Can You Build a Crisis-Proof Workplace?

Any sports fan knows that it’s easy to coach a team when you’re on a winning streak. The real challenge begins when things start to go wrong. Business is the same way. Even the most harmonious work environments can struggle – or fall apart – in the face of unforeseen crises. The most successful leaders are those who work proactively to create a positive workplace culture, and embrace forward-thinking problem-solving strategies and employee wellbeing, in both good times and bad.

Today we sit down with John Robertson, a workforce wellness expert, culture alignment specialist, and the founder and president of FORTLOG Services, a company that specializes in actively helping organizations manage transitions, including workplace change and upheaval, conflict and stress, crisis, and trauma. He offers his recommendations for leaders hoping to build a thriving workplace with fully engaged employees, which will be able to withstand any challenge the world can throw at it. 

Learn more about John and FORTLOG Services here: https://fortlog.co/

What leads to a happy life? What are the various ways to be happy? Happiness means different things to each of us, yet, after doing extensive research, Management 3.0 founder Jurgen Appelo discovered a common thread: Happiness is something we create, it is not something to achieve. It is a path you choose, not a destination to arrive at. So many of us spend our time in pursuit of happiness, yet instead of searching for it we need to find ways to live it, embrace it and implement it into our daily lives.

That’s why we created the 12 Steps to Happiness. Learn more and download a free poster.

Transcript

*Please note that the transcript has been automatically generated and proofread for mistakes. But remains in spoken English, and some syntax and grammar mistakes might remain.

Elisa Tuijnder: [00:00:00] There’s a saying in sports that it’s easy to coach a team when you’re on a winning streak. The real challenge begins when thing start to go wrong. Business is the same way. Even the most harmonious work environments can struggle or fall apart. In the face of an unforeseen crisis, the most successful leaders are those who work proactively to create a positive workplace culture and embrace forward thinking, problem solving strategies, and employee wellbeing in both good times and bad. Today, we sit down with a workforce wellness expert and cultural alignments specialist who has spent more than 30 years helping organizations navigate crises, implement problem solving strategies, and develop winning cultures. He offers his recommendations for leaders hoping to build a thriving workplace with fully engaged [00:01:00] employees, which will be able to withstand any challenge the world can throw at it.

Before we dive in, you are listening to The Happiness At Work Podcast by Management 3.0 where we are getting serious about happiness.

I’m your host, Elisa Tuijnder, Happiness Enthusiast and Management 3.0 team member. In this podcast, we share insights from industry experts, influencers, and thought leaders about what it takes to be happy, motivated, and productive at work. So that loving your job becomes the norm and not the exception. We will be publishing every fortnight on Friday, so be sure to tune in and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Our guest today is John [00:02:00] Robertson, a workforce wellness expert, culture alignment specialist, and the founder and president of FortLog Services, a company that specializes in actively helping organizations manage transitions, including workplace change and upheaval, conflict and stress crisis, and trauma.

So thank you so much for joining us, John. My

John Robertson: pleasure. And thank you so much for inviting me to be part of this with you. No,

Elisa Tuijnder: fantastic. Thank you. Hey, so we’ll get into your work and your experience in just a moment, but here on the podcast, we always start with the same question, and that is, what does happiness mean to you?

John Robertson: Actually, happiness for me is toggled with contentment. It’s doing something that one is passionate about, that I am passionate about, and that I am willing to be committed, faithful, loyal to in spite of storms that arise.

Elisa Tuijnder: That, that sounds good. Those storms always come, don’t they? at some point?

John Robertson: If you’re going [00:03:00] anywhere, we can expect to hit a storm, actually.

Elisa Tuijnder: To hit a storm. That’s true. So we’re obviously a podcast focused on happiness at work. Hence the name . But they were actually discussing the barriers that can prevent people from being happy and staying happy in the workplace. To start off, can you tell us a little bit about your work at Fort Log and about yourself there and what you do?

And so what kind of clients do you work with and what challenges are you, are they attempting to address when they reach out to you?

John Robertson: So a couple pieces rolled into one. So one of the things that I enjoy helping leaders and organizations do is transform that traditional crisis response. And because the event is never the real crisis, it’s, there’s so many other variables.

So for example, happiness at work can be hugely impacted if you and I are doing work that we’re not really passionate [00:04:00] about that. We’re not really valuing that. Yeah, might have pensions or benefits or some of those other carrots, but in the long term it’s not really charging the battery. And so what I enjoy doing is working with the mid senior leaders to help them find those ways that people can feel engaged, valued productive.

And it’s not about recognition, it’s about appreciation and so part and parcel of that is hiring the right people, keeping the right people, or pruning the wrong ones. And some of those other factors that obviously organizations have to do should be blunt. Just because I have a pulse doesn’t mean I’m the right employee.

Elisa Tuijnder: And how do you help organizations with that on a more practical level?

John Robertson: First things first [00:05:00] is determine where they’re at. So whether it be change or turnover or conflict or crisis of any form, first thing we do is why should somebody work for your organization beyond money, beyond a paycheck?

Why should somebody work for your organization? And that is only answered by the values. And then we start to look at giving the leadership tools, resources, not a program, but more of a process to say, okay, so how do you have those tough conversations? How do you recognize and appreciate people? How do you have the water cooler conversation or coffee pot conversation to hear what’s of value to the other person?

I heard a great acronym, the Wait, why am I talking? and helping leaders understand that we have to be willing to listen to our people, to hear what’s important for [00:06:00] them. And so it’s in those details to say, okay, what’s your focus? What are the values? Do you have the right players on the field or on the ice, or whatever sport we’re using?

And when things don’t go according to plan, which usually happens frequently when we involve humans , what’s the support plan? How are you gonna keep people’s head in the game?

Elisa Tuijnder: Have those challenges and, has it been exaggerated by the pandemic and you’re continuing to roll into new crisises in including inflation, et cetera.

Has that, has that affected it? And how do you see that? It

John Robertson: has affected it, first of all but it’s not about Covid. It’s about what Covid has done and the recession inflation and everything else is they work like a hot water. And [00:07:00] you and I and organizations are like teabags and I call it the hot water teabag effect.

I love that. If you wanna find out what’s important, put them in hot water. So what’s leaked out over two and a half years with Covid is people have started to reevaluate. Okay, is this really important for me? Why is this really important for me? And what’s going on with Economics 1 0 1? And I’m not a finance person, so please don’t misinterpret me, but what’s going on right now with economics?

So finances, inflation, interest rates is people are saying, okay, what’s really important for me to own by do and Yeah, you know what, there is a huge refocusing happening right across the bandwidth. And economics or Covid were merely a catalyst. They didn’t [00:08:00] cause it.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah. Yeah. And do you think that’s a good thing, John, that they were the catalyst that people are, going through these things?

Or if silver lining wise, There’s obviously there was a horrible thing that happened through the pandemic, but is that alignment, that realignment? Is that a good thing as well?

John Robertson: And as much as this might sound sucking up to you is it’s actually fueling happiness at work. Because when I, Do you like that?

Schmoozing this, but anyways, , one of the things that happens is when I’ve walked through, okay, what’s really important for. and you’re my supervisor, boss, manager, whatever title you happen to have. And I realize, you know what? You can pay me x number of dollars less an hour. I’m more happy here than earning double my income.

Cuz you and I know the old proverb, money doesn’t [00:09:00] buy happiness, it buys the golden bed. Yeah. And contentment is people are, I think people are finally saying, okay, in the long run, what really matters for me? Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And you know what like you just said, huge silver lining, not thinking, not rose colored glasses, but relationships really matter.

Yeah. So who are those people that I wanna associate hang out with affiliate with. Do you

Elisa Tuijnder: think there’s companies here that have reacted to it really well and have readdressed, their management styles, their values? Or are there a bunch of stubborn people out there as well? Oh, I’m sure there’s a bit of both there going on, but from your experience,

John Robertson: there’s a bit of both.

And what’s happening right now is because the longer a person is in, I’m gonna say pick [00:10:00] on Covid, but it’s any crisis the longer a person or organization is in crisis, the further out the reset happens because what happens is I’m just focused on keeping my head in the game and getting through this storm.

As the storm of Covid settles out, people are starting to really hone in on, okay, what’s gonna matter here? And so some organizations are still in that. Where are we going here? What are we gonna focus in on? Other organizations are thinking naively while when things go back to norm. You know what? Norm ship sailed a long time ago.

We’re not going back. We’re not in Oz anymore. No. And those organizations are now experiencing, they, [00:11:00] I heard a great line an acronym. I know everybody, people are talking about quiet, quitting and so forth, but it was a rip or a rod. RIP is retired in position, ROD is retired on duty and those organizations that are just trying to hopefully get things back to norm are, have a bunch of people who are retired in posittion.

Who are just gonna nurse it along. If something better comes along, they’re gone. But their emotional investment in the workplace is gone. Happiness at work is an oxymoron. They look for happiness everywhere else. Yeah. And is there anything worse in sports than having just a paycheck player?

Elisa Tuijnder: That’s true there, there tend to not be very well loved by the fans

John Robertson: And I don’t know if you have sports in [00:12:00] your background, but you might have the most, do you have sports in your background?

Elisa Tuijnder: Not professionally, but I also no. I enjoy watching it . Okay.

John Robertson: But we recognize right away some of the people have the most incredible talent, but the heart’s not in it. Yeah.

Where does happiness, where does contentment grow from? Yeah, the heart. A

Elisa Tuijnder: lot of tat lasso references just popped into my head. I’m not sure if you’ve seen it, but , it’s a Emmy award-winning series about an NFL coach, who he actually wasn’t in the NFL, but he goes and coaches in the Premier League.

And it’s in the United Kingdom though. So football as in.

John Robertson: Soccer. Soccer. Yeah. No, I got that.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah. Yeah. But it’s it is he’s all about happiness. So when you were using that metaphor that’s interesting. So for the some people who’ve [00:13:00] watched it who are listening right now will have had those same images as well.

John Robertson: Absolutely. And I have friends of mine from Africa and they do not call our soccer. Soccer, it’s football , and we have the wrong sport of football. But to your comment about happiness and paycheck players and so forth, one of the things that, that we learned, and I have seen it, if I’m playing a sport that I love and I get injured, I will find a way to get back in the game.

If I am playing a sport that I do not love or do not enjoy, any injury, takes me out, think about the costs of sickly stressfully, turnover, engagement. Why does, and I, [00:14:00] and please forgive me if it sounds really schmoozy, but I love the theme of your podcast and some of the ones I’ve listened. because if I’m not happy and contented in my work, any injury will take me out.

Which means if you’re my boss or the owner, your costs are going through the roof because of a very simple premise. Yeah.

Elisa Tuijnder: Absolutely. And that’s what we’re all about. And it’s something that people tend to forget about sometimes, but that’s why we do it, and that’s why we hammer on

it.

absolutely. Absolut. Hey,

So a lot of the things you, we’ve discussed as well sounds to me like a concept called psychological safety in that we see, keep seeing and coming back. And so I wondered whether that is something that also plays a key role within your organization. And if you could how would you define psychological safety element in this case as well?

John Robertson: Yes, a hundred percent. It plays a key role. So there’s [00:15:00] two factors of psychological safe. I call them unhealthy and healthy. It’s the same premise. So we look at engaged and the term that I’ve heard used that I’ve stolen, but I can’t remember who said it, is called extra citizenship behavior. So if I’m going into work and I see garbage on the front lawn, I step over it.

If it’s an unhealthier unsafe work, if it’s psychologically healthy and safe, I pick it up even though it’s not my job, it’s just this is garbage. It’s my workplace. So it’s that serving extra helps, engaged appreciation, recognition. And 30 years ago, we called it people skills. We have all kinds of different titles right now, but at the end of the day, do I step past you [00:16:00] or do a, I think you were going to that art gallery or to that football game on the weekend. Did you go, how was the show? How was the game for you? It’s not being nosy, it’s caring.

Elisa Tuijnder: I like the metaphor of, the garbage. That’s, it’s a great metaphor. And also yeah that it’s people skills and yeah, that’s making me think a little bit, so how do we sustain this in the long term?

This psychological safety, how do we foster it and how does it, go further? Is it those everyday interactions or is there more to it?

John Robertson: There’s twofold. It’s setting the bar height cuz what you and I were bantering about with football is setting the bar height of what are the values?

What are the, not ethics, policies, procedures, accountability stuff, but the values. So what do we expect? [00:17:00] And then the second part of that is, are we appreciating people when we see them? So for example, it’s easy to catch people doing something wrong. Yeah. Are we catching them doing something well or right.

And then the third thing is not an open door policy. I don’t believe an open door policy works. Trust requires initiative. So if I’m sitting in my office and I say, oh, I have an open door, you can come and talk to me whenever you want. 99% of people will never walk through that door. Flip side. If I’m taking the initiative and I’m walking around and just, Hey, how was your weekend?

Best highlight of your weekend, what’s the best part of your day? If I’m taking the initiative making note, [00:18:00] and if you have a memory like me, I use an a calendar so that I say, oh, I was talking with Billy Barber, and they said, then follow them up.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah, it makes such a big difference. It really does.

John Robertson: And it requires that willingness to model care, not put on the facade of caring.

Elisa Tuijnder: What leads to a happy life. What are the various ways to be happy? Happiness means different things to each of us. Yet after doing extensive research management 3.0, founder Jurgen Appelo. Discovered the common thread. Happiness is something we create. It is not something to achieve. It is a path you choose, not a destination to arrive at.

So many of us spend our times in pursuit of [00:19:00] happiness, yet instead of searching for it, we need to find ways to live it, embrace it, and implement it into our daily lives. We created the 12 Steps to Happiness at Management 3.0. You can find more information and even download a free poster of the 12 steps management30.com/practice.

Hey,

Let’s go. Let’s go back to this crisis and. Them as events. Like we said, there’s so many that keep coming . Yes. And that’s just the nature of life as well. But you said that a crisis is never really about the event itself. And that successful crisis responses should go beyond just, reacting.

You recommend what you call a 4D process for organizational transformation. So what are these for these 4D’s and Yeah. How did they help ? [00:20:00]

John Robertson: The four Ds are simply discover, determine, develop, deploy. So the first phase is discover. What does a healthy, engaged workforce mean for you? What does success mean?

And to be fair, to be blunt, we are not gonna keep everybody healthy at work. That’s just not the reality of being humans. So discover what does success mean? What does engaged workforce mean? Then the second phase is determine, so what are some short-term, long-term? Most people are familiar with the acronym SMART goals.

It word it in the same way.Yep. And then the third day piece is develop, and one, this is one of the most ruling phases because a lot of like to do a program and think that we’ve got [00:21:00] it developing is more like a exercise or a fitness where in, in a lighthearted way, we have one, one child, it’s a son.

He went to the gym three times in one week, he came to the house to touch in on mom and dad and say, so have you noticed a difference in me? And It’s going to take more than three times at the gym and the same premise in the workplace, just because we have a key focus, just because we’ve determined our priorities doesn’t mean we do it once and it’s done, and then obviously deploy it and then refine it as we grow forward, tweak it.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah. Makes sense. So John, could you. Dive deeper in each. You can choose which ones, but what does it look like? What changes or new practices would you see [00:22:00] in an organization that successfully implements those? One of those Ds is, you can choose which one.

John Robertson: So for example, one of the biggest problems that consistently occurs, and problem isn’t the right word, but rather than getting into a semantic discussion, is leaders get into their organizations to develop, to grow a high profitability or whatever success, now all of a sudden we’re putting the demands on them to do the people care and some of these other things. So an organization that I’ve been working with, we clarified some of the values that psychologically safe workplace where cuz they need their people to be creative, they need them to be energized, they need them to be calm, but enthusiastic.

And so what happened was she was not the best leader for that kind of, as she says, I’m really not into the [00:23:00] warm, fuzzy stuff. So one of the things that we did is, okay, so who are some of your key people who have credibility and know that they reflect you? So she chose two people, and ironically it ended up being a male and a female.

That gender wasn’t part of the discussion. It was just who are the people who reflect her values, who have her ear, who are creative, energized, engaged, but have the trust? And so what started to happen was they started meeting with people at coffee pot, water cooler, lunch table, and so forth, just hearing.

So how would you describe this workplace non physically? They took some of those comments back and that she ended up being a C-Suite leader, but the C-Suite leader and those people started having a discussion around, okay, what do we want this organization to be? And then they started to [00:24:00] develop some of those next pieces.

But she wasn’t put into the role of pretending to be somebody she was not. if some person came to her and they did with their spouse of whatever years, like it was a long time, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she was all over that. She was very caring, very empathetic, but it wasn’t an everyday practice.

It separated every day, caring from the extreme crises.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah, that, that perfectly leads me to, to my next point actually, cuz we’ve been, before this, we were talking about these global scale crisises, right? Recession. We were talking about we were talking about the Corona pandemic. Does it Yeah.

Does it not work for all sorts of crisises and is it then each time, not business as usual or the things that aren’t business as usual?

John Robertson: And I think that you’re putting your finger on it, [00:25:00] if. Change could be a crisis for one person. If an organization is. So for example, in your journey through Covid, have you found or noticed that some people love working from home?

Yeah, of course. Yeah. . Have you discovered some people Absolutely hate working from

Elisa Tuijnder: home. Yeah. For them it was for certain people. For some people it continues to be a big struggle.

John Robertson: Yeah. There’s the theme because think about how that impacts health and safety in the workplace. Or happiness at work.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah. So it could be, yeah. What’s for one person a really big crisis is for some, for another person, actually something really good. And yeah, it’s finding it’s, is it tailoring as well? Do we have to just tailor more? Nowadays,

John Robertson: [00:26:00] yes, we could say tailoring, but it’s more normalizing and helping people understand that what is normal for you is not for me.

Yep. And once, and that doesn’t mean that I have to act like your normal is now my normal, but it does mean that I can now say, yeah, okay. That wasn’t a significant event for me. So how do I be of assistance? How do I support? Yeah.

Elisa Tuijnder: Now that must make your job additionally hard as well, because when do people come to you and when do you, yeah.

Where does it start? .

John Robertson: And I joke with people to, easiest way to identify a crisis is when we hear ourselves saying, oh, followed by a four letter. So if I’m meeting with a person and I hear myself saying, oh crap, okay, this is a crisis moment. Yeah. And part and [00:27:00] parcel of that is not Ghostbusters, but who, who am I gonna call?

Elisa Tuijnder: who else in this case yourself? Fort Log servicec. .

John Robertson: And to your comment, absolutely. But there are situations that I am not the best person. And so what I do with those leadership people is I just simply say, you know what? I’m not the best person for this. Let’s you and I work together to find out who that should be.

Elisa Tuijnder: So what do you see predominantly after you’ve trained your clients or after they train with you? What kind of, what kind, what are their most obvious sort of benefits and improvements that you see. After organizations improve your strategies for crisis management and wellness?

John Robertson: There’s a couple things that, that, number one, people are able to start laughing at one another cuz they’re actually able to roll their eyes and [00:28:00] say, oh, why would you go to John for that?

Kind of hell , he stinks at that and they’re able to laugh. They’re able to get the up, the person that they, he or she, the help they need and it creates a collegiality, I don’t know if that’s the right word, but it, there’s a comradery and so going to your football, instead of somebody playing forward and expected to cover center midfield, you put all 12 people on the field and everybody has their position to play where they cover and help one another, but they’re not trying to be in all positions at the same time, or not everybody’s a center defense expected to be a goal scorer.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah. The right man in the right place

John Robertson: again, [00:29:00] actually. Absolutely. And think about this psychological impact.

When we have the right people in the right place for the right reason, think about the effect of happiness at work. Yeah,

Elisa Tuijnder: absolutely. It’s

John Robertson: great. . No, I it’s phenomenal because now we can joke with one another. We can have conflict with one another because the team is on the pitch competing for a common goal.

Elisa Tuijnder: Hey, so we’ve spoken about big changes, small spaces. How we can address both of them. And we’ve talked about a few tangible practices already such as, giving time and open door policy doesn’t really work actually coming to ask. But are there any other things that you can tell or share with our listeners?

For, cuz there’s, we’re such big fans of tangible practices, things that they can start doing tomorrow whereby, there might be [00:30:00] more bite size changes than companies can do with a whole array of things. So that we can end on a more practical note where people can take something away with to improve their culture and wellbeing.

John Robertson: Actually first thing to do is ask. Ask. Ask. Yep. And it’s not asking questions with an intent to tell. It’s asking questions to which we don’t have the answers, which builds trust. So asking people, just having those coffee puck, I’m a coffee drinker, so drinking water really isn’t on my to-do list, but I’m willing to sacrifice and drink water when I, but asking people what does wellbeing at work, meaning for you?

Yep. Asking people and go With the theme of this podcast, what would it mean for you to be happy at work? What does happiness at work mean in some of those other [00:31:00] questions right now? What does culture mean? How would you describe our culture? And it’s gotta be prefaced with, I am not asking you to tell me what I want to hear.

And it cannot be used against the person if they’re honest. Another one is, and I hate the term team building, but another one is start introducing people to different, I call them natures, how we’re wired. So there’s true colors, there’s disc, there’s myers briggs type indicator. There’s all kinds of instruments out there, but just have fun with introducing people to different wirings.

Elisa Tuijnder: And that’s common language that sometimes comes with things like colors and Myers Briggs, et cetera. That helps as well.

John Robertson: Ab Absolutely. And then what happens is when people, when we are able to understand that that’s how he or she is wired, [00:32:00] we start to actually trust the person because they’re just behaving how they’re wired.

Yeah. And it becomes,

Elisa Tuijnder: You understand it better or where they’re coming from, and then you can actually,

John Robertson: that’s a great way to word it. Is far more understandable. Absolutely. Yeah.

Elisa Tuijnder: All right, John, thank you so much. So if our listeners now, hey, want to learn more from you, get in contact with you, where can we do that?

Or

John Robertson: where can they do that? The simplest way is twofold is email me john@fortlog.co. And it’s dot co on purpose because I work with people, colleague, collaborator, coach. But the second one is go to the landing page because part of it I’d love to provide a follow up conversation book, et cetera.

There’s a variety of different options, but fortlog.co/happiness at work, landing page, and let’s have a conversation. [00:33:00]

Elisa Tuijnder: Great. That’s fantastic. Yeah. So FordLog and then. Happiness at work, and then it will branch out from there. Thank you John thank you for coming onto the podcast and thank you for this great conversation.

John Robertson: I thank you very much. And most importantly, I thank you for raising such an essential theme in our workplace today. So appreciate your work very much. Thank you. Thank you.

Elisa Tuijnder: You’ve been listening to The Happiness At Work podcast by Management 3.0 where we are getting serious about happiness. Be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and if you enjoy our shows, don’t be shy. Write us a review. Share the happiness with your colleagues, family, or friends. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn under Management [00:34:00] 3.0.


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