An Interview with #SHRM18 Speaker and Thought Leader Cy Wakeman

#SHRM18 Speaker Cy Wakeman is a significant thought leader and expert blogger with groundbreaking ideas featured in the Wall Street Journal,,,, and Her book, Reality-Based Leadership published by Jossey-Bass is now available and is receiving rave reviews throughout the nation. #SHRM18 conference attendees will have the opportunity on Sunday, June 17th at 12:30pm to attend Cy Wakeman’s Mega Session: How HR Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Drama, End Entitlement and Drive Big Results

To say I was thrilled that I had the opportunity to catch Cy and chat a bit about her #SHRM18 mega-session is an absolute understatement. 

mkw - Excuses and Alibis are not Accountability. How can we increase accountability in the workplace? What are some highly effective mental processes we can develop to hold team members accountable and have a corporate culture of accountability? What are some ways to increase accountability and avoid a "finger pointing" or blaming environment as accountability increases?  

Cy: Accountability is death to the ego. It’s about one’s belief as to whether or not they can have impact over their own outcomes and results. Accountability is not a skill set, it’s a mindset. It’s a way of seeing the world. It’s a way of thinking. It’s the ability to use great mental processes and eliminate emotional waste. It’s a really skillful way to move throughout the work world. The first factor of accountability is commitment: the willingness to do whatever it takes. We need to teach leaders that they can’t buy somebody in. They can only ask, “Are you in or are you out? What’s your level of willingness?” The happiest employees are the ones who realize that they directly impact their own results and circumstances. They don’t view external factors or challenges as a threat. Rather, they can take full ownership of both achievements and failures because they started with a wholehearted commitment. You see, owning your outcomes will hurt if you aren’t fully committed to your job in the first place.

mkw - Can you explain your perspective on VENTING...   "Friends don't let friends vent. By asking the right questions, you can help your friends ditch the drama- and lead them into self reflection." - what are some of those questions we can be asking our friends to better direct their way of thinking?

Cy: We can be great friends, and leaders, by helping people edit their stories. Much of what we stress and vent about never even happened. It’s not our reality that causes us our stress, it’s the story we make up about reality. A great question to help stop the venting is to ask, “What do you know for sure?”

mkw "It's not about managing people, it's about managing energy". Can you explain the distinction and why is this important? 

Cy: Many leaders have been told that they’re in charge of motivating employees. They’ve been pitched programs and tools that will allegedly build a happy, motivated workforce, and attended seminars that teach strategies for improving morale.

These programs and tools are well-intentioned, but deliver few results. Leaders can’t motivate others, because people make their own choices about motivation, accountability, commitment, and happiness. So for leaders, it’s an impossible task to create that feeling in someone else. The expectation that leaders should keep employees engaged and happy sets them up for failure.

Instead of trying to change people, leaders should think about directing their energy in the direction that creates positive results. That means coaching teams to understand that their value at work comes from using skills and expertise to succeed in less-than-perfect realities instead of waiting for perfect circumstances. It means directing energy from “why we can’t” into “how we can.”

mkwDo you believe that people lead from wherever they are, event without a "manager" title? or does this always have to start at the top? What is the best way to effect change as an emerging leader in an organization and avoid or counteract the "who do you think you are" attitude from others?

Cy: Rather than waiting for someone to empower them, each employee can simply step up into the power that they already have, the power to engage, be accountable, produce great results and to choose happiness. I’ve witnessed many examples in my career where individuals create a movement and inspire change in their organization by working with a few willing folks who share the same vision. They call up the silent majority into advocacy to deliver up visible support for organizational strategies. You can’t change your entire culture, but you can change your team climate. When enough climates change, global warming – broader culture change – occurs.

mkw - What are some ways to shift the mindset in the workplace so that as HR professionals we can guide employees to a new way of thinking? Shifting from "We can't do that" to instead redirecting the energy, dissecting the problem and tackling what we CAN do? 

Cy: After more than 20 years in human resources, I've certainly witnessed my share of professionals spending too much time on drama at work -- creating fictional stories in their heads and wasting time and energy arguing with the reality or facts of their situations. Many leaders believe that motivation and engagement come from lack of stress or issues at work, when in fact engagement and happiness come from the level of personal accountability one takes for their circumstances. Encouraging employees to “Think Outside of the Box” can actually derail motivation levels because it comes across as “Pie in the Sky” and out of touch with reality. Redirect employee energy from “why we can’t” into to “how we can” by encouraging them to “Think Inside the Box.” The “Box” is made up of the desired goal and the constraints currently in place, such as a freeze on headcount or limited funding. By “Thinking Inside the Box” you will generate real solutions that respect the very real constraints of current challenges.

mkw - Do you have tips or tricks for some "meeting behaviors" on how to call out bad behaviors and redirect in an appropriate way without embarassing the offender? (and how can I remain patient in the process as the team is learning this new way of thinking and new way of behaving?)

Cy - Lack of feedback is simply the root cause of all employee issues, period. Leaders who get lazy in their handouts of development and performance feedback create an entire generation of resistant employees for the future. And the leader can keep the feedback short with something like, “I’ve noticed your behavior in meetings creates disruption to conversations.” Self-reflection is where growth happens, and the leader can let the employee’s ego off the hook by following up with an assignment such as, “But don’t take my word for it, why don’t you prop your phone up and record yourself leading your next meeting. Let me know what you notice about conversation flow and bring your plan to improve it.”

The best way to address the situation is to set expectations and ask for the employee’s plan on how he or she is going to sign up and contribute a higher value at less emotional expense. Have the employee create their own plan. 

Resist the urge to overinvest – it is a sure sign of danger when a leader is investing more effort in an employee’s success than they are.

mkw -  How can we as HR Pro's and managers best remain neutral when ego creeps in and wants to judge and drive the BMW (bitching, moaning, whining)? What strategies to you recommend to keep us on course?

Cy - I love a good exit line to help me stay neutral and ditch the drama. They help me gather my thoughts and get in a helpful place to respond. Some of my favorites are:

1.   Good to know!

2.   I’m learning a lot about you.

3.   Thanks for letting me know.

I quickly follow that up with a great question for self-reflection to park the BMW and get them working beyond ego. Great questions leaders can ask include:

1.   What do you know for sure?

2.   How could you help?

3.    What would great look like right now?

mkw - As HR Pro's, we spend a great deal of time on fairness and application of policies in a fair and equitable way and leveling the playing field. You said something I found so interesting, "yes, I play favorites, want to be one"? What do you mean by that? Is this mindset a way to inspire employees to achieve great results and observe what types of behavior are rewarded? How do you navigate the "it's not fair" argument?

Cy - Too many leaders I work with have surrendered to the idea of mediocrity in order to never, ever offend anyone. Reality-based leaders know that playing favorites is great for the workplace. Employees need and deserve to know exactly how they need to think and what they need to do to create great results in your organization. Be clear.   

Like you mentioned, I have often heard employees exclaim to me, “You play favorites!” To which I have always replied, “Why, yes I do. Would you like to be one?” I then follow up with a listing of all of the competencies and behaviors that make some of my team members more beloved than others and the recipients of greater opportunities than others.

Some of those competencies and behaviors are being personally accountable, results-driven, flexible, low drama, emotionally inexpensive, great with change, and supportive of the direction of the organization. It’s never OK – or legal – to favor employees based on race, life preferences, physical abilities, or religious affiliation. It is more than appropriate (and legal) to differentiate employees based on the core ingredients to ongoing success. The market plays favorites. Our customers play favorites. It is vital that leaders get very clear with employees about the mindsets and actions that create results for the organization and success for the employee – not imagined actions, but those proven over time and vetted out in the research to produce consistent results.

mkw - You mention, "non-negotiables" as core expectations to set for our teams, can you elaborate on how to better set expectations with employees? What are some examples of "non-negotiables"?

Cy - As leaders we are given resources (equipment, intellectual property, money, software, employees, etc.) and asked to use them efficiently by delivering on outcomes. And we know through experience that outcomes that are repeatable, predictable, knowledge transferable, low-risk, low-cost, quantifiable and low-variance are delivered through standardized processes. In fact, a basic business truth is that efficient outcomes are best delivered through good standardized processes.

The paradox is that while we advocate for efficiency when faced with standardization, most of us resist – arguing that we have special circumstances where the process doesn’t apply to us. Arguing against standardization is actually arguing against efficiency.

Start by setting 5-10 standard non-negotiables for you and your team. Here are a few examples my clients use: show up to work on time, treat everyone with respect, wear required protective gear, wear your security badge, and use a professional email signature. Make it clear that you not going to spend time or energy negotiating. Leaders begin to create drama when they negotiate the non-negotiables, wasting precious energy managing drama due to exceptions, complaining or fairness.


Follow Cy Wakeman on Twitter @cywakeman and join us at the SHRM Annual Conference for Speaker Cy Wakeman’s MEGA Session at #SHRM18 on Sunday, June 17th at 12:30pm How HR Leaders can Cut the Cost of Drama an Entitlement and Drive Big Results.


Originally posted on Mary Williams LinkedIn blog.





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