How to Embrace Change and Build Positive, Inclusive Workplaces | Brandt Brothers

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

What’s the secret to a positive organizational culture and a happy workforce? For Ralph and Rich Brandt from the RDR Group, it starts with learning how to be our best selves. This means adapting to change and embracing cultural and generational differences, so we can all enjoy a greater sense of inclusion and wellbeing both in the workplace and in life.

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Transcript

Jo [00:00:17] Welcome to the Future of Work Podcast from Allwork.Space. I’m Jo Meunier and today, I’m looking forward to speaking with Ralph and Richard Brandt, founders of the RDR Group, a trading and consultancy firm that’s been addressing workplace diversity, harassment, customer service, and other topics for over 20 years. Ralph and Richard are brothers, in fact, they’re twins, and together they’ve developed training programs that have gone beyond knowing, to doing, to help organizations create genuine and lasting change. They’ve delivered over 30,000 training sessions within hundreds of companies, and their single goal is to help others succeed. So with that in mind, we’ve invited the Brandt brothers here today to tell us what makes a truly inclusive organization and how we can build on these principles to create a happy and positive culture in the future of work. 

Jo [00:01:05] So welcome, Ralph and Richard, and thank you for joining us today. 

Rich Brandt [00:01:08] Good to be here. 

Ralph Brandt [00:01:10] Our pleasure. Jo. 

Jo [00:01:11] Let’s start with you, Ralph. Can you tell me your background story? What brought you into this particular area of diversity training and also how you both arrived here together? 

Ralph Brandt [00:01:22] Yeah, well, because we’re identical twins, Jo, our story is different from a lot of people because we did everything together growing up. I mean, we studied together. We played sports together. And, you know, I think that one thing people don’t always appreciate about most twins is that they can be very insular. Your life is kind of focused with one another, and I actually have young twin girls that live next door and I’ve watched them grow up and remembered how that’s how I grew up, where your playmate is kind of your focus and everything else is outside. So it’s a bit of an anomaly that Rich and I would be doing diversity training as two white male twins. But I think it’s part of our journey if I can say that, because Rich and I were afraid of everything as little kids. We grew up in the time when the Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits and aliens were on television and we were afraid of being invaded by space aliens and everything that was different would threaten us. And so I think that as adults, we kind of grew to appreciate how that creates a bias and it makes us disconnect with a lot of other people. Part of our journey has been learning to be accepting of people who are of different ethnicities, different generations, different religions, different sexual orientations. So because we’ve kind of lived it, and because white males are really the people who need this, at least in America — but I’m going to say probably around the world — we’ve kind of been uniquely positioned, I think, to address these issues. And so we’ve been doing it for 20 years. And I think we’ve had a big impact because we’ve been through it ourselves, so to speak. 

Jo [00:03:30] Rich taking that a little bit further. What kind of issues do you work with on a regular basis? 

Rich Brandt [00:03:36] Well, as Ralph said, I think that, you know, sometimes the biggest challenge is people who are white, male, and in the United States and in Europe, at least, because they’re in the majority, and you’re less likely to recognize the institutional and systemic bias that prevails in the workplace because it doesn’t affect you personally. And I think that there is real power in walking into a class on diversity training and seeing the instructor being a baby boomer, straight white male because there’s a relatability. I think Ralph and I can share our story and it can give everyone hope. You know, the people who are minority groups and women and people of color in the workplace, and it also can give the majority hope that change can actually take place. And that’s what we try to teach people, is how does that happen? What needs to change? 

Jo [00:04:43] And the work you do all forms part of building better and more positive workplaces. So when you walk into a workplace or a classroom or wherever it is that you’re asked to visit, where do you start? How do you get organizations off on the right foot? 

Rich Brandt [00:04:58] I think that, you know, the biggest issue is learning to speak ‘corporate speak’. In other words, that, you know, what matters to them are things like employee engagement and morale and productivity and customer satisfaction, teamwork. And as long as you can keep the focus on those issues, even though, you know, our motives might be a little more altruistic and really trying to help people to have a greater sense of well-being, I think if you can try and show that there’s a measurable effect in terms of improving those particular outcomes of employee engagement and productivity and customer satisfaction, then you end up getting people in leadership and corporate America to listen. 

Jo [00:05:48] And Ralph, you mentioned before that we’re living in a very multi-generational culture and with Generation Z now entering the workforce, some organizations have five generations working alongside each other. So how can we combine the strengths of these different age groups and ensure that all these different groups engage with each other and get along? 

Ralph Brandt [00:06:11] Yeah, well, I think, first of all, it’s just a recognition that all of us tend to operate from the place of when we were born and how we were raised. And that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only way. And I know you’re in the UK and Daniel, who works with you, is in Mexico. And we’re all culturally conditioned based on where we grew up and when we grew up. And so I think our focus is trying to help people to stop being what we call monocultural, and learning how to calibrate. You know, if we’re going to connect with all customers, if we’re going to connect with all employees, and even if we’re going to connect as a world, as a society, then we kind of have to move away from our own conditioning, whether it’s generational or cultural, and really learn how to make connections with all people, not just people in our group. And Rich is kind of the person who specializes in some of the generational differences. He may have some other insights. 

Rich Brandt [00:07:23] Well, I think that, you know, even though there are unique aspects to each generation, I sometimes think of it like personality types, that when you begin to see the complementary nature of the different attributes that each generation brings, I think none of us, even though it’s hard to admit, none of us have the full spectrum of positive attributes. So it’s a matter of humility and recognizing that, you know, perhaps as an older person, you like more structure and a younger person wants more autonomy. It’s finding that balance. Or if you tend to be a younger person who really likes high tech, you know, it’s kind of recognizing that older people who are used to perhaps more interpersonal contact and are high touch, it’s again, it’s that balance. So what I try to help people to do is appreciate what is unique about each generation, what are their strengths and recognizing how that can help us to come to the middle if we learn to see it as something that’s complementary rather than adversarial. 

Jo [00:08:43] And in terms of the training you deliver, what does it look like? I mean, for example, how long does it take to try and educate people to think along those lines? Is there an average? Or is it really a case by case basis? 

Ralph Brandt [00:08:57] We try to work with the clients to deliver what they need. But I would say with these kinds of issues, you know, you really have to give people the space to think about it and apply it and even practice some skills. We’ve been moving, Jo, away from what we call typical inclusion training to what we think of as inclusive practices, because being inclusive isn’t something that’s about knowledge, it’s about doing. And so we’re trying to get people to focus on behaviors that they can practice in the workplace. And, you know, outside of work and for us, I would say a good time frame is a day. But now with what’s going on in the world, with the crisis, the pandemic, we’re having to do virtual training and think about how we connect with each other virtually and the timeframes obviously are shortened. So we’re doing 90 minute sessions online that are two days back to back, just enough to give people the skills. But you know, not to overwhelm them when they can’t meet in person. 

Jo [00:10:16] Absolutely. It must be quite difficult for some people, and particularly with the different generational attributes, it must be quite difficult for some people to work in that sense virtually when they’re much happier meeting on a face to face basis. 

Rich Brandt [00:10:30] I don’t know whether you watch SNL Saturday Night Live, you know, it’s a comedy show here in the States, but they did a little bit on it a couple of weeks ago, just showing how older people are challenged by technology. So they were on a Zoom call and a couple of the older people couldn’t figure out if someone could hear them or see them. And I think that might be the biggest in terms of the generations, one of the biggest differences is that younger people are so adept at technology and willing to just dive right in. I think the older generation sometimes can be a little bit averse to it because they do prefer the personal live interaction. 

Jo [00:11:18] And change is one of the big issues… 

Rich Brandt [00:11:21] That’s right. 

Jo [00:11:22] … that you both you deal with. So this current COVID19 situation is really introducing massive change for people all over the world. How do you help people with sudden changes like this? How do you help and encourage them to adapt to change  both at work and in life? 

Rich Brandt [00:11:39] Well, there’s a recognized branch of psychology now called resilience. And actually, I think it began in the 70s, but in the last 20 years, since the 90s, it’s been even more popular. But, it really recognizes that some people are better at adapting to change than others. The good news, is that it’s a learned attribute. So they’ve looked at the specific characteristics of people who are resilient. And that’s how we try to prepare people in the workplace, especially with a sudden change that might be viewed as unwanted. And some of those attributes, just to give you an idea. One is ownership, what they call an internal locus of control rather than, blaming your unhappiness on things external to yourself, recognizing that you ultimately have control over your response and attitude. Emotional regulation is a big part of resilience, learning how to not ruminate and dwell on things that activate that alarm system in our brain called the amygdala or fight or flight, how to stay calm. And most of all, how to be optimistic, which is actually something you can learn how to do to interpret life events differently so that, you know, you have the benefit of those positive neurochemicals that can help solve problems. 

Jo [00:13:10] And I should think that a positive workplace could definitely help lift some people up in these situations? 

Rich Brandt [00:13:16] They absolutely. It’s more than individual. If, you know, if you can create an environment that tries to have these conditions as part of the corporate culture, then you can help lift the entire organization. 

Ralph Brandt [00:13:32] Jo, to what Rich was saying, you know, in the current environment, we’re trying to combine these different concepts to kind of meet a need. So we believe that people can connect virtually and that workplaces that, you know, I think it’s happening in the U.K. and Mexico and the whole world, everybody’s working from home and learning how to deal with change is overwhelming for a lot of folks. And I think this is a great time for businesses to give people support, and learning the skills so that they can do their work and focus and get through this. 

Jo [00:14:12] Absolutely. And in fact, with Allwork.Space, one of the topics we address regularly is workplace wellness and well-being. And this current situation, there’s quite a high concern that a lot of people would be facing isolation and loneliness and also potentially burnout. How do you think people can cope with that? 

Rich Brandt [00:14:35] Again, one of the things that we’ve tried to focus on in our business is to kind of back what we do with some scientific research. And so burnout is largely a kind of a neurochemical issue. You know, our brains, if you think of a car running on gasoline, our brains when there’s stimulation of certain neurochemicals like dopamine and endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, you know, you feel energized, motivated, happy. And so what we try to do is to help people recognize that burnout is when you stop doing certain things that would otherwise produce these chemicals. And you’re kind of in this constant state of stress where cortisol is being produced and the other chemicals are being inhibited. So we use some of the work that’s been done in what they call the happiness study, a movement called positive psychology that looks at specific activities that have been proven to increase happiness and well-being. And they’re really very practical things like practicing gratitude or what they call savoring, learning to just, you know, when the sun hits your cheek to just enjoy that for five seconds, to let it download, and you know, to be more mindful and notice things. So we kind of take them through specific activities that have been highlighted in the happiness study to make sure that they do those things regularly to replenish the fuel tank. 

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Jo [00:16:20] I love the idea of just letting the sunshine hit your cheek and just enjoy it for a few seconds. 

Rich Brandt [00:16:26] Most people don’t. And then as a result, they don’t get the chemical benefits. So like even hugging someone a little bit longer can really make a big difference in terms of your happiness levels. 

Jo [00:16:36] Yeah, well… 

Ralph Brandt [00:16:37] You know, on a personal level, because, you know, Rich and I have to apply this stuff just like you do. You know, you do a lot of learning Jo, I’m sure, with all your guests and the work you do. But we’re human beings. We have to learn how to practice this ourselves. Right. And I’m sure like everyone else, we watch the news. It’s so depressing and we tell ourselves, I have to turn this off. You know, I can’t handle it. It’s that burnout that Rich is talking about. And one thing that I’ve been doing that I encourage everyone to do is to set up some virtual calls with friends or family and just make the call even 15 or 20 minutes, just being positive with each other, saying what you like about each other, your favorite memories. We did this, my family, I’ve got two daughters and it was just their husbands, myself and my wife and then one of the older grandkids. And when we were just telling each other what we meant to one another, I went off that call and thought I could live off of this for another couple days if I don’t get overwhelmed with the bad news, you know? 

Jo [00:17:52] Yeah. And how do you think this current situation and how do you think this will impact generations in the months and years to come? 

Ralph Brandt [00:18:01] Yeah, I don’t think we’re gonna get over this quickly. And I think most of the experts agree it will have a long lasting impact. And I think people are going to be more cautious around health. Meaning, you know, getting on planes and being in hotels, which is something that Rich and I do all the time. I know I’m going to be way more careful because I don’t think this is the last virus that we’re gonna have to deal with. But I think somehow businesses and people in the workplace and in life have to learn how to overcome those barriers so we can still be healthy but be very intentional about connecting with other human beings. If we have to do that virtually for now or for a while, because I have a feeling, you know, that that may be a little bit more the norm than we have to figure out how to do that, because it can’t happen, like I said, even on a virtual call with family and friends. You can connect and you can get this, you know, positive brain chemistry going. But I think that may be a little bit more of what the future looks like. And it doesn’t have to be bad. We just need to make the best of it. 

Jo [00:19:18] Absolutely. And we’ve been talking a little bit about well-being. But there is a flip side to well-being, which I know that you work with, and that’s harassment. We know it happens in the workplace, sometimes unwittingly, other times with intention. And so how should business leaders approach the issue of harassment and how can we root it out and educate people on what’s right and what’s not? 

Ralph Brandt [00:19:45] Yeah, well, you know, it’s interesting because Rich and I have discovered that all of the work that we do, whether it’s diversity, whether it’s, you know, creating a positive workplace, dealing with change, even this issue of harassment. It’s all rooted in brain chemistry. So if I say something that is threatening to you or disparaging or make you uncomfortable, your brain chemistry is going to register that as a cortisol spike. And when cortisol starts happening in the workplace or anywhere else, it gets in the way of our ability to do our jobs. And I think people are just now recognizing how huge this issue of harassment really is in the workplace, not just sexual harassment, which, you know, to me is obviously coming to light all over the world. But even just incivility and people not being respectful. So our approach, like everything we do, is to focus on the positive aspects, like what does good behavior at work look like and what does good behavior at work does for us as an organization? And why do we wait until people have gone way over the line to deal with it? To us, the way to really address harassment is to deal with it sooner. We need to be telling people the minute that they’re a little less than respectful. We don’t have to wait till they’re being uncivil or harassing, right? Yeah. And I also think we need to make it simpler. I think people get so paralyzed because they don’t know what to say. They don’t know what to do. And we work really hard at telling folks, number one, you don’t have to know whether this constitutes legal harassment. You just have to know if it makes you uncomfortable. And you don’t have to be able to give a speech or be profound in what you say. You just have to tell people no. And you have to be able to do that for other people, too, to intervene and advocate for a positive workplace. 

Jo [00:21:56] And I should imagine this can happen in any organization, of any size, and anywhere?

Rich Brandt And it does!

Jo Yeah. Must be quite a difficult issue to deal with. 

Ralph Brandt [00:22:08] It is, and I think sometimes and I don’t say this in a pejorative way to people who are in the legal profession, but I think we complicate it by making it about, like, here’s what the law says and people need to know the law, that’s OK, but it’s really just about interacting. And I think most workplaces want people to be productive and positive and respectful. And if that’s the standard, then in our minds, the minute someone is not putting the effort into being considerate, someone needs to be dealing with that. And to us, that’s the leaders in an organization, you know, to make sure that the workplace is all that it can be. 

Rich Brandt [00:22:53] And I’d like to just add that, you know, what is astounding to Ralph and I, after doing this for a couple of decades, is the amount of money that companies will spend for technology and, you know, to beautify the physical surroundings. And yet, you know, so many corporations are very reluctant to spend what’s needed to help people have the skills to be able to have a better attitude, to learn how to interact differently. These things can be learned. And unfortunately, they’re not often learned before people get to the workplace. And I think, you know, the really best organizations that are recognized globally will invest in soft skills to help people treat each other in a way that’s going to create a more positive environment. And I think the younger generations, I think, even appreciate that more. 

Jo [00:23:56] That’s interesting. And what you said just then about learning the soft skills and looking ahead, how do you think workforces will change in the future of work? Will we naturally become more inclusive as the years tick by? Or is this something that we as humans will always have to work on? 

Rich Brandt [00:24:12] You know, I think Ralph and I have both been surprised at the resurgence of the incivility and disrespect that seems to have been kind of a global phenomenon just within the last few years. So I think I probably would answer differently now that I maybe would have five years ago. I think it’s one of those, you know, two steps forward, one step back kind of thing where we’re moving in the right direction, but we’ve obviously seen that bias and prejudice and bigotry have certainly not left the planet. 

Ralph Brandt [00:24:55] Yeah, I was going to say, I think the situation in the UK and Europe and the globe is not much different than the United States, where we are seeing a lot of divisiveness, a lot of ugliness, really. And to answer your question, Jo, I think Rich and I firmly believe we will always have to work at being our best selves, at being inclusive. And, you know, unfortunately, I think that there is something in human beings. It is that fight or flight, you know, even during this COVID crisis, when people hoard things at the grocery store and they would normally never do that. It’s all fear-based. They’re afraid. So they hunker down and they just want to take care of themselves. And this is a time for us when the world needs to be there for one another and think about everybody, not just themselves. So, you know, that’s why we’re in business, right? Trying to help people learn how to do these things and then practice it so that it becomes, you know, a way of life. But I don’t think we’ll ever stop learning. 

Jo [00:26:08] And what can we take forward from here? How do we build positive workplaces in the future? What would be your top takeaways? 

Rich Brandt [00:26:16] The important thing is, is to be optimistic. You know, the brain has a wonderful quality called neuroplasticity. We can restructure and rewire our brain. This is why it’s important to isolate specific behaviors and practices and engage in those, because you can have a different attitude. You can learn to be more other centered, to be more optimistic. And I think that there’s been advances in the fields of psychology that are really creating a new frontier where people are excited to learn ways to create the kind of positive workplace that allows them to enjoy a greater sense of well-being. So I think there’s reason to be optimistic. 

Jo [00:27:08] Ralph, anything to add? 

Ralph Brandt [00:27:10] Well, you know, the thing that I think Rich and I have arrived at after years of doing this work is really putting the emphasis on the practices. So, for so long we’ve focused on training people. But training only goes so far if they’re not doing something with it. And so we really have moved all of our work in the direction of, what is it people need to do after learning? And we’re actually following people for eight weeks after we do the training, providing them with templates and guides to support practices that are very easy to implement. I mean, 30 minutes a week of just trying to be more inclusive or trying to be more resilient and keeping people in the habit of integrating what they learn into what they do. To us, that’s the secret of really changing organizational cultures and human beings. 

Jo [00:28:12] Fantastic. Well, just before we close out, can you tell us where people can find out more about you and your work at the RDR Group? 

Rich Brandt [00:28:21] Well, our web site is just rdrgroup.com. And you know, there are videos and articles and information on how to access the virtual training that we offer. And, you know, like I said, the good news is we’ve seen people change. We can really make a difference when people are committed to the practices. 

Ralph Brandt [00:28:48] And I’ll add to that, Rich. Anybody who’s interested in seeing what we do, we can do a virtual preview. It’s pretty easy now. So that folks can see what these practices look like and, you know, experience something virtually and determine whether it’s a value to their organization. 

Jo [00:29:08] And that’s one good thing that’s come out of this situation, is that you can now connect with people all over the world, I should imagine, virtually. Superb. Well, thank you, Ralph and Richard. Thank you so much for joining us today. I’ve really enjoyed hearing your views on building and sustaining positive and inclusive workplaces. So thank you for joining us today. 

Ralph Brandt [00:29:28] Our pleasure. Jo. Really thanks for having us. 

Rich Brandt [00:29:31] Thanks for giving a platform to these kinds of ideas. You do really important work. Thanks, Jo. 

Jo [00:29:36] We hope we hope to have you back on the podcast again soon.

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