On this episode, Lisa Thee talks with author and executive coach Amii Barnard-Bahn. In additon to her work with Fortune 500 executives, Amii is also a guest lecturer at Stanford University and UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. A regular contributor to Harvard Business Review and Fast Company, she is also the creator of The Promotability Index® and author of the companion PI Guidebook.
Lisa and Amii discuss topics relevant to both today's leaders and those who aspire to be future leaders. They touch on Amii's five principles around getting promoted, which can also apply to continuation of growth and learning and not just to a literal promotion. They also dive into some of the complexities of business communications in a hybrid world, along with Amii's six-step process for delivering bad news in a way that considers the psychology of both the bearer and the recipient of the news.
Find Amii at https://www.barnardbahn.com/
Find Lisa at https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisathee/
Navigators in the Age of Transformation
Narrator intro (00:02):
At a crossroads of uncertainty and opportunity, how do you navigate forward? This podcast focuses on making smart choices in a rapidly changing world. We investigate the challenges of being at a crossroads and finding the opportunities that arise out of disruption. Listen in on future forward conversations with the brightest luminaries, movers, and shakers. Let's navigate forward together and create what's next.
Lisa Thee (00:24):
Hello everyone and welcome to the Navigating Forward Podcast. My name is Lisa Thee, and I'll be your host today. We love to collect the most luminary movers, shakers, and influencers to bring them to your radio and decide how you can leverage some of their wisdom. Today I have the honor of introducing my friend Amii Barnard-Bahn. Amy is an author, keynote speaker, and executive consultant. She brings experience of being a former Global 50 executive as the Chief compliance officer at McKesson. She also has had a chief HR role in the banking industry, as well as a CIO role in the dental association industry. So, she has a broad range of expertise, really in legal compliance in HR and helping make sure that everybody can come along with the changes as businesses evolve. So, thank you so much for joining us today, Amy.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (01:15):
Thanks so much for inviting me, Lisa.
Lisa Thee (01:17):
It's always a pleasure to talk. I learn so much from you every time. I would love to hear a little bit about your background and what got you into this field and maybe some of the things that are probably not intuitive about you in terms of some of your passions.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (01:32):
Well, I went to law school straight out of college because I wanted to do social justice work, actually, and lead change there. And I did some work with disability rights. I had a fellowship at the ACLU early on in my career and got lucky and got to help lobby through the America's Disabilities Act in the summer of ‘90, and then reality set in and with law student loans. And so, I realized I needed to get a higher paying job to be able to pay those off. So, I joined a law firm, got some great litigation experience, and then went into HR for about 11 years. Learned a lot about stakeholder management and cross-functional influencing and learned project management and just had a really great time developing policies and procedures. And then we had a rough patch and I had to help lead layoffs in the company.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (02:23):
I was with, I was with Fireman's Fund, Allianz, and unfortunately, you know, that that kind of ran down after several years. But it was interesting to be a part of being at the peak and then also being in this business cycle of running down. So, I've kind of seen, I've been in all, all phases now, and I think that that definitely helps me now with my coaching clients. I then moved to healthcare and McKesson and helped build the first compliance and ethics program there, which was complex and interesting, and then came out to Sacramento and did some work here and then went into executive coaching.
Lisa Thee (02:52):
Yeah, Amy, first and foremost, as somebody with an invisible disability, thank you so much for your service on ADA. It has been a lifesaver for me in this Long Covid world. So really appreciate some of the early work and the legacy that you've built from doing that. Secondarily, I would love to dig in a little bit about what are some of the pearls of wisdom that you've gleaned from all those varied experiences. I think we are all bracing ourselves for a change in business climate right now. Can you talk a little bit about what you are seeing on the horizon based on some of the experiences that you've had?
Amii Barnard-Bahn (03:29):
Sure. I'm seeing in terms of employee culture, we're really, we're in the messy middle I think right now. Hopeful that Covid and other potential pandemics are, there's at least a roadmap hopefully for addressing them. Then I think we'll hopefully move into more of a stable period. I think there are a lot of new roles of work that are being negotiated, whether it's return to work or hybrid or whatever your company is comfortable with. So, I think that workers are trying to figure out, what do I need? Whether it's a healthcare issue, whether it's am I willing to go back into the office, um, or do I miss the office? Do I actually not have a good situation at home and I'm dying to go back, which is some people, and then bosses have a varied perspective on whether they want people in the office and how much that drives their culture. I find that, you know, in health, it depends on the industry too. Tech is much more comfortable with remote, but healthcare, retail, other industries are more, and then of course, financial services they really want people in.
Lisa Thee (04:34):
Yeah, it is an interesting dynamic that we were all forced to shift to a more flexible way of working. And so now people are much more, we have a lot more data about the impacts of remote work, the impacts of flexible schedules. And we've seen that sometimes when you treat employees like adults, they can rise to the occasion. We also have seen some of the challenges that emerge in terms of team dynamics when you really can't build that connection in the same traditional ways of being in an office on a regular basis. Can you talk a little bit about helping leaders to really smooth out some of those bumps in a remote work environment? Can you talk about your experience coaching teams about how to get out of this messy middle into something more high performing?
Amii Barnard-Bahn (05:22):
Sure. I think that the trust is really critical and that can be hard, especially if people have been hired remote. They've had a number of executive teams where we've done an on location or offsite retreat to get everyone together. And in a couple cases, it was the very first time the teams were getting together, two people have been hired during the pandemic and they were, hadn't moved to the home office location yet because they didn't need to. And so, building that trust that I am doing what's best for the team and that I don't have an agenda and that anything I say to you is in the best interest of furtherance of the team goals. Takes a little, little while to establish and trust is really a series of commitments made over time that are fulfilled and that's how we build trust and trust people or not.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (06:07):
And so that's really a foundation. And then having productive conflict. I think one thing that's difficult for cultures that don't know how to handle productive conflict directly and then have a harder time that are kind of in the more artificial harmony stage of the continuum, they, I think, have had a harder time during remote work because when you're in an office and something's going on and it's difficult to work through, there are often sidebar conversations. I'm not saying this is the best way to handle it, but there, there used to be ways around that if you had a consensus culture or if you had, you know, something where people weren't comfortable saying it upfront, there'd be the meeting after the meeting, you know, there'd be coffee, whatever and that kind of thing. That's gone. So, I would say that cultures that don't know how to speak more directly are at a disadvantage and so that's a skillset that we're needing to develop, especially if they continue to be remote.
Lisa Thee (07:04):
Yeah, that constructive confrontation kind of approach to be able to put the problem on the table and work through it in a way that helps everybody to move towards a common goal and see the places where they can agree to disagree but not stall the entire progress based on the details instead of the bigger picture, right?
Amii Barnard-Bahn (07:23):
Definitely. Because if you don't get all the issues out on the table, and I'm sure you've seen this in the executive roles you've had Lisa, you don't really get to commitment. And that's really the next critical thing for an executive team is at the end of the day, if you have to make a big decision, did everybody have their say, did they feel heard? Little bit of due process really, did they feel respected? And even if their idea doesn't win the day, can you all walk out of the room saying, okay, we're committed to this and we're gonna move forward and do it. And I bet you've like me, experienced dysfunctional teams where that isn't the case and people nod their heads in the meeting to the CEO or whomever is in charge and, but they go out of the room and they're like, this is never gonna work. Or they tell their team, you know, don't fast track this one. Like, I think it's gonna die. Let's just wait and see. You know, that happens all the time. And that's not great in a tough economy right now. Leaders need their entire teams on board. They need to be able to make sure that everything's hashed out. There needs to be that level of trust. So that's, that's some of what I'm seeing.
Lisa Thee (08:25):
So, I love your definition of how to build trust, which is, you know, executing on commitments over time. And a lot of that is really taking the time to communicate and align and make commitments and then have the space to actually demonstrate that impact that you can have as a leader. For folks that are struggling with teammates that maybe aren't as aligned as they could be, where do you recommend they start in terms of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture to help, you know, go slow to go fast?
Amii Barnard-Bahn (08:57):
I think there's a real power in questions. So thinking of important questions to ask because it keeps the dialogue open and it, it makes people more comfortable than statements or me talking at you. Um, so trying to figure out where they're coming from. If there's a disconnect, there's an important principle that I work with all my clients on. And usually when there's an issue that means that we're not able to influence the person or they're not listening to us, right? In a work context or it wouldn't be an issue really. So, people don't, aren't open to your influence unless there are two things at play and one is they think that you like them, and the second is that they believe that you are open to their influence. So those are the baseline foundational elements that need to be in place before you try to influence someone. And a lot of people just skip that and just try to either use power, which can work short term, but it doesn't always work long term. If I, if I'm, you know, more high than you in a power, I can tell you to do something, but you may not do it as well as you would have if I'd gotten your buy-in. Um, you may not really be heart and mind in it, right? There could, there could be a lot going on.
Lisa Thee (10:11):
And it might not be as high a quality of an output because you're not using discretionary energy, right? To think about how to add your own value to it.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (10:20):
Lisa Thee (10:20):
It’s another thing on the checklist, right?
Amii Barnard-Bahn (10:22):
Absolutely. So that's important. So if someone isn't getting on, well I would, I would try to get to know them, try to understand what their priorities are, what stress they're under, what, you know, where's the alignment, how can you help them with something that is on their plate that may or may not be in your remit, but they would owe you a favor frankly. And that can go a long way, I think, to a difficult relationship.
Lisa Thee (10:47):
Reciprocity is a very foundational way that us humans like to interact with each other. I think there's a lot of merit in that. In the themes of being of service, one of the things that I love about you is you're really democratizing information to a broader audience about what it takes to be successful as an individual contributor and as a leader, as you evolve through your career with your book, the Promotability Index. Can you tell us a little bit about your author's journey that way and then who this book is targeted at and what it can be used to help with?
Amii Barnard-Bahn (11:23):
Sure. Thank you. It was, it's been really rewarding. I saw through my career, both as an HR executive and then as someone who hired and fired and promoted people, that there was a lot of mystery and a lot of kind of black box around who gets promoted and why. And to your point, I really like opening up and leveling the playing field and demystifying a lot of that for people. So, I spent some time researching and my work with my executive clients and then the work that I'd had in companies and found that there were really five principles around getting promoted. And when I use the word promotability, I also mean just having a growth mindset, always having some choice in your career, continuing to grow. So, it could mean a literal promotion, but it also could just mean that, that you're continually growing and learning.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (12:13):
So, I find that promotability comes down to five elements as self-awareness, external awareness, which is how do people view you, what impact do you, are you aware of the impact your behavior has on other people? Thought leadership, executive presence, and strategic thinking. And to some degree there's some overlap in those, but it really comes down to those five buckets. So, I created a self-assessment that's free to anyone on my website. That's kind of my gift to the universe, and it's stuff that I wish I had known and they're reflective questions. And people assess and if they really want to have a powerful conversation, they can bring it to their boss and say, hey, this is how I assess myself, how would you assess me? Then you have a really powerful developmental conversation, which is what I think is also missing a lot.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (12:58):
We do a lot of work on, in hindsight, you know, looking at performance reviews, what'd you do last year? What's your raise gonna be? Are you gonna get a promotion? But we don't do a lot of kind of forward developmental thinking. And so, my goal with the book and what the assessment is to give people a shared language, a shared vocabulary. What does executive presence mean? You know, how do I get more of it? It can be really vague. And I think the worst conversation, worst thing, the words I was ever told was when I wanted a promotion and they said, oh, you're just not there yet. Just keep doing what you're doing. And it's like, well that's really not actionable <laugh>. So, my goal is to avoid those kind of conversations and to have it be around, well your, your presentation skills need to get better, you know, you, let me give you some coaching and let me give you some feedback on that presentation you did to the board last week or that kind of thing.
Lisa Thee (13:46):
Yeah, it's being a lifelong learner and really looking for the places where you can strengthen um, the things that you're naturally talented at. And then also mitigate some of the things that maybe naturally don't come as easily to you. And as you said, feedback being actionable is the key to growth for your employees and your team and yourself. But sometimes people don't feel very comfortable having pointed conversations about places that need to improve. And unfortunately, today it seems like there's a lot of people that are having to deliver news that maybe would be considered bad news. I know you've done some research in this area. Can you help us navigate through this new era of leadership where delivering bad news is part of the part of the package?
Amii Barnard-Bahn (14:36):
Yeah, it is interesting having been involved with everything from whistleblowers to investigations and complaints and then feedback on a lighter level. It is important to kind of understand how we're wired. And I did some social science research around that. And bad events impact us five times more than positive ones. We are wired to focus on the negative. I think it's unfortunately a leftover survival instinct and I'm sure it still serves us somewhat, but in the workplace it can be important to know that, to understand how your communications are gonna be received by people. Um, because we're really not programmed to want to hear bad news is the net net, and that can be dangerous for us because it can mean that we have a blind spot that's going to prevent us from getting our promotion down the line. Or someone doesn't tell us about a critical project that is way behind on schedule because they're terrified of losing their job or getting hit. So, but you may need to, you want to know that bad news as a CEO so that you can plan out and you don't have an even worse surprise down the road, right?
Lisa Thee (15:36):
Yeah. As a leader of my own company in, in other roles, my mantra has always been bad news is okay, surprises are not.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (15:46):
Great. I love it. That is, that's perfect.
Lisa Thee (15:49):
I think that really speaks to, if you know what's coming, you can at least brace for it and mitigate the impact. I will never forget the time that I was overseeing the deployment of a new building for Intel. And the CEO was scheduled to deliver an international keynote from that conference room <laugh>. And I was in a, like a training class or something, so I didn't have my phone nearby and I walked out to 37 messages on my phone from a one-hour step away. That is not a common experience that I had, and I already knew, like my heart was in the pit of my stomach right away. I was like, oh, something went really sideways. And when I got the chance to talk with the person who's responsible for that project in commissioning that room, what I learned was he knew with about 96% certainty that the AV that we had installed was not gonna function properly, but he was hoping for the best.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (16:45):
Oh good. With 4%. Okay <laugh>, that's a slim margin.
Lisa Thee (16:50):
And that was my leadership failure, right? Not helping him to feel safe enough to give me a heads up. We could have held the event somewhere else. We could have done many, many, many different things that would have had a significantly better return on investment for the time of all of our key leaders of the company than sitting there waiting in a failed AV environment. And it just really reinforced me like, you want the bad news. You think you don't, but it is much easier to operate when you have a clearer picture of what's happening. You don't want to be surprised when there's no recourse. So how do people get closer to feeling comfortable in that framework?
Amii Barnard-Bahn (17:33):
Yeah, I love what you're saying because we need to get better at giving and receiving bad news. I think both parties need to be more aware. So, a lot of the writing and work that I've done around this is around that. So, I came up with a six step process around delivering bad news, interviewed dozens of clients and other people to understand kind of their bad news stories, good and bad. And when it's done well, when it's done poorly. So, I codified this. And so, the first step is to psychologically prepare your audience something simple like, I wish I had better news to start out.
Lisa Thee (18:05):
So, you don't have to come up with a big dissertation that's customized. You can just use a simple phrase to signal to someone.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (18:13):
Right. And that allows us to literally psychologically prepare our bodies. Usually, actually we'll breathe out. Cause when we are surprised or shocked, we actually freeze for, um, a portion of a second. I don’t know if you've ever been walking down the street and you get bad news and you stop, does that ever happen to you?
Lisa Thee (18:30):
Amii Barnard-Bahn (18:31):
You read your phone, or you see a text and you, that's what's happening. Our bodies literally shut down for a second. So, you don't want that to happen when you're delivering bad news because that raises everyone's defenses. And then you're already off to a very bad start with the conversation. So, you want to help prepare your listener. If it's an employee and you're giving difficult feedback, you may want to say, may I give you some feedback? You know, asking permission, even though of course you're probably gonna say it anyway.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (18:55):
And they know that they can't say no. That that is the same thing that is preparing them, it's being polite, it's being respectful. It's giving them the semblance of a choice. And that helps even though it may seem funny, but it really, people can be like, oh, okay. And they take a breath and then they can hear you. You can, you can literally just feel it. So that's step one. Step two is rehearsing confident delivery. If you have the privilege of time, which I appreciate, we don't always have, but you know, most of the time you do have a little bit of time. Think out your bullet points, rehearse them, you know, using your phone to record your body language and your vocal tone to have an appropriate measure of gravitas given the situation. Um, that can be just, it makes you more comfortable.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (19:39):
You get kind of a body memory of what you're about to say and you can, you can see and work out any stumbling phrases or facial expressions that you wouldn’t want to conveying because we're all meaning makers. So, people are gonna be potentially watching or listening to you, depending if it's a phone call or video conference or in person, in person always being the best, if you can. Video being the second best. Phone being the next, and texting or emailing being the last, the worst because you cannot respond immediately. You can't get tone. And when you're delivering bad news, the recipient is looking for all of these data points as a human being. And so, the more data points you can give them, the better.
Lisa Thee (20:19):
Yeah. And I, I've heard, I've read somewhere that 86% of communication is all in non-verbal communication. So, it really enhances the point that if you're putting it in writing, the room for interpretation is so broad that the person's gonna fill in with an absence of information their worst fears, often. And it usually makes it much worse than better for everyone involved, even though it seems like it might be the easy way to do it at first because it's documented and it's written. Yu really are losing an opportunity to help advance a cause.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (20:52):
Yeah, I've, and from employment litigation, I've seen lawsuits started because of that. And you know, a manager conveys something in writing when they really should have done it in person. The employee feels disrespected and upset and then they think that it's because of this or that. Uh, many cases that could have been handled just by treating someone with more respect, especially in a layoff situation or demotion or difficult financial situations that many companies find themselves in. Um, and you're pointing out my third step really, which is be present and fully focused. It can be tempting when you have to deliver bad news to <laugh> to go somewhere else in your head or to really not want to be there. And that comes across. You really just have to kind of eat the frog, you know, <laugh> and just, just like do it and be fully, fully in it.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (21:40):
And then the fourth, which is really important, is to convey proactive, benevolent intent. And that gets to the issue. There's social science research that we actually dislike bad news messengers and that we impute ill intent to them. We're so wired to dislike bad news that we sometimes think that the person wanted it to happen. And it may be because they've delayed giving you the information. Like in your case, you know, you'd be like, why that's not logical. This is a really big meeting, 4% chance of success, are you kidding me? Right? But that happens. So, you have to convey that, you know, something like, let's say there, there was an issue and you're the chief compliance officer or the chief data officer and you have a big breach. You may want to say, you know, I wish I had better news.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (22:25):
This is what happened. You share the facts, and you say, as you know, this is my job is to protect this company. You, so you remind people of your good intent and this is what we're doing about it. This is how it won't happen again. This is, these are the steps that need to be taken to notify our customers depending on the legal requirements and the situation, that kind of thing. So that's really important. The fifth step is to explain without justifying, I don't know if you've ever been present to, to a situation where someone has tried to excuse a bad thing away. We've certainly had plenty of public examples, um, over the past few years, but it's really important to just, just be accountable. Often I find that people, it's almost like people get, get more in trouble for, for the second foul than the first foul.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (23:13):
You're the first foul, which is financially bad news and maybe you had a hand in it, maybe you didn't, maybe unfortunately, it just reports up to you and you have to be the deliverer, right? That happens. Um, but it's worse if you then start making excuses for it. No one wants to hear that, right? A CEO is just like, if it occurred on your watch, you have to eat it. And they don't really care. They just want to know how did it happen? Who's responsible? What are you doing about it? Is it ever gonna happen again? What's the cost? What do I need to do? What are you asking me?
Lisa Thee (23:39):
Yeah, people are, people are looking in from every individual lens, what's happened? How is it gonna affect me? How do we recover? How do we move on? And so, when you're making excuses and obfuscating the information, it really takes the teachable moment out of the situation and it gives people somewhere to focus that may be a red herring really.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (24:01):
Yeah. And, and you, you lose respect over time. And those leaders don't, you know, usually last long. So, explaining without justifying is important. And then the last, sixth step is adding a sense of urgency that wraps around a lot of the other elements in terms of showing good intent that you care. But if it's something really important, you want to convey that, that sense of urgency that you feel, that you understand it's important, you're gonna help fix it or find the people that can help you fix it and then move on. And so those are the best ways to deliver bad news and not suffer political backlash, which is definitely a risk in certain roles, especially control roles like you and I have been in.
Lisa Thee (24:41):
Yes. So, with that in mind, can you help us to future trip a little bit about where you think the future of compliance ethics is going? We've seen a lot of news cycles around privacy breaches, and it feels like in some cases we can do our best to prepare, but issues are inevitable as we move from web two into web three. And, uh, governance and regulation hasn't been fully hammered out before innovation moves forward. Can you talk to us about where you see things going and what skills will be required in order for people to be effective leaders in this new normal?
Amii Barnard-Bahn (25:14):
Effective communication. Having intentional outreach. So, if I know you're in the office only on Wednesdays, Lisa, and you're a key stakeholder that I need to align with, I'm gonna be in the office on Wednesdays. You know, just, just thinking through because it's, it's not necessarily as natural with a hybrid that we're all gonna be there at the same time. Having touchpoints, having regularly scheduled check-ins, understanding how your stakeholders want to be communicated with and how frequently and, and navigating that. And I think like we've been discussing, creating a culture, a speak-up culture where people don't fear retaliation, but understand that we're all on the same team together. And it's a learning opportunity if it's a mistake and that you move forward. I don't mean negligence or, you know, poor decision making, poor judgment should always be excused. But I think that you need to in general have a culture where people are gonna feel comfortable talking about issues, especially if you're going to be remote some of the time. Um, which I think a lot of companies that have that privilege are, are going to, to do some kind of hybrid that's most of my clients are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday in the office, unless they're front-facing healthcare or retail, that kind of thing, distribution. So those are things that I've seen. And then just navigating those, those new face time rules, you know, really making sure that, that you have a strategy around how am I going to be present with my stakeholders.
Lisa Thee (26:45):
So, Amy, it seems like a lot of this work is internal work, getting comfortable with being transparent, being forthright, leading with the facts and having the confidence that you can still be likable even if you're holding people accountable. And you've given us examples of ways you're writing to help individuals do that more effectively. I know you do coaching, uh, with leaders at many companies to do that. Uh, and also some keynote speeches in this area. So, for people that want to engage with you and want to continue the conversation, what are the best ways to reach you?
Amii Barnard-Bahn (27:23):
Oh, thank you. Like, welcome to go to my website, which is barnardbahn.com and get my free assessment. I have hundreds of resources. My Harvard Business Review articles and Fast Company and Compliance Week are all on there. And then I have a newsletter as well. I just started a newsletter on LinkedIn a couple weeks ago. And then I also have a private client newsletter that people can sign up for and they're different content but they're all around leadership issues.
Lisa Thee (27:45):
Ooh, we must have been aligning since our last, uh, dinner date because I just launched my newsletter as well.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (27:51):
Oh, congratulations. I'll have to sign up. I didn't know that. That's awesome.
Lisa Thee (27:54):
Thank you. And congratulations on, uh, your recent inclusion in the 175 women B2B thought leaders list from Thinkers 360. Very cool to see you being highlighted for the audience and I couldn't agree more with the recommendation. Uh, and always remember for authors the best thing you can do for them is to buy their book and put a verified review on Amazon. I know you've had some milestones this year in different categories on Amazon for your book reaching the top seller list. Can you tell us about the categories that it's trending in?
Amii Barnard-Bahn (28:25):
Sure, it was women in business, negotiating in business as well. Cause they have a lot of strategies there and influencing and I think finance and money was another one.
Lisa Thee (28:36):
Well, I don't know anybody that doesn't feel like they could always sharpen their tool set in negotiations and doesn't think that finance and money is a good thing, uh, to help stabilize and increase the feelings of safety and security in an uncertain world. So, I'm super thrilled to be bringing new audiences awareness of some of the capabilities that you're sharing with everyone and really appreciate all the free resources that you provide. So, thank you so much for joining us here today, Amy. We would love to speak to you again sometime in the near future.
Amii Barnard-Bahn (29:09):
Thank you so much for inviting me, Lisa. It was my pleasure.
Narrator outro (29:13):
Hey everyone, thanks for listening to the Navigating Forward Podcast. We'd love to hear from you at a crossroads of uncertainty and opportunity. How do you navigate forward? We'll see you next time.