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Podcast Transcript

Breaking Bad Part 2

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:10  
Welcome to "Your Authentic Path to Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark. Join us on this journey where we're uncovering what it takes to be a powerful woman leader. Well, Marsha, here we are again.

Marsha Clark  0:24  
Yes, ma'am.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:24  
And we're recovered from last week's epic discussion about breaking down our bad stereotypes or bias thinking around gender role expectations.

Marsha Clark  0:34  
Yes, I hope we are. I hope we are past that and that it was a valuable conversation for our listeners to have with us. And these are pretty epic discussions. And I know that I don't mean to use dramatic language, but when we're doing work that requires us to dig deeply into our beliefs and behaviors, it's epic. And today, we're going to shift from such a personal focus and really begin to look at some critical thinking to the problematic policies that are often in place in organizations. And we'll talk about what some of those policies are and what we can do to break some of those bad policies.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:09  
Right. Okay. So, one thing before we get started on today's content. We really haven't actually addressed the whole why these episodes have been called "Breaking Bad" theme from last week and today. So for everyone who listened last week and was hoping we were going to talk about the stereotypes from the television show "Breaking Bad", we definitely didn't go there although that might be a fascinating study all by itself.

Marsha Clark  1:35  
Yes, it would. Yes, it would. So so these two episodes are not a deep dive into the characters and I daresay terrible decisions that the characters made along the way in that "Breaking Bad" series. I would hope that most chemistry teachers are not meth dealers. (Right.) So you know, but we definitely need to bring in some subject matter expert to do that kind of exploration. But but the episode titles are a play on the theme of the show which is really about examining our humaneness, looking at how our assumptions and biases can create breakdowns and in the case of today's topic, what we can do to identify and challenge, maybe, some broken or flawed process or policies in our organizations. So no psychological dissection of Walter White or Jesse Pinkman's destructive behaviors and dysfunctional relationships. We'll leave that to the internet experts.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  2:25  
Yes, exactly. So I've been looking forward to today's episode, because I want you to share some of your own stories about breaking bad policies when you were a leader at EDS. You were there when they had some pretty restrictive policies on the workforce and you help to strike them from the books, so to speak, while you were there. And besides being an interesting peek into some historically questionable policies, I think it will also give us an idea of how far and then also how not so far we've come as women in the world of organizational rules and processes. So please give us two or three examples of policies that were in place at EDS that you helped change, challenge or extinguish.

Marsha Clark  3:15  
Yeah, and I'm not going to go into boring detail, at least I'm trying not to, but I want to sort of pull out the things that I think are really important. (Absolutely.) So I led the effort on multiple dress code policies. So we had a men had to wear suits. When I first started there they had to wear white shirts, there could be no pinstripe or any of that, there could be no tassels on shoes, there was no facial hair for men. And for women, we had to wear suits and we had to wear hose, and we had to wear close toed shoes and so on. And there were reasons for that. And I'll be honest with you, it didn't bother me much because I kind of liked dressing that way and I didn't have to worry about what I was going to wear.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  3:54  
Exactly. You just pick from the same things in the closet.

Marsha Clark  3:57  
And the founder was Ross Perot, and he had a very deliberate reason for it. He didn't want anyone who came into our company to treat people differently based on dress. So whether you were a computer operator in the data center, a secretary, or a systems engineer, or financial analyst, or you name it, we all looked pretty much the same. So no hierarchy, no hierarchy differentiation. Okay. And also, we dressed this way at headquarters. Most of our employees worked on customer sites and we adopted the customer's dress code.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  4:29  
Oh, okay.

Marsha Clark  4:30  
So it wasn't everywhere. And you know, there was a really big difference. If you were on the East Coast, it was more financial, insurance, we're dealing with people's money and they expect you to dress high end  conservative. Right.  While on the West Coast over time where .com and, you know, all of that started happening, it was a much looser dress code. And the reason that it really got changed was when people said, basically, my company doesn't trust me to know how to dress. So it boiled down to a trust issue. It got beyond the no hierarchical differentiation or any of that. And it was practical when we began to change because guess what? Women were now crawling around in the data center, pulling wire out from underneath raised flooring, and all of that.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  5:23  
And it was hard on pantyhose.

Marsha Clark  5:27  
Now, here's kind of a fun part of this that I often tell the story and believe with all my heart is that when the daughters of the executives started working at EDS and they went home and started saying, Daddy, why do I have to wear a dress to work today? That kind of helped it get along. And, you know, I also just want to say we were late to the game. We had all the right business reasons, but it was a policy that was not very practical for women who were broadening their career choices. And so we were literally on CNN. I wore a pantsuit that first day, you know, just so that I could model what women could do these days and as an officer of the company, and literally, I got interviewed by CNN that day.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  6:10  
Because you were wearing pants?

Marsha Clark  6:12  
Because it had taken us so long to change the dress code. (Wow!) So part of why we're doing this today is don't wait that long. If you think there are things that need to shift, create the business reasons for doing so. Most people know all about the secrecy of salaries if you were working anywhere there. And their purpose behind you don't share what each other are making because if you did, it was a fireable offense and people were fired for doing so. It wasn't just if it's a policy, and you know, we expect you to follow it. And if you don't, there are consequences. But the point was, they didn't want distractions. If you and I are working next to each other and you're making, you know, $3 more than I am, I can get all caught up in all of that. And so I think when we lifted that and made it not a fireable offense, and I look at where how far it's come in industry in business today, it's the Sunshine law, the transparency of it all. And I know states even as we speak that have passed transparency. People have to post job ranges and all of those things. And I think that brings a much greater equity and parity to particularly the compensation aspect.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  6:13  

Marsha Clark  7:27  
And, you know, I'll go back to the Arthur Chan "Diversity is a fact. Equity is a choice." And if we're going to choose to be equitable in titles, compensation, promotions, opportunities, all of that, I love the transparency of that I have nothing to hide. And then the last one I'll talk about, it was a really big deal. And one of one of the most significant learning experiences I've ever had in acting as a corporate officer. So we, in '94, added sexual orientation to our EEOC statement that we would not discriminate based on age, you know, sex and, we added sexual orientation. And we also added domestic partner benefits to our benefits program.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  8:15  
In '94?

Marsha Clark  8:16  
In '94.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  8:17  
That was early.

Marsha Clark  8:19  
We were very early.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  8:20  
That's interesting that you were so late on the dress code, but then early on this issue,

Marsha Clark  8:24  
Well, let me tell you about this issue. We lost two pieces of business because a group that had been headquartered and worked in San Francisco, California, did not want to pick a Texas based business because Texas was a redneck state and would not support their sexual orientation. We had several various examples of that, and it finally got people's attention. And so we had two groups inside EDS and people often tell me that these two were rather progressive at the time. And one was called Eagles, which was the Employee Association of Gay and Lesbian Employees. And the other was called Glee, the Gay and Lesbian EDS Employees. And I attended their meetings. (Okay.) And one of our values was to treat all people with dignity and respect. And this was a group we were not honoring that. And I will tell you when we made the change, I did my meetings before the meetings, I knew who my allies were, I knew who my adversaries were. We were going to do sexual orientation first and then add domestic benefits perhaps later. Because I had enough allies, we did it both at the same time, just get it done and behind us and not have to go through it twice.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  9:47  

Marsha Clark  9:48  
And I will tell you, part of the growth for me was I received some of the really mean spirited letters because I was the voice in the face of this. And when those who viewed it as a very positive move, when they found out that all the letters being written were by the people who disagreed, they organized a letter campaign and balanced out and exceeded those. And the real test for me came in a lunch table conversation in the EDS cafeteria. And the person sitting at the other table did not know who I was. I was having lunch with someone and I couldn't help but overhear because they were talking rather loud. And they said, You know, I don't like what we're doing. And yet, I get that we have not been honoring our value of treating everyone with dignity and respect. So I can get behind it for that reason. And I believe that it's a courageous act for us to do that when not many companies were doing it at the time. And I went over to that person afterwards. And I just, and I said to him, I couldn't help but overhear and I want you to know that I am the person leading this charge and am the face of the organization, and you got it. We did it for dignity and respect reasons. And we've done all our research and all the things that go along with that. But those were three biggies in my 21 years there.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  11:15  
Well, it's so interesting to me to hear these examples, because it feels like our listeners may be still experiencing some of these types of policies in their organizations. And I guess the difference, the biggest difference now, between now and 20 years ago, is that people are online comparing notes. So organizations can't get by with any questionable policies or processes. Like your first one on or your second one, sorry, on secrecy of salaries, like there are entire businesses around, you know, Glass Door is what's coming to mind to me, where people can get on there and either anonymously or put their name to it. You know, I worked here, this was my salary. Here's the true roles and responsibilities. Here are the people in management who are awful, here are the ones who are great. Like people will...

Marsha Clark  12:11  
It's out there. (Yes.) And you, I think as a company, you have to know and acknowledge that, understand it. I'm not saying you have to answer every, you know, crazy lame thing that goes on out there. But I also think that if you don't tell the real story, they will make up a story. (Yep.) And it's never, or it's rarely a good one. Right. And so I agree that organizations, we've come a long way in terms of these employee related policies and, you know, I say since the days of mandatory starched white shirts and blue suits. And yet, I continue to hear stories from my coaching clients and people that are participating in programs, that still have many restrictions that may not really make sense anymore. And especially given how the nature of work has changed with more virtual work options, shared co located work experiences, COVID restrictions. I mean, it's been fascinating to watch the pendulum swinging all over the place on all of that, and I don't think we've landed o what that means. And so, you know, these are timeless dilemmas for leaders.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  13:14  
Yeah, I wish I could say I'm surprised by some of these head scratching policies I hear that organizations are putting into place but that would be a lie. I just shake my head most of the time as I listen to friends, neighbors, you know, other people, other colleagues who are caught up in the middle of all of this. And you mentioned COVID. And I agree that it changed everything for so many people, and not just the whole work from home thing because obviously that was a shift for thousands of businesses who had that flexibility, but also how people's attitudes about work shifted. And people reevaluated their personal priorities made career changes based on how COVID impacted them both directly and indirectly. And I think it's great that we watched some businesses get really creative and demonstrate agility to keep their doors open, serve their customers, serve their employees, and weather the storm. But I've also seen some of these very same businesses. It's like they're trying to go back. I mean, they're struggling to convince their workforce to return to these offices to do the same work that they were able to do for the last two years in their pajama bottoms with their cat on their lap or their baby on their lap or whatever. And I think that's been normalized, like we understand that Stephanie has a newborn. Yep, she's going to take the Zoom call and she's going to be a full employee and be on camera, but there's the newborn in the lap and I think people have been normalized to that and it's, it's good. But what are you seeing, Marsha, as you work with these leaders, both men and women, who are trying to, I don't know, rewire their organizations and policies on this new world work order?

Marsha Clark  15:14  
Well, as I said a moment ago, there's no one answer for this. I think companies and organizations are all over the place. I'm seeing a lot of what you just described, a workforce that's redefined. You know, what work means to them and what they are and are not willing to sacrifice or do for a paycheck. And I don't think this is just a generational thing. It's not just the millennials who are pushing back or quiet quitting as the phrase has been called. That reevaluation is happening with people in every age group, all genders around the globe. And it's truly a global phenomenon. And I see leaders who are struggling to quite honestly defend and employ enforce the return to office mandates. I also see leaders who just can't seem to recognize and acknowledge that going back to pre pandemic policies and procedures isn't even possible in certain situations. And they can't seem to understand that the world of work really had a seismic shift over the past two years. And we really can't go back.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  16:15  
Right, right. And I know, we wanted to focus on two aspects of "Breaking Bad Policies" today. And one of them is looking at actual policies that organizations are struggling with today and providing some insights around those. And then the other is what our role as leaders is, as women leaders, as fully engaged allies in advocating for changes that are committed to improving diversity, equity, inclusion, those conditions in organizations. So let's start with some of the policies that seem to be the most problematic that are hitting organizations today.

Marsha Clark  16:56  
Yeah, so there's a small disruption in the what you might refer to as the workplace Metaverse, when it comes to some of the problematic policies. And we have some pre pandemic policies that are still around and regaining traction in those organizations that are trying to pull their employees back into an office setting. And then we have new emerging policies that are creating their own challenges for leaders and employees. You know, and I will offer to our listeners who like to do their own research, some of the best resources that I have read and tend to cite and use come from Catalyst, and they are especially helpful in research focused on women and women's issues. The more generic are Pew Research, another is Gallup, another is the Gartner Group who does all kinds of industry focused research. McKinsey and Company, which is a large consulting company that does lots of research and white papers. And then the World Economic Forum, which really does report throughout the year that tells us what's going on around the world. And so I encourage our listeners, you know, pull from multiple sources to inform and educate themselves and those around them.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  18:12  
Yeah, I just wrote down all of those as you were talking. So great idea to point people toward some reputable and relevant resources. And so I'm guessing that there are some trends that you've found in the research on bad policies.

Marsha Clark  18:28  
Yeah, a simple Google search on bad organizational policies will turn up an abundance of source material. And you know, there are definite themes that run through all the contents. So what I'm going to offer here is to list 10 consistently problematic policies or practices that come from a compilation of all these and these are, these are the ones that are in line with what I hear on a daily basis from my clients.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  18:51  
Okay. Are these in any particular order? You Starting with Top 10 and going down or...

Marsha Clark  18:55  
No. So I'm going to start with my number one, currently the most frequently challenged policy or practice  that leaders are facing today. And it's the return to work initiatives that they're trying to implement and enforce. And by far, that single policy is sparking literally revolts around the world. You know, of course, not every employee is pushing back on returning to an office environment. And, you know, I often hear about this as it's hurting women more than others. And yet, employees who work better in a collaborative team environment like the option of being in the same room whenever possible, and that's true for both men and women, we know that relationship building and developing trust are perceived as easier for teams to achieve and especially if you've come together as a new team, when you have the chance to connect face to face. And you know, many employees report a sense of missing out on those important, spontaneous or impromptu, whether it be a development opportunity, can you handle this for me or can you go to this meeting for me or whatever that might be when they're not in the office, and you know, even front and center and that boss's orbit. And I hear from a good number of my female clients also, that they like going to the office because it's a clean break from household responsibilities. You know, we've talked about that before that a woman handles most of that. And so some like the blurred lines of work and home. And so I just want to say it's definitely not a one size fits all. And, you know, many in the Gen Z population are very interested in a hybrid model, with some days face to face and others wanted all remote. So it's not generational either.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  20:39  
Right. Right. So it surprises me that Gen Z would want some face to face. Why do you think that's happening?

Marsha Clark  20:46  
Well, for many Gen Zers, or some of the literature you know is now calling them Zoomers.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  20:52  
Oh my god, that's funny.

Marsha Clark  20:53  
Listeners, hear that. For those who entered the workforce during the pandemic, they've missed out on as much as two years of mentoring, shadowing, observing, you know, whether it be peers, leaders, and, you know, just basic actual networking. And so for someone starting out in their career, these are really crucial building blocks for, you know, encouraging success and long term career growth. And that's something that Zoomers are very interested in.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  21:20  
That's, you're so right. So I'm going to deviate off topic just here for a second. I did a, I was a guest lecturer at okay, I'm gonna just go ahead and say the name, Johnette Magner. She was in my Power of Self class 18. She is now a professor at Louisiana Tech. And I did a guest lecture via zoom last Friday and talking about podcasting. But the conversation quickly went to, you know, once it was q&a time it went to how did you get into this business? How did you get to where you are, and that allowed me the opportunity to tell them, it doesn't matter that you're in college, I am a huge LinkedIn fan. You need to start building your network now. If you've decided what you want to do with your career, reach out and find those people who are in your geographic area, ask to take them to coffee just for a 30 minute, hey, what advice do you have? This is where I am. Like be, I would be so honored to get that email or connection request on LinkedIn as a somebody who's now at the stage of mentoring not being a mentee. And that was like a lightbulb moment for them, which really shocked me. But yet I then once I stepped away from the conversation a few hours later, and even over the weekend, I was talking about it with Scott, my husband. You know, they've been essentially, like dampened for two years, isolated, (whatever you want to call it) yeah. And so building that network is something that they hadn't even thought about yet. So anyway, this surprises me in that they want to get out a little bit, but they also want to stay working from home.

Marsha Clark  23:18  
And they're not all the same. Right? So just like some women like coming to work because it's a break, others like staying home so they can throw a lot of laundry in. Right. Right. So that's the part where we have to get past that as well. And what is it that the business really needs? And you know, so again, it's not a one size fits all. And you know, the genie has left the bottle, and there will simply be some people for whom work from home is the optimal solution. So, you know, I think we'll talk about some possible solutions once I get through maybe the other nine.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  23:53  
Okay. I can't wait to hear the other nine problematic policies.

Marsha Clark  23:57  
All right. So no particular order, and they come from a whole variety of sources. So the second one is bell curves and forced or stacked rankings for performance evaluation. Dare I say so much of this was pushed by the Jack Welch era when he was at GE, where it was, you know, get rid of the bottom 10% every quarter. And so, is that really what we want to do? And is was it ever a good policy because you know, at some point, you would hope that you either improve your hiring practices or performance management systems so that your your bottom 10% are still very productive. But that's the second one. Shutting down self expression, and this includes clothing, hairstyles, jewelry, piercings, tattoos, even as far as having personal items at your desk or, you know in your online background. And of course, dress code will always be in there. The fourth is strict rules around arrival and departure times as well as the amount of time off and leave that you get. And then another sort of pet peeve is requiring a doctor's note in order to use sick leave, which again goes back to I don't trust you. And if there have been people who you believe have abused it, deal with those people. My phrase for this is don't indict the masses for the sins of a few. But anyway, so restricting use of personal phone and or internet during work hours, I mean, our lives are just more blurred than that. Declaring that Moonlighting (having a second job or side hustles, as some people call it), are "illegal" and grounds for termination. And unless there's some sort of competitive reason, you know, you have to ask yourself what that's about. Stealing employees' frequent flyer miles or hotel points for business related trips, you know, letting those be owned by the corporation rather than the person. And then claiming ownership of employees' ideas, especially those that were generated and pursued on their own time. If you're using company resources to do it, that's one thing. But if I did this on the side and you found out about it, and the company can benefit from it and I get nothing other than a paycheck, and that's the way some people think. Requiring manager approval for internal transfers. And then the last one is limiting or even refusing pay increases for employees who make internal moves. You know, this is the we'll wait and see if you work out or not, you know, so all the risk goes back to the employee and none to the employer.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  26:29  
Wow, all I can say is just wow, on all of these. And they seem, a lot of these seem really outdated, and, of course, would be unpopular with employees. And I have to admit, as I was listening to this, I found myself remembering back into my corporate days and going yep, I remember that. Yep. Remember that. Yep. Remember that. And now I'm thankful. This is why I'm self employed.

Marsha Clark  26:57  
Yes, and I'm sure that many of our listeners are having a similar reaction. And I also think it reflects why so many people have been reevaluating their work situation, the great resignation, the great retirement, the quiet quitters. I mean, this is all wrapped into one big bundle.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  27:13  
Yeah. You know, there's a couple here, though, that I think I would probably agree with, though. The big one for me is not surfing the web, you know, during work. I mean, you know, but then on my lunch break, yeah, I'm gonna hit J. Crew and see what the 30% off sale is. I mean, come on. But, and then the other one that I understand the employer side of the perspective about arrival and departure time, but at the same time, I can't get behind that being a set in stone policy, either. I mean, the point of the thing is getting your work done while you're there, if you are, quote, unquote,"having to go to a there." So where's the middle ground? I mean, there's definitely situations where employees have a specific time that they need to be at work or they do need to complete projects and tasks by a certain time, and they don't need to be distracted by their phone or the web or, you know, whatever. But, you know, again, a lot of these are, are really, again, throwback to not what, to the way back like the 60's.

Marsha Clark  28:28  
Yeah, well, you know, if I'm a teacher of a classroom, I have to show up to be there for the students. Exactly. I mean, I hear things like dress for your day, locate for your day, you know, and to me, that's the have a reason for imposing whatever policy you have. And so I love your questions, we're gonna go there.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  28:48  
Good, because I'm getting some anxiety here. For the managers out there who are still who are thinking to themselves, okay, work still needs to get done. And we agree with that. So to that point, what can leaders do to find that balance between having policies in place, serving customers, delivering the organization's products and services, but then also thinking about those unique needs of different employees?

Marsha Clark  29:17  
Yeah, and there are some consistent best practices that we know about that are available for how to develop and implement reasonable, effective organizational policies and procedures and some of these quite honestly are classic, I call it Change Management 101 strategies. And you know, the first thing one, identify all the stakeholders who are going to be impacted by the policy, whether it be direct or indirect impact, and also those that might be immediately impacted but also take the the downstream, you know, possibilities of further impact.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  29:52  
Okay, so I get the immediate impact. How do you figure out the downstream players who might be impacted?

Marsha Clark  29:59  
Yeah, so couple of easy things to do to help with this. So first, some of our listeners may remember the episode we did where we talked about the meeting before the meeting which is where, you know, I would or they would personally reach out to all the various potential stakeholders, and in a series of one on one meetings or one to one meetings with each of them and ask who else do they think will be impacted by the policy because they may have, you know, a view into something that I don't. And I've, I mean, almost always found that no matter how comprehensive I thought my list was, how well I knew this company, how well I knew the processes, that when I ask others I end up with at least a handful of names, new names that I need to include because I didn't realize you know, that 14 iterations down, this was not going to allow them to do their work. So the other strategy that I find really helpful is to use, you know, the spirit or the sense of mapping. So literally doing a visual map of the impacted people in groups. And, you know, there's a number of worksheets and processes that our listeners can go find out on the internet for stakeholder mapping and they can look up that very phrase. And then some companies have their own favorite tools for that. So, you know, I would invite our listeners to check into their own organizational resources and create those stakeholder maps individually, I can sit and do it, or if I'm working with another person who might have a broader perspective or bigger lens, we can do that together, we can collaborate on that. And I find that I like the hybrid approach where I send out the mapping tool ahead of time, just for people to have a chance to kind of chew on their ideas and come up with some things and then pull together a group for the collective review of the maps before we build that big comprehensive map.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  31:51  
Got it. Okay, so I can see how both approaches of the one on ones and those meetings before the meeting would be really effective with some people. But I would also personally get a lot out of the visual maps and that process. I love that idea because I'm a visual person. So this was one of the early steps in the process of creating and implementing a new policy. What else can a leader or a team do to help ensure that the policy they're proposing will be implemented and successful?

Marsha Clark  32:24  
Yeah, before we go to that next step, I do want to share a little with an insider secret on change management. Know that the minute you start asking stakeholders, who else might be impacted, you have already started socializing the idea of the policy or change.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  32:41  
Oh, good point.

Marsha Clark  32:42  
Just by asking questions or, you know, identifying people. So every conversation you and whoever else might be on your team is conducting with stakeholders is a step towards, you know, successful implementation or moving forward on your project. So even when you receive resistance or challenges from your stakeholder, you're gaining critical information to help adjust whatever the ultimate policy might be. And so if you're not taking advantage of that time in those conversations, then you're missing out on important opportunities to build the buy in, the psychological buy in. And I think this is just a great example of we're much better off slowing down and ensuring we understand the implications and the ripple effects in order to speed up the execution or implementation.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  33:32  
Absolutely. I love that idea that you're you're seeding that buy in during all of this. And, you know, I think so many of us have been managing change like that, intuitively, for so long, that we don't even realize we're doing it. We're kind of on autopilot. Yeah, so I love your deconstructing this process. It's incredibly helpful for leaders who haven't had the benefit or that experience or training. So very useful.

Marsha Clark  33:57  
Yeah, you know, the word "vetting" is one of the words that comes to mind when I think about doing this. And I think it is what has made it maybe a little more intentional and deliberate, you know, when you see that happening again and again. And, you know, I would add a caution to those of us who have been leading organizational change for a very long time. And, and because there's always an opportunity for us to improve on that approach. And whether it be technology improvement, process improvement, or, you know, people with different skill sets and experiences. And I've found that some of the biggest, I'll call them policy blunders, happen because seasoned leaders take for granted that they know what the organization will accept or at least tolerate, and they can be so isolated or disconnected that they truly have lost touch with whether it be their employees, their customers, or colleagues or whomever that may be impacted by those proposed changes.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  34:53  
So you've shared the importance of checking in with impacted stakeholders and recognizing that even those initial conversations are important steps in the process of gaining clarity and buy in from them. What else can leaders do to avoid this trap of implementing problematic policy?

Marsha Clark  35:13  
Yeah, yeah. So really two things jump out for me. And one is humility, being open to the idea, me as the leader, that I may not have all the answers and that my lived experience is likely very different than that of people who will be impacted by whatever policy it is I'm trying to implement. So, for example, let's go back to the no personal phones during work policy. You, as the leader, may not need to stay tethered to your personal phone because maybe you don't have small children or kids in schools. Or if you do, maybe you have someone else who's handling those responsibilities, like a partner or spouse or relative and nanny and au pair, whatever it might be. So if your child gets to school and has a fever or needs a change clothes, you don't have to worry about having your phone on for those personal calls because someone else is on that frontline to handle that issue. But here's where the second, if humility is the first, empathy has to kick in. Just because you can get through your day without your phone doesn't mean others can. And this goes back, you've heard me say it before, just because I haven't experienced what you've experienced doesn't make your truth invalid, because it's not my truth. (Right.) And so empathy paired with humility, I think goes a long way to avoid creating some of the problematic policies. We really have to do our homework. And there's an excellent 2022 Catalyst article. It's online by Tara Van Bommel PhD and the title of the article is "Words Aren't Enough: The Risks of Performative Policies". And so I highly recommend our listeners to go read this, get it and read it. And it explains that empathy is a skill that leaders can build and use not only to create policies that are more attuned to employee needs, but also to demonstrate a forthright interest in employee perspectives and well being. So empathy can lead to both more effective policies and better communication of those policies with employees as demonstrated by her research. And she goes on to say, our findings also show that when leaders demonstrate care and concern for employees through personal interactions, and the creation of genuine organizational policies, employees believe the organization is sincere in making decisions that prioritize their well being and welfare.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  37:52  
So when she says creating "genuine organizational policies", what does she mean by that?

Marsha Clark  38:00  
Well, she actually offers a definition of what it means. And here's what she says: Policies that are aligned with the stated values of the organization, motivated by care and concern for employees, and thoughtfully implemented. So that's what that means.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  38:17  
Okay, not rocket science. Just align your policies to the stated values of the company, build them from a place of care and concern for the employees and implement them thoughtfully with humility and empathy. Love it.

Marsha Clark  38:30  
I'll go back to the sexual orientation, right? (Yes.) That it aligned with the stated values of showing dignity and respect for all, so that's why we did it. Right. And it isn't rocket science or brain surgery. And yet, it isn't always easy or automatic, depending on how deeply rooted some of these policies are. And if you have a group of leaders who may lack, you know, some of the humility or empathy or even the courage to buck the system, or, you know, the decision makers to speak truth to power.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  38:38  
Right. Yeah, decision makers with courage to buck the system. I feel like we're starting to come full circle with your stories from the beginning of the episode. So what does it take to make sure the decision makers are humble, empathetic and courageous or willing to advocate on behalf of the voices who aren't in the room?

Marsha Clark  39:24  
Yeah. And I'm going to say something, and I really don't intend for it to come across as simplistic or trite. But I just have to say the research shows us over and over again that when you have more women and people from underrepresented groups at the table making or influencing the decisions, you make more effective, and I dare say, better decisions. And if you're an ally to someone who wants change, make room at the table for them. You know, if you're a woman who has a seat already already be relentless in your efforts to invite in the diverse voices in the organization and create or support processes that encourage those voices to speak up, making room or amplifying their voice. And here's something that we don't always hear in conversations about advocacy and creating an inclusive environment. And I do want to thank my dear friend and former colleague, Nancy Long, for this one. Creating that space and advocating for genuine policies isn't the exclusive responsibility of the C suite. You know, we cannot point fingers everywhere else. Every one of us at all levels in the organization have the power and responsibility to push back on bad policies. You know, maybe we want to partner with leaders, you know, with HR, with legal to ensure that the processes and procedures of the organization, that they recognize and represent the diversity of all the stakeholder groups, and those can range from executives to individual performers, and, and just I want our listeners to hear everyone can play a critical role in breaking bad policies.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  41:05  
And I think that leaders almost have an intrinsic responsibility to be on the lookout for that. I think most people assume that tackling toxic or problematic policies falls in the domain of the C suite. But as you mentioned, there's plenty of times when leaders at the top aren't aware of the day to day impact of the organization's policies and what that has on the rank and file employees if you will. And that's where your comment about having courage really rings true for me. I may not have positional power in an organization, but if I see a policy that needs to be challenged or changed, then I need to muster up the courage to stand against it.

Marsha Clark  41:46  
That is absolutely right, Wendi, and I appreciate your sharing that. And I think it's one thing to complain about bad policies. It's an entirely different level of engagement and commitment, to add your voice as an advocate for change and to demonstrate the courage it takes to speak truth to power. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes about courage and it's from Winston Churchill. You know, "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Breaking bad policies takes both kinds of courage. I have to be willing and have the courage to stand up and speak about it and the humility and the empathy to sit down and listen about it.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  42:28  
Right. And I've heard you use that quote before, Marsha, but it sure is hitting home today. Great way to start wrapping us up. So if you were to choose a couple of key points from today, what would they be?

Marsha Clark  42:40  
I think one would be that policies need to evolve. And consider the ever changing needs of stakeholders. I would also say take into account the evolution of job aids and tools like technology to do work that used to be done sitting next to one another. And that it's key to involve stakeholders in the process of identifying, shifting, eliminating or creating policies. And I think the second key point from today is the idea that you don't have to be an executive leader to speak up and break some of those policies and facilitating positive change in organizations, that we all have the ability and it's an important thing for us to do to make good changes happen.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  43:29  
So much to think about from today. And as always, I love hearing the flashback scenarios from EDS days and walking through some ideas of how we can continue to move forward with breaking bad policies. I know I'm inspired and I'm sure our listeners are feeling a little extra fire into their seats as well.

Marsha Clark  43:49  
Well, you know, Wendi, I want to say when you think about in particular, people policies. If you want a diverse workforce and you hire people off college campuses, go look at your list of who you're recruiting from. And, you know, one of the examples I often give when I'm talking to people about this is I am a big supporter of go to, for example, historically black colleges and universities. But if you look at Howard, or Spelman and Morehouse or you know, whatever they might be, they may only have 3,000 to 5,000 students in total. I can go to the University of Michigan or University of Texas and there's, you know, 60,000 students and a larger percentage population. (Right.) So know those things, right? Do your homework. Get the people involved because the people you bring into the company and remember, they want to look up that org chart and see somebody who looks like them. So it's not just the hiring. It is the promotional opportunities, putting them on visible projects. How do we make those decisions? Who goes on the succession list? Oh, well, you know, she's a woman with small children so she could never be a successor because this job requires her to travel. I mean, this wraps up policy, it wraps up practices, it wraps up stereotypes. It's me and others imposing their values on me. And we have to stand and speak to not just accept that stuff.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  45:15  
Well, and I just want to give a huge shout out to all of the women and men who are in their 40's and 50's right now who are raising children who are in junior high, high school and college and who are asking these tough questions to employers. Like, the shift of... I remember interviewing for jobs when I was graduating from UT and it was all one sided. It was you know, practically a begging situation. The company had all the power, and how that has shifted to today. Young people do not accept that anymore. They want to know, you know, what is your philanthropic work. They want to know how much time can I get off in order to contribute to causes that I care about. There's all of these things that I think are phenomenal policies that my parents, my grandparents didn't even think about in a corporate environment that they would be asked those questions.

Marsha Clark  46:23  
Yeah. And if you can't get beyond, I'll call it your own personal agenda for why you want everybody to come back into the office like, I can go down to your desk and throw something on it and say get this to me by tomorrow, or is it, is there really a legitimate business reason. And there are many legitimate business reasons to bring people back to the office. And I'll give this one last tip, if someone is pushing back on something. So let's just say coming into the office you might ask them, What are your career goals and aspirations? Do you think not taking the time to build relationships, not being visible and available for impromptu or spontaneous needs, do you think that you working from home helps or hurts your opportunities for more and bigger responsibility? Because I think we have to give the business reason for why the person needs to come in. And I also think we, you've heard me talk about "wiifm" what's in it for me? If I can help tie that to your career goals and aspirations, there may be more motivation in regards to that. And at the same time, allow for judgment. (Right.) My phrase is "Judgment trumps process,  judgment trumps policy". You know, we're not going to do anything illegal. But we made up these policies so if we break them, I mean, we can do so with intention and clarity and for the good as it relates to business, then that's okay. You know, but I also think that for many, it's just I want to go back to the way it was because that was an easy way for me to operate (right) with beady eyed self interest versus business reason and business case.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  48:16  
Love that. Well, listeners, you got some goods today. Thank you for joining us on our journey of authentic, powerful leadership. Please download, subscribe and share this podcast from wherever you are listening. Go to Marsha's website at for links to the tools that we talked about today. Buy her book so that you can figure out all of this stakeholder mapping and how that would all work and visualize that for yourself. Subscribe to Marsha's email list so you can stay up to date on everything that's going on in Marsha's world. And, man, just another, "Breaking Bad - Part 2".

Marsha Clark  49:00  
We've got a lot going on. And I do hope that our listeners found value in our activities today or our conversation today. And please let us know if you're stuck, if you need help with clarity, if you need a thought partner, you know, give us a call and I always say I'm an email or a phone call away and we'll figure out a way to help and support you as these are some big things to tackle and I'll strategize with you. So thank you, listeners. And as always, here's to women supporting women!

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