E13 – Conscious Culture in a Time of Crisis with Natasha Wallace – Expert Interview

E13 – Conscious Culture: Interview With Natasha Wallace from Conscious Works

In this episode, I interview Natasha Wallace, the author of The Conscious Effect: 50 lessons for better organizational wellbeing. Natasha is also the founder of Conscious Works, a coaching company that helps leaders to lead consciously. Today we discuss conscious culture in more detail.

Conscious Culture, Natasha Wallace.

You Can Read the Transcript of Our Interview Below:

Nathan Simmonds:

Welcome to the Making Business Matter Podcast. Currently, we’re meeting niche leaders and change-makers. Those exciting people that are helping to make business future proof. Today we’re going to be speaking to Natasha Wallace from Conscious Works. So a little bit about Natasha, we’ve got her blurb here, her bio.

Nathan Simmonds:

A lady with a particular interest in what causes leadership discomfort. She recognizes that ladies are time poor and under pressure. Natasha is helping them to focus on who they are and where they need to be. Allowing them to achieve the best results for themselves and their teams.

Nathan Simmonds:

With a career in high HR leadership and organizational development, roles across a range of sectors, and her most recent role was as a people and development director, which is blessed her with a depth of practical experience for building cohesive and impactful teams. And now her work is all about sharing this with other people.

Nathan Simmonds:

Welcome Natasha. Really great to be interviewing you. First and foremost, I want to find out a bit more about you. We’ve had a bit of a conversation already.

I want the people listening to this to find out a bit more about you. So, who are you and why do you do what you do?

Natasha Wallace:

Okay. I’ve spent my career working in HR. Predominantly in organizational development roles. I’ve always led HR teams. But I’ve always had a particular passion for how you create great cultures. And how do you optimize the performance of business whilst keeping people happy? Because I’ve always believed that those two things should sort of work in synergy with each other.

Natasha Wallace:

My career has seen me manage culture change projects. I’ve lead the development of leadership development programs and co-design, co-facilitate those. I do a lot of work around talent management and career management. I spent 10 years in professional services up until starting my own business.

Natasha Wallace:

That was quite interesting actually. Being with an organization for so long because it’s about how do you sustain the performance? How do you put things in place that are actually going to work for the long term? And I worked as part of a partnership. Our whole modus operandi I guess was, well we called ourselves a ‘Succession partnerships’. We were developing people for the future.

Natasha Wallace:

So we wanted to put as much into people and get them as I guess, developed as we could because we would hope that some of those people would take over the running of the business in the future. I was immersed in a world where sustainable performance was really, really important.

Natasha Wallace:

And that’s part of what I do now is; how do you help leaders to work in a way and operate in a way, run their businesses in a way that they can achieve performance? Because that’s ultimately what we are trying to do in organizations, but without sacrificing wellbeing.

Natasha Wallace:

Then I burnt out myself. I didn’t achieve high performance without sacrificing wellbeing, so that was my own personal experience. That was a real wake up call to me. So about three years ago I hit the wall, so to speak. It was a real surprise for me because given that in my mind I was somebody who understood how to achieve sustainable performance and also had to take care of people.

Natasha Wallace:

I guess part of the role of the HR professional is making sure that you are taking care of the people. But I didn’t take care of myself. That taught me an awful lot about being a leader and achieving good results.  I’m massively achievement orientated so I’m quite driven in that respect. But how do you do that in a way that enables you to level log healthy, happy life at the same time? And I think the modern-day leaders, that is a challenge.

Nathan Simmonds:

When you talk about sustainability as HR leader and the teacher of people, you have to be walking the talk. As teachers in the leadership development space, it’s okay that you can read stuff from a textbook, but if you haven’t got the skills to prove actually this is how it works and this is how it benefits other people, people tend not to see a certain amount of credibility where they want… What’s the word I’m looking for?

Nathan Simmonds:

They just don’t believe you. You can tell me that, but actually, how is it relevant to your life? How’s it relevant to my life? What are those experiences you’re sharing that actually make me want to actually live by what you’re teaching me?

Natasha Wallace:

Yeah, absolutely. I’m quite lucky to have had the experiences I have because I’ve been an employee, a leader, somebody who’s working with the board to try and drive performance, and I’ve also developed leaders, so I feel like I’ve sort of seen all sides of it. And I have made my own mistakes as a leader, I didn’t get it right all of the time. Sometimes I got it quite badly wrong, so I’ve certainly learned from that and I’ve learned from my own burner experience.

Natasha Wallace:

So almost sort of triangulating all of that knowledge, I now really trying to, I guess, help leaders avoid that same fate. It’s interesting actually, I can remember getting to a point when I was running the people and development function in my last role and things had gone relatively well for a few years.

Natasha Wallace:

Even on reflection, I think that we delivered pretty good performance. Our engagement levels were always pretty high, I had a good relationship with the team. It was a growing team, so it ended up being quite big in the end. But we did it, to the point where I knew that my team were overworked, I knew that their customers, so leaders in the business weren’t always happy with what we were doing and there was a bit of resistance and pushback, so they had to deal with some difficult challenging conversations and situations.

Natasha Wallace:

And I knew that they all wanted to do a really good job, but I was so in it. I was so close to the situation and knew that I needed to improve things for them. Make the environment easier for them and remove some of the obstacles and strain on them, but it was really hard to do that. You almost wish there was somebody like me who was able to come in as an objective person, like a safe person to have-

Nathan Simmonds:

And shine a light on it fully, just say, “You need to see this.”

Natasha Wallace:

Absolutely. And I would have wanted that person to go and speak to the team and have honest conversations with them, and come back to me and say, “This is actually what’s going on.” So I could go, “Oh, okay.” And even if that was about me, I would have wanted to have had it and I think that’s what being a conscious leader is about.

Natasha Wallace:

Sometimes you have to hear difficult stuff, you have to be willing to hear things about yourself. You have to be willing to change things. You have to be willing to I guess get a bit more uncomfortable before you get more comfortable for the sake of the greater good, but I didn’t have that and actually I ended up on this hamster wheel of having the same problems going round the same problems, not being able to fix them. It was massively frustrating and challenging as a leader.

Nathan Simmonds:

I think it’s Neil Donald Walsh said, “Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.” And to expand as leaders, as parents, as entrepreneurs, we have to be a conscious enough to say, “Actually, I don’t know this, I don’t have all the answers. I can see how this is going down.” And have a little bit of forethought and that long time you were talking about earlier, “Okay, what’s going to happen? If we continue down this road, is it positive or negative?”

Nathan Simmonds:

And then having the ability to say, “You know what? We’ve gone down this path far enough, actually this isn’t okay. We either need to change track and jump across or we need to backtrack and then take a different route with a bit more clarity.”

Natasha Wallace:

Absolutely.

Nathan Simmonds:

And a lot of leaders, I think when they’re so far in the trenches, they suddenly think that they can’t own up to this, they can’t put their hand up and say they were wrong or they’ve made a mistake, and they feel like they’ve got too far in to pull out and then something breaks, and something catastrophic happens.

Natasha Wallace:

Yeah, definitely. I think also as leaders, you expect yourself to have the answers, so I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be able to figure it out. I’ve certainly learned the power of co-creation is awesome in so far as speaking to two or three people outside of yourself to get their perspective and input can be the thing that really unlocks the answers to the problems.

Natasha Wallace:

When I say leader, I mean anybody who has got responsibility for people. You might call yourself a manager but you’re still responsible for leading people. And I see junior managers and fairly young managers in the same situation. I don’t necessarily think that this is something that comes with years and years of experience.

Natasha Wallace:

You get given responsibility for other people and very often you think, okay, now I need to know exactly what I’m doing. And so you don’t necessarily speak up about the challenges that you’re facing, or the difficulties, or the discomfort you’re feeling as a manager, and so you just knuckle down and get on with it and hope for the best.

Natasha Wallace:

But actually I believe that when you are a manager or a leader, there needs to be that sort of almost shared leadership and maximizing the knowledge, and the wisdom, and the opportunity to co-create around you. So you’re like, “Yeah, I am leading this team but I won’t have all of the answers, so who do I need to speak to or who can I speak to that can help me on this journey?” Because it’s hard.

Natasha Wallace:

Leadership is a really, really challenging role and it takes a lot of mental energy and it takes a lot of your reserves to think about yourself and a whole other pile of people at the same time. And what I’ve learned is that more often than not, we don’t even know how to take care of ourselves to prioritize our own work, to focus our attention of what matters most for ourselves.

Natasha Wallace:

But then scale that to a whole team and it becomes even more complex. So the more support you can get from the people around you, the better. And that fundamentally, all of the research shows that that is one of the aspects that leads to high performance in teams is shared leadership and that sort of cooperation, and commitment, and of doing it together.

Nathan Simmonds:

Great. The challenge is though, when we go from manager to leader, because there is a distinct difference, more often than not we’ve been making widgets, doing whatever we’re doing, and then someone says, “Oh, you’re doing a really good job with that here. Have a responsibility to look after the people that are making widgets. Do a great job, don’t screw it up, we’ll see you in 12 months if you’re lucky.”

Nathan Simmonds:

We don’t get the training to do that and more often than not, what we do is we end up doing or repeating exactly what was done to us by the previous person. And we just repeat the same bad habits because we don’t have enough leadership development in place or decent role models in the environment we’re in. And we don’t go and ask questions for fear of looking weak and being reprimanded for it.

Nathan Simmonds:

And more often than not, we don’t ask because the people that we do ask don’t have the answers either because we’re just repeating what they did previously. So when you talk about conscious leadership it’s like you say, is about being aware, it’s about wanting to ask questions. It’s about also having a certain skillset to ask yourself the questions.

Nathan Simmonds:

And I have always said to people, “I’ve learned some of the greatest leadership lessons from some of the worst so-called leaders that I’ve worked for because I didn’t want people to feel the way that I felt after having been spoken to that way.” So I wanted to do something different, but that takes a different level of self reflection and it takes another certain raft to questions to be able to make that happen as well.

Natasha Wallace:

Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.

Nathan Simmonds:

And I think in reflection to what you were saying is the thing that… This is what I learned a few years ago, the thing that you lack is the thing that you need to give. So that element of actually you needed someone like you right now, the person that you’ve become to actually walk into your organization and say, “By the way, I can see this, this, and this. You might need to tweak this, this, and this, and it’s going to feel like this.”

Nathan Simmonds:

And you’re like, “Ah!” I notice and the weight comes off. And now you know that looking back on your life in retrospect and seeing those fantastic things and those experiences you’ve had, you can now give that to other people that will enable them to move through the pain quicker so that they don’t end up suffering.

Natasha Wallace:

Yeah, absolutely. Actually, I have the benefit of working with young managers, new managers, and also highly experienced leaders. What’s really great about guessing to work with people who’ve got less experience is that they’re less set in their ways, they’ve got less fixed ideas about the way that things should be.

Natasha Wallace:

So actually you can have a conversation with a relatively new manager or even a manager that’s been in post for a couple of years. I’d say, “Actually I think what’s going to work there is this because of this context and because of these people, et cetera.” More often than not, they just go, “Oh yeah. Okay, great.” Off they go and they just do it differently. And that’s amazing.

Natasha Wallace:

So I think the opportunity to work with people at the earliest stages is hugely valuable in important because I think a bit of fixed mindset can creep in the more experienced you are, so I think you’ve got that sort of dichotomy of feeling like you need to know the answers as a leader, having probably got quite a lot of great feedback over the years, which has led you to being a leader in the first place.

Natasha Wallace:

So potentially a little bit of ego creeps then and you believe that you possibly do you have a lot of the right answers. And then there’s the fixed mindset thing, which is the extent to which you are actually willing to change and make mistakes and learn from them. I had definitely become a little bit fixed in my mindset when… Having led teams for 15 years. Although, I was a really young manager and for the most part it had gone okay.

Natasha Wallace:

On reflection, knowing what I know now, I can see that it could have gone so, so much better, but it had gone okay. But I had become quite fixed, so I didn’t realize that for instance, I dominated the conversation quite a lot of the time. I didn’t realize that I was quite happy going away and working on a project on my own and then giving the answers to the team because I believe that I could probably do that.

Natasha Wallace:

And now I coach other leaders who are doing that and I will say to them, “What’s stopping you for speaking to the team now? Speak to the team now. Find out what they think now.” And they’re like, “Oh yeah. Okay.” And then they go and do that and there’s some lovely co-creation that happens.

Natasha Wallace:

But once again, I didn’t have me saying that, but I was in that role. And it’s only now that I’m able to do it, I’m able to work with leaders to challenge them to think that differently and explore whether they maybe are a bit fixed in their thinking in a safe way because I don’t need them to deliver. I’m not in the company, I don’t need them to deliver certain results.

Natasha Wallace:

My main aim is to enable them to be at their absolute best so that they can, and then it’s up to them.

Nathan Simmonds:

And I think that’s a wonderful thing is you’ve become conscious of what you’re doing. I’m going to ask you questions about what kinds of person is in conscious culture. You’ve become conscious through your own pain, your own realizations and reflection. You work in an organization which is then giving you the space to work with other people, which means they’ve got a want and a desire to wake up link some positive changes for the business internally, externally, all those things.

Nathan Simmonds:

And then by you sharing those experiences with people that are earlier in their journey they… And we know this as conscious leaders and coaches, they will supersede us. They will go further than we ever did. The Isaac Newton quote I think is about standing on the shoulders of giants so you can see further.

Nathan Simmonds:

You get to be the giant so someone else can stand on your shoulders and go even further. And it’s such an energizing experience being able to give that sign or ask that question where you get to hear the pennies dropping for that individual and they go, “Now I get it. Okay, I’m going to do that.” And you just pass the wisdom on and it’s just such a liberating feeling.

Natasha Wallace:

Yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:

I’m thinking before we any further, we’re going to ask some couple of key questions here for you. What is a conscious culture in workplace for you?

Natasha Wallace:

The term psychological safety is banded around quite a lot at the moment, but in my view it’s about creating an environment where people could actually be honest with each other. So people could speak up without, I guess the fear of there being repercussions. And it’s also an environment, and it’s not just the leaders that need to take notice although it starts with them. It’s paying attention to what’s really going on.

Natasha Wallace:

When I left my job, I bought these three monkeys that sit on my window cell in my living room. So the scenery, speak, no evil, hear no evil because I wanted it to be a constant nudge, a constant reminder that actually it isn’t okay to just leave problems and leave people to have to deal with their own problems.

Natasha Wallace:

As a conscious leader, you have to get, get involved with that, you have to try and figure it out. And I think a lot of leaders don’t necessarily know how to fix the problems, so they avoid them, but I think that you have an obligation to your people as a leader to remove the strain and obstacles to them being able to do the best job.

Natasha Wallace:

Because fundamentally I see this every day, people do just want to do a good job. They want to go to work, they want to bring value, they want to be recognized for delivering something, contributing something to the bigger picture. They want to have some meaning I guess in what they do. People don’t just go to work for money, even if it’s a background motivator for some people. And so you have to create an open environment where people can speak up.

Natasha Wallace:

And that also is about making sure that people feel included as well. So it’s about noticing who’s speaking, noticing who’s not, creating the space for the people who maybe don’t speak up as much to speak and allowing them to express themselves. And also we’re hearing so much about mental ill health now and this current crisis that we’re facing unfortunately is likely to lead to an increase in mental ill health either during the crisis or after it.

Natasha Wallace:

If you don’t have a culture where people can come and say, “You know what? I don’t feel okay. I’m not doing my best work.” Or, “The role that I’m in at the moment isn’t suiting me for whatever reason.” Or, “The environment that we’re working in. Or, “The ways that we’re working.” Or, “whatever isn’t enabling me right in this moment to be at my best.” Unless somebody can bring that and unless a leader is willing to go, “Okay, talk to me. Talk to me, how do we make this better?” You actually adjust the pressing performance.

Natasha Wallace:

So it’s a misnomer to think that not talking about these problems means that performance will be sustained. It won’t, it’ll be suppressed. So you have to create that space for openness and honesty. I speak to people regularly actually about the fact that their role isn’t quite right for them, or it’s not exciting them, or they feel bored.

Natasha Wallace:

And actually when you have an honest conversation with somebody about that, more often than not, you can figure out how they could tweak their role slightly, or tweak the way that they’re working, or the conversation that they need to have with somebody in order to remove the blockers. And they felt like they had no agency, but through creating that space for the conversation, they did have agency.

Natasha Wallace:

So I think that’s really about conscious… If you know the iceberg analogy of what you see on the top isn’t really what’s going on. It’s everything that’s going on below the surface of the water that’s the real stuff. It’s all the water cooler conversations, the conversations down the pub, the Slack chats between groups of people who have spun off to have a moan about what’s going on in their organization.

Natasha Wallace:

It’s the double signals that people see happening, so the congruence between what the leaders are saying they want and what’s actually happening because the behaviour doesn’t match the words. All of that underground stuff, anxiety, frustration, all of that needs to be raised up to the surface. So that’s the sort of negative side of it.

Natasha Wallace:

And then there’s a positive side. I get hugely excited when I work with teams because I don’t just work with the leader of a team or the leaders. I do that work, but sometimes I get the opportunity to work with people from right across the team or even the whole team. And at the moment I’m working with a whole company, so I get to speak to all of them.

Natasha Wallace:

And you get so much opportunity to see the energy, the bright spots, the ideas, the excitement, the enthusiasm, the knowing that you get within the broader system. If you only have a look at the leaders who are leading the system, you simply do not get under the surface of the problem because as a leader, you’re making an assumption about what’s going on, but you don’t necessarily know the truth.

Natasha Wallace:

So going onto the surface and dealing with everybody in the system means that you actually have this clarity and this energy. I was working with a client a few weeks ago and I had worked with a few of the people in the team and there was a few, just brilliant people in the team, not in the management structure, in the team who were like, “We could do this, we could do that. In many ways, think this is the problem. I think this is getting in the way, but this could be better if we just did this, dah, dah, dah, dah.”

Natasha Wallace:

And the client said to me, “What should be our strategy for making things better? Can you put a proposal together?” And I said, “You literally have everything you need in your team right now. Ask them-

Nathan Simmonds:

Under one roof.

Natasha Wallace:

… you’ll figure it out. Don’t need a consultant to come in with a fancy strategy. Just speak to your team, you’ll figure it out. You might need somebody to structure to put some framework around it, to facilitate some conversations, but you definitely don’t need the consultants to come in and tell you how fix it. You’ve got that.”

Nathan Simmonds:

And I think what happens is people get stuck in the hierarchy and they think that people up here can’t speak to the people down here. And actually if you look… There’s a gentleman that I follow for a while called Giles Hutchins and he works in a very environmental framework. So the oak tree in this same scale is no more, no less important than the ant.

Nathan Simmonds:

In fact, the ant wouldn’t exist without the oak tree and the oak tree probably wouldn’t exist without the ant. So you have to have all of those things working together, and co-creating, and having conversation in safe environments and feeling psychologically safe to have conversations with the CEO and just share ideas to help the whole system to thrive.

Natasha Wallace:

Yeah, I totally agree. I think it takes time to build trust. And I will say to companies sometimes when they’re talking to me about how do we create this culture? I will say, “You’ve going to have to give it a little bit of time because there’ll be some ingrained behaviours that you will need to intentionally shift in order for people to trust each other.”

Natasha Wallace:

There was a great study that was done by Google. They called it Project ‘Aristotle’ and they wanted to find out what led to high performance in their teams. They wanted to get the essence of what high performance was. So they looked at 180 of their highest performing teams to try and figure that out, and they looked at all the normal things that we as HR professionals, leadership consultants back in the day would have looked at.

Natasha Wallace:

Diversity, intelligence, project type, experience and role expertise, all of those things. They didn’t find that any of those were the difference makers. The difference maker, the most significant thing was trust and the ability for people to speak up and take what they call it, personal risk.

Natasha Wallace:

So we now know through heaps of research, not just Google, Amy Edmondson has done a ton of research on this. She published her book, ‘The Fearless Organization’ last year, which was really, really great. I would really recommend any leader to pick that up because it really clarifies what does lead to high performance and it needs to be an environment where you have higher standards, so you’re driving for results, you expect people to deliver good work.

Natasha Wallace:

This isn’t about creating a paternalistic environment where we protect everybody. That’s not what psychological safety is. It’s about, “This is what we want to achieve. This is where we’re going to head. This is what we want to deliver. These are what the targets are. We expect everybody to play this role and we want you to be able to tell the truth.” Those two things can absolutely work in synergy with each other. You don’t need to be the source of nurturing parents.

Nathan Simmonds:

I think there’s a parental element that comes into. You need that transparency. If it’s not working for one person, more than likely it’s not working for 80% of your organization. It’s just that people sit in that bubble and they’re worrying or they’re thinking what someone else is thinking of them, so they don’t actually speak up or share that problem.

Nathan Simmonds:

And then that psychological safety starts to break down. It’s a phrase I’m not versed to and I was going to ask you what is psychological safety? And you’ve covered that. So I have the trust and actually be able to share that and I had to support the whole top to bottom, left to right, all of those things. To be able to speak to the right people, not moan to the wrong person next to the printer.

Natasha Wallace:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:

Which isn’t going to make the change in the world. Leading on from that then; What is a conscious person in your opinion?

Natasha Wallace:

Okay.

It’s somebody who is aware of themselves.

Who spends time reflecting and considering how they’re feeling, how they’re acting, the impact of their behaviour.

They will create a space for that.

You almost need solitude to be able to reflect and then just block this crazy, chaotic, complex world.

Natasha Wallace:

I almost said VUCA, now I’m saying VUCA even though I can’t stand the term VUCA. But anyway, in a volatile uncertain world it can be really, really hard to find a time for reflection and contemplation, and to consider the impact you’re having, or how happy you are, or how well you feel.

Natasha Wallace:

I went from thinking I was really super happy and well within six months to being very unhappy and very unwell. My experience affected my physical health. What I recognized is actually my physical health had been compromised for years and it was only at the point that I broke, that my body just gave up. But I had put myself under strain for a very, very long time.

Natasha Wallace:

So consciousness is about being aware and creating the space for reflection. I meditate a lot. I’m not suggesting people need to go off and meditate. It certainly helps me, but it is about the creation of space. People exercise, you can get into a sort of transcendental reflective space when you run, going for walks, being out in nature, in the shower, all of those times when you go quiet.

Natasha Wallace:

I know an awful lot of people, especially younger people, they’re almost scared of being quiet. They’re scared of not having something going on around them, music playing, something going on, on their phone. The TV on in the background. It’s not just younger people, but it’s definitely something I’ve noticed and recognized.

Natasha Wallace:

But unless you actually clear everything away and allow yourself some time just to be very intentional and to consider what is going on for you, you won’t be conscious. I think that’s a lifetime of work really. I think it’s a lifetime of work to create that space, to consider who you are, to consider whether you’re at your best, to consider whether you’re having the right impact or the best impact on the people around you, to find out what your purpose is, the extent to which you feel well and satisfied. All of those things just need some attention.

Natasha Wallace:

I work with people on that as a coach. You don’t have to have a coach, but it is useful to be able to speak to other people about those things as well. Often you’d learn a lot about yourself from what you learned about other people, so if you get really curious about others, then it’s a really great reference point for understanding yourself because as humans, we really do like that comparison.

Natasha Wallace:

That’s why we say binary sort of yes or no, wrong or right. We like to have something to compare against. So getting curious about other people and getting interested in other people actually is another way of developing yourself as an individual.

Nathan Simmonds:

Amazing. The definition I have of love, which is a bit of a strange tangent to go on a business podcast is not to do with happiness. It’s the ability to give someone else the mirror or trust someone enough to give them the mirror so that you can see yourself and all your faults in it. That for me is the definition of love.

Nathan Simmonds:

As coaches and leadership, trainers and developers, and culture changers, we can see what’s going on because we’ve lived some of that path. We’ve got the battle scars and we’ve been vulnerable enough to dig into that reflection. So, we now have the opportunity to hold the mirror up for other people and help them to get more switched on to what they’re capable of, what they’re going through, the roads they’re going down just so they can see it.

Nathan Simmonds:

The other part you talk about that reflection as you say is a lifetime of work and it is a lifetime’s work and at the same time though, it’s a very small amount of action that’s required to make that change. And sometimes, for me, I have a very busy brain. I’ve gotten over this, what I refer to as the merry go round or carousel of ideas, that’s constantly swirling around in my head and I can’t afford to have distraction because there’s already enough on there.

Nathan Simmonds:

So sometimes getting that peace and quiet, attempting to meditate is very difficult as a leader. Having the right questions though inside my head in a very short format focuses my attention. I say to people, “The quality of your day is dictated by the quality of the questions that you start it with.”

Nathan Simmonds:

So it’s having that initial reflection piece of; What’s working? What’s not working. What can I do to improve this? What’s the next action? Who can I help today? Where am I going to create the biggest impact? So by asking those questions, like you say, it’s on that binary equation, is it good? Is it bad? Okay, what’s the answer I’ve got?

Nathan Simmonds:

How’s that moving me towards purpose? Or moving towards fulfillment? How’s that helping me develop the team so they can be more successful in what they’re doing? And asking a couple of key questions just to get that one degree shift every single day so that when you do get to the end of your life, that has compounded over a course of time and you have discovered a completely different country like Christopher Columbus did by accident. It’s that sort of stuff, which is really important.

Natasha Wallace:

Yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:

Next question for you. Why is it important to be a conscious culture? as an organization.

Natasha Wallace:

There are some very straightforward commercial reasons;

As long as people don’t feel enabled to do a good job, it’s going to be impacting business performance. Whilst people are having conversations away from their leaders and managers, disgruntled conversations, disenfranchised, frustrated conversations, they’re not being sorted out, it will be impacting performance.W

While people aren’t getting what they need in their roles, and they’re not fulfilled, and they’re not motivated, and they’re not infused, it will be affecting performance.

And if people haven’t got the environment to be able to stay well, and I mean that in the broadest way, so physically well and mentally well. The ability to concentrate, focus, prioritize their work, have good relationships, respond in a good way.

Natasha Wallace:

All the things that we need people to do good work, if the environment doesn’t support that, it will affect performance. People won’t be in work, so there’ll be absent. They will be in work but they won’t be doing as good a job as they could be. They’ll be distracted, they won’t be able to focus, they won’t be having the best quality conversations with your customers, with the stakeholders.

Natasha Wallace:

Basically, unless we know what the truth is, unless we know what the hell is going on, it will be impacting performance. And of course, that’s the last thing that any leader, shareholder, individual doing a job wants. We all want the same thing, we all want to be able to go to work and do a good job and produce good results.

Natasha Wallace:

The amount of times I’m working with teams and when I talk to them about what it is they do want to achieve as a team. So what does high performance of good performance look like for them? The majority of the time they talk about mastery, excellence, high standards, high performance. That they want, that they want to do a really good job.

Natasha Wallace:

So the creation of a conscious culture is around how do you make sure that you’re close enough to what’s going on and what could be getting in the way of people doing even better work in order to clear that away so that they can get on and perform. There’s piece of research that was done at a paper published recently about what leads to burnout. The two things that came across in that paper is that obstacles and strain are both significant contributors to burnout.

Natasha Wallace:

And that leaders need to be making sure that those are cleared away so that people can do good work and so they can perform. Another thing, there was a book written around continuous performance management. I can’t remember the authors. I read it last year where they talked about the fact that they’ve discovered now that the majority of under-performance actually stems from environmental conditions, not will and capability, which is historically what HR would have been supporting managers to try and deal with.

Natasha Wallace:

So it’s less likely to be because somebody doesn’t want to do a good job or because they’re not capable of doing a job and more likely to be the environmental conditions they’re in. So it could be resources, it could be systems, tools, processes, policies, leadership, management-

Nathan Simmonds:

That was going to be my next question, is it the people in the environment that challenge that as well?

Natasha Wallace:

Yeah, absolutely. At the end of the day, we all form part of the system. So the tools and the resources, and the processes, and the ways of working are important to provide the infrastructure for a team, but actually, most of the work I do is around the relational stuff. It’s the interrelations between people, both on the sort of peer to peer level and also from a more leader, manager to individuals level.

Natasha Wallace:

When you enable people to have better quality conversations with each other, and as coaches, that’s a lot of what we do, it can really create a better environment. So I will often be working with teams to, I guess raise awareness of what do we want to achieve. So I get people talking about that. Where are we now? What is the gap? And what types of conversations and ways of working do we need to focus on in order to get us there?

Natasha Wallace:

And most of the time when you bring that stuff up, when you create the space for those conversations and when, as you were saying earlier, you asked the right questions and I guess that’s the great thing about our work is that we have learned how to ask questions that open up conversation and help and enable people towards where they want to go.

Natasha Wallace:

Then it can be really transformational, especially when you continue that. So it’s not a one off intervention, it’s a way of working. If we’re constantly asking ourselves these questions and we’re constantly doing that as a collective thing because we want to be better, then the results are exponential really.

Nathan Simmonds:

So whenever we want to do a gap analysis for myself, or doing it with clients or whatever, I know is one of those cliché tools that we use. Coaching is one of the few skills or is a skill and knowledge and the behaviour all at the same time. So like you say, we ask a couple of questions, it’s not a one off intervention.

Nathan Simmonds:

You can ask the same question every single day for the rest of your life and still get a one to three degree shift in thinking outcome and results. So when you start to build that in as a culture, as a behaviour and a skill inside, it seems they can do it for themselves and with the people around them. That trust and business grows is just huge.

Natasha Wallace:

Yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:

I was also thinking, another thing that I want to talk to people about is I believe that people aren’t defined by their environment. They define their environment by what they put into it and it comes downs, I think to that resourcefulness, I could be wrong. 80, 90% of the world do get caught up in their environment and they do believe they can’t make a positive change because they’re stuck in a certain job or they stuck with a certain kind of leader and they believe that they don’t have any power or ability to move that.

Nathan Simmonds:

And it comes down to that resourcefulness. Actually, if we have the right questions available, we can start to look at things in different kinds of ways. And the strange analogy that came to my head, and I’m wondering if the millennial types that are watching this may even know this, but we used to watch The A-Team when we were kids. So Saturday afternoon was watching The A-Team and you’d see these guys would come in to save the day and then it would all go totally wrong and they’d all be trapped in a bomb.

Nathan Simmonds:

Now these four, or five guys were trapped in a bomb without any kind of ways to get out of the problem. And then somehow they will come up with this ingenious idea with a gun that shoots cabbages out of a coffin or something ridiculous and save the day, but it was purely because they were using the skills they’ve got.

Nathan Simmonds:

They were looking at the resources around them in their environment and asking the right questions and actually coming up with new solutions. And that’s just the same for entrepreneurship, for business and for leaders. We just have to start looking at things differently, looking at people differently, looking at ourselves differently with a certain level of optimism, ask them better questions and get some better results and create that culture that you talk about.

Natasha Wallace:

Yeah. And I must admit, in the last 12 months, more companies are asking me to help them to create coaching cultures, and that goes way beyond the ability to ask questions and listen, which are I guess the two foundational skills of coaching. It is about trust, it is about understanding yourself, and your beliefs, and what drives you. It’s about understanding your biases.

Natasha Wallace:

It’s about being able to have difficult conversations. Having honest conversations, that’s a really important aspect of coaching. If you’re shining the mirror, you can’t only bring up the bits that are really good, you’ve got to look at the bits that don’t feel very comfortable as well.

Nathan Simmonds:

You’ve got to have all of it.

Natasha Wallace:

Absolutely. And it’s about the ability to show compassion, and that means you can’t tell people to be compassionate. You have to give them insights into other people’s worlds. That’s such an important aspect of being a coach because I guess we come and are able to do our jobs because we can suspend our belief to some extent and we can limit our judgments because it’s the very nature of what we have to do to be good coaches.

Natasha Wallace:

So in working with leaders, I will help them to their coaching capability by understanding themselves a bit more, by becoming more conscious of who they are, by becoming a bit more conscious of other people in the team’s reality, and then through building that understanding and helping people to empathize and understand each other more, you become a better coach and you become more curious.

Natasha Wallace:

Curiosity is often something that comes out of coaching when I’m speaking to individuals about how they have to solve their problems. I’ll say to them, “What questions are you asking?” “Oh, well, I’m not really asking that many questions.” “Well, why not? Why are you not trying to get under the skin of that?”

Natasha Wallace:

And very often just becoming more curious and asking more questions rather than being in solution mode or in I have no agency and I just have to take this and do what I’m told mode means that people don’t get what they want because they haven’t shown up as a curious person.

Nathan Simmonds:

Great. And it was awesome, the question, What’s the reason you’re asking that question?

You talk about that trust, and that rapport, and that non-judgment, and what’s the reason you’re asking? Are you looking to prove a point? Or just prove someone wrong? Or actually are you genuinely interested in an individual’s growth and development and creating that relationship?

Natasha Wallace:

When I train to be a coach all those years ago, I’ll always remember something that we were taught then, and it is when you’re asking a question, who is this in the service of? Is it in the service of you or is it in the service of them? And I think sometimes as a coach it’s sometimes a bit in your service because you’re trying to help somebody get to where they want to be, and so it’s not totally in the service of them.

Natasha Wallace:

You’re trying to help them achieve results, and so you have some skin in the game. But yeah, I think as leaders and managers really being aware of who is in the service of when you’re having a conversation with somebody can be quite a good frame to guide your questioning.

Nathan Simmonds:

And I’ll say it a million times between here and the day I die is; who is the most important person in the conversation? And I will live by that mantra by myself and I teach that to everybody else as well because if at any point when you’re having that honest conversation with people or you’re doing the coaching, who is the most important person in the conversation?

Nathan Simmonds:

Is it, are you making me look bad? You’re making my results look bad? You’re making my team look bad? Or actually is it all about actually how can I help you improve what’s going on here?

Natasha Wallace:

Yeah. I think there can be quite a lot of conflict there for a leader because at the end of the day they do have to get results delivered and there’s a commercial aspect to this, but I think if you start from the position of criticism and fear, which is, “You’re going to make me look bad and so therefore we need to do something about you.” You’re almost certainly not going to get to where you need to be.

Natasha Wallace:

You need to start from the position of, “How can I enable you as your leader to get you to where you need to be?” And if we keep on trying that or if we, or if I’ve given you as much support as I think I can and it’s still not working, then a different conversation is required, but the starting point should absolutely be about, “How do I get you to where you need to be?”

Nathan Simmonds:

Absolutely. Then you might find out they’re not the best fit for that role. In this conversation, you find out they’re a better fit for somewhere else in the organization or they’re a better fit in another industry and you support that individual wholeheartedly so they can go and do what they’re actually designed to do and create that fulfilment and purpose in their life. It’s a no brainer.

Natasha Wallace:

Absolutely.

Nathan Simmonds:

Otherwise, we just don’t go home feeling fulfilled as leaders because we wander around firing everyone because we think that they’re making us look bad and that’s not okay, and on a human level, let alone a business level.

Natasha Wallace:

Yeah. Absolutely.

Nathan Simmonds:

Right now, I want to say we’re in the middle of a pandemic. I don’t think we’re in the middle of it. I think we’re just scratching the surface of the current circumstances.

Natasha Wallace:

Okay. What instantly comes to me as adult to adult conversations.

Everybody knows what we’re going through, employees and leaders are seeing the same news. We know it’s tough and unfortunately for a lot of businesses it’s affecting the bottom line. It’s affecting long-term features and it’s a real worry. There’s some practical things around how you can make sure that you keep your cashflow and your runway steady.

Natasha Wallace:

Things like, try not to make redundancies, furlough people instead. The government have created this amazing scheme whereby we can keep people employed on 80% of their pay. If you can only afford to give them 80% of their pay, and you can’t top it up, fine. If you can top it up, top it up, put them on furlough, try and just keep things steady for a while. There’s practical things that you can do.

Natasha Wallace:

There’s been a lot of knee jerk reactions that have gone on over the last few weeks with large organizations making tons of people redundant, and now they’re backpedalling to bring them back and furlough them, and some of them aren’t, which is a shame.

Natasha Wallace:

There is a risk that you will get this situation and potential performance issues mixed up, so don’t use this situation to start dealing with performance issues if you can help it. This is a really difficult time for people and if you can furlough them for a certain period of time, and if you then need to deal with performance issues at the end of that period, then do that.

Natasha Wallace:

But I would say let’s try and keep people as steady as we possibly can during what is mentally demanding anxiety and juicing period of time. So that’s some sort of just practicalities. In terms of the support that you can give them to your people, I would say keep people talking, stay connected to them and co-create the answers.

Natasha Wallace:

So with one of my clients, I’m Clearview, it’s a tech company that I work with. We jumped on a call last week, most of the team and said, “This is a difficult time. How are we going to get through it and what is each person doing to deal with this in their own way?” And that created what we called our practical survival guide. So we actually created a survival guide that everybody co-created and the whole team.

Natasha Wallace:

So rather than HR telling people what they could do or rather than the leadership team advising people on how they can deal with this situation, it was co-created. So use the opportunity to co-create solutions, co-create your answers.

Natasha Wallace:

Never has there been a time where we’ve needed to be more conscious, so as leaders it’s about intentionally connecting with people, making sure people know what the priorities are in this new world, keeping them up-to-date with what’s going on in the business because we all know there’s a lack of clarity or a lack of communication during times like this just increases anxiety, which will lead…

Nathan Simmonds:

We’re back recording. We had a technical glitch there, but we are back together. So Tash, floor is yours. COVID-19, how we bring conscious workplaces to life and conscious culture to life in this time right now?

Natasha Wallace:

Yeah. I’ve talked a little bit about how you deal with it organizationally and within teams, but there’s a personal thing here and so far as you need to be consciously aware of how this is affecting you. And we are all being affected in different ways. What I have noticed is this is putting quite a lot of mental strain on people.

Natasha Wallace:

So even people who maybe don’t feel as though they are highly anxious or highly stressed about the situation, I’m hearing lots of people saying they’re having to go to bed earlier in the evenings, or they’re getting much more tired, or their normal evening routine that they’d normally have energy for, they don’t have energy for.

Natasha Wallace:

And it’s because, so normally 95% of what we think is the same as we thought yesterday, what we do is the same as what we did yesterday.

How much of what we do and I think at the moment is the same?

It’s just there’s so much more going on. We’ve had to change the way we’re working, we’re having to reinvent our businesses.

Natasha Wallace:

We’re having to change the way we communicate with people, we’re having to pay lots more attention to people at work. The parents who are working at home, they’re having to blend being a parent and home-schooling into their working day. The amount of energy that we actually expend in terms of your mental capacity is massive.

Natasha Wallace:

And it’s why we are on automatic pilot so much because our brain needs to conserve energy and the best way to do that is to repeat the same program over, and over, and over again. And that actually helps us to be effective and efficient. But at the moment, it’s very difficult, we’re having to shift so, so much of what we’re doing. So just be aware of that, that you’re tired for a reason, you’re waking up in the middle of the night for a reason.

Natasha Wallace:

Even if you don’t feel consciously stressed about the situation, you could be feeling subconsciously stressed about it and you need to take care of yourself. This could last for a while, we may be at home for a while, and so I would say don’t look at this as some sort of two week bleak. This could be the way that you need to continue to work, so I think getting into a routine, making sure you are getting exercise, making sure you are getting fresh air.

Natasha Wallace:

Making sure you are taking time out for yourself and you are getting space. I would recommend things like meditation and journaling for those people who that sits well with. For other people, just make sure you’re getting some time to yourself to do things that you enjoy, the things that make you happy because we need to try and keep ourselves resilient during this situation.

Natasha Wallace:

And also you may be dealing with people around you who don’t feel resilient right now. That’s also very, very demanding and it can put a lot of pressure on. So just making sure that you are aware of where you’re at and how you’re feeling is important.

Natasha Wallace:

With some of the teams I work with, we do the one to 10 how you feeling today? Just as an opportunity to check in, actually how am I feeling today? And it’s amazing. The scores can go from two or three right up to nine or 10 because we’re all in the different places at different times. So just pay attention to that.

Nathan Simmonds:

Great. And I think in this, there are going to be waves of emotion that come through this period. It’s not just going to be through this period, it’s going to be after this period. There’s going to be ramifications of certain things that happen where people have got mental health challenges and they’ve been brought into close proximity with people.

Nathan Simmonds:

And that’s going to bring up other challenges, which are going to then expose other things. And again, it comes back to the idea of trusting to be able to speak to the people around you in your family space, inside your workspace as well. So if you’re working from home and things aren’t okay in the family space, is having those joint up conversations and helping each other.

Nathan Simmonds:

And as we find and expose certain things, things are going to change. I’ve recently posted, we don’t want to go back to normal. Because it’s the normal that basically got us into the situation that we’re in now. So this is a huge amount of change time. Time to change and to embrace that change and enjoy it. But it sounds like a hell of a lot of that trust, it’s going to take a hell of a lot of that psychological safety, is going to take a hell of a lot of conscious leaders and conscious thinkers and conscious culture. This is because your workplace has just changed shape completely; to foster those people and incubate those environments.

Natasha Wallace:

And if we look at some of the attributes of a high performing team; being able to share emotions and storytelling, they’re really important. At the moment, you’ve actually got a reason to do that, to actually express how you’re feeling and to open up conversation around that. It’s around showing vulnerability and that’s something that people now have the opportunity to do because we’re all in this together.

Natasha Wallace:

This has really levelled playing field. This has put us all in to the same situation. Where people will understand why you’re going through, what you’re going through. So use it as an opportunity to create that connection in the team that will lead you to higher performance longer term. It’s a good opportunity to build that togetherness and that connection.

Nathan Simmonds:

Yeah. Something else that came to mind is the longer-term ramifications. We build the relationships now in these small moments where there’s going to be anxiety. There’s going to be emotional tensions that come up because we feel confined or caught up. Actually in 12, 18, 24 months on potentially when things have become the brave new world that we’re heading into, actually there’s going to be some points in that where we come back to this.

Nathan Simmonds:

And trauma is relative and actually it’s about being alert enough as a leader, as a coach and now what we’ll all do together. “I’m feeling like this is likely the people in my team will be feeling this.”. Whether it’s on the micro or the macro level, doesn’t matter. This stuff is going to come back to remind us repeatedly until we process some of those emotions as leaders and workers as well.

Nathan Simmonds:

And just really switching into this, have the conversations. Build the relationship now, get emotional acuity because you’re going to need it for 12 months, 24 months from now as this thing continues on in a different way and as life changes shape as well.

Natasha Wallace:

Yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:

I’ve enjoyed the several conversations that we’ve had already. Thank you very much, Tash for your time. The last part from me, where can people find you to have more of these conversations?

Natasha Wallace:

They can go to my website, which is conscious-works.com. You can me at [email protected] I’m on LinkedIn if you look up Natasha Wallace. My book, The Conscious Effect: 50 Lessons for Better Organizational Wellbeing. You can get it in pretty much all of the online book retailers.

Natasha Wallace:

What’s been so lovely is in the last week or so, I’ve had quite a few people get in touch with me. They’ve said, “I’m re-reading your book now because it’s really helpful to me now because it talks about how to understand yourself and take care of yourself, and how we deal with stress and ambiguity.” So a lot of the messages I wrote, I guess 18 months ago, all of a sudden are things that people are trying to figure out, so it’s worth a read. That’s a shameless plug, isn’t it?

Nathan Simmonds:

It’s not a shameless plug! What you wrote about 18 months ago was relevant in one space and very necessary, is now even more poignant and even more relevant. Moreover, it’s even more necessary right now as we stretch our connections in different ways across the virtual workspaces. And actually remembering what is culture is culture, just where we sit in our office always culture.

Nathan Simmonds:

An environment we create and co-create with the people that are most important to us. That’s the important part. So not a shameless plug. The Conscious Effect: 50 Lessons for Better Organizational Wellbeing, a practical guide for leaders building inclusive cultures. Oh! Buy it, read it, enjoy it. The sound effect was on purpose because I’m excited about that. Please go and find the Natasha Wallace’s work, she’s doing some great work.

Nathan Simmonds:

I love having the conversations, I love sharing with her. One of the reasons we wanted to share with Making Business Matter for you guys. We are also doing some extra things talking about mental health. We’re also producing a deck of cards for mental health wellbeing to help leaders ask the right questions of their people in emotional times. And we would also be providing this over the next week or so.

Nathan Simmonds:

Hopefully by the time you’re listening to this, this will be available. Tash will be sending you a copy as well so you can use that and shamelessly plug them for us at the same time. All right?

Natasha Wallace:

Fantastic. Of course.

Nathan Simmonds:

Amazing. Thank you very much and thanks very much for listening. We look forward to getting you on the next episode and we’ll speak to you soon.

Natasha Wallace:

Thank you.


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