Dispatch From the New Work Summit, 2016

At the beginning of the month, I was lucky enough to attend the New Work Summit, a New York Times conference at Half Moon Bay hosted by Charles Duhigg, Adam Bryant and Jenna Wortham. We got a sneak peek of Duhigg's new book, Smarter, Better, Faster which is a must read for those who want to be more productive in business and in life.

The conference brought together thought leaders from around the globe to discuss the future of work. While there were many interesting discussions, ideas, dialogues, and debates, I was struck by one general theme. To be successful in business today and in the future, companies need to ensure that they create a culture where diversity of thought thrives. This is not easy work, and none of it will really take hold -- and here's the thing -- without building strong relationships throughout the organization.
Here's just a sampling of the incredibly thoughtful ways some high-octane leaders are creating a world where employees are related enough to commit to their organizations, and feel safe to bring their best selves to work. It is those companies that will ultimately be the most successful. And inspiring.

Richard Plepler, Chairman and CEO of HBO talked about his focus on creating a culture where people can take risks. "Leaders need to liberate people from the day-to-day work and task them to think originally -- and be compensated whether it works out or not. That is what builds a culture of trust." Plepler gave an example of how the award winning show Girls was created. A young employee saw Lena Dunham's experimental film, Tiny Furniture, and brought it to Plepler and a few other executives, saying, "You must see this. I think this girl is reflective of something important in my generation. I think she has a voice." The fact that she felt comfortable to do this at age 22 reflected the power of the HBO culture.

Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School and author of Presence shared her wisdom that, "being present liberates others to be present." This idea came from an interview she conducted with actress Julianne Moore wherein Moore described what she does when another actor is not "present" for a scene. She said, "I ask the person questions until he or she feels seen by me. Then something magical happens and there is lift off." When people are able to show who they really are at work, trust builds. And trust enables people to bring their most powerful selves to different situations.

Adam Bryant, New York Times Corner Office columnist, shared his CEO "User Manual" as a tool to build relationships between leaders and their teams. "When you hire a new employee, you are a silhouette." Over the next six months, the new hire finds out your leaderships style, likes and dislikes and the best way to work together. The "User Manual" enables leaders to shorten that learning curve and build strong relationships from the get go.

Ellen J. Kullman, the former Chairman Woman and CEO of Dupont talked about how to take a well-established company into the modern age. To ensure diversity of thought, she made a "generational change" to her staff to encourage new techniques and ensure a culture where it is safe for people to disagree. As a leader, she doesn't put her voice first unless she has to. She listens and then speaks. Kullman also invests time meeting with people in small groups to build relationships and get a "real" sense of what is going on in the organization.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking and Pat Wadors, Senior Vice President, Global Talent Organization at LinkedIn spoke about the importance of building relationships with people with different personality types. For instance, introverts are being asked to perform their jobs in a world oriented toward extroversion. Organizations need to create an environment where both types of people can give voice to their ideas. This is where Pat comes in. As part of LinkedIn's Quiet Revolution program, Pat holds intimate round table discussions with introverted leaders to build camaraderie and an understanding that they are supported by the LinkedIn culture. How affirming is that?

JJ Abrams, Director and Founder of Bad Robot also talked about building a culture where people feel safe speaking up. He told a story about a group of employees who spoke up to him recently about a project that they didn't feel was "just right." JJ listened, re-shot a number of scenes and made it right. "I tell people that a project may not always get changed by your feedback, but sometimes it will. These employees felt safe -- going into the my office (the CEO) without repercussion." On Monday, after the show aired, he celebrated their efforts.

Ursula Burns, CEO and Chairwoman of Xerox, described how a core value of Xerox has always been "terminal niceness and kindness." Because of the longevity of the company, employees have literally grown up with each other and want to be kind, which does not mean they are always smiling and looking happy. It means that employees can be "real" with each other and have constructive discussions. And to do that, employees have to build up their relationships.

These CEOs and thought leaders run businesses that vary in size, industry, geography, scope, mission, and reach. In spite of the differences, they all talked about the importance of strengthening relationships with people in order to build strong, diverse cultures that will allow for growth and innovation.

Adam Bryant ended the conference sharing his thoughts on questions CEOs should ask when hiring. These were questions designed to get to know more about a potential hire than what's on their resume; who is this person, really, and how will they will fit into the culture? Isn't this what leaders should really be asking?

Here are a few:

What is the core of your DNA in just one word?
On a scale of 1-10, how weird are you?
If time, money and talent were not part of the equation, what would you do?
Outside of work, what do you do two standard deviations better than anyone else?

And my personal favorite:

What kind of animal would you be and why?

Me? I would be a human animal. Even -- especially--at work.