Psychological Fitness in the Workplace: Interview with Jennifer Moss of Plasticity
Tim Jackson and I have been conducting interviews with leaders in the tech community about their thoughts on leadership and talent management. Check out the Leadership Pad if you’d like to see the past interviews.
Continuing in this series, I spoke to Jennifer Moss, Co-founder and CMO of Plasticity. Plasticity’s workplace platform measures and trains the psychological behaviors that foster happiness and performance on the job. Jennifer’s book, Unlocking Happiness at Work makes a strong case for why caring about happiness at work isn’t a waste of time. It’s important for a whole host of reasons.
Jennifer’s key piece of advice? Building your employees’ psychological fitness has positive benefits for the person and the organization.
More insights from Jennifer are in the interview below.
Q: How would you characterize the culture at Plasticity? In what ways have you worked to incorporate Plasticity’s mission for your customers into your own culture?
A: We are very committed to living out our mission in what we do. We are very conscious of being authentic, and also being very honest about happiness and what it actually means to be happy. Happiness isn’t the absence of stress or negative feelings; you can have conflict and resolve it, you can have strong opinions about something and defend those opinions, and there are going to be workloads that feel compressed. It’s okay to have stress around that.
We actually highly recommend that you share both the good and the bad, with a focus on trying to build resiliency. Resiliency means rebounding quickly and helping each other pull out of those environments. We’re okay with people having bad days, but we can all help you to bounce back.
We have the fortune of basing what we do in science. Positive psychology research promotes a healthy balance of emotion. Because we get that as scientists and researchers, it makes it a lot easier to not feel like you have to paint a smile on your face every time you come in to work. But because of our understanding of that and because we are very well-tuned to it, we are generally quite happy, high-performing, and grateful people. We believe in the fact that you can build up the skills to be psychologically fit.
Q: What else can you tell me about the culture at Plasticity?
It’s important for us to practice gratitude every day. We have what we claim is the world’s biggest gratitude wall. Every day we post our own notes of gratitude. People who walk through the office or do a tour of the space will also be prompted to post their own words of gratitude. There are drawings and sayings all along the wall. We’re primed. And, positive psychology does suggest that there is benefit to priming yourself to think positively every day.
We also are committed to doing things like celebrating each other, giving high fives, and providing lots of support and gratitude for each other’s’ efforts. We ‘demo’ every single Thursday. That allows us to have lunch together and show off the things that we worked on that week. This fosters collaboration and inclusion. It makes everyone feel like they can have an opinion on the product, which is core to what we are trying to build.
We also use our technology. We have a group activity that pops up every Monday. It asks us to reflect on a variety of different things that help build the traits of happy, high performing people, which includes empathy, hope, inspiration, and resiliency. For example, this past Monday we were asked to name small things about work that make us happy. We spent the week thinking about that.
We have a pretty big mission statement, which is “Giving a billion people the tools to live a happier and healthier life”. So, we aren’t helping people to be happier, but we are building and giving them the tools to help them reach their potential. Every day we think about that, put meaning to that, and care about being a purpose-driven company. That makes such a difference.
Q: What characteristics do you look for when identifying leaders to work at Plasticity?
A: We have a variety of different questions that we ask to get to the root of what people really care about. Part of that is, how much do they actually know about what we do and what we are trying to accomplish? We aren’t the antidote to an unhappy experience at another company. We have people that came looking for that after having unhappy experiences elsewhere. That’s not who we are.
We are looking for people that are highly skilled and that have a purpose-driven personality. People who that how to balance and care a lot about research. And, you need to be customer-centric because we are trying to help build the happiness of a billion people. To do that you need to be focused on the person.
We try to learn about how they practice gratitude and if they think about gratitude. Also, how they understand the neuroscience piece and how it plays in. Are they a believer of that? Do they know and believe in the science? How passionate are they about it? And, we look for self-starters — people that are intrinsically motivated. At a start-up, we need people to be motivated by the mission and purpose of the company. Monetary, extrinsic motivators can’t be why you join us. We tend to find leaders that maybe have had experience in other organizations, and have had all the perks like the financial benefits, but haven’t found meaning. They really want to do something awesome with their skills and do that because they want to change the world.
Q: What are some of the ways that you develop talent at Plasticity?
A: We use our tool, which includes exercises that build emotional intelligence and psychological fitness every single day. We also support people in seeking out whatever development experiences that they are interested in, such as conferences. There have been a few cool hacker events that people here wanted to go to and they’re always encouraged to do that.
We also are going to be the sponsors for the World Happiness Summit in Miami. We’re bringing our entire team for 4 days, all expenses paid. Our team is going to attend the conference, which is focused on professional and personal development in happiness. We are also doing that as a team-building trip. There will be high-quality speakers there from Deepak Choprah, to politicians, to other leaders. It will be four days of immersion in the study of what we’re trying to accomplish.
Q: During Plasticity’s growth, how has your leadership style changed and evolved?
A: It’s changed dramatically in that when we first started, it was just Jim and myself. When there’s two people, you’re only really individually contributing. Your leadership style is just figuring out how a husband and wife can work together in a way that’s healthy and high performing. Then we grew to a group of four, where you are very much like a family.
In the last year or so, I had the incredible opportunity to write the book Unlocking Happiness at Work. In that book, I was able to interview some very interesting, high-performing leaders from the President of GM to the CEO of Lululemon, Laurent Potdevin. I learned really valuable lessons from them.
Laurent Potdevin talked about how when you lead your team or organization as family, you lead like there’s no conditions on their success. As a brother, sister, or mother, it doesn’t matter how they behave. You can be frustrated but forgive and there’s no consequences related to that. But if you want to be a high-performing team, you have to think of the team as an Olympic team. You care for one another and work closely together, but there are consequences for not performing at your best or pulling your weight. You have to push people to be a gold medal team.
That advice made me think. I love everyone at Plasticity, but I can still feel okay with giving constructive feedback and not feeling like I’m hurting my sister’s feelings or that it’s my child that I’m upsetting. It was a really good way to think about things and structure our relationships. We became more of a well-oiled machine instead of being looser. It pushed us to that next level. We’ve seen massive success in growth since we all took this highly-disciplined approach to the workplace.
Another piece of advice, from Steve Carlyle, the President of GM, was about cross-diagonal leadership — pulling people in from various parts of the organization to learn from them. To not think that you only get expert advice about marketing from a marketing person. That you can get expert advice on marketing from a developer or a researcher. So, I now pull more people in to discussions from other areas of the business where I wouldn’t necessarily think that they have an expert opinion. But, their insights are so profound because they come at it from a totally different lens. I now think about that a lot more when I bring teams together.
Finally, I became much better at spending front end time on the mentorship of people. I used to bring people on and throw them to the fire, which led to the sink or swim response. I had to do a lot of that in the beginning because we were just keeping our head above water. But now, I have a process where I onboard and mentor and make sure that the people who are working for me are getting support. I didn’t see the value of that as much until I really started putting some rigor around the process. People ramp up faster and are really engaged. They don’t feel like they’re afraid to ask, then apologize later when they aren’t prepped even though it’s my fault. I realized that a lot of that ownership had to come back to me on why things weren’t moving quickly or why people weren’t ramping up. It’s because they were lacking leadership and mentorship. That has been another big change that has paid off in dividends.