March 29,  2021

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This week, the host of Leading ForwardChristie Berger, joins us for Part One of a two-part episode where we touch on leadership growth and management from both the company and employee perspectives.

Christie has worked with numerous Fortune 500 organizations and across multiple industry segments. Additionally, Christie’s Fusion program is a year-long cohort for female leaders to grow and expand through a blend of group coaching, private speakers and community networking.





Chris Nichols  00:10

Hello, and welcome to the Talent Tide Podcast, the show that ensures you have the information you need to adapt and evolve your workplace culture as you ride the wave of change and talent management. I’m your host, Chris Nichols. And today, I’m chatting with my friend Christie Berger, about building strong executive teams and creating a modern workplace. Welcome, Christie, thank you for being on the show.

Christie Berger  00:30

Thanks so much, Chris, for having me. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

Chris Nichols  00:34

Well, I’m excited to have you. We’ve worked together in a couple of different scenarios. You’ve moderated some panels for me and conferences, and we did something last fall here in Middle Tennessee. So I’m excited to talk about – actually get to talk to you today. Normally, we’re like doing the same thing. So you know, I was – I did your bio earlier, I was reading through it. And the list of names on your bio that you’ve worked with, and people that you’ve worked with, is like a who’s who of Nashville and large, medium sized organizations, healthcare, electronics, manufacturing, pet food, I mean, it’s everything, right? But what I find that’s interesting about a lot of companies is there’s some core principles that I think that every company has, and I wanted to talk to you first to kick things off. What really separates the good companies from the average in your experience and those that you’ve worked with?

Christie Berger  01:32

Oh, what a really big question. And I would start off with, I think something that we’re all familiar with is culture, you know, and I say that in a way, culture can sometimes, you know, I think now we’re understanding the importance of that as in the fabric of the organization, and it really is the engine at which the company operates, and which yields the productivity and output, right, which ultimately determines the success of a company. You know, I was on a call earlier around – today actually talking about culture. And when I drill down, we think about what is culture really, it’s just leadership that manifests through a multitude of exchanges throughout the day. So it’s this behavioral aspect that shows up and in our conversations and in the way in which leaders engage with their teams and with each other. So you know, I would say culture in the broadest sense, but then leadership, right, I think they’re, I think they’re intertwined. When we really think about actual versus aspirational, and what makes in really what sets separates really great companies, from maybe companies, you know, that are still effective. But when we think about longevity over time, what is that going to look like? Right? There’s more of a question mark around that. And so when you think about what differentiates that these companies from one another is, is at the core, the culture piece. I can say, in working with some of these, some of the companies that I’ve got the honor to work with, and partner with, for so many of those, if you were to look at my website, or the list, and you see these companies, they’re all so great, but they’re all so different too. That said, I have worked with companies that, I’ve walked in and within the first meeting, or a couple of meetings, you feel that there’s something different, right? And so you kind of have to look and say, “What is that differentiating factor,” as someone like myself walking in and engaging with a company and within an hour, I can feel, to some degree subjectively, what the culture is, right, and whether or not actually want to be a partner within that organization. You know, because at this point, you know, I love to be able to say is that I also want to choose who I work with, to and working with those cultures and those leaders that understand it, and really value people. And, of course, winning and driving the business and, and being successful, but that culture and that people connection is so critical. When I think of what differentiates really great companies, from others.

Chris Nichols  04:21

Well, you mentioned two things there. I mean, leadership and culture, they’re both subjective, right? And how you define that, and in how other people perceive it too that it’s all part of a perception that you take in. So how do organizations take how they feel about their organization and share it authentically? You know whether it’s with their employer brand or in their – even in their sales marketing, right? Like, how do you relay that message authentically, where you break through the noise of the great advertising agencies out there that they can put a spin on anything? Do you have any thoughts around that?

Christie Berger  05:00

I think the strongest messaging that really underpins an organization is the communication that the employees have within their communities, and the connectivity to the external constituencies that they engage with. Right, that’s going to be the biggest, biggest driver and factor on the perception of an organization and perception is reality, and what you know, some of those things that you’re referencing there, but I think when we think about, you know, the employees, is it, is it a great place to work? Is it a great place to work with, like, if you’re a supplier, or if you’re, you know, some level of a vendor or partner with organization? You know, any company can put out external marketing messaging, right, that can in I would say, it’s almost similar to any company can, you know, come together and co-construct their values and mission statement and purpose statement, all those things, and it looks so great on the wall, or, you know, on in the book, or whatever the case may be. Same thing with external communications. So we got to say, what’s going to be the strongest driver around that perception is that is that the messaging in the referral system, and that the way in which that is shared within the community, and within internally or externally, I think would be even more powerful and impactful over time, than any kind of shiny communication message that can be constructed. You know, either like advertising or, or, or otherwise.

Chris Nichols  06:37

Right? There’s a lot of good creative, but it doesn’t, it doesn’t cover up for word of mouth, right? What people have to say about you. So you have a very interesting role with organizations and with people and in my opinion as a coach. You not only coach teams and organizations, but you also coach individuals as well, correct? And so what, what is it that the leaders that you’re – in the developing leaders that you’re coaching today, what are the skills that that they’re seeking out? Because I think that when we all are – we all are looking for more, right, Christie? Like, how do I take the next step? How do I get people to follow me better? Or how do I get people to engage more? How do we grow this? And all of those questions seem to come back to some core principles. So what do you – what are you helping individuals with to grow in their careers and then to grow as leaders?

Christie Berger  07:32

Yeah, that’s such a real such a great question. Yeah, I would say yes. And in my practice, you know, I’ve been doing this for 12-13 years now. And in my practice, the majority of the work that I’m doing is one on one leader and executive development work in the coaching sense, and I also do some team coaching things as well. But when it comes to the one on one coaching, engagement, and development, it really is going to be dependent on where that leader is at. You know, because it could be very different with a leader that is moving into management, maybe mid-level management versus getting ready to move into a C level position. So we think about the competencies and the skills that we’re going to focus on from a developmental standpoint, it’s really, we have to ascertain what those are going to be and determine where that leader is at currently. And, you know, there’s this whole premise of, of, you know, what got you here won’t get you there, so to speak. And we’ve all heard that right. Marshall Goldsmith is wonderful with that. And it’s true in this sense. So when you take you take the lens of saying, okay, in a coaching engagement, what are we going to work on? So we have to say, first and foremost, what is important to the business? Right? What role how do we define success for the role that that leader is in or moving into? So we have to kind of almost objectively define the competencies of success for the role. And then we overlay the leader and what they bring kind of into that role, what are their strengths? What are their opportunities? What are the skills and the competencies that they need to move into, and maybe move away from, right, because if you’re moving up in the organization, early on, you’re really dependent on those technical and functional expertise, you’re, you’re really commended on doing an execution and operationalizing things. And so as you move up in the organization, you really have to start to move away so much from depending on those into truly saying, what are the leadership capabilities, that is going to be important as you move into maybe a functional leader role or even higher as a department leader or business unit leader. And so depending on where that that executive or that leader is at, overlaying it with what is needed in the business and the current business climate, external climate, then we start to construct a plan or a picture, if you will, of what the coaching and development of focus will be. And the beauty of one on one coaching in this way that is truly customized and intimate, because the work that I do is 6 to 12 months with the leader is that, you know, we’re getting to make it exactly for where they are. So the things that we’re going to focus on will meet them where they are, but also with the hyper focus on getting them to accelerate their performance in the role that they’re in or get them ready to make that transition to the role that they’re going to be going into. So it really is to go back to your point around subjectivity that we just marked on earlier, it really is kind of dependent on the uniqueness of the leader and the role and the organization when we talk about culture, right? I always like to find out if it’s a company that I’ve never worked in before, I always say, you know, I want to know about the culture, I want to know, what’s important to this business? What are the strategic objectives of this business? How, what are the unwritten rules of leadership in this business, in this organization, because I think we can too quickly take for granted and put on this prescriptive element around what’s going to work in one organization, even if it’s in the same industry, that I would be doing disservice to my client and the leader, if I just take that in and apply it elsewhere. So I really want to understand it. And then we craft a, the engagement in a way and the focus in a way to meet that all those unique components of the leader and the organization.

Chris Nichols  11:38

Right, and you made a few good points there along the way about how you’re evaluating the individuals and the organizations that you work with. And you’re now at the point where you also get to make a choice, right, as far as like what you – what and who you work with. So what are the qualities that you’re looking for? Or kind of the benchmarks that you have if I’m an executive leader, and I’m looking for the ability to take the next step? What are you needing to see, Christie?

Christie Berger  12:12

Well, there are a couple things around that. What I want to see at kind of a base level is that are you open to learning? Are you open to do the deeper work to really understand what’s going to be needed to be successful going forward, and then being willing to make the investment in yourself and to give the time and the commitment to do that work? Right, and to get uncomfortable? So there has to be this this when I’m kind of looking for coachability and readiness in that initial conversation. And for those that I have a feeling that are I kind of get at this point. Now. They’re ready. They’re 100% in. They’re open. They’re open to learn and to listen and to be willing to, to explore things that they haven’t explored around what defines great leadership for them. So you know, it’s going to be dependent on some of those early conversations around what’s important to the organization and what’s important to the leader.

Chris Nichols  13:12

Sure. So when you think about the importance of what’s, you know, what’s important to leaders today, how are organizations addressing the challenges that we had today with the workforce and becoming more virtual, working from home. I think a lot of organizations probably weren’t as prepared as they would have liked to have been. It forced a lot of organizations into change management, that they probably have been pushing off for some time. So how, how have you been – what are those conversations been like with those organizations with relation to team building and to talent attraction, and acquisition and onboarding? How are they getting people up to speed right now?

Christie Berger  13:57

Yeah, so I’m just going to drill into the one area that you noted there is around leading the change that in which we had to lead differently in the last year, and how leaders and organizations had to really pivot around that pretty quickly. And, you know, I know you’re smiling there. And I was too when you when you just made that note is that, you know, organizations didn’t have a choice. Leaders didn’t have a choice to expedite some of those things when it came to, you know, embracing technology, redefining what productivity and the way in which we work, right. And so there’s some more conservative companies that were really resistant to that. And then you had some companies that could see the importance of it, but they were wanting to kind of slow roll that. Well, we just got the band aid ripped off, right. And so all these companies are they’re pre-emptive notions and maybe assumptions around what is going to work or what isn’t going to work – we proved it worked. Right. And I think we talked about on an individual level, you know when for leaders, there were some companies where the leaders really were ahead of the game and were already geographically dispersed. So they were used to the technology, they were used to when you talk about talent engagement, and development and, and staying aligned and connected, you know, they were ahead of the game. I will say, though, I mean, the level which the pendulum had to swing was, even for those folks that were maybe used to leading, you know, being geographically dispersed. This was kind of – it actually went even further, it kind of pushed the envelope, right, because now everything that they did became virtual and video, so but they so there’s fatigue around that. On the other side of the coin, you know, there are many leaders and organizations that were not used to that. And so when we think about early on, you know, crisis leadership, change management, all those things that your companies just were thrown into, and leaders at an individual level were thrown into, while they’re also juggling and struggling on their own in their personal worlds, because we all – none of us were immune. Right. And so when we think about, you know, how, how we kept engaged for those leaders, it took more of a transition, right, and it took more of the company and key leaders in, in, in the kind of the executive level to say, how do we give our people the resources? And the quick cliff notes version of how to do this? And how do we also be sensitive to the stressors and which we all faced, and our people are facing, especially when we’re talking about engagement? And really retaining our workforce? Because there was this fear around one, I mean, the primary importance at that time was safety. Right? So we had to address safety and business continuity, safety and business continuity. Once you get past the kind of that kind of foundational components, then we got into how do we meet people where they are based on their, their own struggles that they may be facing, right in that whether it be not knowing how to use technology, or some personal things going on. So when we think about how the talent retention and engagement and embracing, you know, all the things that we had to embrace around communication and technology, I think, I think we are better off for it. But it was really difficult for a lot of leaders and organizations early on. And now we’re at this place to say okay, it’s almost that we’re still in the storm a little but it’s calmer, right, we see there’s a little there’s some sunrays beating through and I almost want to say it’s, it’s we’re all fatigued, but it’s fatigue sprinkled with optimism. So I you know, we’re kind of figuring out we’ve got this place – I work with a lot – I’ve had conversations with Chief People Officers or CHROs and you know, they really do have a seat at the table now more than ever, and they’re having these conversations of going, what is going to – what is work look like? How do we redefine that for our company? And how does that relate to talent development? How does that relate to what we need to do from a leadership development? How do we then redefine connectivity, engagement, and how we monitor that? And so I think that’s a conversation that many organizations, Chris, and you’re probably having the same conversations. That is top of mind right now.

Chris Nichols  18:19

So there were two things that you hit on there. One was leadership dispersement. And the other was change management. So I’m going to go to change management first. But did we learn anything about change management in 2020? With the COVID-19 pandemic that is long lasting? Or was it a flash in the pan situation when it comes to how we treat change management?

Christie Berger  18:43

Well, I’ll say that some companies, here we go back to what makes companies great, what differentiates companies, I think to this, the answer to this question, great companies that really embraced this disruption, and really took the time to reflect and say, “Okay, what are we gaining from this experience? And how do we leverage that experience and leverage that momentum of change?” They are going to do well, right. They’re going to continue to learn and be iterative and fluid and agile around that. So when the next disruption occurs, they’ll be better prepared. That said, you know, for other companies, it may be the symbolic flash in the pan, so to speak, because they’re looking at how do we get back to normal? You know, you hear this chasm of conversation with leaders around you know, those how do we get back to normal? Well, you know, that is actually looking in the rearview mirror. They’re trying to go and go back to what where we were where other companies and more innovative companies, great companies and great leaders are going, “No, what is the new normal and how do we define that? How do we co construct that? How do we take some of the things that we have experienced and continue to build on those?”

Part Two coming next week!