Be More Podcast: The Cultivation Mindset with Jason Lauritsen
Jason Lauritsen, a keynote speaker, author, adviser, and leadership trainer, shares his thoughts on the “cultivation mindset."
Jason Lauritsen, a keynote speaker, author, adviser, and leadership trainer, shares his thoughts on the “cultivation mindset."
Be More is a weekly one-on-one podcast about how everyone can thrive in the new world of work, hosted by Workday’s Patrick Cournoyer. This week: Jason Lauritsen, a keynote speaker, author, adviser, and leadership trainer, shares his thoughts on the “cultivation mindset.”
Jason Lauritsen believes that people inherently want to do great work, and leaders want the people on their team to be successful. But making this happen is challenging, largely down to outdated mindsets and the fact that work can ultimately get in the way of this success.
Jason has worked for over a decade as a “workplace evangelist.” He is known for his passion and intensity for driving creative thoughts about employee experience. He also authored the book Unlocking High Performance and is the co-founder of the Employee Performance Academy.
“Some employees will be with you for a long period, while others for a short period. You have to leave them better than you found and have moved them in the path they want to travel. That’s the legacy we should leave as managers.”Jason Lauritsen
If you’re looking to develop your understanding of talent cultivation, then tune in, check out the key takeaways, or read the transcript below.
Patrick: Jason Lauritsen believes that people inherently want to do great work and leaders want the people on their teams to be successful. There is a challenge to making this happen and that lies in outdated, stuck mindsets and the fact that work can ultimately get in the way of this success.
I’m intrigued by this, so we asked Jason to join the conversation, to dig into this idea a bit more. With an amazing opportunity ahead of us in 2021, it is the perfect time to think about any barriers that we can break down that may be holding our people and ourselves back from doing great work and realizing success. Jason has worked for over a decade as a workplace evangelist. He is known for his passion and intensity for driving creative thought about employee experience. He’s authored a book titled Unlocking High Performance and he is the co-founder of The Employee Performance Academy. Jason, thanks so much for joining the conversation today.
Jason: Patrick, I am excited to be here. I don’t know, an intense, creative, evangelical is a little much. I’m going to have trouble living up to that, but I’ll do my best.
Patrick: There’s a number of adjectives in there, but I think that I can definitely hear your passion in the work that you do and what you have out there in the world around employee experience. I’m excited to chat with you today about your perspective on what we can accomplish in 2021. As I say, we have so much opportunity ahead of us, and it’s a great time for all of us to look critically, not only in ourselves at our teams and our processes to figure out the best way to move forward.
Let’s start with this concept, which I have to say is really intriguing to me, is this cultivation mindset. I know you’re quite passionate about this. First let’s start. What is a cultivation mindset?
Jason: This goes back to one of the things we have to do, in order to set that up, I have to tell you a little bit about myself. That starts with the fact that I grew up on a small farm in Northwest Iowa, right in the middle of the United States. It’s an agricultural community, a traditional farming community. I grew up surrounded by farmers. For a lot of years, that’s part of who I am. That’s part of how I grew up. I grew up early. I went to work working for neighboring farmers, doing fieldwork, and all this. I always had that as a background. I always had that as part of who I was in my history and my DNA, I guess if you will.
Much later in life, as I got into this work and I started digging into why work sucked so much for so many people and started to pull it apart and try to make sense of what was happening and try to make sense of what we need to do or how we need to go forward. One of the things that eventually struck me was that we do something very different at work than what I was accustomed to. Or accustomed to is being around farmers, I guess. I started thinking back to farmers and how they approach their crops, the work that they do. There’s this thing in farming called cultivation.
One of my early jobs was something called Walking Beans where literally I’m old enough. This was before some technology. I think there’s still a few people that do this, but most people don’t anymore, but we would go out very literally with these sharp machete-like corn knives or garden hose and cut weeds out of the bean field one by one. The reason we did that was because the farmers knew that if you didn’t take those weeds out when they were small before they got big, they grow big and they’d choke out their plants and the plants would die.
That’s an example of what farmers would call cultivating their crops. They know that they need to care for it. I got to reflecting on this and this really became clear to me as I was writing my book. When you think about farmers and you think about what they do, they’re really in the same kind of business that we are as managers. They are in the performance business. They have these crops that they try to manifest into their very best version of themselves so they’ll perform at their best. What farmers don’t worry about at all is they don’t worry about whether or not that plant is capable of performing.
When they put that seed in the ground, they know that that seed is fundamentally hardwired, programmed in its DNA to grow, to perform, to manifest into its best self. If it has what it needs to grow and there are no obstacles that get in the way of its growth or choke it out. Cultivation in farming is the work of removing obstacles and making sure that their crops have everything they need to grow. Then the plants do the rest. The seed does the rest, the genetic programming does the rest. That really hit me that I started reflecting on are humans really that different?
I came to the conclusion or arrived at the conclusion that I don’t think they are. If you’ve ever been around small children, we don’t have to teach children how to learn or how to grow. We learn how to speak complex languages by just being around the people speaking the language. It’s amazing. Our capacity for growth and performance is inherent. It’s in us. It’s hardwired in our DNA. I think organizationally having a cultivation mindset as a leader, as a manager, as an organization is about flipping the script. It’s about flipping and realizing that as human beings, just like those seeds that farmers put in the ground, we are genetically programmed for growth and performance.
Our work isn’t about trying to motivate growth and performance. It’s about making sure that those humans have what they need and that we’re getting obstacles out of their way. That’s how a cultivation mindset, that’s the foundation on which it lives is starting from that position, which is fundamentally very different from where traditional management starts.
Patrick: Where do you see those barriers or where do businesses get it wrong when we look at managing people or potentially creating barriers that they may not even know that they’re creating or allowing people to grow and perform? Where do you think businesses get it wrong?
Jason: I think we have a long history and legacy going back probably well over a century. I would say 125, 150 years where it goes clear back to the original conception of management. Management was created. It was an innovation that was created to take humans, put them in wildly unnatural circumstances and try to get them to do things that felt unnatural for them for long periods of time. Management’s job was fundamentally at the very beginning about how we get people to do things that really aren’t very natural or rewarding for them for long periods of time. That’s how management was created and we’ve inherited that legacy.
In that legacy is the assumption that in the absence of management in the absence of policy or structure or coercion people won’t do the work. When you start to recognize that as the foundation on which modern management sprung out of and has evolved from you start to see that things like– When you look into any policy manual anywhere and just truly read the policies and then ask yourself what assumption does this fundamentally make about people? My favorite one to pick on is dress codes. What is a dress code fundamentally assumed about a human being?
It assumes that an adult human given a little bit of instruction can not appropriately dress themselves. That is soul-crushing. There’s so many examples of that. Those are just simple things. It’s everywhere, when you start looking for it and recognize it, you start to see it everywhere. Even fundamentally job descriptions and performance appraisals, and all of that are kind of built around that same assumption. That if we don’t put management processes in place, we assume people won’t do the work, unless we force them to do the work or we coerce them to do the work or that we have all of that. You’d think we got over this. This is what the McGregor X Y theory was about and that’s decades and decades ago. We’re still working on it.
Patrick: In the absence of people being together in office, we know that the future is very different, it’s going to look very different. Many organizations also tie management of people to physical location. That ship has been turning over the past couple of months for the positive. I do think that it is still a struggle for many organizations to think about having a detached workforce. For leaders, managers to be really confident and comfortable with leading a team where they don’t have the ability to be with them in person.
What are your thoughts on leaders, managers making better connections, more effective connections with their teams to help them grow but not being able to do it with them in person? Or what do you see some of the struggles? Where have you seen some successes with that because, sure, a lot of companies are still really struggling with that?
Jason: They are. I think that’s a great point in the move to remote teams, the distribution of teams and then managers having to figure out or adapt to managing people from a distance, people that they can’t be with in person, I think revealed in vivid color how painful it is when you don’t adopt a cultivation mindset because at the beginning of this, there was so much narrative around how we’re going to send employees home and they’re not going to do the work, they’re going to watch Netflix all day.
That is a production mindset, that is the opposite of cultivation mindset. Because the fundamental assumption is, if I’m not there watching over them, lording over them, the king of the management empire, they will not do work, they will screw off. That assumption is what’s driving their thinking, their attitudes, and behaviors from a manager perspective. When we shifted, it revealed a whole bunch of things about that. That came out into the open.
One of the things that happened is that I think almost every organization was pleasantly surprised by how well their people did. Turns out when you give them some rope, you give them some autonomy, you get out of their face, let them do their work. Even in the face of tremendous challenges, dealing with their kids or roommate or sitting at a kitchen table or in the bedroom, they were getting the work done. All of a sudden, managers is like, “Wait a minute, magically, how these incompetent or want to be incompetent employees are suddenly doing their work without me being involved.”
I think there’s a real shift that happened. Number one is the managers realized, recognized this, or at least the smart ones that are paying attention did. I think the other thing that happened is we realized that what this has revealed is that we were not– I push back on this all the time, is that we have this romanticized version of what things were before we all went home. The reality was we weren’t managing people very well before. We weren’t well connected before. We just got a lot of false positives because I could see someone in the hallway or I could say hi or we could make eye contact once in a while in the break room that felt like I was doing my job as a manager.
Your people were still unclear, your people were still struggling, your people still felt unappreciated, and then when everybody went home, it just became more blatantly obvious. Now we have to fix it. The organizations to answer your question, the ones that are doing really well, have really leaned into– They’ve doubled and tripled communication, they’ve helped equip managers with how to have better, more frequent interactions with people.
How to do a better job of creating clarity around work, how to do a better job of delivering feedback on a regular basis, and more of a continuous basis. How to do a better job of checking in with people with the intent of finding out what they need to do their job more effectively. Those are all the things that the organizations that are thriving through this really leaned into. Let’s get the employees what they need because if we do, it seems that they will get their job done and take care of us.
Patrick: Yes, I agree with you on that, especially the idea of focused continuous conversations with employees. Employees have never needed or wanted their voice to be heard more than they have today. I truly do believe that’s going to continue. You brought up a good point around productivity and I want to come to productivity in a minute. I’m curious, do you have a personal story of a point in your career where a leader that you had, a manager that you had made a really fundamental difference to cultivating your growth, and why that stuck with you?
I’m just curious if one thing stands out to you, at any point. It could be when you’re working on a farm, but something that really stood out to you because another area that I trying to bring into these conversations is personal experiences that really stood out to you. If you have one, I’d be curious to hear what it might be.
Jason: I appreciate that question because so much of my work is born out of my own experience. My book is full of all these personal anecdotes from my journey both at work and in my life. I have a long list. Although I would say most of the list is of bad management experiences. This is a much better, more interesting question for me. One moment that stands out in my career and one of my favorite managers that I ever worked for, her name was Mary, she was my boss in my very first corporate job.
I want to be very clear that I am a terrible employee, I hate being an employee. I am weirdly wired in the sense that I like being 1,000% accountable for my own stuff. I’ve always been a handful, to put it mildly. I think that started early, my mom still claims PTSD from when I was a teenager, but I was a handful and this was my first corporate job. Before this, I had only been in sales or in entrepreneurship. I was a bull in a china shop and I came in.
On the one hand, I was able to get a lot done very fast, but like a bull in a china shop, in getting things done, I knocked all sorts of things over, I broke things, I hurt people’s feelings, all sorts of things. I didn’t understand corporate politics at all. There came a point in our– Mary, I think was exhausted with me after a while. There was a conversation that I remember having with her. Even though she was exhausted with me, she kept coming back to the table and she was willing to engage me.
She would humor my pushback and my learning and my development because she was betting on my talent and she was betting on my ability to figure it out. There came a point where we were sitting one day, and this was our umpteenth millionth conversation about different things. One of the questions or one of the issues was, my peers were rebelling against me because I was getting way more done than they were accustomed to an HR manager getting done.
I was just making things happen and building relationships. I was playing much bigger than traditionally HR managers had been expected or had demonstrated. She came to me one day and she again said it seemed like the dozenth time telling me about how my peers were complaining. I remember saying to her, “Mary, what do you want me to do? Do you want me to play down, to throttle back, and stop working as hard or caring as much because it would make them comfortable? Or do we want to finally set an expectation to invite them to step up? Because I’ll work with them, I’ll help, I’ll do whatever you need, but I need to know what you want. Is that really what you want, is for me to play down to make them more comfortable?”
She looked at me and she thought for a second. She said, “You know what, you’re right. You’re right.” Then we started in– Our relationship shifted that day and it became a partnership. From a standpoint of it sounds like a very selfish story, which it is a very selfish story, but the thing I loved about it is that she was willing to be in it with me. She was hearing me out. It wasn’t like what– It’d been ongoing, but then we arrived– She actually was willing to change her position or evolve and then we partnered and we created a solution together moving forward that would solve all of the issues.
I’ve never forgotten that. She had the humility to say, “No, this my job is to make this teamwork at its best possible.” She was cultivating me. She really was, I needed my voice to be heard and she was letting me do it. I accidentally said something that made sense.
Patrick: I love that. I also love what you’re saying about leaders, really effective managers and leaders flexing their leadership style to the individuals on their team. Ultimately, I truly believe that is a skill and it is a hard skill for a lot of managers and leaders to get to that point to be able to say, “This person on my team uniquely needs this and I need to flex my style a bit to support that.” Because you said an interesting thing where you said, “This sounds a bit like a selfish story.”
I actually believe that every employee should have an element of selfishness when it comes to their individual growth and development because if you know what you need and you know what is going to be good for you individually to grow and to become better, I think people need to articulate that. They need to be comfortable with being able to articulate that and not having people view that in a negative way because it is great to know. Most people don’t and if you can get to a point where you know what you need to grow and you get to a point where you can confidently articulate that, then that’s where conversations I think really start happening and success really starts happening.
Jason: I agree with that. The other thing I’d add to that if I might is that I also recognize one of my superpowers came out of pure privilege. It was purely the fact that I was born, I happened to have a brain that was capable of processing things quickly. I happen to be able to– I grew up with a school teacher as a mom and parents who never introduced the idea of limitations. I’m a big, tall, white Midwesterner. It didn’t ever occur to me that I shouldn’t just ask for what I wanted or needed when I needed it.
As a result of that, like I said, I think with Mary, I renegotiated my salary four times in the first two years I was there. I came to her at one point and said, “I’ve got maybe another year and then I think I have to leave because my career path is stunted here.” I said this out loud to her and most people look at that and say, “You’re insane.” I’m like, “I’m not insane,” because you know what happened is she said, “Okay, before you do anything, just hold. I need to tell you about what my plans are. Then she set up a lunch with the CEO and it turns out I was in the succession plan and it opened up a whole path for me.
Had I not said that though, I probably would’ve just left. They would have been like, “Why are you leaving? We have plans for you.” One of the things I try to do is try to help people and it’s this wish or a grand like tilting at windmills is helping employees understand that first off if you don’t know what you want, you can never ask for it. If you don’t ask for what you want, you will hardly ever get it. Part of what I try to do on a regular with people is set a message out that says, “Get clear on what you want and where you’re going and what you need and then be willing to ask for it because what’s the worst that can happen?
They can say no, and now you know that it’s not there as opposed to assuming so many other ways that work goes wrong for employees is based on assumption. As managers, we have to help people with that process and be okay with that. That journey as a manager, you’re just caring and feeding for their career for a little bit. I’m just caring for this. The difference between managers and farmers, that farmers see the cycle from life to death, all the way through. For us, we just care for that human being for a short period of time. Some of them will be with you for a long time and some of them for a short period of time, you should just want to leave them better than you found them and have moved them along the path that they want to travel. That’s the legacy we should want as managers.
Patrick: Just a couple of minutes ago, you talked about productivity, and that is a hot topic right now. There’s a lot wrong with the concept or how organizations are looking at productivity today. There’s been a lot of progress as well with many companies that were quite fearful of productivity and are employees going to be productive in an office. Here we are, big organizations are saying, “We’re never going to go back to an office again.” There’s this conversation happening in some places around monitoring productivity, so there’s a lot around productivity. What do you see right now in the workplace that’s going right with productivity and the concept of it and how organizations are approaching it and what’s going wrong?
Jason: Well, let’s start with what’s going wrong because what’s wrong with productivity or at least most of the conversation about productivity, not all of it, but most of the conversation about productivity is that it, again, is anchored in this traditional production mindset. The production mindset, which Gary Hamel wants to describe management as management’s purpose was to get human beings to perform like semi-programmable robots or to turn human beings into semi-pro programmable robots that sort of the invention of management clear back in the production industrial era. That production mindset is where productivity came from.
Productivity, in that mindset, is so we have a human asset and productivity is how do we maximize the output that we can get from that human asset? How can we squeeze the most out of it possible? That’s what we were trying to do on a production line, filled with human beings. We still think of it that way today. We think about productivity, it’s what is the total amount of output divided by the total amount of human beings? Then we’re always trying to get more. We’re always trying to maximize. We’re always trying to move that number up. The problem with that is that it leads to burning people out. It leads to all sorts of negative impacts, both on people and performance.
We have a burnout epidemic and part of it is overwork, and overwork is stemming from the fact that organizationally, our thought about productivity is how we squeeze the most out of every human lemon. Just squeeze it, all the juice out and then once you’re used up, we’ll move on and get a new lemon, so that’s what’s wrong. Even when at the beginning of the pandemic when everybody went home, you saw these reports about productivity has improved. Well, what they’ve done is a lot of people you’ve seen reports have gone back and looked at that, and what actually had happened is that yet overall output improved.
The reason that output improved is because people were working more hours, getting more juice out of the lemon. Whereas the companies that are doing it well, that I think are getting it right, have flipped productivity on its head. What they’ve realized is that productivity, when we understand that our job is to help human beings create their potential in a way that feels good and makes them more whole, if we start with that, if we’re creating a human workplace, then productivity, isn’t about maximizing the output. It’s about helping humans achieve what we need from them, what is expected of their role in the most efficient and effective way that keeps them whole and produces the best output.
It’s maximizing their talents and contributions towards a goal. All of these reveals the dirty secret underneath all of it is that we suck at defining expectations and production outputs, and because we don’t know what we want or what we need or how much we need, we just keep squeezing those human lemons dry and then they burn out and we’re surprised they’re burnt out and leaving us. it’s a predictable cycle and it’s easy to fix if we do the work.
Patrick: There’s something very core to that, that I’m also quite passionate about, which is this idea of goal setting. You also mentioned autonomy at the start of the conversation. I think there’s this trifecta that is the success to the challenge that we have, organizations have with this concept around productivity. One is autonomy, as you said. We have to be able to just empower people to say, “Look, this is what’s expected, and we’re giving you the power and the ability to get the work done. That is not classically how organizations have approached this concept of work and workload and time at work.
I feel like there’s been a bit of a wave over the past maybe five to eight years might be a bit generous, but let’s say five years where younger organizations, when I say younger, newer startups or scale-ups have said, “Okay, focus more so on, empowering you to get your work done in a way that works for you, but setting very clear expectations and goals.” I agree with you, I think many organizations don’t do that well. We need to very quickly figure out how to do that well because that is all about employee empowerment.
Jason: It is.
Patrick: Then we have this concept of autonomy, which is empowering people to find the way that works for them to get work done. I think there’s this third area, which is around leadership or management support. That is where a manager needs to step in and take a different approach from managing to time to managing to output. That is, it’s easier to manage time. It’s just easier. It’s easier to say, start working at 8:30 in the morning and the workday is from 8:30 to 5:00 or whatever it may be, this antiquated idea of a workday in time. That has completely changed.
The concept of a workday is maybe I work for three in the morning and then I have childcare, eldercare or something for two hours. Or I go outside just to get some exercise because I can’t exercise anywhere else and so my day is split. Do you have any suggestions for organizations that are struggling with making that shift from managing for time or managing to time to managing to output? How do you help companies make that leap because it is a big leap for some companies to do?
Jason: Sure. Well, what you just described is I think very fundamentally the shift from production mindset to cultivation mindset. Production mindset, think about what production lines manage to do throughput as a function of time, and so time is a fixed asset that you can define. There’s a variety of things. I think my role, my gifts, or way of tackling this with organizations in the world is to start with mindset, is to work on mindset because if you are in a production mindset, I can come in and talk to you about all sorts of manager techniques and all sorts of behaviors that you should be doing with your people doesn’t stick because it doesn’t make any sense.
Like, “Well, yes, but what about 8:00 to 5:00?” It’s like until we can move beyond that, and so part of that though starts with, again, back to– You laid it out. It starts with crystal clear expectations and that’s expectations not just about what needs to be done. We’re not good at that, but we need to be a lot better at that. Here’s what the output is here’s managing to output managing expectations there, but there’s also, how are we going to work? What are the rules of engagement? I have been teaching, I have this managing virtual teams course. I keep coming back over, and over, and over, and over again in this course because it’s built on how do you do this as with a cultivation mindset?
It keeps coming back to everything starting with clarity of expectations, and that can be if your team isn’t communicating very well or your meeting sucks, guess what? It’s because you don’t have clear protocols and expectations about what you’re going to do and how it’s going to work and how we’re going to participate. Like we just have left too many things unsaid or unclear. That’s where a lot of my energy happens to be. If I’m going to be coaching with managers or with a team it’s like, number one, are we clear on expectations? Number two, autonomy then, clear on expectations is not just defining it clearly, but it’s also making sure that people have line of sight into their progress.
Because if you’re going to have true autonomy and you’re saying, “Okay, you are responsible for this outcome.” If I don’t have a clear line of sight into my progress on that outcome, then I can’t truly be autonomous. For me to be able to make decisions about that, that’s where I need to be. Then as the manager, to your point about shifting it, shifting the manager conversation is what I tend to focus on, which is instead of doing a report out on what you’ve done. Which is what we do in most one-on-ones or updates or check-ins. The conversation is about what are you focused on? What issues do you have? What obstacles are you facing? What do you need? How can I help?
That’s the conversation that managers have to be having? It feels complicated. It’s not complicated. It is simple, but it has to start with leaders saying, “Clear on expectations, and then your job as a manager is to make sure those people have what they need and that you’re moving obstacles out of their way,” because in a cultivation mindset, we know that if people have what they need and they don’t have any obstacles in their way, they’re going to go do it, or they’re going to die trying because that’s what we are wired to do. Oh, by the way, we also crave acknowledgment and appreciation from others. Of course, we’re going to try to be successful. It is pretty simple, not easy, but it’s pretty simple, and it just starts with those fundamentals.
Patrick: Moving obstacles out of the way that is, if we focus on that as leaders, as opposed to trying to focus so much on managing the process or managing the output, managing the time. If we just move the obstacles out of the way and just allow people to do what they’re naturally pre-dispositioned to do, that is a good place for a lot of leaders to start. Because I don’t think many leaders are thinking, how do I move obstacles out of the way for my team?
Jason: I think one of the things that’s also shifted in the last year, and it’s a barrier that a lot of organizations have to get over is this idea of work-related or what a manager should have to deal with is gone. That is evaporated. Obstacles might look like, “I have three kids at home. I’m trying to manage school for my husband is worthless. I’m on my own here. I’m trying to do that on top of all this other stuff. Oh, by the way, I don’t have a private space to have Zoom meetings.” Those are obstacles. Those are real-life work obstacles. A manager needs to be in that.
The manager has to be helping them solve that, like, “Okay, what do you need? Let’s figure it out. Let’s get you resources. Because my job as a manager is to clear the path so that you can be successful. Those are getting in the way.” Even our conception of obstacles has to get much, much broader because this fallacy of work and life separation is gone. Finally, work is part of life. It’s part of how we live. It’s something that gives us meaning and purpose. It’s not separate. We now see this very clearly. We’ve had to look through our Zoom screen right into the lives of our people and we can now see it. That’s the real work.
I think that’s the hurdle that we’re trying to climb right now, is helping managers get over the fact that your job, the days of being lazy and hiding and not doing your job and pretending like you’re doing your job because you’re spending 12 hours at the office every day are gone. You’ve got to make– If your people aren’t crystal clear on what’s expected and you’re not in there with your sleeves rolled up, helping them manage obstacles and get them out of the way and getting them what they need to perform. You are not doing the work. That’s the work. If you don’t want to do that work, then find a different job that doesn’t require that, there’s plenty of them out there. That’s the hurdle we’re at.
Patrick: Jason, I appreciate your passion for this. We’re coming to the end of the conversation. We could talk for hours, but I appreciate your passion for this. Your direct talk, I think is refreshing. I know a lot of people are very much going to appreciate that. Thank you for sharing your perspective. We have a great year ahead of us. I think you and I should have another conversation maybe in early 2022, and see what we accomplished this year.
Jason: I am optimistic that we are in a reinvention cycle and that the future for work from an employee’s perspective is very bright.
Patrick: I agree.
Jason: Having these conversations is really important to facilitating that. I really appreciate the invitation to be here.
Patrick: Perfect. Thank you, Jason. I appreciate it.
Jason: Thank you.