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Charlie Pellerin Interview

Here is the full script of the interview given by Charlie Pellerin to Julia Dorn, the editor-in-chief of Business FM Radio (105.7), Novosibirsk, Russia.

The interview was taken with the assistance of Erfolg Management Academy & International Center  4-D MAGNETONIA
Translator: Mikhail Grinberg.

Charles Pellerin: “We all need to feel appreciated…”

Charlie, I’ve read in the introduction to your book that it is a practical guide to build highly productive teams. But what are the benchmarks for a team’s performance?

When we started to do this work I didn’t find anybody who had ever done anything similar to this. And it was clear to me from early on that what matters is how you behave. In fact, the great writer Steven Covey once said: “You can't talk your way out of a problem you behaved your way into!”  A lot of my clients early on were technical teams, and technical people which I’m also, don’t like social science because that is usually no science. So about 4 years into this I wanted to take measurements and take data as how effective our tools were. So I made first a paper version of something that measured people’s behaviors and for groups of people (that is teams) to measure their behavioral norms. Because we are at our core tribal, groups of people tend to behave in the same way. The question was how you could measure behaviors in a way that it would give you an accurate result? We decided to measure against standards. Our online tool puts a standard for the behavior and then asks the team about the way it behaves every day: “Do you always meet the standard?” which gives the score 100%. There were also in-between choices. And if you never meet the standard you get the score of zero percent. So now we had a numerical scale. At first it was hard to tell what a good score was. But the system was so popular that soon we had hundreds of teams using it. We applied the scores on a curve… Actually, we made a histogram first. Then we draw a line to the histogram – and we had a curve. Now the question was what the appropriate precision of the measurement was. There is a lot of statistical analysis for the things like this. I decided the precision was, probably, about a quintile. There is, probably, something better than that but I’m very conservative. So I divided the curve into 5 equal areas and colored them. The lowest color is red which means your team is stuck at the stoplight.  The highest score was green which means “go, go, go!”

Do I understand it right that these standards are universal or are they specific for every team?

The standards are in the online examination that they take. One of the most important behaviors we call the standard HAPPS. They go online and they say my team’s behavioral norms for appreciation are Habitual, Authentic, Proportional to the value of contribution, Prompt and Specific. Then we take hundreds of teams on this behavior and make that curve. Applying these behaviors on your team you find out where you rank on the quintile system. This way it gets fun. When a team gets a low score, they say, well, it might work in the USA but we are different in Russia. Or China. Or Germany. We’ve done a lot of studies of these boundaries between quintiles and they’ve never moved even 1% for a different group whether it is NASA or non-NASA, managers or engineers. Everybody could do it, so the boundaries are very solid and the measurement is pretty precise.

How does your work with a team start?

When we work with a team, first thing we would do is to take this tool and take data. Because if they are in the bottom quintile the workshop won’t be effective for them. We work as consultants to help them to fix themselves. And then we remeasure. Then, when they’ve moved up, we can do a workshop if they want.

You call your training system the 4-D System, because it develops four types of leadership. These types are a huge topic in itself and we might talk about them next time. But, generally, how this idea came to your mind?

I did this when I was a professor in the Business School at the University of Colorado. I am a physicist. I have a PhD in Astrophysics. We don’t like lists of things. At that time I didn’t understand that business books were useless. So I was reading all popular business books. They are all the same. There are stories of some famous business person and at some place in the book there is a list of some 3, 4 or 5, 6 or 7 things you are supposed to do. I thought there was something important in those lists. So in my office at university I put all these on sheets of paper and put them all around my office, every different books’ lists. And I asked myself how I could find an organizing principle for these things. Because when I was an undergraduate studying physics we used to say to each other: “The right coordinate system turns an impossible problem into two really hard ones”. There must be a coordinate system that works for leadership. I tried everything for two months. We, physicists, have lots and lots of coordinate systems. Nothing worked. I gave up. Next day I picked up a newspaper which was, of course, in paper those days and I saw a Dilbert cartoon. It said: “Every consultant makes his living with a two by two matrix”. I understood it was an X-Y system, nothing hard. But which one? At that time I was reading Jung’s work on personality development translated from German into English. It said something that was really important to me. We base our personalities on two processes: how we gain information we trust and how we make decisions with that information. I loved this because physicists love simple. Albert Einstein once said: “Everything should be made as simple as possible but not more so”. That’s how I started the 4-D System. That coordinate system. And what I use it for – I use it as a tool. I take very complicated ideas like social systems and separate them into four parts that we can understand and manage. Just like the equations of physics operate on physical laws. The process I learned during so many years studying physics. And that’s how it happened.

Ok, Charlie, let’s get back to the social context. As far as I understand you consider social context to be a very important aspect of team performance. But what are the proofs of its existence? How did you find it?

One of the biggest ideas in physics is fields. In fact, in modern physics we don’t talk about forces any more. Everything is fields. It all started with Albert Einstein in 1915 when the law of relativity replaced the idea of gravity forces with the curve of space-time. In the same way social fields overwhelm everything. That’s because our evolutionary advantage was being tribal. We unconsciously and automatically adopt beliefs and behavior of the social network we are in. Whether it is a work team, our religion, our political party, our nation. The question is how we measure this. The answer is that we measure how you behave. Think about another field that you might be familiar with – the magnetic field. You may have remembered how you had a problem, maybe in the third grade. Someone in your class had a bar that might have been magnetized. And they asked how you would measure it and find that the magnetic field is there. You take the bar and look at it or feel it with your hands. But the field is invisible. And that’s how you solve the problem – you put a piece of paper on top of the bar and sprinkle some iron filings, tap the paper – and then you see the image of the field. What you’ve done – you used the iron filings as a tracer particle to see the invisible field. And we use behaviors the same way. Behaviors are tracer particles for invisible social fields.

Could you show how social context manifests in different teams?

Let’s take a bottom quintile team. There will be no appreciation. Nothing – only constant criticism. In that social context the people are not energized, they don’t tell the truth, they don’t work together. Then we take the very same behavior and put it up to the green – in the top quintile team everybody feels appreciated or expresses authentic appreciation as a habit, the social context is mutual respect, they like each other, they work well together, they tell the truth about what’s going on even if it is uncomfortable and we do exactly the same things with eight behaviors not only with one.

Do I understand it right that social context changes depending on the quintile?

That’s right. Exactly.

Does it mean there are specific benchmarks for social context in the bottom and top quintile?

It is actually continuing across the whole scale – I just gave you an example from the top and bottom.

What happens to team members who fall out of the team context?

This is fun. By the way, we plot individual scores without putting any name on it. Very often there is a grouping around some quintiles for the most of the people. Then one, two or three people scoring much lower. The team leaders brief the reports from the online tool to the team. When they see this pattern they explain it to their team like this because I teach them this. I see there are two people having very difficult time on their workplace. But I believe they are good people in the context that is not working for them. They may be in a job they don’t want to do or a job they can’t do. “Please come visit me in my office and let’s talk about what we can do. To put you in a context where you will be happy”. That’s the best for the people. And it works.

Just an honest talk?

Yes. I’ve done it myself.

But why such a talk hadn’t taken place before the assessment? The manager didn’t notice any problem with the employee?

In my experience most supervisors are not trained very well for their jobs. Especially in technical organizations where technical abilities are given more weight than human abilities. Because they are lacking these tools and understanding they tend to run a story-line like that’s a bad person. I’ll punish them. That will make them change... But it doesn’t work. By the way, let me be clear. This doesn’t mean that it always work what I’m telling you. But it usually does. And that’s the best thing you can do.
A good friend of mine was a big manager in NASA. There was a Union official who made nothing but constant trouble for him. Everyone else before him just tried to fight this person from the Union. My friend invited him to his office and said: “Tell me your story”. Someone had put him in a job that he wasn’t able to do very well. And the managers wouldn’t listen to him. They gave him bad performance evaluations making him angrier and angrier. So he fought for and against the Union. My friend said: “I see somebody must have treated you badly. I have a need for a job that you can do very well. Do you want to give it a go?” The Union conflict went away in a day. You see, what is present in all this is the behavior of appreciation.
That’s actually another human evolutionary thing. For most of our history it was more effective to be good at argument and fighting than appreciating. You are likely familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs – our deep needs are physiological: air, water, food and safety. And next one is feeling appreciated. So what this all system is about is meeting people’s deepest needs. We all need to feel appreciated! In my workshops and particularly in China owners of large private companies would ask me: “How could we motivate our people?” This is very simple – meet their needs. Master the behaviors in the 4-D System because they address people’s deepest needs. When our deepest needs are met we go to a place that Maslow calls “self-actualization” – high motivation and high performance. It’s really so simple.

Shall the company be wealthy and highly developed to have a possibility to meet deepest needs of its employees?

Not at all. We work at the team level. I’ll give you an example. We worked with the teams that were working on the space shuttles when the program was cancelled. So the old shuttle was going to fly 4 more times and then they all were losing their jobs. It would be like everybody knows that in four month the company is closing and going bankrupt. In case of the shuttle if people don’t do their jobs the astronauts will die. So we teach them how to build an insulating barrier on themselves protecting them from the outer environment that is so bad and focus on doing their job. It works. Why does it work? Because they are managing their own social context field inside their team. That is why we always like to work on the team level. Because we are tribes.

And the last question. If you meet a person who has never heard of the 4-D System how you would explain it to them in a few sentences?

We call it the elevator speech (laughing). We say it is a combination of coherent processes that measure and shift behaviors to ones that are proven to be highly effective for work teams everywhere. That’s even less than a few sentences.

Thank you very much!

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