Mind the Gap

How we helped a financial services giant align their intentions with their behaviors
Why was this work important?

Our client prides itself on having a culture where the best ideas win. Through training, feedback, and reinforcement, the organization pushes its people to challenge one another directly and to address tough issues head-on to get to a rigorous understanding of business problems. When people engage with each other, they are encouraged to do so honestly (saying what they think), with humility (owing their missteps) and in a way that brings the best and most out of others.

The expectation is that if individuals act in a way that’s inconsistent with the company’s values, colleagues witnessing such behaviors will speak up and challenge each other, regardless of seniority. However, this is not consistently the case. Why, in such a forthright culture, do some individuals stay quiet in the face of their colleagues’ transgressions? Our client wanted to develop its leaders and managers to create an environment where all employees are more likely to share their perspectives, voice their concerns, and speak up.

What did we do?

We first wanted to understand when and why people do and don’t speak up in the organization, so we ran a series of focus groups and had conversations with individuals from employee resource groups to learn more about the nuances of the culture, what encourages people to challenge, and what holds them back. People shared their lived experiences with us of what it’s like to speak up in the company, exemplary leadership habits they’ve observed that promote speaking up, and behaviors they witnessed that close people down.

In partnership with the HR department, we developed a Speak Up leadership workshop, with a heavy focus on self-exploration, deepening self-awareness, peer coaching, and learning through scenarios. After piloting the workshop, we rolled out 24 workshops to 300+ leaders and managers over a 12-month period, culminating with two sessions for the executive team. The workshops gave individuals the opportunity to reflect on their behaviors and their responsibilities as leaders, underpinned by some of the latest thinking from neuropsychology. Using a combination of science, psychology, and personal experience helped to land the concept of the bystander effect, the reasons it occurs, and how to overcome it.

What was the impact?

We know from participants’ feedback that, on aggregate, they found the workshops to be valuable. The workshops were rated above the high standard of excellence set by the organization. In particular, leaders really benefitted from the opportunity to discuss their experiences of speaking up or staying silent with their peers and to talk through a range of what would you do scenarios. Furthermore, the workshops:

  • Challenged leaders’ assumptions. A notable proportion of leaders came into the workshops holding a firm belief that speaking up was something they already did well and that was a defining organizational strength. We were able to demonstrate that there is often a gap between what people say they would do in a hypothetical speak-up moment and how they actually behave and that such a gap exists in this company, despite their well-honed culture.
  • Heightened the awareness around speaking up and pushed individuals to focus on their responsibilities as organizational leaders in such situations. We believe that these types of interventions, when nearly all leaders participate in the same learning and development activity, is a vehicle for organizational change. This is providing the learning is reinforced by executive-level advocacy, manager support, and ongoing activities to cement the new behaviors.
  • Equipped leaders with tools and language for speaking up, including challenging more senior leaders. Typically, it is perceived or real power differentials and social threat (e.g., the fear of humiliation, embarrassment, interpersonal tension, ostracization, and rejection) that prevents people from speaking up.
What did the client say?

From the HR sponsor:

The workshops heightened our leaders’ and managers’ awareness around how to foster an environment where people speak up when others say or do things that fall below our collective standards. Our leaders and managers now utilize the strategies they learned to create an environment that enables others to find their voice. The lessons from the workshop have become ongoing tools that we utilize over and over again, with some of the terms and concepts that MindsOpen taught us having become part of our vocabulary, especially when we work through challenging personnel issues.

From participants:

The workshop was great. There is a self-awareness I was lacking. I went in thinking, “Of course I’ll speak up in most circumstances” but I left the workshops with a lot of questions on humility: How humble am I really? Why did I think I was so good when I really am not? How did that come to be? I also left with the notion that the gap I have in inclusion is greater than I realized. So the moral of the story, I feel the burden of this. It’s hard. It’s harder than I realized, and it’s going to take a lot of struggle to get better.

I really enjoyed the case studies and putting ourselves in those situations and thinking through how we would have wanted to respond versus how we actually would have responded in the moment, and what was holding us back.

Our facilitator was wonderful, immediately made you feel welcome and comfortable. He listened intently and openly.

What our clients
say about us

MindsOpen takes the time to understand the root issues. The coaches have a way of connecting with different types of leaders to get the most out of them in a group and in individual interactions. They approach their work in an authentic way that draws even the strongest naysayers in. During a complex engagement with a team in the business I support, our MindsOpen coach had a way of eliciting the participation of a couple of people I was not sure would open up to the process. They knew how to push people just so. The assessment tools they utilize offer a round understanding of the individual and help to push forward interesting dialogue and insight about other team members. MindsOpen is a fantastic partner. Our coaches are always available to offer insight/suggestions and they have helped me in my approach significantly. You feel like you are working with the very best when engaging MindsOpen.

D.G., HR Executive, Real Estate Investment

They understand nuance, organizational difference, and don't try label individuals or companies, or define people as a "type" in relation to what or who they are. Their approach is a journey. It does not feel like you are being led to a certain point but are facilitated in finding your way. They are clear on objectives but very agile on how you get there. For the first time, I enjoy my coaching sessions. My coach has a very good style. He is challenging but empathetic; listens and understands well; is highly astute; and brings people out of themselves to create an open and candid, but safe environment for teams to engage. I also just felt a connection, trust, and liked him. He is very human in his approach and creates space for me to be vulnerable and honest.

K.S., Chief Operating Officer, Global Law Firm

Their direct style is appreciated. They see into your soul. Other providers are too fluffy compared to MindsOpen. They deliver feedback in a concise and calm way. They see through all the barriers to get to the essence of a person or team. They make a meaningful difference to individuals and teams that go through the rigor of the customized plan. The best I have seen at cutting through the BS and identifying the core of the issue(s). Hence, people learn and grow quickly.

M.T., CEO, Beverage Industry

Leadership journeys today are incredibly complex, intensely demanding and ever evolving. Neil’s style - rooted in enduring principles and concepts; challenging yet caring; highly personalized - is well suited to this environment. His coaching has transformed the way I think about and practice leadership. It’s benefited me in innumerable ways, professionally and even personally. More importantly, it’s benefited the organization I lead and the next generation of leaders coming through it. That ‘multiplier effect’ is priceless. We would not be the organization we are today without him.

Martin Whittaker, CEO, Just Capital

After working with MindsOpen, our leaders have been much more aware of their blind spots and are more self-aware in general. They have improved in their leadership abilities and have also built their confidence. It's been great that our leaders can choose from a few different professionals to ensure they are comfortable with their coach. We have really appreciated the rigor of the psychological insight being taken into consideration. We also love the balance of the customization for each individual with the consistency we are able to gain across leaders. The MindsOpen coaches keep in mind the different needs, skills, and abilities of each of our leaders. That’s been really wonderful for us.

M.K. Head of HR, non-profit sector

MindsOpen is a great way to summarize my coaching experience as we worked on my development, leadership purpose, and style. My coach’s ability to combine psychological rigor with significant global experience across a broad range of industries has unlocked my leadership potential and significantly accelerated my personal journey. Senior executives and mentors recognized this evolution and promoted me from a high potential “diamond in the rough” to a successful leader leading a multi-billion spend, global transformation program. My leadership brand became visible to others through a clearly defined set of characteristics that guide my behaviors every day, resulting in me successfully engaging the wider organization to act and create value for the business. My MindsOpen coach helped me identify and shape these characteristics in line with my past, present, and future, which makes it very natural for me to include them in the way I lead.

J.V., Global procurement executive, Food Industry

The MindsOpen team finds synergies and aligns executives on their ways of working amidst some of the most challenging team dynamics. MindsOpen takes an inside-out approach by getting leaders to better understand themselves first, their strengths and gaps. These insights form the basis of understanding and working better with others. They are true experts at what they do, thorough, and results-oriented.

A.T., Chief People Officer

We partner with MindsOpen on succession and assessments. We choose them because of the quality of their work and their depth of expertise. They are a trusted partner, whose approach is unique, insightful, and highly credible.

D.M. Chief People Officer, Financial Services