How can we leverage the things that we instinctively suck at? Holly G. Green, CEO and Managing Director of The Human Factor, Inc. focuses on the complexities of why and how humans think and behave the way they do at work. That means aligning everything in the organization so that they’re all in the same race, everyone knows what the targets are, and everybody is moving towards them. One of our deep human tendencies, the thing we’re better at than anything else in the whole world, is to prove ourselves right. And this is not about motivating people with recognition or awards – although that’s certainly all threaded through. This is about real specificity. What is our game? What is the target? Where are we according to that target and how we are going to get there effectively together? The world is changing at such a fast pace that just because it worked five years ago doesn’t guarantee it will work today.
We’re incredibly fortunate to have Holly G. Green. She’s the CEO and Managing Director of the Human Factor, Inc. She’s also the author of Using Your Brain to Win. Holly, thanks for taking the time to be on the show.
Thank you for having me.
It’s a pleasure. We’re going to explore Holly’s business. Holly, if you would tell us a little bit about your business and who you serve.
I help organizations and that could be for-profit or for-cause organizations versus that non-profit we don’t like. For-profit or for-cause organizations get crystal clear on winning and then get there. That means aligning everything and everyone in the organization so that we’re all in the same race, we know what the targets are and we’re moving towards them each and every single day in every way.
I went on your website and read most of the book. It’s one of those things, how do you eat an elephant because there’s so much of what you do. For the listeners out there that are going like, “This is going to be cool. What is she doing? Am I her likely client?” What does a likely client or prototypical client look like to you?
Any organization that has humans, that’s the number one criteria. That’s the human factor because we do work with and through the brains of adult humans at work. There’s the number one criteria. Any organization that knows they can be better, that may be stretched too thin, departments or teams are not aligned. “We’re working really hard, but we’re not quite accomplishing what we know we should be able to accomplish. We have people pulling in different directions. We need to professionalize or get to the next level of our stage of growth. We’re founder, owned and run and now we need to be able to scale. We’re a large organization and we need to skinny up a little bit.” Or, “We’ve been running along at the same size for a long time and again, we know we can get more out of who we are and what we are and what we’ve got.” It requires for us to be able to help anyone is a desire to be even better. That’s it, adult humans and a desire to be even better.
I think about that as a business owner. I’m going where there are some parts that I’m pretty well comfortable with and in my business. I think for many of the business owners, they don’t even have an idea that maybe they have a hole in their bucket. Hopefully not cashflow tells them when that’s happening. Could you cover a little bit of your background, where you came from and when you started working in this space?
I started out with a BA and BS. I always thought that was a great fit to the corporate world. Mine is Behavioral Sciences though. I went to work for some great companies, went back to school, got a Masters of Science in Organization Development. I went back to work for some more incredible companies. I kept being intrigued by looking around at meetings and seeing someone with a hidden agenda and someone who was doing this and someone who was saying that versus doing this. I’m noticing that we’re just, most days not as incredible as we can be at work for a lot of reasons that are very, very human, but that we ignore. I started on this journey in neurophysiology as my postgraduate work and beginning to understand more about how does the brain work at work. Not the dysfunctional psychological problems that we often have in society and with individuals, but that normal people that we work with day in and day out.
Why and how do they think and behave the way they do at work? How can we leverage some of the things we’re incredible at instinctually and some of the things that instinctually we are not good at. I’m talking about biases and assumptions and perceptions, all of the things that are required for us to function well as a human, but that don’t serve as well in a lot of different ways. This is an exploding field. There’s been some amazing research and work done in this space in the last ten years in particular. I’m beginning to understand that illogical and irrational human. I’ve taken that side, the academic side, the research oriented side, the hardcore neurosciences, and combined it with the experiences that I’ve had working with truly elite performers in numerous sectors; military, musician, Olympics, FBI. People who are unquestionably the best at what they do.
The Human Factor, Inc.: Most owners, leaders, they know what excellence is, but the ability to articulate it is a challenge.
How can we learn from that and apply it effectively in the more traditional workspace? We’re going to spend more time working than anything else we do our entire life. Most of us are not going to be US Navy SEALs. How can I be as great at what I do? That’s where I play. That’s my little sandbox and it’s what I’m passionate about and absolutely love. I always warn people that everything I tell them and everything we work on is subject to change tomorrow. We’re truly in the infancy of understanding the brain. We probably have finally come to realize we know a lot less about it than we ever thought before and we’re constantly having to update and refresh. That’s the space. Their business is throwing off money that it’s successful by all of the traditional financial measures, but it’s miserable. It’s hard to work there. It’s painful. It takes ten times longer to get anything done than you think it should. Turnover is high or people have retired in place. There are all sorts of indicators that we probably could be leveraging the human assets more effectively, and that’s what we help do.
I think about the professional law enforcement and SEALs and so on, and you think about the organizational training and the dedication to that. I’m sure they have highs and lows in their players’ and strengths and weaknesses. How would you characterize the similarity when you go into a corporate arena versus perhaps the military arena on their strengths and weaknesses?
There’s a technique that we use that underlies every single thing we do that we took from not only the military, Olympic athletes, NFL players, anyone who’s truly elite. That’s this notion of focus on a target, crystal clear with specificity on what is the win. What is the win? The fascinating thing at work is that, let’s pretend you’ve got fifteen employees and I could ask that question of all fifteen and probably get a different answer in most organizations. If I asked the Denver Broncos player what it is, I’d get exactly the same answer from all of the players on the team. It’s the Super Bowl. It’s very, very clear. Same thing with United States Navy SEALs. I know what that mission is. I am crystal clear on the objective. Think about Beyoncé, when she takes the stage, she is crystal clear on the experience she wants to create for her audience.
We see this in so many places and we don’t often see it at work. Everybody’s working very hard. People are committed, they’re passionate oftentimes. They have good, good intentions, but oftentimes people at work are running a multitude of races. Step back and if you think about a marathon. The gun goes off at the beginning and then everybody runs in completely different directions. That’s what work looks like to me most days with. It doesn’t matter that there are good intentions, but the clarity and the ongoing communication and the refresh and the design of that clarity and as it bleeds through an entire system. It has to touch every process, every day in every way for everyone that works there as well as a lot of times outside the boundaries of the organization.
You’re a company owner. You go, “I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’m to the point where I can afford to bring Holly in and help me out.” You walk through the door, what process would a potential owner, CEO, president expect when you engage with them?
It depends is the perfect consulting answer, but let me give you a broad swipe at that. We’re going to come in and we’re going to talk to you as the CEO, understand what are your dreams? What is your win? What does it look like to you? I’m going to ask a lot of questions to tease it out of your brain. That is one of the great challenges is most owners, leaders, they know what excellence is, but the ability to articulate it is a challenge. When I say articulate it, I don’t just mean saying things like, “We operate with integrity,” because that clearly didn’t work at Wells Fargo or Enron. The ability to pull that into what will you see when people are doing that. What are the behavioral indicators? What are people doing saying so that that comes to life in very real ways versus the theory.
“We put the nice poster up on the wall in the break room, check. We’re done.” Not so much. How do people know the best possible decisions to make every single day? Right now, your employees are all making decisions. Every single one of them, whether they’re talking to a customer, whether they’re talking to an internal colleague, whether they’re talking to a vendor or supplier. Every day, every one of them moment to moment is making decisions. What criteria are they using to make those decisions? How do they know moment to moment the best possible decisions to make? If I haven’t clarified the target, if I don’t know what the win is, I make it up. We call it MSU. People make stuff up because the brain won’t live with the void of data. It fills in, and most of the time it fills in with a negative.
All of this work comes together and paying close attention and watching what we’re known by the way since the 1950s about the adult human. What drives us and it’s that specificity and the clarity and the brain are instinctual. The thing we’re better at than anything else in the whole world is to prove ourselves right. If I want you in my game, I got to make sure I have set those targets and I have pushed the ‘prove yourself right’ button with you. I want you to work in everyday to achieve. This is not about motivating people with recognition, etc. Although that’s certainly all threaded through. This is about real specificity. What is our game, what is the target, where are we according to that target and how are we all going to get there effectively together?
I’m a data guy and I think about specificity in tracking, and you think about if you’re a larger organization with turnover. It’s the nature of the business you have. How do you take in and continually pass that through to the entire organization so you’ve got the old hands and have it, but maybe they like a plate on the other stick only needed to be spun once every now and again. You got the new employee where he has to be spun or she needs to be spun very frequently. When you look at that process and measurement-wise, who does that in the organization other than the CEO? What would you advise process-wise for these folks to do?
You start out defining the win. Then you pull your team in and you begin to clarify that further with that team that it has to cascade through the organization. Other elements that are important part of that puzzle are understanding, becoming self-aware on our own temperaments and types and preferences, recognizing those types in other people. For instance, if I’m going to give you feedback, I want to help you feel recognized. I need to do it in the way you need it versus the way I want to give it. This starts at the level of define the win, and then everything builds towards achieving that. That’s self-awareness and awareness of others, the ability to give feedback, the ability to track progress, all of the ways of working have to collude to get you to the target.
Folks are going, “I have a problem. I need to talk to Holly.” How do they find you?
Certainly, you can find me on LinkedIn, Holly G. Green. You can visit our website, TheHumanFactor.biz. You can find me on our YouTube channel, Holly G. Green, or More Than a Minute. You could certainly find our books on Amazon. On Twitter, I’m @HollyGGreen, Facebook. We’re out and about talking to a lot of people. I’m always happy to connect with folks and talk about their challenges and provide whatever help we can. You asked me the first steps in the process, we try to be very, very realistic. I work with everyone from Google to pest control and everything you can possibly imagine in between. Companies that are billions and billions in revenue, companies that are small. We’ve got products and services that fit most of those budgetary constraints and are pretty realistic.
Start practicing, pausing and visiting your brain to think and focus.
For instance, my pest control company of 150 people certainly doesn’t get charged the same prices and we don’t do the same process I might with a Google. We have a lot of very scalable, a lot of free tools on our website, in our store. I encourage people to go out, take advantage of those. Most of us have more resources than we realize available at our fingertips today. It’s taken the time to take advantage and I’m happy to share a tool, a process with anyone who feels like they could benefit from that.
In reading your book, there was a part in there where you’re talking about you need to slow down. I need to slow down sometimes. Let’s dig into slow down a little bit and what the genesis of that was and what that means to you.
The mantra that we use is pause, think, focus. We have this busyness notion. We have to show that we’re busy. As a behavioral scientist, I’m on a lot of airplanes, so I watch a lot. People will turn on and check their Facebook the second they land. Everybody’s got to be engaged with their devices versus talking to someone or appreciating something around them. We feel this great pressure of busyness today and I’m not really important. I’m certainly not as important to you if I’m not exhibiting those busyness traits. That’s a self-imposed mental model, that’s not real. Not that we don’t have a lot more pressures today, a lot more clutter and distraction. We certainly do, but we have a choice. We have a choice on how we manage that and how we deal with it.
The slowing down is slow down and get it right instead of do it wrong and do it over. The slowdown is to pause and we teach techniques that take a whole whopping 30 seconds, just to visit your brain, which by the way loves when you visit. We’re using our brain less and less and traveling more and more what we call the well-worn neural pathways. To simplify, our tendency is we like what we already know. Our brain digs what is familiar with, it tends to go to that. It’s served us very well as a survival technique, and in slower times, that was fine. Unfortunately, the world is changing at such a fast pace today that just because it worked five years ago does not mean it will work today.
Just because it worked a year ago does not mean it’s the case today, but we forget to refresh and update our brains. The pausing is to force you to go to that brain and just ponder what if, could we, should we, change perspective, challenge assumptions. We have a whole set of 99 different tools or techniques that we call neuro prompts, ways to prompt or poke your brain very quickly to slow it down just enough to be able to truly think and focus on the right thing. Because most of the time we’re reacting into doing, we’re not thunking.
We’re in the business, not on the business.
Both. Even when we’re on it, we’re still not thinking as well as we could.
In reading another part about challenge, like plan B, reverse planning sequences where we used to know out of the military. Start with the end point in mind and work backwards, and then what happens if. I think for a lot of businesses, you’re constrained by your bandwidth, which you understand. You say, “Yes, I can understand, but I never thought I would see Uber. I never thought I would see Airbnb.”
The magnitude of all of this is significant.
You have the CEO, business owners says, “I agree. I want to take and get structured on my ability to challenge my thought process, join an organization outside of mine.” If you were offering advice to that person on how do you get someone structured to challenge your belief, what would you do? Let’s say it’s in the consulting leadership business that you do and you wanted to challenge yourself. “What would I look at different than what I’m doing to see if there was change coming to my industry?”
One of the first techniques we often teach is called Look Up and Look Around. There are some interesting work that’s been done on this, and it’s called sensory adaptation in general, the space. Some of the listeners may have heard of this or even seen the video where there are students passing a ball and a gorilla walks through, but nobody sees the gorilla. We can miss really big things when we’re overly focused onto doing our task level. We teach, “You got to step back every now and then,” and I mean maybe fifteen minutes a week. Not staring at your navel for hours and hours, fifteen minutes a week to look up and look around. We have a whole list of prompts and things that costs no money. Your time is the only price, and that’s a heavy price for fifteen minutes a week to fill your brain with diverse data. Because your brain cannot connect dots if...