your content. And I was like, “That’s what I would love to hear more about.”
Kislik: Okay. I won’t summarize it but I’ll speak to it. We are remarkably un-self-aware, most of us. In general. We don’t know what our turning radius is. And there are people, we have all known them, who seem to walk around in this golden haze as if everything is fantastic not realizing every desk they pass is somebody who’s really annoyed at them. Everybody can picture those people they’ve worked with.
So, here are some of the things to look for and they go back to things we’ve talked about already. “Do they actually do their job competently?” is one of the first things to check. And it is very hard to correct incompetence in someone who has been in the job for a while. That’s actually tough to do because they think they know. “If it was wrong, I wouldn’t have been able to do it this way for the last three years.”
Folwell: Yeah. That makes sense.
Kislik: “So I must be right.” But that is one of the biggest things. And figuring that out is just so important. Second thing is, that they don’t know how they’re coming across. And so, they have habits that don’t work for them. And you see this probably most often when a new executive comes in and tries to run a playbook that they did in another company. Not thinking, “How do I apply this here?” But just, “How do I do what I did?” Flat-out. The fit goes wrong so many times. And helping them see that this is a different environment and that people want to hear from them, their fresh insights. You can often re-gear them.
In general, though, candor is crucial. I don’t mean harshness. I mean being direct and specific about the concrete examples where they are going awry. This is a problem to treat in an almost completely behavioral way. “When you do this thing, here is the outcome that you probably don’t realize. And so, I’m telling you because I would like you to do that thing so that we get the result that would be better….” And being really specific about that in behavioral ways so that they actually have the chance to make it better. Because just saying to them, “Be more warm. Be more explanatory.” If I knew how to do those things, I’d be doing them already.
Folwell: Yeah. Absolutely.
Kislik: Break it down.
Folwell: I think that is one of the most common miscommunications I’ve seen. Is just the thinking that you’re on the same page and speaking in generalizations where you’re like, “All right. Here’s where we need to go.” Or, “I need you to own that process.”
Kislik: Oh, goodness.
Folwell: That means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. So, you got to actually, what does it mean to own the process? Like what are the steps that need to go into that? Some people line up and see it the same way but that’s not always the case.
Kislik: Right. That’s exactly right. And the same executive who says, “Own the process,” may actually mean different things by it depending on the person they’re talking to.
Folwell: Absolutely. I think that goes down to the clarity of communication, that’s great advice. So, with that, I’m going to jump to some of the more fun questions that I have a little bit. Personal questions for you to end out the podcast as we’re winding down. So, what advice do you wish you were given before entering your role in your industry?
Kislik: Looking back far, I think one of the pieces of advice I would’ve loved is, “You can always go back.” There is very little where perfection is necessary, where you can’t fix it. I’m not talking about surgery necessarily but in thought-based work. If you make a mistake, you can repair it.
Folwell: I love that. The last five years what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Kislik: I have tried to adopt a variety of practices that are related to mindfulness and meditation. And I think they have been very helpful in all the ways they’re supposed to work and in helping me slow my own reactions so that I can see what else is going on.
Folwell: That’s a great answer. What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? Could be an investment of money, time, energy, et cetera. I’m sure the mindfulness probably pops to mind here as well. That sounds like a good investment of energy.
Kislik: That’s true. But I’m going to give you actually two others. In one economic downturn, when I really had very little business, I took up watercolors, painting.
Folwell: I see one in the back. Is that one of yours?
Kislik: No, that’s not mine. But I love color. I love art of various kinds. And it was just great to do something completely different and to think about it in a different way. It was very enriching. But the other thing is particularly in down times but almost all the time, I invest in my own learning. So, I hire a coach. I’ve had many coaches. And I want to know, “How can I do better?” And I think it’s worth spending money on learning, whether it’s courses or coaching or whatever, to actually make sure you stay fresh and think new thoughts.
Folwell: And I will second that. I think multiple people on this podcast have said that hiring a coach has been impactful for them and one of them, I guess probably seven or eight months ago, said that to me and I actually went out and did it. And it has been a meaningful thing to have somebody coaching from an outside perspective. It helps you see around corners that you might not be able to see. So, I second that one for sure. What is the book or books you’ve given most as a gift and why?
Kislik: The Art of Possibility by Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander. And Ben Zander also has a fantastic TED talk. Brilliant. It just gives you new ways of looking at the world and the idea that there are great difficulties and still having a sense that there is a way to approach them. Really enlightening book.
Folwell: I will pick that one up myself. Sounds great. How has a failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
Kislik: Okay. This one goes very far back. During my freshman year in college, I auditioned for the upper-class glee club. And I’ve been in chorus and choir and whatever as a kid and I didn’t make it. And I was devastated. I really was. And I started instead doing my own shows. And that was kind of a….
Folwell: That’s amazing.
Kislik: A seminal experience in realizing, “Oh. You don’t have to do what would be the normal next step for other people. You can actually figure out what works for you.”
Folwell: That’s incredible. And so, you actually went out and created your own platform and just doing your own shows?
Kislik: Yeah. I did cabaret stuff. I had a band.
Folwell: That’s awesome.
Kislik: I did a show a semester in college after that. And without the failure, I don’t know that I would’ve done it.
Folwell: That’s really cool. And the last question I have for you is, what is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
Kislik: Unusual habit or an absurd thing that I love. I tell you that right now, you can’t see it. I’m holding a little smooth stone. And while we’re talking, I’m turning it over and feeling it and I bring all kinds of fidgets and toys with me when I do stuff. For many of us, being able to do something physical helps our minds. So, whether you do a walking meeting or have some activity, you can’t just sit and you can’t just think. It helps to be on the move in some way.
Folwell: I’m sitting here spinning the top of my pen. Doing the same thing. That’s great. So, with that, any closing comments for the audience, any last thoughts you’d like to share?
Kislik: I think today’s world is very confronting in a huge variety of ways. It’s useful to know that we are not helpless or hopeless. There is almost always something we can do even if it is watching carefully before taking action.
Folwell: I absolutely love that. That makes complete sense. And with that, I also wanted to add that you do have a free eBook that is downloadable on your website. We will include it in the show notes. But if you want to get a little preview of what’s in the eBook.
Kislik: Oh. Thank you David. It’s about the interpersonal aspects of conflict at work. And how you can work on them. And if you get that you can also get my monthly newsletter, my weekly blogs. There’s a lot of material.
Folwell: Awesome. Well we’ll drop that in the show notes and it was so nice having you on today. Really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you so much.
Kislik: I had a great time, too.