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EP 52: The importance of making psychological safety a priority. And the ROI of psychological safety w Jessa Messina

Podcast Transcript

James Mackey  0:00  
Hey everyone, thank you for joining us here at Talent Acquisition Trends and Strategy. I'm your host, James Mackey. Really excited for today's conversation, we're joined by Jessa Messina. Jessa, thank you for joining us today, this is gonna be a fun conversation.

Jessa Messina  0:15  
Thank you so much for having me. I was so excited when we met, to hear about your podcast and to be a part of this. So really, really happy to be here today.

James Mackey  0:25  
Yeah, I'm pumped. So we're gonna be talking about psychological safety, its importance, what it means holistically, and how companies can make it a priority within the organization. We have some really interesting stats on the ROI of psychological safety. So I'm really excited to dive into that with you. Before we get into it, though, would you mind sharing a little bit about your background and your company, and what you all are doing right now? 

Jessa Messina  0:57  
Absolutely. So my company is called YoJo.  And we bring corporate wellness to companies now all over the world, because most of the services are digital, I started YoJo, almost 10 years ago, and it has pivoted with the future of work and how work is evolving. And now I have a portal with online content, as well as live workshops and all the content curated towards burnout, management, diversity, equity and inclusion, leadership training, and ergonomics support.

James Mackey  1:27  
Okay, really cool. And what type of companies do you typically work with?

Jessa Messina  1:32  
You know, the funny part of that is that it is much broader than I would have thought that it would be everything from law firms to tech startups, to retail companies, agencies, you name it. So many companies, I think, now understand that their culture is one of the most important connections to their profit margin and their retention. So it's starting to be everywhere.

James Mackey  1:59  
Yeah, that's really cool to see. And I agree, we are seeing a pretty massive shift. And I think people are starting to get it. I think a lot of it's culturally driven and driven on a lot of the topics that we're seeing out there in the news, and we're seeing a culture shift, if you will, across the country. But I still think that there's a lack of understanding of the true ROI. For a lot of folks, not all of them. But you know, they don't truly understand the impact that it's going to have on the business for a lot of people becoming a bigger value. But there's still, I think, a bit of a gap in terms of people's understanding of the ROI. So if we could start there, like when you're going to companies, and you're obviously found alignment from a value perspective, why it's so important, what do you share with them in terms of this is why from a business perspective, and IRI perspective, it's so important to make this a priority?

Jessa Messina  2:54  
Well, from the business perspective, there was a great study that essentially did the psychological safety, when this is not just a value that's spoken, but a value that's really embedded in a culture, you will see a 27% reduction in turnover. 50% more productivity, 76% more engagement, and 74% less stress, that's just for the business. But psychological safety is probably also one of the greatest determinants of someone's physical, mental, and emotional health. So this is a win-win for the company and the employee. 

James Mackey  3:30  
Yeah, it sounds like it. And that's a really interesting study. And I think those are obviously very significant numbers. It's not like, okay, there's gonna be a 3% reduction in turnover, right? I mean, 50%, more productivity, more engagement. That's huge. So I mean, that's really interesting. And so I think, too, it's like most people have, well, maybe not, but at least in tech, a lot of people have heard the term psychological safety. But I think only they probably understand it at a surface level. So could you help? Could you help define psychological safety, maybe in a little bit more detail? Because I think a lot of people don't actually know the full meaning of the term.

Jessa Messina  4:12  
I want to start to say that the more of these terms become buzzwords, oftentimes, the more confusing they are. I agree. Shock gaslighting was the word of the year in 2022. Right? Like everybody is using this psychological jargon, and I'm impressed. I love it. But I also think the buzzword starts to water it down, right, like we're hearing everywhere. But we're sort of scratching our heads for what the shared semantic is.

James Mackey  4:41  
Right. And I see that a lot with the culture. Just using culture, like culture, is important. And honestly, it's even at a C level, CPO level where like, though, you know, people will want to share their philosophy and culture but it's pretty surface level. And then you don't necessarily always get a lot of substance in terms of how to integrate that throughout the company or the true ROI of that either. So I agree. And I post about this sometimes on LinkedIn, it's like, yes, culture is very important. But when it's just used as a buzzword, or when it's used as something that's a popular topic, but we're not actually diving into tactics and how to implement it, and why it's important from a business perspective, it's a missed opportunity.

Jessa Messina  5:33  
I couldn't agree more. And now I've been following you on LinkedIn. So I feel like I have more insight because I've been reading your posts and really seeing the alignment that we have in sort of those views on just really diving into what a healthy culture looks like. And getting into the nitty gritty. So you can have action steps. So for psychological safety, the way that I would really define it is an environment that does not trigger a stress response and a stress response is something that sends your nervous system into fight-flight, freeze, or fawn. Those are the states that we go into when our nervous system no longer feels safe. And when we are responding to any of those four responses, what happens is our nervous system is dysregulated. And it will start to send stress hormones through our body like cortisol and adrenaline. Psychological safety is an environment where the nervous system can operate without going into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. And this allows us to use more of the frontal lobe of our brain, which actually allows us to be calm, collected, and creative, and has an easier time connecting with others. Yeah, so a lot there. So let me know if there's anything you want me to break down.

James Mackey  6:49  
Yeah, for sure. There's a lot to unpack there. So I'm just trying to like, relate from my own experience, the one that really stuck out to me was creativity. Because, you know, in my role like running a company, it's obviously very stressful. I don't think there's any way to get around that, like, it's just there's always a million things to do. And one thing that I've noticed over the years is that you need a very strong work ethic to run a company. But you also have to have the discipline to sometimes step away, because when you step away from all the madness, and all the fires, it's actually when you can do your creative thinking. And that way, you can come back with the energy to have different solutions to the same problem. So I've definitely noticed that from like a creativity standpoint, that that actually makes a pretty big difference, at least like from my own experience,

Jessa Messina  7:36  
Oh, 100%. And I will give some examples to paint the picture because you gave a wonderful example. So we can feel psychologically unsafe when our nervous system feels like we have to work until the point of exhaustion, or we might lose our job, and we might not be seen as valuable. So when our body thinks that it can't rest, we will be triggered and not feel psychologically safe. When we feel emotional. How can I say, when we feel a sense of fear or negative emotions around leadership, we feel psychologically unsafe. So if there's a manager and your heart stops, every time they send a Slack, that's not a psychologically safe environment. We can feel unsafe, especially in the CEO of layoffs, if it isn't unit communicated, why the layoffs are happening, when, and how so all that, were we fear. Am I going to have a job tomorrow? All of those things are examples of things that could make a person go into a stress response.

James Mackey  8:46  
Well, so that actually was going to be my follow-up question: How can companies create an environment of psychological safety when it's a down market in a spiral of layoffs? Right. So I mean, that seems like an impossible task, quite honestly. So there are things we can do to make it better. But can we truly eliminate that stress? Probably not. Right?

Jessa Messina  9:09  
You know, I love that you asked because I think that there is still so much that at this moment, this is an opportunity to create a new model. And this is an opportunity and I actually feel extremely optimistic that there's so much we can do. I have a client actually who I am just taken aback, and extremely impressed by the way they had to do a 15% riff. And what they did was it was the way they communicated. It was the honesty, it was the transparency and it was the support that they gave people. So what they did was they sent a message before Hey, we are going to be doing these layoffs. Just so you know, if you do get that message a lot of support will be given. They actually did not cut their emails off for a week. They use the next several days to leave workshops and help them find new jobs. And the majority of the people that were laid off by the week following the layoffs, either had interviews or already even had a new job because the company supported them.


So what I would say is, give the loyalty to your employee that you expect them to give to you. If you don't expect any from them, that's okay. But just be really transparent about the culture. And I think we should all veer away from ever using the term "we're family here". To me, that's the ultimate red flag. First of all, a lot of people might have really toxic families. So that's the last thing that they want. Second of all, you don't fire your family in most situations. So what you might say is, we are a community, we are, you know, be honest about the extent to which you give and make sure that that extent that you are giving is never more than what you're asking for from your employees.

James Mackey  10:58  
Sure. So I actually find the term family pretty manipulative. I think, honestly, I think a lot of leaders know that. Maybe there are some manager and director-level folks that use the term family, but from a genuine perspective, it's still wrong. And I genuinely believe that they are wrong every time. Like, seriously, it's there. It's just not logical. But I think at an executive level if that's the message being sent down, it's the wrong message. And honestly, if you're running a company like that, it's not going to be successful. In the long run, it's a lot more likely to go out of business. So what the way that we actually structure it is, you know, look, this is a high-performing team. And you earn your spot on this team. And we go through culture, we go through a lot of different aspects of how we operate as a team.


But I think it's important to have that distinction where this is an organization that is pure to produce certain outcomes. And let's be transparent about that. And let's also be transparent about what outcomes you need to produce and what your career track looks like, how you can progress, and what you're going to learn to get out of this relationship.


So I think it all comes down to set very clear expectations. And I think as long as you do that like people are honestly a lot happier because they know exactly where they stand like, this is what's expected of me, I know that there's going to be an honest feedback loop to share with me how I'm, you know, how I'm doing. And this is the way that I can continue to progress in my career, and also communicate the values of the company, right? So it's not all just cut and dry in terms of performance. But again, I think people choose psychological safety when you know, what's expected of you. And it's a very clear measurement of success. And you feel like it's obtainable, and you have the support and whatnot to get there. I think people would much prefer that environment to an environment like, hey, it's family, and oh, by the way, like we're cutting, you know, it's a, it's better to just be transparent and own the fact that there are certain outcomes that have to be produced. And we have to work together as a team to figure out the best way to produce those outcomes, right?

Jessa Messina  13:28  
I agree with everything that you said about managing expectations, being direct, and communicating. And to that the other thing I would say is not just the support for the people that did get like, Oh, I've seen some companies try to hide the fact that they're doing layoffs, and not supporting the people on LinkedIn, who then are just promoting themselves to get more visibility to get a job, but supporting the people that were laid off. And on top of that, also understand the impact on the people that are still there.


So if the employees are still there, one of my friends, we were at a company together, and I connected with her after that company had done layoffs, and I was like, how are you doing? And she said I feel like I'm in a war zone where there were a lot of casualties and I'm left alive, but I have PTSD. And while that might feel like an exaggeration, know that a lot of people on the team feel really uneasy, but on top of the emotional disruption that causes they really don't know what their job description is because likely you're doing a reorg after a riff. And so I think at any given day, a great manager is able to have a clear disc job description for their employee. Remember that you don't own someone's time. You don't own a person.


So if they are your employee, it doesn't mean that they are available to you at any moment in time. What it means is that they have a job description and therefore filling that job description. And in turn, they're receiving a salary. And that's a reciprocal exchange, they should be able to do whatever the job description is, and use and then they can receive that payment. But the flip side is that what companies often do, and where the boundaries get really murky is, there isn't the time to say, Hey, these are your top five parts of your job description. This is what is most important. And this is what the exchange looks like.


So anytime a company does a pivot a RIF, make sure you sit down with your employees and have that clarity on what the exchange is. It reminds me of a friend's, there's an episode and maybe this is dating myself for like Gen Z that is watching this. But hopefully, I think there's gonna be a good millennial Gen X audience that will know this. Ross and Rachel like, there was that moment where he was like, I thought we were on a break. And the point was he you know, there was a lack of understanding of, are we in a committed relationship still, where we are only with each other? Or are we not? So the employees and the managers neither should ever have a moment where they go, I thought we were on a break. Everyone should know what is expected and have a conversation when expectations change.

James Mackey  16:24  
Yeah, that's, it's, you're right. And I think sometimes companies might feel like they're moving way too fast, or I think people tend to make assumptions, right? And I think it's maybe at first not that noticeable. But there continues to be a bigger separation in terms of what people might have in terms of expectations, where it's not aligned. And so it might start as very small things, but over a period of three to six months or a year,  it can really start to impact an organization. So yeah, I think it's very important for there to be clearly defined outcomes that people are expected to reach. And that, you know, it needs to go to a management level so I mean, everybody at every stage of the organization should have clearly defined success metrics. And I think that a lot of the time that gets blurred. The other thing I'll say is that I don't think rules should be opened like it without a clear performance expectations outline.


So before you even start recruiting for a role, I feel like one of the requirements to open a new position at a company should be what does success look like? How are we actually measuring success? And that's not something that's typically like that usually is kind of figured out as we go. But I think the most effective data acquisition org should require that from hiring managers and the executive team before the roles even open.

Jessa Messina  17:49  
I completely agree. And you know, another besides the family thing, another trigger that I want to point out that I think, for anyone who's watching that as a job seeker, if you are in an interview, and they say this, I highly encourage you to run away. If a company advertised itself as a rocket ship, I want to stay on Planet Earth. Do you know what I'm saying? I'm not trying to go to outer space right now, I don't want to get on a rocket ship. Because what a rocket ship tells me or when I hear a CRO say, I bought a company from zero to 70 million in a year or something like that. What I hear is, I went so fast that I missed a lot of the important pieces, I burned people out along the way. And I was not able to act with care. In fact, all I cared about was an end goal more than human beings. There are very, very, very few circumstances where a rocket ship doesn't have many casualties, including severe health consequences for the people on board. So I actually interviewed at a company and someone said that and it was really interesting. It was one of the worst interviews of my life.


The interviewer actually got up and didn't prepare for the interview, got up in the middle of the interview to answer someone else's questions, and then asked me the same questions that the recruiter had asked, the hiring manager asked me the same questions, so there was no continuity. Again, no insult to them. Also, for anyone listening to this, I'm not looking for a job. I'm just making sure but what I wanted, what I love so much about the example, and what almost makes me want to take an interview, just to see sometimes is the way we care for people from the very beginning. The second someone's interacting with your brand, they're interacting with how you care for your business and humans. And me that was an example of pure recklessness and a lack of care that would be effective.

James Mackey  19:55  
Yeah, I think I would agree with that. So category Eating companies that are exploding with growth typically are not successful at putting people first, even if the founding team genuinely cares about people. putting that into practice becomes incredibly difficult. What's also incredibly difficult is that most of the companies that changed the world are like rocket ships. When you look at companies like, you know, whether it be what Elon Musk has done with SpaceX, SpaceX or Tesla, or you look at Apple during their initial growth, or, you know, even companies like LinkedIn, all of which are incredibly successful companies that from a value perspective, have created disproportional value on the market compared to other organizations, but definitely struggled with maintaining a culture that is aligned with the values that we're discussing today.


So I think that's like, how do you reconcile that where you build companies that can change the world? But also, can put people first and I don't? Honestly, I don't know if there's a way to do it. I think it's like, I think to some extent, too, it's like, what are your values? Right? Like, do you put this at the top of your values? Or are you willing to deal with that stress and the psychological maybe vulnerability and health issues that come with that, at that point in your career to gain that experience?


I think a lot of it's about transparency to like it like in the interview, it's like, if you're on with his rocket ships, like, hey, my expectation is you're working 60/70 hours a week, you're not going to have the guidance, I'm not going to be able to invest in XYZ. I don't think a lot of companies do that. And that's honestly what I feel is the biggest problem. It's like, what is the expectation set in the interview process, like, if it's like, hey, oh, you get this four-week PTO policy, you get XY and Z benefits, you're going to have support from me every single week. And then you walk into an environment where you're like, maybe you have four weeks PTO, but you can't take any of it. You're not getting support. Onboarding sucks. It's just an incredibly stressful environment, then that's really messed up. I mean, that's not what people sign up for.


So I think too, it's like, again, it comes down to like the expectation, like, I totally agree with you, like in terms of like, from a health perspective, like, some of these companies are not the right fit. I just you would be hopeful that at least some of them are setting a clear expectation, that that, you know, it's not going to be that type of job, right?

Jessa Messina  22:48  
Yeah. And I want to backtrack a little to say, I don't love growth, I 100% love it. So YoJo grew its revenue 3x in 2022, from 2021. And I'm always happy to be transparent because I also run a business. And I want people to see that I'm not just a wellness expert, who is connected to the employee. I think it's about mirroring and understanding that it needs to be a reciprocal exchange of solving for the employees' pain points as well as the employer's. Yeah, but what I would say number one, the rocket ship issue I have, is that initially, when we saw these tech startups, it was you're working this way as a sprint to get to an IPO. But now people are taking the way that we can work in a sprint and making it go over four years. Yeah, burnout is now recognized by the World Health Organisation. And I want to state that for those that are pushed to burnout, it can take up to two, sometimes five years to properly repair your nerves. When you are in burnout, you will have cognitive decline, trouble sleeping, trouble with your metabolism, and vulnerability to diseases like cancer. So the ask is much greater plus, so many people have gone through more in COVID.  


So what I'm saying is that there are multiple factors, maybe that 60 Hour Workweek was working before, and I don't mind the 60-hour workweek for short increments of time. But I think that we need to look into the moment we're living in and the future. There are a couple of factors one more people are burned out than they ever have been. So the capacity and way they can work to not further harm themselves is a little different. We can still be so productive, and we can still get so much done, but the accommodations we need and the way that's communicated are different, and Gen Z has entered the workforce. One in four people in this generation says they will make their career You're out of being an influencer rather than working in a company.


So our expectations for how we can manage the current state of where people are, and the new generation coming in the workforce means you've got to adapt if you want retention because the people that will put up with a long-term 60-hour work week have declined. There are much fewer of them out there.

James Mackey  25:22  
I think what's also just kind of an interesting side way that I thought of is, maybe when people think about making that sacrifice to work that much or to work through burnout. Maybe they don't realize the cost associated with doing that. I think it may be companies like as a culture, maybe we don't realize when we say, Okay, well, this is acceptable, as long as we set a proper expectation. Maybe it's because we don't, we don't truly understand the health implications.


Like, this is a really interesting conversation to me, because like, I know that burnout sucks. I've been burnt out several times throughout my career. It's sometimes pretty bad. And it has impacted productivity at times. I think, you know, there was a point a few years ago, actually, before a baby, this was actually five years ago. Damn, it's funny how time flies you like, oh, this was last year. And you're like, Yeah, that was a decade ago. But anyways, I hit burnout really, really hard. And I didn't realize it, but I was probably working at like, 50 to 60% productivity that was out of my potential. And I didn't even realize it, because it was just like a standard motion. I was so stuck in, like this frame of mind, like, Oh, I gotta grind it out, I gotta grind it out. Because that's what you, you feel like you have to do and it's also what you're taught, like, you know, particularly as in the startup environment, like, this is gonna, you're gonna sleep under the desk, like you always hear shit like that. And it's like, romanticised as this like, these, like, amazing days. And they can be, I think, but it's, to some extent, but it's, it's not till you step back, and you start, like, I didn't take any time off for my first five years.

Jessa Messina  27:03  
And I feel you, I did that you and I, I've also burned like, we're in the same boat, I think, you know, we learn from the reflections of our own burnout. And the other thing is when people have that mentality, there's a lot of aspects to it that are also extremely ableist. Because those that might have immunodeficiencies, or be more helpful in their abilities may be the smartest, most genius people that could be the best asset to your workplace, they can bring the ideas, the customer care, and the collaboration, and you'll miss out on getting them because they have vulnerabilities that will not allow them to work at that capacity. And now, you know, one, you're, you're missing out on these incredible people, and they're missing out on the job opportunity. So again, that's like another little tiny piece of the puzzle. But, you know, we've been there, and you and I are healthy people that were able to rebound and be here and, and push so hard. And not everyone has that capability. And I honor that.

James Mackey  28:14  
Yeah, for sure. It's, um, again, I'm reflecting on my own personal experience because it's just I haven't thought about it before. And hopefully, this is adding value. I think just a lot of executives are tuning into this. So I think they're gonna have shared experiences with ours. And again, I think slowing down and take you through this is really, really fascinating. And I think that the reality is that regardless if you're a triple-digit, hyper-growth company or not, there are a lot of steps you can take to create a healthier environment. And I think in some environments, it might be more achievable than others.


But every company should be focused on optimizing and doing everything that they can help people live healthy lives, right? I think that that's also the main takeaway like it might be a little harder in a tech startup that's growing, you know, 100%, year over year, right? But there's a lot of things that they're not even, it's not even like, on their radar, that they need to be focusing on this or how important this is, just from a value perspective. But then also, like, from an ROI perspective, like, I think people just there's a lot left on the table that people can be doing, right?

Jessa Messina  29:26  
Oh, totally. And the other thing, too, is, you know, to move away from the number of hours, right? The other thing is, how can you make the hours people work much more effective? I think that that could be a question that we're asking. So we're like, how can there be this model called row results only work environment. So it really measures Hey, these are the things I need from you. And this is what gets you that paycheck, and then creating the more most optimal environment so people can deliver that to you Um, in the easiest way possible. And I think that there's a lot of ways that companies are some companies, I have some clients where I'm just blown away by the emotional intelligence and effectiveness. But there are some ways that we can just make those hours count more. And that's where actually when people feel psychologically safe, they can get 10 times more done in an hour than when they don't. A lot of the people right now that are working those long, long weeks, it's because 50% of the time they're scrolling on their phone, they're spiraling in their emotions, they're spaced out. So I think the real question is, how do we create an environment so those hours of work are actual work, and people feel focused, excited, calm, and centred, as they're doing their work?

James Mackey  30:48  
Yeah, that's another very good point. It's like you constantly feel overwhelmed, you're constantly going to feel like you need to take breaks. And you're not going to be as focused and productive. And so it's, I think that that's a really good point. And that's where it's like, you know, you need to have an outcome-focused environment regardless, it's not as important how many hours people work, it's more so what is important, like, you don't want people to burn like work too many hours.


But from the perspective of optimizing, you know, for, oh, this person has to work X amount of hours, it's like if it turns out to be a little bit less, you know, that that's fine. You don't necessarily want somebody to have 15 or 20 hours of work on their plate, in most cases, I think, but maybe you disagree with that. But like, I think it's okay to find a way to get a reasonable amount of work, but always bent on like, hey, maybe this gets done in less time, you have more time for creative thinking. And I think too, like, what's really interesting is, I think, reflecting on my own team, it's like, I have folks on my team that probably work 35 to 40 hours and are crushing it. Yeah, they are just hyperfocus-like, and have a lot going on in their personal life, and just manage everything amazing, I look at them are like, Oh, my God, like how do you? I don't know how you do it.


But, you know, then I have other people on my team that, you know, work, like a lot. And I think too, it's like, it's not that the workload is necessary, it's just like, people also some to some extent, I think it's situational leadership, like looking at, like, what's the psychology of the individual I'm working with? And really being able to not only set clear expectations but how you interact with those folks needs to vary like how if somebody, for instance, has incredibly high standards for themselves says typically working more than even I think they should, I want to be very careful to provide any type of AI to be very careful with constructive criticism if it's even required because I know they already hold themselves to such a high standard, that I don't want to weigh in on that. And so it's like, you know, chances are, they've already thought through 10 different ways they could have handled a situation.


And so it's just more about asking questions, right? And then there are some folks where maybe they need a little bit more direction, they need a little bit more like, you know, opposed to me asking questions, they need me to kind of guide it a little bit more. And I think it's just like understanding your team and their psychology, and then being the leader that they need you to be as opposed to just being one type of leader for everyone. Which, you know, what I mean, like, I think that that's important, too, right?

Jessa Messina  33:33  
I would say so in terms of creating an environment so that people can work as effectively as possible, and then they can refill their cup, and they come to work, you know, excited and with, of course, you know, we're not at our best every day. But what it sounds like to me is that you're an incredible leader, because what I would say if I were to give like four things that companies could do to prevent their team from being burned out is to use their time effectively. And to get more done, one of the first ones would be leadership training, so that leaders can be equipped with those skills of emotional intelligence and have exactly what you said, managing the person. And it also sounds like you ask a lot of questions, which creates a better talk-listen ratio, so that a leader is actually really creating the environment for the person to share with them. And also, it sounds like you're making accommodations to the personalities of the people that are on your team.


Things are what excellent leadership looks like someone who's an amazing individual contributor might not be the best manager if they don't have those mindful tactics of really learning and understanding how to support a person rather than just being an authority over them. How can you coach them in a way where you understand some people need more boundaries and you feel like set those other people like what you're talking about? They're perfectionists and they're real. be hard on themselves. And so your gentleness will uplift them to take them to the next level, which is a good leadership training and that emotional intelligence for your leaders, you can create an environment where people are set, you know, it's those same people don't leave jobs, they leave managers. So how do you equip managers so that people really want to stick around?

James Mackey  35:22  
Yeah, that's, it's, you said that so well, like I really, this is such an incredible conversation, by the way, I'm really enjoying this. There's so much content in scripted content that we have not gotten into, but that's okay. Because I'm just loving this, so much like this. By the way, this is going to be, I'm sure, one of the most popular episodes that we've recorded. So. But anyways, I think there are two kinds of follow-up notes for leaders tuning in that I want to share. One this and this really has to come from, like a founder or CEO, or board is, when you're thinking about unit economics, and you're thinking about scale, and margins, you need to build a profitable or sustainable unit economic ratio in which people can get their job done with a reasonable workload.


So what I mean by that is, like, when I was setting our pricing strategy at SecureVision, we are a recurring revenue services company, basically, companies borrow recruiters from us, right? Like we have people that we have on-demand recruiters, right that operate like internal recruiters, when I was building out our capacity planning, we made it so we can be profitable, based on a recruiter working on five to six openings at a time. Yeah, versus like a lot of agencies where people are working on 15,20, 30, and 40 wrecks positions at a time. Like we were able to say, okay, and it wasn't only aligned on quality of life for employees, so that we can recruit the best people, it was also in delivering the highest level experience for our client. Yeah, which a lot of those, maybe that's another good point, those things are aligned, when you can attract top talent and allow them to thrive, your customers will thrive too.


So that's like point one is just thinking like, when you're thinking unit economics at scale, can you do so in a way that creates great employee experiences, that's gonna allow you to recruit the best people and provide the best outcomes for your clients.


And then the other thing I would say is, when you are a leader, you have to learn how to let shit go, like, things are gonna get done in a way that maybe isn't the optimal way from your perspective. But that's okay. You have to ask yourself, before you give that feedback, ask yourself like, how much does it really matter? Not everything is going to be done the way that I want it to be done. But does this really impact client experience? Or like, Is this really going to matter when we're looking at our, you know, hitting our targets? And I think that like one thing that I've learned just throughout leadership is that half the time I want to say something, don't like think just think like, oh, you know,

Jessa Messina  38:05  
I couldn't agree more,

James Mackey  38:07  
right? Like, that's something that I've just learned. It's like, I don't want to kill momentum, I don't want somebody to second guess themselves. I hired them to do a job. Get out of the way. Right. And I think that that's really hard for some leaders because you have this perfectionist mindset, but you have to let people do it their own way. And you have to be okay if would have done it differently. As long as it's something that's not like, critical to driving business outcomes. Let it go. Let it go.

Jessa Messina  38:34  
Well, you know, I think the way we run companies is similar to a lot of the conversation that's happening in social justice movements right now. And what it means is that your intention is not nearly as important as your impact, your impact actually determines the outcome. So a lot of people and this is where we are really coming into. Everyone was getting scared of canceled culture, and everyone was like, Oh, my gosh, I don't want to say anything, I don't want to be canceled. And I think we've learned to be more nuanced. So now what it is, it's about accountability, culture, we are all accountable for all of our actions and our behaviors and learning to have that emotionally intelligent filter where you say, what is the impact of what I'm about to say, what's the ultimate impact by asking this person to do these extra things, I may push them over the max. And it doesn't actually improve that much for the client. And what I'm saying might be harmful or deteriorate the trust I have in that employee. So the impact I want to have would be best off with me not saying this. And that takes honestly a lot of emotional maturity on your end. And that is probably if I were to say anything for psychological safety. If you want an environment of psychological safety, it means that whoever is in charge of the company needs to have a lot of emotional maturity. And that only comes by doing a lot of work on yourself.

James Mackey  39:59  
Yeah. I'll be honest like I have made this mistake, one time really bad. But maybe other times I can't think of, I'll just own it like, you know, you have to learn somehow. But I think it's, you know, one time I had an employee that was incredibly good and was doing such an amazing job. And I continued to ask them to do more things, I was like, damn, this person is making such an incredible impact, like, Well, maybe he could do this, or maybe he can do that, or, you know, he can help with this. And, and he would, but one thing that I didn't understand is that, again, this is situational leadership, you have to know your people, some people might step up and say, my capacity is full. But other people are raised in such a way. It's like you don't say no to your boss, and you just suck it up and deal with it. And to some extent, it's creating a culture where people feel comfortable providing feedback.


But again, it's doing that and also situational leadership. Right? And again, like, you know, he wasn't the type of person to ever complain, or ever say, No, and I'm gonna say no is complaining, those are two separate things. But like, he was just like, his mindset is like if I say no, that is complaining is a better way of saying what I just said. Like that was his psychology had nothing to do with how I was treating him or anything like that. I was just tone-deaf, as his own psychology is different from mine. And then just assuming that he was thinking about it the same way I would like, well, you know, he's an experienced person, he has over 10 years of experience. If he has too much on his plate, he's gonna let me know that's not the case. He burnt out and left the company.  I offered saying like, hey, I'll give you a month off fully paid, you come back, and we'll cut your workload in half. He was done. He wasn't interested. And so that was a really important lesson for me and that's why I'm sharing it here. Because hopefully, that's valuable for people tuning in, so they can learn from that.

Jessa Messina  41:54  
Yeah. And you know, what, thank you so much for that vulnerable share, because it really, I really want to end by saying, if any of you listen, and you think oh my god, I made all these mistakes. I'm a horrible leader. What's wrong with me, you're not that the beauty of accountability culture is that to To err is human, though thing we all have in common is that in our lives, we will be harmed and we will harm. And we are in this wonderful pivot as work as evolving, where we get this opportunity to just keep learning and keep growing and taking these pieces and finding ways to add this human aspect to work and understanding that humanity within the company actually will lead to your bottom line and the quality of the lives of everyone involved. If you make a mistake, it's okay.


I think most people do not deserve to be canceled, they deserve the opportunity to be better and grow and change and to you know, make emotional intelligence, which is what it sounds you know, from your leadership, this situational leadership, that understanding, you know, how to change for the future, all of that I'm sure you never made that mistake again. And it led you to grow even more. I've done so many things. If I could go back in time, in hindsight, it's so obvious how I would treat the people I've managed differently. I've made so many errors, but it's that desire to be better and to lead from a place of humanity that I think we're gonna see a lot of growth from the companies that do that in this coming year.

James Mackey  43:25  
I totally agree. And just so I know, do you have a hard stop?

Jessa Messina  43:31  
Well, I didn't, I didn't put anything new. I had a feeling this would be juicy, but I didn't feel like we've been able to play off of everything the other person said just like ping pong. It's so fun. I really, and honestly your leadership examples keep embodying like even what you were saying about what you said about that employee, you thought Oh, someone would say no, it reminded me of the example of those four stress responses. And I teach this as a workshop for managers to be able to have a more emotionally intelligent lens to their employees.


So what you describe is the fawn response, a lot of us are actually operating out of fear because of, you know, unprocessed unhealed issues that we have. Eileen Fisher has an amazing quote where she said 80% of what we bring into our job is our unhealed childhood wounds. So a person who is such a pleaser, they're terrified to say no, that is someone operating from a fawn response. And companies love them. Because they're your yes person. They're easy to get along with. They'll do anything you tell them. But the unfortunate part is they'll burn the candle at both ends. And when they hit that endpoint, they're likely to just be shut down. They could be resentful, and you won't keep them. Yeah, so the way we can understand if someone's operating from fight flight, fear, or fawn, you don't have to be a clinical psychologist to figure it out. You just have to be amazing and ask people questions, ask them questions, how do you like to be managed? Do you need a lot of structure? Are you really good at structuring yourself and write it down? Have it in writing.


So you have this agreement together, hey, I agreed to manage you this way, because this is what works for you. And if they don't honor that, if they're not productive within the confines you've given them, you can revisit that. But I think that it's not like you don't have to be a clinical psychologist, you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes, you just have to be great at asking questions, and giving these people the space to talk. And they will, when they feel safe and comfortable with you. They will say a lot.

James Mackey  45:43  
Yeah, that's very well said. Very well said, because I think it's just psychologically to when you ask questions, you're, you're showing that you care. One. And I think when you show that you care, people are going to start to feel a little bit more heard when they have an opportunity to express themselves. And as long as you honor that, and you respect that, and you don't shut it down. It starts to build a lot more trust, and people are a lot more willing to come back. I mean, I think this also holds true for employee surveys, or, you know, and we always recommend, like, yes, employee surveys are good. But also, you need those conversations consistently. But one thing, whenever we put out any type of survey, or we're asking questions, one on one, as a leadership team, we have to remind ourselves, like, we better implement some that we like we need to commit now, before we even know what they're gonna say, we got to implement at least some of this stuff because if we don't implement any of this feedback, they're gonna stop giving it. And I think that that's really important to note, too, that doesn't mean like now, sometimes people aren't going to understand the implications, like downstream implications of a decision. So they might say, hey, why don't we do things this way? And we can't do it that way.


Because on an individual level, that might work well for you. But at a scale that's not sustainable. Or it, the unit economics don't end up working out or, you know, there's, there are things that they may not understand, but there are a lot of things that suggestions that they have, that you need to you if you can do it, do it. Like, don't even start to question like, Well, what do I think it's like if you can do it, do it if the team wants it, just get it done. Because you know, it just creates that environment of safety, where they come back to you, they're more likely to question you, because you don't want to Yes, person, right, like you want somebody that's going to be a valuable sounding board for your ideas. And people have different perspectives based on where they are in the company. So you want that constructive criticism to come back to the top. And if you don't implement their ideas, they're gonna stop coming to you.

Jessa Messina  47:46  
I couldn't agree more with you. I think that everyone what it also in life, our stress responses come up the most when we feel very out of control. And when we feel a sense of self-efficacy, when we feel a sense of empowerment and autonomy, we tend to feel safer and better. So when you talk to someone and your ideas matter, and you feel like you have some control in your work environment, or you can get the accommodations that you need as a person to work effectively, it changes the game completely, you've now created an empowered employee who feels confident and will operate from their best self. And I want to say one other thing too because I feel it would be really negligent not to talk about the diversity, equity, and inclusion aspect, the understanding of unconscious bias, the understanding of our own set of privileges, our own body of experiences, and how that is interacting in every workspace is really powerful. That is a way that we can make people feel seen and feel safe, really understanding what are all the privileges and what are all the marginalizations that come with my identity. And am I creating an environment that is supportive of the other people there? This takes a lot of training.


So if anyone is not watching the video of this, I will give a description of my own identity. I am a sis white woman, I am also a queer person, and I'm an able-bodied person. Everywhere I go, every part of my identity comes with me. And there are parts of that that will make someone feel safer. There are parts that will make them not feel safer, depending on how I interact with them. So I want to break that down because I think that diversity equity inclusion gets really, really confusing. So for instance, I like to create an environment where someone truly knows that I will respect them. that I am doing all the work I can to remove unconscious bias, and be okay with apologizing because I'll mess things up. I've accidentally used the wrong pronoun with someone before and then said, Oh, I'm so sorry. You know, maybe I said she her and then I go, I'm so sorry. And then I correct myself and I say they then it's also that's a really overt one. For example of how I've had this, I've been in a position where a male boss of mine pulled me aside because I wasn't smiling enough on a meeting and was like, I noticed you weren't smiling. Are you? Okay? None of my male colleagues got treated that way. So when we take out our unconscious bias, we become aware of our identity and others, and we do create an environment that will put someone in a, fight flight freeze, or fawn response.

James Mackey  50:53  
That's, that's really interesting. Thank you for sharing that. And I would like to before we jump off,  dive into some more. I don't know any examples. But when we get into unconscious biases, and we get into micro-aggressions of boundaries, communication, could you just riff on that a little bit more to maybe help educate leaders on some common mistakes and things that maybe they're not aware of, but are really potentially hurting their team?

Jessa Messina  51:27  
Oh, absolutely. So this is one of my favorite topics. I think the most important part, again, begins with mindful management. So this comes to really understanding what are all the aspects of my own identity because I am always bringing myself into every conversation that I'm in. And one of the things that get in our way of looking at that I find people get really, really defensive, is guilt, fear, or shame. So one example again, with the pronouns, I had someone on my team at the last place that I was working, who was a gender non-conforming person who went by they/ them pronouns, my job as a manager is to ensure that people on my team are safe. I had three different conversations with three different people that misgendered this person. And in each of the conversations, I pause the conversation to say, Hey, I just wanted to let you know that so and so actually goes by they/them, not she/her. That's all I said, Nothing loaded. One of the people stopped and said, I am so sorry, I'm gonna make sure to change that next time. Thank you for letting me know, the other two got really defensive.


So what I would say is in diversity, equity inclusion, be prepared to potentially if it's new to you feel guilt, to feel defensive, and be comfortable sitting with that. Keep learning, and keep educating yourself. There's a wonderful book, I have it on my shelf, actually, it's called subtle acts of exclusion. There's a lot of education if you have not already ensured that you are taking time to work with a professional to learn all the ways that you can take unconscious bias down. And to understand that any issue any marginalization you don't have, it's easy to overlook or say it's not happening just because you've never had to think about it. For instance, there may be a disability, you may not know if there's a disability ramp are a way for wheelchair to get into the building you're currently in. If you're not in a wheelchair, we don't know or think about the things we don't have to. And so the more we can learn about identities outside of our own, the more we can learn how to make others feel safe and comfortable and ensure that our language is inclusive.

James Mackey  53:56  
Sure, and I think particularly with DE&I it's important to, it's always a great time to start focusing on it. I think, ideally, if companies can do it at the beginning of their journey when they're smaller, it's a lot easier than trying to change a culture of 1000 people or 2000 or 5000 people. So it's if you could start when you're under 50 employees, and maybe you don't have an opportunity to get somebody in full time or you don't necessarily have an HR leader yet. That is an expert on the topic, at a minimum being able to bring in an expert on a consulting basis to help put together the playbooks and do educational training for the company and particularly the leadership team. There's so much that can be done at an earlier stage that is ultimately in the long run going to benefit the company. It's going to create a much better culture, the ROI we discussed as well. And the other ROI too is being able to attract great


People and as we, you know, continue to see the evolution of values in the workforce, right and younger people coming up like you have to be aligned with their value system in order to make sure that you're able to attract and retain the best folks and be able to enable them in an environment where they feel like their needs are being met. And as a result, they're gonna be able to do their best work. So it's nice in life when values can align with the outcomes you need to produce professionally. There's such strong alignment here. This is good stuff like this is something that needs to be a priority. And I think just again, it's not that companies don't want to, I just don't think that they're educated enough and truly what psycho-psychological safety is, and how important it is and how getting it right can help them and how getting it wrong is devastating. I just think that there's just a lack of awareness and education overall.

Jessa Messina  56:00  
Exactly. And I think that, again, I love everything that you said, because when I think about the topic, it's so overwhelming. I'm like, how could I talk about this for five minutes on a podcast, but it really is there are so many steps. It's not. It's not a helpless situation. In fact, it's a situation where there's so much optimism and opportunity, where we can really let people be their best. And we can create an environment where more people succeed because we take away these barriers to entry that have existed from they've existed in a much worse way from the start of the creation of, you know, people coming to America from Europe. So you know, America was kind of founded on situations of inequity. And this is an incredible opportunity to change that.

James Mackey  56:53  
Absolutely. So, Jessa, this has been a very interesting, insightful conversation. I think that there's a lot of value here for executives, as well as anyone tuning in. And I just wanted to say thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your expertise and essentially giving us a masterclass on this topic. I really appreciate your contribution today. 

Jessa Messina  57:17  
Oh, thank you so much. It was really such a fun start to my day. I am really pumped. And I had the best time with you today. Thank you so much for having me.

James Mackey  57:27  
This was great. And just what's the best way that people can engage with you and your company? If they want to learn more about you and what you do?

Jessa Messina  57:36  
Absolutely. You can find me on LinkedIn, Jessa Messina, or you can check out my website And yeah, follow me. Shoot me a message. I'd love to talk more to you.

James Mackey  57:53  
Okay, great. And also on your website, or there if people want to do an additional reading or their research resources on your site, or do you have any recommendations? I know you mentioned a book. If people want to learn more, where should they go?

Jessa Messina  58:09  
So I am going to have a more filled-out page, where I'm going to include all of my favorite resources that I go to as well as resources that I've created for free webinars. But if you click the resource link on my current website, you will see plenty there and in the coming months there'll be even more for you.

James Mackey  58:27  
Love it. Well, thank you, Jessa. And for everybody tuning in. Thank you so much. This has been a blast and make sure to check out You can find all of our shows as well as the transcripts and if you know anybody that would be a great guest or if you would like to be a guest. There's also an opportunity to apply for the show there. So anyways, thanks for joining us and we will see you next time.

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