Reset: A Leader’s Guide to Work in an Age of Upheaval by Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. – Here are my seven lessons and takeaways

Reset• Simply put, Reset is the most effective guide to reimagining your organization at a time when we need it most. “Reset” means developing truly inclusive organizations that leverage differences for growth and innovation. It means reexamining antiquated paradigms and developing policies that support your unique company culture.
• If you’re a leader, active, aspiring, or otherwise, this is not just the right book at the right time—it is essential reading for building better workplaces and a better world.  
• This book combines decades of research and experience gained by those of us at SHRM with everything we learned in 2020.
• At its heart, Reset provides an inside look at how leaders lead in times of crisis and provides a playbook for reinventing an enterprise, no matter the crucible it finds itself in.  
• Are we meeting the paradigm shifts of the moment?
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., Reset: A Leader’s Guide to Work in an Age of Upheaval


We are facing difficult days.

Supply chains are dramatically disrupted.  Workplaces are in turmoil, with remote work, vaccine mandates, tense if not hostile interactions all around us.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. calls this an age of upheaval.  That may be a better word than the acronym VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity), which certainly provides good descriptives for this era.  But upheaval is what we feel.  And, it is not a good feeling.

I presented my synopsis of Mr. Taylor’s new book at the October First Friday Book SynopsisReset: A Leader’s Guide to Work in an Age of Upheaval.  It is a good book; a needed book. And the value may come as much from its honest acknowledgement of what we feel in this moment of upheaval as it does from its solutions.  After all, “Houston, we have a problem” is the first thing it acknowledge, isn’t it?!

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.

Who is Johnny C. Taylor, Jr? He serves as President and CEO of The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).  Before this , he served as CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund for seven years. Earlier, he was Vice President of Human Resources at Blockbuster. And, he states:  I am one of the few African American CEOs who had been a big supporter of Hillary Clinton and was, during the summer of 2020, a Trump administration appointee as the Chairman of the Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.”

In this book, he uses plenty of his experiences in SHRM, and refers to the many data studies done by SHRM, to inform his views.  This brings valuable perspective.

I always begin my synopses with “What is the point?” Here is the point for this book: A great crisis can create a moment of great reset. The COVID crisis has provided such a reset moment. This book says: here are ways we need to respond, and succeed, through this crisis. 

And I ask Why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three reasons for this book:

#1 – This book is a big picture overview of what companies need to succeed in this moment, and other moments, of crisis.
#2 – This book is a terrific overview of a number of corporate-culture stories.  Good and bad stories; and with notable differences even among the good.
#3 – This book provides a reasoned look at the diversity challenges of today and tomorrow.

I always include Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages.  Here are a few of the best of the best from ths book:

• Typically, we tend to be creatures of habit. We want to default to the status quo.   
• Forward thinkers foster a culture of innovation and survive and thrive amid the tumult.  
• Let’s look at what happened during the early days of the pandemic. In an instant, there were 190 million people unemployed worldwide. 
• Do I have people who are willing to try things, or do I have people who say they’re willing to try things?  
• When we provide the best and brightest leaders to a small company, how do we convince those executives this is not a step back?  …you really should put your absolute best and strongest talent on those new fledgling companies with innovative ideas, because they’re the divisions that have the most upside, need the smartest people, and will benefit from the bigger picture the most.   
• You can’t put stipulations on innovation.  …Innovation doesn’t happen under suppression.  
• The master of a challenge culture knows when to care about the thoughts of others and when to dismiss them summarily. 
• But there was also a critical pivot point inside Netflix where the most important person at the organization was on the verge of being fired—a guy by the name of Ted Sarandos. And today he is the co-CEO and chief content officer. …He developed algorithms that focused on audience preferences. Why not understand what viewers want instead of guessing?  …He kept pushing envelopes.  
• Defining moments are generated by great minds thinking ahead. Standing still is by definition falling behind. 
• Do you recruit tinkerers? Tinkerers are the kind of people who see value but always want to see more. 
• The key insight here: almost across the board, Black working Americans are more likely to report negative experiences and feelings related to race and social justice in the workplace. The only measured category where white workers were more likely to report concerns than Black workers was concern over inappropriateness of discussing race at work.  
• You want to project the right culture to attract talent, but it has to be authentic.  
• In his book, No Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, Hastings discusses how to manage the creative juices of talented employees by empowering the best in the business as a team, not a family. …In a family, love is permanent and unconditional. On a team, you can be cut.
• Sadly, it seems like the only time our society really focuses on racism is when America is in flames. And it keeps happening. Thirty years ago it was Rodney King. Twenty years ago it was Amadou Diallo. And over the past decade it has been Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, and so many more…  
• One part of me says, “Okay, we’re at four hundred years since the beginning of slavery in America, so I’m fully aware that change doesn’t happen overnight.” But how many overnights does it take?

Here are number of the key points and insights from the book that I included in my synopsis:

  • THE crisis:
  • Covid-19. The pandemic was an entirely different, once-in-a-lifetime crisis. As it unfolded through the months, those of us in HR were at a loss. …But there was nothing in our toolkit that could address this threat to our very existence as individuals, families, and a workforce.
  • Lessons learned in the midst of the crisis:
  1. Culture comes first. — You’ll never have a better opportunity to assess the members of your leadership team for their cultural alignment than when they are put on the spot during a crisis.
  2. Data is your greatest friend.
  3. Be “extra.”
  4. The net effect is that it demands innovation and reinvention.
  • Nurture the problem-solving quick thinkers you discovered during times of turmoil or transition. The only way businesses are going to evolve at an inflection point is to have people who possess innovation in their DNA. 
  • Needed traits:
  • Curiosity and a natural ability to question the status quo.
  • Risk-taking and a willingness to learn from failure.
  • Openness—organizations with strong silos tend to be less innovative.
  • Patience, tenacity, and the sense of giving an idea a chance to grow.
  • Trust, underpinning the other values.
  • Changes that might last…
  • New technology amid the Covid-19 reality—virtual meetings and even recruiting and onboarding through Zoom and other virtual platforms—has allowed us to ask the question, Can reduced commute times for remote workers lead to more productivity, or will the physical disconnect and inability of remote workers to collaborate in person cause more harm than good? 
  • The right and wrong “Rs”
  • The wrong “Rs” – Rules; Roles; Relationships; Righteousness (who is right)
  • The Right “Rs” – Results; Reconnaissance (Data and information); Resourcefulness (evidence; design thinking); Reimagination.
  • Culture matters…
  • In the textbook sense, culture is how business gets done. – (Culture is how sh*t gets done).
  • The culture provides the guidelines by which we accomplish things. So there is how sh*t gets done and then there is the way sh*t happens.
  • At the end of the day, your true culture is what your employees say it is, not what the company slogan spells out on the breakroom bulletin board. …the body language is the tell.
  • Culture only works if you bring in people who are aligned with it.
  • One in five Americans had left their jobs in the past five years due to a bad company culture.
  • Two “rules” for the hiring process:
  • Do not tell candidates about culture up front. First, listen to what they have to say about their experiences and beliefs.
  • Make sure at least three people are involved in the hiring process. 
  • Choose harmony over discord
  • There’s no way you can maintain a cultural harmony if you keep bringing in people who seek discord. They will either not fit, quit, or stay—and the latter could set you up for a detractor who becomes corrosive over time.
  • (RM; note:You don’t want leaders dividing the team). 
  • Health matters – all kinds of health, including and especially mental health
  • Emotional wellness and mental health are finally front and center. …When workers are healthy both mentally and physically, the work environment is more productive and positive.
  • Diversity matters…
  • The wage gap is a persistent problem, no matter how many times we point out the stat: women make eighty-two cents on the dollar compared to men in equal jobs. …The New York Times headline on March 24, 2021, said it all: “In 25 Years, the Pay Gap Has Shrunk by Just 8 Cents.”
  • (George Floyd) – It was a horrifying scene that publicly ripped the lid off the lived experiences of Black and Brown people in our society.
  • At my core, I’m about solutions and believe what’s broken can be fixed if you do the work to change the culture. …I will always believe that empathy is the key to solving our most vexing problems.
  • I have also heard loud and clear the desire to ensure that we do not turn our attention to issues of race only when there is a crisis. We can and should allow crises to accelerate progress on how we live out our values, but the work must go on even when distressing episodes do not dominate the headlines.
  • Note:  he recommends something specific about who should be the Chief Diversity Officer. Let me explain… (The CDO is not the consolation prize).
  • In 2020, there were only five Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, just 20 percent of C-suite jobs belonged to women, and just 4 percent of those women were Black.2 These numbers have been stagnant for a decade.
  • Pay attention to this difference on who is more “activist”
  • Millennials are the generation most likely to be employee activists (48%), almost twice as likely as Boomers (27%).
  • What’s clear? A company’s reputation is Googled by potential hires more than its pay structure in many cases.
  • It’s not just the employer who wants cultural alignment; it’s the employee. And yet we spend most of our time focused on technical competency in hiring as opposed to a checklist that brings cultural alignment into the equation.
  • (Also) — When people feel as though they are misaligned with the culture of the company they work for, they end up engaging in what for years was called “counterproductive behaviors.” Today it’s called “employee activism.” 
  • The power of the people you overlook
  • The hidden value of tapping nontraditional talent pools (and how they can put your business over the top).
  • When we talk about aging employees, disabled workers, immigrants, the formerly incarcerated, or people with criminal records, where does your mind go? Do you see these folks as valued additions to your workforce or “mercy” hires?
  • This is a wake-up argument and appeal for leaders to acknowledge long-undisputed facts such as how having 50 percent or more women on your team increases innovation, or how hiring disabled workers increases both morale and retention.
  • Curiosity matters
  • Let’s calculate the incurious mind…
  • There will always be a skills gap—and we need to address that with remote education, distance learning, and new tools—but what we really have to focus on is a more pressing issue: the curiosity gap.
  • Curiosity is a trait, not a test score; it’s ethereal, not visible.
  • If you don’t address this curiosity gap, you’ll undercut yourself. If you don’t hire lifelong learners or cultivate inquisitiveness or invest in willing workers, the next paradigm shift, maybe the one happening right now, is going to unfold without your company. Then you’ll find out the hard way. 
  • Training matters, but…
  • We have to put resources toward continuous learning to build for the ever-changing future. We have to think ahead, plan now.
  • Basically 60% of training is “fixed” (hard skills; compliance issues).40% is flexible. This 40% is where curiosity and innovation can be nurtured.
  • A few thoughts from Randy:
  • everybody (every leader; every author) says hire the right people. A serious question:are there enough “right people” to go around?  — {Remember Twyla Tharp’s challenge and wisdom – “As a choreographer, my task is to make the best possible work with the dancers I find in the room on any given day.” From The Collaborative Habit}.
  • Your biggest challenge isn’t technology, innovation, or even leadership. It’s finding, hiring, and engaging the right talent to thrive now and in the future.
  • we have a genuine long-term problem… The same remote technology that saved many of our workplaces in recent years has also shone the light on why we need face-to-face interactions to do our best work.
  • a thought about education…maybe it is too soon to jettison the liberal arts:
  • At SHRM, for years I have been asking for, and dying for, a writing sample assessment of job candidates. If you were to ask me to identify the biggest skill deficit we have at SHRM, I would tell you it’s writing talent.

And here are my six lessons and takeaways:

#1 – There will be the next crisis; and the next. Don’t be shocked when it arrives.
#2 – The moment of crisis calls for innovative leadership; and great flexibility.
#3 – We are changing; we have to find the good in the midst of all the change.  The good technology tools; the good design thinking ideas; the good workers…
#4 – Cultivate your own curiosity. Read more widely.
#5 – Champion curiosity – the curious people in your midst – in every way that you can.  The future steps forward will likely come from the curious minds among us.
#6 – And, yes, the author may be biased, but maybe he is right – we do need bold, curious, courageous, innovative people in leadership positions in Human Resources.

And, maybe I should add this seventh lesson and takeaway:  we really do have to do a much better job dealing with the racial justice issues we face.

This is a good book.  For its recommendations and solutions, yes.  But, maybe more for its honesty about the upheaval we all feel, and face.  I recommend the book, especially for leadership teams.

And…stay curious!


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