Don’t Go Back To Work… Go Forward To Work

Now to Next with Keith Ferrazzi

The pandemic put the brakes on business in a way nothing else in our lifetimes has. And Keith Ferrazzi seized the moment in order to not only help shape the future of business during and post-pandemic but to help corporations and businesses understand that this was the time to elevate the workplace in much needed, more authentic ways. Keith is the founder and Chairman of Ferrazzi Greenlight a global coaching and consulting firm, he attended Yale and Harvard, worked his way to the top position at Deloitte, and became the youngest CMO in the Fortune 500 when Starwood hired him to lead their marketing. Keith is the best-selling author of two books, Leading Without Authority and Never Eat Alone. He is also the author of the New York Times best-seller, Competing In The New World Of Work: How Radical Adaptability Separates The Best From The Rest, which is the topic of our conversation.

Keith joined me on my Now To Next podcast to discuss his book, Competing In The New World of Work, which documents the workplace innovations that emerged during the pandemic and shows leaders how to shape their organizations and practices to remain competitive in a new, post-pandemic context.

The New Requirement: Radical Adaptability

The subtitle of Keith’s book, How Radical Adaptability Separates The Best From The Rest, made me wonder what the mindset would need to be to achieve radical adaptability. Addressing this, I mentioned that small business owners could look at big corporations and say, “Oh, they have the financial resources, manpower, and time to mess around with an idea like that.” Keith dismissed this as erroneous thinking. He told me that even executives in big companies often must flip between thinking like a company to thinking like a solopreneur. Likewise, both the corporate executive and the solopreneur must create and gain the support of what he terms a “co-elevating team.” He also called it a “posse.” “Everyone needs a posse,” he said.

Negotiate Agile Strength

Keith went on to define what he means by “co-elevating team.” It’s a group of people committed to raising each other’s game.” The pre-pandemic culture in a corporation consisted of people who talked behind each other’s backs and things only got done in the shadows by lobbying. That doesn’t work anymore. Everyone must be committed to co-elevating. This became apparent during the pandemic. People went higher. We became more authentic in the face of struggling with loved ones who were sick and, in many cases died and we were helpless since we couldn’t be together. Keith recognized that a new kind of strength emerged during the pandemic: agile strength. He confirmed this as another aspect of radical adaptability.

Company Culture Is Either Intentional Or Unintentional

The culture of a company, Keith reminded me, does not emerge from a “mission statement” or from a lovely set of words focused on values. It doesn’t matter if you are together under one roof or working remotely. Leadership, as Keith discovered in his research, no longer demands an office, an official title, or even a physical workplace. Nor does culture. Culture emerges as the result of behaviors that are either intentional or unintentional. Pre-pandemic, the typical behaviors Keith mentioned earlier, created an unintentional culture. The pandemic made everyone realize the importance of true authenticity. Awareness of the lack of authenticity is the first step. Then, according to Keith, leaders need to ask questions they’re not accustomed to asking. Instead of congratulating yourself on all the things you and your team did right, switch it up and look deeper. For instance, ask, “What risks do we think we’re not seeing?” And instead of focusing on where everything went smoothly, ask, “Where did we struggle?”

Keith pointed out that the courage to intentionally change behaviors comes into play and makes a huge difference in team bonding events. Instead of the usual corporate dinner where people get up and talk about the challenges of getting the kids to soccer practice or getting home for dinner with the family, the topics emerging out of the pandemic are nothing to roll your eyes at or cause you to tune out. When people muster the courage to talk about challenges they face because of being quarantined for months with their partner or spouse, or how they couldn’t see their parent, spouse, brother, sister, relative before they died or were buried, brings people closer, creates more authentic bonds of support. There’s depth and authenticity. As Keith said, there has been a “Massive awakening to teams showing up as their authentic selves.”

Collaborating Through Inclusion Diversity

Inclusion diversity is a huge change the pandemic has given birth to. According to Keith, this contributes to productivity more significantly than anything else he has seen. As a result of working remotely, people are invited to participate in projects they would otherwise not be invited in on. In the pre-pandemic meeting, you might have 12 people around the conference table. Walking out of that meeting, typically only 4 people felt like they had a voice and were heard. Today, the playing field is leveled. Keith gave an example of a designer located in Argentina who won a design award within the company because the invitation to participate extended to far more people than the usual 12 who would ordinarily attend the in-person meeting.

Remote Work Allows For Greater Inclusion

“Technology,” Keith stated, “equalizes inclusion and leads to asynchronous collaboration.” This is something I’ve learned with my own business. I now have access to talent around the world instead of having to draw from a local talent pool. Even though my business has been working with people around the country for years, various tasks I thought required a physical presence do not. Keith talked about holding meetings in the Cloud. Companies can give everyone a couple of days to work on a project. This significantly reduces the number of meetings required and significantly increases the number of people who can participate from anywhere in the world.

Business Must Reboot

Keith made it clear that in the new business world “bs” will not be tolerated. Instead, authenticity, transparency, and vulnerability build teams who really have each other’s backs, no matter the distance between them. There’s new technology and new ways of working with the new tools. If you haven’t rebooted your business during the pandemic, Keith doesn’t believe you’ve gone far enough. There’s no reason for talented people to go back to those kinds of businesses. Keith’s last words were, “Don’t go back to work…go forward to work.”

The pace of my interview with Keith was fast, deep, rich, and integral for anyone in business today with a desire to successfully venture into the future. To catch the full interview, you can listen to it on your favorite podcast listening platform. And of course, you can always reach out to me directly with any questions you might have!