263: Leading The H.R. Rebelution, With Debra Corey

May 16, 2023

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Dr. Pelè [00:00:00]:

Hello, happy people. Welcome to the Profitable Happiness Podcast. Hello, everyone. This is Dr. Pelè with the Profitable Happiness podcast, and today it is my pleasure to talk to someone all the way across the pond. Debra Corey is a leading HR expert in the field of HR revolution. Oh, my goodness. We're going to have to learn what that means. But she is helping organizations make a difference by challenging the status quo, helping companies and leaders create amazing cultures of employee experiences to drive engagement and business. And get this I found Debra because she is one of the top people who have written some of the top books on engagement and how to build culture in organizations. Debra, I am so happy you said yes to a podcast. How are you doing in London, England?

Debra Corey [00:00:56]:

I'm doing great, and I was excited when you asked me to because your podcast is fantastic. So thanks so much.

Dr. Pelè [00:01:02]:

Oh, thank you so much, Debra. So I hear that on Saturday, you guys are going to be crowning your king. Is that true?

Debra Corey [00:01:08]:

It is. It's a big day on Saturday. We've got that on Saturday, and then we've got a bank holiday, an extra bank holiday on Monday.

Dr. Pelè [00:01:15]:

Oh, amazing. Wow. I wonder if some of the structures and the strategies that we talk about in organizational culture apply to big cultures, like a kingdom.

Debra Corey [00:01:25]:

All right.

Dr. Pelè [00:01:25]:

So, Debra, I want to ask you a question that I think is going to take us way to the beginning, and that is when you go to organizations with your organization, devco HR, and you talk about helping people with consulting. You're a speaker as well, in addition to being an author, what have you seen as the core organizational challenge that everything you do addresses?

Debra Corey [00:01:51]:

Yeah, it's absolutely fascinating these days, and I'm sure that we're all seeing the same thing, is that the world of work is changing so quickly. I think the biggest challenge that I see doesn't matter what size company, what industry, what country I'm supporting, it's all about how to deal with that change, how do you deal with how the workplace is changing, how your demographics is changing. I think I just read the other day that the 6th generation is entering the workforce in a couple of years. It's called alpha. So these are people born in 2010, and they're the first fully digital group of people. So, yeah, it's just really about how can we make sure that we truly are meeting the needs of our people in new and exciting and different ways? And at the same time, you talk about profitability. Also make sure that you're helping the business and supporting the business as well.

Dr. Pelè [00:02:42]:

What a great insight that we're at this Alpha level. We've had generation Z, generation this, and now we're at Alpha.

Debra Corey [00:02:50]:

I know. We're going all the way back to Alpha.

Dr. Pelè [00:02:53]:

I know. And I just wonder, you explained to me the idea of looking through a new lens, being so important when you're thinking about cultural design and high performance in organizations. I would love to see how this new generation, with their AI and social media and everything, what they bring to the table. But tell us, Debra, how did you become the person with the American accent in London who has been solving these kinds of problems for organizations? What's your story?

Debra Corey [00:03:26]:

I would love to say that I have this perfectly manicured roadmap and that I started here knowing that I wanted to get to where I am now. But I have to admit, a lot of it was just embracing situations. Mostly it was situations that had gone wrong and then trying to figure out where to go next. But I fell into HR. Completely fell into HR. I was a gymnast when I went to college in the US. And my last year I had a really easy workload, so I decided to take a job and it was an HR. So fell into HR, worked in lots of different companies and then ended up in the UK because I was going to do a two year expat assignment. 20 years on and I'm still 20 years on and I'm still in the UK. And then again, I sort of fell into writing my first book. I was in between jobs, got out my bucket list, wrote a book, and it sort of led into where I am now. I call this my pay it forward part of my career where I've gone out on my own. I've never done that before. I've been in corporate for like 20 years. I've gone on to my own, and now I pay it forward. So all the things that I've learned through my 20 years in the corporate world, all the things I continue to learn, you're a writer, you know what I mean? Every time you write a book, I learn so much, which is why I love writing. Every time I consult or speak with someone, I learn something new. So I'm really passionate about taking this part of my career and paying it forward and helping as many people as possible, which is why I went on my own. I thought I've been helping individual organizations. Now I want to sort of broaden the net and be able to help more people.

Dr. Pelè [00:05:00]:

It's really exciting the way you talk about falling into HR. I think many people would understand what you're saying, and they can even experience that themselves if they're listening to you right now. And I have to say I'm excited that being in HR is really something that spreading to the point where leaders in the C suite recognize that they're all in HR too. And I'm wondering how that perspective plays into how you build cultures. So you've written several books. I would love to learn a little bit of all the things that you've talked about in your book because I find that when people talk about their books, it's really another way to talk about their history. So take us back to your first book, the one you focused on engagement, and sort of tell us how your book writing process is sort of piecing in and revealing all the things that you want to address.

Debra Corey [00:05:53]:

Yeah, so actually my first book I wrote was a book on communications, so that one I sort of put to the side. I wrote that book. I mentioned that I was in between jobs, and I wrote this book as a gift to fellow HR people because we're asked to communicate all the time. Not sure how to do it. So it was a model that I created called the Impact Model. But that book really gave me the opportunity to write my second book. So the CEO of a company called Reward Gateway here in the UK, the CEO wanted to write a book on engagement, and he heard me speak about my book, and then he followed me and spoke about what he was going to be writing about. And he said, Well, I like what she has to say. We seem like we're similar, but actually very different because I'm an HR person. He's a CEO, he's a real rebel. I'm a rebel, sort of in training. So we decided to write this book together. He hired me to work as the HR person at his company, but also to write the book. And I have to say, if you have to pick one moment in your life that completely changed your life, I would say it was this. It was working with this amazing, amazing man. I learned so much. I wish I had met him 1015 years earlier in my career. I would have done things completely different. And we came up with sort of a framework for the book. It's called the playbook. The rebel playbook. So build it. The rebel playbook for Employee Engagement. And it sort of fueled me for the structure of my other books, which is I'm very practical. So I share a model and then I share stories. And half of my books are stories, which I absolutely love writing that part of the book because I get to interview people around the world and share their stories and then share what they learned and give people tips from that. So, again, it really was the platform for me to move forward with my career.

Dr. Pelè [00:07:47]:

Wow, you've got this concept of the HR revolution. What does that mean?

Debra Corey [00:07:54]:

Well, we were kidding because the book is The Rebel Playbook. And just one day when we were talking, I'm like, we're going to start a revolution, and it just sort of stuck. And, yeah, spell Check tries to change it all the time, but I'm a rebel. I just fight right through it.

Dr. Pelè [00:08:13]:

There you go. You're the leader of the movement. We're sticking with this.

Debra Corey [00:08:17]:

Well, it's funny because so many people are using this word now, which I find amusing because when we decided to use this, I think the book came out about five years ago, and we actually went out and surveyed people because we were a bit nervous. If we use this word, are people going to be like, oh, I'm not going to read this book. It's about a rebel? And we surveyed people and the feedback we got from people were actually, do you know what? You need to say this, because that's what the book is about. And it was quite funny because I mentioned that my CEO is a huge rebel and I was sort of the litmus test. Every time we'd finish a chapter, I'd have to read the book. And if it made me a bit queasy because it was really pushing me to think and act differently, it was okay. If it didn't make me feel uncomfortable, then we rewrote the chapter because we wanted people to get out of their comfort zone.

Dr. Pelè [00:09:06]:

Powerful. One has to recognize that boring does not sell, right?

Debra Corey [00:09:13]:

Yeah. And sometimes you have to go to the full extent. There's a couple of things that I'd say to my co author. I'd say, I'm really sorry, but I could never do that at my company. He said, you know what, though? Even if someone just does 30%, 40% of what we're talking about, to your point, it's not boring, at least they'll do something.

Dr. Pelè [00:09:32]:

Exactly. I'd like to find out how you go about solving the challenges that organizations have, especially with all the books you've written and the various models that you've come up with so far. How exactly do you create culture in an organization?

Debra Corey [00:09:47]:

Yeah, I'm glad you mentioned the word model because I do like a good model. You wear a hat, sort of helps you hang a hat on things. But I guess I probably would start with what the real problems are in the organization. One of the main reasons that I'm a storyteller in my books is because I think it's really important to make sure that you do what's right for your organization. So based off of what your organization is all about, what your culture is like, what culture you're trying to develop or maintain, what your workforce is like, what your challenges. So I really try to spend a lot of time trying to understand the organization, and then I use my models, really as my secret weapons to come in our secret sauce, whatever you want to call it, and use them to then develop what we need to do to help solve some of the challenges that organizations have. I do love a good puzzle, so it's putting all those pieces together, trying different things, and then making sure that you come up with the best way to communicate and educate people in the organization. Sounds simple, but it isn't, as we all know.

Dr. Pelè [00:10:53]:

Yeah, I was going to say that. In fact, a lot of people hear the word culture and they go, what are you talking about? I mean, we're here to build this widget to sell to this customer, and we got to get this done. Let's get that done. What do you mean culture? And I'm wondering, is there a way to break down some of the ideas for how to create these cultures of successful business performance into language that everyone can understand? Leaders and employees?

Debra Corey [00:11:26]:

Yeah, it's interesting because in my book that has a model of the engagement bridge, we don't actually have culture as one of the ten elements because I sort of feel that everything culture is an output of all the great things that you do. So if you have a certain way of communicating with your people, if you have a certain way of recognizing your people, celebrating, having social interactions, all of those things together along with your values and such, that's what creates the culture. I think it's really hard to come in. People have me come in and do culture projects for them, which I love because it's all the little pieces. So it's making sure that you get all those things to create that type of culture that you want.

Dr. Pelè [00:12:12]:

Now, what challenges do you find that leaders have sort of maybe mindset blocks that they possibly have that do you think if we could just eliminate some of these ways of thinking and produce or introduce new ways of looking at these new lenses, what might those be? Maybe a few maybe perspective changes that you could recommend?

Debra Corey [00:12:35]:

Yeah, I think from a leadership perspective and funnily enough, my next book is going to be on leadership. I think it's all about making sure that they understand why it's so important to have engagement. Why is it important to have culture, why are all these things truly business drivers then make sure that they understand what their role is? A lot of times I'm sure the same with you. When I do sessions with leaders, it's all about you need to take ownership. So I'm going to educate you on it. I'm going to give you the tools, and now you need to go out and own it and drive it. So even things like values, one of my books is on company values, and it's all well and good as an HR person to weave the values into all of our HR programs, but they need to weave it into how they run their business. One company, we came up with one value, which is all about cooperation and working together. And they did it because it wasn't happening. So people would go to meetings and they wouldn't work together, and they would go off and they wouldn't work together. And I said, I can help you come up with the best values and behaviors, but let's talk about how you as a business leader are going to make it happen. Even simple things like how are you going to run your business is different. We had a whole session on how do you run a meeting in a cooperative way. So it's really making sure that you equip them, understand, give them the training, and then you say, okay, I'm going to hold you accountable for it.

Dr. Pelè [00:14:04]:

I wonder if you have any stories, maybe two stories, one of success and then maybe one of difficulty. And the reason why I ask this is because leaders by definition think that they kind of have this figured out. They are leaders, right? They create influence that brings people along and so on and so forth. What are you here to tell me, Mr. Or Miss Consultant? Right. So give us maybe a couple of stories, no names needed, one that was a little difficult to get leaders to actually implement the things you recommend and maybe a really great story of how success was implemented somewhere and what that looks like.

Debra Corey [00:14:44]:

Yeah, it's interesting you say that because I wrote a book last year on recognition and appreciation. And I thought and it was really for HR people to design effective recognition programs. But then I thought, you know what? Like anything else, if we don't have our managers doing it right, then we're never going to be able to make sure that we've got a recognition culture. So my next book was for managers and I have a whole chapter just with this is Why it's important and data. Because what I find is one of the biggest reasons why I can't convince my managers to do something is they don't think it's beneficial. So I thought I'm going to put a piece of data out there that will make everyone happy. So the CFO would all be about profitability and operations person would all be about safety and saving time on operations and productivity. So I know that's not an example, but it's just something that I've found really important is to make sure that you explain to them the why and also the what's in it for me. So when I do workshops with managers, there's always one of them that comes up to me at the end and says, I've never believed in recognition. I don't think it's important to me. Why should I do it for someone else? I grew up and no one recognized me and I'm still at the top of my level, so why should I do it? So to me that's an example of when it's not going well. So again, I just get out my statistics and I find one. And I'm like, you tell me that one statistic is one piece of recognition can be an increase of 30% of productivity. So you tell me why you don't think a 30% productivity is going to make a difference. Twelve times more profitability when you recognize someone. So those are the types of things that little by little will help somebody learn how to do it. And then the other thing I teach them is some people just don't know how to recognize, so spend time with them. And I guess a success story would actually be my husband, who I had him write the foreword for my book because he's an engineering manager. It's all about programming. It's all about the black and white type of thing. And he saw recognition as, oh, it's you HR people telling me that this is something that I should do, and when you remind me, I'll do it. But it's not something that I really feel is an important part of my job. And little by little, he has learned the importance of recognition. And we both work from home quite often, and I can hear him. He starts every call out talking about recognition. So who do we want to recognize this week who's done a great job? And it's just you could hear the joy in his voice. And he wrote the foreword talking about how he personally has seen how it's completely changed not just how his people feel, but how they perform. So I guess he's my biggest success story. So he's a really big one.

Dr. Pelè [00:17:37]:

He's a big one. What a success story, though. One of the things that I found, especially with recognition, is the question of sincerity. When you recognize someone, when you praise someone, are you being sincere? Or is it maybe? You may be sincere, but is it coming off as sincere or insincere? What's your perspective on how to make sure that recognition is repeated and sincere?

Debra Corey [00:18:06]:

Yeah. And it's interesting because I have something I call the four Golden Rules or the four things we must do. And the first one and each of them are the letters of the word must. And the first word is M for meaningful. And that's exactly what it is. It's all about being sincere. It's all about being genuine. It's about being meaningful to the situation and meaningful to the person. So one form of recognition might be meaningful, another person it might not be. Perfect example, I had someone on my team who helped me prepare a presentation, and I went on stage in front of hundreds of people, and I really wanted to thank her and I wanted to make it meaningful to her. She loved the limelight a lot. So I thought the best way to recognize her was at the end of my presentation, have the entire audience bring her onto stage and have the entire audience give her a round of applause for the beautiful presentation that she designed. Now, for her, that was recognition. For someone who does not like the limelight, that would have been punishment. So I always encourage people to make sure that you understand what meaningful it is for the individual, also meaningful for you. There is no perfect way to do it. You have to do it in a way that makes sense for you personally, and it's going to feel genuine for you.

Dr. Pelè [00:19:26]:

Powerful stuff. That's really powerful stuff. So tell us a little bit about how you take all of these pieces and you create what I like to call a culture of profitable happiness. Everybody hears that happy employees will create happy customers, and we'll build our business that way. And sometimes you have to define what we mean by happiness. But still, that's out there. Tell us how all these things create that environment where employees want to come to work every day. They are, in a sense, happy. They check all the boxes of engagement and satisfied. Tell us how all this kind of works. I know we've talked about building culture, but what are your additional thoughts about the idea of profitable happiness in organizations?

Debra Corey [00:20:11]:

I love the words together, because happiness on its own, I think, is first of all, it's not something that can happen every day. You could be happy one day, not happy the other day, but that doesn't mean you're not engaged. Actually, sometimes when I'm unhappy dealing with a really challenging problem, I might even be more engaged because I'm more committed, more devoted. So that's why I like how you add in the word profitable, because if you think about the word profitable, to me, I define it as something on the positive, something beneficial, something giving back. I talked earlier about my mission and my job title is all about giving it back and making a difference. And that's what I think profitable happiness is all about. It's about making a difference, having a purpose, feeling. Like when you go to work, even when you're having those bad days, that you're doing something meaningful, you're doing something that is valued by your customer, your colleagues, your boss. And to me, that's when you know you've had a good day, good days, bad days, that's when it works.

Dr. Pelè [00:21:17]:

Yeah. No, absolutely. I might have to have you be a co author on something I do, because I love the way you explain these things. It's just precisely the truth that sometimes you aren't happy. And yet sometimes, even when you're unhappy, you can be engaged. So it's really how do we target people's emotions toward productivity? On the question of emotions, I once worked at an organization where, believe it or not, the CEO was telling everybody that she didn't have time for all this emotional stuff. Let's get to work, guys. And I'm thinking in my head, wait a second. It's the emotions that drive everything we do. How can you tell us to stop feeling? What's your perspective on a shift I think everyone has to make if they want to get the best out of people, moving away from just how do we think? And the logic part and also really focusing on emotion. How do we get people to recognize emotion is a good thing?

Debra Corey [00:22:15]:

Yeah, I think it's a really good question, and for me, I think it's helping people again, it's what's in it for me. So like that CEO helping them understand that creativity does not happen without emotions. Emotions are I worked for a company once where, when I left, my boss said, you're not the right person for this company because everything we do is black and white, and you see too much color. And the color yeah, I know it was not the right company. And to me, the color is where innovation happens. The color is where I interviewed a company in the US. Apost. And when I went and I met with them and I spoke to somebody on the call center, and they told me how they went above and beyond for this customer who was having this horrible day, horrible situation, and they just went above and beyond. That was emotion that dealt with that situation. That was not the black and white operational manual that helped that customer decide or employee decide. That was what was the right thing. So to me, the emotion is the secret sauce of a company. And if anything, we should be trying to figure out how do we get that emotion free flowing so that it helps the business succeed.

Dr. Pelè [00:23:30]:

Wow. And what an example with Zappos. I mean, they are the best example of delivering happiness, if you will. In fact, I think that's the name of their book, isn't it? Delivering Happiness?

Debra Corey [00:23:43]:

Yeah. Their former CEO wrote a book on delivering happiness. Yeah. And the story I love the story that they told me, they said that a customer called and she said she needed to return five bridesmaid dresses and five pairs of shoes. And the call center person didn't just say, here's the address. They thought, you know what? This person needs to talk. So they had a conversation. Long story short, found out that the person's fiance had canceled the wedding a week before the wedding. So she said, okay, that's fine. Here's the address. Send it to me. And then just going that step above and beyond and spreading happiness. She then sent the person a voucher to go to a spa and said, do you know what? You deserve this.

Dr. Pelè [00:24:26]:


Debra Corey [00:24:26]:

And I love that story. I love that story. And one of the things they do is they give their employees the ownership and the autonomy to do things like that because they know, you know what, that's a happy customer. That is a happy customer who's going to tell ten other people, who's going to tell ten other people, and the happiness will spread. And customer loyalty will spread.

Dr. Pelè [00:24:47]:

Yeah. No, I hear in all of your stories the idea that the situation may be the same, but just looking at things a little different can show that I guess you call it the revolution can show new ways that we can act and behave. That might not be the norm, but create the right organizational environment for success.

Debra Corey [00:25:08]:

And it's really I mean, I love that part of the creative process is coming up with something different. I wrote my book on company values right before the pandemic, and a couple of months into the pandemic, I thought, man, I wish I had waited, because so many companies are doing beautiful things. Of the book is called Bringing Your Values Out to Play. They're doing these beautiful things about how they're bringing their values out to play to support their employees during this insane time and also their customers. So I thought, I'm a rebel. And I wrote an additional chapter to the book because the stories were just so lovely of how people thought completely outside of the box about what they were going to do in this challenging world.

Dr. Pelè [00:25:54]:

Wow. So, Debra, what are you excited about now? What's your latest project? What's going on? And how can people find you online? What's the best way to connect with you?

Debra Corey [00:26:06]:

I guess what I'm excited. I mean, my last two books were on recognition, and it's such a fun topic in HR. So often we have to deal with some of the more negative things. So I love recognition because it's about celebrating all the great that people do. So I'm excited about getting the word out and helping people and get people feel more comfortable with it. One of the main reasons I wrote the book is that 65% of people said that in the last year, nobody's recognized them. So I want to change that. I mean, everyone deserves to feel appreciated. To go an entire year with not one person thanking them just it saddens me.

Dr. Pelè [00:26:44]:

So I'm excited about well, at the end of that year, they probably had the performance review, though.

Debra Corey [00:26:50]:


Dr. Pelè [00:26:51]:

And that was probably not very good, right?

Debra Corey [00:26:53]:

It wasn't. And it probably focused on all the things that needed to be done. Better talk about your development, which is important, but why not celebrate all those little things that people do throughout the year? So, yeah, I'm excited about that. I'm excited about helping people with engagement, values, whatever it is. I love that part of my job. Just give me a challenge. Let's work together, because they have the magic of their company. Let me shake it up a little bit and make a difference. I've got a couple of really interesting projects now where we're doing that.

Dr. Pelè [00:27:26]:

That's awesome. And how can people get a hold of you if they wanted to contact you online? What's the best way to connect with you?

Debra Corey [00:27:34]:

Probably through things like LinkedIn or my website. I wanted to mention the website only because I mentioned that extra chapter on values. So my website for free, so I've got a bunch of freebies. So if people just want to they don't want to buy a book, they just want a little bit of a chapter or something, they can download that as well.

Dr. Pelè [00:27:53]:

And what's your website? The URL.

Debra Corey [00:27:55]:

Nice and easy. Debcohr.com.

Dr. Pelè [00:27:58]:

Got it. Well, Debra, I just. Want you to know that I love learning from you. It's one of the things I love about podcasting is I get to just sit back and be a student. You have just been a breath of fresh air. Thank you so much for being a part of the Profitable Happiness podcast.

Debra Corey [00:28:14]:

No, thank you. You know what? You've asked me questions that I've never been asked before, so you made me think outside of the box. So thank you for that.

Dr. Pelè [00:28:22]:

Awesome. Have a wonderful day in London, England, and happy what do I say? Coronation?

Debra Corey [00:28:29]:

Yeah. Coronation on Saturday. Yeah.

Dr. Pelè [00:28:31]:

All right.

Debra Corey [00:28:32]:

First time in our lifetime, so that's exciting.

Dr. Pelè [00:28:35]:

Yeah. Have an awesome day.

Debra Corey [00:28:37]:

You too.

Dr. Pelè [00:28:37]:

Thanks for tuning in to the Profitable Happiness podcast. For more episodes oats, visit drpelais.com and remember, get happy first and success will follow.