93. Elevating the work experience while running a for-profit business | Dr. Marie Gervais


Dr. Marie Gervais | Elevating the work experience while running a for-profit business



Welcome to Episode 93 of The Future of Work, the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future, featuring industry experts and thought leaders discussing how work is changing and evolving. The Future of Work is NOW.

In this podcast, we continue our practical conversation with leadership coach and author Dr. Marie Gervais. Asking the main question of how do you marry building a more spiritually elevated workplace with the pressures of running a for-profit business. 

We look at Marie’s SWEL (Safety, Well-being, Encouragement, and Learning ) model and find out what the Justice Quotient is.


Marie Gervias Web


Dr. Marie Gervais's mission is to build workplace leadership capacity characterized by real communications that acknowledge people for who they are. Using the S.W.E.L. model of safety, wellness, encouragement and learning, Marie provides online courses and transformational leadership coaching to help managers build inclusive, confident organizations where people can’t wait to show up for work.

She hosts the podcast "Culture and Leadership Connections", named the 5th of 20 top leadership podcasts in 2022. Her book "The Spirit of Work: Timeless Wisdom, Current Realities" is now available for purchase on online book directories around the world.





[00:00:00] - Marie Gervais
Then the last one is what I call a justice quotient. That is whenever you're making a workplace decision, you think, "Do we have a diversity of perspectives on this? Have we consulted the most affected by the decision? Are all stakeholders present?" If you can say yes to all three of those, you know that your decision is going to be holistic.

[00:00:27] - Doug Foulkes
Welcome to Episode 93 of Chaos & Rocketfuel: The Future of Work Podcast. This is the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future, and it's brought to you by WNDYR and Pattyrn. I am your host, Doug Foulkes. My co-host is the CEO at WNDYR and Pattyrn, Claire Haidar.

[00:00:45] - Doug Foulkes
Claire, we are busy having a very interesting and practical conversation with Marie Gervais, who is an author. She's also a fellow podcaster. Culture and Leadership Connections is the name of her podcast, so you must check that out. Bring us up to speed, please, on what we covered in the first episode and what are we talking about today.

[00:01:04] - Claire Haidar
As you and I said at the start of Segment 1, this conversation really surprised both of us. We came in thinking it was going to be very ethereal, philosophical in nature. We came out with really practical frameworks that business people can apply to work immediately coming out of this conversation. There's a very real contradictory element to running a for-profit business where very real metrics like gross profit, EBITDA margins, those type of things need to be monitored, revenue growth, etc, and actually elevating the experience of the work happening inside that company.

[00:01:41] - Claire Haidar
There's very often clashes or ideals that are at odds with each other. We really get into that debate with her. Marie handles this very, very well, where she shows that they don't necessarily need to be opposing forces and that you really can create an elevated work experience for people while at the same time really aggressively pursuing for profit goals.

[00:02:07] - Doug Foulkes
With that absolutely perfect precis of what we're about to listen to, let's head on over to Marie. I'm going to kick off the second part of our conversation, Marie, by asking you, how do you marry this framework that you've created to elevate work with the very harsh—let's not beat about the bush—the realities of working and running a for-profit business in today's environment?

[00:02:30] - Marie Gervais
Well, there are three concepts that I think can be very useful for businesses and that help with answering that question. The first one I already spoke about is choosing intentionally to do soul-enhancing thoughts, words, and actions. And that you'll know because it's expansive, whereas soul-diminishing is constrictive. If you think of, for example, a dictatorship, the first thing they do is shut down on what people can think, what they can write about on the arts, what they can research about, and they take color out of the environment and turn everything gray, so it becomes very diminishing and constrictive.

[00:03:07] - Marie Gervais
You can see in people's bodies that when they are not at their best, their bodies are constricted, their posture sags, and you see in their face when people are discouraged, how constricted they look. When the body is expanded and the spirit is expanded and you can come to work and feeling expansive, it is a result of that, being intentional about that. That's one simple thing that people can just keep thinking about and you will start to auto-correct. So you don't need to make adjustments, just start thinking, is this soul-enhancing or soul-diminishing? And it will have a huge effect.

[00:03:42] - Marie Gervais
Second one is I have a model called the SWEL model. It stands for safety, well-being, encouragement, and learning. It's a series of questions that you can ask to see what you're doing and how you're doing it from a more holistic perspective and then make adjustments as you can. From the safety perspective, before we offer this service or this product, what are we using and how did the materials get to us, and are the people that brought that to us safe? Are they physically safe? Are they emotionally safe? Are they culturally safe? Are they in a psychologically safe workplace?

[00:04:27] - Marie Gervais
Just asking the question helps you to think about safety quite differently. From the beginning of the life cycle of the service or the product that you're providing, what are those safety questions that would be useful to ask? Then when it's the end of its life? If you think about this now, look at all the waste we have in the environment. The end of life of products is not considered as part of the creation of products. They're just thinking, "How do we make money from it?" Not, "What's going to happen to it when it's dead."

[00:04:55] - Marie Gervais
If we did think that way, we wouldn't have tailings ponds, we wouldn't have landfills that are completely filled with toxic and non-biodegradable things because we would have thought it through. It doesn't mean that we can change everything right now, it means we're thinking that way and we're starting to move in that direction. That safety well-being is about how can you encourage purposeful and meaningful work contributions?

[00:05:19] - Marie Gervais
Do I feel that I can speak up about things? Do I feel that I can listen to others and I can hear what they have to say? Are there opportunities and forums for contribution in a variety of ways in the workplace? That would be the well-being piece. Then encouragement is a counterbalance to the culture of criticism that is really rampant almost everywhere where it's almost a game to criticize and ridicule and humiliate.

[00:05:45] - Marie Gervais
To encourage people takes a very deliberate process that you can do in multiple different ways. But it can often start by recognizing their qualities, like, "I really appreciate how you did. You stayed a little bit later to help out when we were short-staffed today," or, "That was just so generous of you," or, "Thank you for being patient with me while I was getting my act together this morning." Those kinds of using virtues can help with the encouragement piece.

[00:06:10] - Marie Gervais
The last one is learning. A workplace that learns is a workplace that is able to move forward. When people stop learning, when any group stops learning, that's when the decline kicks in, and that's when decay and stagnation kicks in. You can start at any point. You could start with learning our encouragement, our well-being, our safety. It's a very useful model. A number of workplaces I've been working with are starting to use it now in their discussions and their meetings.

[00:06:34] - Marie Gervais
Then the last one is what I call a justice quotient. That is whenever you're making a workplace decision, you think, "Do we have a diversity of perspectives on this? Have we consulted the most affected by the decision?Are all stakeholders present?" If you can say yes to all three of those, you know that your decision is going to be holistic.

[00:06:54] - Marie Gervais
I'm going to give you an example. I was at the United Nations University in Japan a number of years ago, and there was a big conference on refugees. There was not a single person there who had been to a refugee camp and there were no refugees present, and they were making decisions about refugee camps all over the world. That's an example of not consulting those most affected.

[00:07:14] - Marie Gervais
Diversity of perspectives was not there, and all stakeholders were not present. So it's a lose-lose, fail situation. In workplaces, we can look at that and say, "Wait a minute. Which decisions are working? Which aren't? If they aren't, let's look at the justice quotient and see if all three pieces are there."

[00:07:31] - Claire Haidar
Marie, just very quickly, go back for me, give us the acronym for the model. Then just repeat for us very quickly what the different ones are.

[00:07:42] - Marie Gervais
So the first one was SWEL: safety, well-being, encouragement, learning. Second one was choose soul-enhancing rather than soul-diminishing. Then the third one was the three-part justice quotient. That's diversity of perspectives, consult most affected, and all stakeholders present.

[00:08:01] - Doug Foulkes
I'm finding it incredibly more practical than I thought the conversation would have been. With the title, The Spirit of Work, I think it could be easily think that it's going to be all a little bit up in the air, but actually, it's anything but that.

[00:08:16] - Claire Haidar
It's one of the most practical podcast we've ever done. This is really useful practical models and frameworks that executive team leaders can actually take out and start applying.

[00:08:28] - Marie Gervais
Sometimes when people ask me about the book, I say, "This is not just another book on mindfulness." Although I promote and believe in and practice mindfulness myself, the mindfulness is only one piece of the holistic workplace puzzle. It needs to be practical, otherwise, it's not holistic.

[00:08:46] - Claire Haidar
Exactly. Marie, before we move on to my next question that I have here for you in this specific section where we're talking about how to balance the demands of for-profit business with this much more holistic approach to work is, one of the challenges that I personally face as an executive is creating a culture within our workplace where honest feedback that's growth-orientated is balanced with encouragement.

[00:09:24] - Claire Haidar
One of the challenges that my co-founder and myself, and the leadership team in particular navigated—this is a conversation that comes up; it comes up at board level, it comes up in shareholder conversations, and it very much comes up in leadership conversations—is that particularly, the younger generation—you spoke about this—we're currently straddling five generations in the workplace, is that the younger generation coming into the workplace are not as open to growth-orientated conversations, even if they're positioned in a very encouraging environment.

[00:10:01] - Claire Haidar
Whereas we find that older generations tend to be… you know what I mean? They have the maturity and the ability to, without taking things personally, step back and say, "You know what? This is valid critique. I take it on board. There's a better way to look at this, better way to do this." Whereas younger generations aren't. Do you address that piece in your book at all in terms of how to apply that balance that's so critical? Because happiness is not just good stuff all the time.

[00:10:33] - Marie Gervais

[00:10:33] - Claire Haidar
It includes hard conversations, it includes constructive critique. All of those type of things.

[00:10:41] - Marie Gervais
I do speak about it in terms of… Actually when it's the bring your heart to work because they talk about professional judgment and about encouragement and challenge, so it's in that chapter. But it's also scattered throughout from my work as an emotional freedom practitioner coach. That's based on the idea that people, they don't have the strength to withstand criticism. This is also for older generations. They may say they take it well, but their nervous system is still affected by it.

[00:11:09] - Claire Haidar

[00:11:10] - Marie Gervais
The nervous system will react as if it were under threat in the same way as if you were suddenly faced with an earthquake or something. The nervous system still reacts that way hugely inappropriately because it can't distinguish. It only says, "Threat," or "No threat." It's not nuanced in that way. People need help in learning how to be aware of their own nervous system, name feelings to themselves, recognize when they're feeling triggered, and then calm themselves down.

[00:11:42] - Marie Gervais
For example, thinking to yourself… This needs to be taught to people before you have a conversation with them. You're thinking to yourself, "I'm feeling really triggered right now. I'm feeling really defensive right now. I'm just going to take deep breath and accept that that's how I'm feeling in this moment." Being able to say that to yourself—nobody else has to hear it, you're just thinking it in your own thoughts, in your own mind—starts the blood flow in your brain to move from the amygdala—that's your wizard brain, and that's where you're reacting to danger—through to your entire brain so you have access to your frontal cortex and you can actually think and take whatever people are saying appropriately.

[00:12:24] - Marie Gervais
That's the first and it's a simple step, but it is "I am feeling." You wouldn't believe how many people do not know that they're feeling anything. One of the supervisors I worked with said, "Until I heard about this, my day was just a whole blob of things happening and different feelings happening up and down. I couldn't even name them. Now I can say I'm feeling frustrated, I'm feeling angry, I'm feeling excited about this. I'm a little nervous about this right now." He said, "I wasn't thinking those kinds of names of things anymore, and as soon as I think them, I suddenly feel calmer."

[00:12:56] - Marie Gervais
I said, "Yeah, that's the beauty of knowing how to respond to your own nervous system." There's much more to it than that, but that's very useful. And another thing that's helpful for the person who is giving the feedback, here's a few really practical things for this to do: sit next to the person instead of facing them, or walk with them side by side. When you do that, people don't feel defensive because you feel that you're working from the same page, walking in the same direction, so you immediately remove the threat to the nervous system by walking together or sitting side-by-side.

[00:13:26] - Marie Gervais
The other thing is to ask questions about the person and about who they are and where they're at with their job. "Tell me about your job? What's happening with you right now?" That sort of thing. Just get general kinds of things. Then now there is something I do want to speak to you about. "This is it. You say what it is and then you go, "What's going on for you right now when you hear that?" That question, "What's going on for you right now when you hear that?"

[00:13:49] - Marie Gervais
That question is golden because then and then you just wait. People will respond in a way that is much better than what you might have been getting in the past. "What's going on for you right now when you hear that?" People might say, "Oh, well, yeah. That's just not true." Say, "How are you feeling right now?" If they can't do it, say, "Are you feeling defensive? Are you feeling worried? Are you thinking you might lose your job? What's going on for you right now? What are you feeling?" They start to calm down as they identify that.

[00:14:17] - Marie Gervais
Then you can get to the point of where they're going to be able to address the behavior, but otherwise they won't. They'll just get discouraged and they'll dig their heels in deeper. They can't develop professional judgment in that context very easily.

[00:14:29] - Claire Haidar
Marie, I have a psychology background, my educational background. I'm not a practicing psychologist at all. But one of the models that I like to reference a lot that comes up as you're talking is one of the cognitive behavioral therapy models, which is the triangle, the thought-feelings action triangle.

[00:14:49] - Claire Haidar
The reason why I'm raising it here is because it's very similar to what you're saying, where people really, really struggle. I can speak to this for myself because I've really had to train myself in this area for the years is, they struggle to differentiate between feelings and thoughts.

[00:15:09] - Marie Gervais
And sensations.

[00:15:10] - Claire Haidar
Yes, and sensations.

[00:15:12] - Marie Gervais
In their body, which they can't differentiate between that either, which really trips them out. Sorry, please go ahead.

[00:15:18] - Claire Haidar
Yeah. No, I'm really happy that you're raising that one because the interesting thing is that when people are able to do that and get to the point, like what I've seen with people—and this definitely was the light bulb for me as well—is that the feeling and the thought are totally acceptable and they can be whatever they are. The sensation in your body can be whatever it is. It's what you do with the action afterwards.

[00:15:45] - Claire Haidar
A lot of people operate from that place of the thought is unacceptable, the feeling is unacceptable, and that's where they get blocked. You know what I mean? Then that turns into the negative sensation, which then becomes a negative action. Just that very simple principle of, and if managers can bring that into meetings, if managers can bring that into their just day-to-day coaching of teams working with them, it could have a truly profound impact on functional performance of teams.

[00:16:18] - Marie Gervais
Yeah, I think it'll have a slight impact because basically it's still a cognitive model.

[00:16:24] - Claire Haidar

[00:16:27] - Marie Gervais
Cognition is only 10% of our experience. So until people can actually start to use things like what I'm talking about here, which is, "I can name this feeling right now. I can tell you where I feel it in my body, where I sense it in my body." Until they can actually do that, they can't move forward with the cognitive model. That is a really important differentiator. Most managers who would be using that aren't doing it themselves. They might be talking about it, but they're not doing it themselves.

[00:16:54] - Marie Gervais
It's the reeducation, basically, of paying attention to what's going on inside of us so that we can respond appropriately to what's going on around us and in front of us. Then we have the blood flow, like I was saying, to the entire brain, and we can actually start to access our cognitive abilities. But before that, we're really sabotaged.

[00:17:12] - Doug Foulkes
I think before we go to Segment 3, the one thing that wasn't clear to me is actually the question just before that, we've spoken about the individual and of the company environment, but where does the responsibility lie? Is it up to the individual to bring their spiritual being to work or is it up to the company to provide that framework for them?

[00:17:33] - Marie Gervais
It's up to both of them. I'd also add the community as well so that you have a third partner. The individual brings themselves to work in an aware and holistic way. Each of us, that's our responsibility because that's what we have control over, is our own selves. That's the first one. The institution or the company or corporation has the responsibility to set the tone and to create an environment in which people can bring their whole selves to work. The community needs to encourage it rather than discourage it. Does that help?

[00:18:08] - Claire Haidar

[00:18:08] - Doug Foulkes
Perfect. With that piece of clarity around bringing your whole self to work, we end part 2 of our conversation with Marie Gervais. If you missed the first part of our conversation, you can check it out on Spotify, Google, or Apple Podcasts, or on the WNDYR website, wndyr.com. We'll conclude our chat shortly. From Claire and myself, we'll see you soon.

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