2020 has been a huge lesson for everyone, both on a personal and organizational level. Undoubtedly, managers and HR departments are facing new challenges that could not be predicted and building changes that will eventually lead companies to a better version of themselves. Jim Knight, keynote speaker, best-selling author and podcaster, shared with us his advices to the new generations, COVID-19 and the importance of putting people first.
- You have worked with iconic brands; what are the common denominators when it comes to challenges that you find in all of them no matter the industry?
Iconic brands that have real staying power seem to have worked out many ongoing challenges, but other legacy brands or ones that are first to the market have the same challenges I always encounter. 1) They focus too much on the product (vs. people), which eventually has no differentiation. 2) There is a lack of enterprise-wide communication, so confusion creeps in across the brand. 3) The brand is too slow to pivot and move with customers’ needs, ultimately becoming irrelevant. 4) The company becomes so big that they lose sight of the importance of strong “employee engagement”.
- Knowing that Millennial and Gen Z generations aim to change jobs frequently because they are seeking new opportunities to grow, what would you recommend to companies and entrepreneurs on how to build an attractive brand where people want to work and stay?
Knowing that this is important to today’s workforce, it should be all-hands-on-deck initiate with a collective focus from the brand’s leaders. Great pay, benefits and physical work environment are going to be “price of admission” items, but the ones to really focus on is addressing items that are important to today’s generations and truly rock their world. These include 1) providing ongoing development—personal and professional 2) implementing meaningful reward & recognition programs 3) providing flex work hours—for some opportunities to work from home or to come and go 4) creating self-directed and/or clear pathways for advancement—into management or next level pay & responsibilities 5) implementing a robust Mentorship program—where new team members can learn from more seasoned leaders and create meaningful connections 6) providing the best resources available to do the job—whether technology, materials, environment, support staff, etc. 7) engaging in authentic philanthropy to make the job bigger than a paycheck—like donating a portion of profits, offering vegan/vegetarian options, implementing recycling programs, volunteering for local charities, etc 8) creating an environment of fun—where team members are surprised and delighted from time to time.
- What do you think is the thing that makes you different from the rest of the HR speakers? At plain sight, you do not have the regular formal “look” we see in other speakers, but there is definitely something that makes you different; what is it?
Unpredictability. I pride myself on finding the right balance between education and entertainment, which I call “edu-tainment”. By immersing myself in the spirit of Rock ’n Roll (via spikey hair, blue jeans, music orientation, using band & brand analogies, etc), I tend to resonate with audience members who need some meaty professional real-world takeaways to amp up their business but also some bold showmanship to keep their interest. My goal is to always provide both.
- What made you decide to become a Rock Star Leader? How did you get into the personal development industry, and why do you stay?
My initial background was in Music & Education. I went to university to be a Music major and hopefully a professional singer. Discovering that you actually had to be extremely good to do that (which I wasn’t talented enough), after I received my music degree, I focused on children’s education and became a middle school teacher for 6 years in public education. After taking a summer job at Hard Rock Cafe initially as a host and a manager, I turned toward being a trainer. This eventually led me to my ultimate career position as head of L&D for the global Hard Rock brand. My journey to becoming a “rock star leader” was a long a winding road, but pulling the levers of Music, Education and Hospitality were the perfect stepping stones to getting to that level. Whether it was during my two decades at Hard Rock or all the time being a keynote speaker now, teaching personal development is a massively rewarding endeavor. Experiencing people’s lives change because of my influence is Nirvana.
- What advice would you give to new generations so they can become Rock Star Leaders in a constantly changing world?
I would recommend to not take the job for granted. Even though it is an “employee’s world” these days (and they hold all the cards), to truly reach iconic heights in a career and become a rock star leader, there are some basic things to do, like 1) bring your passion and commitment to the job every day 2) use what my friend Kat Cole calls your “hustle muscle”—out work everyone else 3) become a true student of the business and look for opportunities to grow 4) invite yourself to the party—look for opportunities to get involved in decision-making opportunities 5) find 1-2 mentors who can help you grow—at least 1 inside the company and 1 outside to learn from, vent and discuss issues 6) be nimble—be prepared to deal with change and challenges as they arise 7) become the leader for others that you would want in a leader.
- How would you define yourself in a word or a phrase?
I’m an Influencer.
- Did COVID-19 bring changes to the cultures of organizations?
Sure, the ones that were great showed everyone why they continue to be a rock star brand and the ones that were not good at all just revealed themselves more as to why they struggle. As leaders came to the realization that their business was really about to take a hit financially, the ones that prepared and took care of their team members are the ones that will continue to produce sustainable results. Part of that process may have included 1) keeping the team employed 2) keeping the team engaged through virtual communication 3) providing the tools/resources needed to be productive from home 4) providing free learning opportunities while the team was on lockdown 5) communicating all of the procedures put in place to keep the team members and customers safe.
- Many specialists are saying that this crisis is a chance to see the best in people and organizations. What would you recommend to make the best out of this situation?
This situation is horrible, especially the lost lives, destroyed careers, bankrupt businesses and the ongoing stress and depression of the public. However, I do agree that there is some good that will come out of the crisis. Families have reconnected and spent quality time together. Society has had an opportunity to get back in touch with nature. Businesses have been able to pivot and reorganize their offering. Those companies that really amped up their service delivery to customers and focused on protecting their team members will be rewarded with loyalty for years to come.
- What would you say are the keys to create a culture that rocks?
There are several things a leader could do to create, maintain or revolutionize a culture that rocks…and I detail many key areas in my book, Culture That Rocks. However, the greatest way to do this is to focus on human behavior. Surrounding yourself with an army of brand ambassadors will mask all other issues a brand might have. I would focus all of my energy on enhancing every area of the employee life cycle—recruiting, interviewing, hiring, onboarding, training, developing, communicating, rewarding, recognizing and retaining rock stars. This is how you get to icon status. Everything else is just short term initiatives.
- What advice would you give someone changing careers?
Be appreciative and go all in. It’s not always easy changing careers, especially if it was not your decision, but taking on a position to represent a brand and also provide for your family is part of life’s journey. Few people actually find their perfect career early in life, which means most of the jobs they have are just stepping stones. However, regardless if a person is transitioning into their ultimate career or just another stop along the way, they should bring passion, commitment and their best work everyday.
- What is the most interesting trend for 2020 related to leadership and development?
For 2020, it would have to be how to work, learn and provide content remotely. The era of virtual learning and communicating is now critical. Individuals and companies have to figure out how to keep teams engaged, provide distanced-based learning opportunities, allow flexibility for team members to work from home, and encourage self-development with external content online. As part of that, brands need to invest in video equipment and elearning processes to up their virtual learning game. For 2021, it’s going to be about “employee engagement”. Although companies will have a better selection of talent due to the massive workforce reductions and business closures brought about from COVID-19, the fight for the best talent will still be important. The L&D role will be in creating an environment (in person and from a distance) of continuous learning. To get rock star talent to stay with a company, the brand is going to have to love on them even more…and part of that is in education. HR professionals need to look for world class ways to keep team members engaged.
A movie: The Greatest Showman
A book: Black Sheep
An artist: Bono
A role model: Tim Tebow
A hobby: American Football, Collecting Star Trek memorabilia
A place in the world: Bali, Indonesia