🚀 Breathe.



”If you don't create a team culture, or an organizational culture, where you welcome dissent, you're going to start to cut it off. Which means you're going to be single threading ideas and not getting to the best idea. You'll be getting to the senior person's idea, which we've all been around long enough to know, the odds that the senior person's idea is the best one is very low.”

In this episode

In episode #45, Russ Laraway shares how you can build a coaching culture and lead by example. 

Russ Laraway is a well-versed leadership expert who has over 20 years of leadership experience in positions at Google, Twitter and Candor Inc. Today, Russ is the Employee Experience Evangelist at Qualtrics.

In this episode, Russ shares how companies can improve their diversity by ensuring that every voice is heard (including your own)… and how to create a team culture where you welcome dissent.

We also talk about why leading by example never goes out of style and why you should know your direct reports dream job. 

Tune in to hear Russ’s knowledge of the power of feedback as coaching and how to measure leadership.

Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.


A natural dissenter


Ensure every voice is heard


The 3 attributes of active questioning


Culture of dialect, not debate


Marines vs Managers


Junior manager mistakes


A great way to know is to ask


4 things to help your team members reach their goal


Engaged employees who do better work


Think of feedback like coaching instead



Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  00:03

 Russ, welcome to the show.

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  01:55

Thanks, man. How are you doing today?

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  02:09

Very good. Very good. Excited to have you on, in particular with your background. I know that you’ve been at a bunch of different places, but you have such a diverse background. You were responsible for 175 combat Marines. You were leading the national media sales at Google SMB business at Twitter. And you were a co-founder of Candor Inc, alongside Kim Scott. And today you are leading employee experience at Qualtrics. So that’s a lot of, you know, very recognizable brand name places. I love the military angle. There’s so much that we’re going to talk about, but one of the things and this might be an unfair and tough question because being at so many great companies, but I’ve just wondered in your career, has there been a memorable manager or boss that you really enjoyed reporting to?

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  03:32

Yeah, I’ve had a few. It’s maybe a little bit of a layup for this podcast. But Kim. So I was not only her co-founder at Candor, I actually reported to her at Google. And she was my manager. I’ve been reflecting on this a lot lately. I am a very natural dissenter, I can’t accept conventional wisdom. I can’t accept something just because a senior person says to do it. And I don’t think good organizations permit that anyway. And I’ve had a lot of variability in my managers over the years around the degree to which they let’s say, appreciate that dissent. Because here’s my real problem is I also don’t have a ton of control over it. It’s just common. And Kim out of a 25 year career where I’ve always had a boss, Kim stands alone as the only manager I’ve ever had to proactively farm for dissent. This is an idea that Netflix espouses that McKinsey, espouses. Plenty of managers have accepted it. I’ve been open to it. I’ve had exactly one manager who constantly farmed for it. And I think back to the team she put together with us at Google. You know, one of the guys now is the chief Revenue Officer for Doordash. His name is Tom Picket. Another guy runs all partnerships globally for Google. Still, he was still there named Scott Schaeffer, and on and on and what we all had in common was we were all very natural dissenters. And somehow under her leadership, this group dissenters always got two great solutions, and never anchored on any one solution until we really talked it through

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  05:07

That’s super interesting. So that was one of the questions I was going to ask you, which is, was it just you? Or was everybody on the team? And do you think that came actually practically went out and tried to find people like that? 

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  05:19

Yeah, great question. So Tom was an F 18, fighter pilot, right. And his background, Scott was a McKinsey consultant. And by the way, he literally had a PhD, and I think astrophysics and actual rocket scientists, the math of business was pretty easy for that guy, she went out and got people who had a perspective or who could develop one quickly. And then again, what the magic was, is she was able to take this group of people who could bring a well informed and time strong perspective, and we would all be ontologically humble enough to back off of it. So she not only farmed it, yeah, she actually assembled a team specifically, of natural dissenters.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  06:00

That’s super interesting. And do you think that that was done because of the nature of the work that you were doing, like it made sense to have dissenters? Or could that apply to, you know, mostly any, any type of project or challenge everywhere,

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  06:17

I think it’s one of the most important things you could do as any kind of manager or leader. You know, I modeled the exact same thing for my directs. So one of the things I say all the time is that there is a power differential that exists between every manager and their directs. And the best managers don’t enhance that at all. It’s always going to be there, the best managers, I think, assaulted. That’s what Kim did. And that’s kind of the same thing that I do. So we have this individual leadership principle at Qualtrics. Ensure every voice is heard, including your own right, so for everyone in the company, that’s the expectation. And that is rooted in a, you know, wisdom of the crowd belief. The basic idea, of course of diverse perspectives, diversity and representation, the workplace, all of these ideas come to one simple concept, which is that a diversity of opinions or diversity of ideas leads us to the best answer. The manager inherently has so much power in that room, even if they don’t think you can, if you think you’re like such a chill, bro, or chill, you know, manager, the reality is, it’s there. And I say all the time that the senior person is the most dangerous person in the room, because the senior person without a lot of extra effort is very likely to create circumstances around which other people try to align to that person’s perspective. And so if you don’t create a team culture, or broadly at scale, and organizational culture, where you welcome dissent, you’re going to start to cut it off, which means you’re going to be single threading ideas and not getting to the best idea you’ll be getting to the senior person’s idea which we’ve all been around long enough to know the odds that the senior person’s ideas, the best one is very low. The odds that the team together thinks about the problem every day, the people out doing the real work, the people talking to customers every day, the people writing the code, the odds that the best answer lies in the minds of that group of people is far more likely. So I think I think bad managers don’t do this. I think good managers do it. As a matter. Of course, Kim was just the most extreme. I mean, and she was so skillful at it. And I mean, she basically writes about this in the book that there’s in her book, Radical Candor, there’s a four part sort of listening process she put together, I won’t rehash it, but she came up with that. I mean, it’s a person who actively farms for dissent really wants to understand what people really think. She’s got a method to madness, so she’s good at it. I think everyone should abide by that simple idea.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  08:48

So I’m curious, how do you do that in your teams? Is it? Is it something that you just work into your staff meetings into your one on ones like very tactically speaking, what to put where does it happen? And how do you do it?

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics) 09:02

Yeah, it’s almost like a network effect that needs to jumpstart, you got it, you got to kind of jumpstart it a little I feel like so when you’re new and you show up, there’s nothing you can do on day one that’s gonna make everybody comfortable about telling you how dumb your ideas, but nonetheless, that’s where I want to get in. So how do we get there? It’s hard. But I think it starts with active questioning. If you just show up and start directing, you’re probably not going to get there. And if you show up and ask bad questions, you’re probably not going to get there. And so the worst question you could possibly ask if you want feedback is Hey, can I get some feedback? It’s, it’s so inaccessible. And especially again, if you’re a senior, if you’re a senior you’re asking someone Junior, and they are sitting there like what? No, I’m not, everything’s going great boss. It’s too general. It never really uncovers anything useful. Instead, you can construct a question basically, a good question would have like three attributes. It’d be open ended. Be specific, that’s the second attribute. And then it must invite a challenge to what’s happening or challenge to your idea or challenge to your style or challenge to your behavior, challenge to your work. So, simple example, hey, if this were your budget, how would you spend it? Hey, what could I have done better in that team meeting? What can I do to build more trust with you? Is there anything I could do to help you be more successful? You know, and, and so you, you, you ask these questions, they’re not silver bullets, like people still kind of be uncomfortable with some of those. But you could start to construct all kinds of questions, I usually develop a theory, I saw some weird body language, I saw a sideways glance, I saw an analysis from our, you know, employee experience data, whatever it is, and I’ll bring that theory and I might construct a question around that theory. And then what matters is how you react, and then the and then a sort of a chronological pattern after that. So yes, suppress every instinct to act to respond defensively, that will be the more natural response. By the way, a very normal threat response is very active when someone’s giving you tough feedback. But in this moment, you don’t get to manifest it. You have to, don’t get mad,  get curious, is something that comes from my most important business book Conscious Business, don’t get mad, get curious. And so really try to actively listen, that’s what it means to be curious. So I think I hear you saying that, if I did X, Y, and Z differently, I could help you be more successful inA and B and C ways.. So I have that right. Yeah, I would add D ways also. But yeah, basically, you got that right, Russ great. And then what happens next is you have to act on it, or, or demonstrate that they’ve been heard now, when you’re the manager responsible for everything your organization does, or fails to do. And so you need discretion to be able to not do exactly what was recommended from your employee. But you have no discretion on whether to follow up with them. And so you have to at least say, I heard you, I understood you, in this case, I just disagree. But I really appreciate you bringing that to me, I’d be really careful with that one early on. And then last, what happens is if people start to see this pattern, you genuinely give a crap about their input, you ask a question, you’re engaged, you want to know what they think, then you actually follow up sometimes acting on the stuff, I think you should act on it very often, you know, because the Steve Jobs said, we hire you to tell us what to do not the other way around. And either believe that or you don’t, don’t just say because it sounds cool, believe it. And if you believe you’re gonna act on more of your employees input, and then they see that you get fired. When they told you, you are an idiot, and that meeting, and then they’re like, Oh, I’m doing this all the time. This is great. somebody cares what I think that’s all anybody really wants. They just want to be heard, make sure every voice is heard, including your own, you want to change inclusion scores at a company, make sure every voice is heard, including their own. That’s, that’s, that’s your best most leveraged path you can take, is that kind of what you were looking for.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  12:58

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. One of the questions and you kind of hinted at it is when you have a group of dissenters, and you’re and you’re getting feedback, and you’re asking those open ended questions, and you said, You know, sometimes act on those things, obviously, you can’t always disagree. But is it the managers responsibility to also explain why there are disagreements? And, and just like, how do you make sure that people feel heard, but they’re also taken seriously? So that’s the part that I’m curious about?

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  13:31

Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this problem a lot lately. So really good question, Aydin. So, first of all, I think I think we have the idea of what we’re doing in a meeting wrong. I think we talk a lot about this phrase, culture of debate, debate implies winning and losing. And so when there’s disagreement, and we go in the direction of the other teammate, it can feel like a loss to, you know, we go in the direction of teammate B, it could feel like loss to teammate a, because we have a culture of debate. I don’t think you want a culture of debate. I think you want a culture of dialectic. dialectic puts us all we’re not trying to win and lose. With each individual idea dialectic puts us on the same, we all want to find the best solution. And we’re all going to make contributions, some better than others at various points in time. And we together are going to arrive at the best solution. And so I think debate sort of accidentally and genders a little bit of a competitive spirit within the team. And I’m fond of saying there are no enemies in the building. Like you see, so many companies have problems with cross functional stuff and within a team even sometimes, but cross functional is where it usually pops up. You only have you only have like, you know enemies a strong word but your enemies your competitor, right and, and even that sometimes, maybe not exactly enemy, but your enemies, your competitor, there are no enemies in the building, especially on this core team. So how do you sort of reframe or try to create a culture on a team that puts us all on exactly the same page we all have the exact same objective is we want the best idea. We don’t care where it comes from, we don’t care who shapes it. We don’t care. If someone won or lost an argument in our meeting, let’s stop arguing. Let’s stop debating, let’s discuss in advance, let’s push, push someone to improve their perspective, let’s advance something that seems like a really good lead that we should be pursuing. And let’s do that together and trust that over time, you know, Person A on the team, there, we’re going to be put more wood behind that arrow sometimes, and sometimes it’s going to be Person B. But we’re not keeping score. We’re not tabulating, we just have a place where we all try to make each other’s ideas better, because we all want the best solution. And so that I sort of it’s not exactly a direct answer your question, I realize it and but I think like, I actually think that advice could be much more helpful to folks to start to take out some of that competitiveness that can exist within teams around competitiveness for the winning idea.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  15:52

Yeah. And I would imagine you would have decision makers and it would be clear in advance who is the one that’s going to make the decision? But we’re going to hear from everybody?

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  16:02

Yeah, that’s That’s right. That’s right. Where we need to, we will clarify who is the decider and the general, if we can we try to push that down as far as possible? An organization, the person closest to the facts, should be most empowered to make the decision.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  16:16

Speaking of pushing things down as much as possible. You know, I think, when most people, especially if they haven’t had experience with, you know, anything military related, you know, they’ll kind of think about, you know, power distance and authoritarian regime, like, you know, authoritarian culture, in the military. And you obviously, were company commander in the Marine Corps, and then you went to Google and Twitter, how different is it in actuality, because I know that like the way that say things were, in the armed forces, say 100 years ago, are not necessarily the way they are today. So are they really that different? Or what are some of the major differences of management?

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  16:59

Yeah, people badly misunderstand military leadership. In fact, just picking up on sort of a Kim story again, she actually interviewed me when I was coming out of Wharton coming out of business school in 2004. And she has said this before, I’m not telling tales out of school here. She did not want to hire me before she even met me. She’s, you know, she called herself a feminist Pico or something that her words not mine. So if any, I don’t want anybody to send me mean emails or something. And she just thought what in the world could a marine possibly know about being entrepreneurial, which was among the most important sort of traits that they were looking for and hiring at Google at the time, even though they were 2500 people, but whatever, entrepreneurial is one of those words, that gets thrown around a little more than it should. Luckily, I had enough experience interviewing, I was a much older person at business school. You know, like the old guy at the club, I was that guy. And I realized something that and so a lot of people interviewing me were younger and quite inexperienced at interviewing. And I could, you can tell, and I realized that the gig here was they were looking for reasons to exclude you, not include you. I was basically fodder they had in a lot of cases, they had their eyes on someone else. They thought, oh, maybe this guy could be interesting. And they, but they sort of unconsciously architected an interview designed to really exclude me. And so by time I show for Kim, I was sort of ready to be treated as if it was time to be excluded. She hit me with that. And luckily, I’d had a lot of time to sort of think that answer through and she said, What is a marine? No. And I said, it sounds like everything you know about military leadership you learned in movies. Do you mind if I take a shot at reframing you? And I think, you know, according to her it did matter. One thing I said after that I was getting hired, because it’s such a no for me, I knew I had nothing to lose. I knew I was already a No, I didn’t matter that this woman Laura was in the next room, and I was gonna interview with her next I was already a no and I have nothing to lose. And so I’m gonna be like, Well, I’m not letting you get away with this. This is mean, you know, nevermind. She had a space heater in there because she was sick. She was pissed. She had to go to Philly. She didn’t mind going to Boston, she was pissed. She had to go down to Philly because there are no words and people at Google to do the work. She’s got a space here on I have a wool jacket, she’s got a T shirt. I’m sweating like crazy. And I went on and talked to her about basically, how leadership and decision making is pushed down to the lowest levels. And how the Marine Corps systematically teaches its most junior leaders how to make decisions giving a highly ambiguous, highly fluid, highly changing battlefield. The Fog of War is a phrase used to describe that ambiguity. And if you want somebody entrepreneurial, if you want someone who can be agile in the face of changing circumstances in a marketplace, the people you want are Marines. You know, I’m writing this book and I think we’ll, we’ll get to it in a bit. And one of the senses I have in there about 10 times is leadership by example. Never goes out of style. I don’t Like any politicians, the governor, Utah is a young guy, Governor Cox, and he did not use his position to get an early vaccine. He waited until his time came. Because the risks of the virus so much more acutely affect older people. And he abided by that logic. This is a public official that probably was off, I bet he was offered 50 times to get vaccinated early governor, we really should get you and he declined, he said no, the most at risk, get at first. And I’m the same as our citizens. Leadership, by example, never goes out of style. I will say that my experience working with most leaders over the long run is they, they don’t lead by example. And so when someone comes out military, they often lead by example to an extreme that feels unusual. I also have been saddened by I’ve been to a lot of companies and most people have a very short term mindset, they don’t use the right words to try to indicate their long term ownership kind of mentality. But you can see in their actions, a simple action, someone might take that demonstrates they don’t have an intent to be long term if they might not give hard feedback to someone. Because hard feedback in the short run is almost always painful, you’re going to get an emotional response, you’re going to get run through the wringer for two weeks, you might do some damage to a relationship. But you know, in the long run, it’s the most important thing for company success, and actually, for that individual success. But in the short run, you might say, Well, why would I do all that if I’m just out of here, and another couple years, I’ll just, I’ll just sort of let it go. And I’ll be fine. And so one of the parts of my DNA that’s permanently changed, the result of being in the Marine Corps is I own I own I have every every decision I make I make for the long term good of where I am. I never take a short term approach, I just assume I’m going to be there forever. Of course, I’m not. But I just assume that and make those kinds of decisions. So, I think that a lot of this command and control use tell someone what to do, and they just do it. That is utter nonsense. That’s something that happens in boot camp. And it’s got a very specific purpose to sort of break selfish high schoolers down and turn them into team first people. And there’s just a way that the Marine Corps is developed and other services have developed to get good at that. I think, by and large, you got to go, you got to develop a plan, you have to listen to people, you have to bring people along, you need to communicate a vision, you need to set goals, you need to work with cross functional partners to get where you need to get ammunition at the site where I’m doing a shooting exercise requires me to work with the logistics officer who is cross functional, it’s exactly the same, except you get a few benefits, like inherently able to deal with ambiguity, like strong ownership, like inclined to lead by example. So that’s kind of how I would reframe people if they were open to if they were open to being reframed.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  22:53

Yeah. So it doesn’t Yeah, it doesn’t sound all that different. If anything, I would say probably a lot of things in the tech world were copied. 

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  23:01

So one quick thing, tech is an interesting spot, because it is so fast moving with high growth companies. And also some of these companies have really important missions. And I think that, one of the things that people who leave the Armed Forces miss the most is the true sense of mission, you never have a question about that. And so one of the nice things about a lot of tech companies we know and know well is they usually have,not always, but they usually have really important missions, missions for humanity. And that and the combination of very fast moving and mission orientation tends to be resonant, I think for veterans so it’s it’s really good. I thought that was a really good comment that you made there just want to amplify it a bit.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  23:44

[AD BREAK] Hey there before moving to the next part of the interview, quick interjection to tell you about one of the internet’s best kept secrets, the manager TLDR newsletter. So every two weeks, we read the best content out there, the greatest articles, the advice, the case studies, whatever the latest and greatest is, we summarize it, and we send it to your inbox, we know you don’t have the time to read everything. But because we’re doing the work, we’ll summarize it and send it to your inbox once every two weeks. And the best news is completely free. So go on over to fellow dot app slash newsletter, and sign up today. And with that said, let’s go back to the interview.  [AD BREAK ENDS] So during your time at Twitter, you know, we found a quote from you that you know, effectively you just run into all of these mistakes that Junior managers would make. And you’d sneak those managers off and do a whiteboard session and explain some of those mistakes away. What are some common things that you ran into that? And I would assume like they’re, you know, if they exist at Twitter, they exist everywhere.

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  24:52

Yeah, well, you went deep on your research. These are mistakes that happen everywhere. And you’re right. It was within the Twitter context. I think I said that the first and biggest mistake, the one that’s like Vegas style neon lights is not given hard feedback. And what this never gets easy, but it does get easier as you practice it. And you can only practice it with experience, right? The most junior managers, you know, places like Google Twitter Qualtrics, for example, we hire, we really hire extraordinary people. And one thing that you’re inclined to do as a new manager, who’s, by the way, probably not inclined to give hard feedback for two reasons, one, selfish and selfless. The selfish reason is, you don’t want to create an emotional response. And you know, from your own experience, that hard feedback is likely to do that. The selfish reason is, I don’t want to deal with your emotional response. You pull your punches, you justify that because you’re like, well, we hire so well that these people are just going to figure it out. And the problem really becomes one of time. Not everybody does. Sometimes people do of course, right? Sometimes people sort of get the message on their own or, or something like that. But it’s more frequent. Lee then we would like to admit, people really could have used the feedback. And a close cousin of this mistake that I think Junior managers make is, is not putting people on formal plans quicker. And look, the reason people avoid this, because most people believe the objective is like a paper or performance improvement plan, they’ve got the objective all wrong. They think it is like a legal pretext to be able to fire someone without risk. And that’s, that’s for me a distant 10th. Maybe, purpose. I think the real purpose is. Look, the number of times I’ve heard a manager say to me, because I’m coaching the manager, and they’re having a hard time with an employee and they sell Believe me, we’ve had this conversation, Russ, the number of times the employee agrees with them that they’ve had that conversation is about zero. And so Dick Costolo, CEO, Twitter said this perfectly, he said, the more difficult the message, the less clear you become. And so I just assume when someone’s giving verbal feedback, I assume they’re not being as clear as they need to be. They think they are, they always think they are. But the employee invariably disagrees. What a pip then represents usually is the first time that all stakeholders are crystal clear. The employee, most importantly, the manager themselves had to get clear, actually, by writing it. And then the key stakeholders like maybe a lawyer, maybe an HR VP, maybe the managers manager, and the irony is that while most people avoid a pip, because the last sentence will stipulate usually that you could be termed if you don’t kind of fix your worker behavior. The reality is, it’s the fairest thing you can do for somebody, because it’s usually the first time the employee is clear on what you expect of them and how they’re not meeting those expectations or exceeding them. And so, and this is like rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat. And they want so badly to believe in that young employee that they have, and they know we hire well, and those are all true. And they’re just going to figure it out, Russ, I swear. And then, you know, in like four months, they’re standing there holding the bag, wishing they take an action that was more acute, more aggressive earlier on, because now we’re in a much more difficult spot because the employee didn’t figure it out. And they never got the feedback. And now they’re surprised when you know, things start to get a little bit tougher. And they’re wondering, why didn’t you tell me sooner?

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  28:21

Yeah, no, that’s super interesting. One question that I did have is, how do you detect that? So for example, how do you know? So if you have a manager that reports to you, how do you diagnose that they have some hard feedback that they haven’t given? And, you know, the reason I’m asking this is also because if you’re such a manager, how do you know if you have been giving your hard feedback?

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  28:43

How I would diagnose it with a manager is a really interesting question. I gotta be careful. This is exactly a prescription I would use every time but some of the things that might have transpired. First is all I’ll try to get them to maybe just tell me what they actually said, you know, people have this habit of they’ll they’ll, when the other person’s not in the room, they’ll sort of exaggerate a little bit about the nature of the conversation, and usually in their own favor. It’s not super conscious. And I’ll, I’ll try to push those folks to tell me what exactly did you say? And I’ll say, what exactly was the reaction? And if I’m not getting, like, if the reaction wasn’t a little bit inflammatory, it’s usually a red, red flag. And if they start to back off their version and say, Why did I mean I didn’t exactly say it that way. I’ll say, Well, what exactly did you say? So I don’t I don’t do a lot of guessing I say all the time, I’m a great way to know stuff is to ask and so I’ll just ask. Another thing I’ll do because, again, these are small numbers of instances. You know, the companies I’ve been at people are performing well. More often than not if I see that employee that’s in question getting coffee, I’ll check in with them and I don’t betray any confidence. I don’t say I heard you’re having a rough go at Tom. You know, but but I will sort of check how things go in and, you know, and kind of work my way and we can Usually eventually get there, you know, maybe, Hey, want to come to my office hours or you want to set up some extra time just love to hear what’s going on, you know, not lie if if if they say, Well, I’m sure you kind of chatted with Thomas Yeah, absolutely. But I’d sort of like to understand what’s going on from your perspective to all being very careful not to disempower the manager, Tom or Tammy or, or whoever it is, but but also to in the spirit of helping the manager deliver a clear message for myself, um, you know, I pay attention to their, you know, most people don’t actively listen, specifically don’t repeat back. But they’ll say things that are versions of that, and I listened carefully to those things that they say, because those helped me understand their takeaways. And if the takeaways are misaligned with what the message I’m trying to deliver, I’ll go back and try to get those things aligned. And then, you know, particularly acute cases, I did this, did this at the end of last year, I wrote down exactly what the feedback was, after I verbally delivered to make it really clear. Exactly. And I had to have some help, like HR type, a business partner had some help in crafting it so that I had accountability for myself to make sure it was clear. And then the top track that I used was very closely related to what I’d already written down. And so yeah, so it takes some work to hold yourself accountable and make sure you are as clear as you can be. And look, even after all of that, I gotta tell you, man, it has never once been the case where you walk in you deliver a tough message, and someone’s like, you know what, Russ totally saw this common. You’ve been keeping me informed, no matter how much you think you did that someone always that people will always indicate it’s a surprise. And so the surprise is not an excuse not to do it. Oh, but I haven’t really said much. And I don’t want this will feel like a surprise. Hey, no time like the present. Let’s just get it moving. Because we got to help this person. And we’re not helping them by pulling our punches here.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  31:51

Yeah, no, I think that’s a really comprehensive answer on that. And it’s really interesting just like using a PIP, actually to improve performance, versus just a legal way to cover your tracks. And so I would imagine, I mean, Cray asked, like, whenever you’ve done a PIP, how often do people actually come back from it frequently?

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  32:16

Okay, so yeah, I mean, because that’s the intent. So look, when you misuse them, and they’re your last ditch effort, when you’ve already had enough and you just want to fire someone, that then you know, your your data will be biased toward termination when you use them correctly, which is actually ensure all stakeholders are crystal clear about the nature of the expectations and how this person’s not meeting them. Again, the companies I work for have great people, most people work their way out. what’s most interesting about a pip, by the way, is you’re basically on it forever. I don’t know if you like the National Football League, but the goal line, the goal line of American football is a white line on the ground, but imaginarily extends all the way straight up to the, to the moon or whatever, it’s a plane. And a pip extends similarly out ad infinitum. And so once the PIP has been documented, the expectations remain in force, you know, forever effectively. So you always have this, you always have this, this kind of recourse down the line to use the PIP that way if you want, but yeah, when you use them, right, it turns out, people just need to know what’s expected, usually, and sometimes, like sometimes they don’t. And sometimes it’s time to move on. And, you know, I’d say my experience I’ve had times where the pips gone the other way, and I’ve had to turn people. I mean, I had a senior woman years ago at Google. we bumped in, I terminated her employment, and we bumped into each other at an out of work event. And she thanked me it was you know, it took her a couple years to digest it. And she said, she said it was the right call. I just didn’t have the hutzpah to leave Google and, you know, it’s a hard place to leave. And she said it was the right call, and I’m so much happier, I’m better. I’m better at all of it better with my family, I’m better at work. You know, and that’s generally, if you do it, right. That’s that’s generally how most parties would see the outcome on the other side.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  34:04

So Russ, what’s the difference between a PIP and a career development plan then?

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  34:08

Do you mean like my career action plan?

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  34:09

Oh, yeah. Career action plan. Yeah. And so like, is one more corrective and the other one is more aspirational? Yeah,

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  34:16

that’s the easiest way, the crew action plan is the third step of a three part way to get to have better crew conversations with people I actually, and it’s a it’s a model that I created over the years and I’ve tested pretty rigorously, I strongly advise managers not to intersperse performance related ideas into this, like long term vision and short term plan for career. I basically say, look, we’re going to start by trying to understand someone’s dream job. And we’re not going to let you know whatever thing they might be tripping over today be a meaningful obstacle to that. We’re going to just work on that now. Someone wants to be the CFO of Disney and they can’t add. We might want to intervene and say, I don’t know if CFOs in your future, since you haven’t learned addition. But those are extreme. And I don’t even like saying that. Because I really encourage people don’t put the sort of current performance situation into your calculus for helping someone think about their dream job. There’s so much time between now and that dream job. Usually, if it’s done correctly, it’s not next week, usually the dream job, whatever behavioral or skill gaps they might have, there’s plenty of time for them to correct those. And so I really think those are very separate very, very separate, work streams or even ideas.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  35:34

Yeah, that makes sense to me, just on that note if someone does want to become CFO of Disney, but you as a manager, like at least don’t see it within your own skill set to figure out how to get them there. Like what kind of things do you do in that circumstance? 

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  35:52

Yeah, it’s hard. But first, just knowing that the person’s dream job as CFO of Disney or whatever it is, is really valuable. You don’t realize it, but you start to think differently. When you’re aware of the dream job, the long term sort of goal that we’re a few of them is fine. Like a lot of people don’t know exactly what they want to be when they grow up. But everybody’s got a dream. But a lot of people avoid this work, because they think, oh, I don’t even know what I want to be when I grow up. How can my young employees, and then the young employees are often adamant, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and it’s all nonsense. Everybody’s got a dream, you just have to work to pull it out of folks. So the question is, I can’t make you the CFO says, I can’t make you your dream job today’s but what can I do. And there’s a few things you can do first is you can make changes to their current role that don’t put them in the dream job, but start to plant a flagstone in that direction, start to chart the path. simplest idea CFO, Disney, let them run your team’s budget, what’s gonna happen when they run the budget, they’re gonna get a feel for how companies think about money, they’re gonna have to work with the FP and a group and start to get a feel for what real finance cake looks like this might actually open up an opportunity from the move to the corporate finance team, which would be the second thing. So first, is change the role. Second is help them think about what their next job might be. You might advise people, you might not try to retain this person on your team at all costs, you might try to create an opportunity in the finance team with them since their dream job, so you might get them, you might help them jump over to the other path that’s more helpful. A third thing you might do is help them develop their network. Do you know anyone who can inform or influence the decisions that they need to make between now and then do you have a relationship with the CFO? Do you have a relationship with the controller? Do you have a relationship with the accounts receivable manager? And if you do, can you ask them to spend a half hour with your employee to mentor them along these lines. And then last is training far too often we take on training or learning and development. And it is not tied to anything special. It’s just some program that some person who studied learning and development put together at the company and they think is going to work for everybody. Well, let’s think about training differently. Let’s put training, whatever that is, could be conferences, it can be a degree, it could be class coursework. It can be formal training by a company, it could be so many things. Let’s put training in the context of a long term dream. So now if you want to be a CFO of Disney, suddenly the question, should I get an MBA starts to become a lot clearer. Yeah, you probably should, or at least go get an accounting degree or, you know, something. And so those are kind of the four things that a manager can do, you can change the current role, you can help them develop their network, you can help them find their next job that’s more relevant. And you can, you can invest in training that contemplates their long term vision and all that stuff’s on the table for any manager to help participate in. You don’t have to have all the answers. You just have to help your employee find those answers from the right people. And so you’re extremely empowered to help your employees start to drop flagstones in the direction of CFO of Disney.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  38:48

Yeah, no, I think that’s, that’s super great tactical advice, and something that I think people can implement right away. I can’t not talk to you, though, about this concept of both low managers’ skill, but also how you actually measure if managers or leadership or leaders are good at what they do. Because it’s so often you know, is it an art? Is it a science? Like how do you actually know if if someone is doing well at it, or if they have high skill or low skill? I just love for you to tell us your thoughts on on that topic.

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  39:20

Yeah. Love to this is the essence of the book that I’m writing. Alas, I still don’t have a title. But I promise if you all will have me. I’ll come back when we have a title and it makes a little more sense. I think we all as managers currently exist. In a world of confusion. We were likely selected to be a manager for the wrong reasons. We were likely selected because we’re good individual contributors. Bad criteria. By the way, Gallup found that we get manager selection wrong 82% of the time in the United States. 80 is really bad. It’s terrible. And one of the most nefarious forces is because we pick the best individual contributor. We don’t pick based on management chops we based pick based on and look at the activities that make us SAS was a magic, nothing like the activities that make you successful as an individual contributor. And I defend that strongly in the book. So anyway, then all these famous talking heads are putting out advice. And it’s good advice. I’m not going to name names because I don’t because these people are far more accomplished than I am. But I’m talking about the people that are running through your mind right now, the big authors putting out the books. And each book has something useful. What they’re not doing is working with each other to develop one coherent system. And so instead of employees or managers feeling like, Oh, what a wonderful A La Carte opportunity, I’ll pull something from that book, I’ll pull off something, they actually feel like they’re inside the Stanford Linear Accelerator getting bombarded by particles. And it’s just not accessible, and it free and often freezes them. They don’t know what to do. I think worse is almost anybody giving leadership or management advice. By the way, I don’t care about the distinction between the two even a little bit, I don’t think it matters at all. So the next time someone you’re at a cocktail party, and someone’s like, I think leadership is different than management, you just tell him to call me and I’ll set him straight. And it stops, stop saying that nonsense at cocktail parties. What none of these leadership books do is two things. They don’t put out a coherent system, one contiguous coherent system, that’s kind of everything Guinea, and they don’t hold their leadership advice accountable to any measurable standard. And that’s kind of what I think your questions are getting at it. So in the end, leadership is about leading people to something, management is about the same thing, leading people to something toward an objective sort of result quota attainment, or contract renewal or shipping a product. These are all business results that we care about. And so how many leadership standards are willing to step up and say, I’d like my leadership standard evaluated, whether it can reliably and predictably deliver results? And better yet, what about happy results? What about the idea that people are not only achieving great things results, but they’re totally psyched while doing it? What I was able to do was when I was working with Kim, I asked like 1000 companies, they all said the first question I’d ask them, they were like, can you come talk, I’d say Hold on a minute, what problem you’re trying to solve. And all these companies, they use all different words, but it came back to the same idea. They said, We have an engagement problem related to low manager skill. And all I did Aiden was then say, Wait, what’s the nature of the skill gap. And they sent around three big ideas. It took those three big ideas, I converted them into about 12 behaviors. And it turns out every time you ask your employees how engaged they are, you can also ask them, if their managers are demonstrating these behaviors on a five point scale, you can literally measure leadership, it’s so easy. And then you have to do the hard work of correlating manager effectiveness or that composite of 12 behaviors, it could be 14, it could be eight could be five, you know, but these 12 have pretty strong signals. And then you determine if there’s a relationship between those behaviors and employee engagement, for example. And for us, plus two and manager effectiveness equals plus one and employee engagement plus or minus, actually, so the elasticity in both directions. We also found, for example, that a plus five and employee engagement is worth about 30 points in quota attainment, or worth about five points in contract renewal. And that’s inside a company who’s got products that are so valuable that our customers renew at an extraordinary rate. And we still were able to move the needle there. And so and I can’t, you know, the specifics are confidential, but the idea is not if you want to have happy results, people who are psyched to be doing the work and then delivering great things, this sort of three broad ideas, direction coaching career, we covered a little bit about career just a moment ago, we talked a little bit about one version of coaching, which is improvement coaching, we didn’t talk at all about direction, but it’s okay. And then sort of divide those up into 12. behaviors, again, could be could be a few more could be a few less, I’m just sharing what we’ve done. If you do these things and do them well. It turns out you’ll have more engaged employees who do better work. And I just want to be super clear, a lot of people think engagement is a soft measure, a lot of people think engagement, something I get to series. See, that’s nonsense. Another Gallup study found that companies in the top quarter on employee engagement, as of 2017, by the way, are 717 percent more productive and 21% more profitable. If you care about productivity, whether that’s lines of code per head or revenue per head, I don’t care. And if you care about profitability at some point, engaged employees are just more likely to do that for you. And then on top of that, it turns out that the manager more than any other factor explains changes in employee engagement that Gallup again I’m staying consistent there’s a mountain of this research says all the same thing manager explains 70% of engagement seven zero. So in large Data Sets when there’s a positive variance in employee engagement, that statistical variance is 70% of it is explained by a variance of manager quality again, both up and down. And so the model is L er, this is the model I put together just to, you know, sort of my last couple months at candor, leadership engagement results, that’s the model. And instead of just throwing out my more anecdotal version of good leadership that works, which is what everybody else does, instead of throwing out something that doesn’t hang together, and instead of throwing something out, that isn’t held measurably accountable to what we care about, which is engaged employees and real results, I put all that stuff together. And we’re going to try out a leadership standard that actually reliably and predictably delivers engaged employees and better results.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  45:41

Well, I’m super excited to read the book when it’s out, is it a 2021 thing or 2022 thing?

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  45:47

2022, actively editing it right now. And making real good progress, I get two editors, because I need extra help. We’re making a ton of progress. And I think we’re orienting, we’re orienting around something more like an April or May 2022 publication date.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  46:08

Well, as soon as it’s out, we’re excited to share and amplify. Russ, this has been amazing. Thank you so much for all the insights. One final question that we leave all of our guests with is for all the managers and leaders looking to get better at their craft, what words of wisdom or parting advice or tips or resources or anything that you’d leave them with?

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  46:32

Maybe stop thinking about feedback, like feedback and just think of it exclusively like coaching? Coaching is a really interesting idea. And like coaching, guidance, feedback, they’re all close cousins. We don’t need to get into semantics too much. But coaching is the one place in the world where giving people feedback, that’s about improving their performance, either their behaviors or their work is taken generally non defensively. And coaching is happening constantly. Right? coaching is about setting people up to be successful, usually in an athletic context, right. And most of us have some, some familiarity with that. And in the end, performance is only two things that results in behaviors. And feedback is only two things or coaching is only two things coaching to improve and coaching to continue to continue the things you do well, just don’t overthink it just tomorrow, develop the habit of routinely coaching for improvement, coaching for continue around results and behaviors around the work products, the analysis, the copy the code, the pitch, that’s the work. And the behaviors, which behavioral expectations might include a respectful workplace policy, or your core of company’s core values, or these things that we do where we identify behavioral expectations by level and function, things like that. Improve continue results, behaviors, improve continued work behaviors. It’s so simple, and if you’re not doing it, you’re really not investing in your people in the most available way. You can do this all the time. every second of every day. That’ll get annoying, but you know what I mean? Like, stop saving it up, stop wringing your hands, become a coach, don’t become an on high, don’t be an on high feedback giver. I profess that you are failing in this regard. Get in there and coat. Hey, you know what I think I’m seeing I think I’m seeing this thing’s getting in your way. You’re in a spot where you can hear that right now let’s talk it through. Someone says an idea in a meeting. Hey, do you mind if I push you a little bit on that? okay to say no. But do you mind if I push a little bit, just start to become more like a coach and less like the on high feedback dispenser. And you’ll you’ll overnight well overnight, meaning a night defined as a few months, transform your relationships with the people on your team.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  48:50

I love that. And a great place to end it. Russ, thank you so much for doing this.

Russ Laraway (Qualtrics)  48:55

Absolutely. Thanks a ton for having me Aydin. It’s really a pleasure and an honor to be on your podcast.

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