Troy Blaser (00:05):
Hello. Welcome to another episode of Simply Feedback. This podcast is brought to you by learning bridge, a worldwide leader in custom 360 degree surveys each month. In the Simply Feedback podcast, we bring you interesting conversations with professionals who are passionate about developing current and future leaders with the power of feedback. Our guest today is Alan Richter. Alan is the founder and president of QED consulting, a 31-year-old company based in New York. He has consulted to corporations and organizations for many years in multiple capacities, primarily in the areas of leadership, values, culture, and change. He's a recognized pioneer in the diversity and ethics fields. Dr Richter is the creator of the global diversity game and award winning training tool and co-creator of the global diversity survey and other innovative products which help organizations measure their diversity and ethics initiatives respectively against global best practices. I've known Alan for a long time as we have worked together on his surveys including the global diversity survey. Alan, it's great to have you with us today. I'm excited about our conversation.
Alan Richter (01:12):
Thank you Troy. Great to be with you too and look forward to our conversation.
Troy Blaser (01:16):
So we heard a little bit about you in that bio that I read through, but would you just tell us and our audience maybe start with some of the things that you're most passionate about?
Alan Richter (01:25):
Yeah, you gave the sort of background to my business, but there's more to me than just the business. And so I should add you probably wondering where I'm from with a strange accent. So I'm South African originally. I left South Africa as a young man under the apartheid system, which is important to things that I'm passionate about. It's about fighting apartheid. And that took me to the UK where I did a doctorate in philosophy and became instantly unemployed. And then I married an American and she dragged me to New York. So when I introduced myself, I like to say that my heart is South African, my head is English and my hands, all American. And I'm most passionate about diversity and inclusion. And that obviously reflects very much my upbringing in a society where that wasn't valued. And my other passion is around the ethics and integrity, which is I guess related to my studies and philosophy and that'll connect to feedback in the sense that I strongly and passionately believe that great leaders, global leaders have to have high integrity and to lead inclusively. So both of those are critical components of leadership and part of what feedback should include that was issues around ethics on those issues around diversity and inclusion.
Troy Blaser (02:32):
That's fantastic. That's background that I hadn't ever known specifically. I had recognized the South African accent, but I hadn't made the connection to diversity. Obviously coming from your background coming from South Africa, why that would be so important to you?
Alan Richter (02:45):
Well sure. I mean we call ourselves the rainbow nation today, but when I grew up under apartheid, it was a very, very different South Africa. And I think my awakening as it were at the university as a young man around the inequities in South Africa is what's continued in my professional life as a consultant in this area.
Troy Blaser (03:04):
So you said earned your doctorate of philosophy in England and instantly became unemployed. What was the transition then to go from that into starting QED consulting? How did that come about?
Alan Richter (03:17):
So when you have a PhD in philosophy, there's not a lot you can do formally. I mean you can teach others philosophy and they were 500 people applying for positions. So in order to survive and being a South African in the UK at the time I had no rights. I couldn't take a proper job. I had to be a consultant. So in a sense philosophy turned me into a consultant and I learned to get jobs and gigs and I did a lot of different things. I was teaching at the open university and writing and editing and I was a jazz reviewer, I mean, anything to make a living. But then I carried that with me when I married my American wife and she dragged me back to New York. Yeah. And started consulting in the States and ended up in management consulting. That's where I ended up doing my work and instantly saw the connections between all of my philosophical background and training as well as my life experience and how valuable that was to the field. I mean certainly the ethics field that's obvious, but also to the diversity field because in the 1980s that was a a time when diversity was coming into its own. In a sense, there was some very prominent thinkers and and they were in important writings at the time beyond race and gender, the Roosevelt Thomas, it was off to the Hudson report which warned the American business world that diversity was coming fast and furious and they better get used to it. So my timing was probably convenient or lucky in the sense of when I got to the States. Yeah.
Troy Blaser (04:38):
Yeah. I think that's fascinating. I think you really bring an interesting perspective with your background and academic training to be able to come to an organization and really share some ideas to share some themes and things with them that are probably new to a lot of businesses, especially in the United States. I wanted to ask as you work with different clients, what are some of the common issues that you encounter and as you work with them?
Alan Richter (05:01):
So we do three things as a, as a company, as QED. Yeah, we do do consulting work, which is heavily around strategy and around assessment. And then we do training. That's always been our bread and butter. We've been doing management training and diversity and ethics and leadership training for years and years and years. And then the third piece is really the development of instructional products. I'm proud to say we are their co-authors of five self assessment tools, the global diversity survey, the global leadership survey, something called the AEIO. It is a agenda assessment and there's one on coaching. And then we also have co-authors of two, I think very important benchmarking tools. One is called the global diversity and inclusion benchmarks. And the other is the global ethics and integrity benchmarks. But all of this is about gaining information, gaining insight and uncovering what's going on in an organization. Even if it's individuals, we have the opportunity to aggregate the data so we can get a more global systemic picture about what is going. I should also add who we work with. We've worked in over 70 countries a lot in the United nations system. We worked with the UNICEF and the UN DP and the UN aid. I mean the list goes on and on. We also do a lot of work in the corporate world, mostly with large multinational organizations. Some of my most interesting clients besides the UN have been NASA and more recently I've been working with CERN, which is another amazing organization.
Troy Blaser (06:24):
That's fantastic. When you have an engagement with a client, is your work typically one-on-one where you're working with different individuals or is it you're teaching a class or a course or is it a mixture of both?
Alan Richter (06:35):
A mixture of both, but more the latter. More the group we brought in to do some work with a team or with the whole organization. In many cases, you know, they want us to improve a particular skill set or a particular competency. I mean something like the busy and inclusion. I mean that, just to give you a quick example, at the international civil aviation organization, that's one of the UN agencies. They had us do a diversity training for everyone. They made that mandatory. Now they are about to embark on team building and on ethics. So I don't want to say that's a typical engagement, but that is fairly typical.
Troy Blaser (07:07):
Yeah, sure. When, when you're, when you're working with an organization like the UN or other organizations similar to that, these NGOs, is there a lot of red tape to deal with or is it fairly smooth?
Alan Richter (07:19):
Some are much better or worse than others. I mean they're all over the map. Uh, but generally speaking, yes, anything that's a governmental organization and that includes the UN will tend to be more bureaucratic than corporations and corporations again, are going to vary significantly by industry. I'll never forget, this is going back about 20 years I happened to be working with Con Edison at the same time that we were working with MTV. I mean you talk about two different cultures. I mean the contrast in terms of risk averse and you know, open to risk and, and conventional and unconventional and formal and informal. I mean it just goes on and on and on. And I was so for us, that's wonderful experience to have the diversity of our client base. And then the other big thing is of course, working globally, we work across many different cultures and again, we see huge differences in cultures for companies and organizations in certain countries versus others. Even within a company or an organization. You know, the regional offices may be very, very different from one another. Yeah.
Troy Blaser (08:19):
Yeah, absolutely. We've talked a little bit about some of your assessment tools. Would you pick one of those tools and maybe dive in a little bit on the detail for a minute? Does that work?
Alan Richter (08:30):
Yeah. So the global diversity survey actually was designed in the, in the early two thousands, because there was nothing out there that did a global job on assessing and measuring how we deal with diversity and inclusion based on the book called the diversity directive that was written 20 plus years ago by Robert Hales and Armita Mendez, Russell and Ami and I developed the GDS based on the H3 model. And that's the head, the heart and the hand. So the logic here is that in order to be systemic around diversity and inclusion, you have to be insightful. That's the head work. You have to be inclusive. That's the hot work and you have to be adaptive. That's the hands work. So I think of it as cognitive, emotional and behavioral. You need all three. And typically when we do workshops, we focused on the head work. What's the business case? What is the definitional stuff? You know, got to focus on the hard work and how do we build openness and inclusion and empathy and understanding how the points of view and being able to see things from another perspective. And then the hands work is being able to take action to actually solve problems in a collaborative way and engage across differences in meaningful ways. So head, heart and hand, getting the cognitive emotional, behavioral is critical. The, the next part of that model for the GDS is we work in different sort of circles or levels. So the three levels that we measure for the GDS are self, others and world. Self, others and world up against head, heart and hand. The sort of horizontal and verticals creates a 3x3 matrix of nine competencies. So in the head itself, awareness, understanding differences and objectivity. And then at sensitivity, openness and fairness at the heart column. And then it's engagement, communication and collaborative problem solving at the world level. You know, if you were a perfect human being, Troy or if I were one, we'd be brilliant at all those competencies and none of us are. So the purpose of the tool of the GDS is firstly, it's developmental. That's critical. So it's to measure where our relative strengths and weaknesses and then to focus on which box we want to really develop further. And for each of the nine boxes there are three strategies and for each strategy there's a template of an action plan and so you decide on which strategy you want to focus on and then you either accept as is or you modify or rewrite the action plan and that's your followup work after you've taken the survey.
Alan Richter (10:50):
I should mention there are two versions of the GDS. There's what we call the leader version and the general version, so depending on who's in the audience in your workshop, if it's a leadership group or management group, then they get the management version. The tool is exactly the same in terms of the items and the model that three by three the nine competencies, but the strategies are different for the general audience. For somebody who is not a supervisor, manager, leader compared to those who are leaders, managers. So it's just a higher level strategy and action plan, but otherwise it's the same tool and we can combine or differentiate the scores based on whoever's in the room. Usually it's a management group I have to say for diversity work we do sometimes work with the general employee base was staff based but tends to be more at the managerial level.
Troy Blaser (11:34):
Sure. Do you sense any recurring themes as you work across different organizations even before you come into a company? You could say this is something that we see frequently as a challenge for an organization around diversity that they work on?
Alan Richter (11:48):
Well, when we look at the nine boxes and the three by three matrix, that model the most weakness in organizations, the most common, it's not every organization but the most common is the head column, the inside column as opposed to the heart and hands. Which means that the self-awareness and the understanding differences and the objectivity in the addressing bias, unconscious bias are usually the weaknesses aggregate wise, not individually, but aggregate wise. For organizations. That's not to say that you know, organizations could have a weakness in the hands of the heart, but businesses tend to be more action oriented, which is why, you know, in terms of hands, you see typically highest scores on the hands as opposed to the hand and heart. The heart one is interesting because I think we do see very big differences between a corporation, let's say, versus a nonprofit organization like the United Nations.
Alan Richter (12:37):
UN organizations tend to be very high on heart for obvious reasons. They have to be inclusive. They have global organizations. It's part of their DNA. It's part of the whole purpose of their organization.
Troy Blaser (12:47):
Is the motivation different for those employees working in a nonprofit?
Alan Richter (12:52):
Yeah, I think that people, I mean it's a huge generalization, but I think people who'd go into work in nonprofits tend to be more, more generous in the sense of inclusion, more inclusive, let's put it that way. Just generally speaking, because their mission is to help the world to change the world. I mean, look at all the UN agencies, you know, it's to provide food security as it's look after the children. It's the look after refugees or whatever. That's very different to working in a pharmaceutical and you're trying to, you know, yeah, you're trying to come up with a better drug, but it's really the sell the drug and to increase the profitability of the organization.
Alan Richter (13:27):
I don't mean to be cynical here, but there is a difference between, I in nonprofit nonprofits tend to be more generous in the inclusive perspective than for-profits.
Troy Blaser (13:37):
That makes sense. Thinking of your other survey tools, is there one that besides the GDS that you find to be particularly useful or interesting as you bring it into an organization?
Alan Richter (13:46):
Yeah, well, especially with the topic on feedback, I think the global leadership survey is one we should also talk about because the current leadership survey is really about what is your leadership style? And we called it the GLS for good reason, a global, because we looked at the research out there now, I mean there's so much research on leadership. Global leadership is another matter. And for the last 30 years, there's been an ongoing longitudinal study on what global leadership characteristics are the researchers under the acronym of globe, G, L, O B, E stands for global leadership.
Alan Richter (14:18):
Don't ask me what, but anyway, Robert House was the professor, I think at Penn state who was the original researcher back in the seventies eighties it's now been taken over I think by Javi Darden. But we looked at all this incredible research and it really is incredible research looking at what characteristics of leadership are unique to cultures and what characteristics are universal. And my interest was very much on, okay, what are the universal characteristics? And we took all of this, this research, and we sort of simplified it. I mean that's one way to put it into our GLS model. So the GLS model is basically a four dimensions. You get measured on four dimensions, we'll think of it as North, South, East and West. And those four dimensions that are universal across all cultures are values and action. Think of that as Western East and then North and South ideas and people and all organizations. And all leaders have to deal with valleys and have to deal with action. They have to deal with ideas. And after I deal with people, we also call it the foresee model because the leader in terms of characteristics has to have conscience. That's the values that that's the ethics, right? Has to have courage. That's the action, right? I have to have creativity. That's the ideas and has to have compassion and caring and that's the people. Now, very few leaders are brilliant in all four of these dimensions. That's the problem. You get exceptions. I mean, Nelson Mandela, brilliant, they're all four, but that's, he's the exception, not the rule, but a leadership team. That's kind of interesting because if you take this survey with a leadership team, the question then becomes where are your team in these four dimensions and which quadrants do they fall into? And the quadrants are also very important because if you high on ideas that you high on action, that's called the problem solving domain of leadership.
Alan Richter (16:02):
Very typical in businesses, but that's very different to being, let's say, high on ideas, but high on values. That's the sort of transformational leadership. So there are different components of this and the goal is to have a leadership team that is diverse. So we come back to diversity. In other words that you've covered all your bases. You've got someone, at least on the team who's strong on values, someone who's strong and action, strong and ideas and strong on people. You need thought leaders, you need people leaders, you need ethical leaders and you need courageous leaders. And if you can find all of that in one team, great. If you are missing that, you need to think about how to modifying your leadership team and this would apply to a board or to anything. Any other grouping.
Troy Blaser (16:41):
Sure. And so QED consulting has been in business for around 30 years now. I imagine you've seen changes over time in the issues that you help a company address from 30 years ago to now. Are you looking at different challenges today than you were when you started?
Alan Richter (16:57):
Oh, very much so. I mean, I think in the 30 years, one of the biggest challenges as being technology, another global of course, because everything's global now. And the internet has changed everything. The growth of intangibles I think is a very, very big one. You know, the fact that the value of the business now is not about its tangible assets, but it's very much about what the intangibles are, the know how of the organization and the reputation. There's the ethics piece in the know how he's about the diversity of ideas. So diversity and ethics come very much into the intangibles. I mean, you look at Google today, it's worth what, $1 billion or something. Maybe 5% is tangible assets. 95% of the value of the organization of the company is in the intangibles. Look at Uber. Look at Airbnb. There are no tangible assets. So that's again, where technology in intangibles and global O and T have all come together in the last 20-30 years and not changing the way the world is working on the way business works. And then looking into the future, I mean, talk about ethics. Once we've got, you know, robotics and artificial intelligence, that's going to raise huge issues for ethics and huge issues for diversity and human beings and gene splicing and who knows what's coming down the pipe.
Troy Blaser (18:08):
Yeah. Even in my own career, I've seen that change. Learning bridge has been around for about 20 years now, but the difference between what we're doing today compared to 20 years ago is tremendous
Alan Richter (18:17):
And technology is neutral. That's the other thing, Troy. So, you know, you can use technology for the most wonderful things in the world. I mean, look at medical advances and you can also use it very, very easily. You know, I mean, I think of the atomic bombs and blah, blah, blah. So yeah.
Troy Blaser (18:32):
Sounds like ideas that come from a doctor of philosophy you guys saw.
Alan Richter (18:36):
The most useful thing I ever did was study philosophy.
Troy Blaser (18:39):
That's fantastic. Thinking about the, the different surveys and different engagements that you've had, is there a time when, when feedback has really changed somebody's life? Sometimes we see, you know, a point of inflection comes when I received some particularly useful feedback and it changes my career or it changes my viewpoint.
Alan Richter (18:56):
Yes, people have come to me and said this experience or this coaching activity or this simulation has really changed my outlook and maybe has changed my direction and you know, those sorts of things. I think that is also one of the pieces. I mean you do a lot of 360 is obviously a learning bridge. We've only got a few other tools that have the 360. It takes a greater level of maturity I think for organizations to do 360s they can be very anxiety provoking for some leaders. We know that and that's why the coaching is so important to be able to address that. And sometimes 360 without coaching could be negative, but yeah, with 360s that are well done can certainly change people's lives in terms of seeing how others see them and then adjusting their behavior and their approach based on those wonderful insights.
Troy Blaser (19:41):
I know what you mean. The stress of finding out what that feedback is can sometimes almost lead to a fight or flight reaction where I'm going to run away from this feedback because I'm afraid of what might be there.
Alan Richter (19:51):
Well this is where I think the, some of the more recent research in the diversity field can be very helpful. There's a lot of discussion right now around the importance of psychological safety for diversity and inclusion. It's one thing to be diverse and it's one thing to have an inclusive culture, but it's got to go deep into the organization so that people feel psychologically safe enough to be able to speak up, to give honest feedback. That's the key word, but also to blow the whistle, for example, if something doesn't feel right or smell right to you. And though the work of Amy Edmondson I think is very, very powerful. She talks about, you know, if you've got low accountability and you've got low psychological safety, she calls that the apathy zone. If you've got high psychological safety, but low accountability, that's the comfort zone. You know, nobody's pushing you and you're perfectly comfortable. You can speak up. But if you have high accountability but low psychological safety, that's the anxiety zone. And that's where we see the most in organizations today. People are anxious, they are stressed they don't feel comfortable enough to be able to speak up or blow the whistle when appropriate. But they are pushed to be accountable and that creates great anxiety for people. The healthiest organizations are ones where you have accountability, high accountability, but you also have high psychological safety. People feel comfortable, they feel supported, they have a sense of wellbeing. Therefore that box is called the learning zone. So people can make mistakes. There's not that great anxiety. If I make a mistake, let's say under my career, I can make mistakes, but I can learn from my mistakes. I can speak up, I can say what's on my mind, I can be honest in my feedback. And it's getting organizations into that learning zone.
Troy Blaser (21:30):
So yeah. So if you come into an organization and you find that they're sort of stuck in that anxiety quadrant, what are some things that they can do to get out of that, into that safe quadrant?
Alan Richter (21:41):
So there are a lot of things, I mean it's really the leaders obviously tend to set the tone for the culture of the organization so they can build trust. I mean, that's the most fundamental thing. You see this in the dysfunction of teams. What's the baseline? A lack of trust. So you've got to get people to trust you to feel that they are on your side, that they care for your wellbeing obviously, that they're on as the Holy ethical thing is so critical here that they are reliable, trustworthy. Building that is critical for psychological safety and then to get out of their anxiety zone into the learning zone.
Troy Blaser (22:15):
That must be quite a good feeling as you work with an organization, if you can see that change start to happen.
Alan Richter (22:20):
Oh, very much so. It's, it's greatly rewarding to see the work that these organizations are doing and the changes they're making and sort of really addressing the challenges that the world faces. Um, extremely rewarding and extremely gratifying to know that they are people with such incredible talents trying to make a better world.
Troy Blaser (22:37):
That's fantastic. So Alan, if people want to know more or if they want to get in touch with you, what's the best thing that they should do to continue the conversation?
Alan Richter (22:46):
Three ways. They can email me Alan.Richter@qedconsulting.com or firstname.lastname@example.org that's even easier. They can certainly call, it's 212-724-3335 or they can check out the website, which is QEDconsulting.com and certainly they can contact us through that.
Troy Blaser (23:05):
Fabulous. Any other thoughts that you want to add as we wrap up our conversation today?
Alan Richter (23:10):
Keep the feedback coming. What else?
Troy Blaser (23:12):
Absolutely. Well, Alan, thanks so much. It's been great to chat with you and thank you again for joining us on the podcast and I'm sure we will continue the conversation elsewhere, but thank you very much.
Alan Richter (23:24):
Thank you Troy and thank you LearningBridge for putting this all together. Take care.