Culture Factor 2.0

What Does Compassionate Leadership and a Healthy Company Culture look like during COVID19 in Business and WFH?

Episode Summary

Ian Sohn is a global client lead at Wunderman Thompson Central, overseeing an integrated agency team across continents and operating companies. He is a strong advocate for work/life balance, employee satisfaction and compassionate leadership and has led award-winning career and agencies doing so. I connected with Ian after his article imploring his team to stop apologizing for having lives went viral. It went from the New York Times to the GMA’s to CNBC and more. Ian walks the walk. It’s true, he does not want to know when you for your kid’s soccer game. Ian has led an award-winning career, as well as, agencies. Today we will break down why company culture and a healthy organization are the result of his leadership style and how it allows his teams to do great things in their industry. We also believe it’ll be a blueprint for other companies.

Episode Notes

http://www.iansohn.com

http://www.linkedin.com/in/iansohn

https://www.linkedin.com/in/hollyshannon1/

http://www.companytribes.com

 

Episode Transcription

Speaker 1:
Welcome to the Culture Factor, where we talk to founders and influential leaders about Company Culture. We share stories from the C suite that help executives engage their business from the inside and create a map to transform their culture. Because the truth is, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

holly shannon:
This is the Culture Factor and I'm your host and co-producer, Holly Shannon. Please subscribe, rate, and review our podcast. Our journey into Company Culture has just begun and we'd like you along for the ride.

holly shannon:
Ian Sohn is a global client lead with Wunderman Thompson Central, overseeing an integrated agency team across continents and operating companies. He is a strong advocate for work life balance, employee satisfaction, and compassionate leadership, and has led an award winning career, and agencies, doing so.

holly shannon:
I connected with Ian after his article, imploring his team to stop apologizing for having lives, went viral. It went from the New York Times to the GMAS to CNBC and more. And I will tell you that Ian walks the walk. It's true. He does not want to know when you're leaving the office for your kid's soccer game. Today we will break down why Company Culture and healthy organization have allowed his teams to do great things in their industry.

holly shannon:
Hello, Ian. Welcome to the Culture Factor.

Ian Sohn:
Thanks for having me.

holly shannon:
Today we are going to dive into a few questions here starting with your viral letter. So, it's very interesting that the timing of your viral letter and how employees are being with their family, and how that's reflected by the leaders of their company. How are you navigating work from home with your team? And is there a difference in your Company Culture now, or how you lead?

Ian Sohn:
So, it's a two part question. In terms of Company Culture, for sure I see a difference in the way that people are operating. There is a renewed focus on people staying connected. There is more communication internally than ever before, which I think are all good things. And so that's how the company is operating.

Ian Sohn:
I think from a personal perspective, if I'm honest, not much has changed about the way that I lead. I've always been the kind of person who gives a lot of latitude to the people I work with and who work for me, to work at their own pace, to work at their own style, to do things in a way that suits their lifestyle the best as long as they get the work done and remain accountable to their teammates and their clients. So for me, it actually feels incredibly comfortable, albeit a bit isolated, but incredibly comfortable and familiar. And I think the other important piece of perspective for me personally is that I travel quite a bit as it is, and so I'm very accustomed to not being in the office and not physically being around my team which is why I trust them so much generally, because they perform very highly without me being there. And so for me, this all feels very familiar. And not only the style of communications, but the tools and the technology, et cetera, is not intimidating at all to me.

holly shannon:
So, let me jump into this. If a company is struggling to stay a float during COVID-19, can good Company Culture keep the ship from sinking?

Ian Sohn:
So, I certainly think it can help. I mean, I certainly think a good culture can engender a loyalty, a renewed work ethic and enthusiasm, a sense of being in it together. So, I think it can help. I think there's going to be a lot of companies that are going to look back on this time and the way that they behaved, and that is going to be, I believe, a real indicator for how exceptional talent view those companies in the future. So, people will look back and say, "Oh, how did company X treat their employees during the COVID crisis? Oh, they treated them badly? Well, I don't know if that's the kind of place I want to go work because what's going to happen to me? There's going to be something else that happens in my tenure there and how are they going to treat me?" Or, "Hey, company B seems to have done really right by their employees. That's the kind of place that I want to go and I want to contribute to because they'll take care of me during hard times."

holly shannon:
Yeah, I did just see articles all about that recently. Like how McDonald's has been donating money. Sarah Blakely from Spanx. How different companies are trying to support the people who work for them or just people hard hit. So, it really is a reflection of their work ethic. Not their work ethic, I'm sorry. Their company ethos. [crosstalk 00:05:19]

Ian Sohn:
Yeah. Of all people, my therapist said to me a couple of weeks ago that the way that we all are behaving now, and the things that we're feeling, are simply a heightened manifestations of who we are and how we normally feel. They're just all coming out kind of more severely right now. And so I think when you look at companies that are behaving the right way, it's because it's in their ethos. It's in their DNA. And companies who are getting criticized for the way that they're treating employees, and I won't name any, I'm not in the business of doing, but there are companies that people have always kind of whispered about as being bad places to work or treat their employees badly. And it's just, again, it's just their behavior now is simply just a heightened manifestation of that historical behavior.

holly shannon:
Maybe it could be a call to action. It could be, and maybe you want to elaborate on this. So, bad Company Culture maybe could be turned around. Could this be an opportunity for companies that have struggled with bad Company Culture to initiate some sort of change?

Ian Sohn:
Well, sure, it could be. And they could look to people who are doing it right as a model for good behavior. I tend to believe that by a certain point in our lives, at a foundational level, we are the people who we are, or companies are the companies who they are. It's, again, it's kind of built into the framework, into the DNA. It's probably, even the bad behavior is probably to some extent are what made the company successful in the first place. So, I don't know that you can just flip a switch and turn the entire thing around because you've built an entire organization based on a certain kind of behavior. And that's not just the leaders, but it's the people who they've hired from the very bottom to the very top. That's a very hard thing to turn around on a dime.

holly shannon:
Yeah.

Ian Sohn:
But I hope.

holly shannon:
Yeah. If it's systemic, it is hard to turn it around. So, just sort of jumping... The letter that you wrote that went viral, I just want to jump into that for... You probably feel like you've talked about it many times, but when leadership treats their employees more like children than adults, it can make a toxic culture. It can make the employees feel resentful. In what ways have you implemented change to break people of habits that they might've brought with them to your business from other companies?

Ian Sohn:
Yeah, a couple things. So, let me give you a really kind of silly tactical example. So, every time someone who doesn't know me comes to work for me, or in my organization, inevitably there's a moment where they'll walk into my office or send me an email and tell me that they have a dentist appointment Thursday morning and they won't be in until 10 o'clock. And my reaction is always the same, which is, "I just didn't need to know that." It's none of my business unless you're missing a deadline, or missing a meeting with me, or it causes some issue. Those are not the kinds of things that I need to know. It doesn't need to be on the calendar. It doesn't need to be in my consciousness. And those are really kind of simple ways of signaling to people what's important to me and what isn't, and the kind of respect I have for people's time and their individuality versus what they might have been brought up within whatever industry they're in.

Ian Sohn:
And so I try to signal those kind of very small, try to use those very small kind of teachable moments to signal the people what I'm about and what I'm not about. And people have always... People talk to me a lot about this issue of micromanagement, which I don't do. And they want to probe, they think there's some deep reasoning behind it. And truthfully, it's, a, I find it boring to micromanage people. Literally, I just find it to be a bore. And second, I'm trying to micromanage myself. The last thing I need to do is micromanage a bunch of adults, right? So, I'm just going to fall down and fail and fail them. So, those are kind of the reasons why I don't get involved with those kinds of minute details in people's lives. It's their business. It's not mine. And they can manage their lives way better than I can.

holly shannon:
Did you notice that there were... Speaking of gender, did you find that you had more women that were coming to you to make you alert of their schedule than men? Or was that about the same across the board for the people who came to you?

Ian Sohn:
No, it was definitely women, for sure. It's something that I've thought about a lot over the last year since I wrote that piece. It was so many interesting things about being a man and getting the kind of reaction that I got to that piece. Thousands of women, millions, I have no idea how many, had written and said the same thing for years and didn't get the kind of attention that it got when a quote unquote powerful man said it, and I was very aware of that. I was very conscious of how messed up that was. Right? And how wrong that was that it took my voice to kind of make it echo.

Ian Sohn:
And I talked to a lot of female leaders about it and talked about the enormous sense of responsibility that comes with the enormous privilege that I kind of have in my life. Right? And I have noticed that it's women who tend to be more apologetic, more worried and anxious about those things, because that's how they've been treated their entire career, and we as a society, whether we like to admit it or not, no matter how woke us men are, we have continued to saddle women and mothers with far more responsibility than we take on ourselves when it comes to children, the home, et cetera. And I think women are at a breaking point.

Ian Sohn:
In fact, I was just... Literally just before we got on this call, I was texting with my ex wife. I was telling her that I've been hearing rumors about Illinois schools in the fall going to this very complicated schedule where it could be kids go every other day, and classrooms are only 50% full to promote distancing. So, whatever they end up doing, it's going to be a very complicated system with a lot of moving parts. And we have two kids. One's in middle school, one's in lower school. And I said to her, I said, "I hope this is a moment in time where women and moms stand up and say we are not going to shoulder the burden for all of this," right, "We, as working mothers, have a responsibility to our careers as much as we do to our kids. And the institutions we work for have to change. The men who are our partners have to change. And this is not a small change. This is, we need to break the system and rebuild it. And I really hope it's a moment in time to do that.

holly shannon:
I don't disagree with you. You have me thinking with the schools, especially when you have children in different schools-

Ian Sohn:
Right.

holly shannon:
...and maybe in different locations within a city or so forth.

Ian Sohn:
Right.

holly shannon:
The logistics on that are always fun.

Ian Sohn:
Yeah.

holly shannon:
And you bring me into my next question, that gender does play a significant role in how leadership is viewed. There's an aftermath that's going to come with this pandemic, and in doing business we can provide an opportunity, maybe, for lines to be blurred now. I think that there's going to be a difference in the way male and female leaders are perceived because I feel like the playing field has almost been leveled during this time. Everybody's working from home. Everybody's got a desk somewhere in some spare bedroom or in a corner or a closet. I feel like you almost can't tell who's leading now. Do you think that this might change some of the leadership roles or how women are viewed going forward?

Ian Sohn:
I don't know. I hope so. I hope that gap between how men and women are perceived gets flattened. It's interesting. I think about, as you were saying that and asking that question, I jotted down my favorite bosses that I've had from the last 10 or 15 years. I jotted down all the bosses I've had and then I circled my favorite, and both of them are women. And both of them are very strong, fierce, smart, compassionate, aggressive, thoughtful human beings who happen to be women. And so sometimes it's hard for me to... I have to really take a step back and look at the world from a different perspective than my just my own because I've had such incredible female role models in my life. Both the women I've worked for, my mother, my sisters, my ex wife, girlfriends, et cetera. I've had really wonderfully strong, thoughtful women in my life. And so to me it makes perfect sense. Yeah, of course. Absolutely. In fact, it pisses me off that we even have to talk about it,-

holly shannon:
Yeah.

Ian Sohn:
...but we do. Right?

holly shannon:
Yeah. No, because it unpacks so many other conversations. You used some interesting words; fierce, aggressive, two terms that are typically a positive in men and a negative in women. You did not use the word sensitive there, but we all know that that can be a positive for men and a negative for women.

Ian Sohn:
Right.

holly shannon:
And we're talking optics-

Ian Sohn:
Yep.

holly shannon:
...and we're talking the gender bias that exists in just those terms.

Ian Sohn:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yep.

holly shannon:
So, your conversation makes me start thinking in that direction.

Ian Sohn:
Yeah.

holly shannon:
I love this conversation and I feel like we need to continue it. I do have one more question for you, but I'd like to just get out of the way a couple of little minor points that our sponsor is Company Tribes and Ian Sohn's website will be in the show notes. That's Ian Sohn, S-O-H-N, dot com. And then I would also like to invite our listeners to follow this podcast and the conversation that will follow, because I think Ian and I had spoken about maybe having a little Q&A to take this conversation online in a different format, but before we go, I want to ask Ian if there's any case studies or certain projects that are exemplifying your style of leadership and running a company in a humane way. If maybe you have something you could share with us and maybe would continue to share later.

Ian Sohn:
Yeah. So, I'm working on something right now, which I hope we're going to roll out soon. As a lot of people will know by now in most major US cities, people of color, communities of color have been hit disproportionately hard by COVID, and it's a combination of factors. It's a higher propensity for underlying health conditions. It's a lot of people who are essential workers. It's a larger families who are sharing homes. It's lack of access to quality health care. An inherent distrust of authority. And Chicago's mayor, Lori Lightfoot, has really been a leader nationally and bringing this to the forefront in the last couple of weeks.

Ian Sohn:
And I got together a group of agency leaders from Detroit and Chicago, and basically we are putting together a pro bono public education campaign that we're taking to... We're creating a toolkit that we're going to take to the Chicago mayor's office, who we have a relationship with, Detroit's going to do the same, and we're going to make it... Basically we're going to open source it and give it away for free so any city can take it. We're not quite ready to roll it out yet, but it's something that I feel strongly about and it's something that I enjoyed doing because it feels worthy of the moment, and it's nice to do something that has an impact and it's nice to also give people at my company something to do that makes them feel like they're having a real impact.

holly shannon:
Yeah. Having a sense of purpose is very, very important. I think there's a lot of people who feel as though they've lost that ground of feeling a sense of purpose right now. So, what you're building sounds exceptional and I love that it'll be for free, that it can be a blueprint for other cities to emulate. So thank you for the work that you're doing in regards to that. And again, we'll carry that conversation further on LinkedIn, or whatever platform looks the best to people, to find out more about that. But I want to thank everybody for listening to the Culture Factor and Ian Sohn and our conversation today, and hope that leaders will be able to take away a few great notes from you because you have a lot of really wonderful things to say, and obviously a proven track record of how well it does work. So, thank you for coming.

Ian Sohn:
That's a very nice thing for you to say. You're welcome. My pleasure.

holly shannon:
I want to thank our listeners for joining the Culture Factor, and I ask that you subscribe, rate, and consider leaving a review. We'd love to hear who you'd like to listen to next. And a thank you to our sponsor Company Tribes. They have an app and a virtual experience to help keep your tribe together during difficult times like now, and business as usual. How strong is your Company Culture? Reach out to paul@companytribes.com.