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Ep 43 : Enabling Employee Voices: How to Foster Engagement & Safety in the Workplace-Elad Sherf

Updated: May 7, 2023


Prof. Elad Sherf discusses strategies for fostering engagement, safety, and equitability in the workplace. He shares his research & insights on how to build a culture that encourages employee feedback, amplifies underrepresented voices, and measures success in a way that is fair and equitable. We discuss,

Creating a Culture of Safety & Enabling Employee Voices: Speak Up or Not?

  • The distinction between speaking up and staying silent

  • Challenges of speaking up in the workplace, particularly for women and underrepresented minorities

  • Strategies for encouraging critical engagement, empowering employees to speak up in critical situations, and fostering a culture of safety and trust in the workplace.

Engaging Employees Through Feedback and Fairness

  • The importance of fairness in employee engagement, and strategies for soliciting and implementing feedback that empowers employees to feel heard and valued.

  • Rebalancing workloads, building a culture of fairness, and promoting equity in decision-making and opportunities for growth.

Framing the Right Questions: Strategies for Effective Communication

  • Tips for framing questions in a way that encourages open and honest communication, and helps employees feel more comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns.

Speaking Up in Meetings: Amplifying Women and Minority Voices

  • Challenges that women and underrepresented minorities face in being heard in meetings, and strategies for amplifying their voices and promoting more inclusive decision-making.

Amplifying Underrepresented Voices: Building Equitable Teams and Access to Critical Projects

  • Strategies for promoting diversity and inclusion in access to critical projects and opportunities for career advancement.

Elad Sherf is a Sarah Graham Kenan Scholar Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His work has been published in leading management and psychology journals including Academy of Management Journal, Organization Science, Journal of Applied Psychology, and highlighted in Harvard Business Review.

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[00:00] INTRO [Jump to section]

[00:45] Meet Elad Sherf [Jump to section]

[03:16] Engaging with employees through Feedback. Fairness & Feedback... employee engagement [Jump to section]

[04:29] Creating a culture of safety... Speak up or not... discuss new ideas [Jump to section]

[06:30] How to enable people to be heard, and feel engaged. and feel safe... Speak up or Stay silent... There is a distinction[Jump to section]

[08:18] Marker[Jump to section]

[09:33] Framing the right question [Jump to section]

[11:18] Speaking up in Meetings... How do women & underrepresented minorities get heard [Jump to section]

[16:02] Amplifying Women's & Minority, Underrepresented Voices[Jump to section]

[26:06] How do we measure success, Are we defining & measuring the right metrics [Jump to section]

[27:55] Strategies to rebalance work and build a structure of fairness in your team [Jump to section]

[32:01] How do you get the team to engage & speak up (in critical situations) [Jump to section]

[35:41] Note to 21-year-old self [Jump to section]

[38:29] Takeaways [Jump to section]


[00:00] INTRO

Sirisha: Hello everyone and welcome to the Women Career and Life podcast. This is your host, Dr Sirisha Kuchimanchi, a former tech executive at Texas Instruments, a Fortune 200 company, a speaker, a working mom, and an ever-reader. In this podcast, you will hear stories and practical advice for you to achieve your career and life goals. I also wanna say a big thank you to our listeners for continuing to support this podcast and making it in the top 30% of Spotify podcasts. If you wanna continue to support this indie-produced show, you can either buy me a cup of chai, I am not a coffee drinker, or you can become a monthly or annual subscriber. You will find more information. In the show notes.

[00:45] Meet Elad Sherf

Sirisha: I have Professor Elad Sheriff from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, an associate professor in the Department of Organizational Behavior. And it's very exciting because I've been reading up on his work, on his research papers and following him on LinkedIn. There's a lot of intersection, especially for organizations and for managers to see how they can improve the engagement within their organizations and build trust, but also for organizations to look at it from a broader scope. And as you follow this interview, you will learn more from that. Thank you for being here today.

Elad: Oh, thank you for inviting me. I'm so excited to be here.

Sirisha: How did you get to do this organizational behaviour and the research area that you focus on? What excites you?

Elad: Oh, there are so many things. I think the genesis of some of these ideas goes way back. I'm originally from Israel, where there's mandatory army service. I spent about four years in the Israeli Air Force and many months in reserve duty. My role ended up being training commanders and team leaders and teaching people how to teach. So many of the issues that I still study today, from motivation to fairness to feedback to how to get ideas, originated there. I go back to those experiences a lot. I got sidetracked and became a lawyer for a few years, but I was always interested in these types of questions about people, and I think that we spend so much time at work. I'm passionate about understanding how we can make that better. Then I ended up pursuing a Ph.D. and started going into more focused areas that we're going to talk about some of them today. But I keep finding new things that get me excited every day. And now I have great Ph.D. students that come up with new ideas to get me excited. There's always something on the horizon.

Sirisha: What an interesting segue. I would never think of mandatory military service and organizational behaviour and team training, but obviously, these soldiers need training, and they need a structure around it. So it's fascinating that probably a lot of it mimics any corporate culture, right? Because there are rules and policies and guidelines that everybody has to follow.

Elad: If you are a commander, and some people feel slighted or are not motivated, or the basic human psychology is at play, I think a lot of the experiences there are very relevant. Especially when we think about working in small teams. I teach a class here on teamwork and groups and teams. A lot of that is drawn from my own experiences as a team member and then as a team leader, and then training the leaders of those teams. So it's really interesting to see those applied.

[03:16] Engaging with employees through Feedback...Fairness & Feedback... employee engagement

Sirisha: Very fascinating. I was looking at the research that you were doing, and one of the things that struck me was the engagement of managers and feedback. When we think of feedback, often in corporate culture, we are thinking of performance feedback, that sort of annual review that, for most of us, we dread the experience because we don't want to have that. But your discussion on feedback is very different in the sense it's very nuanced around how managers engage with their employees, not only to get feedback on ideas and things but also on how the performance is going. So there's a sort of fairness and a sense of being heard. Can you elaborate on how that manifests itself and what you see as the impact?

Elad: I think we can think about it in different ways. So one is thinking of feedback as this idea of performance information, which is more about me and how I'm doing as a manager. And some of my research looks at why managers don't do that, and don't ask for feedback on their performance, and some of it is structural elements, and some of it is psychological elements. The other point is, as you discussed, how do we generate ideas more broadly from people, feedback about how we're doing as a company, what kind of things we should be focused on, and maybe what we're doing incorrectly?

[04:29] Creating a culture of safety... Speak up or not... discuss new ideas

Elad: And there, it's more about creating a culture that allows people to speak up and not feel like they need to silence themselves or censor their thoughts. So those two are related, but they're a little bit distinct in terms of focus. One is thinking more about whether I'm doing what I need to be doing, behaving in ways that are effective and fair for my employees or those around me, and the other is more about how to create a culture where we can openly discuss new ideas, challenge each other, build on each other's ideas and not put them down. A lot of my research takes the point of view that we sometimes tend to vilify managers too much. Every time I tell people I study fairness, they say, "Let me tell you about my unfair boss and how horrible they are." I sense that a lot of times, we need to understand the context in which managers and organizations operate, and the multiple priorities and barriers that exist. Some of them are structural, such as what gets rewarded in the organization, what are the organization's priorities, and what kinds of challenges bosses present, while others are psychological, such as dealing with information overload and using shortcuts that can lead us astray in our interpersonal relationships and leadership. This is the way that I approach these questions and issues.

Sirisha: So are you looking at it from both personal and team engagement aspects, where one is more about personal perception and the other is about creating a culture where people feel engaged, proud to come to work and be heard?

Elad: Yes, exactly. It's about creating a culture where people feel comfortable speaking up and being heard. They want their contributions to matter and to be listened to, even if there isn't always the ability to act on every decision. It's about acknowledging that you've heard their ideas, tried to act on them, and if for some reason it doesn't work, explaining why it didn't work.

[06:30] How to enable people to be heard, and feel engaged. and feel safe... Speak up or Stay silent... There is a distinction

Sirisha: So how do we address issues of gender and people feeling unheard? I think this is becoming more apparent with the great resignation and quiet quitting phenomena. People are facing burnout from overwork, but they also want to feel like their contributions matter. What can we do to create a more authentic workplace culture?

Elad: I completely agree with you. My research has highlighted the importance of two psychological experiences when it comes to contributing ideas: a sense of impact and psychological safety. People want to feel like their ideas are being heard and that they won't be punished for speaking up. In one of our projects, we found that people may speak up about certain issues but silence themselves on others, and these behaviours can be uniquely addressed. To create a more authentic workplace culture, we need to foster both a sense of impact and psychological safety, so people feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work.

[08:18] Marker

Elad: But the reasons why I might censor myself or might not say something when I have something to. Is more related to this idea of safety. So the silence comes more from feeling unsafe. Now they're always related and in one event they're the opposite of one another. But when you look across time and subjects we see these relationships and when you think about it that way, you can take a step back and think, okay. What are some of my actions as a manager or what are we doing in this organization to promote a sense of safety and to promote a sense of impact? And when we break it down that way, there are different things, right? So for example, if the sense of impact is all about I'm being listened to, it becomes really important when ideas are being communicated or suggested. To acknowledge that, to get back and even if you, as you said, I, there's nothing I can do about it. There's, no budget or I don't have the cloud from upper management. Explain that logic, right? And so people don't get that sense that, oh, I'm giving all these ideas and they're just being ignored. On the other hand, safety is all about noticing how people react socially. To people who give different ideas and make the environment safe to do that.

[09:33] Framing the right question

Elad: And we can think about trying to both frame some of the questions differently. So there are, for example, experiments where they just by changing the question of if this project going to succeed. What are all how we imagine that we're five years from now when the project has failed? What are some of the ways that we did that? And even that little change in framing creates that sense of safety because it gives me almost a license to speak about bad things. And it could even be. Where do we have certain conversations? Are there certain conversations that we wanna have in public or are there certain conversations that I want to have one-on-one with people because I wanna make sure that they feel safe? So I think we can think about these as related, but two systems and think about the actions that we can take to create that sense of, I matter, I can influence what's going on and that sense of it's safe. I'm not gonna be ridiculed. I'm not gonna be ostracized or I'm not gonna be ignored negatively. I think if you have both of those be related to all of those things that you talk about. The engagement and the desire to stay in the organization.

One thing that we found is that actually When people silence themselves when you censor themselves at work, that is much more predictive of burnout than just not speaking up with ideas. So the act of when I find myself in a meeting or setting and there's something that I wanna say, but I feel that it's not safe, and I censor myself, that's when I start getting not only that I'm not engaged, I'm feeling that sense of burnout and emotional exhaustion because I am not allowed to be myself.

And that. emotionally, very labour-intensive for us.

[11:18] Speaking up in Meetings... How do women & underrepresented minorities get heard?

Sirisha: Yeah, so that looks like two sides of the same thing, right? There's one part which is the disengagement, and the other part is the stress that you're constantly carrying, whether it manifests itself or not. So actually there are two things I kind of wanna unpack, so I'll take them one at a time from what you just discussed.

The first thing when you're talking about, is the voice part of it, right? For expressing myself. When you look at it from the gender perspective, from women they would've probably experienced it, is when they speak up in meetings.

Sometimes they're not heard. , it's somebody else. Usually, often a male colleague might express a similar idea and then it's heard and acknowledged and then it feels this disempowering feeling. You feel like, okay, why? After a few times, we all stop. It's human nature will stop speaking up and we won't say anything.

So how can managers tackle that? And I do not wanna put all the burden on managers as well. There are peers. There is yourself, then you're doing this. If it's not working for you, what actions should you take? What canalization should you have in that meeting and how to address it as an individual?

or maybe in a safe space outside with certain folks. Yeah. So let's tackle that and then I'll come to the second one in a bit.

Elad: Yeah that, that's a fascinating question. And it's certainly something that happens. And it's not only women, it's other underrepresented minorities. It's both the. The sticking time that they get. And when they say things, they might be ignored. So I do think I like how, what you're suggesting in terms of thinking both about the managerial responsibility from the top and the culture that I'm creating, but also the peers. So there's very interesting research that, not mine, but other people do interesting research as well. That came out around this idea of voice simplification, right? If we repeat someone else's idea, in a meeting, we are it's more likely to get picked up and to be seen as important and to be seen as relevant, right? And this is a strategy that we can use to support some of our co-colleagues who we feel are not being supported or being disregarded where we can amplify their voice. So it's not only saying, oh, what I think about it. Repeating the idea that my colleague Visha said I agree with her. That idea was really important. And then add to that changes the importance that we, that people ascribe and the status of people ascribe to those speakers. And from a manager's perspective, I'm a big believer in process and structure. Because if we just try to use our self-control to handle these kinds of things. they happen not because, people don't wake up in the morning and say, oh, today I'm gonna ignore all the women in my group. It's I don't think people wake up and go to work that way, but it's something that happens unconsciously for different reasons. So how do we create a structure where, and this has to be specific to each situation, right? In some cases, it might be we have to go around the room and hear everybody's opinions before I say mine maybe it is a situation where we do some sort of let's. Each here, each other's ideas, and then each one of us will present the other's ideas. Create some process where we make sure that everybody has an opportunity to be heard and there's an opportunity for the group or the team to reflect and process the ideas from a certain person. Right now in. On a different tack than when you look at brainstorming and creative ideas, sometimes anonymizing the ideas is better, right? Because it also reduces this sense of ownership and the politics around that where we can generate Some people call this brainwriting or other aspects where we separate the idea of the evaluation of the ideas from their generation, and in a process, we can anonymize them. Now it doesn't always work in real-time meetings, but the more we can create these process mechanisms and change them around, the more we can ensure that. Whether it's women or minorities, or just people who are more introverted or any type of diverse diversity that we have in our team to make sure that they all have an opportunity to be heard, and then it goes back to the manager to ask yourself and to get feedback after the appointment, or after the meeting. Bob Sutton has this one of his write-ups, he talks about the c e o, that every time, like you were saying, there was a woman and every time they got interrupted or their idea was just ignored. And just by going after the meeting for them to tell him that he then changed his approach. He wasn't doing it consciously. He was trying to be the best, but there are a lot of things going on in the meeting that you need to follow. And then he changed the process of how he does the meeting. Eliminate that. I think people are a lot of times open to that. It's hard feedback to hear, but it's a conversation that we wanna be in a situation where we can have with our employees whenever they feel like that. Because again, it relates to that engagement, it relates to that sense of futility and everything that we talked about earlier that you highlighted...

[16:02] Amplifying Women's & Minority, Underrepresented Voices

Sirisha: Exactly. Because when you think about it, people are not conscious of what they call unconscious bias, right? , that's the term being used. Yeah. But we are not familiar with what we are ignoring or not doing. So someone has to speak up. So it may not even be the person who's not heard, but maybe their peers notice it and have a conversation with somebody. And the older method works, right? You have plants in the room who will remember to call on that person or give them their amplification because the strategies worked for a reason. So we should use the same strategies to amplify it.

Elad: it's okay to have someone that, that's their role in this meeting, right? Make sure that every idea gets listened to. Attention gets amplified and we are crediting it to write and we can rotate that role within our meeting. Or find some mechanism that works for you in your context and doesn't fill forced, right? If it's fill forced, then it's not gonna have the effect. But I, if you come from a genuine approach to that then it works. And I, it's unconscious bias, but for me, it's even broader. , when we think about managers and we think about even us as employees, we have so many things on our minds every day, right? And just dealing with the task themselves is not important. So some of my research around we mentioned earlier around feedback seeking, going out and proactively asking, oh, how did I do in that meeting? And what I found is that helps people get to fairness, right? To have their employees feel like they're fairly treated, not necessarily because the act of asking itself matters, but because you learn specific information about how that person likes to be treated, right? Someone might like to be called on when they didn't speak a lot in a meeting, but for someone else, that might be a horrible kind of situation and they'd rather you come to them later, right? But, At the outset, I might just because it's easier, I'm gonna say, oh, I like to be called on in the meeting, so I'll call on them. And that might be so without knowing that I can't treat them in a way that will be felt by them at the fair. And that's where having those conversations regularly and those check-ins become important.

Sirisha: So two things that stuck with me when you were talking about anonymizing, like for ideas, right? So one of the things I would do when. To manage people and employees in groups I would ask everyone to give their ideas, like at the end of the year, for the next year, and ask them to send in inputs, but with a clear intention that they could not talk to another person. if they were only allowed to send me the ideas and they were just anonymized on a PowerPoint slide, we would review and see as a team what we were going to deal with. So in some ways, everyone has equal weightage on what they're, and What agenda was a very interesting way that when someone had an idea, and if someone else thought it was also something they wanted to work on, they would end up working together. Yeah. With no, I didn't have to engage. They would then we would suggest who else can they work with. So it creates sort of a collaboration that people have that space to come forth and say, okay, I will work on this stuff.

Elad: Yeah. I love that. there's an example I u used in some of my classes that I read about a company where they always have these meetings about, next year's budget and every head of department came on their own and tries to argue for their department. And what they did is they said, okay, this year, you are assigned to one of your colleagues from a different department and they have to make the argument for the budget for you. So they have to work together to understand the perspective of this other person before and that helped them also. Oh, if I'm fighting for my budget on this issue, this is important for our business from a different perspective. So, that's why I like this idea of a process that helps manage that type of situation because it's not all in the meeting, right? We're creating a structure that allows these interactions to emerge more naturally, and I think that is more effective in the long term.

[19:40] Fairness, Access to critical projects and Equitability of work

Sirisha: Exactly. And the other part of your discussion where you were talking about soliciting employees' feedback in just one part, you were talking about navigating meetings, but I think the sense of fairness also applies slightly differently when you're talking about equitability of work. Like assignment of work. Yes. So the tendency when you have high performers is to give them more opportunities, which is a good thing in a lot of ways that give them the potential to advance. On the flip side, they can also feel like they are getting all the load, and the perception can be two ways. One is, okay, I'm getting overloaded and for someone who wants to be on the same path, who is getting there, but is not at the top tier right now, how do you make sure that they are getting opportunities as well? Because I think one of the other things I've seen, and also from looking at research and just talking to a lot of professionals and academics as well as the challenges access, especially when you go back to gender and minority and stuff. If you don't get on that first rung or the second rung and you don't. , someone else is gonna be climbing. Yeah. So you always have to get access. So how do you make sure that you're giving that fair equitability of assignment of critical projects, right? It's not just the work distribution, but the important stuff to be given actions on.

Elad: Correct. And I think, to echo that there are, there is research and pretty convincing evidence that part of what happens is that, in terms of gender bias and the lack of promotion of women to hire races they get less challenging assignments. And I think your question talks to a broader tension, right? There's always tension between kind of the performance right now and the development goals, right? And that's as a manager, I have to say, okay what do I need to get done? But also, who do I develop and how do I develop them? And different people have these different desires for development. And I've seen that in some of my research both ways. Like people say, oh, I kept GI giving this person because I trusted them the most. I didn't even think about it. But they became so frustrated cause they felt that they were doing so much more work than the others. I'm like, yeah, but you're so good. And on the other hand, is in terms of not being aware that someone is not getting the opportunities that they want. So in talking about, this is something that I as personally as a, when I was in the army, one of my uh, Soldiers that was running a course with me, that's the feedback that I got, that they felt that certain opportunities only go to certain people. And I was not even aware of that. And I'm like, I was so happy to hear that cuz now I can do something about it. But it wasn't every time I made the choice based on the task at hand, and I wasn't aware of that. So I and my point with all of this long answer is, we need to, you have to think strategically, right? What am I willing to do these sacrifices in the short term for the long term, right? Because it might be someone new, it might take more, it might, may take more of my time. , right? So what, that's one aspect. The other is having that conversation within the team and with the individuals, right? How are we thinking about it? Fairness is not only for individuals but also as an aggregate, right? So this idea of thinking about micro fairness and macro fairness, right? How are we, there are rules that we can use, for example, that people, regardless of, their current abilities and performance, et cetera, Know what Dges more than X times this unique assignment or whatever the this, the specific is, and that's a what we call like a macro fairness rule where we think about the distribution regardless of the individual attributes, right? Versus thinking about, okay, who is deserving, who needs it and who has the bandwidth, which is more of an individual decision. So again, going back to setting a process is how do we. I think if you don't measure these types of things and you don't have a system to make sure that you are thinking through some of these elements, that's where it gets. Hidden away because I'm, if I'm just gonna sign the task every time based on what's going on right now, without seeing that broader view, I'm just gonna go with what is the priority right now. And with that, a lot of times I rule the best performer cause that's the shortest route. But if we have a system that says, okay, every time I make a decision, I need to look at this broader distribution. then it doesn't mean that you have to change your decision, but it means that you're at least considering that. And then you can also communicate that with the employee as part of those check-ins and feedback conversations I know you, but you also need this development. This is the reason why I'm doing it right now and that puts an accountability on you to say you can't return and go back to the same explanation again and again. In the end, it would become Just, it wouldn't seem authentic anymore. So that creates an accountability review of okay, I know that next time this is what we need to do and put you on that path and I think it also goes to like, how do we even define what the best performer is, right? And trying to think about what is ours. What are the criteria that we use and what are some of the assumptions that we have under these criteria? So a lot of the criteria like performance indicators, et cetera, we use, we take them for granted without thinking about whether themselves, they might be. Biased in some way, right? As an example, if you are looking at doctors and there's an importance of like, how many patients do I see in kind of the billable hours, right? And that's a criterion a lot of times that is used to incentivize and promote, et cetera. But if we think about different criteria whether patients are coming back with the same sickness or how much they feel listened to and are falling out or the medication, that's a different criterion and when you look at something like that, men tend to do the more billable hour stuff. Women doctors tend to do more. Actual empathic listening and the outcomes are better, but if we're not using the right criteria, we might be missing that. And it's not that all men are like, it's always on averages, right? There's always But, on average, it means that if we're just using that bias criterion, the criteria itself is not morally invalid. But it's not the only criteria that we can use. Thinking very carefully about how, challenging the criteria that we have and thinking through, is there some sort of reason why it goes in this direction or why I believe this is the person that is the high performer, am I taking a holistic picture on that, et cetera, that can help with overtime addressing some of these issues.

[26:06] How do we measure success, Are we defining & measuring the right metrics

Sirisha: So first of all, you need a structure and a process. Yeah. Whatever you're doing so that, it's easy to do it one time and forget the next time. We all have the best intentions every time.

it's like time out when you're doing it when you have a kid and you, you don't follow through every time. Yeah. what is the metric you're measuring? you have to define what is important to you.

And what your focus is. Are you looking at only certain metrics that are maybe driving revenue? You're looking at D Nni, gender equity and making sure that all of them are balanced so that you get the right outcomes from that as well.

Elad: Yeah, and I think even when we think about that performance metric, why is this the performance metric that we use? When is the last time that we fought more broadly? Whether it helps us with the goals that we have, and we have all kinds of metrics like that, that are focused on incentivizing the behavior at the very micro level and tied to some financial performance in the short term. But if we take a step back and look upstream, we might have defined it very differently. So I think it's worth looking at some of these things. It's hard and it's a lot of work to do it. And you're already overburdened with, the fires that you have to put out. But putting some sort of a, and again, a structure, when we say, once every quarter. We e examine and ask ourselves these questions and see what the current data tells us and whether it, on the aggregate produces some of these disparities that we can't explain just on on its own or that we don't want. If we assume that, there shouldn't be differences just based on, gender or race or any other criteria and what is in our system that might be creating that. people are making those decision individual decisions within that system and within the incentives that they have. So we need to make it easier for them to make that decision in a way that wouldn't aggregate in those ways that we don't want them to at the broad level and over time.

[27:55] Strategies to rebalance work and build a structure of fairness in your team

Sirisha: Very true. I think the other part of what you were saying is when you were asking for that equitability of work, right? The interesting thing I found out from my own work experience, actually the first time it happened to me, I was completely shocked because someone wanted to provide me feedback. And I was like, in the, in my head and I'm thinking, oh no, I don't wanna hear this. Yeah. But actually, What they ended up telling me was so eye-opening that I used it for the rest of my corporate life. Last week was my last day in corporate life. I just quit my job. Oh, congrats. Thank you. So what the person mentioned in my team was I have, like 15% bandwidth and that was like, I had never even thought about it, and so it became some sort of a habit of mine to when I had discussions, like when you said about, reassigning roles. It's an opportunity for every manager, especially when you have a rec open or someone has moved, to relook at your group and see what the distribution is and ask people what they want to do, whether they want to continue doing the same thing, whether they wanna try something else within the group. Yeah. Or where do they see their carrier progression going asking them how much bandwidth they have, because you'll be surprised by the answers you get and once it becomes a constant dialogue, they come back and say, okay, I have this much time because they also want to do something? It's not like people don't want to try new stuff, so they're gonna come and tell you only 60%, when it doesn't peak or I have 95% then it becomes much more I feel like fairer or at least better to have an honest conversation. A base of trust was essentially built.

Elad: Yeah, because people are fair, right? And if we don't ask, we default to our assumptions and we think that they will think like we do, but people have different preferences and as a result of that, they will see different decisions As fair, right? And one person who likes to just get the same types of projects all the time and they don't have any desire to try new clients or try new skills and others that want to have that diversity and we can make both of them happy. In, in, in some cases, right? There are always trade-offs, but in some cases, if we don't ask we don't know, right? And a lot of times just because we're overburdened, we don't stop and ask, wait. Is this what you want? are these your goals? Cause these were my goals when I was in your position. Maybe you have different goals and having those conversations can help and they don't have to be every day. But once in a while, as you said, when there's some sort of an opportunity or some sort of a system or a structure where we do this every period, but having that insight changes your decisions and I, in my research, just like your experience right here I, I've heard people talk about, oh, That experience with the, what the employee came and told me that I was treating them unfairly, even though I didn't know about it, changed the way I interacted with employees going forward. So that conversation can be eye-opening just because. , we are in our heads all the time, if we don't take the time to try and get the perspective of others, it's we can get stuck there and just assume that it's the best way when it might not be for everybody.

Sirisha: Very true. And I think the other part that we forget is, managers get training Yeah. As they become managers. And it's not always. , it doesn't cover every scenario and every person is different. So you have to learn on the job. You have to get feedback. Yeah. And you have to be willing to change. Not always change as needed. No. But figure out what is the right approach at that point.

Elad: Yeah. it's, as we said earlier, right? It's okay not to change, but then communicate it to the employee. I heard you, I understand where you're coming from. This is what I'm facing and why I made that decision. And we, there's a lot of research. People are okay with an outcome that is undesirable to them as long as they feel that, there was this fair process that they were listened to, that they were considered, and that they had an opportunity to influence it there. People know that. They can't always get what they want. But if you don't engage 'em in a process, that's when they get really upset.

[32:01] How do you get the team to engage & speak up (in critical situations)

Sirisha: Very true. And I wanted to touch on this last topic before we Yep. Get to closing on this. So you talked about silence and you talked about the admissibility of risk, right? And I like how you, the question was phrased. It's directed at how we feel today, but the outcome of the actions we are taking. In a sense, right? Yeah. How as a collective can we make this project less risk-averse? So what are the risks of everything that can go wrong, put it on the table now because then it's more free space for everyone to be open about what is my worst-case scenario because there is hesitancy. When I was reading that part of it, I was thinking of whistleblowers, right? It must reach a really bad situation for them to become a whistleblower and become like, usually, it's a safety risk or an ethical risk when it's gotten that bad. But in small situations, when you're leading teams, you want that product or that project to be successful. There's a lot of impact-driven, so how can people put all their feelings about why this thing is not going to work there? Yeah. So that they can fix it.

Elad: I completely agree and this is a the, it's a known exercise where you come to, your team and say, okay, if you were our competitor, how would you put us out of business? And suddenly all these weaknesses that everybody knows but doesn't wanna surface because it's undiscussable. It can come out because it becomes, the framing making it safe. Suddenly, I'm not challenging what's going on. I'm part of this exercise and it also just, Changes our perspective, which is important for the generation of creative ideas. So there's a powerful force to framing questions and creating situations or times where we, ask those types of questions from a different manner rather than take it as an opposite. What would you do to tank this project, or what are all the reasons if we are five years from now that we will fail? Or if you were the competitor, what would you do? And we, there are a lot of examples of that, right? The US Army has these exercises where they have a blue team versus a red team and because the people from the red team are also in the Army, they know all the weaknesses, but then they utilize that to highlight these weaknesses and then, They can be fixed. It's just like a company asking hackers to come out and try to break their systems. it's the same thing we can do with any of our ideas and with any of our projects, but we need to create an environment where that is not only allowed but encouraged. So does any of your research, do you work with companies and give them, like training Yeah we've done so first I wanna do more we're all, we're looking for opportunities to collaborate. We've done what we call, we are interested in doing field experiments where we try different elements and see how that work. We've worked with some companies to try. and generate, a system where people are like, increase those sense of impact and that sense of safety and try to find a way in which we they communicate even e either by a structural element or just by changing the communications with the employees and we've had some interesting results there. Always open to, doing more. I think a lot of my research tries to get at the experiences that employees have in their own companies. But working from the top and trying to find ways to structure different elements that I would be excited to do and think about. But haven't done it yet very open to collaborating on elements like that.

Sirisha: Yeah, if I come across any of it, we'll let you know because I think there is so much to be done here and, though this interview is wrapping up, I think we could probably unwrap a lot more in, in another session.

Elad: I'd be happy to come back at another time.

[35:41] Note to 21-year-old self

Sirisha: Definitely. Yeah. So this is a question I ask every guest. What advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Elad: The advice is to aspire wider and deeper. So wider because, you never know where opportunities are gonna come from and I've had both in my professional experiences and my research experience, it's I stumbled into things, right? And you can't stumble into it without exploring a lot of things, but then once you find something it's also going to this deeper, right? A lot of times hear, oh, follow your passion or whatever, but there's some research to suggest that passion follows performance. You start something, you get good at that, and then you get excited about that and you get excited about the nuance and that's how I found myself in the research niche that I'm in. I got an opportunity for my advisor to work on a project. And then when that got well, I just got interested in it and slowly I built my expertise. So I think trying a lot of things and then when some things hit, try to go deeper and learn from those experiences. And I haven't always done that, but when I opened myself up to it, both of those good things happened...

Sirisha: It's also it's, I'm taking some risks. to me, it reminds me of picking up an instrument, maybe a violin or a viola. Yeah. It's very hard when you do it, but when you get good at it is when you start to enjoy it. Yeah. Playing it exactly. And what is the one word you would use to describe yourself?

Elad: I think I would use curiosity. That's what drives me today. As a scientist and a scholar, I hope that's how I conduct myself. Just trying to understand the world and be curious about it and be curious about people and their experiences. One word is hard, but that's the word I would choose right now.

Sirisha: And that fits perfectly what you said about being wider on it. As well. Yeah. So your research is very fascinating because I look at it both from what I do and from my podcasting stuff, but also from my corporate life. How as organizations either as a person reporting to a manager or from a leader's standpoint try to work, and engage with employees? So I think there's so much as you continue to do more work, what that looks like. I think there's probably a lot of ramifications towards recent retention and quite quitting all of these conversations that are happening about gender equity that, we could talk again, as I said Yeah.

Elad: we probably can do it in an hour podcast, just on that uh, Yes, exactly. So, my PhD student now is interested in gender, in the workplace. So we're doing a lot of things around that. Some interesting stuff coming up. It's still a work in progress, but I'll be happy to come back at some point and talk about all of that.

Sirisha: Excellent. So how can someone get in touch with you?

Elad: So either I'm on LinkedIn. My, account is open or on, that's my website. And there's a contact and all of the links to every possible place where I'm at. But LinkedIn is the social network that I usually hang out on less than some of the other one's.

[38:29] Takeaways

Sirisha: so for those of you listening, especially if you are management, because there's a lot of today's discussion was to managers as well, is how do you engage with employees and ask them. a lot of it was around dialogue and having conversations, but to everything Elad said, you need a structure or a process so that it's not one shot thing. So think about how you wanna structure it. Yes, you can wait for the organization and the culture of the organization, but you as an individual can drive this and engage with your employees and explain when something cannot be done a certain way. I think keeping that dialogue, that cross-bridge open, just engages trust, a set of openness and a sense of fairness also, so that people can express their voice.

And I think as he talked, when you're dealing with this part of silence. Is about how you frame your question. I liked what you said about, how would our competition put us out of business. That's one way of looking at it so that you address the risks so you can execute well and then the last part I wanted to talk about was just making sure when you're assigning work projects, critical stuff, that you look at it from the lens of equitability and making sure everyone's given a fair shake at it. So yeah, if you have these examples, please share them. Elad's doing research. So maybe he'd like to hear from you too. So yeah, that was an awesome reach out to him.

Elad: summary of our conversation. That's impressive. Yeah. Yeah.

Sirisha: So totally reach out to him and I have a feeling we might ping on this in the future again, so thank you for listening.

Elad: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure. And I look forward to listening to your podcast in the future. It's now on my feed.

Sirisha: This is an indie podcast, and if you enjoy the content, you can help me with production by supporting me. You can buy me a cup of chai. I'm not a coffee drinker, or you can enable me by subscribing to either a monthly or an annual plan as well. Thank you for doing. And don't forget to share this episode and put in this reviews what you liked. What was your key takeaway? That's really what I wanna know. I wanna know how this is impacting you, and what infetissimal changes you're seeing in your life. You can always reach me through Instagram by sending me a DM at Women Carrier and Life. Thank you so much for tuning in. See you next.

Guest: Elad Sherf

Host: Sirisha

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