Interview: “A positive shift at work”

Mary Meston is the VP of Talent Management (Executive Coaching and Leadership Development) of a technology-enabled global business services company specializing in customer engagement and improving business performance for some of the world’s best brands. The Positive Culture Academy inspired her work, so I interviewed her about how she helps develop the organization. “The covid-pandemic has opened people up. This time is an opportunity to spread positivity.”

“My mission is to help people live better lives at work”, starts Mary. “Over half your life is spent at work – so make sure you get your energy and positivity there! I worked for decades in HR, coaching, and organization development – and discovered you can transform an organization at the top level and that cascades down. I’m currently working with the senior C-suite of a multinational organization with 250,000 people – and I’m blessed.”

“The Positive Culture Academy (PCA) helped me in two ways: it’s both philosophical (what’s the value of positivity?) and tactical: it offers practices to apply.
I use the PCA’s mindset checklist with statements to see how leaders align with the culture. I love the questions on this checklist. Reflect on: Do you fundamentally believe that people are good? This helps you get to the core of what you believe and who you are, and that influences everything you do.
Our company has great culture statements – but can leaders live them? For instance; we’re fanatical about staff and clients, we work with integrity, we are positive, contrarian, tenacious, transformative, and disruptive. Our culture is underpinning positive practices, and the PCA really worked for me. I could help our C-suite leaders positively influence others.”


Marcella: That’s great! I’ve noticed that the higher you rise in the pyramid the more skeptical people can be about a positive mindset. Is openness to positivity influenced by generations? The most senior leaders are in their fifties and sixties – and they seem less thrilled by concepts like thriving, abundance, positivity at work. What is your experience?

Mary: “I recognize generational different mindsets. You and I come from a different era than our adolescent children. I’m the naysayer in the house. My children have a positive outlook and anything’s possible for them. Some more senior executives thought they had to work in an office – not from home. But they adapted pretty well when the pandemic hit!
How positivity is perceived might also vary geographically. I’m fortunate to be working with this forward-thinking company. Certain industries seem to be more conservative and command-and-control, maybe. But once they get a taste of positive leadership and culture, they want more!”

Marcella: The research is compelling and even if you don’t believe in positivity you are influenced by positivity around you. What do you think of national culture differences?
Applying positive practices seems easier for the USA, and Western-Europe, than for other parts of the world. I did a client project in Eastern-Europe and when you smile too much, people don’t trust you in that culture – they might think: what do you want from me? Are you going to deceive me? It’s so important to customize the practices to the culture you’re dealing with.

Mary: “Yes, there are cultural, generational, and geographical variations. Yet, positivity works. I also think that the covid-pandemic has opened people up. It’s a leverage point. Finally, there’s proof that anything is possible. What happens can be good or bad. The world is volatile. But if bad can happen, why can’t good happen? Let’s use this logic!
In the pandemic, people come together to support each other, there are platforms to share positive moments, there’s more creativity. That’s how most of us get through.

Why not make the most of your work life? You spend more time with your co-workers than with your family. Since covid, I see a shift in the world of work. In video calls, people show more of their “whole self”, sitting in their rooms with kids, pets, paintings on the wall. You’re seen as a professional, but also a mother, a neighbor – you’re a whole person, not just that professional.

Pandemic empathy

We’ve been developing from the industrial to the information age to this new era. This is the community or social age – where whole people matter. Maybe this will be a positive age. I see it in small firms since the pandemic and a few larger firms like ours that are embracing this: what good can we bring to the world?
At the time the pandemic hit, we’ve also seen social unrest and a new urgency for DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion). This time is an opportunity to spread positivity.”

Marcella: The same happens in the Netherlands – we have our version of Black Lives Matter. There’s a growing awareness of the slavery and colonization that the Netherlands took part in. There’s a revival of empathy: what have we done in the past? We’re sorry! We also adjust some national racist traditions. This started before the pandemic, but covid makes everything stand out. Both empathy and intolerance is still a part of societies.

Mary: “Our company is becoming our own public company and shareholders are demanding inclusive leaders. It’s become more mainstream to strive for DEI and practice positivity. Covid accelerated this. Initially, the pandemic was an “oh-no moment”! We quickly turned to ask: What’s the good that can come from this? How can we learn and improve because of this? The pandemic has shifted all of us to work from home. That’s huge!
It’s allowing us to be whole – even if you juggle kids, chores, noisy neighbors, and so on. It’s so much better than spending 18 hours a day in factories and never see your family – as our ancestors did in the 19th century. Or doing 60-hour work weeks like our fathers. We can have a flexible life, enjoy the whole of being, and learn to balance opposites. We have more time for development and creativity.”

You matter

Mary provides one-on-one executive coaching, but also team coaching and learning & development. “We work in teams, so we use Tuckman’s stages of group development; forming-storming-norming-performing. From a positive mindset, you can ask powerful questions, such as: How can we make storming good?
I help people improve as a team – at their request. I’m available if they want to improve or solve an issue. I just worked with some innovative people who had to start working together quickly. I helped them find each other’s strengths and see how each one fits in – instead of focusing on the gaps. You can show them the tools to open up, how to share feedback, and how to feel that they belong. So, they could speed up their team process and perform well together.”

“We deliver next-generation customer experience and helps companies better connect with their customers. We help each customer with intention, we don’t make them feel like a number. You cannot offer that level and quality of customer experience when you don’t treat your employees positively. You have to have happy, healthy people to serve the customer well. We want to create a specific experience. This call, this person, right now – is the most important that happens now. This is not the delivery center of the past with cubicle hell and unrelenting pressure. It’s not always a nice job to offer customer support but there are also great moments when you make a difference to someone. You matter.

Given the 40 countries and 150 languages – our corporation is very diverse, but the culture statements guide what we do. We’re fanatical about staff and clients: the culture is the glue. Our valuable asset is our people. When covid hit, some organizations let go of employees. We did not. It reflects who we are as a company – and we’re living the culture statements.”

Marcella: That is hopeful: developing a positive culture in a large, multinational corporation.

Mary: “Yes, we did innumerable deep dive culture workshops with all the leaders around the globe- and every team can be a hot spot of positive culture. We believe in this. Large organizations have a bigger responsibility – they can make a difference. How do you move the world? The structure of organizations is there. Where else can we influence large groups? In organizations, in everyday work life! You matter: look at your impact in your circle of influence. It’s all you can do – help the people around you learn – and that is a lot.”

© Marcella Bremer, 2020. All rights reserved.

You can still join the Positive Culture Academy at a covid discount: 50% off. Treat yourself this Thanksgiving and spread positive practices at work!

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