Walker Webcast: #1 NY Times bestselling author, Keith Ferrazzi on his latest book, Competing in the New World of Work

08/10/2022

On this episode of the Walker Webcast, Willy talks to Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone and Competing in the New World of Work, on topics such as leading through vulnerability, creating environments where employees feel safe to be themselves, and rethinking how we meet and connect, online and off. 

The conversation starts off deep with reflections on fear, shame, and insecurity. Keith shares that he felt all of these growing up, and they motivated him to become “big and grandiose,” in his words. He says he’s still dealing with his insecurities but that he hasn’t gotten rid of them. Instead, he’s using them to commit to being more grounded and elevated. 

The conversation then shifts to the ecosystem of relationships that Keith uses in his coaching and that he details in his books. Build relationships from a place of generosity and service, Keith advises. This opens doors. Then follow up with real intimacy and vulnerability, the foundation of “co-elevating relationships” where teams own each other’s successes, accountability, and energy. 

Candor makes it all possible, he says. But on a scale of 5, today’s teams average a score of 2.4, which Keith calls “hugely unacceptable.” Without the ability to be open and honest with those you work with, a company will never reach true success, he says. 

Keith talks about how he helps executive teams achieve this necessary candor and vulnerability through hosting a signature “intimacy dinner.” At these events, he shares a story of his own vulnerability to encourage other participants to open up. 

During the pandemic, leaders regularly opened up and revealed themselves to be vulnerable. But practices in both physical and virtual environments tend to become lazy, Keith explains. Leaders need to be much more proactive about coaching their teams. This is particularly important when working virtually when you don’t have that daily one-on-one interaction. 

Willy and Keith then talk about ways to transform team meetings. Breakout rooms, for instance, can foster intimacy when collaborating by video. Companies can also shift the focus of meetings themselves so they’re no longer employees’ primary form of collaboration. 

In face-to-face interactions, Keith says, forget about the agenda and tune into the emotional. And if you’re angry or frustrated with somebody, invite them to dinner. That being said, when you want broad inclusivity and innovation, Keith recommends asynchronous collaboration—working on a project without communicating in real time. 

Keith and Willy also talk about diversity and inclusion. These are direct links to innovation and creativity, and companies must create safe environments where employees, especially minorities, feel free to be themselves. Willy shares the four important elements of psychological safety, and the conversation also touches upon trauma—how it inhibits vulnerability and makes people afraid of connection. 

Looking ahead at the new world of work, Keith shares two thoughts he wants to leave listeners with about meetings: First, stop thinking of them as synonymous with collaboration. Second, shift the social construct. 

Key ideas:

3:18 – Harnessing insecurity to stay grounded and elevated  
13:20 – The ecosystem of relationships 
22:28 – The importance of candor
33:00 – Ways to transform meeting 
41:11 – “Crisis agile” vs. “enterprise agile” 
45:48 – How Cisco missed the Zoom opportunity 
48:12 – How trauma and vulnerability impact innovation 
53:58 – Asynchronous collaboration and when to use it    

Webcast transcript: 

Willy Walker: Good afternoon, everyone. It's great to have so many people joining us live on the Walker Webcast today. A couple of comments about the markets. I'm also still waiting for our guest to jump in and join me, so I'm going to adlib here for a moment as Keith hopefully comes in. A couple of things – we all saw the inflation report this morning that came out and saw that CPI on the month was down by 20 basis points over expectations and the markets have obviously reacted positively to that. The ten years down at 277, I believe about right now, and the Dow is up almost 450 points. 

I would point out this past week we put on the Walker Webcast replay of my opening remarks at our summer conference out in Sun Valley, Idaho. And in those remarks, I said a couple of things. One, you've got to be in these markets to take advantage of these markets. And so, when we see the ten year tighten by ten basis points this morning, right after the inflation report, those people who are ready to go and do a refinancing or do an acquisition loan are in a good position to take advantage of these markets. Those who are on the sidelines right now aren't able to take advantage of those. And so, to those people who have been sitting on the sidelines and we've seen plenty of people over the past couple months sit on the sidelines, welcome back to the markets. 

I think one of the other interesting things that came out this morning, Rick Santelli on CNBC was saying basically, if you're waiting for Jerome Powell to come out and make a public service announcement that he's only going to raise by 50 basis points rather than 75 basis points on the next time around, a) Good luck and b) You're going to miss the opportunity. As we have said a number of times, what we're dealing with right now, albeit painful as we see rates go up and we see inflationary pressures hitting everyday Americans across the country in their back pocket, this is all predicted. We know what the Fed's doing to try and bring inflation back in line, and we know exactly what the impact of their rate raises are going to have. The real question is whether we get dumped into a recession or whether we can have a soft landing. And this morning, Steve Liesman on CNBC said right now I think we're probably over a 50% probability that you have a soft landing, whereas that number was significantly lower previously. 

I saw Keith jump in and then I saw him go away. So, I'm not sure whether he is on or there he comes. There he is. 

Keith Ferrazzi: I didn't want to interrupt you. 

Willy Walker: I was adlibbing and making up time waiting for you to jump in. All right. So let me introduce you, Keith, and then we'll dive into our conversation. I have to say, I've had 110 or 115 guests on the Walker Webcast, and I've rarely been as excited to dive into material after having done a lot of work on you and what you've written and what you've said, and so let me let me get to the bio quick and then we'll get to it. 

Keith Ferrazzi is an American entrepreneur and recognized global thought leader in the relational and collaborative sciences. As Chairman of Ferrazzi Greenlight and its Research Institute, he works to identify behaviors that block global organizations from reaching their goals and to transform them by coaching new behaviors that increase growth and shareholder value. Keith has introduced a new transformational operating system he calls co-elevation that leads to exponential change and value. Formerly he was the CMO of Deloitte and Starwood Hotels.

He is a #1 New York Times best-selling author of Who’s Got Your Back and Never Eat Alone, Leading Without Authority and his newest book, Competing in the New World of Work, as well as a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review, WSJ, Fast Company, Forbes, Inc, Fortune, and other publications. 

So, Keith, I watched the TED Talk you gave, and you introduced yourself in two distinct ways, and I want to read those two introductions. 

Intro #1: Hi, I'm Keith. I went to Yale, Harvard Business School. I was the youngest Chief Marketing Officer in a Fortune 500 company. I wrote a number one bestselling New York Times book, I'm chairman of Ferrazzi Greenlight, and I play polo. 

Here comes the Intro #2: Hi, I'm Keith. My dad was a steelworker. My mom was a cleaning lady. I grew up poor. Most of my life I spent in classrooms I didn't think I belonged in, due to my insecurity. I am my own glass ceiling. The only way I can bust through it is with a little transparency, a little authenticity, and some self-disclosure to people I love so they can help me from time to time. 

So, a couple questions on that. First, which Keith would we all rather speak to? I think I can answer that. Which Keith will show up for this Walker Webcast is number two and then the final one, which I think is a really important one: Could you give this second intro without having the confidence from the first intro? 

Keith Ferrazzi: Great question. First of all, I guess it would all depend upon how much you like polo. So, the first introduction was the introduction that a young man would have given on any opportunity he could based on not feeling like he deserves to be in the room. And it's so shocking how I see some version of that introduction show up in some of the most amazing and accomplished people even today. But sure. I mean, one could argue that it's easier to have a second introduction when some folks in the room know your achievements. And yet at the same time, I was sitting with I don't know if you know, the George Kaiser of the George Kaiser Foundation. He is an 80-year-old man in Tulsa, Oklahoma, billionaire who has invested a significant portion of his wealth to create a city in a little town, Tulsa, that would absolutely be far and above the most progressive, technologically advanced city in the world. And nobody knows this. So, my point, you know, the other night at dinner was we've got to tell this story. We've got to get it out there. You've got to be less humble, less shy about the good works so that we can extrapolate the work.

You know who's an amazing person that I think was a great example doing it right was my dear friend who's passed away, Tony Hsieh. He was a unicorn founder, a man who was one of the great thought leaders in the future of business and human capital. He was an entrepreneur, an artist, he was so many things. And you would sit with him with the most humility. And he would blend into a crowd, but he was the greatest evangelist for his works, but more importantly, for his mission, not for himself. And I think that's what we need to do. We need to be evangelists for our missions and not for ourselves. 

Willy Walker: So, when I heard you talk about being named the youngest partner ever at Deloitte and the story about you getting that job is a great one, maybe we'll get into that later on. But you said that fear and scarcity drove you to that job. And as I think back on your childhood and having two loving parents and they put you through the very best schools that they could get you into, you were an exceptional student. You were a national debate champion. You went to Yale. You went to Harvard. What on God's earth were you fearful of? 

Keith Ferrazzi: Hmm. Well, first of all, you know who you know who told me that? I do a little name dropping, but I think you'll think it's funny. The person who sat next to me, it was at a time when I was the Chief Marketing Officer of Deloitte. And Forbes used to have these wonderful dinners where if you were an advertiser or if they wanted you to be an advertiser, they would invite you to the Forbes mansion and the publisher and some of the editors would sit around the table with people of influence and people that they wanted to get into our pocketbooks. And as a marketer, as the chief marketing officer, I was sitting next to a young entrepreneur in real estate from New York City named Donald Trump. He and I were chatting at length that evening, and it was him that actually said to me, he said, “You know, the number one driver of anybody's success is insecurity.” Anyway, I'm just gonna leave it at that. 

So, as I look back on my life, I had a lot of things that were ingrained at a very early age in my mind that I'm still working to overcome. And I know this, I was literally just writing a piece this morning about foster care. I have foster children and overall, I have six, nine biological boys. And the foster kids have been particularly challenging as opposed to others that I've adopted through non-foster care. But foster kids at a very early age were abused emotionally, physically, sometimes sexually unfortunately. These children in that abuse, what was notched into their brain was a lack of trust. They spend their entire life avoiding people. They spend their entire life distrusting people. Not a surprise that 80% of the US prison population came from foster care. Now that is an obscene example of what I'm about to share, but every single one of us have etched insecurities in our brains that yield behaviors that don't serve us. My son, when he came into our house, fought me violently and said, “You will never be my effing father.” But what’s really going on was a sense of distrust and fear that I would hurt him if he finally trusted me like he did his original parents. Look, I could go through (and I've worked in therapy to understand this) and give you the poor kid in the rich school in a formative age that got teased and didn't feel I deserved to be there. Right. And then, of course, a young man who was wanting to be President the United States, and I was born into a Catholic family in southwestern conservative, blue-collar Pennsylvania, who in my teenage years, I started realizing that perhaps I was gay. So, you take these kinds of etched fear, shame, insecurity of a young man and not a surprise that I would do one of two things and it's been very interesting. I've always wondered why some people, when faced with that kind of insecurity, collapse and become very small, and some of us become very big and grandiose and overcoming. I got lucky in some regards and went the latter to try to overcome. But it's still there. I mean, when I was at Yale, I may be the only kid at Yale one summer who was homeless because I was at Yale and I wanted one of those snooty jobs that all the rich kids had, so the only way I could afford to do it (I couldn't afford rent in the city that I was working in) so I lived out of my car while I did that and for $2 a day I could eat, and that was by buying a beer at a happy hour and that allowed me to eat off of the buffet of those little cocktail weenies. That was my only meal a day, right? So, for two bucks a day, I worked for free for a summer and lived in my car. I don't think there's any other Yalies that can have that story. (I'm sure that's not true, I'm sure there are.) But by the way, Willy, you were talking about the economy. I still have that little tape in my head that says, “Can I pay the rent?” As the people who are listening, it's okay. You will never fully eradicate your insecurities, your fears, your abhorrent, natural reactions. The question is, are you a seeker and are you committed to constantly being more grounded and more elevated? And are you committed? I wrote something recently about the ten things that have both grounded me and elevated me the most, the ten activities. And as a seeker in my life that has fundamentally transformed my life to be able to show up in a more authentic way. But it doesn't mean that it's ironed it all out. 

Willy Walker: So, one of the things you talk about, Keith, in your book, as far as co-elevation is the community that we create around us, and you talk about it in both diversity and inclusion and also in co-elevation and how teams can work very well with one another. And one of the great stories I've heard you tell from a community standpoint is that yes, we have our own successes as it relates to studying hard and getting good grades or getting a job. But the various people have a huge role in both our cohort of people and then helping us move along. One of the great stories I've heard you tell is Mrs. Poland at the golf club when you were 16 years old and caddying. Can you tell the Mrs. Poland’s and intro to Representative Murtha story? Because you just mentioned a kid who wanted to be President of the United States. I mentioned in my intro to you that you won the National Debate Championship. Just go to Mrs. Poland, because the story about your dad and showing up early is so compelling as it relates to how Mrs. Poland and Murtha had such a role in your future career. 

Keith Ferrazzi: Yeah, thank you. So maybe I’ll punctuate it as well with a few lessons for those who are listening in. One of the things I realized when I was young. Remember I'm the kid from an immigrant steel working family whose dad was unemployed in the 70s, the steel industry was crashing down around us. It's what really was the core essence of my mission in life, which was to grow up and make sure that my commitment as a kid was I will grow up and I will fix American manufacturing. I will make sure that families are not disadvantaged because I grew up in an era where we couldn't afford gas to get to work. I mean, that's the period of time that we were in back in the 70s and my dad said, “Keith it's time to go to work” and I was ten. So, I went to work at a local country club, and my old man said something amazing, “Keith, show up at the golf course a half an hour early” and I'm like, “Pop, there's nobody there. Like, why would I do that?” and he would just repeat himself and I always joke that I call that Immigrant Tourette Syndrome. He'd just blurt shit out that I didn't understand, but it's okay. It wouldn't matter. I didn't have to understand it, just to listen to it. So I showed up in the golf course half an hour early, and as a result, for those of you who aren't golfers, I notice things like that the greens were cut this morning, so they're going to be running faster today or that the pin is in the beginning, the front end of a particular green so my golfer would need it's a blind dogleg and my golfer would need less of a club to get there, whatever. And there was a woman you mentioned Mrs. Poland, who was the best woman golfer in the country club, and she had me as her caddy one day. After the session, she asked me to be her caddy again and it's like, wow, that's a big deal. Because normally I would sit up there maybe five days a week. I would go up and sit in the caddy car and I'd maybe get out once or twice. There's a lot of people out there needing the work and we'd make 20 bucks a day, which is the same amount of money my mom made 20 bucks a day for cleaning houses the entire day and I was able to get 20 bucks and bring that back to the family. 

So, we went around the next day. She said the same thing she said, “Hey, would you caddy for me again?” I'm like, wow, this is amazing. I want to keep my head down and do a good job. Well, the third day, she really floored me a bit and took me back. She started asking me very personal questions, which I didn't want to answer. It is very similar to my son, who, in a sense I just wanted to keep my head down, do the right job. I was afraid I'd screw this up. I didn't want to engage with this woman. Plus, I didn't like rich people. Rich people scared me. Their kids made fun of me at school. You know, I just wanted to get my job done and get my 20 bucks. And she kind of pressured me and she said, “Keith, what do you want to do with your life?” Like why is this lady asking this? “You know, you should come on and meet my son.” I'm like, I don't want to meet your son. Ultimately, she kind of wore me down and she said, “Keith, come on, what do you want to do with your life?” I said, “Well, don't laugh, but my dad, like many immigrants, you know, fathers, even today, I'm sure, said if I work real hard and study real hard one day, I can do anything. I could be President of the United States. And really, in my core, I wanted to be governor of Pennsylvania like my mentor, Dick Thornburgh. I want to be governor of Pennsylvania and I want to come back and fix American manufacturing.” That's what a ten-year-old kid thinks. And she said, “Yes, you could, and I would vote for you.”

Well, it wasn't long after that two weeks that she had the local congressman in her foursome, Congressman Murtha, who you represented, who, as we were walking around, took me under his wing and gave me advice, said I should get involved in speech and debate, said he'd be willing to open up his congressional library in Greensburg, (I was at LaTrobe Country Club at the time) and he'd be willing and he did. I mean, I went up there and I joined the speech and debate. It was the Lincoln-Douglas debate. And I had some nutty problems. And I went up there and he sat with me, and he gave me advice, counseling, and coaching. Anyway, the long and the short, that is what got me into Yale, I won the National Speech Debate Tournament, etc. 

But for your listeners, I would ask the rhetorical question: Why did they do that? But particularly, why did Mrs. Poland do that? Why in the world would she spend the time to do that? In the answer if I ask an audience, I never get the right answer, because, by the way, I've asked Mrs. Poland this question. I'm sure it's contributory to the truth. People say, oh, you know, she wanted to pay it forward. She was from the wrong side of the tracks. She saw something in you, yeah. But I talked to Mrs. Poland, and she said, “Keith, this is really simple. You took two strokes off my golf score.”

So, my advice to anybody, there's two lessons here. My first lesson that I'm going to land with you is if somebody is important to you, if they are important to opening doors to you, if they are important to your success in any way, then damn it – you show up half an hour early at the golf course to serve them. Right. That's true of any employee you have. That's true of your most important customers. That's true if you're in sales. That's true of the marketing person who's going to be providing you sales support or the technical person or the ecosystem of individuals, you've got to marshal to serve that client, whatever. If you're the CIO, that's what you've got to do to your business leaders inside of the business. You've got to show up half an hour early at the golf course. They've got to feel it and taste that degree of differentiation and passion for their success, not yours. 

Now, the other thing that's core to this lesson is that I did not have nepotism. I was jealous of these rich kids that got to go to the country club and hang out at the pool, and I was working the caddy yard, I used to actually, because some of them went to school with me, would make fun of me. I would climb up the back of a very steep hill to get to the caddy yard. I mean, I'm talking about literally climbing a steep dirt hill. I would climb up the back to get to the caddy yard instead of having my parents drop me off in the parking lot and walking past the pool where my friends were because I was so embarrassed and ashamed that they would see me caddying at the country club where they were members. 

And what I realized was nepotism, which I wasn't born into, can be manufactured. Nepotism, even at its core (and I have six boys that I would do anything for). Nepotism is when you have a deep relationship, bonded from family or whatever, that allows an individual to disproportionately open doors and opportunities for somebody. You can do that. That was the CEO of Deloitte for me, he was like my father. The building of the relationship opens doors to success, and the building of their relationship needs to be born from generosity and service. Now, once you show up with generosity and service and you arrest somebody's attention because they get a lot of shit going on, then you follow that with real intimacy, accelerated vulnerability, being your authentic self so that then that loyalty becomes authentic and connected, right? But it's a beautiful ecosystem and what you're talking about is the formation, the foundation of what I call “co-elevating” relationship. 

Now on top of that, you have accountability that needs to be butt-kicking. You have candor that needs to be transparent and tough. Those two things are afforded because of the underpinning of the intimacy and the generosity, that ecosystem of intimacy, generosity, yielding candor and accountability – that's what we coach executive teams do. Most executive teams do not have a proactive approach to building those kinds of co-elevating relationships among the team. And as a result, CEOs are spending way too much time running around playing Whack-A-Mole in their business when the ecosystem and the team itself should be owning each other's success, each other's accountability, and each other's energy. 

Willy Walker: So that issue on candor, Keith, is a really important one and you talk about the importance of candor. Closing off on Mrs. Poland, later on that summer after you got to know her, she was a heavyset woman, and she would sit down and smoke a pack of cigarettes after the round every day. 

Keith Ferrazzi: No, during, basically one cigarette ‘per hole’. 

Willy Walker: Cigarette ‘per hole’ and she’d sit down and have a Big Mac after the round. And one day you threw away the cigarettes, you handed her a Tab, to anyone who knows what a Tab is…

Keith Ferrazzi: Are old enough to remember… it’s a carcinogen-based Diet Coke is basically what it is. 

Willy Walker: Let me just jump through this for a second, because I think that this is what's so important. You talk a lot about the fact that you were able to do that because you earned her trust. You earned the ability to have candor with her. 

Keith Ferrazzi: She was pissed off at me. I crushed her cigarettes, and I gave her a salad and a Tab instead of a hamburger, a hotdog and a chocolate milk and a Coke. And it was because I had earned the right to make her realize that my holding her accountable, an adult who was paying me. I was holding her accountable for something she cared about, because she would tell me she cared about it, but then she'd turn around and out serve herself. And so, what’s powerful is that solidified, I think, our relationship. She became like a mom to me. I even called her mom on the golf course. I call her mom. And she got my parents jobs, and she took me on vacations, and I did become best friends with her son, Brett. That relationship was born from exactly that formula I mentioned earlier: intimacy and generosity. Starting with generosity, take two strokes off her golf score. Now she gives me permission to get to know me better. I want to be President…Then, my candor and accountability allow that to be layered on top. Because if you don't have all four of those, there are so many damn companies, they're Midwest polite. Where they've got the care but polite means political. If you are just polite in an organization and you don't have the strength of your conviction and the ability to challenge each other respectfully, then all that shit will come out in passive aggressive political statements, shallow conversations. I know so many teams, the average candor on a team on a scale of 0 to 5, the average candor in a team is 2.4. And that is unacceptable. That is stealing from shareholders, like cheating on an expense account. 

And by the way, that basis of a co-elevating relationship needs to exist in all of our relationships. Do you know that this goes back 15 years when I wrote Who's Got Your Back? The average individual in America would say that that no one has their back. 50% of Americans say that no one has their back defined as deeply generous, fully committed, etc. relationships. Of those who say that 60% are married. Right? So why do we have divorce rates the way we do? Because we're not co-elevating relationships. That's not the social contract that we're seeking. And what I wanted to do when I wrote Leading Without Authority and more recently Competing in The New World of Work, is to awaken people to how easy it is to raise your standard for the type of a co-creative, elevating relationship. I call them co-elevating relationships in all parts of our life, in all parts of our life. 

Willy Walker: So, you mentioned your dinner sitting next to former President Trump. It reminds me of your intimacy dinners and intimacy dinners get you to that point where you can find that candor and also that intimacy with people that you work with and know. Can you describe for our listeners what an intimacy dinner is or how you set them up? 

Keith Ferrazzi: Yeah. So, the night before I coach the executive team (so that's what we do for a living, we coach teams). We make a commitment to a group of individuals, most likely they're the CEO of the company and the team that reports to them, or a functional leader or sometimes a critical project team. We make a commitment to that team to radically accelerate their ability to find growth and to achieve their business outcomes. The night before we do the coaching, which is going to be a tough day of accountability, a tough day of candor, real peer-to-peer truth-telling, we do an intimacy dinner. An intimacy dinner depends upon the psychological safety of the team that I'm starting with. Sometimes I'm with a team where there are eviscerating relationships within them already, and if I dove in and started to create a kumbaya bonding experience, I'd be perceived as some jackass from Los Angeles. So, in that case, I will do something innocuous, like something simple Okay, let's go around, what's going on right now, sweet in their lives or what's going on sour? So, I call them sweet and sour. So simple. But when I lead the conversation I would start with a vulnerable share of my own, and I would seek vulnerability. 

By the way, in a virtual world you need to be doing these exercises even though it's not dinner. You need to be doing these exercises with your teams regularly because you don't have the walk down the hallway, you don't have the lunch conversations that you used to do. If you're in a room, you snap your fingers and you can accelerate the relationship score of a team on a scale of 0 to 5 is usually a 2.8. If you go virtual remote hybrid, that goes down to a 2.2 unless you make purposeful relational movement in these practices like I'm talking about and if that's the case that goes up to 4.4, it goes better than it was when you were just walking down a hallway using small talk. So, in a room you could do a sweet and sour, right? In a room you could do something called an energy check in, where everybody goes to chat: Right now, 0 to 5 – what is your energy these days and why? And you'll see people say it's a two because of this, this and this. That is the ability to make that bridge of empathy. 

Now, the intimacy question that I love is this is the deepest, most intimate question that I ask a team when I'm starting to work with them, if I feel I've gotten to the place where they can trust each other. What experience of your past do you think defines who you are today? Look, I come from an era in the 60s (I was born in ‘66) 70s, 80s when me being my authentic self was not at all acceptable. There wasn't a single role model in the world that was an executive, a politician who was an outwardly LGBT individual - it didn't exist. So, me and my on my aspiration of wanting to be a great man in service of my family and being a strong Christian, those two things did not mesh with being out and proud. So, I say this because when I would share early on as a coach, I'm embarrassed to say I would only share the formative moment of being a poor kid, going to rich schools and the shame of that which when I wrote Never Eat Alone is all I shared. You know, by that time today I can show up and I still have that tape that plays that says, will they judge me? Will they not accept my message? Can I not be of service here if I am my authentic self, right? That still goes on today. As I said, we still have these etched fears and insecurities in our brains. But as a leader, we need to be more vulnerable. During the pandemic, we uncovered the fact that our leaders were vulnerable. They shed tears in front of their teams for fear of their parents in assisted living facilities that they couldn't see. And I'm talking about white shoe grizzled Wall Streeters. These individuals opened up as humans for a moment. And when I started my research, which was the culmination of Competing in the New World of Work, at the peak of the pandemic, 2000 executives worked with me in small group discussions around what is the future of work in a post-pandemic world. What I wanted to make sure is we did not go back to work ever again, we wanted to go forward. And this vulnerability is a piece of it. The intimacy dinners are a piece of that. 

But you can do it virtually, by the way, I'm bringing that up purposefully because, you know, I can move a team virtually better than they were on their own physically. So, I'm very upset when I hear leaders, and I had a chance to be at a party a couple of weeks ago with Elon Musk actually got reported on, rather prominently... 

Willy Walker: He’s selling a lot of stock when you were with him Keith. I think he sold $1,000,000,000 of stock that day. 

Keith Ferrazzi: I know. But that was a party where he reported that Sergei was there as well. 

Willy Walker: Right, right. 

Keith Ferrazzi: But at this party and look, I mean, this is a man who is brilliant, right? I mean, anybody couldn’t contest that. The most important thing, though, to recognize is he's made this assumption about physical versus remote work when in reality, he's hybrid too. The reality is that all organizations that have multiple facilities are hybrid. All organizations that have multiple floors in their headquarters are hybrid, not always co-located and working interdependent with the people you need to collaborate with. And we need to be overemphasizing how we work in an asynchronous and hybrid world? How do we stop working in meetings as the primary form of collaboration? How do we shift that to collaborating outside of meetings so even more people can be involved more abundantly? And so, I can actually prove that in a physical environment like in a hybrid environment, I can improve innovation better than in a physical environment because the practices have become lazy in a physical environment as well. We need to be much more proactive in how we coach our teams. 

Willy Walker: So, a couple of things there to just pass through because, first you talk a lot about chat rooms and about breakout rooms on Zoom and how helpful they are to allowing for those smaller groups to have trust and confidence to be able to speak up. As someone who's lived off on Zoom for two plus years, we don't use breakout rooms at Walker & Dunlop. And so, reading that opened up my mind to sort of saying there's a tool here from the pandemic, we're on it right now that can actually go into the forward to work environment, that can actually create an environment for fantastic collaboration, trusting and innovation. 

Keith Ferrazzi: Yeah, let me give you some real time coaching. I'd like to re-engineer your upcoming staff meeting in the following way. How long is your typical staff meeting? 

Willy Walker: 55 minutes. 

Keith Ferrazzi: Okay. How many people show up?

Willy Walker: Eight people.

Keith Ferrazzi: All right. So, I'm going to make a recommendation that you could do a two-hour staff meeting that is broken up between the eight people that you would normally have, and perhaps 25 people total that are the L2s that are really getting shit done around the world. Not that the eight aren't, right, but if you really think about who's touching the transformation. I say that and what's great about a two-hour time swath is that you can take your agenda items in a hybrid world, and this is going to be a Zoom meeting. You can take your agenda items and decide who's at what portion by the snap of a finger. You could have a meeting with your eight, snap your finger halfway through a half of an hour into the meeting and you can have a 20-minute agenda item with 25 people. Right. And then you can move on. We can sparse once we decide. The first thing I want you to do when you come in is do an energy check in, which is where is your energy these days? If you got all 25 people on the call, do it in chat and let them share with each other where they are right now, where their struggles are, etc., and open up that empathy. 

Have your eight people do a sweet and sour, so that everybody goes around and touches base with what is going on right now with your life sweet and sour. And I want you to start with whatever is the most vulnerable share that you could have. Then I want you to move to something that I call a bulletproofing. By the way, this is all coming out in an article that if you search my name in Harvard Business Review, you'll see a ton of articles in HBR, but it's about to be released on August 25, 2022. I don't know when all of this is airing today, but on August 25 or when you happen to be listening to it, there's a piece in HPR that's coming out on this very topic. How do you re-contract your team in a hybrid world? 

So, the next piece you're going to do is bulletproof. Have somebody on your team who has some project they've been working on give a five minute what I call an “agile update”. It's five minutes and here's what I've been working on, here's what I've achieved, here's where I'm struggling and here's what I'm planning to do in the next whatever week, month, whatever the sprint is of the next chunk of work. So, they present that and then everybody snaps their fingers, and you go to breakout rooms, and you open a Google Doc, your Zoom, maybe Google versus teams reopening SharePoint document, whatever. And in that is three columns and the breakout rooms have rooms of three. And in three columns, column number one: What challenges do you have for that person who just shared? What innovations do you want to offer or new ideas? And is there anything you want to offer support or help? They talk for 10 to 15 minutes in the breakout room add into to the Google Doc. Now, if you want to make it very short, they talk for 5 minutes. But then everybody who's been there tell them to hold a half of an hour of their time outside the meeting, to go back in and fill in more. And by the way, you could even have launched this exercise outside of the meeting. The five-minute report could have been a video. You could have sent it to 25 people without a meeting. They could have each watched it independently. It could have each gone in and had their input and you never had to have a meeting. 

Now I could keep going down the list of the things that I think you should be doing, but I'm giving you ways to rethink the way you work. We need to do this thing I called meeting shifting, where meetings are no longer the primary form of our collaboration. We can become much more inclusive. And here's the thing. I'll end with this. The average meeting of 12 people has only four people think that they were heard. In this case, everyone's heard. And everyone's input and the tapestry of their input is right there. Anyway, so I can give you a lot more. 

Willy Walker: And so, on this virtual versus physical, you also are very straightforward in saying that in physical meetings there is a chemical…

Keith Ferrazzi: Social chemical bonds. 

Willy Walker: Engage with somebody. And so, you're not saying just stay virtual and take that meeting to a four out of five. One of the things that I've heard you say, Keith, is that when you're there in person, potentially forget the agenda and focus more on the personal. Correct? 

Keith Ferrazzi: Exactly. So, what you want an index for, I call this the collaborative stack. The collaborative stack says you have to get good at physically using your time together to the highest value. So, when you're physically together, you want to be indexing to the emotional. Indexing to the things that tug on emotions, bonding, celebration, gritty issues you want to get pissed off at each other about, right? When I used to be stressed with an associate, my former CEO of Deloitte and now board member Greg Seal would always say to me, “Keith, got to go have a long, slow dinner with them. Got to go have a long, slow dinner.” And the long, slow dinner is you got to break bread, got to be in front of them if you're pissed off at somebody. The worst case is if you're pissed off at somebody, you text them, right. So, we all know that. So, in the physical meeting, you over index for the emotion. Then you go all the way up to asynchronous, asynchronous collaboration we're talking about the collaborative stack. Again, the asynchronous collaboration is what you do when you want broad inclusiveness, when you want more innovation, more ideas, right? You want everybody's voice to be heard. You want to be inclusive. Then you go to remote, which is synchronous, but virtual. It's easier to get real candor and insights with breakout rooms and dialog, etc.. I make it through a one-day agenda in about two and a half to 3 hours, virtually. Right? By using vert breakout rooms, the pace is fun and exciting. Doesn't mean that I don't do bonding. Like I said, I can show you a graphic where during the pandemic, we had longitudinal data on teams, what their data was like when they were physically engaged, and then what they were like when they were remote and virtual. And we were able to move collaboration, innovation, relationship, and candor. We were able to move all the scores higher by being intentional about the practices. The problem was, back in the physical work world we never did personal professional check-ins in the middle of a meeting. You know that stuff was marbled into the organic nature of physical work, but not even done that well. Like I said, the average relationship score was 2.8 on a scale of 0 to 5. I can get it to a 4.4 with purposeful remote bonding. Now I could even get it higher and more intimate with physical, long slow dinners. So, you work the collaborative stack, and I'm so upset, God bless the HR people out there because it's very difficult for them right now, because what they're doing is they're so struggling with this policy challenge. Stop talking about the policy. It doesn't matter. What matters are the practices. I don't care if you decided two days, three days, five days. I don't give a damn. Let's reinvent the practices of work. That's what we need to do, reinvent the practices, not the policies. 

Willy Walker: So, when you talk about asynchronous collaboration Keith, you know, at the beginning of the book, you talk about a number of things that came out.

Keith Ferrazzi: Are we talking about Competing in the New World of Work

Willy Walker: We are. Although in my mind, all the stuff I read on you are all melded together.

Keith Ferrazzi: By the way, Willy, I have to say, this is one of the most well-informed and prepared interviews that I've given. And I really appreciate you for that deeply. 

Willy Walker: I quite honestly appreciate all that you have written and talked about. But so, one of the things about crisis agile versus enterprise agile and when I read what you wrote about Crisis Agile, I sat there and said, okay, GM retooled the manufacturing line to make ventilators that they never made before. Makes sense. Crisis forced them to do it. Unilever went from never making hand sanitizer in the United States to setting up a whole line and creating them.

Keith Ferrazzi: And they did it in literally a 10th of the time they've ever launched a new product, right? 

Willy Walker: Exactly. And so, then you go on to talk about Dow Chemical and the fact that Dow Chemical was able to go from basically a human-to-human sales channel to a digital sales channel during the pandemic. 

Keith Ferrazzi: They will never go back. They were able to increase the cycle time and the touch points -- doesn't mean that they won't now do physical. And I was just literally just talking to the chief revenue officer a couple of weeks ago as an update. And the point is that they carried all of those best practices forward and added them to know what they're getting back to, which is more physical engagement, but they’re shifting what's done where but you're about to land the question. 

Willy Walker: So the question is this going from crisis agile to enterprise agile. During the crisis, because the salesforce at Dow was required to engage digitally because they couldn't see them physically, there was a reason for them to adapt it. But my assumption would be that there were Dow salespeople who had client relationships that were being paid to maintain those relationships that, because of the crisis, got to some degree disintermediated. And so, my question for you is, I get wanting to take crisis agile into enterprise agile. But when we go to enterprise agile without the “excuse of a crisis,” how do you still allow for those changes to happen? 

Keith Ferrazzi: Yeah. So, do you know who Frank Blake is?

Willy Walker: I don’t.

Keith Ferrazzi: Frank Blake was the former CEO of Home Depot. I'm writing a new book right now on a lot of the work that we do on high performing teams. Ironically, we've been in this business of coaching teams for 20 years and I've never written a book on it. Part of it is, to be honest, I believe a lot of what we teach is a bit of a special sauce that competitively I don't think other coaches are doing what we're doing with teams. I realized that was just ridiculous and it was not abundant thinking. It was narrow minded on my part. So, we're now writing this book. I was interviewing Frank Blake the other day and I learned so much from Frank. I'm interviewing great leaders who have achieved great success to tease out of them what I'm calling the social contract that they inherently live by with their teams. So, there's one social contract that a team member feels I'm not going to challenge my peers that would be throwing them under the bus in front of the leader. That's a social contract that exists in a lot of teams. There’s another social contract that says I'm going to be the first one to trust my instinct rather than challenge my peer because I love them so much, I'm not going to let them fail. And by the way, just by virtue of challenging them doesn't mean I disrespect them, nor does it mean that I expect them to take my advice. But I owe it to them to give it to them. Right? So that's a different social contract. So, the answer, Willy, is the social contracts that we live by need to be re-engineered. And what's fun about this is that in our research, this is very programmatic. It is shocking how simple this is. If I took your staff meeting and re-engineered it with these simple practices, we have now researched these high return practices of agile. We're talking about enterprise agile. I don't know, Willy, whether or not your six leaders show up reporting to your executive team in agile sprints. So, what are the critical projects? What are the Six Hills that your organization is working on to transform your business? Each of those hill owners needs to show up in front of their peers, reporting quickly what they've been doing, where they're struggling, and where they're going. And then they need to have the crap beat out of them in healthy, lovely, and caring ways by their peers to what I call bulletproof for stress test the next level of sprints. That's not most team’s social contract. Right? So, working in these agile sprints, changing the way we sell at Dow, it’s a renegotiation of work practices. This is why I and dammit, I was so upset by this one at the beginning of the pandemic. I was like, okay, I’ve been studying hybrid work since 2010. You go to HPR. 

Willy Walker: You’ve been even writing on this stuff since ’10 and you worked with Cisco. One of the things I was going to ask you, just a quick one. How did Cisco miss this? Like I read all the stuff you did with them. You were in there with John Chambers. They were the ones who should have had Zoom on steroids, and they completely missed it. How could Cisco have missed this? 

Keith Ferrazzi: Well, it had Zoom, it was called WebEx. And that technological stasis at the time was, you know, look, we all have a challenge where the historical companies and I do a lot of work with unicorns. Right. And so, unicorns come along, and they look at a business model and they look at the technology stack of a big competitor. And they look at them and like, “I can disrupt that from scratch.” And guess what? They could. You use AWS tools, MongoDB database tools, use all these different things, and now you can create from scratch at a fraction of the cost a disruptive tech stack that beats a company that’s been around a hundred years. And it's cobbled those systems together in legacy systems. Right? So, it is very difficult to disrupt yourself. But Eric Yeun did, and guess where he came from? Cisco! He came from Cisco and was in the WebEx team. I knew him when he was there and he was a fan of my first book, Never Eat Alone and so I knew him. It is very difficult to disrupt yourself and it doesn't mean that it's not possible. In fact, it's a whole separate conversation how one goes about disrupting yourself. And I tell you, it is only possible using this new disruptive system that I'm talking about, this co-elevating system where the team says, damn it, you know this, we are going to be disrupted. And we knew because the voices are there. Eric Yeun, when he was at Cisco, wasn't heard. He believed what he believed. And I guarantee you, he was trying to make the changes there. But what could make him heard is hybrid work practices that are more inclusive and invite more than your six people on a staff meeting into your disruptive conversations. I want the top 15. I want the next 200 - however many people are in the company. I want them co-creating and evolved. 

Willy Walker: On radical adaptability, which is how you term a lot of this. One of the things you talk a bunch about is vulnerability, and you cite Brené Brown and talk about vulnerability leading to creativity and innovation. And one of the things that Brené Brown talks about is the fact that trauma kills vulnerability. And as I talk about diversity and inclusion at Walker & Dunlop, as well as on a call yesterday with Harvard Business School, I talk a lot about the fact that at companies we need to be able to create safe environments for minorities to show up as their complete self. And if you don't create a safe environment, they're being traumatized and therefore they cannot bring their creativity and their innovation. And in framing D&I in that manner as also having distinct viewpoints on issues that get to that creativity and innovation. It's interesting to me, Keith, how many people's eyes kind of open up and say, okay, you mean diversity and inclusion is actually really good for innovation and creativity, not necessarily just doing the right thing. 

Keith Ferrazzi: Oh, gosh, yeah, that data has been proven. The idea has been proven that more and I see it every day in the teams I coach more diverse inputs, more inputs from a diverse population of roles as well as demographic diversity. All of those things yield a more rich tapestry of solutions. It just makes sense. And it's all been proven right. You said something very powerful.. That trauma inhibits vulnerability, which inhibits relationships. And this is where my youngest son is self-identified African American. He's 50% black and 50% Mexican. He identifies as black. And I said to him, I said, “Listen, sweetie, prejudice is going to hold you back.” And he's like, “Damn right.” He's a very angry child. And I said, the biggest prejudice that's going to hold you back is the same prejudice that held me back for many years. And it was the prejudgment that other people wouldn't accept me for who I am. And our trauma keeps us from people. Our trauma assumes that we'll be hurt. Our trauma as minorities and there's all different types of minorities I happen to be one flavor of a minority and the trauma of minorities yields a fear of connectedness in many instances. 

I had this conversation with Hillary Clinton many years ago when she was running for President. I said, “Hillary, the you that showed up in that New Hampshire diner booth where you broke down in tears was the you that the country needs to see in order to have you in the presidency.” And if we don't see that, nobody saw the Hillary Clinton that I saw when I was on Air Force One, it wasn’t called that, when I was there. But when she would sit, you know, in her stocking feet, cross legged, chatting with… Anyway, I know I just pissed off a bunch of people who hate the Clintons. But, you know, particularly maybe folks down on Wall Street. But I'll tell you, this was an authentic, caring woman that I got to know that the population did not get to know. And that cost her the election fundamentally. And it's going to cost any of you your success as a leader. 

Willy Walker: And when you talk about creating safe environments, you cite Amy Edmondson research at Harvard, which talks about psychological safety in four dimensions. Let me run through them quickly and have you just jump on, which is the most important. 1) When it's permissible to make mistakes, 2) When sensitive topics are openly discussed, 3) When team members are openly willing to help one another, and 4) When differences among team members are welcome. That is when team members feel free to be themselves. 

Keith Ferrazzi: Yeah, they're all important. And I sat with Amy recently at Harvard when I was the speaker at the reunion recently. 

Willy Walker: And that's where I listened to you for the first time. 

Keith Ferrazzi: Oh, wow. Awesome. And I love that day that Scott Cook, he's just one of my dear friends and mentors, was with me. What a blessing. But I sat with Amy and had a chance to really talk to her. And I'm really excited now. She and I are going to work on some things together around how psychological safety change in a remote and hybrid environment. All of those things you just mentioned are true and needed, and they can be engineered purposefully into a remote and hybrid environment. And that's what I'm excited about teaching the world around. Boy, Willy, I got to tell you, I'm thrilled that we've had this opportunity to meet and hopefully we can do it offline. Are you in Boston?

Willy Walker: No, I'm in Denver right now. I live in Denver, although Walker & Dunlop is headquartered back in Bethesda, Maryland. 

Keith Ferrazzi: So, I don't know if you know him or care for him, but one of my dear friends is John Hickenlooper, your senator, former governor. 

Willy Walker: One of my best friends. He was at my house two days ago. 

Keith Ferrazzi: Are you serious? All right. Well, tell John (I'm literally texting him constantly). He and I are reinventing the foster care system in Colorado. So as soon as we're done here, reach out to him. But I am deeply committed, as is he, to doing the right thing in the foster care system. Anyway, let's you and I spend some more time together. Here I am taking a picture. 

Willy Walker: (Laughs) it’s great. Hick is an amazing leader and had a big role in this most recent bill that got through and played kind of shuttle diplomacy to get Manchin on to it. So, the final thing, Keith, that I just want to ask you before we close out for the hour, and I greatly appreciate your time is that when you talk about the ethos of co-elevation, you talk about empathy, generosity, and candor. Getting groups to expand their boundaries. And your concept of asynchronous work, I think is so important because I think that many leaders, as we, if they are thinking about back to the office rather than forward to work, they're going back to the “meeting that starts when I show up and the meeting is my agenda.” And of all the things that I took out of your book, which is a lot, one of the things that I sat there and asked myself is how can you flip that dynamic? How can you make it so that everyone on the team feels like he or she is just as responsible for the agenda and the creativity that goes on as the leader of the team or the CEO of the company? And you give some points in it as it relates to how you can broaden that, so you get this asynchronicity moving forward. And so, as a final comment?

Keith Ferrazzi: And so, I think there's two things there and I'll give you two quick tips. Number one, stop thinking that collaboration equals a meeting. Collaboration and meetings are not interdependent. Meetings are a portion of collaboration, but they're not the first either. We need to be collaborating significantly more in a non-meeting format. That's when I was telling you to give a five-minute video and then a hundred people comment on that video. That's a better inclusion than if you had 100 people in a meeting, even 12 people in a meeting. So, shifting from synchronous meetings to asynchronous meetings, asynchronous collaboration. Then the second piece you're talking about, and this is really what I tried to do with that book, had 2000 executives, 2000 executives committed to not going back to work in the same way we did. But going forward, this is a crowdsourced set of insights from some of the most inspiring and future looking executives I've ever met. And we co-created this together during the two years of the pandemic. And it's a must read for just that reason. You've got to learn from these folks, and I learned so much from these folks. The biggest thing was the shift the social contract. Your social contract with your team is broken. We spend too much time talking about leadership. I don't think you've ever heard anybody say that – we spend too much time talking about leadership, we do not spend enough time talking about teamship. And I want to give you a new model to do that in any more efficient way using the tools we have available to us today. 

Willy Walker: We'll end it on that. I'm so appreciative of your hour and your time. It's been a real thrill. I love all you write. Anyone who hasn't read his books, go buy Keith’s books and don't wait for the HBR synopsis to come out. There's so much good stuff in the book that it's well worth the read. 

Thanks, Keith. Have a wonderful day. Everyone, I'll see you back next week. We have the head of the Motion Picture Association, Charlie Rivkin, on the Webcast next week to talk about Charlie's career and what's going on in the media and entertainment business, which will be a lot of fun. Thanks again, Keith. Have a great day.

Keith Ferrazzi: Truly my pleasure. And I put my cell phone in text for you there. Let’s get in touch. Take care. 

Willy Walker: Awesome. See you.

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