Joerg Schmitz 0:08
Welcome to The Inclusive Leader Podcast. The practice of inclusive leadership enables us to tackle the complex challenges of our times. This is the space for conversations about inclusive leadership. I am your host, York Schmitz and I welcome you to this episode. Here is the second part of my conversation with Jonah Nicholas, the founder of wellbeing outfit, a leading provider of mental health and wellbeing programs, please enjoy,
Jono Nicholas 0:39
once I understand that bridge idea for can come up with creative concrete solutions that in almost all circumstances costs you in material terms very, very little. But the outsides benefits for your people are enormous, and therefore you get high engagement, high wellbeing, high performance.
Joerg Schmitz 0:58
And that's, by the way, why I'm so excited around this, this, again, ties to at least my understanding of inclusive leadership, right, that we spend time thinking about what are the inclusive spaces we need to build now, right? And what features do they need to have. And that means that we simply need to challenge our own mental models and assumptions. It's not always, like you said, more costly, or so it's just, it's just changes what we associate with the office, right? Or being in the office, it's just about breaking some of those habits of association,
Jono Nicholas 1:33
and being very intentional, using data, using data to segment to understand what might be really important. So it's just been Halloween, and I was talking to a leader. And I was like, Can I, I'm gonna make you a bit, you know, what's that? I was like, no one's gonna turn up in the office with kids between the age of five and 12, on Monday. And he's like, why how do you know that guys made a couple weeks ago is like, because every 10 year old is going to want to do trick or treating, and they're going to want to do it at five to 530. And every parent is going to know that kids are going to be on a sugar rush. And you're going to be out of control by 7pm. And they don't want to be at the office that day, if they can leave at 430 Take the keys. And the pause was it was like, I didn't even know it was Halloween, I was like, that's the issue, your experience is not their experience, you can just quickly survey five parents, so tell you that it's going to be a disastrous Monday, and that if they could stay home, that it'd be better, it would lower family conflict, they would get their kids settled, they'll have a great experience. And he went, Okay, and then an ogee contacted me yesterday when no one was in the office. So they're the sorts of things when you kind of get into that space, you don't need a lot of data, you're you can make some pretty good assumptions by putting yourself in the head of you know, your people and getting them to share it, and they will share what is actually driving them far more easily, because you've been thoughtful.
Joerg Schmitz 3:05
And this is actually a whole different strand of conversation around the use of what is data, right? And how do we use it? Because oftentimes, we have the data we can actually, but do we interpret it? Do we do we got a frame of interpretation that we could operate and, and that is not in the data? That's actually a deeper level of understanding of what what are people facing? So we need to, we need to do exactly what you said, you know, be curious, ask a few people don't assume. And, and then think about, okay, what are the implications of what I'm learning
Jono Nicholas 3:40
figures, I think what I'm known as consulting to big organizations here is they're obsessed with the collection of data. And they're obsessed with the collection of quantitative data, that's representative, right. So you've got a company and say, 1000 people, and, you know, they go, we need a survey that at least gets you know, 40 to 60 years response rate. And then so they spend maybe a month doing a campaign telling people that data is coming, then they spend another two weeks breaking down the data, because they've now got to break it down by department. And they have no working hypothesis for that data. Right. So if you're a scientist, you don't just randomly go around the world and collect data, you have a working hypothesis, the working hypothesis is that people between the ages of 25 and 45, with kids under the age of 10, will have a different relationship to the office, then people aged 45 and older who have a simpler domestic life. That's a hypothesis could be right or wrong. Then you go out and you get data and you go actually, let's test that hypothesis to see whether you're right or wrong. And what that means what we do in corporates, which I find fascinating is you reverse that whole process you collect endless amounts of data with no hypothesis. And then the game is to see whether measurements gone up or down. Yeah, you go. Engagements up. Three points. So I was like, what does that mean? I don't know, which is good because it has a green arrow that goes up. I was like, we're like kind of kindergartens, like, Are there more green arrows and red arrows I was like, that is really kind of not the driver, right. And so people get tired of giving you data. But also, we massively overcomplicate the process, when you would say, actually, if I have a working hypothesis, what you get when you're doing science, is you look for an intervention against that data that has very, very high upside and zero downside cost. And so you go, Okay, if I could find that intervention point, I don't need a lot of data to act. Because if I'm wrong, there's no cost. If I'm right, there's a massive upside. So miners will take a take a bit. And so you use my example of putting in place a bunch of tables in school holidays, and setting up some iPads for kids and creating a kind of a kid's club. Because what's the hypothesis, the hypothesis is that will be a really good benefit for parents. And actually, no one else in the workforce will particularly care. And we have good office space, because it's not being easy. Okay, you can test that for one school holidays, if none of those parents bring their kids in, it was a dumb idea. And you know, do it again, if you get 50 kids come in, and it turns out as a really awesome thing, then you go, I've learned something, right. And that my kind of part of it when I talk about this idea of predictive psychology and making psychological bets, based around pretty broad demographic assumptions that have high upside low cost, you can actually do a lot to improve well being and performance. Without over engineering solutions. You don't have to set up a permanent daycare at your office, you can just do one day and school holidays and see how it goes. And so they're the sorts of things I would say, are the really big opportunities, and we advise organizations on when we talk about high wellbeing, high performance, it's really understanding data, understanding people, understanding how people a likely respond to external cues and putting in place bets that have high upside low cost. And if you are engaged, you can do that kind of all the time. This means you have to be interested in those ideas.
Joerg Schmitz 7:20
Well, and in fact, I mean, it's really not not not a strange idea to business, right? When you think about this is almost like a continuous improvement on your the environment you create for your people right on and not assuming the state needs to be static. And we
Jono Nicholas 7:37
do it all the time, which I find fascinating coupon businesses all the time for customers, right? They, oh, if we're involved in retail, I dress this mannequin in this set of clothes and see whether people buy it if I arrange the tables this way does it create, we create unique experiments all the time for customers,
Joerg Schmitz 7:55
also around products, right product development, and so forth all the time?
Jono Nicholas 7:59
What fascinates me is like, why do we think that this is an idea that is not kind of repeated. And I think for leaders coming out of COVID, what I would say is getting you know, my third practical piece of my first piece of advice was segment the customer. The second piece of advice is then once you've done that, look to set up experiments that have high upside zero cost, or at least very, very low downside cost. The third one, then is to use the opportunity of people's change relationship to the nature of work to really look for transforming how your company runs through a series of these experiments. Because what we're seeing in most organizations is a burnt out workforce, a huge amount of economic stress that's coming in for a lot of our people. So our people are going to experience some sort of mental health challenges over the coming years as as the economy settle down, and that most organizations are going to need to galvanize the workforce that they've got, because turnovers have increased and attract new workforce. And it's a relatively limited pool for most industries. So if you think about it, if you do some of these things slightly better than your competitors, then the upside in terms of retention, in terms of focus, the upside in terms of talent attraction are enormous in what is otherwise a fairly limited pool, and you're not really doing a lot. You just tweaking things in that sense.
Joerg Schmitz 9:40
Absolutely. So I have a quick question on this because this is one element that attracted me to your work early on is the work you're doing in psychological safety. And you know, we haven't mentioned that explicitly in there, although it's kind of the implications are also pretty clear. Would you mind just saying a few things on psychological safety? Because I think it's fascinating what what you do?
Jono Nicholas 10:07
Yeah. So this is one of the training programs we run is for leaders around psychological safety. And the reason why we put it in an l&d training program your is, it is a learnable set of skills, right. And more importantly, it is a loadable set of skills specifically for leaders. So what we're seeing in organizations is they talk a lot about psychological safety, but they don't connect it to training, learning about how you have to lead differently. So well, we kind of know when those read the work of Amy Edmondson, have a look at some of her TED Talks. There's lots of great content out there, that's pretty pretty digestible, is really there are three drivers. The first driver is what might be called authenticity. But it's really a sense of can I engage in solving problems in this group within this group, rather than second guessing what people will think about me as I engage in the solving problems, right. And so the level of psychological self editing goes down when people are more authentic. The second kind of party's connectedness, and connectedness is do I actually like the people I'm spending time with? And secondly, do I trust that they will take my input into solving problems? With good intent? Often what you described the easiest kind of question, I'd say it kind of the acces, to each of your team members feel as if the other team members have their back. Because if we don't, if we don't believe that our team members have our back, we don't take risks. And then the third part is growth, am I willing to be vulnerable, to put myself in places of discomfort to be a better version of myself, in in high psychologically safe teams, they're teams that like each other, they trust each other, they can be authentic, because their colleagues know quite a lot of stuff about them. They know that I'm a father of three children, they know that my family were refugees from Malta. So when I bring my experiences to bear, they know a lot more about me because I'm authentic and share, right? And that that sharing goes into a DNI agenda. That actually, our differences as an Australian and a German who's even America, are actually seen as a strength rather than a source of conflict. So those two things go together in a really powerful way. And then this third part, that's actually the missing ingredient in psychological safety, which is, we sit as a group in this cognitive stretch zone, where I'm going to assume that every conversation between you and I is going to be one where I'm intellectually challenged. What we find when we work with teams, is they think psychological safety is high authenticity and high connectedness. And what you get in those teams is massive amounts of conflict avoidance.
Joerg Schmitz 13:04
Yes, absolutely. Because I
Jono Nicholas 13:07
don't want to take a risk in being growing, because I don't want to, or I don't want to give you negative feedback. I don't want to have a difficult conflicting conversation with you. You're because I like you, I trust you. And I don't want to damage the relationship. What you find in high psychological safe teams is they have fierce conversations. But those conversations happen in a way where the conflict binds the team rather than tears it apart. But what they do is they practice again, and again and again, conflicted conversations, what's really missing when you operate and understand those conversations is they always sit at the emotional surface zone, it's always about the idea. The challenging and the conflict around the idea never dipped into an emotional conflict. And it never dips into an identity conflict. So what you find in teams with low psychological safety is when there's conflict that very quickly goes into me saying, Well, you would say that your because your German ego won't, and you can't do anything about that now, right? I've made a global assessment. And now we're in an identity conversation where you go, had a you what does that mean? People often say that in a funny way, well, that's just how Germans think, right? Or that's just that's just what Australians do, right? We say it in this way. But really, it's about we're not going to have a conversation about an idea. Because we're now having a conversation about an identity. And once you're in that, that conversation dies away. You can't have a interesting growth based conversation so that when we work with the teams, that's the important part,
Joerg Schmitz 14:39
another real implication for inclusive leaders, I think, and especially in that the DNI conversation that is so much about identity and where identity becomes the default or explanatory model through which we see other otherness
Jono Nicholas 14:53
Yeah, and keep in mind is people are really interested in psychological safety, right, some of that the theory around it says learnable skills. The other book I'd recommend people read, which is fascinating is thinking fast thinking slow. Because what it really helps people understand is how much of our behavior is driven by these unconscious mental models. And so when I say things like you would say that because you're German, I have a mental model of how Germans think, operate their culture, that allows me a shortcut, in the same way that I have a shortcut that says, you know, strawberries are going to be sweet. I don't have to taste every strawberry to understand that the likelihood is that stroke is so when we create these mental models that create shortcuts that create biases that were negative turn into racism and prejudice. So for example, that the starting point of all that is actually a core part of brain functioning, which is our unconscious or fast brain spends most of its time creating shortcuts between data to create a way in which we can navigate large amounts of information without becoming cognitively overwhelmed. And that when people understand that, that's not because I'm intending to do it, it's just the way the brain operates, you can therefore unwind those mental models to have a much better conversation. So those two areas I think, are the most fascinating when you talk about our work around psychology, and understanding how psychology influences organizational performance, which is helping leaders and individuals understand this is what the brain wants to do. And if you aren't aware of it, then you're going to fall into mental traps again and again and again and again, that ultimately is going to lead to bad outcomes.
Joerg Schmitz 16:49
So I have to ask you, even though I think I can guess the answer, based on what you said, But why, why why did why did this become your focus your, your professional focus?
Jono Nicholas 17:00
Yeah, I lost a friend of mine to suicide when I was 14 years old. So I made a decision. At that point in my life to dedicate my life and career around mental health law, being a specialist in suicide prevention at university, wrote a thesis around it, and was originally going in a clinical path, was going to do a clinical PhD, and met a person called Jackie, who's the founder of reach out. In 1997. Rachel was the first digital mental health service in the world. And we launched it. And so just went down a different kind of career path. And the standard clinical one did my master's in public health because I was interested, because of our work at reach out in this mix between psychology, which is fundamentally about individual behavior and public health, which is fundamentally about group behavior, my populations, and how do you bring those two theories together. But the work that we're now doing on high Well, being high performance really kind of struck me when I was CEO, I became CEO reach out when I was 32. I served the organization for 22 years. So CEO for 10 years, that wouldn't say to people, I could have only become CEO reached out, I was not well, schooled in the craft of being a CEO. But I knew Richard very well, because I helped create it, I knew I couldn't become a leader of this organization, but I couldn't become a leader of any other organization. And so as a result, I became really fascinated by being the best leader that I could. And one of the things that struck me was actually a lot of my psychological training was fantastic in leadership. You know, understanding people, understanding emotional motivation, sitting in conflict, a lot of therapy is about sitting in conflict. It's sitting in intense emotions. And one of the things that I spoke about to our team, because obviously running in suicide prevention, mental health organization, our team experienced a lot of stress who genuinely dealing with life and death, things on a weekly basis was our mission was to help all young people be happy and well, and I said to Roy, my mission is to help get our mission outside our door, if you're not happy, and well, if we're not committed to the idea that we can be happy and well, how can we demand that of vulnerable young people? Why do we how can we set a higher expectation for them than we would ourselves? And so I said, my kind of job is about constructing an organization where this is going to part of it, we had lots of conversation and mission, values, culture, you know, the idea of the the holiday club happened when I was at reach out. And so it was a natural extension when I went and left reach out, to start up my own business to say, how do I kind of take that into other organizations that you can use psychology to do better leadership that really came into this more succinct ID that says if we can help organizations align, high well being and high performance that's great and but also, to be honest, you're it's also me understanding as a CEO If you just talk about high well being of your people, that is not a good CEO question. Right? That's a question that a CEO delegates to the head of people, because fundamentally the CEOs, responsibilities, the performance of the business. So if you want to engage leaders, particularly senior leaders in questions of well being of your people without them delegating it, and looking for red and green arrows going in funny direction, then you actually have to craft it as a performance question, you have to be able to look a CEO in the eye and say, I reckon I've got a way in which you can untap some of the value in your business, to improve its profitability, improve its performance, in a way that in many cases reduces cost, that is a good question to have for a CEO, there will always be said whether it be supply chain IT management, better purchasing, it's all about creating are looking for ways in which we can tap into value in the business. Often what we've described mental health and well being as for leaders is our this is all about a staff benefit, or a welfare lens, or looking after your people. And for me, that's why many leaders haven't really invested in this space enough, in the way that, you know, a leader would spend a lot of time understanding customers, that's been a lot of time on product design, that's been a lot of time on supply chain management. What I find fascinating and I say to leaders is most of the value of your business is monetizing the brains of your people, right? In most organizations, that's the value because when you look around the table, how many of you actually understand how brains work, but you don't understand you don't you wouldn't put me as a hey, look, I've done a little bit of of accountancy in my small business make me the CFO. Say, I'm really passionate about the law, so make me as leaders, people quite often go, oh, you know, I know people, I'm a person. I didn't realize that's, that's your fallback position? You know, so what we kind of help leaders do is no, there's a science behind this. There's a lot of rigor and research, we can help you unlock it. And the reason why your business is underperforming, is because you're making decisions about your people that is contrary to science. And once they realize that, then there's a lot of value to be unlocked.
Joerg Schmitz 22:38
You know, it's amazing how quickly time flies. So So you know, and you gave already a lot of very practical things along the way for people and leaders particularly to to do differently. I just want to thank you for this conversation. And also, it's great, thank you. And also to I mean, to tell you how excited I am, for you to be part of, of our institute, faculty and resources, actually, I think our clients will benefit a lot from what you bring to this, this way of looking at it and understanding it specifically the idea that there is a science to be tapped. And it's, and it's not any more mysterious than the science, we are already tapping in the for the benefit of our business. So it's just extending what already works that we are doing with customers with products to our people. And and it's it's it's it's not mysterious, it doesn't have to be mysterious right
Jono Nicholas 23:38
now in in, in fact, you know, that'd be my last piece of advice that in terms of the work that we do, it's really spending time with leaders about how do you make better decisions around the things you're already doing? Right? And how do you tap into advice and support from people like ourselves who spend all their time thinking about the science of how humans operate? Right? And there's a lot of and I'll give you a very concrete one that I'd say most businesses get wrong. A lot of businesses will be having their first off sites since the pandemic,
Joerg Schmitz 24:16
yes, right now, almost all businesses
Jono Nicholas 24:18
massively misspent around that, for one reason, which is they spend all their time getting their people to a location. They then hold it in some sort of hotel generally, that hotel often has low ceilings, and often has no natural light. So we take our most important people whack them in a room or put them in a room with low light loads it and that is biologically designed to reduce cognitive performance review would create a space that says Let's reduce the cognitive performance of our people you would design a conference room and then we then give them quite often really rich for Each because it's a conference. So you give them wanting fee lunch after, like people eating six really rich meals a day full of sugar and fat, they often have alcohol at the sugar, okay? Not only putting them in a room designed to minimize cognitive performance, you now feeding them in a way that's designed to minimize cognitive performance,
Joerg Schmitz 25:18
then you do the loads, and so then PowerPoints,
Jono Nicholas 25:21
exactly, then show them content that is overwhelming. And then you wonder why at the end of it, you'll people are exhausted, they go back to work to recover from the conference. And they spend all their time in breaks, doing emails, rather than engaging with colleagues. So he just think about, you know, maybe for a large kind of team, you might like Finn, say, anywhere up to 100 grand on a conference, think about flights, hotels, the whole thing. And yet, as you design every step of that way, you're designing it in a way that minimizes the benefit to the business. Right. And, and my kind of challenge leaders when they generally look at me quite sheepishly, right? Which is, would you do that in any other part of your business? Right? Would you would you design if you're in retail, a store, where you do a big store opening, but you know, close the doors 90% of the way, so people only get through a narrow thing, turn all the lights down. So it's really weird and scary, no one can, you put all the elements together to maximize the value for the customer to maximize the value for the business. And that's when I talk about, you know, the work that we do this really practical about high well being high performance, if you can unlock better decisions throughout your business, if you can do it according to science, then the value and the spin that you're making, will have far greater benefit. And it's pretty straightforward. I would say if you're running an off site for your people, as a leader, they should feel psychologically better at the end of that off site not drained by PowerPoint, overwhelmed by lack of natural light stress, because they haven't talked to their kids. And then you think about an off site in a completely different way than perhaps a little leaders with a lot of
Joerg Schmitz 27:07
Jono Nicholas 27:10
That's the joy, we've got all the untapped value is actually in the easy bits. That's the great thing. You're around content, cultural transformation. And I think that's the bit you know, you do enormously great work on the depth of cultural transformation. And we try and do that kind of work and love to do more of that work in partnership with you. I think my frustration and opportunity with organizations is, we're often doing that in really difficult environmental circumstances. And if our business is flying you and your team used to work with them putting a huge investment in expense and a lot of thought, why not create the best cognitive circumstances around your involvement rather than make it really hard? And that's the bit that we love working with organizations on?
Joerg Schmitz 27:56
Yes. And what a beautiful vision of the future but that we need to build and CO create, right? And it takes that mindset that those questions, and and also giving giving leaders the confidence that we can do this, right. In fact, the you know, we're doing it already. We're just not applying it to this particular area of our business.
Jono Nicholas 28:19
Yeah, it's it's a series of small tweaks, it's about being thoughtful, understanding your people being genuinely curious around changing their experiences, and what are we kind of say for leaders is it makes your job a lot more fun as well?
Joerg Schmitz 28:32
Yeah, right. What a benefit. Yeah,
Jono Nicholas 28:36
you benefit the organization or benefit. In almost all circumstances where we advise organizations, the outcome is either a better use of current spend, or a reduction in spent, because we're not thinking about doing a new wellbeing strategy that costs a lot of money, we're thinking about well being is baked into the daily operation of our business. And therefore, if we do all that better, we're really unlocking value that's trapped in the business and doing it in a way where as a leader, think about as a leader, how many times you get to unlock value in the business, where your people, thank you. That was awesome, right? Normally, you're unlocking value by, you know, looking at headcount or reducing costs. So this is an easy one, this is one where your people will probably give you a hug at the end of it if you do it rather than brickbat. So that I will kind of save for leaders have a look at this first, see what we can do and and then you know, a lot of other really good things will flow.
Joerg Schmitz 29:31
Thank you, John, for sharing all that with us. And there's certainly more to come.
Jono Nicholas 29:37
Thank you. And looking forward to working with you and the team.
Joerg Schmitz 29:47
Thank you for listening. You can sign up for more wherever you get your podcasts just look for The Inclusive Leader Podcast. To find out more about the inclusive leadership institute visit us At www the inclusive leadership institute.com