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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing joy in the workplace. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, and with me is my friend and co-host Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting, an HR consulting practice. Our topic today is elevating your game, moving from tactical thinker to strategic leader.
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Our guest today is Val Grubb from New Orleans, Louisiana. Val helps companies grow their bottom line by elevating employees from tactical thinkers to strategic leaders. She accomplishes this through keynote speaking, training, and executive coaching. Val was a part of founding the Oxygen Channel – how cool is that? – and InterActiveCorp, and held senior leadership roles in NBC Universal and Rolls-Royce. Valerie obtained her mechanical engineering degree from Kettering University and her MBA from IU’s Kelley School of Business. Val is a published author. Her book is titled “Clash of the Generations: Managing in the New Workplace Reality.” So Val, you know, we have to start with a question about the Oxygen Channel. Did you meet Oprah? And how was it?
That is so funny, because everybody…when I mention Oxygen, I kid you not, that is the first question that comes out of everybody’s mouth. Yes, I met her many times. She was one of the founding partners in the organization, and so met her many times and worked with her both out of Chicago and New York and, you know, wherever…wherever the channel took us, but yeah, met her many times. And she’s exactly what you would expect. Like, she’s all…she is all business, but it’s definitely one of the one of the first things out of her mouth was, “How are you?” and then it’s that Oprah stare and you’re like, I think she really wants to know what…like, well, how am I? What exactly do I say to Oprah that’s interesting?
Once we got into business, everything was fine, but before that point, you’re like, you know, you kind of want to hold her hand and, like, start crying or something. She has that effect on you. But…But she was amazing. She was amazing, and it was a…I still look back that that was one of my fondest memories of things that I’ve done.
Wow, very impressive. I’m such a fan, so very impressive.
It was a wonderful, wonderful ride, and it was a…you know, when you found a company like that, the goal was to at some point sell it to a bigger network, and it was a moment of joy in November of ’07 when we sold it, but yet really sort of this profound sadness as well, because you knew that something special was coming to an end, and…and that, you know, that proved to be the case. That’s how it works when you’re bought by a giant organization. But it was a wonderful, wonderful eight year run.
Beautiful, beautiful. So Val, what is the difference between tactical thinking and strategic leadership?
You know, so I kind of focus on…on leadership and elevating your game. And it’s…it’s the number one question… So with Oprah, it’s have I met her? And then when when people think about tactical versus strategic thinking, it’s the question, well, I’m not exactly sure of what…what the difference is. And so tactical thinking really is that…the list of action items that you have to get completed today and every day. And when we think about strategic thinking, it’s about…it’s that thinking aspect, just as it sounds. Strategy is that thinking aspect that precedes the doing, but it’s more than that, because it’s this intentional thought process that focuses on, like, sort of long-term success of a business, of a team, of an individual. And as you’re thinking, as you’re having that intentional thinking, it’s about, then, those factors that are either going to help you or potentially hurt you. Sort of the SWOT – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. And so strategic thinking is really about I have to…. You know, the tactical is the day to day, but when we think about strategy, it’s what is that goal and asking yourself, “Am I working on things today that are helping with the goal?”. Like, I’ve got to-do things. The question is…is, are those things busy work? Are they…are they sort of need to be done, but not really critical? Not leading towards a long-term future goal? Or is this helping me in the path long-term of the vision long-term? And that’s important to say, because we all have to do strategy from everywhere. Every seat can do strategy. I think sometimes people go, “Yeah, yeah, that sounds really good. But what do you mean still?” Let me say, elements of tactical HR – processing forms for new hires. It’s got to be done, but it is still tactical. Handling payroll, overseeing compliance notices, overseeing, you know, rules for employment benefits, that kind of stuff, recruiting and hiring, um, writing job descriptions, you know, rules, compliance, that’s all kind of tactical stuff. Now, let’s take a step back and think about strategic HR. It’s about strategic recruiting, it’s about building a pipeline of high quality candidates before you ever need them. It’s about, you know, constantly opening up your network to make sure that you got people before you ever even need them. That’s strategic recruiting. Managing training and certification pathways for employees, you know, thinking about that…that growth…growth and development plans for employees, that’s strategic thinking. The actual forms are the tactical piece of it, but when you focus your time on figuring out really what…what is our development plan, what is our succession plan for those critical roles within the organization, now you’re flipping over into that strategic thinking. It’s developing programs to retain talent. In HR and as business leaders, we think about that all the time, right? Strategic employee development can really improve that retention, productivity, it could also help brand your company as the company of choice for anybody seeking a job, and all of those things help with retention. So it’s…when you’re thinking longer term, you know, I think about productivity. Let’s say you come in and think about how can we increase productivity? Well, one way to do that is to get feedback, to get frequent feedback from employees, because that can help with product – and then do something about it, of course – that can help with productivity and increase revenue besides back on the retention program, but well managed, well laid out feedback programs, you know, requiring our managers to provide feedback, it’s when you’re doing the uber-goal of figuring it out that it becomes this strategy. But in the tactical, then that turns into sort of the tactical day to day. It’s the doing that helps you achieve those strategic thinking goals.
Well, the one thing that you said that…I loved all of it, but particularly that you can do strategy from any chair. So you don’t have to be this…in the C-suite. You don’t have to be the CEO. And in fact, really well-run organizations has everybody thinking strategically. That’s, I think, powerful.
Brilliantly said. I would actually take that a step further and say, companies today, you cannot afford – if it’s only the C suite that is…that is thinking strategically, you don’t have a long-term plan. As…as you think – it’s about, how do I do my job more efficiently? What am I doing? How can I connect what I’m doing today and how that’s helping the organization move forward? And I want that from every chair. I want that from the receptionist, because I can tell you that if the receptionist gives people poor -when we used to go into the office, you know – poor…poor reception when you come in, that can affect clients, that can affect whether or not somebody comes back and takes a job with me. So the key is, is if we want to be the employer of choice, the strategic HR value, then I need that receptionist on a day-to-day, tactical basis to understand where she contributes to being that employer of choice, and that means on a tactical day-to-day being efficient, being friendly, helping people along in this journey that they…that their first impression of the organization is, “Wow, what a great place to…to work or to provide my services or to be a vendor.” So every seat, every seat has a critical factor in the organization achieving its goals, and it’s on the employee to figure that out. It’s on the managers to help with that and make sure that…that people see that.
Yeah, those are great examples, Val. And what do you think are some of the key elements of good strategic leadership?
So I would certainly say, I think what you’ve heard me talking about here is that that forward thinking. I understand we got to be, you know, sometimes we get lost in the…lost in the trees, because we got to get today’s stuff done. But it is understanding that…that we need to be forward thinking and anticipating change. Asking things like, is this the best way to get this accomplished? Because sometimes, it’s not only anticipating change, but it’s also…it’s also looking for opportunities, or suggesting opportunities that may arise that need…that need to happen, that need to change. But also say that somebody who is a strategic leader seeks input. They understand that they don’t need to know it all, but they don’t know it all. And in fact, that’s why you surround yourself with diverse voices, because you want to get…you want input from everywhere to make sure that you’re, you know, tackling challenges and solving problems through the best lens possible. It is about having a long-term focus, they’re willing to invest today. I think of training. Like, training is about, you know, investing today so that tomorrow, your leaders and your people will be better. So it’s got to be, you know, forward thinking. It’s about that seeing what change needs to take place. That long-term focus is understanding, we got to…sometimes have to sacrifice in the short term. You have to be willing to take risks. You know, it’s not being limited to past or current thinking, but kind of expanding that and saying, “What if?”. It also, strategic leaders, strategic thinkers are able to prioritize their time, and I know that’s tough, but we have to understand that being busy is not necessarily being effective.
You know, Val, that makes me think. I do executive coaching as part of my practice, and so often I’m dealing with executives who, they want to be more strategic, but they say, “Susan, I am drinking from a firehose here. I have so much on my plate. How do I find the time to do this thinking and forward thinking that you are always talking about?”
Oh, I know. Gosh, isn’t that…like, time’s the new commodity, right? Like, time is a resource. And what I would say is through brute force, you got to seize control of your schedule. And what I mean by that is…What are the most important projects? So, we have to understand…What are the three or four strategic projects that are most important? Yeah, we’re gonna have all of these other items on our plate. We need to look at that and say, “Alright, focus on those things first thing in the morning,” or when you’re at your peak. So I come in, and, like, I have…I got my nice little list here, which, I know you can’t see it, but it’s a beautiful little list of things that have to be accomplished. I mark things, I put them as A, B, or C. A are critical projects, they are strategic projects that are moving my company forward. B are necessary, but not necessarily critical. And C are things that would be good to do. They’d be really good to do, but they are still C projects. And…and if I…I have to make sure that I’ve got a balance in there. I’ve got to have some A projects on there. I’ve got to have tasks today that are part of more of a strategic plan. And if not, then that says to me that the only thing I’m working on is all tactical stuff today, if I’m focusing on Bs and Cs, So first, we got to make sure that we have on your list, when you think about getting it all done, you got to think about looking at what’s your plan for stuff to get done. And then the secret sauce here is the fact – When are you at your peak? I’m in the morning. Like, I am firing off thrusters, I can get stuff done. I don’t open my email. I don’t ope – I look at email, look to see if there’s anybody critical, then I close it down. I know. Audible gasps out there. “What?!” Close that down and I focus on those A projects. I focus on those strategic…those strategic tasks that are on my list, and I don’t touch email. I work on strategy for two, three hours in the morning. Then, at lunch, I’ll open my…I’ll open email back up, and then in the afternoon when I’m less at my peak, now I start to work on all that tactical stuff. And so what I…what I’m getting done is, I’m getting stuff done that really matters. And it’s the only way that you’re going to do this, because I can tell you that B and C, that tactical, necessary, and good to do stuff will take over your life. It’s brute force that’s going to come back and you’re going to say, “When I’m at my peak, I’m going to dedicate two hours.” And maybe two hours a day, you’re going, “Oh, that. What are you talking about?” All right, then I’m going to throw out to you, how do you…how do you gain two hours twice a week, two hours three times a week, and how do you only focus on those A projects that are strategic in nature? And we got to block that time, and then that time has to be the sacred cow that you do not touch.
Yeah, it’s such great advice and such a good…it’s so easy to get caught up in our email. Right? If we just shut our email down. I tell you, I –
How many emails do you get a day?
Even if you spent all day, you couldn’t get through them. And by the way, you didn’t get through all of the ones that are yesterday.
So they just keep accumulating up. We have to understand that what’s critical, what’s a necessary but not critical, and what is it good to get to, and we got to be…we have to understand that we will make sacrifices and then we have to give ourselves a break. You can’t get everything done. I don’t care if you start now and work around the clock for 40 hours and do nothing but email, you will always be behind.
So we just have to be…we got to brute force ourselves to come in and…and value that time, right now, is the ultimate resource, and we have to stop multitasking. So we shut that email down, turn off your phone, turn off anything that beeps. We got to come in and find the time when we can really dedicate to what’s the critical stuff, and then work in everything else in the other six to eight to ten hours that you’re working a day.
And Val, you mentioned earlier about that people could be strategic from any seat in the organization. But what about new people? What’s the best way for…for new people just joining an organization to sort of jump in and be able to be strategic?
Again, understand that if we think of time as being the most important, valuable resource, if you will, the question is, what are you focusing your time and energy on? And, you know, what am I doing in my limited way, since I’m new in the organization, or in my sphere of responsibility with moving the company forward? And I will say that, you know, what can I do to help the…from my seat, what can I do to help the company achieve its mission and vision? You know, I asked, you know, am I focused on the future or am I focused on just today? Well, I think about how I can do things more efficiently, thus gaining me time to focus on bigger issues. Do I think about the decisions I’m making now and and is that…would that decision hold in a year or…or five years from now? And from my standpoint, you know, as I think about that, you know, how do I…. Like, anybody can do that from any seat and even being new. And what I will say is, understand that your boss may not be as enlightened as you are, at your your ability to strategically think. You have to figure out how to manage that. Because as we think about…you asked about traits…traits of strategic thinking. Part of that is…is being able to manage up, and you will always manage up, unless you own the company. Even then you’re managing the clients. Thinking about how to get your boss excited about what you’re doing in a way that is not threatening, if that happens to be their personality. Thinking about how to manage that and – Do we have time? I can tell a quick story.
My undergrad was in engineering. I worked for Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis, and I remember I got my first promotion. Now, I’m in my 20s and I’ve, you know, just graduated, now, you know, two years later, I’m getting my first promotion, I can barely – my head could barely fit through the door anyway. I thought I was hot stuff, and now I get a promotion. Give me a break. So I go into this meeting, I got promoted into R&D, research and development marketing, and I go into my first meeting, and they are…we are looking at clients in this marketing department. We’re looking at clients that are listed on a spreadsheet. And I’m like, “Oh my god, this is so arcane. This is so archaic, I mean, it’s so old thinking. Why…why aren’t we using – Salesforce and just come out – like, why aren’t we using a CRM system? This is just a so much better system,” like, I’m just going on and on and just killing them for the fact that they’re using Excel. And so, meeting’s over, go back to my desk, boss calls me in and I’m like, “Oh, my God, I’m going to get another promotion because I was so amazing right there.” His comment was, “did you notice”…. He said, “Just so you know, we actually just moved it over to Excel,” and he said, “Did you notice that everybody got quiet? Because basically, you were telling us that we were a bunch of dinosaurs and a bunch of idiots.” And I thought, no, that never entered my mind. Never entered my mind. And I…I laughed, and I said, “I thought I did a great thing.” And he said, “What you are suggesting is great.” He said, “Challenge is that you have to think about those and how you present it in a manner that gets people as excited as you are,” and he said, “You have to read the room. You have to think about how to present this in a way that gets people on board versus alienating them.” And we did build it out, but it was six months, because I had to build up this trust, because I pretty much called everybody idiots. That managing up portion, that’s how to act in a way strategically to ultimately get a CRM system rolled out, which will most definitely be better for the organization. It was listening to them about “What do you want in a system? Oh, okay. Let me….” So when I presented the CRM system again, now I presented it and said, “Hey, Pamela, I know what was important to you was this little bell and whistle. Well, guess what? It can do it. Oh, Bob, I know you wanted this. Tyrell, you wanted this.” So now they’re coming in going, “Oh, she listened to me and she’s got…she’s got something that’s solving my problem.” That is strategic thinking. And I learned that at 20 years…in my 20s, and I’ll tell you, I never forgot it. But what… Another thing I’ll say quickly is that my boss was the best teacher. He could have slaughtered me, and instead he taught me a valuable lesson.
What a great lesson for all of us, really. Brilliant.
We’re all new once. Help people out, don’t come back and be, “Bow wow, you know, what are we thinking?” It’s about coming in and opening people’s eyes, and that’s the value of a great strategic leader slash manager of people.
So Val, the world has really changed through the pandemic, and now coming out of it, what does strategy look like in a hybrid world?
Yeah, boy, isn’t every company in the world wrestling with this right now? I think of it from a management standpoint of how do we best get the job done? And if we focus on results versus where people are, I think that’s a good question to focus on. And I’m not saying that…. You know, culture matters. But how do we build culture? Does culture require everybody to be in the office? So from a management and leadership perspective, that’s what we have to wrestle with, is how can we build culture but at the same time, understand that, do we really need everybody back in the office for five days a week? But also say, from a management leadership standpoint, is how do I measure performance from my employees that doesn’t necessarily include seeing their faces? And how do I ensure employees are taking care of themselves? And so that’s, from the management leadership standpoint, just a few things to think about. But from an employee standpoint, I would also say, how do I keep my boss informed of what’s going on so that she doesn’t wonder what I’m working on or what I’m doing? That’s on me as an employee, to make sure my boss has no questions that I’m getting the job done. How do I keep myself motivated? How do I keep myself focused when the fridge is calling me?
It’s always calling me, Val.
It calls to me and speaks my name with delicious goodies. But how do I keep myself focused? How do I get the job done and make sure that my boss…that my boss knows that I’m getting the job done and feels my productivity? That matters. How do I manage up that kind of stuff? And…and ultimately, also, how do I take care of myself? So in this hybrid world, there’s a lot of questions, I think, that we can do as employees managing up strategically and as people leaders managing strategically our employees.
Val, you have such good advice and such good information. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you. I don’t want to leave, though, without giving you the chance to share about your book. Where can listeners find your book?
You could definitely find my book, “Clash of the Generations: Managing in the New Workplace Reality,” it’s on any…it’s on Amazon, it’s at Barnes and Noble, you can get it on Kindle. It’s really – the one thing that I have heard from folks, I’ve led a lot of book club groups on this and in offices, and the one thing I hear is you’re going to walk out with a treasure trove of how to motivate and engage folks in their day-to-day and it’s not – yes, it’s, it talks about, you know, how to get conflict resolution and all of this amongst people, generations, whatever the issues are, but it’s really going to help you motivate folks at every…every point in in a potential person’s career. So, like I said, I hear a lot of very positive comments that it’s…that it’s a great managers handbook, whether you’ve had lots of years as a people leader or you’re new in – as a people leader.
That is terrific. And how can our listeners reach you, Val?
Absolutely. So I have a website, valgrubbandassociates.com, contact form’s on there. I have a ridiculously long email, vgrubb at valgrubbandassociates.com, I must have lost my mind when I set that up. Also, to be quite honest, you can text me as well. So it’s 323-292-2634, my less seasoned folks out there, 323-229-2263, who prefer using texting, so feel free to…feel free to reach out to me at any point. And again, my contact, there’s a contact form on my website, as well. So.
And we’ll add that in our show notes so people can find it, as well, too.
Perfect. Yeah, that’ll probably better than me whipping this out on the call right now.
All right, but thank you so much for joining us. It’s been such a pleasure
Oh, my goodness. Absolutely. My pleasure. Thank you. I’m honored to be a part of your podcast and and look forward to hearing the final product and sharing it with my, with my folks and followers as well.
That’d be great. Thank you so much.
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We have a question today from one of our listeners. Could you describe best practices on managing the workload of a colleague that’s on FMLA?
Yeah, actually, when I first read this question, I was thinking, like, oh my gosh, if they’re on FMLA, they’re not supposed to have a workload. But rereading it, I’m…I hear now that…
Yeah, it’s about what are we gonna do while that person’s gone. Right. I get it. And that’s a real, real issue, right? Especially with people taking a needed time out…out of the workplace, we’ve got to figure out what do we do back at work to make sure things keep running.
Right, right. And of course, sometimes, for example, if…if someone is expecting a baby, you might have time to plan ahead for this. But many times, you don’t have any preparation for it. They might have, you know, a sudden illness of themselves or a family member, so you got to move quickly and won’t have any time to prepare for that at all. But I think one thing that’s really important is that, as much as possible, that you don’t just put things off hoping they’ll return sooner, right? I mean, they could be gone for up to 12 weeks. So you gotta…if you bring that person off after what could have been a stressful time for them and then overload them with work that didn’t happen while they were gone, that’s going to be incredibly stressful for them.
Right. It could send them back out on leave, or it really could be a breaking point
Right. I also think, too, anytime we have changes in the workspace, whether it’s someone leaving or someone coming on or even, too, someone going on maternity leave or FMLA, it can be a good time to assess a particular role and truly consider what are their key objectives. And again, if you can do that with the person before they take off or as a group once they’re gone, to say what has to get done? So what are the priorities in the role? And then consider some options that you might use to fill those. So… And maybe that’s a combination of the different areas, but you might look to hire some additional support, maybe it’s temporary, maybe it’s…it’s permanently, that things get shifted off of this role. It could also be just using internal talent. Is there someone internally who could fill the space, or is there some work sharing that can go on so maybe pieces of the role are distributed to several people while they’re off?
I’ve seen that be a great developmental opportunity for some cross-functional training. While someone’s out a couple of other people get a chance, as part of their role, to enlarge it. I think that could be really, really healthy as long as the individuals feel as though that extra work and, you know, what they’re doing is valued. The one thing I would just caution folks on, if you are actually going to change someone or restructure a job while someone’s out on FMLA, don’t forget your FMLA requirements to bring that person back to the same job or extremely similar job.
Good reminder. In our in the news section today, per a SHRM article in April 2021, under the Biden administration, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs – that’s a mouthful, we generally think of that as the OFCCP – they likely will have a renewed focus on wage hour data and pay discrepancies among federal contractors. I always think it’s interesting when I hear these numbers, that 25% of U.S. workers are employed by federal contractors. So this is a huge issue when there’s changes in federal contractor laws.
But also, states are beginning to add additional requirements, as well. The bottom line – and by the way, we think all companies should be thinking about this, regardless of whether you are a federal contractors – is that employers should evaluate all the factors that influence pay to ensure their systems are non-discriminatory.
Review policies and procedures for fairness and unintended consequences in promotional opportunities and job assignments. Evaluate different components of compensation, such as overtime bonuses and incentive pay, not just base pay.
And then conduct pay equity studies that analyze similarly situated employee groupings and statistical tests that control the major factors that influence compensation. If those differences can’t be explained, employers need to remediate and make salary adjustments.
I think this in the news is particularly timely, because from within the last few days of us recording this podcast, President Biden has signed an executive order that the minimum wage for any government contractor is $15 an hour. And that’s certainly, I think, going to have huge implications when you think 25% of U.S. workers are employed by federal contractors.
Yeah. Interesting. So thanks for joining us today. Please tune in next time, and make it a JoyPowered® day.
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