Home » All Start Local Episodes » Empowering High Performing People and Teams with Bob Cox
Empowering High Performing People and Teams with Bob Cox

Podcast published: October 20, 2023

We chat with Bob Cox, Managing Partner of BHHC, a local area consultancy focused on enabling companies and nonprofits to move towards greater success. We speak at length with Bob about how to support and empower high performing employees, especially in a difficult labor market.


Intro:  Welcome to Start Local, where we talk with business owners, leaders of nonprofits, and other members of our community focused on doing business in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. Each episode will provide insight into the local business scene and tell you about opportunities to connect with and support businesses and nonprofits in your local area.

Liam Dempsey: Welcome to Start Local, where we connect with local leaders to support local businesses and nonprofits in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. I’m Liam Dempsey, and I’m always happy to be in the studio with my co-host, Eric Gudmundson. Eric, how are you today, friend? 

Eric Gudmundson: I’m doing very well, bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Liam Dempsey: Look at that. Look at that. I am not bright eyed and bushy tailed today. We had Tech 360,  yesterday. And before we welcome our guest, I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on our experience yesterday at Tech 360. 

As listeners might recall from our previous episode, Tech 360 is a locally focused technology conference organized by ITAG, which is the Innovative Technology Action Group, which is an initiative through the Chester County Economic Development Council.

Eric, can you please sum up your experience yesterday about Tech 360? What did you think about it? 

Bob Cox: Sure. So this is my personally favorite event that’s produced by the industry partnership, ITAG. And it was entirely focused on Artificial Intelligence, AI. The good, the bad and the ugly. So we spent the entire day with about over a hundred. I think it was closer to 120 different organizations that are in the Southeastern Pennsylvania region. And it was all technical organizations and technical people from larger organizations. And we’re all just sort of talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly of AI. And so I know I learned several things. I learned several things that scared me. I learned several things that gave me hope for the future. So, as someone with a degree in Computer Science and who works in IT and Cyber Security, I really enjoyed it. So I was glad I went, and I can’t wait to see what next year’s program offers.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah, me too, me too. That’s pretty much my experience. So, I’ll leave it at that. 

So, today we are joined by Robert Cox. He’s the managing partner of Building High Performing Human Capital. Bob, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for joining us today. 

Bob Cox: Thanks, Liam. Great to be here. 

Eric Gudmundson: Well, we’ve talked in previous episodes on this podcast about workforce challenges facing local employers in Chester County. Recently, we’ve heard from some local organizations operating in what seems to be a perpetual state of hiring. This forces those businesses and non profit organizations to use labor more efficiently. Bob, you call labor human capital and you specialize in improving performance of human capital to achieve organizational success. How the heck do you do that? 

Bob Cox: Yeah. First, I think I should have attended the Tech 360 and I could have learned some things to that would have helped me in my business. 

It’s a great question and I appreciate that. It’s, I look at the reason human capital is something that I even use as a part of my language is, I think it’s a worthy investment. You know, it’s not a widget. Some folks don’t like the language human capital. I think of it as a, you know, you’re just thinking of somebody as an asset that you don’t. It’s just a thing that you don’t care about. I actually look at it differently. It’s  something worth investing in and developing over time. It’s that kind of a capital. That’s how I look at capital investments. It’s something I want to keep around it and develop and grow. 

So, I do it in several ways, but I would say that I’m interested in taking a smarter approach with your people. I don’t, being stuck in that hiring cycle Eric is a challenge that, you’re right. A lot of local firms have, but so do a lot of international and national international firms that I deal with nonprofit and for profit. So, this is not unique to just some of Chester County for sure. It doesn’t make that any easier to swallow, but the perpetual hiring will probably be a challenge for regardless of what I tell you here today about ideas of competing with that or confronting that because we just have this demographic issue. There’s just not enough people to take all the roles that are available. We Gen X’s, Eric, I think you and I, Perhaps even later in that generation, and there’s not as many of us. And so this millennial generation is pretty large, but we just have so many boomers that have exited or in the process of exiting. We just won’t have enough. And that’s been documented by lots of folks and lots of studies. So, we’re going to have to live here in this perpetual hiring state, but we don’t have to live in high turnover and high stress and toxic culture which I think you’re going to reference maybe later in our conversation. 

So, some of the ways that I do that is and help organizations feel better about how they’re confronting the future is not an AI thing. It’s, you know, there’s certainly technology that will help you do some of that better. But to me, it’s, are you the kind of place that people want to come work? And they want to stay to develop in their career. Maybe we might consider that a little bit audacious of the younger generation that they should expect that many of us that are older would be like, well, just go to work. You shouldn’t be expecting that of your employer. But like it or not, that’s where we are. And frankly, it’s that generation has made it better for all the generations. So even Gen X folks that I talk with are happy that some of that has happened where it’s, there’s more thought being put into. What are you doing once I get here to help me in my career as I develop and grow? So the short answer to this is that I help you understand, do you have people on your team that are right for the jobs that you’re asking them to do. And we align on personality. And then once you do, keeping tabs on them, how are they perceiving their job? Because things change for folks over time. Are they stressed or not? Are they underutilized or not? 

And then beyond that, it can become a bigger issue. It could be organizationally. Do we have some things that we’re providing experiences to our people that we don’t even realize the belief that is driving in them to help them have them take actions that they’re taking? 

So, I’m getting very intentional and conscious with leadership around what are the experiences you’re helping that you’re creating for your people. If you’re not managing and paying attention to those, you could be losing people out the door and you don’t even realize the reason is because of something we’ve been doing that’s creating experience for them. 

So, that’s the short. Well, maybe that’s not so short, but that’s the answer I would say is of what I started to do. I’m sure we’ll get a more in depth as we go with that. That’s how I do it. 

Eric Gudmundson: That’s a helpful overview, and I’ll let Liam take over with the next question here.

Liam Dempsey: Bob, I really appreciate that you took a moment to explain what you mean by human capital. And I can see and hear from your answer that you absolutely view humans as humans. And thank you for spelling that out. That’s really, really helpful. 

Given the workforce challenges we are seeing in many places, are you seeing anything particular to our area? Anything particular either in Chester County or the greater Delaware Valley. 

Bob Cox: I can’t point to one and say it’s just unique here. I mean, frankly, you’ve probably have seen some of the recent data. It’s really good on unemployment in Chester County. So we’re doing well. 

I will say there’s a supply problem. There’s a supply of people problem that I mentioned just a bit ago. And in particular, in the trades and students coming out of school and being ready to go do that kind of work. 

So, I think with the mushroom industry in Southern Cheshire County, the way it is and some other  construction and other types of work, you know, there’s a need. I’m seeing some of that we just can’t get. There aren’t enough people that are interested in this career path. I’m hearing some of that, that’s somewhat unique to Chester Southern Cheshire County, but really it’s everywhere. And I would suggest that confronting these challenges, it puts an imperative on are you a place that I want to go work? Are you a place that views me as an investment and wants to help me grow in my career? Again, like it or not, we might feel as older folks or experienced folks that you should just show up to work because I gave you a paycheck. It’s like, well, that is not sustainable for the long haul. And not that I don’t know that that was ever the right way to approach it. It’s absolutely going to expose you as an organization now to even more turnover and churn if you take that approach.

Eric Gudmundson: Well, when it comes to getting the most from the employees that we do have, I’ve heard you say it’s important that we not only have the right people on the bus, but also the right people in the right seat on the bus. So would you please explain that metaphor for our listeners? 

Bob Cox: Sure. I mean, I’m just ripping that off from Jim Collins and good to great. It’s not mine. But I would say that, you know, we’ve got this bus of our organization and we’re trying to put on it. The talented individuals that will help us get to our division. We, the purpose of why we’re here, why we have a bus in the first place where we’re trying to get that bus, strategically how we’ll do that along the way. And then what are the key results that we’re trying to, that we need to reach in order for us to continue perpetuate this organization. And what I would say is that if you don’t have people on the bus that quickly can align with what you need them to be doing to reach the results that you’re trying to achieve, it will be very hard to get your culture to get behind this work that you’re doing. If you don’t manage what the culture is in organization, and that begins with who are we bringing in for what roles and have we determined and analyze the roles so that we aren’t setting people up for failure. Is it just a warm body that we’re trying to bring in here and put into a spot? I would strongly advise against that kind of approach.

And then once they’re here, hey, people are not static beings.They grow and develop themselves. Where are they now in their career? It’s probably one of the biggest sins of management that we don’t keep pace with where they’re moving and changing. And, you know, I have some tools to help you assess that more accurately and effectively and quickly. And then what are the experiences we’ve created for our folks so that they believe a certain way I might say on the wall, I might have posted our values on these. And then on a regular basis because this culture thing is always active. We’re creating other experiences for people where they go. Yeah. I don’t really think they actually believe in those values because I’m experiencing this right now today. So, we, the work I do with culture partners, we get very intentional with you about. Let’s get clear results first. We have to do that if we want all this to line up. 

And that’s kind of where that bus analogy works really well. If we don’t get the right folks on the bus aligned to the roles that they’re in, and then pointing and moving the bus in the right direction for going down the wrong road, or we don’t have a sense of what the results are we need, we’re just going to be going in circles. The bus will run out of gas and we’ll be in a world of hurt.

Liam Dempsey: Bob, when a high performing employee suddenly and maybe even unexpectedly leaves an organization, quits a business, leaves a nonprofit, and you’re called in to look into what happened, how do you approach that? What do you do? What does that look like?

Bob Cox: Yeah. No, that’s not what I do. I will just add to your question and say, when it’s a smaller organization, that’s an even more detrimental impact to the right. Everybody’s feeling it when that happens, and I do deal with quite a few small to medium sized businesses. I would say, there are several steps I’m going to take. 

And one is just to be…is to listen first, because often people just need to vent a little bit about, (Oh my gosh! can you believe this happened?) And clearly I’m going to get some, a little bit of noise in the communication where there’s going to be some blaming happening. and that’s pretty natural and common for humans to do as well. 

And then what I’m going to start, if they have a survey, if they’ve worked with me, typically, I don’t just get called in. I guess what I am is I’m working with them and then they’re calling me saying this just happened. And when that happens, I’ve got a personality survey on someone so the person that left, I know how they were wired. I know a little bit about the job they were doing. But maybe more importantly because that person’s gone now, I have the personality survey of the person that is there was their boss or the person that’s in leadership of that organization. And that gives me a sense of how they’re probably going to respond to this and what will be, what’s next for them. And it’s an opportunity to not immediately reflect on what they did wrong because most immediately is, “Oh! We have to survive now with the people that we have”. 

So, if we’ve surveyed everyone, we have a sense of where the town is the organization. We can talk through. Let’s put our finger in the dam right now and get this thing stable. And I’ll help you think through that, and then not long after that because we’re going to want to do this quickly and move with pace. What have we learned that we want to apply into the future so we don’t get the unexpected person leading the organization.

Part of the tools in my OAD toolbox, my organization analysis and design toolbox which is a personality assessment at its core. And then we also assess how someone perceives their job that needs to be updated fairly regularly. So what we’ll probably then do is suggest, “Hey, let’s get a survey” that this quick second part of the survey out to folks to see where are they right now with their jobs.

In that process, I can tell you who’s having stress. I can tell you who’s feeling under or overutilized. I can, I hate when this happens, but I can tell you if someone’s got a resignation pattern, if they’re already interviewing and are going to leave. And that becomes in that moment when somebody’s already just left, I usually have a very open to listening. To me, the executive who’s going, yeah, well, what do we need to do exactly to understand that about the rest of our organization? So, I’ll come in and I’ll do those things. And then it will just leave further into discussions around Is there a way that you’ve taught your people? And if you adopted the process of a culture of accountability, what does it mean to take positive accountability in your organization? My guess would be, it hasn’t happened the way that it could. And so it opens up a sales opportunity for me. I don’t look at it as selling. What I look at is this is going to add so much value to you. You’re going to be like, why didn’t you tell me this before, Bob? And I said, “Well, it is an investment. So now you’re ready for this investment in a way you maybe you weren’t before”. So I would do, those are steps that I would take with with a client that is in that situation. This is happening. Certainly after COVID, a lot of folks were just reassessing, do I even want to do this anymore? And I think we’re still there to some degree. Depends on, we’ll probably swing back the other way, but I would say that we’re, they’re going to need the insights that I can provide with the tools I’ve got to have this discussion and then think through, have a clear head and think through what’s next logically for the organization, if, and are we aligned? That’s the work that I’ll get. 

Eric Gudmundson: Well, another thing I’ve seen local employers do with high performing employees is they promote them to managers. And so what does it take to transform a highly skilled worker into a highly productive manager cause they’re not the same thing?

Bob Cox: Not at all. In fact, that is a common pitfall of organizations. I don’t mean to say that as, though I haven’t done that because I’ve done that as well in my career. It’s pretty natural to take somebody that’s a high performer in a role and say, “Well, all right, why don’t you run the department now?” What I would say is, have we assessed the person’s personality? Do we have an idea of their work style? Because what the requirements of leading a group or a team are around the people, and it’s not just your work that you’re responsible for anymore. You’re now responsible for the performance of others. That is a different set of skills as I think you were intimating there. 

And so what I would suggest is before we put someone in that role, let’s have an idea how they’re wired. In fact, this is the work I did at United Electric Supply for over a decade, which was, “Hey, let’s map out where the 10, who is the talent we have right now? Who’s the human capital?” I am right. The folks that we want to invest in, mwho do we have? who has the potential to move in a direction of these kinds of roles and leadership? And then let’s start to get them developed, and what experiences should they have to get them ready in 3, 2, 3- 5 years, right? So we’re going to consciously be doing some of that work. 

And yet, sometimes what happens is we just have to put somebody in a role. Often that is the case where I don’t have a choice, Bob. That’s all sounds good. But I have this person and we have to put them in there so that if you understand their personality, what you can do is teach them how to leverage their own dominant traits. So what I mean by that is let’s not try to make them into something they’re not, they still have results they have to get. How do we get them to understand those results through their people or the way they’re going to do that now? What we’re going to do is help them understand what’s natural in their personality. And we’re going to leverage those elements to get done what has to get done. So, what that means is I’m not going to okay. If they’re for instance, someone that has very low patience, and I put them into this role where they need to have higher patience. I’m not going to work with them and say, “Now, listen. You’re going to be put in this role. What you need to do is be more patient with everyone.” That’s not going to happen. They’re not patient. That’s absolute mistake. So instead, I’m going to work with them on they’re going to have some other trait that’s more dominant for them. I’m going to say, “We need more regular interval check-ins about performance with your people so that we can drive the trust level in them and the fit in the sense that they are connected in a line with where we’re going that’s really critical in this role. So, what I want you to do is you’re going to commit to me. What’s the right number? Is it 3? Is it 5 each year? How many means are we going to commit to? They’re going to be just around that.” And often somebody that has low patience will also have a little bit higher detail. Not always, but what i’m saying is I will go at and lever the thing that is most dominant for them because that will get them motivated to do it naturally more than if I go at the thing they’re not naturally good at. Does that make sense? What i’m saying, I know nobody can see us head nodding on an audio broadcast, but that’s the gist of how I would know.

Eric Gudmundson: No. It absolutely does. And I think that’ll keep a lot of employers from lose it, from that pitfall of losing their high performing employees because that’s the last thing people want to do. And that’s certainly not their intention when they promote them, but sometimes that’s the reality of what occurs.

Bob Cox: It’s a setup sometimes, which is unfortunate for everyone. Yes. 

Liam Dempsey: Bob, and in the tight labor market we find ourselves in, it’s not uncommon for employers to make on the spot job offers to candidates, really to maybe reduce the good candidate from taking another job offer. Does this strategy in your experience, does this strategy work in the long run? Is there anything that employers can do to make sure that their efficient hiring is right fit hiring?

Bob Cox: Yeah. Boy, my knee jerk reaction to that is don’t do that. Okay. But what I also get is the reality of the world is sometimes you have to, right? And I’ve had to do that sometimes. You have a, you know, the house is on fire. What are you going to do? Well, I don’t like this fire, but I don’t think he looks or she’s the right size. So we’re not going to, maybe not. It’s like, no, no, we’re going to, we’re going to hire the fireman. We’re having to come in and try and put the fire out.

What I would say is do something concurrently, which is assess their personality, survey them, use the tools and get an idea who you’ve got in that role and begin in earnest with whatever coaching needs to take place to help them be able to perform in what you know is coming their way in a role like that. Okay. So I would say this, if you’ve done work ahead of time to define your roles and analyze the roles, there’s something called the job analysis questionnaire that I use with clients. 

Actually, here in Cheshire County with some local townships, even when they go to hire folks and you have a good idea what you need on your team, given what the role is and what’s coming at someone all day long, when you’re presented with opportunities and you got, well, there’s a candidate in front of me. And gee whiz, I either have to hire them now or they’re going to go work for someone else. If in that process, you’ve already done the surveying of them, you know, their personality, you have a sense of how close or not where the fits and gaps are, what you’re trying to get in that role. Atleast you’re going in a wide eyed, right? You’re going, Okay. I know exactly where the challenges are going to be, where the gaps are and what I’m going to need to do to enhance and make that transition as good as it can possibly be. 

And in the vacu you’re going to be planning when I’m going to have to transition them out and rehire that position cause it’s probably not going to work out in the long run, okay. So I would say, if you’re, it’s never good to hire out of desperation, and I don’t think you’re suggesting people are. I think you’re just suggesting they’re hiring because they have to.

Liam Dempsey: And that’s a very pragmatic approach. And I think that’s what, you know, a good way that employers can navigate the current market so that your answer makes a lot of sense. 

I want to take it a little bit of a different direction though and ask what’s the most toxic work environment you’ve ever seen and how did you help that situation?

Bob Cox: Is this like we’re staring at the car accident? We can’t avert our eyes. We have to, let’s talk about that really bad one that happened. We got it.

Liam Dempsey: He solved all these little problems. Now, I want to hear how you solve a really big problem. 

Bob Cox: Yeah. It’s a great, it’s a good question. I don’t have one to say, and here’s why. Because I would say the idea of what is toxic is very much in the eye of the beholder. And I have worked, we’ve worked as an organization and I personally have worked with many companies where there are some folks there that don’t think they have a toxic culture at all. They think, no, yeah, I mean, we got some things we can improve on, but we’re fine. And then you talk to 3 or 4 others, and they’re like, this place, it’s toxic. It’s anybody. I can’t imagine why people would come work here now.

So what I would say is I’ve learned that toxicity depends on who you are and your vantage point. So instead, I will say this. I have seen organizations that are failing miserably to get departments to work together towards a common goal and they don’t understand what the goal really is. And you, so what you get is fiefdoms happening, or it’s like, well, we’re getting our KPIs measured and accomplished over here, but over here is not. And they don’t really care because they’re like, well, that’s not my problem. That’s somebody else’s problem. That is somewhere. That’s a place that I would argue is becoming toxic. And whether it’s outwardly shown with people sniping at each other or it’s passive aggressive sniping, I frankly think that could be even worse at times. 

I’ll give you an example of someone we’ve worked with. It’s an organization that has a manufacturing set in California. And, you know, this is fairly long, 108. This is a very old organization that’s had success, okay, in the past, and they’re a medical device manufacturer. And, you know, 60 some thousand employees, this is a very large company, you know, revenue in the billions. Okay. And they were struggling because they had a site in California that had very poor quality. And what was happening was there was questions whether they’re going to be able to keep this site open. There was government regulation just coming in saying, we’re gonna have to shut you guys down. And now you’ve got several 1000 people facing job loss, right? And you had siloed interactions happening between engineering departments and frontline workers that are out there producing this and very much a mindset of,  it’s not my job. You know, well, that’s what they did there, but that’s not my job. Okay. And I would argue there was some toxicity in that environment. Okay. And, you know, my father’s a retired Electrical Engineer, I don’t know why I’m picking on this one because it’s an engineer. Maybe I had to listen to my father’s engineering rants over time, but engineers have a certain way in general of I want to accomplish things this way. It needs to be right. And frontline people are going practically speaking, that’s crazy. We can’t. You can see where there might be some functional conflict happening between the two of them. It seemed like it was rising to the level of beyond that becoming more toxic. 

So they worked with us to get three things clarity. What they’re trying to do, alignment of what is it the goal is for both of our departments, ultimately. And then accountability. Are more of us going to move away from not my job? There’s a whole series of there’s six categories of what we call the blame game. Not my job is one of those categories. And instead, share successes, identify obstacles, do that together.

So, working with them on clarity, alignment and accountability, what we saw happen was we had a worker on the line who was a mechanic, and never in his history talked to anyone in engineering because, you know, that’s those engineering people. I don’t talk to them, right? That’s the bad guys.

And he noticed that there was higher scrap on the two lines and there was higher scrap happening on one of the lines than the other. And he made a decision after the work we started to do with them that, well, I’m going to go talk to this engineer that I’ve seen in the lunchroom a couple of times. And so he went and spoke to that engineer. David didn’t. This fellow didn’t know how to solve the problem himself, but he pointed out the issue. And then together they worked on a solution and identified the problem and fixed it. Okay. And saved to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars, you know, a month in now.

Okay. Now, that’s not dropping to the bottom. That is dropping the bottom line positively right for that. Don’t you know that that story started to catch hold and we started to tell that story around the organization. And other people started to think, well, wait a minute, maybe we’re not toxic. Maybe if we could just do more of that kind of interaction, we might achieve the goals that we have together.

Okay. So what I would say is I don’t care how toxic it is. The work can begin with an understanding of what does it mean to get what we call above the line? What does it mean to see it, own it, solve it, do it, to be accountable? What’s that process like? How do I go about that? You give people instructions essentially, on a process. And the more that starts to happen, then we get stories like what I just shared. And then we start to share those stories around the organization, people start to, it becomes, well, this is who we are, I guess. This is really who we are because of this. I’ve heard this story multiple times for multiple people. I guess that’s how we are as an organization. So there isn’t a magic wand that gets woven for someone that’s in a toxic environment. You start and you start with one group, and then it builds from there. And that’s you can expand that quicker by engaging with us on a culture journey. 

But this is how we usually begin working with a coach. So I don’t, that’s not a cool story about,  can you, let me tell you what happened in the toxic culture where people were sniping like this. Frankly, I get less interested in that. I will just tell you, they started out in a bad way threatening to be shut down and now they’re not. They’re a model.

Liam Dempsey: So we took a slight turn for the negative, let’s swing it back positive. Can you give us maybe just a few traits of companies with track records of long employee retention that keep their folks happy and employed for a long time? What are just a few things that those companies and organizations might have in common?

Bob Cox: Yeah, we’d love, all love to work there, right? And what I would say is, is I don’t want to paint a picture that there’s a recipe and if you just do this, you’re done and it’s done forever, okay. This work is always on. Okay. but to begin with, there is an effort to determine, well, what is our purpose? What’s the vision we’ve got? What are the strategic anchors that we’re going to use to get there? And then what are the key results this year? They’re going to help us towards our 3-5 year goal. And then what are the beliefs that we need to have to make those results occur? And then we activate it with our systems and our whatever our policies are in the organization.

What I’m suggesting first, Liam, is that there has to be alignment across those elements I just mentioned. If you want to have a sustainable positive place to work, there are organizations that have been, you know, they’ve made the rounds, and they’ve been celebrated on periodicals. And it’s like, wow, they’re really great. And then I’ll give that example in a speech somewhere and somebody will raise their hand and say, “Hey, you know, they’re almost out of business now, right? Like, you know, time marches on and they’re no longer that way anymore.” So what I’m saying, I think what they’re asking me is, well, is this stuff permanent? It’s like, well, no, it’s not permanent. None of this is right. But, you know, Zig Ziglar used to say neither is bathing, but I’m not against bathing. We ought to do that on a regular basis. Right. This work starts these companies that the traits they have or they’ve fought through those elements I just discussed with you and they’ve intentionally hired people that line up with the roles that they need. And then for the people that they’ve had, they’ve kept tabs on where are they. And as they grow and develop, they’re going to lose some, but then they’ve kept the bulk. And they’ve moved them and they feel connected to the purpose of the end, the results of the organization. 

And that continues through this adoption of all of us here are accountable. How do we do that? Once they have a process for that, there’s a language for that and everyone. It’s not just the executive group. It’s everyone in the organization that feels part of that.

Example I gave you earlier of the mechanic. Hourly worker, okay. And, you know, I’ve heard some people say, “Oh, well, this accountability stuff doesn’t work for hourly people.” It’s like, I couldn’t agree/disagree more. It absolutely does. So, that’s if you’re looking for a recipe, all of that, there’s planning and prep. And then there’s, what are you doing along the way to keep up with the changes and establishing? This is who we are and maintaining this focus on results as you go. 

Eric Gudmundson: So when it comes to accountability, like you just mentioned, some of that has to involve some feedback. And I think the right feedback will let give people the space to learn and grow. But we do live in a time when everyone expects instant gratification. So feedback can be a little bit challenging. And I would suggest that, you know, maybe some people don’t know how to give feedback and maybe some people don’t know how to receive feedback. So in your experience, how is constructive feedback dest delivered and received in today’s workplace?

Bob Cox: Yeah. 100% agree with everything you just said. That’s what’s happening. Part of the work that I do with culture partners is very much teaching folks how to get to ask. Notice I didn’t say give but to ask for what we call focused feedback. And it’s focused around your culture beliefs that’s something we would establish with the organization before we do any workshops with people where we’re rolling this out. But the way to do it, Eric, is to understand that there’s more power in going in and asking for feedback than there is in being the person that gives all the feedback to everyone. That’s something we all can do. It might be uncomfortable to give feedback, but we can do it. It’s really difficult to stop and say to someone else, “Hey, what feedback do you have for me about how I’m showing up around team first?” That’s not a comfortable moment for folks. But what we do is, we, there’s a specific process to do it and there’s language with it that will feel forced at first and then it will become, “No. This is what we do around here.” You start with, I like there’s a person of feedback first. I like how you’ve demonstrated this. If you’ve demonstrated team first when you’ve done this and there’s some specificity there. So the person can say, well, you’re not just blowing smoke. This is literally what’s happened. And then they insert the word and to improve on team first, I would like to see you demonstrate that this way. And here’s a suggestion of how I would see that happen, okay. And then the person receiving feedback is taught to say, thank you for the feedback, okay.

So there. We literally teach a process that is difficult. There’s no way around the difficulties. There are lots of tools of feedback out there asking for feedback, though, has to become a part of the discipline of the habits that the organization adopts. If you want to shift your culture, it doesn’t happen if you don’t do that. Feedback is incredibly important. It’s one of the three key tools that we teach. 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. I like the idea of giving folks a structure for communication, right? If you communicate in one way and I communicate in another, and we both bring our styles and don’t have any kind of ground rules aside from kind of common conversational things, it can make it difficult to say, “Hey, Liam, you’re not doing so great this past quarter. What do you need to be better?” Or, you know, “Hey, Bob, you’re not been a great boss for the last three months. What can I give you some ideas on how to be better?” or wherever the conversation may go? Right. So that’s great. I like that. 

Bob, we talked about your career before we hit the record button today, and we know that you used to be a secondary school teacher. How has that influenced your approach to what you’re doing now?

Bob Cox: Yeah, lots of ways. For the other teachers and secondary educators or even primary educators that are out there will appreciate this. There is nothing quite like being in front of a group of people, young or old, and realizing that whatever you’re trying right now is bombing. And nobody’s learning anything. And so thinking on your feet becomes something you have to do every single day, and there’s plenty that you did for hours ahead of time to set up that, that the lesson. And then when it bombs, it’s pretty. It’s a hit to the ego on a regular basis. Really? Man, I thought this is going to be great and it just didn’t go well. 

So I think what I understand about what educators learn pretty quickly is, okay. I need to have an ego to set the lessons and parameters, but I have to let go pretty quickly and be adaptable or I’m just not going to survive. And so it absolutely helped me with that in a way that I didn’t appreciate. I thought that, you know, people go into what’s the old joke that I’m going to forget exactly how it goes, but people that can, you know, or people that can’t teach, you know, something like that, you know, and like, well, I don’t agree with that at all. But the general just being that, you know, people are going to education, just are going into it from the benefits in the longterm, you know, stability of the role. Okay. Yeah, maybe to some degree, but I wouldn’t ignore the fact that there’s some learning that you can apply in any profession, for sure. And I’ve absolutely used that in what I’ve had to do. I mean, I’m amazed how some people can’t do that, frankly. And what I realized is, well, they just haven’t had the experience that I’ve had. And that’s what that forced me to do everyday. 

Eric Gudmundson: Oh, you very, very clearly transitioned your career from the classroom to the business workplace. So what advice would you give to someone who might be considering taking their own career in a distinctly new direction?

Bob Cox: I’d say cool. Good for you. I think, you know, at risk of sounding too corny, I would say, you know, carpe diem. Let go. And I wouldn’t say do it frivolously, or it’s not my personality to do that. But I would say it. First of all, I’d want to have an OED survey on them, Eric, so I could see how they, who they are and how they perceive their job. And I could talk to them about where the stresses are and they would probably go, yeah, that’s exactly how I feel. So we can get something more specific. It wouldn’t just be a general malaise where they feel like this isn’t working for me. But it, whether using my tools or not, start by establishing, well, do you truly understand what inspires you?  What motivates you? What every day to day will be like? and how your personality is wired? because different roles will come at you in a different way. And I haven’t had a job yet where everything about the job perfectly lined up with my work style. I mean, it just, that’s just not realistic. So I don’t want to paint that picture. But, if, you know, only 30% of it is lining up with who I am, that’s going to be a tough row to hoe for a long period of time. And I know lots of folks that are stuck in quote, dead end jobs where basically, frankly, it’s because they’re not willing to to move on from what they’ve done. Right? So there’s this great quote from, we deal with this when we work with organizations that are trying to shift their culture to this is great quote from, I believe it’s attributed to Peter Drucker, We said: Look, you know, there’s people, people will get stuck. They’re comfortable with the problems that they know. And they’ll stick with the problems that they know before they’ll be willing to shift to change to a solution they’re not comfortable with, or they don’t know anything about. And I’ve done that myself in my own life. So I would want that. That’s why I’m saying carpe diem. I like that. They’re already thinking past that getting over the hump of well, but it’s the devil I know, even though I don’t like it, I’ve got this issue. I’ll just keep complaining about it and stick with that. They’re, they’re willing to take a step out and risk something and get to that. And You have to do it. This life is too short. I think to not give that a shot, but let’s have a conversation. Let’s talk to some people, get some tools working that helps you think through who you are and then you can much better align that when you go out in the recruitment space and start interviewing companies not just being interviewed by them, but interviewing them for what really works for you. In fact, I think a lot of people are doing that. 

Eric Gudmundson: Sounds like it starts with some self awareness there. That’s for sure. 

Bob Cox:  100%. And, you know, that’s just not like sitting there and meditating on that. I mean, maybe that helps and works. I would just say there are tools that can help you do that, too. So, yes, I would agree.Self awareness. 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. Self awareness is always a good thing. Bob, you’re active with non profits including Project Cure Rise Against Hunger {Inaudible 37:34.2] What motivates you to volunteer your time with these three specific organizations and how did you find them?

Bob Cox: Yeah, great question. In fact, last weekend, I was at Westminster Presbyterian Church packing for Arise Against Hunger. I think Liam it’s because they make me sweat. And I like to work hard and do that. My mother used to say that. When she was doing yard work, she would turn around and I was a 2 year old and I was right there trying to dig in the ground. There’s something in me that just enjoys that. I get something out of being actively engaged and feeling like I’m actively engaged, not just intellectually engaged. And these, all three of those organizations have you, when you work with them and do volunteer hours, you are working, right? You’re physically doing something. I like that. That also gives me an opportunity to chat with the people I’m working with and learn about them. So it gets me connected with parts of my personality that I enjoy which is that verbal persuasion and just opportunities just to learn from other folks. So I learned about them through the chamber or through my parents clearly are part of that church and knew about that one. So, just using my network of just being open to it. 

Another organization I’m interested in, I haven’t done anything with it yet, is Habitat for Humanity. There’s another one that puts you to work. And I, so I think that’s probably the common theme lean for me in that kind of volunteer work is I wanna sweat and I wanna get involved.

Liam Dempsey: Well, I love hearing that you really want to work hard on behalf of others in the communities. So thank you for doing that. And just as a reminder, we’ll go ahead and link to all three of those organizations and and even our local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. We’ll definitely look to that over on the show notes, over on [startlocal.co].

Bob Cox, Managing Partner of Building High Performance, or High Performing Human Capital, excuse me. Thank you very much for joining us. 

Bob Cox: Hey, thanks for having me. That was a lot of fun. That was a blast. Thanks, guys. 

Eric Gudmundson: All right. And thank you to my co-host, Liam Dempsey. The Start Local podcast is published every two weeks. We invite you to subscribe to Start Local using your favorite podcast app. You can also visit our Start Local website, which is [startloca.co] for show notes, including links mentioned on the show and summaries of past episodes. 

We hope you join us for the next episode. 

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