Teryluz Andreu, Axialent Partner & Culture Expert, and Ginger Hardage, Founder of Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship & Former SVP of Culture and Communication of Southwest Airlines, engaged in an interactive forum discussing how leaders can create and sustain cultures of enduring greatness within their organization.

Ginger retired from Southwest Airlines after an illustrious 25 years and created The Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship. UCF lives on as The Fellowship (which Axialent has the privilege of partnering with this year), a four-day masterclass helping you build a captivating culture that your customers can’t resist and your employees refuse to leave.

Ginger Hardage Unstoppable cultures

Ginger and Teryluz began their discussion by listing the three most common pitfalls organizations run into during their pursuit of cultural transformation and advice on how you can address them.

  1. Leadership is not on the same page. It is critical for leadership to be on the same page when trying to evolve their organizational culture. Alignment amongst the leadership team on what kind of culture they desire, how they will drive it, and what commitments they are willing to make is vital. If misalignment occurs within leadership, it will not only be noticed internally but externally as well.
  2. Lack of processes and discipline. Cultural transformation is not a one-and-done project. It requires time, processes to support the change, ongoing communication, and discipline in follow-through. Too often, organizations underestimate the rigorous processes and disciplines needed after launching cultural initiatives and don’t make the necessary investments to drive sustainable change.
  3. Lack of employee involvement. It is important to understand employees’ thoughts and perspectives before making organizational changes. Often, organizations do not listen to their employees’ pain points and roadblocks, which slows efforts down the road. When employees are involved from the start, it creates a sense of ownership and shared responsibility to overcome barriers and see transformational change.

Ginger and Teryluz shared some insights on actions that we can take to address (or even better, avoid) these challenges. It all starts with two key steps: Define and Demonstrate.

  • Define. Have open conversations with your team about these key questions: Where do we want to go? Who do we want to be? What do we need to protect? What do we need to evolve? Teryluz mentioned that this step is a great opportunity to find creative ways to make everyone in the organization a part of the cultural conversation.

For this to work, senior leaders need to have a vision of where they need to go, but also have the courage to seek understanding. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, these leaders need humility to let go of any preconceived notions on what needs to change. Understanding the current culture from employees’ point of view will help inform what key shifts need to be made culturally.

  • Demonstrate. Help leaders walk the talk. When it comes to demonstration and changing culture, Ginger outlined a few key things leaders should address:
    • Culture is everyone’s job.” The most effective efforts involve all departments, not just the typical communications and HR-driven initiatives. If all leaders aren’t living the values and modeling the desired behaviors the desired outcome will not be achieved.
    • For culture to change, leaders may need to change. Leaders must reflect on how they need to change, not just the organization. It’s critical to provide safe spaces for leaders to gain self-awareness on how they need to improve their own mindsets and behaviors to align with the new ways of working.
    • Never underestimate the power of storytelling and leadership visibility. In the era of social media, people are used to the continuous flow of communication and increased accessibility. Engaging in conversations about the what, why, and how of the organization’s cultural initiatives has to be a constant process across multiple channels. To be authentic, leaders need to find what approach works for them, understand what is most engaging for their internal audiences, and establish a cadence to keep the dialogue going.

Even the best laid-out strategies can get stuck or go off the rails. Ginger and Teryluz offered some ideas on what to do if you feel stuck in your culture journey.

Watch the entire webinar now! Click here.

  • State the need for change. Tie the need for change to your business strategy and priorities. Ginger encouraged organizations to look at their “return on culture” like other ROI challenges. How can culture drive your business at the enterprise level? It’s essential to clearly articulate how the lack of change will impact employees.
  • Give a cross-section of leaders the responsibility to lead culture. Too often, change is only driven through the HR lens, which can be limiting. It takes a cross-section of people to solve problems and help initiatives get unstuck.
  • Don’t be too prescriptive. Let people serve the organization in the way that works best for them. Model employee empowerment and involve people in creating solutions for problems they care about.

Like any strategic change initiative, cultural transformation requires a clear vision, discipline in execution, agility to adapt to circumstances, dedication to overcome obstacles, and a great deal of resilience.

Let’s allow this journey to be an opportunity to evolve as people as we transform our organizations.

Many organizations have identified the need to drive culture change to adapt to evolving business needs and strategies and new ways of working and retaining talent. The need is clear, and the desire is there. So, what gets in the way of actual change happening?

Most culture change efforts start with a lot of energy but quickly lose steam.  We start seeing the tell-tale signs that we’re not moving forward:

  • Senior leaders dedicate less time and focus
  • Culture activities get cancelled or postponed
  • Initiatives are superficial and there’s no real effort to change mindsets and behaviors that get in the way
  • Focus is on storytelling, but not on “story doing”

As time goes on, it gets difficult to remember why we were doing this to begin with. Because we don’t know what got us here, we wonder, can we really change? We start focusing on all the reasons why we can’t change instead of what we are missing by not changing — what other possibilities could exist.

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a shock to the system, a call to consciousness to make us focus back on culture – an incident that publicly exposes detrimental behaviors permeating the company and tarnishes the brand, talented people leaving due to burnout and disengagement, crippling bureaucracy or missed growth opportunities.

If you are a leader or culture champion, you may be wondering: How can we jumpstart the culture change? How can we spark renewed enthusiasm and support? Instead of looking for a recipe for success, we encourage you to address the challenge with curiosity, one conversation at a time.  Contemplate who you need support from to reenergize the process and how you can best engage them in discussing the following questions:

  • Who is in? Who is indifferent? Who is out? Why is that the case?
  • Are we clear on why culture matters to our business?
  • Are we aligned on what needs to change about the way we do things today?
  • What is holding us back from making the necessary shifts?
  • How can we quickly demonstrate that things are changing?
  • As leaders, how do we need to change to ourselves?
  • What commitments are we willing to make?
  • What support do we need to fulfill those commitments?

Conventional wisdom is that change takes time; in reality, what it takes is intention and practice.  Culture changes one conversation at a time.  If your culture journey is stuck, jumpstart it by creating a safe space to discuss the questions above constructively.  It may sound counterintuitive, but instead of doing more and going fast, it may be better to focus on less and take time to reflect.  Don’t get discouraged if things don’t happen in the first conversation. Change requires intention, inspiration, a simple plan, and practice.

What would the corporate world look like if there was no curiosity at work? What if we stopped being inquisitive about the world, others, and ourselves? In times of disruptive change, individuals and leaders need to embrace both: running the present and preparing for the future. Those who are good at both will thrive in the 21st century. Curiosity is preparing for a comeback. According to LinkedIn data, there has been a year-on-year 90% growth in the use of the word curiosity in job advertisements.

As many leaders can attest to, there is a difference between complicated and complex problems. Complicated problems are what dominated our 20th century — they could be solved with technical expertise, in a methodical and relatively more linear fashion. The reality of the 21st century is that our world, and our problems, are VUCA — that is, volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. We cannot solve our problems with just the expertise and experience of the past because the variables are constantly changing. Solving complex problems require openness to new realities.

Due to these factors, the human dimension of life and work has become even more profoundly important. While humans have always mattered, the focus in the 20th century was on efficiency and production. Now, due to the complexity of our problems, there is more focus on the greyer area: the human dimension, of which curiosity is one of the central drivers of.

Today, research by SAS.com has discovered that nearly three quarters (72%) of managers believe curiosity is a very valuable trait in employees, with more than half strongly agreeing that curiosity drives real business impact (59%) and that employees who have more curiosity are higher performers (51%). Other research by SurveyMonkey found that the key ingredients for companies to weather economic downturn during COVID-19 were Curiosity and Agility. At a personal level, the Global Curiosity Institute (GCI) has established that curious professionals and leaders make faster careers and take home higher salaries. GCI has also found the need for a symbiotic positive relation between curious professionals and curious organizations. Curious organizations are those who embrace curiosity intentionally and ensure curiosity is celebrated throughout through their positive culture, processes and practices.

To enable this, what sort of culture must be created? People cannot be afraid of being wrong. They cannot be afraid of telling difficult truths. And they must feel psychologically safe. In other words, there must be cultures of learning, and where a player mindset is safe and encouraged. A player mindset is when faced with a situation, we concentrate on our own behavior and our ability to respond — focusing on factors within our control and what can be done to improve the situation. In a mindset like this, we are naturally curious, because we are constantly aware of our own actions and reactions, and can take positive action. The opposite of a player mindset is a victim mindset, where we hide behind factors outside of our control. Cultures where blaming abounds encourage victimhood, which drives curiosity and learning away.

A second mindset linked to curiosity and conscious business is key: “the learner mindset”, as opposed to “the knower mindset”. Being a knower is not about being knowledgeable, but about the concept of Truth and how we interpret the reality around us. The knower thinks the way that they perceive reality is THE Truth. The learner, on the other hand, understands that their perception is ‘their’ truth, and that other truths may also exist. Being a learner is about accepting different perspectives: the knower holds expertise with certainty, while the learner may have expertise also, but holds it with curiosity. These are not permanent tags; a person can shift from one mindset to the other at will. In a learner mindset, being curious does not mean we become unproductive or indecisive. On the contrary, engaging in difficult conversations as a learner instead of a knower is more effective.

So how do you start the journey of culture change?

Anabel Dumlao; Partner, Axialent: People who belong to a culture act how they think they are supposed to act. They will try to belong, or leave the culture if they feel stifled. The first step is to realize that culture is built — that levers do exist. In other words, it starts with awareness. If you don’t realize this, you will end up with a culture by default and not by design. Culture changes when behaviors, symbols, and systems change consistently over time. When it comes to curiosity, this means that you will observe behaviors like leaders asking sincere questions, symbols like people whose ‘productive failures’ get them promoted and not expelled, or systems like learning and development that track what people learned more than the hours they spent training. The culture designed should be one where people can thrive and delight customers. And we must remember, the shadow of a leader is long. Leaders who lead by example and show up with curiosity, invite the team to follow their example. Those who don’t, stifle the team.

Stefaan van Hooydonk; Founder of the Global Curiosity Institute: Awareness is indeed the first step towards action as it paves the way for taking positive and intentional action to do something about the status quo. Intentionality is therefore crucial for companies to embrace a culture which celebrates both exploitation and exploration, both celebrating the past and embracing the unknown future. Curiosity can be measured and be managed. You can measure the status quo, and derive action plans from there. When it comes to training people, some companies focus on changing their environment, while others focus on training mindset and habits, some do both. In any case, C-suites are becoming acutely aware that what worked in the 20thcentury does not necessarily work in the 21st century. The 20th century was stable, and we didn’t require too much focus much on creativity, curiosity, or innovation. Companies like Microsoft have changed the paradigm with leaders like Satya Nadella, who inspired his management team to shift from “know it all” to “learn it all”.

Our awareness and how we approach change makes the difference between how reliant we are on past solutions, versus how curious and adaptable we can be to this VUCA world we now live in. Today, we need to be learners and problem finders. Problem-solving is when we use our current skill set to find a solution. Problem-finding is when we predict what could go wrong, which requires a much more open, curious, and imaginative mindset.

No one would argue that work landscape has changed significantly in the last years due to covid-19.
According to a Mercer report, 71% of employers said last year they were going to adopt a hybrid model. And, an Accenture report noted that hybrid workforce models are embraced by 63% of high-revenue growth companies.
Although there is no exact definition and it can vary according to each organization, hybrid work is understood as the possibility of alternating (fixed or flex way) working from home, from a remote location and a central hub or office.
While there are many advantages for organizations and employees in adopting a hybrid model, it needs to be planned and consciously managed to offset some of the disadvantages hybrid work has revealed in the past years. Let´s look at the main drawbacks people have expressed after forcefully adopting this new way of working.

  1. It diffuses Human Connection: although technology platforms and collaboration tools have taken a quantum leap facilitating access to virtual experiences, human connection and sense of belonging have been diluted. In a virtual configuration, we tend to jump from meeting to meeting focusing on the task and results while investing little time on hanging out and mingling. Some people tend to experience weariness, loneliness, and disconnection.
  2. If not carefully planned, cross group collaboration can drop dramatically, and organizations might become more siloed: some organizations are already reporting an impact on sharing collective wisdom and innovating. Although spending face to face time is a possibility, it´s not always assigned to becoming more collaborative.
  3. Remote vs On Site Mindset: There are different shared beliefs by remote workers vs on site workers. Often people working from home can feel their career development is being impacted due to a lack of connection with their peers and/or leaders. We sometimes tend to believe we need to be “visible” to be considered by people who have decision making power in our careers. This might drive some additional tension to the implementation of the working model.

Human connection and sense of belonging are key to create a trusted environment and develop a high-performance culture.
So how can we as leaders, foster belonging in a hybrid environment?

  1. Make face-to-face time count: no virtual experience can replace the physical connection, so plan and invest purposefully your time together — it´s precious and needs to be taken care of. Building and growing your “WE” into trusting and collaborative relationships is the best use of your time. Plan for formal and informal gatherings to strengthen your bonds and get to know each other.
  2. Get to know your people — plan for 1:1s: We all come from different places, are immersed in different contexts, and have different needs. Let´s not approach our teams with a “one size fits all mindset”; ask your team what they need to feel more connected with you, the team, and the organization in this configuration. Make connection and sense of belonging part of your ongoing conversations and periodically assess with each team member their level of connection.
  3. Encourage mentoring / peer sessions: Developing a mentoring program creates a safe container for people to come together and share own experiences, wants, and needs. People feel heard while being challenged to adopt new mindsets. Mentoring has proven to be a great mechanism to help people grow in all 3 dimensions (I / WE / IT).
  4. During hybrid meetings, start with remote workers: Hybrid meetings can be messy and ineffective; it´s harder for remote workers to follow through and for onsite workers to be mindful of those who are accessing virtually. Before starting the meeting make sure you have the right technology in place so everyone can clearly hear the conversation that will take place in the room and in each virtual space. During the meeting periodically pause and check with the team how are they experiencing the meeting. Make sure you always give priority to remote workers to voice their opinion first without being overran by others. Setting clear ground rules is key for leading effective meetings.
  5. Foster vulnerability & authenticity: showing up and being seen as who we truly are with our own strengths and opportunities bring us together. Embracing others without judegment and with compassion creates an inclusive culture. As leaders, we have a key responsibility in role model an inclusive leadership inviting others to do the same.

Implementing a successful hybrid work model requires more than ever creating an inclusive environment where people feel connected and have a strong sense of belonging.
It´s not about making the model itself work, it is about consciously managing our culture and creating the right conditions to enable people develop to their full potential in any given working environment.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is one of the top trends that is shaping organizations in 2022 and beyond.1 Best practices in DEI have been talked about for decades, but how much change have we actually seen? Recent surveys have shown that we still have a gap in turning intention into impact.  According to a recent study, four in five (80 percent) of senior leaders think that their actions show that they are genuinely committed to greater DEI, while only three in five (58 percent) individual contributors say the same.2
Much of the traditional DEI efforts have been centered on corporate messaging on the company’s commitment to DEI, implementing HR policies to attract, retain and promote diverse employees, tracking DEI-related data and conducting mandatory training for managers to promote awareness of unconscious biases. These top-down and HR-driven actions are important, but not sufficient. In many cases, what organizations see as DEI challenges are underlying organizational cultural problems manifesting themselves as DEI issues.3
For example, the global pandemic has shown us that we need to think beyond traditional definitions of DEI and help people in organizations have more authentic conversations and conscious interactions. These day-to-day interactions are greatly influenced by the unwritten values and behavioral norms which guide the way we approach our work, interact with others and solve problems. In other words: the company culture.
For example, consider the impact that the following culture norms could have on team members feeling included, heard, and valued:

  • We are expected to come to our bosses with only good news
  • We shame people for making mistakes
  • We have a bias for action and value quick consensus over constructive debate
  • It’s not ok to disagree with others in a meeting
  • We only share business performance information on a need-to-know basis

Culture norms like this exist in every organization. They guide and regulate what is acceptable behavior in a group. The problem is that in many cases, these norms were not consciously defined in the first place, and we may not even be aware that they exist —they are “just the way we do things around here.” To drive culture change, the first step is to identify and name these unwritten norms, and discuss what may be driving them and whether they may be helping or hindering our journey to be a more diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace.
This process will be more effective if leaders work on adopting a learner mindset. When we shift to a learner mindset, we actively treat our views and opinions as our subjective interpretation, acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers and that there are multiple perspectives. This creates a positive snowball effect – we can better uncover and understand the culture norms that may be holding us back, benefit from the perspectives and ideas of others to drive the culture shifts, and visibly role model inclusive leadership behaviors.
A learner mindset also helps us to acknowledge that we will never be ‘done’ when it comes to understanding the context and experiences of others. By entering a space of humility and being willing to be vulnerable, we can better invite others to also be vulnerable and to openly share how they feel. This creates psychological safety: a space where people feel free to fail, to say ‘I don’t know’, to admit their mistakes and to be vulnerable about their feelings and experiences. It also encourages people to share their ideas, challenge others, raise issues and constructively disagree. Creating this safe space is the most important first step to creating a culture that truly values DEI.
This is an invitation to pause and reflect on what has and hasn’t worked in the last couple of years and to encourage ourselves, our leaders, and our employees to consider:

  • How can we facilitate more constructive and honest dialogues around what we need to change to drive representation and belonging?
  • Where are the gaps in our own cultures and behaviors?
  • What are the best experiments we’ve seen or experienced to drive a more constructive and inclusive culture? Why did they work? How can we refine and replicate those actions in other parts of our organization?

Creating a constructive culture that fosters DEI is a journey that will never end. Once you become more aware, you realize that there is much more to learn, unlearn, explore and do. We need to treat change as an ongoing process and experiment; not trying to get things perfect but working with conscious intention on making things better each day.
 
 

111 Trends that Will Shape Work in 2022 and Beyond (hbr.org)
22022 employee experience trends // Qualtrics
3 The limits of “Cultures for…” the latest or most urgent organizational problems (humansynergistics.com)

When we were kids, we learned so many things from having zero knowledge about them. For example, how to speak our own native language (and then others’), names to call people and things by, who are adults and who are children, what is an animal, the good and the bad, the why of everything 😉 and the list goes on.
Learning these things was a joy. We actually enjoyed the process of going from zero to then being the holder of some information that was going to help us process our experiences in the world. We were hungry to learn more and more and had thousands of questions about everything. We already practiced the 5+ why’s, often annoying our parents.
We loved to learn and to grow, and the changes that learning brought to our lives were for the most part welcomed. The big question is: what happened when we became adults that change became so stressful and anxiety generating? Why did learning and growing and getting out of our comfort zone become something to avoid?
The answer is, we probably learned something we didn’t realize when we were kids: that society didn’t always reward changing. Change became synonymous with risk, fear, and unsafety. Learning something new and growing did not always mean that there was no risk in doing so. If you made a mistake on the way to learning, there could be consequences for that. As a result, we became “knowers” who don’t admit what they don’t know. We started to take less risks, and to become more comfortable and bound by some secure circumstances and certainties we created for ourselves. Within these boundaries, we would generally repeat similar cycles but not truly seek transformative growth or change.
The trouble is less risk-taking leads to less innovation and growth. In order to enable a culture of innovation and growth, we must be willing to inspire and encourage a safe culture of risk-taking. The agile methodology to this is to take a lot of chances, and to make quick, limited impact mistakes. By testing things again and again, you then know what you can continuously improve. This environment mimics the type of circumstances we had as children. Knowing that we can be wrong, that we can make a mistake is a characteristic of psychological safety. Feeling psychologically safe allows us to feel confident in taking risks, managing, and mitigating them, and ultimately learning and growing from what did and didn’t work. We take away the fear of what might go wrong and switch our mindset to one of — even if something does go wrong, that’s good because now I know what to work on.
What is working against this approach is that many aspects of leadership in our current world are based on fear. The predominating leadership style is arguably still one of carrots and sticks: of control, domination, power dynamics, and inducing fear in the direction of some desirable carrot (monetary, title, status, etc). On the bright side, there are many organizations that are now progressing along the curve to being more psychologically safe.
As kids we were vulnerable and innocent, something we were not allowed to be as adults. This is a big mistake that agile organizations in a VUCA world are changing with an intentional culture made of vulnerability-based trust, benefit of the doubt, open-authentic communication and learner mindsets. Particularly high-tech companies, startups, and Fintech companies have created a system of prototyping, testing, and rapid iteration. The smallest companies are starting to eat up what were once the biggest ones through rapid growth and innovation. Key to this is culture and conscious leadership.
The question now is, how can you promote a culture of psychological safety this year — in your family, community, team, and workplace? By inducing a safe environment where people can tap into the child-like play and curiosity they once had, you may likely begin to see outsized results in learning, development, and growth.
Good news: we will finally reverse the course of time and rejuvenate ;-)!

In the first article of this series, we shared the specific challenges we witnessed when launching an Agile Leadership Program at a leading financial services company. At Axialent, we deliberately expose and analyze ‘the gap’ before we intervene. We call it the ‘From-To’. It helps us gain a deep understanding of the problem and empathize with our clients as we embark on co-designing the solution with them. In this second article, we share our thinking around the principles that informed our approach to this Agile leadership journey.

The Journey

Following is an illustration of the Agile leadership journey:
 

It consisted of three collective workshops, each a few weeks apart, and individual coaching sessions in between them. During these 1:1 encounters, the coach and participant worked on the coachee’s commitment to experimenting with his/her behavioral change. Full disclosure: this structure was presented to us as a suggestion based on successful deployment at the Executive level with another business partner. We took it on to adapt, test, and learn further with the remaining top-200 leaders (executives included).
 

The Participants

 
The first aspect of this program was defining the target audience. Traditionally, our client would offer leadership development programs at their corporate university campus, as the location where they ‘built culture’. They liked to mingle leaders from around their geographical footprint, resulting in diverse cohorts that did not necessarily work together daily. This had its pros. However, we wanted to test a new approach: we directed this program at intact teams, meaning leadership teams that worked together every day. We believed that this would allow them to have more earnest conversations around real-life challenges that affected them all directly. The most significant plus for us was that they could make commitments that genuinely mattered to their shared agenda. Participants would be primed for mutual accountability.
 

Cadence

 
agile team workingThe second aspect that made this program different was that it was not designed as the typical immersive, residential, intensive x-day workshop. Instead, we scheduled shorter interventions several weeks apart. This design was deployed before the pandemic, so the sessions were held face-to-face. Nevertheless, this concept has survived to this day as a valid structure for most of our hybrid or purely online leadership development journeys.
 

Test & Learn

 
Another principle we followed was a prototyping approach of sorts. We ran pilots for each group intervention and led retrospectives where feedback was gathered from participants as if our lives depended on it. We moved past the typical satisfaction survey and got extremely curious about the participants’ experiences. Which were their ‘a-ha’ moments and pain points? When did they flow? With whom did they connect? What did they learn? This provided a wealth of feedback that we integrated into the last legs of the journey.
 

Shared Accountability

Lastly, we took a shared responsibility approach to facilitation. Both coaches and participants were responsible for the best use of the group’s time together. This is not a new concept, but it gained even more traction as we added elements to the program that emphasized this approach: each program milestone ended in commitments, draft experiments, individual and collective action plans, and a learning buddy system for participants to hold each other accountable for their learning goals. The burden was not on the facilitator; we equally distributed it among all involved. And in teams where circumstances changed mid-journey, both leaders and their facilitators jointly decided how they would shape the agenda differently moving forward.
 
As you can imagine, some things worked, and some things did not click at first. Far from disappointing us, we confirmed that the approach was valid: prototype, test, gather feedback, integrate it, learn, and share the responsibility to improve iteratively and incrementally. This was an agile learning journey after all. We would not have it any other way. Or would we? In the next and last article of this series, we will share the top lessons we learned alongside our clients as we deployed this leadership journey.
 
We look forward to exchanging points of view and continuing to learn together if you’d like to comment below!
 

Ten years ago, I decided to focus my career on helping organizations innovate by developing new products and services. Because of that, I did my best to embrace what I considered an “Innovation Mindset.”  I thought to myself: I need to become an innovator and adopt this mindset in my life. For me, this meant not being afraid to try new things, takings risks, and doing my best to be creative. However, as a result, I became someone who struggled with routines because I thought an innovative person should not be static.
As I started to grow personally and professionally, more complex problems appeared in my life. The idea to optimize, or improve, some aspects of my life did not resonate with my “innovation mindset.” I didn’t have a problem with the idea of improving and trying new things. The conflict I had was that for me, optimizing meant finding a routine and sticking to it.
 

The breaking point

 
my innovation mindsetThen, eventually, there was a point when I realized that the pain of not doing anything was larger than the pain of change. So, I started my Optimal Me journey. I decided to start with my nutrition. I reduced sugar, carbs, and read some books on the topic. I have to be honest, I could not become a keto person, but I became conscious about how I eat and how my body feels when I eat garbage (aka “junk food”).
Then, I continued my journey and started tracking how many hours I was sleeping. I downloaded an app and noticed how bad the quality of my sleep was. I kept going and explored new ways of exercising, measuring my HRV to understand my nervous system. In other words, I got quite nerdy about it. I started to read about meditation and practiced it 3 to 5 times per week. I tried specific ways of breathing to deal with stress, and so on. My point here is not to talk about all of my experiments in the Optimal Me program, but to reflect on the fact that what started as a small step became a deep dive on improving several aspects of my life.
 

Readjusting my innovation mindset

 
As a result of implementing these improvements, I was able to cope with some personal and professional problems and found the balance I wanted to achieve (for now). You might wonder if I currently have a fixed routine that includes all of these tools or techniques? Not quite. I do have some routines, but there are a lot of things that I stopped practicing. I thought I had failed because I had explored so many things during the last two years that I was not applying regularly. For example, I remember thinking: “Why am I not tracking my sleep anymore?”
The answer is simple. I am aware that now I sleep fine. Then I realized that some of those experiments helped me to deal with moments of stress, anxiety, and more. I was not using those techniques, apps, or routines simply because I did not have those problems anymore. However, now I have a set of tools that I can use when I feel I need them again. And this is the whole point of optimizing my life. Develop awareness, learn, test, and repeat if it makes sense. Otherwise, save it for later.
I realized I had a framed optimizing my life in the wrong way. It’s not a journey that you start and finish. It’s a life-long learning process of self-awareness and trying new things to deal with all the life-changing challenges that appear along the way. The cherry on top is that this is how innovation in organizations works. Having a successful business is not possible with a fixed optimization formula. The things that worked in the past may not be useful in the future. This is how I optimized my innovation mindset.
 

According to Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., procrastination is a common human tendency. About 20 percent of adults have regular bouts of procrastination. She claims it is so common that no one can ever completely avoid it. Psychology researchers say that procrastination is characterized by the “irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences.” How can we overcome this paradoxical challenge that so many of us are facing?
Recently, I committed to writing an article for our website and, at the time that I did, I was energized and enthusiastic. Time passed, other work piled up, and… ahem… I admit I was tempted to renegotiate the deadline. The challenge is that at Axialent, our culture frowns upon the behavior of making excuses – one is expected to be a player, own up, and honor commitments, or renegotiate the terms of the agreement.
Bummer.
The victim in me was agonizing, wanting to say, ‘I don’t have enough time.’ A more culturally acceptable version of this at Axialent is, ‘I prioritized other commitments.’ But what about my commitment to write the article? What happened to my willpower in this situation? In any case, that was not the best version of myself.
Instead of letting this angst go to waste, I decided to use it to jumpstart this article. I wondered whether others who may read this could be beating themselves up for similar situations. And I thought that those readers might find it helpful to know that, 1) they’re not alone, and 2) there’s a science-based method out there that allowed me to put this article together and get-it-done.
 

So, what can we do when procrastination gets the best of us?

 
What happens when procrastination gets the best of us?
If you think that I listened to a pep talk that made my fingers glide across my computer keyboard, think again. The fuel that got me going was something I learned in one of Axialent’s newer programs called Optimal Me. There was no motivational speech, just scientific facts on how the brain works, how our mind works, how our body is this smart machine that I had neglected. Among many other provocations, this one nugget of wisdom stuck with me: better than having the motivation to do something is having a motive. Why? Because motivation depends on my emotional state, while a motive will always be around when I need it.
So, as all my anguish poured in at the thought of submitting this article, I turned to my motive. I just had to remember that the ultimate reason I had for writing this is not to produce a perfect literary piece, comply with a deadline, or respond to a colleague’s request. My motive is to share less-than-extraordinary experiences that could make ordinary people’s lives a little better. It’s to be of service and maybe help others out.
Once I connected with that, my energy reset. My mood was out of the question. I put in the work. A less than perfect first draft came out. I trusted my colleagues to edit it with due professionalism. And got-it-done.
 

The Optimal Me method

 
Optimal Me is not a recipe book from where I took this advice, plugged and played. It’s a journey that exposed me to thought triggers from a carefully curated stack of knowledge about our well-being. More importantly, it enticed me to experiment my way to better-being (yes, I just made that word up). How? The course’s experimental nature made it attractive because it became a game that I was happy to play – albeit without gamification.
I’ve participated in development programs before where learning outcomes were based on knowledge consumption. Others, the transformational ones, relied on double-loop learning. This program is different in that the main goal is to learn to experiment for the sake of experimentation. Knowledge was not there to be consumed but to shape my experiment. I was free to pick the topic that I was more drawn to among all the curiosity triggers I received. I felt empowered to shift mindsets and learn!
This comes with a bonus: I, the participant, reaped the benefits of this program in full. I did not learn something that I was expected to ‘pay forward’ to my team (like leadership skills) or ‘pay back’ to my company (like technical skills applied to my job). What I learned by experimenting with productivity directly affected my well-being at work. What I learned after experimenting with nutrition, sleep, and exercise affected my body.
Given the constant uncertainty we’re living in these days, more and more companies we engage with are earnestly concerned about and caring for their people’s well-being. If you work at one of those companies and want to explore a non-threatening, enjoyable, and science-based method to address this pain point now, I recommend you give Optimal Me a try. Experiment. It will be worth it.
 

If you would like to see the recording of our live Optimal Me webinar with Oseas Ramirez, click here.

After a year of a pandemic that has taken a physical and emotional toll on hundreds of millions of people, the elusive idea of “well-being” is more relevant than ever. Even before the pandemic, it was already a hot topic with an established multi-billion dollar industry. The need for organizations to prioritize their employees’ well-being is more present than it has ever been. Does this mean we have the right tools and resources at our disposal? Not exactly.
 

The Road to “Well-Being”

why organizations need to prioritize their employees’ well-beingOne of my qualms about the idea of “well-being” is that it often follows a prescriptive approach. This is how one “should” eat, workout, rest, work, etc… oh, and here is the evidence for it. As well-intentioned as this might be and as well-substantiated as the proposal may be, I have noticed that many of us find it difficult to fully connect with it beyond just accepting what is proposed.
In many cases, we fall into a loop of feeling we “should” do something or be a certain way. We feel bad when we fail to follow the recommendation or achieve the state we believe we should pursue. We sometimes even reach the conclusion that doing or being a certain way is out of our reach because of __________ (fill in the blank with your favorite response – the one I found most people reference is the lack of willpower or discipline). In many cases, we are either left with the option to “try again” and see if this time we will have the willpower, or try the next new workout class, diet, or meditation app in hopes that this time it will be different. Many of us are familiar with the new “hope-try-drop it-feel disappointed” cycle.
 

Why is it so difficult to adopt changes that are good for us… that we know are good for us?

I have been passionate about exploring this question for years now. I did so silently as I focused on consulting Fortune 500 companies on topics related to innovation, agility, and digital transformation. A couple of years ago, I realized that there were a series of overarching themes in the space of innovation that actually shed some light on helping us adopt those changes. Coupled with some of the core aspects of behavioral science popularized by many habits books and publications, I found an interesting intersection: behavioral innovation through personal experimentation. This was the starting point for Optimal Me, a program we launched at Axialent in 2019.
Ever since, we have worked with seasoned leaders from over 10 countries, spanning Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Africa. We have asked them to run experiments on a wide range of topics – whether it’s intermittent fasting to increase focus and energy, new workout routines to help with stress reduction, breathing practices, personal productivity methodologies, or team productivity approaches. The most gratifying aspect of this work has not been the direct results of the experiments, but when people reestablish the confidence to playfully experiment with learning something new. Trying out a workout regimen for a couple of weeks, measuring how I feel about it, and trying to learn what works best for me is very different than powering through two weeks of doing something that may not even be the right fit for me, but I have a sense of obligation that I should do it.
 

Conclusion

We have learned that people are much more likely to stick with well-being initiatives if they actually enjoy doing them. Working on discovering this joy through a non-threatening (yet rigorous) personal experimentation process, supported by basic tenets of behavioral science is the core experience we are trying to instill in our Optimal Me participants.
Research has shown the incredible benefit of workplaces that provide well-being initiatives. Eighty-nine percent of employees at companies that support well-being initiatives were more likely to recommend their organization as a good place to work. Organizations with supervisors that supported their well-being plans reported a higher number of workers motivated to do their best, higher job satisfaction, and better relationships with their superiors.
If you are interested in innovation or growth mindset, Optimal Me will offer you a concrete way to embody it in your life. If you are just interested in learning how to be better in key aspects of your life, Optimal Me can offer you tools and approaches for you to test your way into it.
 

If you would like to see the recording of our live Optimal Me webinar with Oseas Ramirez, click here.