When Jeannine K. Brown was a Journal of Accountancy podcast guest in September, she talked about the need for organizations to create a sense of psychological safety for employees. A few weeks back, after she had spoken at the Future of Finance Summit in Austin, Texas, Brown said that personal well-being and professional development were two vital activities that at times were neglected by people and organizations the past few years.
Brown, the founder and CEO of Everyday Lead, hopes that neglect can be changed in the coming year, with employers taking the lead by showing they care about the lives and development of employees.
"I truly believe when people feel a sense that they are being cared for at work, through development, opportunities, being able to speak up honestly and open and directly with questions, concerns, even discourse, they'll be more committed," Brown said.
What you'll learn from this episode:
- The meaning of a recently added title in Brown's bio.
- Her impressions of the AICPA & CIMA Women's Global Leadership Summit.
- Why Brown points to listening as one of the best ways to start investing more in employees.
- Brown's specific example of 'they want you to call'
- How first-time conference attendees said that they felt a sense of investment from their employers.
- Brown's hopes for 2023.
Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:
To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.
Neil Amato: Hey, listeners. This is the Journal of Accountancy's Neil Amato. Thak you for listening to the show this year. This is our last scheduled episode of 2022. Our speaker is a repeat guest, Jeannine K. Brown. She was recently a keynote speaker at the Future of Finance Summit in Austin, Texas, and today we'll talk about her advice for organizations, what may have gotten lost in the manager-employee relationship over the past few years, and her hope for 2023. That's all coming up after this word from our sponsor.
Amato: Welcome to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. This is Neil Amato. Joining me for this episode is a repeat guest on our show, her name is Jeannine K. Brown. She is the founder and CEO of Everyday Lead. Jeannine joined me to talk in the fall, previewing the AICPA & CIMA Women's Global Leadership Summit, and now we're talking in Austin, Texas, at the Future of Finance Summit. It's early December for this recording. Jeannine, thank you so much for being here.
Jeannine K. Brown: Thank you, Neil. I'm happy to be back. Thanks for having me again.
Amato: One thing I want to ask first, on your bio, I noticed this. I don't think I noticed this before. You list this title, professional trouble seeker. What is that?
Brown: I don't think it was there before. Someone actually gave me that title. One of the clients that I work for, and they found it as a value add to the services that we provide to them. I'm out here looking for trouble and organizations to help them build better cultures, to create environments where their employees feel seen and heard. We're looking for trouble so that we can fix it.
Amato: That makes sense. I thought it was trouble seeker very close to trouble maker.
Brown: We're not making the trouble, just looking for it.
Amato: Got it. One thing I want to address with you is the topic of how the workforce of 2023 is so different in so many ways from just the workforce even three years earlier in early 2020. Would you like to tell me some of the ways that you think it's different and why that's important for organizations?
Brown: I think organizations need to be aware that the workforce is different than before the pandemic. I think we live in this dynamic of before the pandemic and post-pandemic. I think it's really important for organizations to realize that even if they've brought their employees back in the office, if they've created some sort of hybrid work situation, what is important to employees has changed.
I think they've had an opportunity to sit back and reflect about what's important to them. They were in situations where they spent more time with their families. They started looking at their core values again, about what's important to me. What success looks like has changed quite a bit, and I think organizations are seeing that as well. They're more focused on their employees, or at least they're starting to be. Because there's people like me seeking trouble having those conversations with them and asking those questions. Although people want to work, they're not trading their time anymore for money.
I think that's one of the things that has significantly changed across all generations in the workplace. They're looking for healthier places to work, places where they can contribute and add more value. I think that's one of the things that has changed quite a bit. The conversations are being had in the workplace about those things.
Amato: You mentioned a healthy workplace. That's a goal, obviously, and you hope that's improving. But in your session, you pointed out that if people Google and then use the autofill for "My workplace is," the autofill answers are pretty much all negative. "Toxic" is the top word.
Brown: Yeah, toxic is the No. 1 thing, and then the same thing if you Google "my manager is." It's toxic. They're a micromanager. People are looking for solutions to deal with that. That's really eye-opening. I think organizations and people leaders need to be aware of that, and the first thing we need to do as people leaders is look at ourselves. How are we impacting the experiences people are having in the workplace? Are we enhancing their well-being? Are we destroying it?
Amato: What do you think are some ways that managers can stop managing and start leading the people more than just managing them?
Brown: I think the first thing we have to do is just listen to what our employees need and what they want. We need to ask them, "How can I lead you better? What do you need around? What resources do you need to better support you first as an individual and then to support you as far as your work?" I know some people are thinking, who has time for that? But I promise you if you invest that time, you'll be able to provide the solutions that create a better sense of loyalty to the employee, because that's what they're looking for. We talk about they're looking for a sense of belonging, they want inclusion, they want to work in a place that's free from bias, but they really want their well-being to be top of mind for their employees.
If they live in South Florida and there's a hurricane, they want you to call them and say, "Were you impacted? Is there anything I can do for you? Anything the firm or the company can do to support you and your family related to this." If they find that you lost a parent, instead of us worrying if you're going to get the work done because you lost the parents saying, "Hey, maybe two weeks is not enough for you. This is what we're going to provide you with this, because it must be difficult to lose a parent." Even if you haven't lost one yourself, leveling up on your empathy is really important.
Amato: That's a really good specific example. Speaking of South Florida, that is the location of the Women's Global Leadership Summit that you were keynote speaker for. What did you sense out of that event? One, it was in person for the first time in a while, so I think there was some really good energy. I talked to Lindsay Stevenson about that some for podcasts we will air. But what's your perspective on the themes that came out of that event?
Brown: I was looking at the faces of the women in the room, just the excitement to be sitting at a table with other women in the profession after not being in a room like that for three years. That excitement got me excited. They were so just happy to be there and to feel a sense of I'm being invested in because we talked about all sorts of topics that they could take back to work and help their larger workforce, things that were for their professional and personal development.
I think the sense of the conference was, I'm just glad to be in a room with other women who are focused on their development. I talked to several women that was like, they were first timers. They didn't even know the conference existed until they were invited by their employer to participate, and they felt a huge sense of my employer is investing in me, and I hope to be here again next year.
Amato: I think that notion of, hey, I was invited and my employer, it seems like in that example, the employer was "seeing the employee and thinking about some ways to develop them." That belief that, I mean, it's not just a belief, that leaders are responsible for developing employees, is that something that's been lost or it's just gotten harder in all this kind of distributed work and pandemic stress? It's almost like every person for him or herself, and just the idea of managing, leading people, being empathetic maybe got lost in the past few years.
Brown: I think so. I think we forgot about two things. One, our personal well-being, so people were working more and not taking personal time off. Actually, literally taking the time off. Getting away from the house, the laptop, they weren't doing that. They were working all the time and working longer hours. I think the other pieces you're right. The professional development investment. I think we got to find new ways to do it. It doesn't have to be a week of training. It doesn't have to be two weeks of training.
One of the things that I've suggested even today to the leaders in the room was maybe looking at how we can do something every 8 to 10 weeks. We can go deeper into a topic. We can take some action steps. We can say, hey, this is working, this is not working for people and do more like a masterclass style of learning in the workplace. Hear from other leaders, explore a topic that will help them be better leaders. I think we focus so much on the actual role that the person is responsible for, and we build the technical piece, the cerebral piece. But we're missing the part that's really important to increase retention and engagement, and that's really how to lead, galvanize, get people to take action, increase their capacity to give to their leaders.
Most people are working at less than 50% of capacity. Not just the productivity of what I can contribute. If we can increase the amount of contribution, wow, what an amazing workforce we'd have.
Amato: Now, you're a sought-after speaker no matter the topic, but I think also people should know that for these finance events, you have a background in finance. That measuring productivity, you can speak the language. I don't know where I'm going with this really, but finance specifically, what do you think is the future of remote work?
Brown: It's interesting. I've had leaders say, "We have to have people in the office in order to produce the financial statements to get the reports out, the quarterly reports, the annual reports, all the reports." I think what they have to recognize is we probably could do both. One, make the best use of our time when we are in the office together.
Creating community, not just focused on the work of the work, but when people come together in the office, we're also connecting about what's happening in our lives. People still have a sense of belonging, and I feel cared for individually. The reason this topic is so important so if anyone's listening like why is that a big deal, it's because we know that the data is saying that the new workforce is really concerned about well-being.
I think and then the other pieces on those days when people are not in the office, what are they working on at home? Not monitoring them. We got companies who are low-jacking their laptops to measure productivity based on keystrokes. That's toxic. That is not going to work. No one wants to be watched in that way, and you're definitely going to lose people.
You're going to lose great people if that's your approach to managing productivity. But I think the tasks to do when people are not in the workplace, we need to be real clear about what those are and allow people to be their most productive selves if working from home is what works for them.
Amato: Jeannine, thank you, this has been a great conversation, I think. I'm going to close with this. What's your hope for 2023?
Brown: My hope for 2023 is that employers and people leaders focus more on well-being of their staff. Like I said in the last podcast, I am so invested. I truly believe when people feel a sense that they are being cared for at work, through development, opportunities, being able to speak up honestly and open and directly with questions, concerns, even discourse, they'll be more committed.
My hope for 2023 is that we'll have a workplace that's focused on well-being. People will take PTO and actually come back restored. That people who had been traditionally left out of conversations and opportunities that we start looking around the table and saying, "Hey, who's missing?" Then adding a chair to that table and inviting them to participate, fully participate.
Amato: Jeannine K. Brown, thank you very much.
Brown: Thank you.