How important is onboarding?

Ideas, The Future of People Initiatives
November 15, 2022
34 min

Key Takeaways:

  • If you don’t create accountability for onboarding it won’t improve; someone needs to be held responsible for the onboarding process and its results. 
  • On average, Michael finds that leaders are facing a 4 out of 5 level of exhaustion. The key for exhausted leaders is learning self-leadership and effective emotion management. 
  • It’s the role of a leader to show their team how their work contributes to a greater purpose.
  • Champions for positive change within organizations must begin by making alliances. This means demonstrating the value your ideas have for other leaders within your organization.

Introducing Michael Watkins


Michael is a Professor of Leadership and Organization Change at IMD Business School, Co-founder of Genesis Advisers, and the author of The First 90 Days.

From professor to accidental guru

I like to describe myself as the ‘accidental guru’ because I didn’t know The First 90 Days was going to take off. I didn’t know it was going to hit a wave. I didn’t know it would have the impact that it had. But it did, it took off. […] Within a relatively short period of time from being Mr. Negotiation to being Mr. Transition.

Michael was not always known for his work in organizational change and transition. Rather, he began his career focused mainly on negotiation and diplomacy at Harvard’s Kennedy school of government. After teaching a class on transitions he wrote his first book, “Right from the start.”


Michael’s first book saw moderate success – selling about 50 thousand copies. So, when The First 90 Days became a hit, he was taken by surprise. From there, his career shifted from a focus on negotiation to organizational change and transition. Since then, Michael has authored numerous books on the subject of change within organizations. He is now an essential thought leader for anyone looking to direct effective organizational change.

Who owns onboarding?

If you don’t localize it, it’s not going to happen. It just doesn’t happen. I think this helps explain why, even though there has been a ton of research about the value of onboarding, there are still far too many companies that just don’t do a good job. Right, because there’s not a natural single home for this.

Despite the large investments represented by new hires, often no one owns onboarding within organizations. Without ownership, few people are willing to commit the resources needed to create and sustain effective onboarding. The result is that onboarding, more often than not, ends up falling through the cracks or simply not happening. 

Michael notes that onboarding doesn’t necessarily fit well within any particular department as it is its own unique process. With this in mind, Michael believes talent acquisition or L&D should own onboarding.

Our leaders are struggling with exhaustion

I dared to ask the question: on a scale of one to five, to what extent would you describe yourself as exhausted? The average answer was four. Lots of people at a five, right, so imagine a bell curve centered on four. And that’s where people are at – they’re exhausted.

The past few years have not been easy for leaders. From the pandemic to social unrest, leaders have endured shock after shock. These changes have taken a toll. However, Michael notes that these changes are not likely to stop any time soon. So, how are we to manage our energy and stay productive? 


Michael suggests that leaders should focus on building their emotional agility and resilience. For Michael, this means developing your ‘inner leader’ first and foremost. Inner leadership refers to how a leader manages their own energy and how they bring themselves to work. 

Meeting people where they’re at

I talk to people a lot about the practice of micro presence. The breath before you answer the phone. The pause before you sit down in the meeting. Just little things that make a difference.

Leaders have a vital responsibility to ensure that their people get what they need to succeed in their roles. But when leaders themselves are barely making it through, how can they hope to anticipate and meet the needs of their teams? 

How important is onboarding?

Michael emphasizes that leaders don’t transform overnight and that real progress means long-term incremental change. When Michael hosts workshops for leaders he spends the final day discussing the realities they will return to. He knows they won’t be able to apply everything they’ve learned overnight. Instead, he encourages smaller practices that lead to greater results.

One strategy that Michael encourages for incremental improvement is the practice of ‘micro-presence.’ The act of micro-presence is a moment of mindfulness before tackling important interactions that can make a difference over time. 

When leaders bring themselves back to being fully present in the moment, they are better able to engage authentically with their teams. This authentic engagement, meeting them where they’re at, is the first step in ensuring that their people are getting the support they need. 

Leadership is storytelling

A part of the role of the leader is helping your people make sense and contextualize what’s going on. It’s helping them understand the story of which they are a part. That sense-making and storytelling become ever more important as you get to higher and higher levels of leadership.

Team leaders are not just task dispensers and schedule enforcers. Instead, Michael tells us that a leader is a sense-maker for their teams. A good leader doesn’t just hand out assignments but helps the team understand how their projects fit into the bigger picture of the company and where it’s going. 

The role of storytelling is probably most easily understood when looking at highly visible leaders, such as CEOs, who have to paint a vision for the future of the company. But the role of storytelling is also vital for the leader on the ground who can connect the big picture of the company to the everyday work the team is performing. 

Advice for champions

As for senior executives, you know, I always say you have to understand what their agenda is, and how you fit into that agenda, and how you can advance that agenda. Too many people start out with, ‘here’s what I want, here’s what I need.’ Well, to start with, why should I care? Show people how you’ll help them make their numbers, meet their objectives, and get their next promotion.”

Not everyone is quick to buy in to new ideas. For good reason, people don’t tend to buy into disruption for the sake of disruption. Further, new ways of doing things can easily be perceived as a threat to people with established roles. 

Michael tells us that champions for positive change must begin by making alliances. That means looking for ways to help the people who are already influential. By showing the direct value of your ideas to other leaders within your organization you’ll find that the arguments make themselves. 

Conversation Transcript

Adam  00:05

Well, Michael, I gotta say, I’m excited to have you on your name. And your book comes up over and over again with guests. On the show, when I mentioned it on LinkedIn, I had multiple folks reached out and saying how excited they’re looking forward to this conversation. So welcome to the show. I’m gonna kick this off with a quote from the book, one of my favorites, although it’s difficult to pick a favorite joining a new company is akin to an organ transplant and you’re the new organ. If you’re not thoughtful, and adapting to a new situation, you could end up being attacked by the organizational immune system, and rejected, rejected. Just a fascinating thought. So Michael, what I’d like to begin is what inspired you to write the first 90 days.

Michael Watkins  00:48

Sure. So I’m gonna take you back to 1999. And I always like to say that I was in my late teens when I started studying leadership, which, of course, is a total lie, as you probably can tell. And I was teaching at the Kennedy School of Government. At Harvard University, I was a negotiation specialist, and diplomacy and international trade. But I agreed one semester, almost on a whim to teach a course on organizational change, public and private sector, and I invited somebody to come join the class, his name is Dan Champa. And he was a coach who worked with leaders in transition. And we just got talking and, you know, it became obvious to me that there was really something there, right, there was a there was a fascinating topic that lots of people had written about leadership, lots of people have written about organizational change. But really, nobody had written about beginning to enter an organization and get up the learning curve while simultaneously trying to make change happen, right, that conjunction of things. And that got pretty interesting. And so Dan, and I talked and I started doing a whole series of interviews, and we wrote a book that called right from the start that, you know, in his time, I think, sold probably about 50,000 copies, which for a business book, not bad, right. And then I got going from there to start to work with Johnson and Johnson. They approached me after the recognition, I came out to start to work with their leaders, because they were having a lot of regrettable losses, and people failing and transition. And so they wanted to do something about it. And they came to me, I said, Sure. And we put together a program. And over the next kind of two, three years, I work with leaders globally, taking new roles at j&j, mostly director of VP level kind of roles. And I just learned a ton, like a ton of ton of time, because I’m talking to people all the time. I’m in Asia, I’m in I’m in Latin America. And of course, you see the themes, right? You see the common struggle, as you see the kind of traps that people fall into. You’ve also see what helps. And I’ll give you a real simple example. Right, which is one of the frameworks in the book is what I call the stars model, right for startup turnaround, accelerated growth, realignment, sustaining success. The basic ideas, the way you organize your transition depends in part on what kind of situation or mix you’re going into, right? You’re going to behave differently in the startup and a turnaround. Well, that just came exactly from these discussions, because I was talking to these folks realizing, and I’m immersed in these conversations with them that you know, the situation matters, right? And me, there’s general principles out of right, there’s stuff you can apply, you know, get all the wins. That’s a great basic principle. But what an early win is, and how you go about getting it depends pretty dramatically from situation to situation. And so it was a, after a couple of years of that, and refining the ideas and refining the frameworks and seeing them have an impact that I sat down, I wrote the first 90 days. And the first 90 days, you know, I like to describe myself as the accidental guru. Because I didn’t know I was going to it was going to take off, right. I didn’t know it was going to hit a wave. I didn’t know, you know, it would have the impact that it had. And but it did, right. It took off. And I went, you know, not exactly overnight, but within a relatively short period of time from being Mr. Negotiation to being Mr. Transition. Not that I have any regrets, right, because the first 90 days to salt, a couple of million copies and it remains of work that people find useful, which is incredibly gratifying, right for that to be the case. And that’s a long answer to your question. But that’s the that was the launchpad as it were.

Adam  04:42

It’s a fascinating story, accidental guru. I love it. And what I find fascinating in your book, there’s a lot of frameworks. There’s a lot of methodology and systems but there’s also a lot of common sense. And what we find over and over again, common sense isn’t common action. So organizations Spending extraordinary resources and recruiting. It’s a beautiful journey. And then the jokes begin. Right? We were recruiting you yesterday. Welcome aboard. Welcome aboard. And now let’s see how you perform. And with your book and your process, I think you’re going to be able to make some of those jokes go away. So Michael, here’s my next question. And we’ll follow the pattern as we think about the future of people initiatives, if you were speaking to, to a CEO, right, and you’re talking about onboarding and its importance, and of course, at the CEO level, they’re focused on key metrics, critical goals, boards, this shareholders, perhaps government is involved in certain regulations, why should they care? What are the some of the biggest goals in their organization that they can influence by really adapting these methodologies,

Michael Watkins  05:53

so reducing rates of derailment, it’s the rates for new leaders coming in from the outside are still higher than they should be coming in to use mentioned the organ transplant metaphor, and it’s really the case, right that organizations can reject otherwise good people if they don’t do the right things, right. I mean, if you continue the metaphor, Adam, it’s kind of like how do you fool the immune system? You know, how do you? How do you get in there and, you know, begin to really embed yourself in the place without triggering, you know, that reaction, and I used to joke, you know, you do the wrong things. Antibodies are secreted and killer T cells clump around you. And ultimately, you’re either digested or expelled from the organism, like, it’s really is a biological process. So I guess they put first and foremost to that you spent a lot of time a lot of money going out and finding great talent. You know, and your expenditures substantial. The stakes are high, the opportunity cost of a person not leading a business effectively can be immense. And then you kind of like sink or swim, right, goodbye, Thanks for the memories, you know, we’ll check in in 18 months and see if you’re still with us, you know, oh, it’s not at all uncommon for leaders to leave at around the 12 to 18 month mark. And that’s sometimes that’s just, you know, mutually agreed that that’s the right thing to do. We made a hiring mistake, but often it’s regrettable outcome, you don’t really want that to happen, which points us to a second thing, right. So if derailment, reduction is one, retention is another, there’s really good evidence that if you do a good job of welcoming someone into your organization, and helping them successfully integrate that, they’re going to stay longer, right, and you’re going to retain that key, that key talent. And then I guess the third thing I would say is time to performance. You know, the research we’ve done, you know, and I did some research with Egon Zehnder, a few years ago. If you do the right work here, you can you can accelerate time to performance by 50%.

Adam  07:54

What I’d like to do is this idea of time to performance, and I was fascinated reading that in your book. And when I asked the question of what are the business goals that could be influenced by adapting these methodologies, where my mind goes, the question of performance, which is every CEOs key metric are mostly not all, mostly about activating and sustaining change within their people to improve performance, revenue, customer service, you name the metric. So Michael, would it be reasonable to assume by taking on a new way of thinking about onboarding, you can improve? top line bottom line name a metric?

Michael Watkins  08:34

So? Well, so let me step back from the question slightly, and then I’ll get to your question, right, which is, you know, the first 90 days, the methodology, and the book is written for individual leaders, you know, I’m going to help Adam take charge in his new role, right, and you’re going to be Adam fantastically successful if you follow the basic principles. But the real power comes if you apply this at the level of the organization, and you focus on accelerating everybody taking new roles, which we’ve done in some clients. And that’s not just the people onboarding, it’s people making internal moves. Some of those internal moves can be harder than onboarding, sometimes they can be a lot like onboarding, because you’re going to a different part of the organization with a different culture. And so, you know, my basic message message around this is, this is this is a system, right? It’s a system for accelerating everybody in the organization. It’s a common language, it’s a set of tools. And if you can instill it into the organization, and let’s assume you can get everyone who makes the transition to performance 10% More, which I think is conservative, I think you can do better than that. And you magnify that across the entire organization. And you think about you know, the opportunity cost of lost time and moving businesses you think about agility. You know, the Business Case is ridiculously easy to make when you when you do it. Am I getting at your point?

Adam  10:05

There? Absolutely. There is a game changing when we think about performance. So Michael, where I where I like to go next is where a lot of my conversations are, I wouldn’t say stalling. But we begin to wonder about a future state. The question is, who owns this thing? Right? You mentioned it’s for leaders, right? I’ve spoken to Chief Learning officers, I’ve spoken to chief culture, there. Is this the CEOs? What are you seeing? Is there any consensus for who should own this type of people initiative inside organization?

Michael Watkins  10:36

Oh, Adam, how much time do we have? It’s such a good question, right. And let’s, let’s narrow the focus a little bit, just onboarding, because I think it’s quite illustrative of the problem, right? So who should own onboarding? Should it be talent acquisition? Because they’re acquiring the talent? And shouldn’t they be the ones that are responsible for integrating people? Should it be learning and development? Because you know, it’s really about learning and developing people once they’ve been acquired? Right? Should it be, you know, business unit HR, because they’re on the front lines of this whole thing. And they’ve got a big incentive, should it be the leadership, the hiring manager that they’re reporting to, because who has a bigger stake. And, you know, it tends to fall through the cracks of that ambiguity, right. For just onboarding, I think you need to have really high level support at the at the unit level, from operating leaders and HR. I think that probably the best place to put it, if it’s just onboarding is with talent acquisition. But they often struggle with that, because they’re often folks that have done talent acquisition, right, their search people, right, and the notion of taking on onboarding can be difficult. The next best thing is to have lnd overseeing it, you know, and they’re, sometimes the real value is in having the right putting in place the right processes and systems and tools, rather than actively doing it. But it’s a complicated question, right. I mean, I just go back to j&j. I mean, we do a lot of we’ve helped a lot of leaders at Johnson and Johnson today, take new roles. And they have a part of their corporate organization, their learning and development and talent management organization that handles executive coaching. And that’s where transition coaching resides, and they do a terrific job, they do a terrific job. They also have a program that they give three times a year for newly hired or newly promoted VPS that I actually am a small part in. But, you know, if you don’t localize it, it’s not going to happen. It just doesn’t happen. And I think this helps explain why, even though, there has been a ton, a ton, a ton of research about the value of onboarding, there’s still far too many companies that do it that just don’t do a good job. Right, because there’s not a natural single home for this. But we also know that anything that you syndicate responsibility for the risk is not it doesn’t get that at all.

Adam  13:21

Yeah. And you nailed it there that this idea of if it doesn’t reside within the business unit, I just call it that for for the combine the terms operational, you know, relevant to your every day, but it doesn’t reside in business unit resides somewhere else. You have a check the box, it’s not competing for attention. It’s not needed. It’s not holistic to the employee experience. And now, how do you reconcile that to the employee value proposition, which is a whole other can of worms, who owns that, and I’ve had responses ranging from, we should break up l&d from being centralized and put them inside business units. l&d in its current form should go away. It should be incorporated inside business units as something else. That is not just a partner to but native, in, in the business units. So Michael, if you don’t mind what I’d like. So what I’d like to what I would like to go next is as we think about onboarding, I think it’s important for any people initiative for us to reflect on the current mindset in the workplace, and what I keep hearing over and over again, and I’d like to hear your point of view. attention span shorter than ever, the stress higher than ever. avalanche of notifications. There is no person human onboarding, who says Can I have another app? Can I have another notification? Everyone everywhere, is reaching their limits of avalanche of information, and are continuously climbing further up. What are you hearing and seeing

Michael Watkins  15:00

exhaustion. You know, I think you’ve nailed it i Not another organization I did a, what’s called a masterclass recently with a senior audience. And I dared to ask the question: on a scale of one to five, to what extent would you describe yourself as exhausted? The average answer was four. Lots of people in the five, right, so imagine a bell curve centered on four. And that’s where people are at of they’re exhausted. Right, and why are they exhausted? Because there’s been, you know, the the large scale, you know, trauma, right of the pandemic, there’s been shifting your life into Portfolio Virtual mode. And now having to shift it back again, there’s extraordinary turbulence in the political, social, economic environments, right. Technology, right, accelerating, I mean, that there’s, there’s shock after shock after shock, right, that are that’s hitting people now. And I don’t see any particular prospect that that’s going to get better, you know, anytime soon, right. And so, I mean, I think the question that you’re answering, asking, and it’s a profound question is, how do we continue to manage our energy and be productive? Given that this is the brewer, this is the new world we’re living in? Right. And I think every leader needs to focus on that question. It’s a question of energy. It’s a question of how do you manage your energy? I teach an executive program. I’m co director of executive program at IMD business school in Luzon, Switzerland. And the whole first week of the program is what we call the inner leader. Right? And a lot of it is really about how do you kind of ground yourself? In the midst of uncertainty and ambiguity? How do you be systematic about managing your energy? How do you demonstrate the right prior presence for your people, you know, and it’s, it’s become just so terribly important, you know, resilience, obviously, emotional agility is a big piece of what we do, right? The ability to, you know, manage your emotions, manage your reactions to things because we’re very triggered these days, right, we spent a lot of time and triggered mode. And that’s not a good place to be for, you know, at all right, even from a physical and physiological and health point of view, it’s not a good place to be. So, ya know, I’d say, you know, and I worry, I don’t want to take us down a road, you don’t want to go down, but what the future holds. Right? You know, I, if you told me that in my lifetime, I we’d be talking seriously about whether nuclear weapons will be used. I would have said, No way, right. I mean, I’m old enough to remember, as a young child, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and my father, my parents stockpiling food and doing duck and cover drills, right, but I think we thought that was all gone, you know, that crazy environment of violence and disruption and destruction. And yet, here we are, you know, and I guess I wonder it just, you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately about the kinds of leaders we’re gonna need, help us through these times.

Adam  18:22

On unfathomable dangers, right, that are that are more real now than ever, and you just made it real conversation. You talked about a real topic. And I think when we think about the mindset of folks inside organizations, we got to get to this level of how real their lives are, you know, stressed and anxious and what’s impacting them. But Michael, where I’d like to go next, if you don’t mind is to really dare to dream a little about the future of people initiatives. Because let’s assume you and I are right, it’s not going to get better. Let’s hope it doesn’t get worse, but it’s not going to get better. So now, when we think about how do we make people initiatives more effective, and we dream about that state? Often this conversation takes us down the rabbit hole a bit of well, what can we learn from marketing? Marketing is effective gets people’s attention, right? It’s relevant, it’s personalized. It goes down the rabbit hole of technology and data, what do we know about the employee experience and the context of that experience? So Michael, when how would you answer the question, how do we dream about a future state or people initiatives are more effective than they are today do or dare I say are effective?

Michael Watkins  19:46

So great question. Look, you know, I have a dear friend who I think you might really enjoy meeting for the program for your podcast. His name’s Nicholas Gianni, and he’s just written a book called The leaders healer. He also someone who appears in my does a big chunk of my executive program. And I’m gonna kind of paraphrase a bit of what he would say right, which is we are caught in the mode of doing not being right, in the endless hamster wheel of production and productivity without being connected to our fundamental selves, being alienated, in fact, from our fundamental selves, we bring that into our teams. So our teams don’t really talk about what matters. It’s not permissible to have conversations about we are afraid. We don’t know. Right? It’s not permissible to bring emotions to the table. And I’m, I’m paraphrasing to a degree, Nicholas’s work, because I think it’s very, it’s very powerful. And I think that until we are willing to reorient ourselves to the reality that people are exhausted, and they need to be able to talk about it, that people are afraid. And they need reassurance, right, that there’s a whole emotional substrate of things going on here that are being suppressed and in the suppression or highly dysfunctional for what’s going on. Now, you know, I’d love to tell you, I have an answer for how to do that. Right. I mean, the way we do it in the program is, you know, sort of leader by leader as it were right. And I think we’re reasonably successful in having people come out of the program very different than they walked in. But how do you replicate that across the environment within which we’re operating? And I don’t, I wouldn’t pretend to tell you, I have an easy answer for how to do that. I think I know what needs to happen. But how right? How do we get the message across to, you know, leaders, that they need to pay a lot more attention to the emotional dimension of leadership? And that’s not just emotional intelligence, right? It’s literally being able to help guide your teams, to very turbulent times through very choppy waters and maintain a container of safety. You know, sometimes the term is secure base that’s used in psychology, right? How do you do that? As a leader? Right? It’s the only answer I’ve been able to come up with. And I don’t pretend it’s an easy one.

Adam  22:33

To implement, right? And then these are really, really hard questions, which is why the title of every episode is is a question, not an answer we’re exploring, and what you described as this cognitive dissonance we have created between our personal and professional worlds. Absolutely. How do we break through that? Michael, the way that way that I’ve been thinking about it is how do we meet them? Where they are? How do we understand better their employee experience? I mean, let’s be really granular, right? You’re a manager. And we’re asking, we’re suggesting that the way you change your team’s dynamic is start with yourself, by become the change you want to see in the world. And we talk about it during an amazing coaching or workshop one on one where they’re inspired off the charts inspired, right? And that’s for, at most, a whole whopping day. Two days, maybe a little bit is back there in the subconscious. But then you go through days and weeks of insanity, right meetings, kids sick, you know, you’re running around. And you You mean, well, you want to be the change. But But you forgot. So I I’ve been wondering, how do we in the future address that? How do we look at their calendars? How do we anticipate it? How do we say, Well, look, you’ve been in five meetings, you’ve been running nonstop, this is a good moment to do X, or look, you have a team member with whom you haven’t connected with for two weeks, how does it feel? What’s happening in their mind? If for two weeks, there’s been no contact with the manager, knowing our negative Tetris that’s running in the background, we’re probably saying I’m gonna get can write this is and then you don’t send that as a message saying, let’s meet. Oh, my goodness, let’s meet tomorrow. They’re not sleeping that night. Right. How do we, how do we look at data? And Michael, tell me if you haven’t gotten there yet? Or dream with me for a bit?

Michael Watkins  24:30

No, no, this is this is super important question. And I think we have gotten there to a degree right. So it’s funny you say this, because I’ll go to the program that I’m co director of, at IMD called Transition to business leadership. And we do the first two weeks on the Enter leader and the team leader. Right with the leader piece being the piece we we talked about. And on the final day, we spent a fair amount of time talking Think about how hard it’s going to be to go back and implement this stuff. Right. And the kinds of things we talked about are, you know, the curve of behavior change, and making sure that you have a clear idea of what progress is. And progress can be incremental, to anticipate that the first week or two back is just going to feel like you’re back, right? Where you were. Right? I just, I just finished actually sending out at the end of their first week back a request for a reflection, about what did that first week feel like, right? And then a message saying, okay, you know, it’s not surprising you felt like that for your first week back, you had a lot of ketchup to do? How are you going to recycle yourself back to focusing on some of these things? I’ve come to believe that, you know, the power. What’s critical is not to try and take on too much. Right, there’s a tendency to say, I’m going to transmute myself into gold tomorrow, right? You know, sure. I’m pewter today, but tomorrow, I shall be gold. And I will work out I shall meditate. And we meditate throughout the program, by the way, right? So that’s a, we try to get people in, but we do five minutes, every day five, because no one’s gonna go home and do 15, nevermind half an hour, right. Same with exercise, we cheat we teach really simple little exercise routines that you can do in a few minutes when you have a brick. Right? I become a big believer that you unless you’re willing to incremental eyes it and contextualize it contextualize what progress is. It’s not going to happen, right? Because it’s, you’re up against a huge set of forces that are pushing you and shaping you to continue to be what you were right. And you’re not going to do you’re not going to defeat those forces by, you know, blunt instruments. Yeah. And again, I think it’s, you know, it’s not a great answer. But, you know, I talk to people a lot about the practice of micro presence. Right? The breath before you answer the phone, right? The pause before you, you know, when you sit down in the meeting, just little things, right, that make make a difference. You pointed out one that I think is really important, right? The, the simple gesture of asking someone, how are you and actually looking like you mean it? You know, we ask people all the time, how they empower you, but we don’t really care, and we’re not really expecting an answer, right. And I think when when your people feel like you’re present with them. That’s powerful. Right? It’s extremely powerful. And it doesn’t take much work to do that. And I think the best leaders are capable of it. So you know, and we structure that program. So they come back for a second two weeks, and a big chunk of what we do in the first day is what happened. What made it hard, what worked, what didn’t, right, we’d go back to meditating every day for another two weeks, trying to instill some habits, because so much of this is about habits. Right? We draw on things like, you know, James clear his atomic habits work, right? As a way to begin to instill new practices because it’s a practice. We go to archery and listen to a world class Archer talk about self talk, right? About, you know, about training world class athletes, and how you learn to talk to yourself in the right ways. It’s a lot of small pieces, that in the end, I think can have a huge, huge impact.

Adam  28:42

Small things that have profound impact, you know, you mentioned even creating the space, you know, Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, right between your reaction between the stimuli and your reaction lies the opportunity to create the space in that space is your your freedom. Right?

Michael Watkins  28:59

I saw I saw, by the way, in your bio, that was one of the books that inspired you. It’s a profoundly important book. It’s not an easy book, but it’s a profoundly important book.

Adam  29:08

My 16 year old son is now reading it, I told them, it’s an it’s a must read. There was that book, Simon Sinek actually interviewed had the opportunity to interview him. Start with Why.

Michael Watkins  29:20

Yeah, so So I mean, you’re getting in again, to really, I think, very fertile territory, right? Because I think that, you know, I talked a little bit sometimes about leader as sense maker and storyteller. You know, that part of the role of the leader is helping your people make sense of what’s going on contextualize what’s going on. And part of it is also helping them understand the story of which they are apart. You know, and that sense making I’m not sure you ever if you’ve ever heard that term before it goes back a long way. But that sense making and storytelling, I think becomes ever more important as you get to higher, higher levels of leadership.

Adam  29:59

Yeah. cookin couldn’t agree more. Michael, my parting question for you. And the folks that are listening are our audience are really the those that are courageous to think about how they can create change. Most are champ their biggest challenge is to gain internal alignment with executive teams, how do you get executives to think differently, given the times that we’re in? So So Michael, what advice would you give them for for their journey to continue or to accelerate their journey in order for them to, you know, improve their organizations?

Michael Watkins  30:34

So just just want to make sure I’m clear on who we’re talking about, right? Are these leaders trying to make change in their organizations, but needing organizational support at higher levels?

Adam  30:45

Exactly. That’s exactly what I think about l&d Change management folks that are saying, hey, there’s a better way we see it. We love Michael’s work, we love to think about future people initiatives differently. How do we now convince our executive teams?

Michael Watkins  31:00

I think it’s funny, it’s a great question. And I think, to me, it’s a sub case of the broader issue of how do you get really good at stakeholder management? Because basically, what you’re describing is a variation on stakeholder management. Right? And for me, a lot of it starts with how do I build the Alliance? You know, and, and the Alliance is based on things we both need to accomplish are ways I can help you that you can help me, right. So as for senior executives, you know, I always say you have to understand what their agenda is, and how you fit into that agenda. And how you can advance that agenda. Right? Because too many people they start out with, here’s what I want, here’s what I need. Well, tell me back to start with, why why should I care? Right? I mean, the first reflex for most people is what’s in it for me, how does this help me make my numbers, make my objectives get my next promotion? Right. And I think, for me, a lot of this work came out of the stuff I did in international diplomacy early in my career, right, were thinking like a diplomat, diplomats instinctively think in terms of alliances, they think about agendas, politically right, they think about alignments, and how do we craft the the larger coalition around those alignments. It’s a way of thinking that’s, I think, really, really valuable. Right. And in the context of the work that you’re you’re talking about?

Adam  32:31

Absolutely. Michael, though, that was amazing. And what an amazing conversation. I feel like I can go on for hours, but I want to be super respectful of your time and just want to say a huge thank you, from me and from our audience for for taking the time.

Michael Watkins  32:44

Hey, really happy to be able to join the conversation to Adam

Adam  32:47

awesome. Micah. Thank you

Adam Fridman
Serial entrepreneur, author, and speaker, Adam is a co-founder and one of the visionaries behind ProHabits. Currently, he hosts ProHabits' podcast: The Future of People Initiatives.

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