Editor’s note: Connie Podesta is a veritable Swiss Army knife of talent. She’s an international business motivational speaker as well as a teacher, comedienne, former radio and television personality, and award-winning author. Combining that with 30 years of experience as a licensed therapist, Podesta brings her unique mix of skills and experience to audiences worldwide as an expert in the psychology of human behavior as it relates to sales, leadership, change, and personal and professional development. APICS magazine Editor Kia Wood recently had the opportunity to speak with Podesta, who will be a keynote presenter later this year at APICS 2018 in Chicago.
Wood: You’re no stranger to transformation. Can you tell me a bit about the role it played in your career and where you are today?
Podesta: I credit most of my ability to transform quickly with my commitment to not setting goals. I understand that companies have to have certain financial goals … but I’ve never limited myself by saying, “I’m going after this job, or this title, or this salary.” As a therapist and expert in psychology, most people who I coach, counsel and speak to seriously limit their future success by the way they set goals. Once a goal is set, they become intent on that one goal and often refuse to be distracted, even when other amazing opportunities come their way.
For example, I used to teach both high school and college. When it was time for me to go back and get my graduate degree, the only goal that seemed open to me was to be an education administrator, because really that’s the only thing I knew. So I found myself standing in a line full of suits and ties and briefcases, ready to register for that degree and title. However, the line next to me was moving faster, the people were more fun, and there was definitely an energy that matched my own. I turned and asked, “What are you all registering for?”
They said, “We’re getting a degree in counseling, therapy and human relations.”
“Wow,” I thought. “What an opportunity to learn more about people and understand why they do what they do and say what they say. Sounds amazing and something I can use the rest of my life.” So I set aside my goal of being an administrator and immediately switched lines. Taking one step two feet to the right changed the whole trajectory of my life.
Had I been a person who was totally committed to goals, I would have never left the original line. I would have said to myself, “Sounds cool and fun, but it’s not on the path to the goal I already set.” Transformation requires the ability to be open to new and innovative ideas; taking risks and trying something that may not fit the goal, but could expand the goal way beyond your expectations.
Wood: What’s the secret to this flexibility? How can organizations and people better adapt to change?
Podesta: Often, in times of change, leadership teams announce, “It’s time to change our computer software. This won’t be easy and will require tons of time and effort. But don’t worry — we’ve put together workshops to help you handle all the stress.” Talk about scaring everyone and setting them up to not like what’s about to happen.
I teach companies how to get their teams more engaged and on board in times of change. Instead of assuming that everyone’s going to freak out, assume they will all be fine and were built to handle change. Leadership’s attitude trickles down for sure. How about saying this instead: “There’s not a team that could handle changing to a new software system any better than you. Watching what you have done every day to transform our company and bring in new customers — we know you can do this. And we are here to help and answer questions any way we can.”
Change is about staying in business and blowing away the competition. Change is not something to gripe and be scared about, but something to applaud and feel grateful for.
Wood: What mistakes should managers avoid as they work to lead their teams through change successfully?
Podesta: Unfortunately, it is often the managers who are the ones fighting the change the hardest. Their negative attitudes can be seen and heard when they say to their teams things like, “Guess what the senior leadership team is doing to us now? Get ready for more work and less time.” How’s that for a recipe for unhappy, disgruntled employees?
If a company is undergoing serious change in order to bring in more revenue, sales and market share, and the managers make it clear to their staff that they’re not on board, then they’ve created a team that’s disengaged and has no ownership in the ideas. Not only will they not do what’s required, many of them will go underground and sabotage the whole idea.
Wood: How do you get buy-in from everybody involved?
Podesta: It starts from the top. Too often, a company’s top leadership announces major changes without any attempt or understanding of how to get ownership and consensus from their management team first. Managers are the ones who have to get the necessary buy-in from their teams in order for the changes to be productive and successful.
I teach people, including leaders, how to get buy-in, ownership and consensus from colleagues, employees, customers, clients and even family members. If you can’t get buy-in from people — if senior leaders can’t get it from their management team, if the management team can’t get it from the employees — then it’s not going to work.
Wood: Are the challenges for those in upper-management roles the same?
Podesta: There are two types of managers: one is a boss and one is a leader.
Bosses tell people what to do. Bosses don’t care about buy-in and ownership because they are the boss; they’re in charge. They issue orders, and there’s very little collaboration, teamwork or input from anyone else. Psychologically, the problem is, nobody wants to be told what to do. We all have a little 16-year-old in us who says, “You’re not telling me what to do. Watch me do exactly the opposite.”
Some companies are full of bosses at the top just ordering people around. They don’t ask anyone’s opinion. They don’t ask the people who are in the trenches working with the customers. They don’t ask the people in the manufacturing plants putting the products together. They don’t ask the people who are researching or ask human resources about the culture. If there’s no input and collaboration then there’s no ownership and buy-in, and that means little, if any, results.
Leaders operate very differently. True leaders know that, without engagement and buy-in, nothing’s going to happen.
Wood: What kind of human relations skills do you think someone needs to be a good leader?
Podesta: Number one, you have to believe that buy-in and employee collaboration and engagement are important. You have to believe that, without other people’s support, you’re going nowhere. If you believe that you can just go through life telling people what to do without helping them understand why they should do it, then you’ll never have the success or [return on investment] you want.
Number two is you have to be very self-aware. Take a look at yourself, and ask yourself if you are capable of achieving buy-in. Is that a skill you have? Are you really good at gaining support from other people? If you are, then recognize that as one of the most valuable assets you bring to the table.