UNLEASH senior journalist Allie Nawrat was lucky enough to get some time with BetterUp’s chief product and innovation officer and author Dr. Gabriella Kellerman about her recent book Tomorrowmind for an episode of UNLEASHcast.
You can hear the full conversation on Spotify here, but in this excerpt, we join the conversation as Gabriella explains the purpose of her work in researching how and why workers can develop their skills, and themselves…
Gabriela Kellerman: The big picture is we’re working on helping people understand the skills that they want to build, things that they can change and develop, rather than just telling them, here’s who you are and good luck to you.
So the five skills are summarized by the acronym PRISM, and we came to these again through studying individuals at work who are trying to make a go of it. And we have hundreds of thousands of people in our database now across industries and levels and income ranges.
We also have consulted now with hundreds of companies in the Fortune 1000 global companies, based in America and beyond. And then looking at large data sets that are publicly available through some of the leading think tanks, and so across all those, we came up with these five skills. I’ll go through what they are.
P is prospection, which is our ability to imagine and plan for the future. This is not about fortune telling, this is about imagining an array of possibilities, and then being able to position ourselves in an agile manner against those. It’s both about being able to get ahead of change and psychologically being more proactive about thinking about what could be coming that helps us feel more empowered when the next big change hits.
The second is R is resilience, which is our ability to bounce back from change without harm, but maybe even grow stronger through that challenge. And there are some core psychological drivers of resilience that we help people build.
The I is for innovation, which is so critical today. We’re relying on everyone in the company at every level to be a creative versus an older model where there was just one team of creatives.
We all need to bring that innovation energy today. And so how do we do that? How do we cultivate it at the individual level, at the team level, at the organizational level?
S is for social connection. And in particular, we introduced this concept of rapid rapport, which is how do we quickly build trust across difference? That’s sort of the unique piece of social connection that we’re up against today because we don’t have a lot of time, we’re still very different, but our companies need us to be connecting in terms of the collaborative output, in terms of the customer service that we’re providing. And we need it for our own wellbeing too. So all of these challenges are there and they’re real, but we have to overcome them.
And then the last is M is mattering. So this is the sense that what we do matters and it’s easily challenged in an environment where we’re constantly shifting product where our roles are changing all the time. How do we keep that steady sense of connection to the purpose of what we’re doing to a sense of meaning in what we’re doing? And at some very base level, mattering is the lowest bar there is in the world of meaning and purpose, that what I do has some impact on the world around me that is intentional.
Allie Nawrat: Yeah, amazing. I think the one that’s hardest for me to envisage is prospection. And I remember when we were chatting, you gave the example of Slack and Stewart Butterfield. I just wondered if you could give that example again, just to explain what that means in practice.
GK: Sure. So the Stewart Butterfield example was actually an example of a type of innovation versus prospection. I’m happy to speak to the prospection, then maybe we could come back to those innovation pieces.
AN: Yeah, sure.
GK: So yes, it is a little bit of an abstract idea of prospection, but if we look at how we spend our time in terms of our internal thoughts, what do we spend our time thinking about? We divide it into the present, the past and the future.
So our colleague Roy Baumeister did this, and he sampled people’s thoughts at intervals over the course of many weeks. He found that we spend most of our time thinking about the present, which is basically within five minutes of this exact moment right now. But after that, the rest of the time is about the future. What could be happening, what might be happening. Some of it’s daydreaming about big ideas, what I want to happen. Some of it’s more about planning. So we know that a huge part of what we’re doing with our thoughts is thinking about the future. And all of that would be prospection.
In the workplace, there’s lots of different dimensions of the future that we’re trying to think about. We’re thinking about our own individual trajectory in our career. We’re thinking about the team’s work and what needs to be delivered in the next three months, six months, et cetera. We’re thinking about the organization’s future and the strategy and planning for that.
And so we can then take as an endeavor, understanding how we think about the future, how all of those thoughts work, what are the different ways of thinking about the future, where do we get in our own way, and how can we overcome that? And one core piece of that that I’ll leave you with is there’s two phases in terms of how we think about the future.
The first is fast, and it’s optimistic and it’s divergent. So when we’re initially thinking about some new idea about the future, we think big and we think optimistically. But within just a few seconds, in some cases, we then transition into the second phase, which is much more deliberative. It can be more pessimistic for some people. It’s more about evaluating the possibilities, reality testing.
We quickly cross a huge number of possibilities off the list without even realizing we’re doing that and settle in on one or two and, and really start planning toward them. And so in each of those phases, there’s errors that we tend to make. There’s ways of overcoming that, and there’s ways of building a more robust skill around both of those phases so that we can get to a more effective, more pragmatic way of thinking about the future that empowers us in an environment where it’s coming fast and furious every day.
AN: Yeah, definitely. Going back, you mentioned the Slack example, but also in the book, you do draw on quite a lot of examples of companies already doing a great job around supporting employees to develop these psychological skills. Some that come to mind; Slack, Adobe, Amazon, Hilton… Southwest Airlines was one that really stuck with me. What would you say are the main lessons that employees can learn from these examples?
GK: I think a number of the ones you listed, we talk about in the book because of the ways that they’re leading in building a culture of creativity; some of these companies have [creativity] as not just a leadership competency, but as a value. How does everyone come together to bring their creative energy?
Embracing creativity at all levels
Every person from manufacturing to frontline customer service all the way up to the C-Suite has creative capabilities and is facing novel problems that they need to bring creativity to bear on. There’s also a lot that they’re doing to celebrate those individuals and recognize their contributions. And then culturally, to embed principles of psychological safety, of participation, of risk tolerance.
There’s a lot of movement right now in particular in the financial industry, which is interesting. But there’s so many companies that their reputation for so long has been about risk mitigation, risk management, and yet they’re operating just like the rest of us in these environments of uncertainty where they need to act more quickly than they’re used to. And so that does require a different appetite for risk, and it’s taking them out of their comfort zone, but it’s actually necessary to do business and to succeed in business today.
So how do we open up that space so people can actually be a little uncomfortable in building those skills. And part of what these companies are doing right, is really allowing for that and modeling that and talking about it.
There are some other structural pieces that companies can be tackling and how they invest in building these skills. And so you mentioned Hilton; Hilton’s one example we offer in the book where they’re really looking at how do we bring together all of the efforts that are about employee sustainability, employee wellbeing, which is really the underpinning of just having the resources to get through this, the psychological resources to get through this with all of the conversations about performance and skills, and bring that all together because it is all one brain. It’s ultimately all one endeavor.
And, we’ve split those initiatives historically for reasons that actually have to do with the industrial revolution, if you can believe that [laughs]. And we’re not conscious of that, and we’re just doing the same thing over and over again, but to build a skill like prospection across your workforce, to build a skill like innovation, we need to bring the whole arsenal of behavioral science to bear on that problem.
We can’t be slicing and dicing people in these artificial ways and to structurally embody that in bringing together the parts of the organization that then can be ultimately held accountable for employee thriving and readiness. That’s a big first step…
You can find the full conversation on our Spotify channel.
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