As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryann Lofchie.
Ryann has built a career and a company around an unwavering belief in human potential. By creating environments where people can do their best work and helping leaders rise to the challenges of leadership, she has guided organizations though cultural transformations and equipped them to navigate an increasingly complex world. In the process she has built a culture and a team at The Frontier Project that lives and breathes the ideas and practices she espouses to clients.
A strong proponent of work/life integration, on a given day Ryann might be leading project kick offs or group meditations at our studio; collaborating with our facilitators on a curriculum or challenging other businesses to a friendly sustainability competition. She is a passionate advocate for human rights issues, mentors other CEOs, and volunteers in the community — and encourages her employees to do the same via The Frontier Project’s unlimited vacation policy and service days.
Ryann studied Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Illinois where she also earned her Master’s Degree in Human Resources. She received her M.B.A. from the University of Richmond. Her career has spanned the corporate world, nonprofits, and startups, giving her broad perspective and deep insight into the challenges faced by today’s organizations.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It’s been a long and winding road but all the stops along the way have built on the previous experiences I’ve had. My background is in psychology and philosophy and I have a Master’s Degree in Human Resources and an MBA. I spent some time in corporate HR, financial services and at a not-for-profit organization that helped women start businesses. I was tapped to write a leadership development program for my current company, The Frontier Project, and I loved the work so much I never left. TFP was a fledgling start-up during the Great Recession, which meant we did consulting for just about any problem a client had. As the business matured, we focused on Innovation and Organizational Development consulting and a few years ago we spun off the market-facing part of our services to focus exclusively on culture transformation and leadership development.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I had scheduled time to speak to the founder of The Frontier Project about a role with the company. The day of our meeting was gorgeous outside, so I decided to walk to the interview. On the way, I found three (three!) lucky pennies. I’m not typically a superstitious person, but I do have a soft spot in my imagination for lucky pennies, and I wanted to believe it was some sort of sign.
When I got to the office I tried the door but it was locked. So I knocked. And knocked. And then I noticed this little doorbell and tried that. Nobody came. Was there another entrance? Did I have the right address? I had no way to confirm (this was before smartphones). I figured I had gotten the date or time wrong, so I began to walk away. About 20 feet from the door I thought to myself “man, you walked all the way here, don’t give up until you try one more time”.
I turned back and just as I approached the door a woman opened it and jumped she was so startled. We laughed and I apologized for scaring her. I told her I had been knocking. She apologized for not coming to the door earlier and let me in to the studio. I started my new job with TFP two weeks later..
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
Our “Big Idea That Might Change The World” in an initiative called All In. The goal of All In is to help organizations tap into the true potential of all their people by creating inclusive cultures that allow all employees to thrive. The primary way we do that is by eradicating the adverse gender dynamics that can hold certain people back. As a boutique consultancy that focuses on culture transformation and leadership development, we felt we were uniquely qualified to help organizations tackle this issue. We like to start with executive teams to help them understand the dynamics that are currently at play inside their organizations, and then help them articulate the specific conditions they need to create to elicit the very best from their people. Next we offer training for leaders and managers to enable them to create healthy cultures on their teams. Finally, we work with all employees to help them gain a deeper understanding of this issue and provide them with the very practical tools necessary to be an advocate at work. We’re aware this is a tough topic to broach, so we intentionally create the psychological safety necessary for all leaders and employees to have difficult conversations, recognize where they are currently, take accountability, and from there, move through the process of healing in order to commit to the ideal vision of the future.
How do you think this will change the world?
The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have awakened our collective awareness of this issue, and though there has been a lot of good that has resulted, it feels like as a society we’ve been knocked out of equilibrium on this issue. We’re searching for an answer, there is a desire for real and lasting change, but there is also a lot of fear and uncertainty. We believe this initiative will change the world because instead of perpetually struggling to forge a path forward, we can arm organizations with that path. Instead of getting stuck in a charged political conversation, we come together with men and women to talk about our shared dignity and humanity. We can help workplaces process and heal, and create their ideal future state. Imagine how many lives could be affected by this. The business case for diversity has well been established. Companies that have more women in leadership are proven to be more profitable, more engaged employees, and take on smarter risks. Everyone wins and women will be safer, better respected, and have more economic power.
Yes, absolutely. Every organization is different, some struggle with this more than others. Digging deep to actually fix this issue could lead to some really difficult moments. While our goal is not to conduct “witch hunts” inside of organizations, it is likely there will be some bad actors who will be identified. It is also possible survivors of sexual assault or harassment could be triggered by this process. At either end of the spectrum it is our goal to meet pain and fear with empathy and understanding, while also maintaining accountability throughout the process. The goal is help organizations move through the process as constructively as possible, but we realize there will be moments of real tension and emotion. We’re willing to face those moments with grace, no matter how hard they may be.
Another unintended consequence may be what we see happening a lot in response to this subject — that those who are fearful opt out of the conversation and avoid it altogether. When this happens, it creates an even greater backlash for women and minorities because those in power who opt out stop mentoring, advocating, or even spending time with the people they don’t understand. And this created an exaggerated power dynamic driven by fear and the feeling of eventual loss of status. #MeToo and Time’s Up have inspired a lot of this behavior, which is a very unfortunate unintended consequence.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
Yes, there absolutely was. I was in my car listening to an NPR story about a sexual assault survivor who, only 40 years later, felt comfortable telling her story. She said that once she opened up about her experience it inspired many other women to open up about theirs. All of a sudden it connected — how many of us have been harassed or assaulted (or worse) and have never told anyone? That was me, too, and thousands of others who’ve since tweeted that very thing. And then I realized, if we’re not speaking out about this, it’s just going to perpetuate itself. Assault and harassment are on one end of the spectrum — leading up to those issues is a pattern of systemic normalization of gender-based expectations that create the foundation upon which those things are much more likely to happen. I knew I needed to do something to help us have the difficult conversations that could actually lead to real change on this issue.
I took a few days to think about it and realized how well-positioned my company was to address the gender dynamics that hold women and other minorities back inside of large organizations. I convened a group of leaders inside of my company and pitched the idea for All In (it wasn’t called that at the time, of course). I was bracing myself for them to hate it — it was risky, it could open up a can of worms that we didn’t want to be in the middle of, and it could be seen as political. Instead, they loved it. We immediately got to work.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
- Business leaders’ acknowledgement that this is a problem that needs to be solved and current efforts (legislation included) aren’t enough.
- A desire to learn and openness to the fact we all may need to change our behavior to fix this issue.
- Organizations courageous enough to address the problem head on, and commit to a better, more equitable future.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
Develop a love of learning. Nobody can predict what skills and talents will be most valued, so the only way we can be ready is by honing our learning skills and developing a diverse range of interests.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
Standing up an office in Silicon Valley. Inclusion is such a pressing issue for so many fast growth tech companies and I think we could have a huge impact if we were closer to the center of it.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
- Not to be too set on one specific path, but to be open to whatever opportunities present themselves.
- Living in accordance with my values is much more important than the things we’re taught are signs of success: money, titles, big houses, fancy cars. I’ve have jobs where I felt like I was selling my soul and it was absolutely not worth it. Thankfully I learned that very early in my career.
- I’ve always had a keen sense that I could have a huge impact on the world (I believe we all can). And it’s my responsibility to forge my path.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
- Give people the benefit of the doubt because way more often than not they absolutely deserve it.
- Don’t be afraid to try, even if it means colossal failure. It’s still better than playing it safe.
- Don’t let the little things get to you. Focus on what’s truly important.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
There’s only one thing organizations can do to maximize their investment in their employees: create a culture where all people can thrive. That is what All In aims to do. By helping Fortune 500 organizations eradicate the adverse gender dynamics that hold back roughly 50% of their employees, they can tap into the inherent potential of each person. Study after study shows organizations are more profitable when they have greater gender diversity in leadership, and they have happier more engaged employees. They could literally maximize the ROI on their payroll spend by implementing the principles, tools, and techniques of All In.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Linked In: The Frontier Project, Ryann Lofchie
Instagram: @frontierproject, @allinrva
Twitter: @frontierproject, @ALLINRVA
Facebook: The Frontier Project, All In
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.