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Podcast Episode 53: Rod Lacey

Candor is defined as being open and honest. And, that's exactly what has fueled the successful career of leading people by our guest on today's episode, Rod Lacey. In numerous professional experiences shared by Rod, the conversation organically circles back to the impact candor has on his team today and those of the past.

To add, Rod shares three questions that will help you evaluate if the cultural investment you're making in your organization is worth it. In fact, he even shares how a brilliant and powerful idea that was brought to life in the past didn't amount to what the team had expected. So, he shares his formula on how to course correct for future moves.

Here are some of the top takeaways from the episode:

  1. Trust (with your team) is created when you share the truth.

  2. If you work with a global team, it's important to understand that each culture has different needs. As a people leader, it's important to listen intently to each entity of the organization and then invest wisely in your cultural initiatives.

  3. Be able to convey your message(s) and feedback in 90 seconds. Get straight to the point by keeping it simple and direct.

BONUS: Be transparent with your data. In this episode, Rod shares a story about how he collected survey data and shared the raw results with the team. Brilliant!

Rod is delivering a plethora of value, so we're excited you're tuning in and learning with us from such a brilliant mind.


What was your biggest takeaway from this episode?



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Aaron: Rod, it's a pleasure to have you on. Thank you for making some time outta your busy day and your busy week to chat and share, chat and share some of your stories.

Rod: Oh, thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. Appreciate your time.

Aaron: One of the reasons I was really excited to talk to you is you've had a chance to scale and pivot throughout your career in different organizations and different roles, and I guess what I'm wondering is what's one thing that you wish you knew when you started? You know, if you could go back and tell yourself, Hey, rod, remember this as you went through your journey and the people and the scaling organization space.

Rod: That's a really good question. Let me think for just a second. I think one of the things that I wish I had understood earlier in my career was the importance of candor, the importance of. Being able to tell people exactly where they stand. I think on the people side of the business sometimes we we're trained to be kind, empathetic, warm. I mean, we have to be, but there's a real value to being straightforward and letting people know exactly where they stand, tell 'em exactly where their performance is at.

And I think that's something that it took me a while, my career to realize that. It's okay. People value understanding exactly where they're at. They have better directions on moving forward if expectations have been made more clear. So the HR journey is not always about being that listening ear and the empathetic individual.

It is also about coaching, being direct, giving people clear expectations. So it took me a while to figure that out and I can be a much more strategic partner now that I've figured out that value.

Aaron: I know we dove right in with not a softball, but with a fastball. But how'd you come to that as your, as your thing?

Like what, what lessons did you learn along the way that told you that's candor's the thing that I wish I learned earlier.

Rod: So it has to do with feedback that I got from my own team. Realizing that, when I had challenges to address, I was sometimes too kind, too nice and people might leave that meeting feeling okay rather than coached or counseled.

And so, and it's not that they have to feel bad after those same sessions, but it was, for me, it was an achievement to commit myself to being direct and. My team was holding me accountable. So when I had a performance matter to address, that never got resolved. It was because I wasn't addressing it.

I wasn't being as direct as I could be. And so there's great value in being open to feedback from my team as well. So saying, Rob, rod, what's going on? We're still having these issues. Have you not addressed it? And I'm thinking, well, I kind of have, but in fact, I hadn't been direct enough to say, we can't do it this way anymore.

And just cutting to the chase. I was just too. fluffy in my presentation, too soft in what I was giving to people out of kindness and out of respect. But I wasn't getting the work done. I wasn't getting the message delivered effectively. So again, feedback all the way around my inability to fix issues as fast as I should have, or address challenges as quickly as I should have, especially on the interpersonal side.

It's not, we're not talking projects. We're talking more just behaviors. And so again, it was feedback and failures of my own brought to my attention that that turned my priorities around that way

Aaron: As a recovering people pleaser, I feel that pain, that desire not to hurt someone's feelings by telling them what needs to be said, and I love that it is just fluff. We add extra fluff to the conversation that's not needed.

Rod: I think that there's, it actually is kindness to be candid with people and so, I mean , that's one of the pieces of feedback I've had most of my career is, you know, rod is, he's so nice, he's so kind, you know, maybe too nice. But that can be packaged with kindness.

And so you've got just the opposite of that. If you're not being truthful with people, if you're not being forthcoming in exactly the feedback you gotta give, that's the opposite of kindness. You're inhibiting their career growth. They're not able to accomplish what they ought to accomplish.

They don't have the clarity they should have. And so it's the opposite of kindness act, believe it or not. If you're not willing to be candid with those you're interacting with.

Aaron: Yeah, we always say it raise the bar. Clarity is kindness. And now what I'm hearing from you is candor is kindness.

Rod: It is, it is on the, the right way. In the right way. It's

Aaron: What tools or reminders or systems do you have in place? Or did you have in place to remind yourself to bring the canor as kindness?

Rod: It's really the same challenge that I give to other managers I gave to myself.I always coach managers that when you're having a challenging meeting with somebody, I want you to think that you've got 90 seconds to deliver your message. So you've got 90 seconds to be crystal clear about what this meeting is about and what we're we're going to accomplish. And I always pushed those that I was coaching to get to the point.

And you can do a lot of kindness, a lot of verbiage in 90 seconds, but. You know, in these challenging meetings that I was always coaching other managers around, I said, okay, you got 90 seconds. It's a respectful thing to do, to get to the point and tell that person exactly why they're there.

And so I started to challenge myself with the same thing. At first, I was scripting it out for myself, you know, I knew what I had to deliver, I knew how I would coach others to do it. So it was just holding myself accountable for the same. Guidance that I would give someone else in the same situation.

It's easy for us to coach others about how they ought to behave, but sometimes doing that ourselves with our own team members is a little more challenging. So for me, it was a discipline about holding myself accountable, making it part of, my plan for that meeting, and then just leaning in and, and making it happen.

Aaron: And I love the very like super tactical nature of 90 seconds to deliver your message. It's like, you know, in my head it's like 92nd rule, right? Like, just get it out and there might be some fluff in there, but it's gonna cut a lot of the bullshit if you're keeping it

Rod: it does

Aaron: keeping it that dialed in.

Rod: It does. And I think there, there's multiple reasons for that. It does cut out the bullshit, but it also. It prevents you from saying too much. You know, if this happens to be disciplinary in nature, if it happens to be a termination meeting, that's what the inside councils are worried about is you sang too much too.

So this is more about being respectful, be getting to the point. I coached a gentleman one time that had a really hard time with candor. Just like really struggled, truly struggled in those meetings, and I gave him the 92nd rule and I was preparing him for a challenging termination and I roleplayed it with him, and I went through every possible step to get him ready.

When the meeting started, he actually froze. He went through this rambling of. Nothingness. You know, this has been hard. I know this hasn't been the best. And he just, he said nothing going on. Probably two minutes. And I was in this room with him, and the person in the meeting, the person that was going to be fired that day, he dropped an expletive and said, Hey, effing, put on your big boy pants and tell me why the F were here.

We were being disrespectful to this person in a very challenging meeting by not getting to the point. And so there's a true value, a respectful value to getting to the mark there and saying, this is why we're here. This is the outcome. Here's the expectation. So yeah, it's respectful both ways.

It makes it easier on the person doing the presentation too. You know, to your point, if all I have to prepare is 90 seconds, every one of us can put that speech together. So it just it keeps us on point.

Aaron: And now thinking of your role, right, leading the whole people function of the organization, how do you extrapolate that idea or the concept of being kind through candor across an organization to people?

Rod: So that's a great question. So let me think for just a second on that one.So one of the ways that I like to gauge a manager's strength is by how the most challenging meetings are handled. So a good manager would sit down with an employee and say, Hey, Aaron, do you know why we're here? And a good manager has had those. Coaching conversations has invested in that employee in the turnaround of their performance.

And we get to that point where there's a tough meeting to have and that employee can say, yeah, I know exactly why I'm here. You know, you told me about expectations. I missed the mark last week. I'm anticipating that we're here to discuss those things. And so again, that manager in that scenario has been kind, has been supportive, has provided coaching.

And that employee has no surprises. I hate the meetings where I get in with an employee, you know, and a manager, and we have this stunned surprise. I had no idea, you know, what are you talking about? To me that shows a manager that has been a little aloof of the situation is not provided the coaching and the candor and the employee had no, you know, no clear expectation of where they were or what was required of them.

Now there's exceptions to this. There are those selective listeners out there, the employees that have been coached but didn't get it or chose not to pay attention. But for me, the sign of that good manager is the manager that begins that tough meeting and says, do you know why we're here? And then employee says, yep, I do.

Because you've coached me. Because you've provided resources for me because you've counseled. And I still haven't delivered, or maybe I have delivered. We're here to, you know, move me off of a performance per improvement plan, or we're here to talk about next steps in my career, perhaps. But the manager leaves very little to question because the employee knows exactly where they're at.

Aaron: And I like how you've. Talked about this as not just a how to be kind in a termination conversation. That's like the end result of something that you hope doesn't get there. But what you said in this is along the way, they're getting coaching, they're getting that candor, they're getting that feedback.

So that nothing should be a surprise, which I'm in full agreement. It shouldn't be a surprise if something's not working. Everybody should know. Everybody wants to do a good job, and they should know if they're, you know, if they're hitting the mark or not. And you said something in an article.

That we were able to find. And you said the future of work will be led by companies that take care of employees, treat employees well, and value their employees. I have a feeling there's somewhat of a connection between the way you're talking about coaching and this, like, can you tell me more about that future of work that you see in the way companies are heading or the way you think they should be heading?

Rod: Sure. I think. You know, I've worked for different types of ownerships in organizations and, and private equity a lot the last few years, but organizations that understand that an investment in the employees is a strategic investment are going to be those that have the greater success. You want to retain your people you want to develop that talent, and it's by investing in your people.

That you can get ahead in business. So you think about this if you've got great retention of your top talent in the company, let's think about the things that improve your customer service improves because your employees know your product better. They know the customers better. Your engagement rally, your onboarding of new employees, your just, everything improves when you retain the right people.

And so too often ownership.However it's structured looks at the talent expense or the people expense. It is like top one, two, or three in the organization's expense category. You talk the cost of benefits, the cost of employees. So when things are not going perfect, the first impulse is to, let's, let's perch, let's lay off, let's cut.

And it's easy. But those disruptions, those changes. They undermine the feeling of value that the employee has. They undermine the security that the employee has, and it creates a churn. It creates after effects that have a harmful impact. So much on my side of the equation and the business is tough to quantify.

I love spreadsheets, I love numbers, but you know, if you have a sales rep and a marketing person, their output and impact on the bottom line is easy to measure. Too often the people side of the business is identified as an expense without recognizing the talent that we've attracted, the brilliance we have on certain teams, the product insights, the customer loyalties.

I mean, just the things that we have become numbers on a spreadsheet sometimes without maybe the full thought of recognizing exactly what we've got, how we utilize it, and then. Another thing that's tough to quantify is the value of upskilling. If you think about the changing needs of the workforces of the future, you've gotta find the right people, bring 'em in, put 'em in the right seats, and then continue to develop them.

Because tomorrow's workplace will be very different than today's workplace, and the skills required will be very different too. Why not invest in those people that know you know your product have shown loyalty. Grow them, reward them for being a part of the team and move forward. So just, yeah, investing in and caring for and enabling your internal talent is gonna be one of the keys for success.

But it's gonna take, the organization that sees people as more than just numbers on a spreadsheet, is gonna be those that respect the true talent and the true abilities and capabilities of the people that they employ.

Aaron: It's funny that you say that. 'cause when we look for. The right partners to work with as a training organization.

Right. We don't just do it. Okay. They have the money or they said they wanna do it. We look for people who get it. And I'm always like, yeah, do they get it? And getting it is, is exactly what you just described, is they understand the value provided by their people as their access to business success.

And I guess one of the things as you were sharing this that comes to my mind is, On a people team, we got a bucket of money, maybe a big bucket, maybe a small bucket but it's always a finite bucket, right? It's not like an unlimited faucet that just turns on. And I guess as you talk about the great businesses invest in their people, there's so many different ways to invest.

And so from your experiences of seeing a number of different organizations and being a part of them, What are the best ways to start to allocate that bucket? Like if you're thrown into a new spot or you know, if you're having to assess, where do you start to allocate that bucket that bucket of money.

Rod: That's a good question. So let's say we thrown into a new spot. We'll play off that scenario. The first, first thing we assess is what's there? What are the things that the employees appreciate? 'cause , every culture's different. It's not like there's a list of the top five things that every new HR person needs to do at a company.

And if you do these five things, engagement soars, you know, attrition drops. And so it takes an assessment culturally. And so for, me, a real example, when I joined my, my current company, I planned a 90 day listening tour where I was going to literally talk to almost every single employee started with management.

But I listened and they told me everything they most enjoyed. I asked 'em about their greatest frustration or challenge they faced in the last 60 days. So I really tried to get a feel for the state of the universe, if you will. And the interesting thing was, even though I'd planned like a 90 day listening tour, the organization became impatient and excited about the things.

That HR might be able to provide. And so it turned into like a 30 day listening tour that began with implementations of things. So, I've continued to listen ever since. But you know, one of the first things I did, in addition to listening tours, I brought in an engagement survey tool so I could get below the surface and find out, you know, what the real needs of the organization were.

And it's about gap filling, I think. So, some markets it might be looking at the baseline benefit package that might be missing something. So you're looking for these gaps and holes. Other markets, it might be something completely different and so, Again, it, even, culturally geo based on geography .

As, a multinational company, every geography has different needs, a slightly different culture, and so it's important to listen uniquely, you know, to each of, each of the the entities that an organization might have and then invest wisely. I think my meter for investment is, It's just like I was investing my own money.

Does, what? I'm going to invest in this tool, this program, this service, is it gonna impact the most people? Or am I reacting to something that a very, very, very few people might you know, might benefit from? And so, I mean, I just, just as an example, I had a chance years ago to roll out a huge corporate daycare center.

Every employee in the survey, you know, said, oh, we'd love a corporate daycare center. So we built it, we built it like adjacent to our corporate offices and it became the largest in that state. It still exists today, but when it was all said and done, we had less than 2% of our employees children in that center.

You know, it was great. It was great for marketing. It was great for recruiting, but if you think about the investment, we got it towards kind of a break even entity, but think about the investment we put into building that facility. It, benefited so few of our people. It's through experiences like that that I try to think if we're gonna invest in anything.

What's the greatest yield? What's the number of lives that we can touch with this? How many people are going to be more engaged or benefit from whatever we're rolling out?

Aaron: That's such a good point because I have these conversations with chief people officers all the time and you know, they're rolling something out and there's always somebody who might be complaining or might have a different perspective, and it's just such a refreshing reminder what percentage of the population is that And, and yes, everyone's voice is important, but what you're saying is like, let's be more strategic and let's make a decision based on the scale of what the business needs or what's gonna have the greatest impact. Obviously, I'm guessing you can do low hanging fruit things that, you know, serve one or two people. Building a whole daycare facility for 2% of the population probably isn't the best yield.

So I love that. I love that like frame of reference or filter to look through those decisions of, Hey, what yield is this gonna bring from a impact on, on our employees?

Rod: And if you think about that as an HR professional, if we truly have one of the top three expenses for the company, we need to be thinking about everything we do.

In that way. We need to be making sure that we're investing strategically. If it was your own money, would you throw it at something that you're not gonna use? No. Again, you would invest it in something that's going to have a return and so, or that you're going to enjoy, utilize a lot. And so it's the same thing as we invest on the people side of the business.

It's gotta have an r o i, it's gotta make sense. And that's something that you, could invest in the greatest bells and whistles programs. You could give unlimited everything to every employee. But there comes a point where there's gotta be a return on it because we've got a business to grow. We've got, an organization to succeed with.

And so yeah, we've gotta have that lens strategically and invest wisely if we wanna seat at that table, if we wanna be a partner on that executive. Front.

Aaron: And I think you know, it's for some people listening, this might be blatantly obvious, and you might have had this going for years and years and years, but I just, I see so many organizations that are in the several hundreds of employees who don't have engagement surveys, who don't have some assessment platforms.

And so it is simple, but like your point of that was the first thing I did because that, . As you said, informs the rest of the decisions and gives you much more information and helps you make decisions based on regions and, you know, is not your only listening tour, but what I'm hearing is probably a, valuable portion of it so you can assess what's going on in the business.

Rod: It is, it gives insights and so couple of my theories about the engagement site, I always involve a third party. A lot of the smaller organizations that don't have that tool sometimes use like an internal form. 'cause everyone trusts hr, right? So everyone trusts hr, so of course they'll be candid.

Although I feel trusted, I know that I learn more when I use a third party confidential tool. And so for me it's a non-negotiable. I'm going to use a third party tool when I do, when I want candid feedback. And so whether it's a, you know, a 360 degree assessment or whether it's an engagement survey tool, we'll, you know, partner with a third party.

So we get. The truth and like you mentioned a moment ago, there's low hanging fruit. There's so many little things that you can do from that feedback to say, you know, thank you so much for the feedback. We've listened and here's what we're gonna do about it. And you know, sometimes it's even things you were gonna do anyway, but showing the employees that you have listened, that you are reacting to and acting on their feedback.

Creates even more value to those tools down the road. So it's not a one-time exercise just for the new HR person. I do a big survey every six months and I look for low hanging fruit. I look for opportunities to influence try to remove roadblocks, try to make sure that we're offering an overall good employment experience in every way possible.

Aaron: And you mentioned this briefly, but how do you bridge that gap from Okay, employees, take the survey to. What do the employees see as the benefit of it, right? Like what's the value? Why do I take it? How do you bridge the gap between when the survey's actually taken to, what comes of it?

Rod: To your question, that transition from getting feedback to getting the employee to recognize that there's been value, and it's very, it's a very literal step. So one of the biggest mistakes employers can make is when they get the feedback, kinda lock it away or position it.

Just to give you an example with my team, because I get a breakout for my team, the minute I close the survey, I send the raw data on my team, so I haven't even looked at it yet. Here you go. So they see it as I see it, and so it's a full disclosure. And if someone says, I hate working for Rod in the comments, they see that.

And so again, part of it is just saying, here it is. And so I make, for me it's very important, we do that to all the employees too. So we share aggregate results to every employee at the next, you know, town hall or all hands meeting, you know, and, we went, we like many companies, we had an attrition period early this year, and so, My early in the year survey, I called it the valley floor, meaning our engagement was low, but I, you know, you own it.

You say, Hey, you guys know where we were in October. This is where we're at today. We've got some work to do. You know, let's all influence everything we can in a positive way. Let's get, up to where we need to be. And we're very literal in saying, let me tell you some of the feedback we received.

Some employees were saying they weren't sure, weren't sure that they could see their career growing at the organization. They weren't sure what the next steps were. So we've made very literal commitment and we've been working on it, almost done with it actually on clarifying the career path and get our company what's next, what's required for those next steps, and so we can present.

Thank you for the feedback. Here's what we're gonna do about it, and we're gonna provide updates on this we meet every month as it is an entire organization. We'll provide updates every month until we've got your career path mapped for you and it's clear on what next steps might be. So it's a simple equation.

Here's what you told us, here's what we're gonna do about it. You can't answer everything. But we still, in the same way I talked about looking for benefits, we still look for those things that are most influential. Career path and clarity. Huge. You know, and so we We look for those things and we focus on those things.

Aaron: I'm smiling over here Rod. 'cause I'm a big fan of like keep it simple. And the simple things are sometimes the hardest. And I can't tell you how often I see organizations and people, teams putting together strategies and working on something and having a plan based on their engagement survey and hoping to roll it out in three months and then six months go by and then nine months go by and then they roll it out.

And there's no connection to why it was put together in the first place. And maybe it was even too slow to react, but regardless of it, I love that it's. Hey, you're seeing what we are seeing. Here's where we're at, like giving it to 'em as soon as it's ready to go.

And then here's some actions we're planning to take or working on. And it's like, it just seems so damn simple when you say it like that, but it is a crucial step that if you're, as you're listening to this like. I encourage you to take that step. To share and to talk about, Hey, this is what we're aiming through, this is what we're working on doing.

Yeah. You gotta follow through on that afterwards, but as opposed to like working behind the scenes really hard for six months or three months to get something out and say, Hey, this is what we did. And there's not that connection between we heard you and sometimes saying We heard you, is simply just sharing, here's the result. We're hearing you.

Rod: Yeah, yeah. Sharing the negative results in that last survey for our organization was people didn't expect to see it. They expected some positioning, you know, some repackaging or some, you know, I showed it all. Here it is, here it is in all its dismal glory. And there was an appreciation for the fact that we, we owned it.

You know, we owned the data, we were committed to working on it. But yeah, so that, again, that's another element maybe of the candor that we started with. Just, this is what it is, you know, just no polish, no ribbons and bows. This is where we're at and we're going to improve. We're committed to it. Here we go. Who's on board?

Aaron: It comes back to candor. And yeah, as I'm hearing and seeing this, not just candor at the individual level with an employee, but candor at the team level. Candor, the organization level. Like, hey, just being honest and straightforward with where you're at and what's going on.

Rod: Yeah, where does trust come from? You think about that. If I presented to the employees a a repackaged or positioned results, Trust isn't created there. Trust is created when you share the truth and own it and say, this is where we're at. And so that trust in leadership, the trust in your manager is so much greater if we are just truthful, honest and cut to the chase.

And so, yeah, same thing with sharing the, the engagement survey results, whatever they are. That's why I just sent 'em to my team just here. It's. We're gonna talk about these and we're gonna talk about why we scored the way we did, and we're gonna identify things that we can do. And anyway, I've got my own little team plan around these things where we make changes on a regular basis to how we run our team so that they have the, the best experience possible.

Aaron: Trust is created when you share the truth. That's just a gold nugget. There's so many gold nuggets in this conversation. I'm like super grateful for you having given your time and you know, I like that just the theme of candor across the board as it relates to, individual to team, to setting an organizational strategy.

It's clear that that is something that a lesson you've taken to heart and implemented pretty strongly across a bunch of different realms.

Rod: I'll tell you, Aaron, it's been an interesting journey in this call because I won't say that that's what I anticipated we talk about.

Yeah. We really didn't have an agenda. So it's been interesting how it's all come together that way though.

Aaron: It's, funny. It's why we don't really set an agenda. 'cause you don't know the way it's gonna go, but it, it creates something Organic and wonderful. And so I'm just like, thank you, thank you for the the insights, for the golden nuggets, for sharing your time and for being on

Rod: Thank you Pleasures all mine. Thank you so much


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