Have you ever held your vacation time back to use towards the end of the year? I have several weeks off coming up, and boy, do I need it! I am feeling the burn a little and can’t wait for my upcoming travels. I have a trip with a dear friend to NYC, and we are also going to Disney as a family, so we are excited! What about you? Have you been taking your vacation? If not, here’s your reminder. Take your time off and don’t waste your vacation time before year-end. Enjoy and make sure to take breaks, especially as we are entering Q4 of the year, which is always a busy time!
Today on the show, I have Nancy Lyons, who owns multiple business and is also an in-demand keynote speaker on the future of work.
During my chat with Nancy, we discussed:
- How leadership has evolved since Nancy started her company, Clockwork, back in 2002.
- What the role of companies and individuals is when discussing the future of work?
- Her thoughts on work-from-home in a time when many employers are asking or mandating their employees to come back to the office.
- How we can start using ChatGPT if we haven’t already and why AI is important to know for the future at work.
- How companies can win the war for top talent.
- How we can keep our “new employee” energy and why that is important.
You’ll notice this conversation has a focus on the energy that we feel and bring to our jobs is what matters and is the foundation for the future of work. It’s no longer simply about our output, but it’s also how we show up at work as whole people, with feelings, families, dreams, and more.
Listen to the podcast here
Remote Setup, War For Top Talent, And The Future Of Work With Nancy Lyons
Nancy, welcome to the show. How are you?
I’m good. How are you?
I am good. I’m excited for our conversation. When we first met, you had a lot of good energy. I think you’re going to bolster even my energy. I’m excited to get started.
I love it. That’s a great compliment.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about you, what you’ve been up to, your backstory, and how you’ve gotten where you are now?
I’m Nancy Lyons. I work in the technology space. I am a Cofounder and the CEO of an experienced design and technology consultancy called Clockwork. We’re based in Minneapolis, but we have clients all over the globe and we have staff all over the country. We solve big gnarly problems for the enterprise. That’s the easiest way to distill it. We help our clients determine technology solutions in the form of very complicated or complex websites, software development, and mobile applications.
We help them define the solution and then strategize the best way to execute the solution. We design and engineer it. We deploy, and oftentimes, we manage it going forward. We also have a small change discipline that helps to ensure that the technology that our clients invest in will succeed because we make a real effort to bring our clients’ teams along with us. We think of people, processes, and technology in that order when we deliver technology solutions.
I love the name Clockwork. It was like clockwork. That is what I was thinking with the name. What motivated you to start the company?
It’s not the first company that my partners and I started. We were involved in another company years ago called Bitstream. It was an early internet service provider in the Twin Cities market. In 1995, Bitstream started developing websites for commerce or commercial clients. We built that company by doing web strategy and design. Also, engineering for clients like HJ Heinz, M&M Mars, and Fairview Hospital Systems.
It was a great early start in this space. That company was sold in 2001. When we started to think about what we wanted to do next, we wanted to apply everything we had learned from starting very early in the mainstream internet space to working with enterprise-class clients, to the actual acquisition and what it was like to merge inside of a larger company. We wanted to take all of the lessons we learned in the context of all of that and start a new company.
We used to joke. It’s not a startup. It’s a start over. It was about creating a smaller nimble engineering shop that can respond to our client’s needs in innovative ways. It wasn’t about trying to be the big consultancies. It took us years to build our consulting practice. It was about having a scrappier, budget-conscious, and nimble-minded approach to the work. It’s been successful for us.
When we started, we were oftentimes competing with advertising agencies. What has evolved for us is the space and the sophistication of our clients. We aren’t internet marketing. We aren’t internet advertising. We are software developers and business problem solvers. Our clients get that now and those are the opportunities we see more and more of every single day.
I love your commentary. I know you do a lot of engagements and speaking opportunities on leadership. I also want to get all of your feelings and thoughts on leadership. Clockwork started in 2002, is that correct?
How do you believe leadership and organizations have evolved since then?
It’s different from organization to organization. Some companies are much more open to evolution and some are not. Sometimes it depends on industry, but I think we’re starting to grasp, especially in this time post-pandemic. A ton of evolution has happened in the context of the pandemic and beyond because it had to. We had to figure out how to work differently. We had to figure out how to engage people differently, and we’re still figuring that out.
What we know now is that we can’t snap back to the way things used to be. We’re getting those messages loud and clear. Even though there are CEOs out there who are mandating this absolute return to work, no questions, no issues, and no problem, we’re still recognizing that things about work have to change. My belief is that there’s less of a distinction between leaders and everybody else in that.
In order for us to make use of remote workforces, in order for us to think about the future of work and how we’re going to fit there, in order for us to evolve in all of our organizations regardless of the industry we’re in, we have to embrace the fact that leaders have to show up at every level of the organization. People need to embrace their leaderly selves and show up as those in all contexts.
The only way businesses are going to succeed right now, not looking at each other for 8, 9, or 10 hours a day, is to be highly communicative, to employ people who can take risks, and to employ people who are able to make decisions. People who see themselves as part of the solution, not the problem. People who take initiative in solving problems. I think that leadership is something that is necessary for all of us to recognize in ourselves and show up every single day in order for companies to see the greatest benefit.
It’s not about the boss sitting in the glass office anymore is what you’re saying. It’s about everybody taking responsibility for their own personal leadership.
Absolutely. Hierarchy in most organizations displaces agency. That’s a simple way to articulate this idea that most people are looking for somebody to tell them what to do or to validate what they’re doing, or 4 or 5 different people to help them come to a conclusion or help them not feel like they’re taking such a big risk. We don’t have time for that. We don’t have time for it.Hierarchy in most organizations displaces agency. Click To Tweet
We can’t abdicate responsibility. We can’t rely on the org chart to keep us moving with all of the big ideas and the power coming from the top. We all need to engage ourselves in our leaderly essence. We all need to use it to propel our organizations, teams, departments, disciplines, or practice areas forward. I always get people saying to me, “I’m only one person. I can’t change anything.” That is not true.
I often tell people you’re responding to this need in the context of a big culture in a big Fortune 5 or Fortune 1 company. Maybe you can’t change the entire company because it’s 60,000 or 100,000 employees or whatever, but you are part of a micro-culture or many micro-cultures and those you have influence over. What can you start today to start to incrementally change how you show up, how your team shows up, and how your department shows up? What can you start offering to your colleagues to encourage them to do the same?
This is so powerful and I wrote down, “Hierarchy displaces agency.” I will give you all the credit for that maybe in a future meme. I have been in organizations where colleagues or co-workers will say, “Just be quiet. It’s not even worth it.” You have mentioned that. What you’re saying is that by hiding, not wanting to take on more work, and not wanting to show up as their leaderly selves, they’re doing the company and the culture a disservice because they’re not shining as brightly. They’re not bringing their opinions. They’re just fading out in the background and letting the “leaders” do the heavy lifting.
That’s true. That’s exactly what I think. We’ve gotten too big and too complex. There are too many moving parts in most companies. Even in the smallest companies, there are different technologies and roles. There’s high demand from customers because customers and clients are not interested in waiting long. They want solid communication. They want promises kept. We don’t have time to wait for the boss to validate what we think we should do. We have to know it and we have to take others with us.
We don’t have time anymore to wait for permission. In fact, this is where that old adage “Ask for forgiveness, not for permission” is super helpful. Try something. I am going to segue into something silly, but I have a talk that I give on intrapreneurship. I made the distinction between being an intrapreneur and an entrepreneur in that talk. One of the things I call attention to is the idea that the word entrepreneur comes from the French phrase entreprendre or something like that. It means to do something.
It’s interesting to me because in our culture, we talk a lot about entrepreneurs, but it’s only the big sexy stories that we tell. We very rarely hear stories of businesses like mine. I’m not a giant and global monolith. We are a solid mid-sized business in Minneapolis that services clients all over the place, but it’s important for us to recognize that all companies require this kind of energy. In order to move forward and get to where we want to go, regardless of the size or industry, we need people to show up ready to be intrapreneurs.
This means they need to accept the idea that inside the organization, they are more valuable if they take initiative and they do something. If they carry with them the spirit of the entrepreneur, they take some ownership, and they take some of that entrepreneurial energy. In addition to that, they have to remember why they do this work in the first place.
They have to tap into their purpose because entrepreneurs hustle. Entrepreneurs had a why, to begin with. Entrepreneurs do something because they feel compelled to. I often encourage people in that talk and outside of that talk to re-commit to their purpose. Remember why they’re there because that manifests in great energy.
One resource about why is Simon Sinek. He has the whole concept of why and finding our why. If you’re like, “I don’t know my purpose,” that’s a great place to start. Another place is looking at your values and writing out a purpose statement. I don’t think that you could go wrong with Start With Why and Simon Sinek. Do you have any other resources on how women can find their purpose?
I appreciate what you said about Simon Sinek. I want to spend one second on the other thing you said which is a brilliant idea. I encourage people to do it often. That is we write business plans. We write marketing plans. We write strategic plans, but we very often take the time to sit down and write our own purposeful plans of intention. That allows you to be clear about that purpose because you’re going to write your purpose statement. It also lets you articulate your personal values and ensure that those values align with the values of the organization you belong to.
Some of our toxicity that comes from out of nowhere just shows up because we get frustrated, and because our purpose doesn’t feel connected to the work we’re doing for a particular organization or not aligned with the values. Maybe we don’t feel the same kind of energy from the team. I say to people all the time, “If that’s the case, leave.”
We have agency both inside and outside of the organizations that we are in. There’s a part of us that is a reflection of our parent’s values, “You can’t just quit a job without another job. You can’t just leave.” If your energy is one of ownership, purpose, and entrepreneurialism, and it’s strong and you want to do good work, you sure can leave. There are opportunities out there. We know that. Using that power and articulating in a way that keeps you grounded, an artifact that you can continue to return to is a strong way of ensuring that when you do show up for an organization, you can be clear on the fact that you belong there.
You’ve mentioned something important that I want to go back to. Let’s talk about the energy within a workplace. You tell me what you think about this. I think you and that employer are doing an energetic dance. You’re bringing your energy. It’s bringing its energy and it works. What about when it no longer does? It’s confusing. At one point, you are so excited and you’re like, “Yeah,” but organizations change or maybe you change. Have you ever counseled or talked to anyone about that scenario when they’re wondering, “What happened either to me or to the organization? I’ve been here a while and the energy is not matching anymore.”
That’s a great question. For those of us who are women in leadership roles or looking to pursue leadership roles, what I often encourage people to do is trust their instincts. When you can’t be engaged, when the work doesn’t feel right, when you’re no longer aligned with your purpose, and the energy is not even toxic but not motivating. You’re not finding inspiration in the space or you aren’t connecting with your colleagues in a way that makes collaboration essential.
When you aren’t feeling like your ideas are seen, heard, or valued. When you’re not feeling like your work is appreciated. When those things start to happen, trust your instincts and start to prepare. I do believe that oftentimes when we are on leadership paths, we do evolve faster than organizations. We do move more quickly. Depending on the industry, sometimes that’s just the nature of the beast.
Oftentimes, you have to leave a place to get to a position that you want that perhaps isn’t available in your current scenario, and then come back and apply what you’ve learned to that organization. I am not a believer that you absolutely cannot hire people who have been with you before. You have to evaluate those situations on a case-by-case basis. We can certainly learn from people who take those what I like to call walkabouts.
I have several people that I value tremendously on my teams who have quit before and gone to another place. I have one VP who went to 2 or 3 places and decided, “This place continues to reflect my values absolutely,” but the three stops that he made on the way on that walkabout have been so valuable to us in terms of how we’ve been able to level up our marketing and some of the tactics in our sales and marketing process. It’s been super valuable.
The first thing to do is trust your instincts. The second thing is to recognize where your relationships can be helpful. I am a big believer in candid conversations, not corporate conversations. If you’ve hit a wall in terms of opportunity in an organization, my hope is always that you have a mentor/leader, boss, or supervisor that you could have candid conversations with about whether or not your instincts are correct.
Mentorship inside and outside of the organization is essential. Trusting your instincts is essential. Recognizing where you may not be valuable today, but you might be tomorrow is essential. There are a lot of different ways but I do think energy is important. Also, recognize your energy is important too. The energy you bring into engagements, projects, initiatives, collaboration, or whatever can set the tone for so much. Instead of being a victim of energy, be a leader where energy is a concern and be the person who sets the tone.
I like that. It also points back to say that we have to take a share of responsibility. We can’t be like, “It’s the company’s fault. The company has changed.” That may very well be true but you’ve got to point the finger back at yourself and do the analysis to be like, “Where am I at in this whole process?” As an extension of that, I wanted to touch on being an intrapreneur. What about organizations either pre or post-COVID that have become I don’t want to say anti-change management, but let’s say that they’re slow to move?
How do you counsel people or explain to people like, “It takes the time that it takes. If you’re not jiving with their pace, you need to go out and maybe test out an organization like a startup where change happens more quickly.” Maybe that’s too much for you and like Goldilocks, you’ll find the right one. Maybe you’ll come back around and use that experience for good in your existing company. Any comments on when organizations are either slow to adapt or change?
You have to recognize your own appetite for change. There may be companies whose pace might be slower than the average but absolutely appropriate for yours, and that’s usually industry. You know. In my work, we spend a lot of time and focus on regulated industries, which in large part are slow to adopt technology. They’re slower moving because there are so many pieces and parts, and regulatory aspects of the work too.
We work a lot with insurance, manufacturing, financial services, and healthcare. You just know by hearing the word manufacturing that you’re probably working with organizations that move a little more slowly. Certainly, there are always leaders. In every pack, there are leaders, and yet you can probably guess. It’s about self-awareness and recognizing what you’re capable of. We’ve heard this forever, “Change is the only thing we can count on.”
We don’t have to run at change like it’s a long-lost romantic partner. We don’t have to be that excited about it. Most people resist it simply to resist it. I could go on and on about how comfortable we are with the past because it’s known and the future is unknown. That’s why we get angst thinking about what we do not know because we can control what we know.We don’t have to be excited about change. However, most people resist it simply to resist it. Click To Tweet
That’s why people resist change and we used to have so much time to adapt to innovations. It’s time that we simply don’t have anymore because it’s all moving so quickly. We’re all experiencing these symptoms of late-stage capitalism in that we’re going to have to redefine the entire system at some point. What we’re all feeling is the hustle culture and internalized capitalism. That makes us want to move fast.
Every organization has its own pace and it’s about, first, accepting that change is inevitable. Second, understanding the appropriate pace for healthy change in the context of your organization, and third, working to ingrain the importance of change and adaptability. One of our core values is being fueled by challenge. That is so critical because challenges are coming at us daily. If that’s not something you can get behind, you probably shouldn’t be here.
I do think that encouraging curiosity, interest, experimentation, and also, encouraging environments where it’s safe to fail, all of those are essential with regard to how we embrace change. Maybe it’s not change as a whole that you want to take on as a solo person inside of an organization. Maybe it is experimentation. Maybe you are part of thinking about innovation.
The thing that I want to point out here is everybody talks about innovation. It is one of the most overused words in the business language today. Everybody wants it all and companies are feeling the pressure to do it, but we confuse the word innovation with invention. Invention means to create something new. Innovation means to tweak something that already exists for the better, which means to change. It’s inevitable. There’s no avoiding it, but how we look at it, how we plan for it, how we embrace it, and how we show up energetically is super important.
I’m hearing through the line of energy here. Everybody, monitor your energy and that of your workforce. I wanted to ask and you probably have been asked this a million times, but I’m excited to talk with you about it. Let’s chat about the whole work-from-home stuff. I was hoping that we would have already had this figured out. I was thinking, “We’re in the pandemic. We figured this out. We’re working from home. We’re all figuring it out.” Now, all of these places are going back to full-time work. People are irritated. They’re ticked off. They don’t feel like they’re trusted. What do you think about this whole situation?
It goes back to what I said earlier about how we understand the past. The past is easy. Many leaders in organizations feel more comfortable trying to snap back. What they’re not realizing is that we can’t. We’ve been experiencing this global existential crisis since the pandemic where people are wondering, “Why are we doing this? Why do we do what we do? Why are we always busy, working so hard, and sacrificing so much of our lives when people who don’t even know us and don’t include us when they’ve decided, “We all have to come back to work.” In their minds, we’re better in the same space when we’re looking at each other.
That’s true for some people. It’s not true for all people. What’s missing in all of these conversations that pretend to be future-focused is the people themselves. I wrote an article on LinkedIn about the importance of including your people. I used the example of my own staff. We had an all-staff meeting a couple of weeks ago, and we piloted a workshop that we’ve been working on in our change practice. We had these interactive sessions where we throughout challenges that are unique to this mostly remote workforce that create headaches that we try to solve with in-person meetings.
We ask people to push themselves. These were design thinking and human-centered workshops where people participated in defining the solutions. We gave them this time. We facilitated the different team breakout sessions and then everybody came together. I will tell you that every single team that broke off into a group came back together to present a real workable possible solution to not only support additional connective tissue between people and enhance relationships but also communicate more effectively in an asynchronous space, using meetings for essential issues and not all of them.
Also, breaking down what I like to call Zoom exhaustion. People are exhausted on Zoom all day long. It takes a lot to be there and our staff came together with some great ideas. What we’re missing is broader input and a human-centered approach to what’s next. I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all outfit. It’s different for every business and industry.
It’s going to require experimentation and trying and failing. It’s going to require some space, but you know what? The workforce will have greater respect for leadership inside of organizations when and if they invest in doing that. Just to be included says so much about your desire to honor these wide varieties of perspectives and needs.If the perspectives and needs of the workforce are honored, they will have greater respect for their leadership. Click To Tweet
I think that is very important because your employees probably feel valued and trusted, and that they’re part of the process. This might sound harsh but not like they’re in a daycare center where adults go to the office because they need to be watched versus being trusted to get work done.
I often think that when people don’t trust their staff, it means they don’t have any available measurements to know if they’re getting what they ask for. Maybe those systems need to be shifted.
This dovetails right into the next question on the workforce. We’ve already established that the workforce is changing. We’ve established that the whole environment of work is changing. I also know that hiring practices are changing. We had the Great Resignation and everyone was demanding higher pay. I read in the Wall Street Journal that it’s starting to come back the opposite way where employers are like, “Forget this.”
More people are looking for jobs so it’s sliding in the opposite direction. Either way, what do you think companies are going to need to win the war on top talent? Let’s say that you’re looking for a position. You’re very intelligent. I know your top talent. Let’s say I’m looking for it. I’m going to consider myself top talent. How do companies score the best of the best?
First of all your reputation precedes you. The workforce is looking for organizations that make sense to them and whose values, purpose, and mission resonate. They’re looking for leadership that is accessible to them. I think your reputation, I don’t mean Glassdoor. No offense to Glassdoor or any other online review site. What I know about humans is they go to places to complain before they go to praise.
It’s good old-fashioned word of mouth or online conversation. It’s easy to find people who work inside organizations. Your pitch in the hiring process or your recruitment process has to be true. It can’t be aspirational. It can’t be marketing stuff. It has to be true because people will find out if it isn’t. That’s number one. How do you talk about yourselves? Do your values align with who you are? Do you show up for people the way that you say you do? All of that has to be true.
In addition to that, we have to recognize that we confuse gimmicks or perks with what matters to people. That’s because it’s hard to talk about the non-tangible stuff. What we know will resonate that’s easy to talk about is competitive salary and competitive benefits. We talk about the gimmicks on top of that. We can say, “We’ve got free lunch every Friday,” or “We don’t work on Fridays,” or whatever it is.
Those are gimmicks and perks, but they’re not the stuff that matters to people. The problem is we don’t know how to talk about that in the context of recruiting, which is why your reputation is so important because only the people who are there can say, “Yes, you can believe us. This is how I’ve experienced it, at least for the most part.” There’s no ideal workplace, but I do think that recognizing how you recruit has to align with how you show up is important.
Part of the interview process has to be talking to people about how they best work. “How are we going to get your best work? What do you need from us to support you in delivering your best work? How do you measure your best and how should we measure your best?” Sometimes the old ways of working don’t apply. Also, what kind of support do you need from leadership or from the team around you?
It’s not just about asking them, “Can you do the job?” There are deeper more probing questions that we can ask that give us a sense of what kind of worker, what kind of mind, and what kind of critical thinker we’re adding to the mix, and how they would contribute to that mix. I say contribute very deliberately because we are often looking for fit. It’s good to have people who work, operate, and think differently, and who push different boundaries.
Those people show up maybe not as a fit but as a solid contributor to the work. That’s the opportunity we have ahead of us. We have to get past our need to see people or work with people who look just like us, operate just like us, and make us feel comfortable. In fact, I think people who do things a little differently in the interview process and who are willing to speak up about it and push us to maybe think differently are the people you want to invite to the table.
That’s good too. Just because I may not look like you or vice versa, or maybe I have a different perspective or I’m going to push you in a certain direction doesn’t mean that I’m bad. It could mean that I’m good because I’m allowing the organization to see differently or be more innovative rather than us being a school of fish swimming in the same direction.
I’m not telling you just what you want to hear. It’s easy to hire somebody who is a yes person, a sycophant, or whatever. That’s easy. It’s harder to invite someone in who’s going to challenge you and maybe push for better products and results, and also faster deliverables. Whatever it is, that discomfort could lead to a better end product.It is easier to hire a yes person than invite someone who will challenge you. However, hiring the latter can help you push for better results and faster deliverables. Click To Tweet
I’ve asked this question before of other guests, but you give out a whole new perspective around talking with the candidate to say, “How will we get the best work from you,” and then listen and walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Also, challenge yourself internally to be like, “Hiring manager, are you hiring someone that looks like you or are you hiring someone that’s going to complement and stretch you?” That is a different answer that I’ve gotten. Thank you and bravo, Nancy.
I think it’s on your site. I was taking notes on this. You had talked about new employee energy. I wanted to touch on this because it is starting to sum up what we’ve been talking about here. After a while, an employee can get worn down or not raise their hand or not say anything because the culture doesn’t allow them or doesn’t want them. How can we keep or reinvigorate that new employee energy? Stepping back, everyone knows what that might be, but what is your perception or definition of new employee energy?
There are two ways to approach this question. One is new employee energy is great but I always encourage people not to assume that everything is broken because every company has its faults and its flaws. Sometimes new people come in and they want to bulldoze what they see because they’ve got bigger and better ideas, but they need to simmer down for a minute.
Make sure that they have a three-dimensional picture of what’s going on around them. They have the insight to understand what it is they’re addressing. They have enough of an understanding of how things operate to know when what they want to bulldoze needs to go. New employee energy is both awesome and I won’t say problematic, but sometimes people don’t realize how their own excitement can play a role in how they are received.
That’s one side of it, but on the other side of it, we all have the ability to tap into our new employee energy. We all come to a place excited to learn and to grow and to tap into that new opportunity to build our resumes and our experience set. Somewhere along the way, it gets beat out of us. We’re reminded day in and day out that work is work. It’s a grind. It’s a slug. It doesn’t matter. It requires a real intention to deliberately tap into that new car smell and that new experience, and bring back some of what you believed you were going to do on the day that you started.
I’m not trying to be unrealistic or even promote Instagram’s toxic positivity. It’s not about all the posts on Instagram talking about dream jobs from the people whose houses look like they came straight out of Architectural Digest. That’s not what I’m talking about. We are all flawed and all organizations are broken. Every life has its issues. I’m not expecting perfection and I’m not suggesting that people not feel things when they happen or not experience the downside of work because those are lessons too.
I do think we forget that we have the power to turn a moment around and to turn an experience around, not just for us but for the people around us simply by tapping into it. I would say that new employee energy is entirely grounded in purpose. It’s important to tap into that. I also think once someone has their footing and they have a real sense of how things work, there are ideal pairings to be made between the person who’s been around forever and the person who’s been around for several months.
What are the observations they can share? What are the learnings they can share, and different perspectives? How can they influence each other? On the new person’s side, to settle in and feel that belonging that we all crave. The person who’s been around a while longer, how can they be inspired by the newer energy? It’s not just about us training people to operate like us. It’s about us having reverse mentoring opportunities in that onboarding and getting as much energy as we give. That’s a big opportunity that a lot of individuals not necessarily organizations in positions of power, leadership, or HR squander. I think it’s a shame.
That’s all very valuable. I also think that before someone is considering leaving an organization, let’s say the energy is off. If they’re interested in trying to stay in the organization, trying to take responsibility for their own energy, take some good beat and go back to the purpose, find a mentor, and take some time to do an evaluation. See if they can go back to that new employee energy rather than jumping ship just to jump ship to only find out the grass isn’t greener on the other side. Maybe, it is the best course of action, but I like looking at that new employee energy from an employee who’s been there for 5, 10, or 15 years. That might be a valuable exercise as well.
I agree. We have to get rid of the old ways of working, recruiting, hiring, but also retaining people. Here’s the baggage I would like to see go away. I would like to see this old-school mentality, whereby somebody who’s dissatisfied with their job doesn’t talk to anybody about it. They don’t talk to their manager and don’t ask for additional support. Instead, they keep it a secret for fear of retaliation.
They then use company time to apply for other jobs. They find another job, and they spring it on the person. Certainly, there are exceptions to every rule and this is not a rule, but I do think if you are somebody who is pursuing leadership, who exists in a leadership role, who has responsibilities, or who is part of a smaller or a medium, it doesn’t matter the size. If you believe that your contributions have been valued and that you have made a difference in this organization but suddenly, you feel differently, or over time, you started to feel differently.
Not talking to the folks who can help you make the shifts you need to see is doing a disservice to yourself and the organization. It is so expensive to onboard new thinking. It is so expensive to recruit, hire, and onboard new people that oftentimes, knowing the truth about how other people feel might wake you up to what’s necessary to encourage them to get to the next level.
Because we have this old-school way of thinking, staff believes that employers are against them and employers don’t know how to respond because HR has made policies and rules for everything. I try to tell my staff regularly, “I’m not here to get even with you. If it’s not working, I want to support you and go to the next better opportunity, but if it can work, I want both of us to work in trying to make that happen.” I am assuming you’re a valued member of the staff. People are uncomfortable with that, but I would love to see that shift.
One key point you’re making with what you said to this valuable employee, you know as a business owner and the CEO and the boss of that team, the manager and leader of that team that it’s going to take so much more time to find the new person, train a new person, and on-board them. Make sure they’re the right fit and all of the things. You’re not only doing a stay interview, but before they even open their mouth, you’ve created psychological safety for them to do so.
I don’t know if you do that inherently or you do that purposely, but if we’re creating cultures that aren’t psychologically safe, no one is going to open their mouths to be like, “I am burning out,” or “The energy is toxic here,” or “I’m having a hard time doing this or that. I’m thinking of leaving,” because they’re terrified of what the repercussions are going to be.
That’s absolutely true. I can work as hard as I can, creating a place where I am every day striving for psychological safety. Individuals come in with their own baggage and their own belief systems, and it is really hard to turn that around. I do strive for psychological safety. I do strive for people to feel like they can say anything and yet, people still subscribe to these old beliefs because it’s baked into their DNA at this point. How do we break that cycle? That is the big question.
All I can do is tell you who we are and then show up to underscore that. You choose not to believe at a point when it’s convenient for you. I see people even in my organization participating in the culture and in the openness, appreciating the energy and the other people. When it comes to confusion about their position, going back to the old way of working of not talking and suddenly quitting, which also frankly is hard on morale. The other people on their team didn’t see it coming either. We’ve created this environment and this culture where people have real relationships, but it’s a betrayal of those real relationships if suddenly this person just up and leaves with no conversation. That energy is what we want to fight.
This is all have been about energy. I’m going to switch it totally because I’m curious. Can I geek out with you about AI? I want to hear your perspective. I’m going to tell you honestly, Nancy. I’m getting older and I don’t know about AI. I’ve used Chat GPT. I know there are probably other sources but that’s the one that I’ve used. It’s awesome. It’s scary. What is your thought about AI and the future of work?
I have a lot of thoughts. One of the things I tell people all the time is you don’t have to worry right now about AI taking your job. There are manufacturing jobs and there are some rote jobs that are seeing more of a threat in AI but they have forever. Since the Industrial Revolution, we started using people and over time, we’ve automated more and more. Now, AI is making automation that much more accessible. I do think that there are a lot of roles that don’t need to worry about AI taking their job, but they do have to worry about people who are comfortable with AI, experimenting, and using it.
They do have to worry about those people taking their jobs. That’s an important distinction because fear will paralyze us and that paralysis is not going to serve us in this market. Right now is the time to start experimenting with AI to see how it can enhance your performance. In other words, so many tools are in the space right now that can make your life easier, but also help you find some of that balance or some of that rest that you need.
We’re all so busy that we use the word busy as an emotion. “How are you?” “I’m busy.” Everybody says that. It’s supposed to be a badge of honor and it isn’t. Where AI is helpful is it can help you block out time on your calendar for focused time or for heads-down work time. All of that can happen automatically. It can help you with thought starters for blog posts. Content marketing is what everybody is struggling with right now because so much is required of us. It can help you with that.
It can help you with the tedium of your day-to-day. Things like calendaring and emails to customers or clients that are regular and repetitive. It can help you by being the first line of customer contact, which saves time and money. There are all sorts of ways that AI is helpful. I also think we all panicked because AI suddenly became this amplified topic at the beginning of the year. The truth is AI has been around forever.
If you’ve used Amazon, almost everybody in this country has been exposed to Amazon in one way or another. Amazon has been using AI forever. That’s how they can tell you, “You bought this. I think you’ll like this.” “You read this book. I think you’ll like this book.” Those recommendation engines are all about AI. It has been working and bubbling under the surface for a long time. Now, it’s available to you and me. How we show up for it is an opportunity.
The other thing that I recommend is there are places like Coursera, Khan Academy, and YouTube. Go ask the questions that you’re dying to know the answers to, and then figure out how you fit into that answer. There are tons of ways to learn how to use the tools. There are tons of ways to learn how to not fear them, but before organizations dip their toe or jump into the AI pool, they have to decide how they’re going to use it and they have to commit to that.
In other words, every organization that chooses to use AI needs to have a code of ethics around how they approach it, and what they expect from their people so that those rules that we established are understood, accepted, and practiced by everybody. Those waters are going to get pretty muddy as we evolve in the AI space. I’m delighted at what I’m seeing and this is something that we need to fear less.
Now, I’m going to explore AI more and take a course. I’ll give you a chat or a shout-out when I get a little bit more comfortable with it, Nancy. I’ll be like, “Thanks, Nancy. I’m now not an expert but I’m more familiar and comfortable with it.” Thank you for commenting on it. I appreciate it.
I’m all about it.
I’m sure you are. That’s why I was like, “I got to ask Nancy this. Nancy is the expert on this whole thing.” I wanted to ask you. What are 1 to 2 ways that you believe women can be braver at work now?
Number one, women need to learn that they are worthy of asking for what they want. Men have done it for centuries. They don’t even ask. Women need to be recognized, and they can ask what they want of each other. In other words, I have gotten bolder in my old age about asking other women leaders for opportunities for introductions for a way in or contact. My business is worthy. I’ve built it. It has a reputation and it’s okay for me to ask my women colleagues for opportunities.
Men have done it on golf courses, over beers, over dinners, and over perks forever. We get to do that. Be brave by asking for what you want. The second thing that I would encourage of all women is not to tamp down who you are to fit a culture. Don’t imagine that any culture doesn’t have room for exactly who you are. My father is one of these people who doesn’t like things. He’ll read a menu and say, “I don’t like that.” I’ll say, “Have you ever had it?” “No.”
Imagining that we’re too much or imagining that who we are is beyond the pale and not acceptable in a given culture and tamping down ourselves, the extension of that is our creativity, our voices, our best ideas, and our courage to bring those ideas. We’re doing ourselves a huge disservice. Be exactly who you are and show up as that at every opportunity forever because that’s your power. Being centered and grounded in exactly who you are. That’s your power. When you show up your best self, that’s when you’re best ideas will come. That’s when people will see what a glorious leader you are. That’s when opportunities will reveal themselves.Be exactly who you are and show up at every opportunity. Your power lies in being centered and grounded. Click To Tweet
That’s a perfect way to end. How can women find you, Clockwork, or any of your work online?
They can find me at my website, which is NancyLyons.com. My companies are Clockwork.com and MadeByTempo.com. We didn’t talk about it, but it’s a little natural design studio that’s low and no code for startups and small and midsize companies. They can find me @Nylons on Instagram @Nylons on Threads and @Nylons on X. I’m all over the socials. On LinkedIn, it’s Nancy Lyons. They can find me wherever. They can also subscribe to my newsletter. They can text the word BOSS to 33777 and they will be prompted to subscribe to my newsletter which comes out monthly, and most people like it.
Nancy, I appreciate the passion and the energy you delivered. I knew that the energy was going to be there. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve taken a lot from this conversation. Thank you so much for being here.
Thanks for having me. I appreciate being included in the show. It is awesome. I’ve been happy to be here.
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About Nancy Lyons
Nancy, CEO and co-founder of Clockwork, is an outspoken advocate for making work better. More inclusive, flexible, and adaptable. No one does great work if they’re worried or if they can’t bring their whole self to work. And she learned this the hard way: by having terrible jobs and not fitting in. Things many of us can relate to. But how do we create workspaces like that?
It’s on us: leaders, employees, teams. People. We all have to take responsibility for creating cultures and spaces that actually work for humans, with all their complexities, nuances, and intricacies. And in doing so, we will make better products, better experiences, and have better work lives.
Are you ready for a work revolution? She is.
Her first book was Interactive Project Management: Pixels, People, and Process, a human-centered approach to producing digital products. Her current book, Work Like a Boss: A kick-in-the-pants Guide to Finding (and Using) your Power at Work, is the little book everyone needs to remember the actions, attitudes, and attributes that will make work better, for individuals and everyone around them.