Episode 15

Essentials to employee engagement & developing high-quality managers - Qualtrics' Russ Laraway

Today's episode is with Russ Laraway, a seasoned leader who's been at Google, Twitter, Candor Inc, and Qualtrics, where he recently served as Chief People Officer before shifting into a new role helping the company's customers think differently about employee experience. Russ shares his frameworks for driving employee engagement and developing high-quality managers, including tactics for leading career conversations, giving feedback and approaching OKRs.

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Russ Laraway: [00:00:00] I use the metaphor. If you've ever seen a space movie, there's always a gravity assist launch out into the far reaches. It's an every space movie. Uh, we don't have enough fuel to get to Mars, so we better do a Slingshot around the earth. And then I say to the managers, that's your job here. You only have this human being for a very short period of time over the full span of their career.

Your job in addition to everything else is to help make sure your, that gravity assists Slingshot that launches them out into the far reaches of their career.

Brett Berson: [00:00:39] Welcome to in-depth a new show that surfaces tactical advice, founders and startup leaders need to grow their teams, their companies, and themselves. I'm Brett Berson, a partner at first round, and we're a venture capital firm that helps startups like notion, roadblocks, Uber, and square tackle company building firsts.

Through over 400 interviews on the review, we've shared standout company, building advice, the kind that comes from those willing to skip the talking points and go deeper into not just what to do, but how to do it with our new podcast. In-depth you can listen into these deeper conversations every single week.

Learn more and subscribe today@firstround.com

today's episode. I am really excited to be joined by Russ Laraway. Russ has an incredibly interesting career. His journey started in the Marine Corps, or he was a company commander overseeing 175 Marines. That means he's been managing people from day one of his career. After leaving the military, Russ started a supply chain consulting company before heading off to Wharton.

He landed at Google in 2005, where he spent seven years leading sales partnerships and enterprise services teams, and was recognized as one of the company's best managers. Russ then went to Twitter where he founded and ran the SMB advertising business, growing it from zero in revenue to hundreds of millions.

After leaving Twitter, Russ teamed up with Kim Scott to co-found candor, Inc. To help people implement the concepts from radical candor and ultimately have better relationships at work through this work they consulted with over a thousand companies, big and small. And in 2018, he joined Qualtrics as the chief people officer, when they were preparing to go public a position, he stepped away from this past January to focus on helping the company's customers think differently about employee experience.

Russ also has a book on this topic coming out soon, and we can't wait to read it in today's episode, Russ and I dig into how startups can drive employee engagement and develop high quality managers. He shares several incredibly helpful frameworks and strategies with us, including his direction, coaching career framework for managers, that's backed by research and designed to really boost employee engagement for us.

There's two key parts to a manager's job description, delivering an aligned result and enabling the success of the people on your team. We spend time unpacking each of those from where companies go wrong on OKR and the debate around stretch goals. To his tried and tested framework and coaching methods, he gets really tactical as well.

Sharing the typical phrases he relies on when delivering feedback his go-to questions for soliciting what folks really think on his team and underrated questions to include in your own employee engagement surveys. And at the very end, Russ gives us 13 recommendations for leadership reads. Every manager should add to their bookshelves from what he picked up, coaching little league to the leadership lessons.

He still leans on from the Marines to what he's learned, obsessing over employee engagement surveys at Qualtrics, Russ reaches across his career to serve up some incredible wisdom for founders and managers, whether you're a first timer or a seasoned pro. I really hope you enjoy the episode. And now my conversation with Russ, well, Russ, thanks so much for joining 

Russ Laraway: [00:04:30] my pleasure to be here.

Thanks so much for thinking of me and for having me on the pod. 

Brett Berson: [00:04:34] So I thought it might be interesting to start talking about what are the areas in and around people, people management, org, design, employee experience, a lot of the stuff you spent at least the last number of years obsessed with. What do you think are the areas that are under discussed or explored?

What are the things that you're surprised people don't spend more time thinking about learning about or discussing in this domain? 

Russ Laraway: [00:04:59] That's a really good question. I've got, I think a very clear answer to that. Take this idea of employee experience. The primary measurement of that. There's lots of ways to think about employee experience, of course, but the primary measurement of that is employee engagement.

And the first thing just to mention about that is I'm actually surprised how few people know what engagement even is. It tends to be a pretty standard looking five to eight question, composite scale. You can actually measure engagement. I say that because a lot of people think it's like, what does engagement mean to me?

And that can get pretty arbitrary pretty fast. Anyway, the reason it matters to get clear on what engagement is is because what lots of companies, research companies and things have discovered. Is that engaged employees drive better results. And that sounds very intuitive, but it's the only major measurement.

I think that we've been able to look at over a long period of time. That seems to have a very strong relationship to real results. Like I'm not talking about attrition, which matters. I'm talking about earnings per share revenue or margin. And so, for example, in Gallup's 2017 global engagement study, they found that.

Companies in the top core tile, top 25% employee engagement had 17% more productivity and we're 21% more profitable. I say that because I do hear a lot that people think engagement is a soft measure, and I just think that's bunk. It leads to better results. And there's a lot of intuition we could explore that starts to make that much clear.

The second thing that people are not focusing on enough and it's downright surprising to me is what, what we also have learned over many years, decades, even of IO psychology and studying engagement, is that the manager more than any other factor by a long shot is most likely to explain whether engagement is good or bad.

And so, again, just using Gallop for consistency, they found this is going back a few years. That the manager explains 70% of engagement and okay. If you're like that's nonsense and you want to arbitrarily drop it down to 50%, go ahead. The manager is still half, but if we just say 70%, it means that the manager is at least twice as powerful and explaining engagement than any other factor.

And by the way it would explain means in this case is in large data sets. When you observe a positive variance in employee engagement, 70% of that variance is explained by commensurate variance in manager quality, both up and down. And so the manager is holding the keys and I'm surprised at how not seriously.

We tend to take that. What's even more nuts to me is most people are pretty familiar with that. We'll probably get to this, but I wrote a book and the core model that I developed is just very simple leadership engagement results. And I'm really surprised in the end, how many people are familiar with that research that I just cited.

They know it. But they don't operationalize it at all. Everything else you're doing around the employee experience has to come second and I'm not talking about close second, I'm talking about distant second to making sure your managers are great, making sure your managers are leading with leadership behaviors that measurably predictably and reliably produce better engagement, which we already know tends to lead to better result.


Brett Berson: [00:08:26] so many directions to go from here. So I'm pretty excited. So let's pick up the last thread. First, a founder reaches at you and says, Hey Ross, we're 75 people. We haven't really thought that much about management. What makes a great manager, manager, training, et cetera, et cetera, what should we be doing?

What are the highest leverage things to increase the quality of our managers, the blocking and tackling the work to be done in that area. 

Russ Laraway: [00:08:54] A little bit of context here. When I was working with Kim, I got to talk to a thousand companies in one form or fashion, uh, showed up and consulted with, I think like a hundred, 150, something like that.

And what's interesting is I would do lightweight discovery with these folks. They work their way into my inbox. I'd get on a call. And I, the very first question I asked was always, why do you think we can be helpful for obvious reasons? Sure. We actually can be helpful. I want to make sure that this is going to be a good use of our time, et cetera.

And thousand companies give or take said the exact same thing. They used all different words, but they said large company, small company, tech banking, us Australia, UK didn't matter. So said the same thing. We have an engagement problem related to low manager's skill. Well, there's only one thing to say next, which is what's the nature of the skill gap.

And so I asked the thousand companies and there are a lot of, a lot of things they said, but I sort of have this word cloud. And there were three words that were gigantic in the middle of the word cloud, and then everything else was significantly smaller. And those three words are direction, coaching and career.

Each of those is robust and complex and important. And if you think about this, so in writing my book, I really think the world has conspired to confuse the average manager. So all these big names, they're driving really great research, actually, they're, they're just putting more out and more out and more out.

None of it's a system and the average manager doesn't know what the heck to do. They don't know which should I pay attention to that research or that research or this research or that research. And so we're just confusing managers with actually great research. I think that's an interesting paradox. So part of what I felt like I had to do was to get to the essence of the job.

What is the job of the manager in the simplest terms possible. And I came up with the following two-part job description. First job of any manager is to deliver an aligned result. The key word there is aligned, but deliver an aligned result. This is before you think about one other thing, you need to understand exactly what your part of the company's results, what part you own, make sure what you're planning to deliver, what you want to deliver, the goals you've set, align, and then you have to make sure each person on your team understands their portion of the aligned results.

So that's number one, deliver an aligned result. And then number two is enable the success of the people on your team. And it just turns out that success has two distinct parts. One is short-term success. I E delivering the goals, the aligned result inside this organization this week, this quarter, this year, but there's also another version of success that comes up a bunch, which is long-term success, like thinking about my longterm career, which by the way, may not be at this company.

And so if your managers don't have a clear framework, let's say to set direction for their teams, it's less likely that they are going to be able to deliver an aligned results. If your managers cannot work up the gumption to deliver tough coaching so that people can improve. And also remember to give praise.

We're positive coaching so that people know what to repeat. Folks won't be getting course corrected along the way. They won't know what to invest more in or what to change and then career. Um, you know, I think a lot of people convince themselves that the person sitting across from them as an employee and our shared interest is about what we do here in this company today and tomorrow.

And I think what I've learned is that the best managers say no, no, no, that person sitting across from me as a human being and I need to play a role in not only helping them achieve the success that they envision for themselves or the success as we define it within this company, but also whatever they envisioned for themselves over a much longer horizon in their career.

I use the metaphor. If you've ever seen a space movie, there's always a gravity assist launch out into the far reaches it's in every space movie. Uh, we don't have enough fuel to get to Mars, so we better. Do a Slingshot around the earth. And then I say to the managers, that's your job here. You only have this human being for a very short period of time over the full span of their career.

Your job in addition to everything else is to help make sure your, that gravity assists Slingshot that launches them out into the far reaches of their career. Those are three big areas. That's again, kind of the essence of the book by the way, which is that listening to thousand companies big and small, by the way, not just small ones, but began small and then started testing those quantitatively, those leadership behaviors, quantitatively against employee engagement and against results, real results, revenue margin, things like that.

We discovered that those three areas are the most leveraged areas. In fact, I think it's all, any manager ever needs to be totally honest to get happy results. People who are doing incredible things achieving on behalf of your company or on behalf of your organization. And their site while doing it. And I think that's the bar we need to hold ourselves to.

Brett Berson: [00:14:18] So let's start with aligned results. What does that look like? Can you share a story or share an example when that's being done really well, and then maybe the opposite of that would be what are the most common traps in this first big bucket? 

Russ Laraway: [00:14:35] Yeah, the easiest example for aligned results is quota sales quota.

It's a layup, but, but I think it's instructive. And if you think about how sales quotas are cascaded through an organization, the rest of the organization is as analogous. It's just a little harder to align things and it gets a little trickier, but conceptually it's always the same. What is the CTO responsible for delivering.

And each of the CTO's reports, what are they responsible for delivering and making sure that the work down to the, every single person organization carefully aligns to what each of those people is trying to get done. It's sort of obvious where I think companies go really wrong. So many companies are far more focused on activity than they are on outcomes.

And so what that looks like is when you recognize someone for nights and weekends, you are inherently rewarding someone or recognizing someone for an input that is really not particularly relevant, who cares if they work nights and weekends, it doesn't matter. Um, and so John Doerr wrote the book measure, what matters a bunch of companies in the values.

Okay. Ours. Okay. Ours are quarterly objectives and key results quarterly, or sometimes. Semi-annual sometimes annual expressions of work and really well-written okay. Ours are highly measurable. They're measurable are binary. There's no wiggle room for you to convince yourself at the end of a quarter that you did well when you really didn't.

And so if you just adopt that simple rule, that if I were to drop the paper with my OKR, if I had it my back pocket and I was in some random building, that's not mine. And I dropped that on the floor and it gently fell like a feather and landed on the floor and then some other random person comes up an hour later and reads it.

That person with no context should be able to tell exactly how I'm determining success or failure, whether I will be successful or, or, or whether I will fail because the OKR is written so clearly, so accountably, so measurably that they can tell. And so I think the bit that's the biggest trap is you start focusing on, well, what does it mean about my startup?

You know, if, if people aren't here for 18 hours a day, well, I don't know. It might mean a lot of things, but for sure, I would put that question aside and say, what are the measurable objectives you're working toward and then, and focus much more on that. And then ultimately divvy up those measurable objectives so that every single person understands their part.

Brett Berson: [00:16:59] Our OKR is the right goal setting framework for all companies, 

Russ Laraway: [00:17:03] Brett, I do not deal in right and wrong, true or false. I think. Pretty much everything in businesses, much more complicated than that. I think we can barely get to right and wrong and physics. We're not getting there and startups and business, but I think it's real good.

Unless the founder of a company has some experience where they had a lot of success with something else. I would say don't reinvent the wheel. It works. You know, it works really well. And I think too many companies, I don't even know why they convince themselves that they're too early for this kind of organization and this kind of structure.

And I just, I think that's just wrong. So I'd say don't outsmart yourself. Don't reinvent the wheel. It's sitting right there. Just go get measure. What matters, you know how to do it the next day and move on. 

Brett Berson: [00:17:46] Why do you think even a lot of companies that have studied okay. Ours, if you ask most executive teams in the valley, are you happy with your goal setting process?

I think most people say no. Maybe you disagree with that. But if you do any theories as to why people are chronically unhappy with some variant of OKR or whatever they're doing. 

Russ Laraway: [00:18:09] So a couple of things I'd say there. So by the way, OKR is if not trained, people will systematically write poor, okay. Ours. And that's probably a factor.

So that's one factor. You have to show people what good and bad OKR is. Look like. Otherwise they will write bad ones. They don't have experience or they'll tend toward less accountable, less measurable. Okay. Ours on the executives. If you're unhappy with how your goal settings going, then you need to ask yourself, what am I doing wrong as a leader, that my people don't know how to set goals and I'll offer you two things.

And they both come from the Marines. By the way, first is never forget every manager at every level in the company, by the way, you are responsible for everything your organization does or fails to do everything. No wink, wink, nudge, nudge. There's no pointing the finger at somebody else. If the goal setting in your company stinks.

That's because of you. The second is the Marine Corps has what's called leadership steps, which, and of course has an acronym. The acronyms, bam, SIS, bam C I S it starts with begin. The planning arranged for reconnaissance, make the reconnaissance complete the plan, issue, the order, none of those are that important, but the S stands for supervise.

And there's a little cliche that we used all the time in the Marine Corps, which is supervision is the most important leadership step. So I'm in talking to my boss and the Marines. I'm like, man, I can't believe such and such did so-and-so. And my boss would just look at me and say, captain Laraway supervisions the most important leadership staff, this idea.

It's not what you expect. It's what you inspect. And so I'll give you a positive example right now, our CEO of Qualtrics Zig Serafin. The first thing we do as a company is we set our company objectives. They are measurable, they are clear, they are focused and that is something Zig personally. Saul too, as the CEO of the company, and then Zig has absolutely supervised and insisted that every person in the company has their own.

And we happen to have a system where we can sort of evaluate whether that's happening. And this causes managers who go through, by the way, a training where they learn explicitly, how to write good, okay, ours. Now they are better equipped to go look at what their teams are writing for their own goals and to adjust I've joked over my career.

The only time I'll ever get accused of being a micromanager is around goal-setting time because I pay very close attention to this moment in time and to make sure my team understands their portion of the aligned result, and that permits me to grant them autonomy, to go figure out the best way to achieve that goal, and really allows me to capture their creativity along the way.

So if they're not happy with their goal setting, it's just, they're not doing a good enough job, making sure there's quality goal setting happening. End of story. 

Brett Berson: [00:20:43] What's an example of what a really good OKR looks like. And maybe what a bad one looks like, and maybe in an area that's a little bit trickier to your point, that there are things that lend themselves to being particularly quantitative and clear.

And there are things that aren't maybe it's in product or zero to one stuff, or what have you, are there any examples that come to mind or good or bad ones maybe in some of these more tricky areas? 

Russ Laraway: [00:21:12] Yeah. So measurable, for example, might be a relative usage improvement of some products. So that would be a good goal.

Binary might be launch a product and those would both be fine. It's very clear in both cases. Exactly what success or failure looks like a bad OKR would be very input driven. So if an engineer said, write five lines of code a day, or there's a lot of things that people do, which were, they'll say they need to coordinate with such and such a team.

I know you need to go coordinate with such and such a team. That's not a goal. It's not measurable. There's no clear accountability. There's no. Binary. Did you know, you did it, or you didn't like, who cares? It's just an input to achieve. Like, why do you need to go coordinate with that team? Not some big subscriber to the five why's, but it does help when you sort of write your goal, coordinate with the team.

Why? Well, because I can't launch this thing without their help. Ah, okay. Now we're starting to get to what the real objective is here and objectives. By the way, I probably should have cleared this a little sooner. I don't need to rewrite John's book, but objectives are, can be not met. They can be unmeasured.

They are sort of generally a natural language description of what you're trying to get done. The key results though, need to be measurable or binary. And so you might have a goal as a company. You might have a market share goal and that's totally fine. Just let's say what that is. Don't say increase market share.

That's okay. Don't tell me the activities. They're not goals. The activities that are leading to increase market share. Tell me exactly what you want your market share to be, and it's less look you'll hit it. You'll miss it. That stuff matters, but most important is. When you have a clear sort of call your shot moment where you say what I want it to be, and then you have a clear accountability moment where let's say it wasn't, it didn't turn out.

Like I wanted the most important thing that happens next is not that head's role, but that you can have an honest discussion about what's working and what's not working, getting toward our goals. So maybe you have one very successful product and you're launching a complimentary product and adoption goal around that complimentary products.

That's measurable. You have X number of customers, and you'd like to see 50% of your customers adopt the new product by mid year. That'd be an outstanding goal. It's not that complicated. I just, if people would just build a simple habit of avoiding input, oriented language and go toward output oriented language, their OKR is overnight will become much better written and much clearer and the level much better chance at shared success.

Brett Berson: [00:23:44] What are your thoughts on the classic Google concept of, okay. Ours as they should be effectively stretch goals that in, you know, 70 or 80% of the cases you don't hit it or hit it, I guess, depending on how you're thinking about it versus achievable goals. 

Russ Laraway: [00:23:58] Yeah, I like it a lot. And by the way, with the stretch goals, sometimes they're achieved, you know, I there's so many cliches around this.

We could use, you know, you shoot for the sun and hit the moon. That's better than shooting for the moon and crashing into the Atlantic ocean. That's actually my version of that metaphor. And so I just like it, conceptually, I think in sales, it's a little tougher stretch goals are a little tougher in sales, but everywhere else, my general experience is a very general comment has been that when we have pushed ourselves to orient or a stretch goal, it really has changed how we fundamentally thought about the problem and put us on a path to achieve more.

Sometimes the stretch goal, depending on the makeup of your team, does a little more than inspire a little more hustle also. And I don't think that's really a bad thing. So I like it. I think there's a lot of art in there. I sometimes maybe we might decide not to set a stretch for any number of reasons.

Brett Berson: [00:24:49] I'd say the biggest critique is that human beings like to sort of. Set a goal and hit it and it feels like you're winning. And when you feel like you're winning, it tends to be, get more winning. And so, you know, the classic we're at the bottom of the mountain, look at the top. This is why we got to get up there.

Here's how we're going to get up there. And then when you get up there, man, that feels really good. And then you kind of start that over again. And when you orient around stretch, you maybe get some of the benefits of you think bigger, you think about the problem differently, et cetera, but you constantly feel like you're not hitting it.

Like you're getting three quarters of the way up the hill, which can be demotivating. And that's what I've noticed as the biggest critique. Do you just find that that's not really the case or the benefits that way, that, or have other thoughts on 

Russ Laraway: [00:25:36] that really, really good push. So I think that's a real risk and adjacent or complimentary to the idea of stretch goals is you need to know how to manage an organizational psyche in the case of great performance that misses the goal.

I'll give you example, we, for the first time back in. 2019. I think we set targets for representation at Qualtrics diversity targets, not quotas, but just targets. And we set them stretch and I met, I'll never forget. I was in a working group with our CFO and he did some back of the envelope math. And he said, I don't think we have any chance of hitting those.

So we kind of knew from jump. It was massive stretch goal, but we stuck with the stretch anyway. And we, you know, we set like a three tier goal, total representation, representation at the manager level, and then representation at the executive level fast forward to the end of that year. And we missed our goals and that's certainly one way to evaluate what happened.

But another way to evaluate what happened is in that year, we six times our previous tenure average for representation change at the company six times. So while we missed our goals, the fact that we set stretch targets, we sent a strong signal to the company. This matters to us, by the way, just by having them set as company goals.

We were able to achieve six times what we'd done the previous 10 years in terms of representation change. So it's five times for total representation, six times at the manager level. Now you tell me, was that a success or a failure? And you tell me how easy or hard it is to communicate to the organization that was on point to drive that change.

How is your heart? Would it have been for me to help them feel excited and proud about what they've done? I don't know. What 

Brett Berson: [00:27:15] do you think to your point? It's probably the way that you deliver it. Some of the stuff is hard to AB test. I guess you could run it year two and try to see what the impact is and a feeling of if we won or lost or what have you.

It's just generally tricky. I think. 

Russ Laraway: [00:27:28] Yeah, I agree. There are no simple answers here. If you're asking me to evaluate a set of complicated, trade-offs. That ultimately require me to make a decision between using stretch targets or using actuals. Generally speaking, I feel like those trade-offs when carefully evaluated lead me toward stretch targets 

Brett Berson: [00:27:44] before we move on.

Is there anything else that you've observed or learned about in this big bucket of alignment and 

Russ Laraway: [00:27:51] goals? I think that should be very familiar to a lot of first round listeners is the idea of standup and I love stand-ups. I sort of taken the ideas I've stolen a little bit. So just below OKR is in the hierarchy of a direction framework is prioritization.

And I think most people are really confused about prioritization and it's this simple prioritization is an exercise in subtraction, not an exercise. In addition, privatization means focus. It doesn't mean juggle a thousand balls. That's not prioritization. I always say three is greater than two. So if you have three priorities, that's more than two priorities.

Three is greater than two is greater than four. Because if you have more than three priorities, you have none. So four is effectively equivalent to zero something. We do a Qualtrics, but I've been doing for a lot of years, really important part of my routine. And my team's routine is a daily prioritization exercise and a weekly prioritization exercise.

So I do not start a week. In fact, it's usually, I usually do this on Sunday night and I will write down the three most important things. I must get done that week. And by the way, they are a function of my, okay. Ours always are also, why am I doing them? And if I'm doing things that aren't reflected, my OKR is I need to go back and figure out why I wrote crappy.

Okay, ours. And then every morning we've been doing this since COVID we use the slack bot. To instigate a daily. Here's what we're working on today. What I do is what are the three most important things I got to get done today and try to really focus on those. And prior to do those things first, I feel like a lot of companies, because they tend to move toward activity-based nights and weekends, 18 hour days, they can lose track of what actually will drive more success, which is a crystal clear focus on that most leveraged thing that I need to do today that will really move the needle for our goals and move the needle.

Isn't some arbitrary, I mean, move the needle. Vis-a-vis our okay, ours. Now, if you do okay, ours, and then you don't ask people to prioritize their work, which is an exercise in subtraction, not addition, you're running the risk of this problem that we all seem to understand. And yet, again, tend not to operationalize, which is people generally will be more successful if they do a few things well than they will be.

If they try to do lots of things. And they'll usually do lots of things poorly. When you think 

Brett Berson: [00:30:10] about planning a week in the three big things that are most important and aligning around those, do you in your head have some percentage of your time? That's just going to be the junk that comes up, that just is like operating and being a, a human being at a company just tends to pop up and you have to deal with it such that you end up saying, okay, I want X percent of my week aligned around the three big things.

And then I'm fine with X percent being all the stuff that just happens in a given week. Or you just incredibly focused on saying no to absolutely everything. That's not in those three categories, 

Russ Laraway: [00:30:47] somewhere in the middle. I'm actually quite good at saying no, we need to teach people how to say no, how to say no politely how to say no respectfully had actually say it and not just ignore somebody.

And so, yeah, I think I'm pretty good at saying no, but also you can't escape. The stuff that comes up. The coping mechanism I have though is, and not everybody can do this. So if you could figure out something analogous for you is I carve out seven to 9:00 AM. Every day I get up pretty early, you know, I'm pretty old.

So of course I get up early and I go to bed early too, by the way, it's a real sexy life. I'm living out here in Utah, but from seven to nine, I block my calendar and you may not touch that time. And I use those 10 hours every week to focus on my most important stuff. And then when I have breaks in my calendar, that inevitably come.

I'll get right back to those things. So I really go and tackle those things before the tempo of the company and the tempo of the day, just sort of washes over me and I lose control 

Brett Berson: [00:31:46] of it. Are there other rituals or habits when you think about daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, that are a part of the way that you operate, that you've found have had outsized impact on you teams, companies you've worked at 

Russ Laraway: [00:32:00] well.

Yeah. So for sure if you're setting okay, ours, which are mostly quarterly, if you don't stop measure and communicate to the company, how we did transparently, I think you're making a big mistake. How can you ever expect someone to take the goal-setting seriously, if you don't model that it's important.

That's a ritual that I think is table stakes must occur. So if you're one of these executives, that's complaining that their goal setting isn't going well. And then you're not communicating your progress toward your company's goals to the company. Then again, why would you expect. Anything different than what you're getting along those lines.

I think I generally bad practices. Here we are. It's March 15th. Let's see how we're doing. You're going to get surprised. Now you only have two weeks to achieve your goals versus realizing there are 13 discrete units in a quarter right weeks and three other discrete units months where you can be measuring progress.

If something's important enough, maybe it's worth having a dashboard that's updating regularly. It was simple example of this is to our senior leadership. I report on our hiring every week. Our people are our best, most important asset and we mean it and we need them. And so we need the new ones. And so that's something that I pay attention to every single week.

For example, and if we're off track, we'll either try to, okay. That makes sense. While we're off track, let's just keep rolling or we'll intervene and say, we got to get back on track right now. We're code red or whatever. So I think those are the kinds of things I'd expect. If you expect me to set goals, I expect you to be transparent about how we're doing leadership.

By example, never goes out of style, flipping 

Brett Berson: [00:33:39] over to the next category, which I think was around coaching would be great to spend a little bit of time talking about that and what you've learned around what that actually looks like when it's done exceptionally well. There's really two 

Russ Laraway: [00:33:51] kinds of coaching there's improvement, coaching, and continue coaching.

And that's it. And then there's a framework that I kind of stole from the center for creative leadership. They have the SBI framework, which is a, basically a way to have the conversation. SBI means situation, behavior, impact. The situation could be the problem or the context like the team meeting the behavior is the behavior you manifested and the impact is the impact of the behavior on.

Whatever your colleagues, the culture, the work I realized though that SBI was insufficient because you also have to give people feedback on their work. So SWI is analogous. So, and that's it. That's what performance is in the end. Performance is behaviors and results. And so you should be coaching people along those lines.

I was really lucky. A number of years back, I coached little league for a bunch of years, probably top five experiences of my life. I was. Impelled to go to a seminar from the positive coaching Alliance. And gosh, I'd recommend a seminar to just about anybody running a team or a company. And they talked a lot about praise and it's tempting to think, oh, of course the positive coaching Alliance talks about praise and the everyone gets a trophy era, but that's not how they talked about it.

They offered the idea that you should be at a five to one praise to criticism ratio. And they were careful to say it is not five to zero, but five to one. And so I thought about this in the context of work. If you think about it, you're not running around firing everybody all the time, which means people are doing much more well than they're doing poorly.

And yet we're really reluctant to call that out. Kim Scott radical candor author, she says on the continue side or praise, she says it needs to be specific and sincere. It turns out that takes a little preparation and thought to be able to do that. But what I learned in little league was nothing drove behavior better than praise.

And so I did this thing where I would keep a book at every practice, like a lab notebook, and I would write down only things everyone did well. And so that started with showing up on time to practice. And then it went into counting loudly during stretching and also included doing the stretches correctly, you know, they're kids.

So they're sort of looking at the geese, flying overhead and pooping in the field. They think that's more interesting than stretching their hamstrings, you know, and on and on down to moving your feet when you're fielding a ground ball, right. And about midway and practice. And then again, at the end of practice, you know, the kids would start to request this after a while, coach Russ let's do some book.

That's it. That's all they would say. That's all right, come on. Let's gather in. And I would read off who was on time. I didn't call out who wasn't, but I'd read off who was on time, read off, who counted loudly during stretching and this drove behavior better than any criticism I've ever seen. Now, we also had to correct the kids when they weren't getting their hips around, you know, before the bat on their swing, you know, you have to, because they're not going to be successful unless you do that.

But the kids did way more well than they did poorly. And again, it's little league. So we care a little more about effort. We care about the inputs, right? We're trying not to overemphasize the outputs though. Don't let anybody be fooled. Like kids want to win. They're very aware of winning and losing. I had a guy, I coached with a bunch and we both were very into positive coaching and our teams did incredibly well and we didn't always have the best talent, but we coached our kids real hard.

We're the team that the parents came up and said, that was a great experience for Anita. We took a lot of pride in that and it's because our emphasis was much more on positive coaching. So I took that over to the workplace. It turns out, I don't know if you know this, but kids are just small people. Every one of us was a kid at one point, and we have an awful lot in common with our childhood selves.

And it turns out this is pretty effective too, in the workplace. And so I tend to be a lot more focused on recognizing those things that are advancing our goals, those things that are advancing our culture, those things that represent great collaboration. And I really, really emphasize those things. And look because I know my only goal is to help someone be more successful.

I have kind of ways to get into that conversation and make sure that people are doing everything they need to do to be successful, including the things they should adjust. And sometimes those go all the way toward very hard conversations. But generally speaking, if I'm doing my job, okay, you have a minimum amount of, of those very, very hard ones.

And one of the things I'm most proud of, and I don't get this right all the time, but this is a new bar I have for myself. About six months in Qualtrics, I had a direct report. She was very familiar with my work with Kim and you know, I'm in the book. Uh, we had a podcast, she comes and she says, her name is Alexis, Alexis Lopez.

She runs people analytics. And she says, you talk about criticizing, people's work and behaviors. And you haven't, we're six months in and you haven't criticized me once. And she happens to love feedback. She's like, wait, something, that's going to help me be better. Why wouldn't I want that? You know, she's got a really healthy attitude.

And what's funny about that was I was scared to death that Alexis thought all I did was criticize her work. Because we'd spent six months evaluating some of the practices she had set up and whether we thought they needed to be adjusted revised, or even some cases scrapped in order to scale and prepare for the company's future.

And this was an amazing moment in time where I was worried. I'd been being too critical because I believe it's, you know, five to one praise criticism, and she never even heard one ounce of criticism. And you don't hear the wrong thing here. We were massively improving her work along the way. It was already good.

We were making it way better. I think sometimes people get confused and if your motivations are pure, I just care about you being more successful. Remember. The job of the manager is to number one, deliver an aligned result. Number two, enable the success of the people on your team, the best tool, the most persistent tool, the most free tool you have to do that every single day at every single moment is coaching continue doing this and improve what you're doing here, both on behaviors and work.

And yeah, I think that organizations that have this discipline are much, much better than the organization. 

Brett Berson: [00:39:55] When you think about coaching and, or providing feedback on an ongoing basis, do you think a lot about the individual, the specific person and all of their uniqueness and complexities, or do you think there's just a binary good or bad way to approach coaching and feedback 

Russ Laraway: [00:40:17] there?

Or for me it's a little bit of both at the risk of sounding like I'm not interested in people's humanity. I'd say I spend a lot of time. Knowing the individuals, the humans that I work with and understanding them a little bit in terms of what makes them tick and maybe even adjusting a way I might deliver some feedback or some coaching to them based on that understanding, I definitely think people get way too focused on that because in the end, if you go back to the objective of coaching it's to help someone be more successful, period, by helping them continue the things they're doing well, and to change the things they're doing poorly, the continue one tends to get easier with practice.

You know, people just don't realize they should do it for a bunch of well understood reasons. The improve part is difficult. First of all, every time someone gets improvement, feedback or tough feedback, it immediately inspires a defensive reaction. I think a lot of us have been taught that a defensive reaction is means we have thin skin.

What I've learned. Especially using David Rock's work. Your brain at work specifically is that it's just a human response. Uh, you have human skin, not thin skin. And so that's normal now you don't get to shout at people just because you're upset about the feedback, but you should always expect. A defensive reaction or a threat response.

It's just common 99 times out of a hundred. And that has to be managed. And that implies lots of things that if you were to study your brain at work, you'd understand how to deal with better. I find that people spend more time talking about their feedback. They spend more time trying to create the perfect circumstances in the conversation.

That'll make it land well. And it just really doesn't, it's just hard for people to hear tough feedback, a lot of variables underneath. If the person feels like they're in a threat state already, their job's insecure, they might lash out more. If the person feels really valued and, and very safe, they might adopt the feedback easier.

And so there's a lot of complicated variables there, but in any case, again, if I'm saying to myself, I have to help this person be successful. If I'm not just super clear on where I think they're going sideways and need to improve. Then I'm just doing them a disservice. And so I'd rather deal with the aftermath with a very clear version of where I see what's going wrong, then a sort of mealy mouth one and all that to say, I never assert that I'm right.

A typical phrase I might use is something like, I think I see something that might be getting in your way. Are you in a spot where you can hear that right now and kind of let them opt in and then it's a dialogue. It's not two overlapping monologues. It's not one monologue mine. It's a true dialogue where we now start to exchange information about the gap let's say, and then we start to elucidate or shine a light on real avenues.

We might pursue to help this person be more successful. And, and that's irrespective of the personality. That's a little bit of the technique. I'll opt more toward. Look, situation, behavior impact. I got to help this person understand how they could be better. That's my first obligation, even if it's things a little, sometimes I just deal with that.

I take that on. I, if I give tough feedback, I know I'm in for a couple of weeks of emotional turmoil and friction in my relationship. I just plan for it. And I yet still decide to give the feedback because it's what's best for that employee in my view. Does that make sense for sure. 

Brett Berson: [00:43:36] You talked about the phrase that you use when going into these conversations, are there other phrases you find that you use all of the time or that if I were to talk to people around you that work closely, they could kind of give you the top five things that you say over and over again, and maybe what are those things and what are they grounded in or why do you say them?

Russ Laraway: [00:43:56] The one I use about 400 times a day is you mind if I push you a bit on that? So someone's over there monologuing about their incredible idea or their big plan. And, and you're, you know, you have experience or you have an opinion and you're starting to spot a gap here, a gap there, you know, this happens all the time.

First thing is never interrupts. That's a really, really bad habit that too many people have. So first don't interrupt. Second, truly listen. So first, if you're interrupting you, can't be listening. And if you're thinking about and mounting your response, you're also not listening, but then a moment comes where you have a chance to offer some course correction, let's say.

And I found that if I just ask the simple question, do you mind if I push you on that? Not only do, do I have about a hundred percent hit or actually not about exactly a 100% hit rate. I swear. I see excitement in people's eyes now. It becomes really clear, like we're saying in some capacity, Hey, your baby over there, your baby have an idea is not perfect.

I'm always careful. My idea's not perfect either. I'm always super careful to make that clear, but together we're going to get closer to perfect. And I've just found that people tend to be receptive. It feels like we're about to learn here. It feels like we're about to develop. It feels like we're about to engage and have a conversation.

It feels like you're engaged in my work boss. It's there are no silver bullets in any of this feedback stuff, but this one might be about as close as I found. And it's in moment two, which is this dream. We all have that. Don't save up feedback until the six month review, but give it in moment. And this is a way I found to be able to offer course corrections improvement coaching also, by the way, Continue coaching praise right in the moment something is happening so that we together help that person, that human being have the best shot at success.

That's my go-to. I don't even know if I come up with another one. You're right. My team could, but that one, I get so much mileage out of that. It's incredible of 

Brett Berson: [00:45:55] survey them and follow up with you. Good idea. When you think about this area that we're talking about, management, alignment, goal setting, are there things that you've changed your mind about in the last couple of years?

It's obviously something all the way, all the way back to the beginning of your career that you spend a lot of time thinking about working on. And so more recently, are there ahas or things that you believed that you no longer believe in this category of stuff that we're talking 

Russ Laraway: [00:46:24] about? What should be obvious to everybody, but wasn't perfectly obvious to me is how important it is that the company sets and communicates its goals and transparently communicates the wins and losses.

The CEO is responsible for everything the company does or fails to do. The CEO's most important constituents are not their investors, not their board, probably technically their customers, but the people who create value for the customers are the employees. And so, you know, I'm in a company now that very carefully sets its annual goals in deep collaboration with a broad set of leaders in the company, not just the head shed goes off site and creates them.

But you know, we've done goal setting with a hundred people in the room actually for the company. Uh, that was really tough, but we pulled it off. And our CEO Zig is he's a very focused guy and he models. That this is all we're doing these goals, these company level goals. This is what we're doing. I don't even want to hear about it.

If it's not something that drives one of these forward. And then we have a practice in the company where at the end of every quarter, we update, we talked to the company about how we're doing, and that includes a honest appraisal of where we're coming up short and what we're going to do about it. And so I was at companies that did this.

Dick did it at Twitter. Eric slash Larry did it at Google and we've done it at Qualtrics. I think what I've learned in the past couple of years is that that's gotta be done. It's crucially important. It must be done. And if you're not doing that, you're missing a really big opportunity to reinforce what matters to the company and to demonstrate, but to stand up and say, we failed here and here's what we're doing about it.

You want a company full of people who can say I failed here and here's what I'm doing about it. And it's just so difficult for people to say that. So that's probably along these lines. The biggest aha. If the company's not modeling accountability, clear, measurable goal setting, then I don't know why you'd ever expect one person in your company to do that themself.

So I 

Brett Berson: [00:48:29] wanted to bounce around a little and ask a collection of different questions. And the first one is as a senior leader in a company, I'm sure you spend a lot of time with all sorts of people across the company at varying levels. And that's an amazing place to figure out what's going well and what's not.

And how you can improve when you catch up with somebody that's maybe not a direct report, just someone in the company. Are there questions that you ask or a way that you approach the conversation that you find you get really useful stuff about what's going well, what's not other than just asking. So 

Russ Laraway: [00:49:06] first thing is, I think you have to be a little careful about.

Your expectations around what signal you would get from one of those conversations. One of the things I've noticed over the years is that every individual in a company is very willing to take their own experience and extrapolate that that must be the common experience across the company. And occasionally that's true, but far more than occasionally, it's not, when I'm talking to people around the company, if I'm looking for signal, I've got a theory, usually in my mind, because we're doing listening at scale.

I mean, this is what our company does. We have an employee experience listening product. And so what that helps me do is to understand that while this individual's having some challenge or some experience in that still important to help them with, by the way, don't misunderstand, whether that is something that is broadly applicable across the company.

I tend to be very familiar because I look at this stuff nearly obsessively with what are the major trends at the company. And again, most of these trends trying to correlate them with engagement, by the way, because that's what drives results for the company. And so I tend to have a decent understanding of what the signal is.

27 offices, global company, multiple functions, sales, service, engineering product. Right. So I might be inclined to inquire and ask questions and mostly just listen, I'll give you an example. During the pandemic, our engagement was increasing. And, you know, in the early days, a lot of people were just getting backhanded, right?

We didn't have a big work from home, this position at our company. And it was really tough adjustment for a lot of folks. This is well-trodden ground, but our was increasing in our managers appeared to be improving measurably as well, both at scaling through the pandemic. And so I went and grabbed our three best managers.

We recognize last year, our top three managers in the car, I went and grabbed him and I said, Hey, is this when I tell you our engagement is higher than it's ever been? Is that a surprise to you? Or does that resonate? Because I think a lot of people were just not sure how they were feeling. We were also challenged with all the different things we had to do with our kids and our failing internet.

And I don't have a desk. And you know, all these challenges people had, especially in the early days and each of the three of them were resolutes that this adds up and they said, they each said something like this. First of all our, our company's response to COVID was very strong. And so people generally felt like even though they had a bunch of challenges that maybe the company couldn't always address at scale, they felt cared for.

We only had one goal in the beginning, which was the wellness of our employees, safety of our employees. And so that came through. That was good, but a little more leveraged was these managers said, look, I have been less distracted by not being in the office. And they said, what this means practically and I, as I'm leading my team is that I am able to spend more time on two major things thing.

Number one is this idea of enabling their success. So more time coaching them around the things that matter toward achieving our objectives. And the other was I've been able to lean in much harder on their personal wellbeing. And when you start to think about all the variables that affected people during the pandemic, they're actually, they're actually really, really rangy.

And it makes one common solution at the company level, very difficult. However, a manager can sort of customize the experience for an employee. If they understand the decisions they can make for the employee and also understand the employee's unique challenges. And so each of these three bet, now these are our three best managers.

So maybe some of this isn't exactly a surprise, but each of these three managers said, these folks found that they were able to be better leaders. And so if I heard that from them, just Vicky came and told me that Vicky's one of our top three managers told me about that thing. She found I might not be as inclined to call that signal.

I might just say, well, of course, Vicki is a great manager, but when we saw these two themes managers improving and engagement, improving over the course of the year, Then I went out and I was able to get the story from our three best. And this held up for me actually. I mean, it's, it's not a perfect answer.

It doesn't explain everything happening. And by the way, there's still people with tons of challenges and addressed at scale by the company. And then on the flip side, when someone, and they have a challenge, that sounds like it might be a little more their challenge. So this is a coaching opportunity I'll generally make sure, do you want me to be confidential here at you?

Not I'll give them sort of a warning that if it's in certain areas, I can't offer you confidentiality, things like that. And then they can make a decision whether they want unload and, and generally with some pretty basic discovery questions can usually get to the root of what's going on for one prescription for folks is be careful not to assume that everything you hear from an employee in the company is signal for the company.

It's almost certainly signals for them, but it might not be signal for the company. And I think there are ways you can understand what is the signal for the company and you could. Drive a conversation to better understand, or to put a little more meat on the bone. You know, you take your data, take your open-ended comments, and maybe somebody will shine a little better light on some problem you're seeing at the company at scale.

One of the things 

Brett Berson: [00:54:27] I was curious about is you mentioned that you sort of have these top three managers or there's a top three manager award. Is there anything that you've learned from those folks or you've watched them do that you think contributes to their excellent management, maybe outside of the pillars that you've already established, or maybe there's an example that reinforces that framework that you shared with us 

Russ Laraway: [00:54:51] earlier.

They're good people. First, they each are really, really good human beings and they show up like good human beings to their teams. We teach them what the right leadership behaviors are because we've measured them. And we know that if you manifest these leadership behaviors, the team's more likely to be engaged on average.

There's not a lot. I want them thinking about and focusing on outside of those things, because again, remember the beginning of this, the world, in my opinion, is conspired to confuse the job of the manager and to confuse the average manager. And so I try to keep it simple and have them feel confident that if they exhibit these behaviors, that better engagement, better results will come.

But there is one thing that they do that I think is really important, which is each of the three of them. And I bet this is true for a number of our best managers. This is not something we measure. They work very hard to extract the power differential that naturally exists between a manager and their employee out of the equation.

And if you think about it, it's real hard as a leader to get out of your people. What they really think. And, you know, I believe Steve jobs said it. He said, we hire people to tell us what to do, not the other way around. And I think lots of people love that cliche. I think very few people actually mean it.

I think people love to say it. I don't think they mean it well. I mean it, and I know that the only way I have, I know I have to create a culture. If I'm going to really learn what my employees really think. I have to create a culture where I actually dismantle as best I can. The power differential that naturally exists between us.

I control things. I control pack control promotion. It's always there. You just got to realize that that power differential, no matter how hard you try to dismantle it is always there. And so there's no risk to going out and sort of farming for descent and trying to get people to tell you what they think exactly the way they think it and creating a culture where that's rewarded and not penalized.

And I think when I look at each of Vicki and Cody and Adam, what I see are three people who dispatch with higher their hierarchy, they're the bus. And there's no getting around that. And they're responsible for everything the organization does or fails to do. And they sometimes have to make unpopular decisions, but when it comes down to it, they sit side by side with each other people.

And it's, here's what I think you should keep doing. Here's what I think could go better. I'm here to help. Here's the way I think I can help. How do you think I can help? Are you clear on where you need to go? What else do you need from me? And then they just go and they serve their teams. They serve their teams.

They sit alongside them. They dismantle the power differential very naturally. Actually, I'm not even sure if each of them would say it's conscious, but they do it. And their people feel really comfortable telling them this is where I'm struggling. This is what's going wrong. There's this dumb dynamic on our team.

That meeting was a disaster because why are we being spoken to by the next level of leaders in such a way? And that puts them in a better position to kind of resolve their employees, concerns the real ones. You know, I always say, I want the version that you go home and tell your spouse. So whatever you're telling me now, if you go home and tell a different version of your spouse, you're going to be out of integrity with me.

I want the version. You're going to tell your spouse. And it's real hard to get. And I think these three people do that really, really well 

Brett Berson: [00:58:06] when you watch them, or if you were trying to coach a manager on how to best dismantle the power differential, what sort of the, 

Russ Laraway: [00:58:17] how behind that? Well, the first is something we actually do measure and should measure.

Is actually the frequency with which the manager solicits feedback from the team. First of all, I don't know why you'd ever expect anyone without a very specific personality type, like mine, that they're going to just kind of walk up and tell you this is silly. And so you have to learn how to skillfully, get people, to tell you what they really think.

And there's a way to do that. And it's not, can I have some feedback? That's about the worst possible question for everybody, by the way. Hey, can I get some feedback versus maybe testing a theory or maybe saying things like, for example, Hey, is there anything different I could be doing that would help you be more successful?

What would you like to see more of from me? What would you like to see less of from me? Hey, I didn't feel right in that team meeting, something felt off. Do you have any insight for me on what could have gone better? There's just all these questions you could ask that are, make sense in context, that invite.

Farm for descent. And then, so you just think about these in context questions, how can I be better? How can the team be better? To me? Those are the same. I'm responsible for everything the team does or fails to do. So tell me how the team can be better. I'll just take that on board as something I need to be better at.

There's a million questions, by the way, it just takes a little bit of curiosity, a little bit of context, and off you go. And then what happens next is really important. You need to listen and not become defensive. The bigger, the unload toward you, the harder that is, but you got to do it. You cannot penalize the person for speaking up.

If you penalize them, you end for a very long time, their willingness to do this. And so in that moment, just listening, not responding, not interrupting, not becoming defensive, just listening. Is really important. And then ultimately you have to have discretion whether to act on the input or not. I think that, well, you have no choice, but to listen carefully, I think you need discretion on whether you're gonna act on something, going back to something we talked about earlier, not everything you hear is signal for the whole company or for the whole team, but many things are.

And then just as important is the team needs to be able to observe a pattern over time that you ask for it. They give it, and then they are not only not fired for having done it, but they're not punished. They're rewarded instead. And then you start to create a cycle. These are pretty basic, obvious, I think things to do, but it all starts with good questions.

How you react to those questions. You have to fully sanitize your reaction, engage, talk, discuss, ask more questions, listen, don't interrupt. And then ultimately demonstrate a pattern where people are rewarded for having to dissented it rewarded for having spoken up and not in any way. Punished for having done it.

And that is what creates a culture where people tell you what they really think that loop that takes place over periods of weeks and months on 

Brett Berson: [01:01:11] this theme of questions. Something we actually haven't chatted about is the core engagement survey itself, which is obviously something you've obsessed about.

Particularly given the company you spent a number of years working at now, are there specific questions that you have found are incredibly useful in an engagement survey that maybe a lot of people don't think about or maybe don't have in their survey? Yes. 

Russ Laraway: [01:01:36] Is the short answer to that? The longer answer is just a bit more complicated.

So first of all, engagement tends to be a very predictable set of five questions. How proud are you to work here? Discretionary effort, question net promoter score, likely to recommend this company, employee satisfaction. How satisfied are you? Years and years and years of research. Have shown them to predict results.

And, but, but by the way, that's an important thing that I just said, which is I find that when a lot of people start talking about engagement, they're talking about what they think engagement is not what is measurably shown through some cases, 30 years of IO psychology to predictably deliver results. And the way a typical engagement survey structured is you have the engagement questions and then everything else is a driver question.

And meaning you will use statistics underneath the surface to determine how much this question matters and explaining engagement or not. And so anyway, then that means that the most important questions, if the manager explained 70% of the engagement. Leadership engagement, results model that I mentioned earlier.

Well, then the most important questions are the questions where your employee talks about whether the managers demonstrating these leadership behaviors. And if you put those questions in terms of behaviors, you avoid popularity, contest issues. There's a lot of people think employees lie on engagement surveys and they do, but they lie in both directions.

I like my manager. I'll give them a little benefit of doubt. I can't stand my manager. I'm going to give them a little doubt of the benefit. If you sit there and you think people are only lying in a positive way. Oh, that's just nonsense. So people in lines at aggressive word, but sort of exaggerating because they liked their manager exaggerating.

Cause they don't things like that happen, but it all comes out in the wash. So I think if I were starting any company out with an engagement survey first is get the engagement questions. Right? First and foremost, always ask an intent to leave question. I'm seriously considering leaving X. One of the things we've learned is that there's not one single engagement or driver question that predicts attrition, except for the question where you ask somebody, if they intend to leave, has a unbelievable explanatory power in whether someone's gonna leave.

You see, ask those questions and then you figure out your most important driver questions. And for us, we said, look, if the manager explains 70% of engagement, then we're going long on whether the managers are showing the leadership behaviors that drive engagement. And we're asking their employees, not their manager, their manager gets plenty of evaluation on the manager.

I want to know from the employee's perspective, if the is showing the leadership behaviors that matter. And the reason is look at Qualtrics, we're pretty good. Actually, our managers are really, really strong, but global engagement is 15%. That's on a hundred point scale, by the way, it's percent. That's it that's, I don't even know how to evaluate that.

It's disgusting. And if managers explain 70% of engagement, that means systematic global failure of managers, by the way, in the U S it's only 33%. That means in the United States, managers are systematically failing their teams by the way, for Gatesman predicts results. Think about all the lost opportunity.

This, I can't even believe venture funds. Aren't more focused on this by the way. So at series B is when I think there's no excuses anymore. Series a seed. You could convince me in play experience. Now let's just get the product built. Let's just get the product market fit. I'd actually push you a little bit there, but when engagement is poor, Results will be poor.

This is well understood. And by the way, the tech industry, our sort of favorite industry tends to be more like in the 70 to 75% range. And so we maybe have a little bit better managers on average, this would imply, and we also tend to have companies with big missions and we're fast moving. We're growing.

Those things tend to contribute as well. People are proud to work at their companies anyway. So you got to know what engagement is, not what you think it is. Oh, they don't seem engaged. What do you mean? What do you mean? They don't seem go measure it and then be very thoughtful and careful about what you think drives engagement.

There's a universe of like 400 questions that are possible to ask. And my recommendation is your first priority is managers. Cause they're going to, their managers are going to, you're going to find out what's really going on in your company by understanding if your managers are exhibiting the right leadership 

Brett Berson: [01:05:41] behaviors on that note, what are your go-to questions that you've chosen to ask employees about their 

Russ Laraway: [01:05:47] managers?

It probably won't come as surprise. I think it's 13 questions we ask. I'm not going to give each question, but they're around direction. They're around coaching and they're around career and ask questions, like simple question. Does your manager help you set your OKR? Simple. The answer to the question should be yes.

What are you doing, manager. If you're not doing that, a more interesting question is, does your, the manager gives you a say in his or her. Okay. Ours, meaning do you have a say in what the teams, we think that's important too, right? You're not just a recipient of direction. You're also a creator of it.

Coaching. Does your manager give you tough feedback to improve? Does your manager regularly give you praise for job? Well done on career? We have, I mean, you've seen my first round capital talk. So the career stuff's a little bit more oriented around that career conversations model that I've talked about.

So questions like that. They're predictable. The framework is direction coaching career, because that's the framework that tends to lead to engagement. We develop questions around those ideas and then we tested them on whether they quantitatively explain engagement or not. And most of them explain it very strongly actually.

Brett Berson: [01:06:54] I wanted to end by talking about some of the writing or books or courses that you've been to, that you think have had an outsized impact on the way that you think about this work, 

Russ Laraway: [01:07:06] the leadership engagement results model was not really born of anything other than I just kind of paid attention to a couple of thoughtful people, a couple of thoughtful companies in terms of how to lead.

I have a, I call it my 13 book, definitive leadership library. I mean, again, I think there's a lot of interesting books out there, but I'm trying to simplify the world for managers and top of the list. I actually am kind of excited about this part of the conversation. Cause my hunches, I might say things that are not as common.

I hope anyway, if I don't want, then I. Feel like a fraud, but let's go the first book, the only thing that gets close to a Bible for me in terms of like a business Bible, you know how people say that is a book called conscious business. I got him Fred Kaufman. It's so tempting to skip over things like understanding that my truth is not the truth, but still needing to fully own my truth.

It's tempting to skip over the difference between a victim and a player and how to manifest more like a player at work. It's tempting to skip over what a actual commitment, the structure of a commitment, a commitment, maybe more than any other factor leads to operating excellence. It's tempting to skip over all that stuff, but you shouldn't because I sit there every day and I watch people play the victim and I watch people not make solid commitments.

They haven't answered the three questions who will do what by when. And so that one for me is sort of top of the list and also this idea of being ontologically humble, meaning what I believe to be true. Is not true. It's a valid perspective, but it's my perspective. I think if I could change one thing in business, I could snap my finger and change.

One thing it's that every single person would realize that their version of reality is not reality. It's just reality for them. And that we have to learn and understand each other's versions of reality in order to get somewhere close to the truth. And therefore put us on a better path to success. I would go your brain at work by David rock.

If you're out there trying to give coaching and you don't understand the basics of how the brain works and some of the common social threats that manifests in the workplace, I think you're abdicating your duty. It's everything, right? It's the hardest thing we do. And you don't even understand why people tend to be defensive and sad when you give them tough feedback.

Like, what are you doing? I think multipliers by Liz Wiseman, the idea multiplier is extraordinary, but she did something legitimately brilliant, which is she created nine accidental diminisher tendencies. So the diminisher is the opposite of a multiplier. Multipliers. Get two times the whatever out of their teams diminishers get half.

And. You tend to think of diminishers as terrible people, the accidental diminishers are all wonderful people. The protector is actually diminishing people systematically just because of your instinct to protect your team from whatever. So that one's an incredible book. Of course, radical candor. That's so obvious.

Maybe I didn't have to say it. I go grit. I love grit and things like that. You've probably never heard of a message to Garcia, which is a simple book to describe what it's like to show initiative, measure what matters. Of course, the servant as leader by Robert Greenleaf, extreme ownership by Jocko, Willink, and Leif Babin.

The thing I'm perhaps most disappointed in among people I've seen at companies is they really don't take a long-term. Ownership disposition. Most people are taking a short term disposition, a very practical decision they might make. I'm not going to give a hard rating here, and I'm not going to have a hard conversation because why would I ruin this relationship risk, ruining this relationship when I'm going to be out of here in a year and a half?

You know, that's not longterm ownership. That's not good for the company. It's not good for you. It's not good for the person. And then built to last tribe. And of course mindset by Carol Dweck. And that's it. I think that's 12. Oh, the leadership moment would be 13. 

Brett Berson: [01:10:42] That is a perfect place to end 13 books that people can dive into post this conversation.

Thank you so much for spending all the time with us. This was so wonderful and excited for your book. And to add that, to make that the 

Russ Laraway: [01:10:54] 14th. Yeah, thanks. I really appreciate what you all are doing here. So thanks for having me, but more importantly, thanks for this work that you're doing. I do think that smaller companies miss a big opportunity to focus on professionalizing management at early moments because ultimately people deserve to not only do great things, they deserve to be totally sights while doing it.

And the thing or entity or variable that is most likely to deliver those two things as a high quality manager. And I don't care what stage of company you're at. That's always going to be the case. So thanks for what you're doing. Thanks for saying that. 

Brett Berson: [01:11:27] We so appreciate it.