This week, on the 52nd episode of the Talent Experience Podcast, our host Anne Fulton sits down with guest Susan Kushnir of Quantum Leap Consulting LLC. Susan is a Learning and Development Executive, a highly accomplished thought leader in the field of Human Resource Development and a recent co-author. Together they dive into her newly released book, “Decoding Executives: What they say, what they mean, and what you should do”, which explores the common miscommunications that occur within employee and executive conversations.
Tune into this episode as Susan and Anne explore “how to speak the language of executives”, the gig economy, creative thinking around the career experience, the value we get from trying new things, and so much more! Listen now at tlntx.co/e52 or wherever you like to podcast!
Here’s how the conversation went… This interview has been edited and condensed.
Anne Fulton: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Talent Experience Podcast. I’m your host, Anne Fulton and our guest today is Susan Kushnir. Susan’s a thought leader in the field of human resource development, highly accomplished organization development and L&D Executive who’s worked with a broad range of organizations from Fortune 500 corporations to consulting firms, to public sector, and more. Most excitingly, she’s also the author of a newly released book, Decoding Executives, what they say, what they mean, and what you should do. It’s going to be so fun today to learn more about how to decode executives. So welcome to the show Susan, thanks so much for being here today.
Susan Kushnir: Thank you for inviting me, I’m thrilled to be here.
Anne Fulton: Thank you, it’s been so exciting to see the release of your book. And I really love the description and the abstract, you know, that employees sometimes regard the executives and their firms as unknowable, mysterious, and sometimes even see their bosses as dangerous, particularly to the unlucky souls who may run afoul of them. So, the result is that many workers can’t or don’t try to communicate with their higher ups. I think that’s such an interesting opener. I’d love to understand a little bit more about what was the catalyst for you writing this book. And what was, you know, where did the idea come from?
Susan Kushnir: Well, throughout my career, I’ve always been extremely curious about how very well intended employees, typically an executive, and another employee could have a conversation, and then have totally different interpretations of what was meant in the conversation and the action that was supposed to be taken. This book talks about well-intended people, this isn’t like there’s a bad person in the room, or anybody who’s setting somebody else up for failure. This is for very well-meaning people who just had a disconnect and walk away, thinking they understand each other, and then realizing that they don’t.
Anne Fulton: And I think that may happen to all of us, right, you know, the best intentions into those conversations. And I guess, you know, in your role as HR, you must have seen things, you know, go in all sorts of directions. You know, I thought they’d be amazing insights for everyone, but particularly for those at an early career stage, right, you know, when they’re right at the start of the career journey, you know, what do you think are the learnings for that audience?
Susan Kushnir: Well, for me, the learnings that I see would be things like, most people don’t understand that higher ups actually have a different way of speaking. And I like to call it, they speak the language of executives. So rather than French or Russian or German, they’re speaking the language of executive. And executives don’t need to understand employees, as much as the employees need to understand executives. In most cases, the executive is the client, and really should be treated as such. So, the (inaudible) in this book Decoding Executive was really built so that individuals could develop their own guide to their executive because every executive obviously is different. And the five areas that the book focuses on to help build your own guide to the executive are decision making and information, formality, and communications, and also data, those are sort of all together, they come into five different areas.
Anne Fulton: I love that, you know, talking executive, and I think we all need to do that. And, you know, given I have the CEO hat, my people kind of know that I do love data, you know, and how, you know, we’re entering a data lead decision making era and our business. So, you know, if they helped me with providing some data, with some evidence, or some, you know anecdotes that support, you know, what they’re bringing, I know that would be something that I’d be wanting to hear from people. So, I love that soundbite.
Susan Kushnir: You would be an executive that loves lots and lots of data. And maybe even the more data you have, the more that you like, because you really make decisions based on this data. I was once working for an executive who wanted to have everything very much boiled down to two or three paragraphs. And by that, I mean, even a focus group that had reams and reams of data. She just wanted it in two or three paragraphs, and it took a while to figure out why. But the reason was because She had an iPhone. And she wanted to know the summary, just so that she can read it on the iPhone with having without having to scroll, she had one of those jobs where she got inundated with tons and tons of emails. So that’s how she best absorbed it. But to me, I’m thinking, you know, we just had a series of four groups, and you want it in that little bunch that, you know, just a couple of paragraphs, but she’s the client. And that’s how she absorbed the information.
Anne Fulton: That’s amazing. So, you know, that sounds like a real insight and decoding executives, and every executive is going to be different, right? So, she (inaudible), really powerful. You know, I know that we are really focused on careers and career development, but what are you thinking are some of the career competencies that are matter today in our new world of the career experience for the decade of the 2020s.
Susan Kushnir: I think that this is such an amazingly exciting time now, for human resource professionals, for employees around for everyone, if you like change, and a lot of change. So, we’ve had a number of new factors enter into our workplace recently, some of them are responses to COVID, the Great Recession, new technologies, a quicker cadence to work, and so on. So, this need means that a lot of our competencies need to be modified. For instance, I hear a lot of people that are inundated with, with a lot of information, instant messaging, different emails, not just two emails, but maybe six different emails that they have online newsletters, company announcements, and so on. So, they’re bombarded by lots of information. So, I see a new competency that’s emerging now, which would be the ability to integrate information. So those who could take a lot of information that’s coming up all different angles, suss out the most important things and act on it, I think we’ll be ahead of the game. Another competency that I see coming, is that of intellectual curiosity, and that is one that we certainly have now. But I think it’s higher, it’s going up in importance. So, this would be people who are interested in things like technology in whatever space they’re in, or hybrid working, or something I’m passionate about is really implementing the gig economy, we see people that are resigning, and many of them want to try different kinds of things. So, I think that kind of variety of work, is going to be brought into companies in a much more strategic way than it has been until now.
Anne Fulton: Yeah, fascinating, because I think the gig economy is going to be here to stay for a bit longer. I’d love to understand what your thoughts are around the gig economy within organizations. And you know, what does a learning professional need to be able to do to support the gig economy within their organization today?
Susan Kushnir: Well, certainly project management and execution are very important, and has been for as long as I can ever remember. But now with the gig economy, we’re going to have to be much smarter about how we bring people into a company for the onboarding. And also, how do we offboard them. We can’t take six months, we can’t have people disappear and have to, you know, take a long time to learn and test etc, we’ve got to really go to more of a micro learning philosophy, maybe even using gamification or something like that, because people will need to have practice for knowing whatever they need to do. And execution, I think that we’re going to see some shorter assignments. And we’ll see that more people will want to create their own career paths. And that’s really important because I believe that people are often leaving companies, because they want something different. They want a different kind of career path. They want to have more control about where and what they’re doing. I think something like the, the gig environment will help stretch them. We’ll also need to develop a lot of standard work for repeatable processes, so that when a new person comes, they can just hit the ground running much more quickly than in a traditional environment. And one of the things that I love about Fuel50 Is that you are further ahead than most companies I know if not all of them about managing the gig economy.
Anne Fulton: Yeah, I mean, obviously, that’s something that we’re really passionate about. And absolutely, as you’re saying, it’s allowing people to own their futures, and craft their own way and get access to stretch assignments and projects, you know, that it’s going to help them grow their skills and competencies. So yeah, we’re deeply committed to that, so you know, thank you for the reference there. I’d love to understand, you know, how you see that playing out in organizations? Because everyone, you know, what does that mean for the business leaders for the employees themselves?
Susan Kushnir: I think it means a lot of great things. So, for instance, when I go to interview for a new job, Often I’m asked about why I made particular moves in my career. And I had something that I say, and I try and make it very organized, etc. But the truth is, sometimes it was because it was a promotion that came, and it was part of my career ladder. Other times, it was something interesting, I wanted to try. Other times it was because some job became available that I thought, hey, why not? So, I think we’re going to see less of the career ladder, which is a very linear way of moving up in one career, very viable. But I think we’re going to see more of the career lattice. So, the career lattice, to me is a progression pathway that can go in any direction, it can go up, it can go down, sideways, horizontal. So, to me, that means that in the employee’s terms, that employees don’t have to stay in their department necessarily, they can go in other departments and try different kinds of projects. I think that will try different kinds of projects, because this will expand their careers, and then they’ll see where they want to land. I see this as very good. Also, for the senior people that may want to test out somebody’s skills, as long as they keep it organized. Doing something like a career lattice, or a gig assignment is very different to me, than shadowing somebody. Because if you were to shadow me, you’d see me typing on my computer, you hear me talk on some meetings, it would kind of look a little flat. But in the gig economy with a gig assignment, you would be part of the project, you’d have deliverables, you’d have objectives, you would be part of it. And then that’s a real test where I, as a manager, get something back from you. And you as the employee working on a project could see how you think about it. When Freud said, I just saw this recently, Freud said that we either choose our occupations or spouses for a rational reason. I think that’s going to be more and more true, as we go into this new environment with the Great Recession.
Anne Fulton: I love that insight. And you know that that comparison between the, you know, the ladder and the lattice and bringing in more of a play factor, I think, you know, a ladder is so linear and so narrow, you know, that I really do think that we are ready for disruption around that. And we often talk about it as being a little bit more like a snow park or a snow field. You know, where you’re snowboarding down, you’ve got to choose, you’ve got to do your homework, you’ve got to choose the weather, but you’ve also got to choose, you know, do you want skis? Do you want snowboard? Do you want tramping boats, you know, what are you want to do to us on that playground? So, you know, what are the kind of, you know, what’s the lens that you’re bringing? Who do you want to play with? And, you know, what are the experiences that you want to create along that journey? And, to us, it’s gonna be about fun. So, I love your ideas there.
Susan Kushnir: I love it, because we have made some progress about the dual career path. Do you want to be a manager or an individual contributor, but that’s still too narrow? We’ve got to, as you said, disrupted and blow it up, and make it so that it’s more employee centric.
Anne Fulton: Yeah. And, you know, so yes, so at some, you know, what runs do you want to do, and, you know, when the weather turns, you know, you’re gonna bring out your mountain bike, you know, to play on that same playground. So yeah, to us, it’s thinking, you know, in a much more creative way around what career experiences need to look, Mike. And I love that reciprocity of learning that you were talking about, you know, so the manager benefits from your project contributions, and you’re really benefiting from, you know, the learning opportunities of working with different people and gaining skills along the way. Yeah, I love the story that you shared with me earlier, around the Van Gogh Immersion Experience. I thought that was a great story for our audience. So, what you know, can you maybe fill us in a little, fill our audience in on that?
Susan Kushnir: Sure. So, I recently had the chance to go to the Van Gogh Immersion Experience. And, and those are, I believe, all over the world, the one I went to was in New York City. And one of the quotes they showed really resonated with me. It was “If you can hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” To me, that’s a very freeing quote. So that says to me, if somebody says you can’t do something, whether it’s yourself or somebody else, start doing it if you want to. Just try and do it. And then you know what that voice will go away, because you’ll be doing what you thought that you couldn’t. So, it means that there’s fewer limits than there ever have been before, and that there needs to be a new control that.
Anne Fulton: I really love that story that, we can give it a go. And one of my most inspiring friends, when she turned 60, she decided to try something new every year. And oh my goodness, she’s such an inspiration. And here she is 85 now, and you know, doing all sorts of crazy things, whether it’s, you know, dancing on roller skates, or horse riding or driving a race car, took up knitting, you know, all sorts of things that she’d never tried. So, you know, to me, that’s really inspiring. And don’t let our beliefs hold us back. Beautiful quote for us to leave on, Susan. So of course, we could keep chatting, I think for hours yet, but I’d love to wrap up by asking you a question that we posed to all our guests who come on the Talent Experience Podcast. And that is, you know, what do you love most about what you do?
Susan Kushnir: I love the creativity. I love finding new ways to do things, whether it’s, you know, startup projects, or starting up a university, or looking at things slightly different. That’s what absolutely energizes me and the more I do of that, and practice that skill, the happier I am.
Anne Fulton: Thank you so much, Susan, there has been such an inspiring session. So, thank you to everyone that’s joined. And thank you, especially to our guests, Susan Kushnir, for joining us and being part of the Talent Experience community. We really appreciate you taking the time to sit down and chat with us and inspire us and I’m certainly getting a copy of the book, to add to my library and to share with many others. I think it’s going to be brilliant. Thanks, Susan.
Susan Kushnir: Well, thank you for having me.