“How to create a positive culture.” With Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated & Amanda Mausner

First and foremost, establish a culture where employees feel truly cared about and supported. If employees are comfortable being themselves at work and have strong relationships with their managers and colleagues, feedback will be viewed as normal and part of their long-term development. At Notion, this type of environment was built into our culture form […]

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First and foremost, establish a culture where employees feel truly cared about and supported. If employees are comfortable being themselves at work and have strong relationships with their managers and colleagues, feedback will be viewed as normal and part of their long-term development. At Notion, this type of environment was built into our culture form the start: we want to see all employees succeed, feel supported, and focus on their goals, and because of that, hearing all kinds of feedback feels normal.

Asa part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Mausner.

Amanda Mausner is an organizational consultant and certified leadership, life, and career coach (ACC) with over 500 hours of coaching individuals on how to navigate communication, relationships, work, and being human. Being human is a skill, and she has a knack for helping others build those skills. Amanda’s experience spans working and consulting within start-ups and Fortune 500 companies, teaching college courses, and facilitating workshops for professionals.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Although my path has been non-linear, in retrospect, I can see how all my experiences to date would be relevant in my coaching and consulting career. Immediately after college I joined AmeriCorps, where I was placed to work at a nonprofit organization whose mission was to help develop social and emotional skills for underserved youth to prevent them from dropping out of school. From there, my academic interests in sociology led me to pursue graduate school for a Ph.D., but I ended up pausing at the Master’s level out of a desire to gain experience in the business world as a consultant.

I was drawn to consulting because of my love for qualitative research, being able to use both analytical and creative skills, and always being able to learn something new about different clients and industries. However, my first experience in consulting missed the human side of transformation that I felt called to do in my career. I wanted to make a more direct and personal impact on individuals, so I started to gravitate towards coaching (after I discovered coaching by using a coach myself). Eventually, I studied to become a certified ICF (International Coaching Federation) coach and immersed myself in psychology and working with as many people as possible to get experience. When I finally found a home at Notion, an organization aligned to who I am today and one that values the human side of change consulting, I’ve been able to happily use all of my skills as a coach and consultant.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Notion offers a progressive, modern, and unique take on traditional management consulting. We are a group of doers — roll-up-your-sleeve, detail-oriented, and passionate types who all value trust, autonomy, and flexibility. Notion stresses authenticity and bringing your full self to work. But it’s more than that — it offers the opportunity to make real, human connections in our consulting work, which I haven’t found at most other firms.

As a company, we focus on outcomes and results, rather than micromanaging employee time in front of a computer. There’s an emphasis on doing work when and how works best for you, as long as it meets and/or exceeds the client needs. When I was researching companies, I came across this video that one of the partners, Christine Andrukonis, had filmed, which was slightly casual but effective in addressing Notion’s work from anywhere policy and I sensed the inherent trust and energy on the team, and I knew that I had to inquire and learn more.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Every client challenge is unique, but recently, while working with a long-term client around engaging leaders and employees, we were asked to facilitate and support conversations around race and racial injustice. These conversations, which centered around a topic that’s long been of interest to me, have been very powerful. Being able to facilitate them was the most synchronistic moment of my career — when my past academic life merged with my coaching background, and my present consulting career. Sometimes things align in your career so well that it feels like it was just meant to be. It’s a good reminder to always keep your eyes open to be available to what finds you. Being able to support an organization to take this important step towards improving diversity & inclusion has been a moving and memorable experience.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It didn’t seem funny at the time, but now that I have some perspective, I realize that my funniest mistake when starting out is assuming I had to know the entire direction and plan for my career and being hard on myself for not knowing. Over the years I’ve learned to embrace my path and not be so rigid about knowing all of the answers. That has allowed me to find so much more confidence, and has kept me open to new ideas and shifts in the direction of my career.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Burnout in general can be high in the corporate world. Right now, with the pandemic, a civil rights movement, and so much else that’s uncertain, we’re all feeling the heavier load.

Help avoid burnout by helping employees thrive: Start by instilling empathy and inclusion into the culture and the conversation. Create a culture of trust, creativity, and empowerment — this isn’t an overnight shift, but these are the qualities that are needed to exist in an environment that thrives. Give generous PTO and ensure people take it. Build in opportunities for growth and learning connected to the individuals’ passions and organizational capabilities. Encourage people to be themselves at work. Ensure employees are aware of their strengths and have opportunities to use them on a daily basis.

How can you respond to burnout? Understand the where/why/how around employee burnout. Determine if your employees feel a sense of meaning and purpose with their work, and if not, start having conversations about making necessary changes, offering outlets and ways for them to get reenergized with work. Encourage breaks and wellness. Be extra sensitive right now because every employee is being impacted in a personal way, especially people of color.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership to me is an individual who wants better for their teams and is willing to take personal risks to make it happen. Leadership means bringing out the best in others and being willing to sacrifice certain things for the benefit of the people/organization. A leader is someone who takes responsibility and is unafraid of being wrong, and inspires others to be and do better.

Most recently, we’ve seen a lot of great leadership in action. One thing that resonated with me was when certain leaders of large organizations decided to take pay cuts to avoid layoffs during the pandemic.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

First and most important I recommend disconnecting from your mind’s “chatter” and connecting to your inner self. I tend to focus on my breath and center through movement or words of encouragement. For example, I might go for a walk, meditate, do yoga, look in the mirror and speak affirmations to myself such as, you got thiskeep breathing, you have everything you need to know (it sounds silly but it’s very good for preparation), or I’ll play music or talk to a friend who is a supportive.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

As a coach my job is to give feedback so I’ve done this countless times, and I’ve also managed a remote team where I was training and giving feedback, so I have quite a bit of experience helping people grow and develop and become better at what they do.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

Giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader because it shows that you care about a person’s development and well-being. Giving feedback in the right way builds trust, transparency, inclusion, and models healthy communication. It’s also a chance for leaders to communicate their expectations but also push their employees to grow; it’s a way to mentor and teach employees tips and lessons they have learned along the way that can help empower and improve the employee’s life.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Here are some suggestions to set yourself up for delivering remote feedback.

1) First and foremost, establish a culture where employees feel truly cared about and supported. If employees are comfortable being themselves at work and have strong relationships with their managers and colleagues, feedback will be viewed as normal and part of their long-term development. At Notion, this type of environment was built into our culture form the start: we want to see all employees succeed, feel supported, and focus on their goals, and because of that, hearing all kinds of feedback feels normal.

2) Be intentional about your conversation. First ask yourself, what is the intent of the conversation and what am I trying to achieve? Know your intentions and consider the impact of what you deliver. Even with the best intentions, there can be negative impact, especially when on video chat or phone. Ensure you have all of the facts of a situation and are justified for delivering the feedback.

3) Be thoughtful about the words that you choose. Be kind. Use a non-authoritative tone. Treat the employee well and use compassion. Take time before feedback discussions to think about what you need to say, how you want to say it, and how your message might be received. Provide specific examples of behaviors that need to be addressed, and give employees time to process and respond to the feedback. If you want an employee to be more focused and engaged on team calls, give specific times that you noticed they weren’t, and examples of what you would like to see.

4) Be self-aware in how you share your feedback. As a leader, it can be so helpful to share how you have grown or what you received as feedback early on in your career so you can use that vulnerability to create a safe and open discussion. Sharing a misstep or a skill that you improved over time will make the conversation more comfortable before turning it over to the employee focus. Be mindful of how you share and always give feedback on the phone or video (preferred). Avoid delivering constructive criticism via email or in writing before speaking with the person. All of us can remember that time an email was completely taken out of context and misconstrued. So avoid emailing negative feedback at all costs.

5) Lean into discomfort. For many, giving feedback is uncomfortable. Having uncomfortable conversations and giving feedback are like working muscles at the gym that you don’t want to exercise — you need to do it consistently and with intention, otherwise you might avoid doing it altogether, even though you know it’s important. Knowing that it can be uncomfortable and embracing that very feeling will help you do it more.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

I would never recommend email — call them, Zoom, or do a FaceTime — unless you are reiterating or repeating feedback that you have already delivered prior or addressing behaviors that have been discussed already. Just avoid email though, trust me!

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

If there’s specific feedback regarding an incident, provide it as soon after the incident as possible — just be sure to give yourself time to prepare exactly what you will say, and how you will say it. (See the steps in my earlier answer.)

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

A great boss is passionate, grounded, dedicated to their work, and has low ego. They are also conscious of their presence, kind, supportive, encouraging of growth, and are a team player. When I was working at the non-profit after college that I mentioned earlier, I had an amazing boss who was the founder of the organization. He was passionate about making an impact and was a good person who cared about his employees. I remember my co-worker who was a bit older than me saying, “Carlo is a great boss, don’t ever take that for granted because they are hard to come by.”

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. 🙂

Ideally, I would like to inspire many movements! But one of the shifts at the top of my list would be a movement to include new topics in our educational curriculum such as emotional intelligence, self-awareness, communication, and some life skills such as mental health and budgeting. I think our education system is missing some important subjects that could really have a large benefit to our society. I’m also passionate about criminal justice and career pathing but I’ll save that for later.

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

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

-Steve Jobs

In my 20s, it was harder to see my vision because I didn’t want a cookie cutter career and I didn’t have the foresight into all of the possibilities. But I followed my interests, networked, learned a lot, and built up experiences which have all led me here. This quote speaks to me because there’s no doubt that all my dots connect, but I could only see that now, looking backwards. If you’re unsure of how your dots connect, spend some time listing out your experiences and think about the through-lines. What has been most exciting or meaningful for you in each role? You may be surprised by what you find.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Notion Consulting’s Website

LinkedIn and email


Email: [email protected]

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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