09 December 2020

Using Purpose To Find Harmony | Is Purpose Working Podcast Episode 3

Dani Johnson
Co-founder & Principal Analyst

TL;DR

  • This is the 3rd episode of our podcast season: Is Purpose Working?
  • In this episode, Dani Johnson of RedThread and Chris Pirie of Learning is the New Working interview Rachel Fichter, Global Head of Talent and Leadership, at S&P Global.
  • Rachel shares, Why there are still Purpose challenges and trade-offs, Why everything she does is like interpreting a musical composition.
  • A special thanks to our season Sponsor, NovoEd for their support!

Listen

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Guest

Rachel Fichter, Global Head of Talent and Leadership, S&P Global

Details

Wall Street might not be the most obvious place to find a company with Purpose. But then we found our podcast guest, saying things like, “If purpose is an articulation of the reason for existence, we end up articulating something we were already living,” then—maybe we’re in the right place after all.

Meet Dr. Rachel Fichter, once a professional cellist and educator who now spends her days helping colleagues accelerate progress in the world by providing intelligence essential for companies, governments, and individuals to “make decisions with conviction”… in other words—live out the company Purpose statement.

The company in question she’s doing all this at is the world’s leading provider of credit ratings S&P Global, where she’s the 22,000-strong company’s Global Head of Talent and Leadership. What’s interesting is that her company is also helping its customers better orient to a Purpose perspective, by creating environmental social and governance information products that help investors better evaluate companies around important metrics like climate change to social justice, as well as help clients understand where it stands with respect to those increasingly critical KPIs.

On this podcast episode, Rachel tells us all about her journey to such a position, and why Purpose could matter for a global financial data and analytics company like S&P. So, a definite important contribution today to us gathering the inputs to try and answer our question of, ‘Is Purpose Working?’ Like me, if you’re interested in how questions around how talent management, leadership development, executive coaching, organizational development, culture, and workplace Learning factor into the Purpose discussion, then you’re going to want to hear Rachel’s thoughts.

This podcast interview covers topics like:

  • How S&P has adopted a consciously ‘agile’ approach to delivery these past couple of years
  • What reimagining the performance experience looks like
  • The importance of the 2019 Business Round Table Purpose statement to S&P’s new focus on Purpose
  • Why there are still Purpose challenges and trade-offs
  • Why everything she does is like interpreting a musical composition

Resources

Webinar

This season will culminate in a live online gated experience (a webcast) where we'll review and debate what we've learned. Seats are limited. Secure your place today, over at www.novoed.com/purpose.

Partner

We're also thrilled to be partnering with Chris Pirie, CEO of Learning Futures Group and voice of the Learning Is the New Work podcast. Check them both out.

Season Sponsor

Global enterprises rely on its collaborative online learning platform to build high-value capabilities that result in real impact, with its customers working to deliver powerful, engaging learning that activates deep skill development, from leadership to design thinking and digital transformation, as well as driving measurable business outcomes.

TRANSCRIPT

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
Hi, I'm Rachel Fichter and I am the global head of talent and leadership at S&P Global. And today's date is October 12, 2020.

Chris Pirie:
Rachel, welcome to ‘Learning Is the New Working’ and the series that we're doing with RedThread on the topic of purpose. So if you’re ready to go, we’ll dive in.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
I am ready to go and happy to be here.

Chris Pirie:
Great. So we always ask people where they live and where they work and why.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
Well, right now I'm actually in Cologne, Germany, but I'm normally based in New York City. And, of course, there is nothing normal about life at the moment. And since I can do my job from anywhere, for personal reasons, I'm currently spending a few months here in Europe with my husband, who's working.

Chris Pirie:
How would you describe the kind of work that you do at S&P Global?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
Yeah, sure. So my title is global head of talent and leadership. And I would start by saying it's interesting because I was recently speaking with my chief people officer who told me that the word talent is so outdated and I should come up with a new title. So I am open to ideas.

Chris Pirie:
What do you think, Dani?

Dani Johnson:
We're hearing a little bit about that too, a little bit of backlash against the word talent, because it dehumanizes folks.

Chris Pirie:
I hear a lot about people trying to get away from 'human resources' as a phrase, but I haven't heard any backlash against the word talent.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
Yeah. And I think it not only does maybe dehumanize, but I think in the past it referred to a select group of people. And as I see the talent role evolving, ultimately talent is around our people, and it becomes, it has a much broader, I think, it now has a much broader connotation than it used to. Last week, I attended a conference and I noticed that everybody who was a chief talent officer or head of talent was talking about all of the people and not just a small subset of people. So either we're saying that all of our people are talent, or we should be thinking about it in a different way. Maybe that's another way of looking at it.

Dani Johnson:
Can I ask a quick question on that, Rachel? I have a soapbox right now where I'm just mad at every organization that has a HiPo [High-Potential employee] program, because I think they're fairly biased. And as you mentioned, they focus on a really small group of people. I was just wondering kind of what your thoughts are with respect to that.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
It's a great question, Dani, and something that I've really been thinking a lot about, you know, in my role and also connected to some of the work that we've been doing to promote racial equity. So there are several things that I've been working on around bias. And one of the things that I'm now doing is looking at how to use data to inform decisions around people who are part of a HiPo program, because I agree with you that managers tend to have biases. We all have biases, right? I think that's pretty clear. We all have biases. And if we're just looking to our managers and maybe to the people function to give us the names of people, we are going to miss out on others who might have lots of potential. And so one of the things that I've been doing is really looking at data and how do we leverage data to help us find people in the organization who might be missed because of those biases.

Chris Pirie:
I see. I get it. So the word talent has some echoes of sort of an elite, this notion that there is some people who are talented. Rachel, can you tell us a bit about S&P Global for people who are not familiar with your organization? What's the business model and what service does it provide?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
S&P Global is a global financial data and analytics company. Basically, we turn data into insights for people to make investment decisions. So we analyze data from millions of different sources to deliver actionable insights that help investors and a range of different people involved in the financial markets to grow their own revenues, to manage risk, and make any range of business decisions.

Dani Johnson:
Can you tell us a little bit about the organization population, the major job roles, and sort of some of the dominant demographic trends you're seeing?

Dr Rachel Fichter:
So we have about 22,000 people around the globe. We are a very global organization. About half of our people are in Asia, in particular in India and Pakistan. And, in addition to kind of all of the typical functional roles that you would find in any organization, finance, risk, et cetera, we have domain specialists, our ratings analyst, people who do research, people who do editorial work.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
We have roles that we call content roles and data roles. So I remember being surprised when I first started that we have employees who are members of the same union as journalists are. And that's because we do a lot of publishing. And of course, sorry, I should also add that it won't come as a surprise that technology is really important to our business. We are increasingly a technology-driven business. We have a small army of amazing data scientists. We have software developers, cloud engineers, UX designers, InfoSec and, and our technology function operates solely in agile as well as other functions actually, such as mine, the people function. We also are operating in agile as well.

Dani Johnson:
I’d like to understand what ‘agile’ looks like for the people organization.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
We created a people agility function about a year and a half ago. And so we took all of these people who had traditionally been aligned to different functions. So like within the talent function, I actually have, well, I have one direct report, but that's really a legacy thing. Generally speaking, I get everything done through these project teams that come together from this group of people in the people-agility function now, and then work together with that team using agile methodology, agile practices, rituals, to lead those projects. And so one of the projects that I'm leading, just to give you an example, is reimagining the performance experience. And we have a team of about six, full-time team members. Plus we have some people who work with us on a part-time basis, and they are all team members. We create user stories. I have a scrum master, and then everybody, they take their user stories, choose which ones they want to do every other week.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
We do sprint planning on a biweekly basis, and it's just a really great way to manage a project. And what I'm finding is that people are getting the opportunity now to dive into areas that they weren't familiar with before, they're expanding their skillsets. They're learning, you know, about new aspects of being in a people function. I have, for example, have one person who's on the comp team. And he's been doing quite a bit of work in the performance space, partly because he has the comp expertise, but also, he's been doing many other parts of the performance, you know, thinking about the new performance experience. And I think everybody's having an opportunity to learn new skills and become broader in, you know, in what they're able to do as a result of that. So yeah, so several of us in these types of project-oriented roles, like the one I'm in where, you know, whether it's a talent program that I'm running or, you know, manager development or performance project, all of these are run using people who come together specifically for the purpose of executing these projects.

Dani Johnson:
I love this idea. I think we talked about teams a lot in some industries, but I love the fact that you're using it specifically for the people practice. And I love the outcome that everybody is learning different things about different parts of the organization, but also really developing some skills that can be used later. I love that idea. Does your organization have an explicit purpose statement? And if so, what is it?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
Yes, we do. And it is, ‘We accelerate progress in the world by providing intelligence that is essential for companies, governments, and individuals to make decisions with conviction.’

Dani Johnson:
That's really strong. How deeply is it connected to sort of your core business model and your operations?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
I would say it's increasingly connected and that actually accelerated over the past couple of years. We became S&P Global about four years ago. Previously, we were McGraw Hill Financial. And when we became S&P Global, we refocused our strategy, called it ‘powering the markets of the future.’ And since then, we've been consistently looking to define what we do in terms of accelerating progress. And that's been a really powerful motivator for people to come up with ideas around what does that look like? What does accelerating progress look like? One example is our strategic focus on ESG. And for those of you who aren't familiar with that, it's environmental, social, and governance. And we have a range of different products in that space that help our companies to understand where they are with respect to accelerating progress in whether it's with respect to climate change, to social justice and governance issues that they might be facing as companies.

Chris Pirie:
So let me see if I can understand that. So you're creating products, sort of information products that are helping people who want to invest with one of those kinds of lenses. Is that an example of the kind of work?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
Well, actually what we would be doing is we would be creating products that help evaluate companies for investors. And sometimes we it's a range of different kinds of products, right? So there are several different products that we have in this space, but one of those would be to help a company understand where it stands with respect to those and how it compares. And we also factor that into when, for example, if we're evaluating a company as well.

Chris Pirie:
So I think one thing is your, this sort of, the sense of purpose that you have as an organization has resulted in new products and new go-to markets.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
I think that's a really interesting question. I'm not sure if it's the chicken or the egg here, but I would say that, I guess this goes to this question of if a purpose is an articulation of the reason for existence, then I would say that we ended up articulating something that we were already living, right, because we've been working in the ESG space for a while. And we were working in that before we actually articulated this idea of accelerating progress in the world. But I believe that part of it is that actually you can't just come up with a purpose that doesn't match who the organization is. You really have to think about, it has to be something that is you. And so I think really what we were doing was simply articulating that. And I think that then you can take that and then own it and shape your organization and your products and your culture and your people around that in a more intentional way.

Chris Pirie:
Is it possible for you to share with us anything about the process of coming to that purpose statement?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
Well, as I said, there were several things going on. One was we had become McGraw Hill Financial in a split with McGraw Hill Education several years earlier. And then from McGraw Hill Financial, we rebranded ourselves as S&P Global about four years ago. And after that, we started really looking at ourselves as a company. And actually, I think some of this happened when we hired our new chief people officer. So we actually went from being an HR function to a people function which is also very much in line with how at least I envisioned accelerating progress, which is with our people. But I think that our chief people officer at the time when she started a couple of years ago, she also created a new function, which was a head of culture. And which was to say that we were intending to focus explicitly on our culture. And it was as part of that work that we ended up refining our purpose statement and not changing our values, but refining the meaning of them for us.

Dani Johnson:
One final question and kind of along those veins, I'm really interested in how you're thinking about stakeholder relationships. So some of the organizations we've been talking about, they're no longer just thinking about the shareholder on the outside, but also the employee, the customer, this player, you know, the actual shareholders, partners, society, those types of things. As you were putting together your purpose statement, can you talk to us a little bit about how those groups were taken into account, or if they were taken into account?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
They absolutely were taken into account. So if we go back, I think to, what was it, maybe the middle of 2019? I'm pretty sure it was somewhere in 2019. The Business Roundtable came out with a new statement of purpose for the corporation, where they said we are no longer going to live by this idea that the only purpose that a company has is to make, generate profits for a shareholder, right, i.e., Milton Friedman, and that we are going to look at all of our stakeholders, our people, our customers et cetera. And so we actually, it was all this time. So we are a signatory of that Business Roundtable new statement, our CEO was, and it was just at that time also that we did reshape that purpose statement. So I believe that that purpose statement is very much in line with accelerating progress.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
And, and I guess the way I look at it is I, first of all, I think you need to make an assumption that, you know, that you interpret progress as helping to improve all people's lives, right? Because you could, you know, anybody could make that very narrow and say, you know, accelerating progress for our shareholders, but that's definitely not how we intend it. So I think that it's absolutely very, very central is that our people come first, and we have adopted a people-first approach with everything we do. We actually even have now, I think we're in people-first 6 dot 0 right now. We've come up with a range of different initiatives and support, I'd say more than initiatives, for our people over the last two years that have really shifted us from let's say away from being more focused on a shareholder to much more focused on our people in our communities.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
I would also, however, say that we've always been a very community-oriented company, and that's also I think one of the reasons why we've always had a collaborative and caring kind of culture. And that is another one of those things where I say that we've now articulated sort of this, this kind of collaboration and care as an output of what we already have. You'll see that, for example, in, you know, in our people proposition now, but it's, I think it's also another one of those things that was there all along and that we just have now called it out.

Chris Pirie:
It's great that you mentioned the Business Roundtable. We actually start our whole season with a quote around that. What was the process and what was the experience of kind of landing this purpose statement in the culture of the organization and were you in your L&D role any part of that?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
I think we need to look at L&D in a slightly different way in our company. We don't even have an L&D function, right? So we don't have a learning and development function, not in the traditional sense. Learning at S&P Global is actually quite decentralized. So we have business-led learning that sits in the divisions, and then we have the talent and the leadership space, which is centralized. And then we have a group that focuses on culture, right? So I mentioned earlier that we have a head of culture. We also then extended that to have having a head of people engagement as well. So if you look at it, it's really kind of the sum total of those three groups who have been responsible collectively for, you know, thinking about how do we, first of all, how do we engage our people in a dialogue around what our purpose should be?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
And so we went through and it was very much a business-led endeavor as well. It wasn't something that was, you know, relegated to the people function. It was a business leader-led initiative where we went, there were many, many, many iterations over many months where we had dialogue around what would be, also together with our colleagues in the public affairs and corporate communications and branding and thinking. There were so many different functions involved in kind of thinking about, well, you know, what is it that we do really well? What is it that that we want to really focus on? And what is our purpose, right? As opposed to just putting something on paper and then trying to disseminate that.

Chris Pirie:
A real dialogue across the whole organization with leader-led, but lots of participation.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
Absolutely.

Dani Johnson:
Rachel, I'm really interested in how that's changed the way you do your job. And if there are sort of specific examples you can give us about how that purpose, that definition of purpose has really impacted the overall way you run your people practices.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
Yeah, absolutely. I think it's changed a lot. The biggest shift that I've seen, I think, as a result of this and leading up to it was our people-first strategy. So as I mentioned earlier, we came out with this people-first 6 dot 0 last week. So that means that we have six iterations of what it means to be people first. So aside from completely transforming our benefits, for example, on the learning side, we now offer a tuition reimbursement in the US up to $20,000 a year from 5, to promote a learning culture. And that's part of accelerating progress, right?

Chris Pirie:
That's a pretty explicit statement.

Dani Johnson:
That’s impressive. Wow.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
There you go. If you spend $10,000 of that on learning and you happen to have outstanding student loan debt, you can get the remaining $10,000 for that year to pay off. We just announced a global care leave policy of six weeks to take care of a child or an elder during COVID-19. And we also just announced that Juneteenth will become a company holiday next year. So those are just a few examples, and I have so many more of what we have done to shift the focus. And of course we're still focused on our shareholders, right? There's, obviously we are, because we can't do all of these things for our people if we're not in business, right? Really taken this commitment to a whole new level.

Dani Johnson:
That's amazing. Are there challenges that have arisen because of so many changes that you’ve made?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
You know, it's hard to be fully focused on, you know, doing things for our people. We will always have to make decisions and tradeoffs. And so I guess, yes, you could say that sometimes we do have challenges, you know, and there's always more that we should be doing that we haven't done. And I guess one of the things that happens as a result, you know, you become a, maybe you become a victim of your own success because there's always more that you can do and more that you should be doing, but we just don't have, we can't do it all. And we can't do it all at once.

Chris Pirie:
Is it different to be a talent leader in a purpose-driven organization, in terms of the impact of having a purpose on the core HR function?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
I actually love having a purpose like this. I mean, I, you know, we shouldn't forget that all companies have had a purpose and in the past, it's just maybe that purpose wasn't as altruistic or, you know, as meaningful as it might've been. I actually see, you know, my focus is on enablement and development. And part of my job is to help leaders define at a more granular level what accelerating progress means, and then translate that into an inspiring vision for their organizations and their teams. So I actually really liked Simon Sinek’s term for vision. He calls it a just cause. And I think that if I can help leaders identify just causes for their own just cause, and then get people on board to follow that, which is under the umbrella of the overarching purpose of our company, that's going to be a really good outcome.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
And it certainly gives me something to hang my hat on and something that I can feel proud of as well personally, right? Because I want to do something meaningful with my life. And I want to feel like that I'm making an impact and that I'm helping people to do something meaningful and do it better. And so feeling like I have something that, you know, like accelerating progress and how I envision that and how I can help leaders to do that and translate that into something, you know, important for their people gives me a sense of purpose as well. So I actually really like it.

Chris Pirie:
Can we talk about this year, 2020? The global pandemic, the social unrest and the calls for social justice around the world, I think have been cause for reflection for pretty much everybody. I wonder how it's impacted your operations and your work so far, at least.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
Well, I would say that COVID in many ways has helped us to accelerate our purpose. And also the calls for social justice. In terms of COVID, manager flexibility has been a key topic area. We've expanded our coaching offering significantly to help managers deal with the challenges of remote work. Actually we had a really great alignment with some of the work we were doing around reimagining the performance experience because we were, as part of that and part of some of the experiments that we've been doing in that space, we were also eliminating performance ratings and a large part of our business chose to eliminate the performance ratings at the midyear because the whole concept of how could you measure performance in an environment like this? It's just, it takes on such a different meaning.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
And, you know, COVID is something that we all, it's something that binds us, and you know, that we all face together as humanity, but it's also something that plays out in very unique and different ways for each individual. And there are some people who have small children, there are other people who have elderly parents. There are people who had no network access in some of the locations where we do business. So being able to do your job just takes on a very different meaning and picking up the slack or, you know, picking up areas where your teammates can't work doesn't mean that you should get a better performance rating at midyear. It means that you're a great team player and that you've really supported people when they needed it, but to put people at a disadvantage because they didn't have a network connection or because they have children who they had to homeschool, I think, you know, that's something that we were really looking seriously at and trying to help managers to be able to come up with new ways of support, you know, working with their employees and getting the job done. And actually, I think in many ways, our productivity has been through the roof in spite of all of these challenges and even in spite of not having any, given any ratings out and midyear. So that's one area on the COVID side.

Dani Johnson:
It seems like you're very optimistic about the future of your organization. And I love, love, love some of the changes that you made. I'm wondering if your organization is viewing them as sort of, especially the things that are wrapped around COVID, if you're seeing them as sort of stop gaps until we get back to normal, or do you think it will literally change the way you do work?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
I have no doubt that it will change how we do work in the future. I mean, look, we all know that the future of work was coming and we all know that in a way it's being accelerated right now, and we have a massive, massive strategic project right now called ‘Project Reimagine’ where we are using not only COVID, but also looking at many things that have happened recently, including you know, the calls for social justice, as a way of really reimagining how we work in the future. So I think that we're using this as an opportunity. We were already planning on experimenting with no ratings, even pre-COVID. And we're continuing those experiments. In many ways, I am hopeful that these experiments and that what happened in COVID naturally will also be, encourage us to continue along the path.

Dani Johnson:
Are you implementing technologies or services or systems that have been helpful in this change?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
We're talking about that now. I mean, our workplace services is an amazing team. I mean, they got 99% of us up and running in a relatively short period of time, remotely. We've always been a very global organization and we've been, you know, we've had great technologies for a while and we know how to work remotely together, et cetera, but we were not working virtually, you know, there was maybe 3% of us working virtually from 3 to 99%, in a very short period of time, and they are always experimenting with new technologies and I've just been in touch with them because also in the manager development space, for example, which is one of the areas that I work on, it's very connected to this ‘Project Reimagine’ that I was mentioning. And so right now we're looking at, you know, coaching apps and tools and how to use AI to do broad, you know, large scale coaching for managers. So that's that absolutely. I mean, we're not doing it yet, but we're certainly looking into it.

Chris Pirie:
I’m really, really interested in this ‘Project Reimagine.’ It sounds like if I've got this right, you're actually going to be very deliberate in thinking about how you move to whatever the next phase is. And then you're going to take the opportunity of this disruption of this year to sort of rethink what you want the work experience to be like. Is that, I don't want to put words in your mouth, but is that what you're saying?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
Yeah. That's, that is absolutely correct. So we are looking at how, where we work, how we work, how, you know, what are things going to be like post-COVID when we can all come back to work together? We're certainly not an organization that is saying, ‘Hey, look, we've been so successful working remotely that we're going to let everybody work remotely from now on.’ I think that's not necessarily where we're going, but what I can also say is that we are not going to force people to go into the office. That's for sure. Again, in line with our people-first approach, we want to make sure that anybody who's going into the office is doing it because they really want to be there. But we do have, you know, we are working on figuring out how do we bring teams of people back in safely into the office. But also along those lines, we are looking at how do we turn this into an opportunity to really improve the work environment for everybody and think about, well, how can it add more value to the company and to the work we do?

Chris Pirie:
What do you think are the biggest challenges for talent management and the immediate future?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
I think that, you know, going back to the discussion that we had at the beginning where we were talking about, well, what is this talent function anyway, it's so broad now. Talent is no longer that subset of people in an organization who have been kind of identified as the elite few or the HiPos, right? You know, this is about our people and this is about enabling all of our people. And so I guess the breath of it and figuring out how do you tackle that I think for me is one of the toughest problems that I'm facing is there's so many, it's such a big area, right? How do you make choices about what you're going to focus on and who you're going to focus on when it's really more about all of your people?

Chris Pirie:
It makes me think a little bit about some work that Dani did before on the learning side where the sort of shift was, you know, learning used to be the responsibility of one small group, like the learning team. The change that needed to happen is that everybody needed to take accountability and responsibility for it. And the learning organization was not just a department, but it was the entire organization. It sounds like a similar shift going on.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
I couldn't agree more. It's great that you bring that up because that's one of the models that I've been promoting now for several years, and that we're really focusing on. I think I mentioned earlier that we've expanded our coaching opportunities as part of wanting to help managers to learn how to be more flexible in how they manage. And our coaches are not just people from the people function. We have built out a coaching capability that is broader than that. And we've invited people who are in the business who are interested in learning how to be coaches and have helped to build their skillsets so that we can offer that. And because there's no way we could ever possibly meet the needs of an organization this size with the number of people who we have.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
So we need to be super smart about how do we scale these things up, right? We need to be super smart about how we scale up and how we operate at scale. And, you know, this isn't, this is another area that I've been very focused on, which I guess, you know, now that I think about, it is a challenge. I didn't think about it that way before, you know, making sure that we have developmental opportunities for so many more people than what we've been able to do in the past, right? And, typically you remember the times where we had a program and we launched it maybe for 15 people. And they said, well, okay, we'll pilot it this year, and next year, maybe we'll double it.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
You can't do that anymore. You've got to scale it up quickly, because especially if you're going to change culture and looking at how things changed so quickly and how much you need to spend time with people, it's so crucial that we're, you know, that we're working on these things at scale. So I think that's one thing. I would also add that another area that I haven't talked about, I'm really excited about how we've tackled it, is this whole performance experience. And I, you know, I've mentioned a couple of times that we're reimagining performance management and we call it ‘Thrive,’ the new performance experience, and we're working with intact teams. So we're not doing broad training across the board to try to convince people to do something different. What we're doing is we started, we're using agile. Like that's what we're doing.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
We're experimenting. We invited teams to come and join us, intact teams. We have advisors who are aligned to those teams and who are responsible for them. And we've worked with those teams as we're implementing the different phases or the different elements of ‘Thrive.’ And it's really all about helping them to improve the performance of their people. And we work with the managers, we work with the people, we do development with them, but we all do it in these experimenting groups and with intact teams as a way of helping to get specific and granular and help people to think about it within the context of their work. And then we have a group of advisors, and then we have these, what we call ‘Thrive Partners,’ who are also extended people who we've also trained up to help managers on a larger scale.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
Because you know, we now have about 2000 people who are experimenting and which is much greater than the five or six people who are working on this. So it's all about scale and how do you tap into the energy of the population to help each other. And by the way, along those lines of tapping into energy, I want to just add something else that I've been thinking a lot about is that there are always people in the organization who love working on people topics. And, you know, and I can remember times maybe a decade ago or more where, you know, where we were telling people, you can't do that. That's the last message I give people. I'm so happy to be able to tap into that energy now, right? And to figure out how to let them run with it, how to give them the tools and the capabilities so that they can bring this further into their organization. For me, that's where it's at. It's not in formal classroom training anymore. I don't really like to do that.

Dani Johnson:
Amen.

Chris Pirie: Amen. Amen, indeed.

Dani Johnson:
Our next question was going to be to ask you for advice. And I think you've given us some really good advice. The first one is, think scale always, and then tap into pockets of energy that already exist and leverage the people on the ground. Are there other bits of advice that you would give to talent leaders regarding sort of aligning to purpose?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
I think you have to work at it every day. You can't get complacent. So as I was thinking about this idea and our discussion today, it reminded me of a book by a man named Steven Mandis. Steven Mandis was at Goldman Sachs and wrote a book about his experience. And he then used the term organizational drift. And that really stuck with me, this organizational drift concept of how you can move away from your purpose and your core values without knowing it. And I guess any advice that I would give is that you really have to work at this every day. You just can't get complacent or you risk organizational drift.

Chris Pirie:
We always ask a question on the podcast, and we always have, even before we got the purpose bug, why do you choose to do the work that you do, Rachel?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
I think it's a mixture of happenstance and intention here. Here's a story about when I first started my doctoral studies in 2013, the first class that I took was a class on writing your life history. And the idea behind writing your life history, doing this narrative, is that after you've written it, you analyze it. And you understand the points along the line of your life, that where there was something, an event or something meaningful, or some kind of a change that helped you to learn and grow. And as an adult, you know, aspiring adult educator at the time, or I guess I was already an adult educator, but an aspiring scholar practitioner, educator, the idea is to understand what motivates people to learn and what are the points along which, you know, you grow and develop.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
And so you start with yourself. You know, I started with this: when I grew up, I was a musician. I had never any intention to become a learning and development professional, or somebody in the leadership and talent space. I started playing the cello when I was six, and I thought I was going to be a cellist for the rest of my life. And I, ultimately I went to school, I got a master's degree in music. And then I went to Europe to play, and I became a professional cellist. And so I was writing about this, and then there was a shift, and I won't go into that because that's way too long. And it requires, you know, an evening together, a post-COVID evening together.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
But what happened was that I started talking about the shift that I made into the learning and development space. And I did that sort of via music. And as I was going through and looking at this timeline and looking at my narrative and reading through it again and again, I realized that actually I was coming back to something that was always very important to me, and that it was, this was a very natural thing for me to do, even though it felt at the time, it felt so foreign because both of my parents have advanced degrees and education was such a deep core value in my family. And I think my children also suffered from it being such a core value. It's too bad I didn't do my doctorate before they were teenagers, because I ultimately learned how that value drove, you know, many of the things that I expected of them, which, you know, maybe wasn't as fair as it should, you know, as I wanted it to be later on. But ultimately being an educator and coming back into the learning and development space was very much aligned to who I am as a person.

Chris Pirie:
Lovely story. How does your musical background play into—that's a really bad pun. I'm going to change that. How does your musical background influence, what, how you do your work or does it at all? Is there, are there any connections there?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
It absolutely does. Everything I do is like a musical composition. When I design a program, it's almost like I can hear it in my head. I can hear how it starts. I hear how it evolves, and I hear how it ends. And so, you know, when I think about a learning experience over, let's say at 18 months with a group of executives, it's like, I was never a composer, but I was always an interpreter of other's compositions, but I'm, it's the idea of how do you interpret, you know, you can hear, you could even go back to purpose, right? How do you interpret the goals of the company and translate that into something, into an experience for, you know, for our people?

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
And for me, there's something musical about that. How I write whenever I have to write something, I hear the intonation, I speak it. I don't just write it. I have to read it. I have to hear the intonation. I have to hear the rhythm and feel the rhythm of it. So it's very much, and I also would say just one, one final thought on that is that I've never been somebody who's good at conforming. And I think, yeah, I know you're laughing because you both know that, right, about me. And I think that, you know, that comes also from the spirit of being a musician. And you have, you just have to have courage to be able to get up there and play in front of, I don't know, 500 or a thousand people.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
And you have to have something to say, you can't do it if you don't, right? And then there's also the perfectionism in me because, you know, being an artist as an, you know, help with respect to perfectionism, because you actually want to be able to play every, every note you're supposed to, right? And especially when you get up in front of so many people. So that's another thing, I guess that's sort of more on the negative side, you know, the desire to have everything perfect.

Chris Pirie:
I was going to call you on this. So there's a lot of deliberate practice and hard work that goes into it.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
Exactly. Exactly. Yeah.

Chris Pirie:
Rachel, thank you so much for your time today and your insights on leading talent in a purpose-aligned organization. And it sounds like a, it's an ongoing experiment for you, and please come back and share with us how things go at some point in the future.

Dr. Rachel Fichter:
Sure. Yeah, it's, it's so much fun to be able to speak with you both.

Written by

Dani Johnson
Dani Johnson

Dani is Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research. She has spent the majority of her career writing about, conducting research in, and consulting on human capital practices and technology. Her ideas can be found in publications such as Wall Street Journal, CLO Magazine, HR Magazine, and Employment Relations. Dani holds an MBA and an MS and BS in Mechanical Engineering from BYU.

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