Ep. 228: Nykema Jackson - Leading Through Change: Engagement in the Hybrid Work Era

< Intro >

– Hello and welcome to Count Me In.

The podcast that brings you
the latest insights

and practical advice on leadership,

accounting, management,
finance, and business.

I'm your host Adam Larson,

and today we are delighted to
have Nykema Jackson with us.

With a rich background in consulting

and a significant leadership 
role in corporate America.

She's here to share her views
on the pressing issue of our time;

staff development and leadership

in the era of remote and
hybrid work models.

As we explore the new
paradigms that have emerged

in the wake of the Great Resignation,

let's dive into the conversation

to learn how we can foster
engagement, trust, and growth

in these transformative times.

Please join me in welcoming
Nykema to the show.

< Music >

– So, Nykema, thank you so much

for coming on the podcast today.

We're really excited to have you on,

and today we're going to be talking about

staff development and leadership.

Which is a big topic today 
because in the last three years

we've seen a lot of changes.

With the change to working from home.

And, then, now, as things have 
gone back, going back to hybrid.

And we've had terms like
The Great Resignation

and quiet quitting being
thrown at everybody.

And, so, as we're talking about that,

can we maybe discuss,
from your perspective,

how do you see an organization
can keep their staff engaged

and continue to develop them 
in the midst of all this?

– Sure, and thanks so
much for having me.

One thing that I've seen in my career,

and I've come from a consulting background and, currently,

I'm in corporate America
working for a company.

I've seen that individuals
need leadership that knows

and is very intimately versed
in the mission of the company.

That is invested in their employees.

And investments from a learning
and development perspective,

as well as investing in them as a person.

And, so, COVID has brought
around this environment

where we've merged lives.

We had our work cells before
we had our personal cells,

and now those things
have come together.

I find that it's critically
important to recognize

and acknowledge that in people,

and to support them down both avenues.

And when someone feels
invested in and developed,

and they know the mission that
they're marching towards.

I feel that turnover is less and you
can get around the big resignation.

– So I completely agree.

As you continue to engage people,
they will stay where they are.

But, then, there's also the quiet ones

who aren't really as engaged
with what's happening.

You can develop, and you can
pour yourself into the people

who are engaged and want to be there.

But how do you grab those folks

who are not quite there
and want to be there?

– So one of the things I do, personally,

are one-on-one check-ins with my directs,

and sometimes I do skip levels.

You'd be amazed that for those quieter ones,

how much they open up in
a one-on-one environment.

I think people need to
know from leadership,

and I feel like sometimes we get lost

in our own trajectory and progression.

We don't realize that as
we rise in the ranks,

there is a level of intimidation for people.

So you need to make it an open-door policy,

and you need to make people
feel comfortable to come to you.

And one way to do that is 
to develop relationships. 

But it takes a concerted effort on
the leader to make time for that.

Because it's not that time is
on our side in a lot of situations,

and COVID has created an
additional barrier around that.

Where people can't just pop in your office,

they can't just see you in the hallway.

They can't just strike up a conversation

around the coffee machine.

They have to be deliberate and intentional

on making those relationships
and fostering that along the way.

And the only way to do that 
is to schedule the time.

So that it can start to become organic.

Where they feel more comfortable

with their relationship, with leadership,

and they'll come to you naturally.

– Yes, it's almost like you need to
create some open-door Zoom call

or open-door office hours on Teams,

where people can just pop in at any time.

Where they're able to do that,
and the technology is out there.

And how has technology helped
you in the midst of the COVID era

and able to reach out to people?

– So, for me, COVID has opened up

a whole universe of additional time,
for me, it's saved me a commute.

So I've been able to use technology,

in a way, to connect with people,

and I make it less transactional.

So some folks get a little 
intimidated by being on screen.  

And, so, one thing that I've done is

I don't multitask while I'm on calls.

I silence my email so that I can
really focus on individuals.

And with the use of technology, we're
able to do teaming events virtually.

Sometimes we'll do happy hours,

where we'll send a bottle of wine to individuals.

I haven't done that on my current
team, so don't tell them.

But in the past, I've sent bottles of wine,

or if there's something that 
they like around coffee,

or something, gourmet, I would send that,

and then we would have a virtual outing.

And it gives people the flexibility

to still be there for their families,
and their children, and whatever

extracurricular activities that they have.

But we can, literally, pick any
time of the day to do this now.

Versus sequestering it to the end of the day.

– Yes, our team did a virtual wine and painting.

Where they sent the wine
and the painting thing,

and then the person did it
through Zoom and show us.

And we'd all sit there painting,
and drinking our wine,

and it was actually quite fun.

More fun than I realized it 
would be, doing it virtually.

I never thought it could be like that.

– Absolutely.
– Do you have

any other examples of how

you've been able to develop your
team, in the midst of the COVID era.

Even before the COVID era,

where it was difficult for
the team members to connect.

– So one thing I find with individuals,

from a connectivity perspective,
is that you have to build trust.

And to build trust you have to be vulnerable,

and to be vulnerable, you got to share.

So being authentic at work,
a hurdle for some people

because they don't want to expose themselves.

But I've found that I've reached more individuals

and created more solid relationships

by airing my, I would call it, dirty laundry.

Sharing examples of obstacles 
that I've had and I faced.

Things that didn't go well,
how I approached that.

Sharing my network.

I think when people see that you're vulnerable

and you make mistakes, too, 
they're more comfortable

to come to you about what
their career goals are.

And once you tap the pulse on
where someone wants to go.

What they want to do, professionally,

and sometimes even personally,

and you're able to support them in that vein.

Then you're able to crack the code

on what do you need to do

to support that person with 
whatever that thing is.

Some people are technically savvy.

They may need help with soft skills,

they might need help with
setting agenda-based meetings.

They might need help with public speaking.

But you don't know what
those insecurities are,

or the things that they're wrestling with,

without opening up the door of conversation.

And a lot of your folks will, sometimes,

feel like, "Hey, I got to operate this level

because I don't want to
expose any of my weaknesses."

So by sharing your weaknesses,

it gives them the avenue and the invitation

to share those that you could
better help them and develop them.

– Yes, it's almost like you
have to get over that hurdle.

That social hurdle of, "Well,
if I share trust with you,

it'll show my weakness, and then somebody

will take advantage of me."

And it's creating that aura,
that safe space, in a sense.

– Absolutely, and I find that that's
very critical in building relationships.

So that you can lead a team;
inspire, motivate, develop them,

to come around what the
overall mission would be

for that company or that particular function.

– Definitely, it makes me think of,
I remember years ago, reading,

so I think it was Stephen M.R. 
Covey did the Speed of Trust.

And I think his biggest thing was always

that trust is always a two-way street.

That you can create that atmosphere,

but then it has to come back.

In order for it to build 
and grow that relationship,

and that's huge in a work environment.

That if you're open, then, other people

start to feel that safety to be open as well,

it's kind of what you were saying?

– Absolutely, and one thing I would
add on to that, Adam, is also empathy.

It's a lost art, I feel, in some spaces.

And that when people feel like

you really see them for who they are.

You can relate to what they're going through.

Because there's a lot of personal hurdles

that have come out of COVID.

People have lost loved ones.

People have had to balance work
and life and the intrusion of that.

With taking care of small kids
or taking care of the elderly.

And I feel like when you can relate

and support them in that vein,
they're willing to go to the mud

for you when they have to.

But it's a two-way street, like you mentioned.

You're there for them and 
then they're there for you.

So it's a reciprocation of that 
trust, respect, and support.

– Mh-hmm, and it builds a better, stronger team

because we see each other as humans,

and we see each other no
longer as boss and employee.

– Exactly, and, to me, when I look
at the cutting-edge companies

or the companies that are leading,

it's that leadership that 
people can follow behind.

It's not so much focused just 
on salary, and the company.

It's the leadership and where
they're taking that company,

and the spirit and the tone at the
top that permeates throughout.

– Mh-mm, so when thinking about leadership

and its effect on staff development.

What are some traits that you've seen

have been the most effective,

when trying to create this atmosphere

that we've been talking about in leaders?

– So, one, is clear vision.

You want to follow behind
someone that knows

where they're going and how 
they're going to get there.

Not that you have to know everything.

I think using the talents of your team,

and building your team
around some of the areas

that you may have some developmental points,

personally, is important as a leader.

Delegating and not just delegating
the tasks that you don't want to do,

but delegating the inspiring tasks.

The things that they want 
to actually get involved in,

the things that are going to develop them.

Showing that vested interest in individuals,

as you're taking them along.

And feedback; feedback
is so important to people,

and not just at the annual 
or the biannual periods.

Where it's structured through talent.

But feedback on a timely basis 
on what they're doing well,

and constructive feedback.

And I find that a lot of leaders do shy away

from constructive feedback 
because it is uncomfortable.

But I do realize in all my roles, 
currently, and my prior roles,

that I've won the most trust in people

when I've given them the constructive feedback.

In a way that they can digest it, of course,

but something that they can hold
on to to increase their capabilities

or to develop further for that next step.

– I feel like that constructive feedback

is almost like the lost art of empathy,

that you mentioned earlier.

Where having that it's like that coaching.

Where you're coaching people

to become better versions of themselves.

And have you been able to find ways

to do that constructive feedback

or even coach people, in order
to help improve them?

– Absolutely, so, typically, what I do,

if I'm starting in a new organization

or I have someone that's
new coming into my team.

I like to lay the groundwork, up front.

So I usually have a one-on-one 
discussion with them

about my leadership style, what motivates me.

Then I'll ask them what motivates them.

How would they like to receive feedback?

What's the best form?

How frequently would they
like to receive that feedback?

And then I tell them, when we talk about

the avenues of constructive
feedback, that feedback is a gift.

And because it's so hard for people to do it,

whether it's a function of time constraints

or just their comfort level.

That when you have someone that does that,

to me, it's a quality that shows
that they're really invested in you.

And, so, when you have
someone that does that,

they're truly supporting your progression

and not just saying, "Hey, good job."

And you're able to work on the things

that are not mentioned to you.

And, then, sometimes, people 
wonder why they're stagnant

and why they're not moving to the next level.

Because they haven't gotten
that behind-the-scenes feedback,

that's discussed in a lot
of review committees.

So when they can see that feedback

as something that's beneficial

and something that is important
to building, to your point,

that lost part of empathy and trust.

Then they get on the bandwagon with it,

and they're okay with receiving it

because they know it's
coming from a good place.

– Yes, that's a really good point.

And as you were talking it
made me think of as leaders,

sometimes, we get so lost in the
weeds of the day-to-day work.

That we forget to see the bigger picture

of how we can help improve our employees.

And what would you say to somebody

who is like, "I never remember to give feedback,

until it's time for reviews?

How do I remember to do that more often?"

– That's a good question.

I'm trying to think of what I, personally, do.

I think it has to be just 
part of your way of working.

And from an objective perspective,

I think that if folks don't feel like
they have enough time to do it,

then, they're probably not
delegating enough.  

There should be a good portion
of your day or your week,

where you're really just thinking about

"How well is the week going?"

Sometimes that's based
on the tactical objectives.

But, sometimes, that's based
on how they were executed.

And your biggest, most important resource,

at any company, whether you're in consulting

or at a corporation are your people.

Your people drive your business.

Your people interface with your customers.

Your people grow your bottom line.

So without investing in them,

you're remiss to not give them the feedback.

So that they can better themselves

and feel more tied to that mission

and their own personal development.

Because I always say, and I know
you've heard this from other people

people don't leave companies
they leave bosses.

So if you're not taking 
that time to invest in them,

why would they stick around?

Why would they support you

when you need their level of flexibility.

When you need them to
go and work extra hours,

or push through on a very
important deadline, or a deliverable.

If you're not even taking that little
bit of time to invest in them

and show them that you care.

– Yes, and as a leader, if you
feel like you don't have that time,

you have to reevaluate how
are you spending your time.

And, then, like you said,
are you delegating enough?

And, then, if you aren't
able to delegate enough,

then it's more of an organizational,

like, "Hey, everybody's kind of overworked,

how can we reorganize things to help things?"

Because a lot of organizations
are feeling the pressure of, 

"Hey, we're back to work.

We need to be back to pre-COVID
levels of sales, and yada, yada, yada."

And I don't know that people 
are adjusting as well.

– I totally agree and I've seen it in my career.

In that when an organization is overworked

and you're stretching your people,
your turnover rate is extremely high.

There's definitely a correlation between the two.

So you have to make time
and mental space to do it

because feedback also is a delicate delivery.

It's not something you could do off the cuff.

You really got to think about how
you want to deliver that message,

and what's your ultimate
objective in giving that feedback.

Do you want to harm confidence?

Do you want to build confidence?

Do you want to motivate?

Do you want to inspire?

So it's not just a matter of delivering

the actual facts of what happened.

It's how you deliver it 
that will allow that person

to receive it and do something good with it.

– Mh-hmm, I agree, and I just
keep thinking back

to when you said the lost art of empathy,

it just really set something off of me.

And I really connect with that as somebody

who has come to realize, as 
I've reflected on myself,

that I'm a very empathetic person.

Where I can look at somebody else's situation

and connect with that because of just

my life situations that I've had.

And thinking about that,

I think that's why we've seen 
a rise, within corporations.

Not only because of the social structures

of what's been happening in the U.S.

and around the world, but
a rise in people's recognizing

the true importance of Diversity, Equity,

and I'll add Accessibility and Inclusion,

I feel like we miss the A, sometimes,

in that terminology, within organizations,

on how you're developing your team.

How you're connecting with your team.

And I feel like COVID helped us see that

where we were invited into people's homes

as we had meetings, and we're having meetings,

and suddenly a kid runs in, or a dog runs in,

or they have those issues.

But we're suddenly seeing
the importance of connecting

with people and empathizing
with their moments.

And how diverse we all are 
within our thought processes,

within our life experiences, 
and how important that is

when you're leading your team.

– Absolutely, DEI is one of my passions,

no matter where I go or what 
organization I'm a part of.

And I find that companies,
across the board,

they do a good job, some of
them do a great job with diversity.

So making sure we have
people of diverse backgrounds,

experiences, cultures, way of working,

and all that good stuff.

Where I find companies struggle

sometimes is the inclusion 
and the equity piece.  

And, so, you get all these 
diverse people together.

It's almost like you have a dinner party

and you invite everyone there,

but you don't prepare a meal for everyone.

So everyone doesn't get to eat.

And I feel like that is something that companies

are still trying to strife for, and
I know there's lots of training on it.

There's lots of self-development on it.

But I really find that the 
companies that get it right,

it's just a part of the 
overall fabric of the company.

And it's not something that 
you're, necessarily, just teaching.

It's coming from the tone at the top,

and it's being those allies in those situations

because you're bringing all these people

from different background, different companies.

They don't, necessarily, 
have a focus on inclusivity.  

And, so, I've seen it work really well,

in my current employer,

in that there's a focus on being an ally.

So if you see something, you say something.

And you mentioned earlier
about the quieter ones.

So they have protocols for people

that maybe don't want to have direct conversations

in situations where they feel
like something's going awry.

They say, "Hey, why don't you pull that person

to the side and ask how they felt

about that interaction, or that situation?"

So it's taking it a step further,

beyond just being a diverse company,

but creating a mechanism

and developing a culture that's focused on

now that we have everybody
at the dinner table,

let's just make sure everybody's eating.

– Mh-hmm, yes, to use the
dinner table analogy,

you can have everybody at the dinner table.

But if all you're serving is steak, the vegans,

the vegetarians, the pescatarians

won't really feel like they
can be included in the meal.

They can maybe just pick up 
the salad and that's about it,

but they don't really feel like 
they're a part of the team.

– Absolutely, and it makes me think back

to what you said earlier 
around traits of a leader.

One thing I want to call out is flexibility.

So flexing your style.

So to your example around the vegans,

around the table, or maybe the pescatarians.

You may have to flex your style

once you understand what
motivates that person.

And it doesn't mean that you're
not being true to yourself,

it just means you're being a servant leader.

And you're figuring out, "How do I adapt,

as an executive or in a leadership role,

to make sure that I'm reaching
everyone on my team."

Everyone is talented, everyone
has the right skill sets.

But it's a matter of how do I 
motivate them, individually,

because we all have different
personality types.

– We do.
– So, sometimes,

it even goes beyond just skin 
color, or race, or nationality.

It's my personal style may be a driver,

someone's personal style may be an amiable.

I have to figure out what motivates that person,

to be able to reach them.

To have that empathy,
to connect with them,

and to develop them.

– Mh-hmm, and that's the
biggest part of DE&I

is going beyond just one element of it

and seeing the whole picture,
and that's how we become better

at the inclusivity part of it.

– Absolutely, and it reminds me of,

you've probably seen this, that visual aid

that you see in a lot of DEI 
trainings of that iceberg,

the stuff that's above the water.

The things that are below the water;

the only way you get to those
is by developing relationships.

So it goes back to our earlier conversation

around how does a leader develop

people that are on the quieter side

or the people that they want
to have a level of influence over?

Well, you can't get to below the iceberg

unless you're having those one on ones,

and really trying to understand,

and asking the questions, and 
empathizing with who they are.

What their goals are 
personally and professionally.

That's the only way you could be fully inclusive

beyond just what you see visually.

– Mh-hmm, and by being able to do that

is by being open yourself,

by building that trust, and 
also by being empathetic

to their situation and how they can communicate.

Because not everybody
communicates the same way.

And if you don't communicate,
if you're not able to adapt

and be flexible to communicate

in a way that makes them comfortable,

then, you'll never get to know them.

– Absolutely.
– Well, Nykema,

I feel like this has been 
such a wonderful conversation.

I feel like we can keep going.

But I just want to thank you so much

for coming on the podcast, today.

This has been wonderful

and I really hope our audience enjoys it.

– Thanks so much for having me.

I enjoyed, equally, as much,

engaging in this discussion with you.

< Outro >

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from the accounting and finance profession.

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Creators and Guests

Adam Larson
Adam Larson
Producer and co-host of the Count Me In podcast
Nykema Jackson
Nykema Jackson
Head of Reporting, Policy and Technical Accounting
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