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“For a fantastic work culture, create a workplace that allows employees freedom to fail.” with Eileen Scully and Phil Laboon

Create a workplace that allows employees freedom to fail. Experimentation and innovation don’t exist within perfection. Back off of driving to perfection and focus instead on what are the learnings. Every employee should have a space where they can innovate without fear. As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic […]


Create a workplace that allows employees freedom to fail. Experimentation and innovation don’t exist within perfection. Back off of driving to perfection and focus instead on what are the learnings. Every employee should have a space where they can innovate without fear.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eileen Scully, author, international speaker, and founder of The Rising Tides (therisingtides.com), a consulting firm focused on improving the workplace for women. In June of 2016, she was honored to be invited by the Obama White House to participate in the United State of Women, one of five thousand global advocates for women and girls. In August of 2018, she keynoted the IEEE’s first Women’s event in Tunisia, and delivered her first TEDx Talk in September 2018 in Sfax, Tunisia. In June of 2019, her book, “In the Company of Men: How Women can Succeed in a World Built Without Them,” will be published by Publish Your Purpose Press.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After 25 years working in and around some amazing companies, clients and colleagues, I figured it was time for me to apply all that I’ve learned in an exciting new way. The Rising Tides is focused on accelerating the success of women in the workplace.

My goal with The Rising Tides is to share what I’ve learned from working with dynamic, accomplished, intelligent women so that our associates, our daughters and our mentees can rise the tides in their organizations and lift each other, collectively. We will all benefit from sharing and improving on our own sense of professional generosity.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Out of the blue, I was contacted last year by a women in Tunisia, who was planning the first conference for Women in Engineering through the IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organization, to speak at their event. Not only was that a tremendous honor, but from that, I was invited to deliver my first TEDx Talk, also in Tunisia, the following month. Neither of those events were part of my business plan for 2018, but I was thrilled to participate in both.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My book, “In the Company of Men: How Women Can Succeed in a World Built Without Them” is going to be published in a few months, and I’m really excited about that. I’ve been working on it since 2016, and we’re finally in the end zone. The book shares stories of women in very male-dominated spaces who have achieved remarkable success, and — more importantly — are making that path easier for others to follow. I’m hopeful that everyone who reads the book can take away some ideas on how to be a stronger ally, a better champion for others in their workplaces and their communities.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

Only half? In all seriousness, I’m surprised that number isn’t higher. In my work, I help companies transform their corporate cultures, so I’m in the trenches with employees who often share with me the depth of their dissatisfaction. Much of it can roll up into three categories: 1) I’m not heard/respected, 2) My boss is a jerk, and 3) I am in the wrong job.

Personality and skills alignment are crucial across the lifespan of an employee, and rarely proactively addressed by organizations. Couple that with so many employees feeling like they’re never off the clock, increasing demands of work and home competing against each other, and the highly competitive nature of the workplace, and it’s remarkable that number is as low as it is.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

Unhappy employees are a massive soft cost to every organization. Motivation and attention are both critical to productivity, not to mention the contagious nature of dissatisfaction. Identifying early when employees are unhappy, working to determine why and what can be fixed with mutual commitment, measurement, and attention. But it takes awareness from the organization and a focused effort to get ahead of it, to make it right and maintain a positive work culture.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Employ a version of the salesforce.com “Women’s Surge” which requires that every meeting have at least 30% women, particularly in meetings of consequence when large scale decisions are being made. I recommend to my clients that they also require people of color be in that room. Otherwise important voices and perspectives are not considered.

Acknowledge from the very top that you’re not always going to do or get everything right. Acknowledge quickly when you really got something wrong, and what you’re doing to fix it.

Create a workplace that allows employees freedom to fail. Experimentation and innovation don’t exist within perfection. Back off of driving to perfection and focus instead on what are the learnings. Every employee should have a space where they can innovate without fear.

Fund and reward the people who manage the employee resource groups. Too many of them rely on volunteers, and as we talked about earlier, people are already stretched too thin. Show the corporate investment by providing budget and bonuses for those who step up to plan the programming.

Eliminate asking about salary history in the application process. Budget for new openings, and hire on value. State publicly that you are doing this.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

Every person can work harder every day to listen more closely to others, particularly those who do not look, pray, eat, or love as they do. Get closer to people about whom you know little, sit in their spaces, ask honest questions, seek to learn. If each of is did this, daily, with intention, I believe we’d be in a much stronger place.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I’m somewhere between a journalist and an anthropologist. When I meet people, I ask a ton of questions to try to better understand where they’re coming from and how we might find a comfortable place to start. When I work with clients, I’m gathering as much information about their organization as I can, and much of that is through observation to vet what I’m being told. But I like to put people at ease, make them laugh, and also help them understand that every other organization is also dealing with these issues with varying levels of success.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There have been so many, but there was one event that catapulted my confidence at a critical time in my career. I had just taken a new position, and it was the point in my career that I went from having a job to truly having a career. My boss came to me and told me that the following day, a team of VPs from a very important client were coming in and I was going to give a part of the presentation. I panicked, because I felt I was too new and didn’t know the service well enough, but I also knew he would not have put me there if he didn’t believe I could do it. So I did it, and any fears I’ve had about public speaking or who was in my audience were forever shattered.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Every day I try with intention to truly make workplaces better for women all over the world, which I believe will make workplaces better for everyone. On both macro and micro levels, I hope what I am learning and sharing helps people reflect on their daily interactions and move towards a more supportive and cooperative workplace and society.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my most popular talks is titled “Always Say YES” — so many of us are really good at talking ourselves out of things, rather than taking risks and chances that oftentimes lead to bigger and bolder experiences than we may have dreamed. If I hadn’t said YES, if I had stayed in comfortable, predictable jobs, relationships, experiences, my life would not be full of the amazing people I’ve met along the way, the incredible adventures I’ve had all over the globe, and the remarkable things I’ve learned about myself and the world by doing so. Saying NO is easy, but saying YES is what makes life unforgettable.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Because I work in the space of clearing the path of obstacles that prevent women from achieving parity and success in the world of men, I would love to see 100% reversible, 100% reliable, affordable, and accessible birth control available on demand, globally, to anyone who wants it, any time, without restriction. When women can control reproduction, we can more easily manage our education, our finances, our careers, and our wellbeing.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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