Lead With That: What GameStop Can Teach Us About Disruption and Culture Change

image with microphone and lead with that podcast episode title, what gamestop can teach us about disruption and culture change

In this episode of Lead With That, Ren and Allison investigate what we can learn about disruption and transformation from the recent short squeeze orchestrated through the internet.

In December, GameStop was trading at a little under $13. At the end of January it was trading at $379 and some change. And at the time of this recording, it is trading at $193. This feels like a lot of disruption. 

What happened with GameStop is raising interesting questions about culture change. Talk about a David Vs. Goliath situation. A group of subredditors took on the Wall Street Establishment an disrupted the way Wall Street does business, at least for a bit. It got us thinking about disruption and its role in behavior change. Is this kind of disruption the key to changing the way work is done?  

From a leadership perspective, is harnessing disruption the missing piece of culture change in the workplace? Let’s talk about the lessons we can learn from the GameStop headlines and lead with that.

Listen now or read the full transcript below. 

Listen to the Podcast

In this episode, Ren and Allison investigate what we can learn about disruption and transformation from the recent short squeeze orchestrated through the internet.

Podcast Transcript:

INTRO:

Welcome back to CCL’S podcast, Lead With That, where we talk current events and pop culture to look at where leadership is happening and what’s happening with leadership. If you’re like us, you’ve probably heard a lot about GameStop recently, either from a gamer in your life, or maybe from the most recent rise and fall of GameStop’s stock. In December, GameStop was trading at a little under $13. At the end of January, it was trading at 379 bucks. And at the time of this recording, it’s trading around 193. This feels like a lot of disruption.

Ren Washington:

And what happened with GameStop is raising interesting questions about culture change. I mean, talk about a David versus Goliath situation. A group of subredditors took on the Wall Street establishment and disrupted the way Wall Street does business, at least for a bit. And it got us here at the pod thinking about disruption and its role in behavior change. Is this disruption the key to changing the way work is done? And from a leadership perspective, is harnessing disruption the missing piece of culture change in the workplace? I’m Ren Washington, one of the trainers here at the center, and as usual, I’m joined with my cohost and one of my [inaudible 00:01:13] Allison Bar. Allison, how are you today?

Allison Bar:

I’m doing well, Ren. Thanks. Staying warm here in cold Colorado and looking forward to our conversation today.

Ren Washington:

I wish I could say I’m staying warm. I love my house, but it was built a very long time ago and the original windows are here, and I’m sitting next to one right now, and it be cold.

Allison Bar:

Oh, boy, I cannot even imagine. We’re sitting in I think a negative 11 today, and so, that’s good for those of us in Colorado because we need it. But I’ll tell you what, my dog is not very happy, not very happy.

Ren Washington:

I wonder if the temperature’s put a freeze on the GameStop issue.

Allison Bar:

See what you did there.

Ren Washington:

Yeah, yeah. I’m clever like that. And speaking of GameStop, are you busy in the stock market? Are you a day trader? Do you get down on the stocks?

Allison Bar:

I mean, no. And now, I’m sure like a lot of other people, sort of kicking myself that I’m not. I have some shares in a previous company that I used to work with. I telling Roger this past week that I just let them sit there because I don’t know what I’m doing necessarily. But now, I’m curious to learn more as I’m sure a lot of people are. What about you?

Ren Washington:

I play around a little bit. I’ve got my Robinhood account, and there’s occasionally some things that interest me, my dad and I would talk about General Electric for a while, and it’s been on a very interesting journey. And he was saying, “Well, if you’ve got the appetite for loss, GE is your stock.” I think we’re hoping that one day or something, it’ll come back to its former glory days. And some of the tension that you I think highlight there is a lot of the stock market is, as long as you don’t sell the stock, you’ve kind of not lost any money. But the GameStop situation has really raised a different kind of conversation, I think you and I are both way more averse than we ever thought we would be around short-selling and all that jazz. But that’s kind of where I’m at with the whole stock deal.

Allison Bar:

Well, I have to ask, did you get your Robinhood account in response to this news story or have you had it for a while?

Ren Washington:

I’ve had it for a while. I wish that I had a Reddit account because maybe I could have made some money. But it was not in response, again, it’s just like occasional dilly-dallying. Friends of mine know that there may have been a time in my life where I liked the casinos. I like a little bit of some play here and there, and sometimes stock is kind of like that.

Allison Bar:

Whenever this news hit, a friend of mine sent me a text message, and all I could see was the headline that said, is GameStop disrupting Wall Street. And I looked at my phone, I was working and I thought I’ll look at that later, I’m not interested necessarily in GameStop, I wonder why she sent that to me. It has gained a lot of focus for a lot of people and really put that focus on a topic that’s generally very pointed to specific groups. And I think part of the beauty of all of this is that it’s helped to educate a lot of people on a topic that might have seemed really obtuse.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. And don’t worry, listeners, we’re not going to break down all the economic structures for GameStop, but I think not only that it shine a light on some of the things that are happening in communities that were traditionally kind of cordoned off, but for our purposes, it just got me thinking a lot about people, and the role in this kind of situation and who’s leading who. Is it the blind leading the blind or there’s some people high up in a glass tower making some decisions? Or is it a group of people sitting in basements in dorm rooms moving the dial?

Ren Washington:

So, not only did it get me thinking about disruption and leadership’s role in disruption, but really got me thinking about a bottom up kind of grassroots movement, and what does that look like from a leadership perspective when you’re trying to move a cultural dial, or you’re trying to impact change, or just change any kind of system? When you hear the word grassroots, what does that mean to you?

Allison Bar:

Yeah, what immediately came to mind was marketing campaigns. Some of my background is in that and some of the most fascinating marketing trends come from these grassroots movements, and what that looks like is communities coming together and forming relationships and helping the movement to propel forward. And what I’m curious about your thoughts on this are, you have to have everyone’s buy in to get it moving forward, so how do you do that?

Ren Washington:

I think I’ve have an understanding of grassroots kind of like your point of view, especially in the work that we do, how do you get some groups to kind of collaborate and agree on something. And I really wanted to say, well, grassroots really is just ordinary people regarded as a part of a whole in an organization’s membership. And so, when I think about that, I’m like, okay, well, what’s the membership here, what’s the organization? And it looks like a lot of that has to do with the membership or the big organization is this trading floor, the people who can sell and buy stocks. And then the ordinary people are this group of subredditors that I highlighted earlier, this WallStreetBets subreddit. Are you active on Reddit?

Allison Bar:

Well, no, and to my earlier point, now I am. I hopped on there last week. No, I’m an observer, we’ll put it that way. I didn’t have much knowledge and I did not know that it was a social media platform that was based around communities. I didn’t know that. So I thought that was a really unique way to get something to propel forward because you join and you join a certain community that you might be interested in.

Ren Washington:

I first got into Reddit a little bit around Game of Thrones.

Allison Bar:

Okay.

Ren Washington:

Do you know Game of Thrones, Allison?

Allison Bar:

I do, yes.

Ren Washington:

Okay, good. Because it’s going to really sound a lot weirder when I say you know nothing, Allison Bar later. But I know you know a lot. I dig in there and I get to hear all these theories and philosophies and these ideas. I’s interesting to see a community come together with a lot of energy around this and then see how that expands. And so, when I dig into GameStop and I say, okay, well, how does this plucky group of people, these upstarts derail the way that Wall Street does business, and did someone lead the charge? And the more I dig into it, it gets me thinking about well, as a leader, if I want to positively impact change, or if I want to make waves in a system that really seems fortified, then maybe there’s something to be said about asking the little guy, and I’m using air quotes, asking the every man or every woman rather to get some skin in the game and make a decision. And how do you compel people to say, well, no, your vote, your choice matters here.

Ren Washington:

And it gets me thinking about how did they convince each other that they could do something to GameStop. Ultimately, the way that this looks is that this group said to each other, we think GameStop stocks are undervalued, and this conversation was going on late into 2019. And then GameStop makes some corporate moves, and they add a new member to the board, and that starts up the value. And then all of a sudden, there’s this other conversation of well, the traditional institutions are really betting against Wall Street or rather betting against GameStop to fail. So, why don’t we bet against that and say that it’s going to succeed and make it succeed and create value where maybe there wasn’t value before.

Ren Washington:

How do people do that? How have you ever created value where there wasn’t value before? What kind of conversations were you having? Or what kind of conversations did leaders have to have in order to do that?

Allison Bar:

Oh, gosh, that’s a loaded question, isn’t it? It depends on the group that you’re in I would think. It makes me curious about influence as a topic. How do you influence people when you have a thought or an idea that might be out of left field or might seem to be unpopular. Although part of me wonders if it was presented in a way that was a popular idea. Wall Street has a lot of power and perhaps it was phrased as, let’s disrupt Wall Street. That’s an emotionally driven question that probably would get a lot of people on board. What do you think?

Ren Washington:

We talk about that I think a lot of the time when we’re talking about how to influence real seismic change, you get people’s value systems involved. And there is this interesting reflection of, there’s a lot of young people who participated in this who don’t have millions of dollars to bet. The more I read about this, the more I read that people were saying, well, this is our chance as the little guy to kind of stick it to the man. My value here isn’t necessarily the money I’m making, but it’s to damage this system that continues to get benefits from us, and doesn’t really let us play.

Ren Washington:

But then I dig a little bit deeper and I started to look at it, and I really investigate, well, what do I mean by grassroots and was this really grassroots? And the more I find out about the players involved in the subreddit, the more I realized that some of these people are some heavy hitters. Some of these people have money to spend and a lot of credibility around the issue. And so then I wonder, well, can something really change in the mailroom if someone from leadership isn’t there to help it change? Do ideas actually come from the bottom and change the way the top looks or works?

Allison Bar:

Gosh, I want to say yes. I’m a I guess a naive positive person here, but I think it can. Like grassroots movements do, should you be in relationship with the right people, to your point. Do you always have to have that power player, though? What do you think?

Ren Washington:

I think you got to be in the room where it happens. To take the Hamilton phrase, I really wonder, does it matter if we change the way we do work if I’m not in the boardroom or the conference room where the decisions are being made? And so, I wonder if it’s not, maybe I don’t need to have access or be one of the power players, but once the change starts to happen, I’ve got to get someone from the movement represented in the conversation.

Allison Bar:

You know what I’m thinking of too is, I’m visualizing general organizational structure, especially bigger ones, where you have maybe a CEO, maybe there’s a board, a president. But that leadership team, if you include the C-suite as well, is generally so much smaller than the employee bench, and it’s so interesting how sometimes there’s a disconnect there, the idea might start in the mailroom, and it might be a darn good idea. And what does it take to channel that all the way up to the top where the decisions are being made. And to the GameStop analogy, it’s my understanding that they did have key players. And I wonder if it would have worked without those key players.

Ren Washington:

And to dig in a little bit deeper, they had people who had a lot of market awareness. And I don’t want to make it seem like this subreddit is actually just full of people who don’t know what they’re doing. I know a lot of these people are very experienced traders, whether or not they had millions of dollars to spend. But it’s not just a matter of do you have someone who has to know how in the team or in that movement, but then what I’m wondering, in our lead in we talked a little bit about, well, did it really disrupt Wall Street? Is anything going to change or are the policies that come from this really just going to continue to enable and empower the big structures, and protect against this kind of disruption? So maybe disruption is not the thing that changes culture, but actually the thing that fortifies culture, that stops culture change.

Allison Bar:

Yeah, and I think too, the initial disruption has happened. That initial disruption, it’s done, it’s happened, it’s sort of over. And what has happened because of it is that there are conversations now about different perspectives of Wall Street and the culture and what can we do differently, what do we need to do differently? So now the voices are in the room. So the disruption maybe doesn’t have to be this long journey. It can be quick, quick enough to get the right conversations to start moving things forward, because culture change doesn’t happen overnight, that’s going to take time. Who knows what’s going to come of this? We don’t know, that’s kind of exciting.

Ren Washington:

What would you bet comes of this? Speaking of betting and gambling, if you had to put money on it, what do you think is going to come from this?

Allison Bar:

Oh, gosh, Ren. I think the conversations around Wall Street and power structures are going to start to get very energized. And so, I do think it’s going to take a very long time for things to begin to shift, but I do think a general awareness and a general education of how these things work in terms of supporting our economy, in terms of the buy in needed, in terms of who can play, so to speak, those conversations are starting to happen. I don’t think the majority, at least in the US, the majority of United States citizens are super intrigued by Wall Street. Maybe I’m wrong. But I don’t think the majority of people are because they don’t really necessarily see or think about how it impacts us directly because we don’t play directly. But it does. And so, I think those conversations will start to happen. What about you, what do you think?

Ren Washington:

If I were a gambling man, and some people might say I am, I would think nothing changes. At first, I really thought, okay, this is going to start some interesting conversation like you’re saying, and I’m thinking to myself, wow, who would have thunk it, that this group of people could change this value-based situation without the authority or the say how of traditional market research and traditional stock research. And then I see what’s happened now. GameStop is still trading at 50 bucks, which is still considerably higher than the $14 it was trading at its peak one point before the chewy.com guy joins the board. But it’s nowhere near the $400 that it was. And I think what’s happened was there was disruption, the people driving the ship or bus said, oh my goodness, this is bad for business, everybody, let’s stop this quickly.

Ren Washington:

And there’s another layer of conversation about why apps like Robinhood or Webull, a lot of them stopped the trading or limited access to these high volatile stocks. And at first people were saying, see, look, the system is working in conjunction with each other to say, no, no, let’s keep on helping us get rigid and stop everyone else from doing the same. As we’ve learned more, that maybe not be the case. But for me, it is indicative of how easy systems in place can maintain their place in systems.

Allison Bar:

Yes. And the system is working exactly as it was designed. No one was doing anything illegal, to my research, to my knowledge, no one was doing anything that the big players in Wall Street aren’t doing every day. But when the masses, the small masses started to get involved, I don’t know that they had planned for that to happen. And so, the questions began to raise. I hear you that maybe not a lot will change. I do think it’s an important news story that will probably carry a lot of questions for a long time for the general public.

Allison Bar:

And that’s part of what disruption does, gets people to look at things in different ways. And then you start to approach how you think about these things differently and if you do want to play in this space, right? And if you do, what does that mean? And then if people start to, what does that mean for Wall Street? What does that mean for our economy? It’s a much bigger question that of course we’re not going to solve in this podcast. But I do think it’s going to be a slow burn rather than a burn it down kind of disruption. A very slow burn,

Ren Washington:

I think, okay, a leader’s role, what should a leader than in an organization do? Or you listener, if you’re leading a team, or you’re part of a decision making group, do you look at a disruptive idea or disruption and do you embrace it, or do you look at it with caution and say, well, won’t disruption have a negative effect? And initially with our question, I thought, yes, Allison, you’re right, disruption is the missing piece in cultural change.

Ren Washington:

And now when I look at it, I’m thinking, well, if I’m a leader, maybe the plan isn’t just disruption, but it’s something more because I think disruption, it highlights what needs to be fixed to stop disruption. What if the people making decisions don’t care about disruption or don’t want the system to be disrupted? If I’m a leader and I have this team who’s got this great idea, and then I bring it up to the top and they go, good idea but our system doesn’t work like that. So next time, you’re going to put your suggestion into a suggestion box. And then if we want to do it, it’ll be our idea. Is disruption actually the thing that stops culture change? So I’d love to hear more about what you think around, no, disruption is, in fact, the thing that changes, or maybe it isn’t.

Allison Bar:

Yeah, and here’s one thing I’ll say, that language matters too and context matters. Disruption is a trendy term that’s been around in business and organizations for a couple of years now. And it can be viewed as a way to be innovative and progressive, and it can be viewed in some circles as a negative thing that can damage business. So, when I think of how this group of traders initially came together, it was, as you mentioned, primarily by way of a social media platform, and like I mentioned, Reddit is based around communities. So Reddit makes it very easy, in some ways, to be disruptive and anonymous versus other social platforms.

Allison Bar:

It just really got me thinking about how at the organizational level, how does it happen. So if we think back to Reddit, you fast forward and these traders and their actions, they got key players talking about Wall Street. And whether or not a culture shift is going to happen, we don’t know that’s yet to be determined. But if we think about the organizational metaphor here, we often hear from clients that they’re looking to positively disrupt their workplace culture. And we often hear from senior leaders, I really want to know what’s going on. Why don’t I get feedback from my employees? Have you heard that, Ren?

Ren Washington:

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Allison Bar:

Yeah. What’s your take on that? Why do you think people don’t talk to their leaders openly and honestly?

Ren Washington:

Because they don’t believe that people want to hear open and honest feedback.

Allison Bar:

Exactly. What we hear more often than not is that they choose to go the route of maybe feedback sessions or surveys. Sometimes they use anonymous polls so that they can have employees speak safely about their experience. And it’s an effort to create psychological safety, and it’s well-intended, and it’s a way for them to have real and honest dialogue. But you and I both know that after the employee creates the survey, they go have a beer with their friends, and that’s where the real honest dialogue happens.

Allison Bar:

And so, the obstacle here is that surveys aren’t perfect, of course, and these polls aren’t perfect. I read a Forbes article just the other day about employee surveys and how they have misinterpreted data. There can be a lack of follow up, inability to dig in because it’s anonymous. But the one thing that stood out from this article that the author stated was exactly to your point, leadership can act very inappropriately, and they do to these surveys because the feedback that is provided to them is not positive, it’s not what they want to hear. And so, when I think about your reflection on the mailroom and thinking about conversations that happen in the masses at the workplace, those conversations aren’t being bubbled up because leadership may become defensive. And then they somehow de-legitimize the feedback because it feels personal.

Allison Bar:

So, how can we get people in honest dialogue at the workplace in service of the culture change? Is it disruption? Sure. But what are your thoughts? I mean, do you find that your clients are comfortable having those honest feedback conversations in service of a culture change at the workplace?

Ren Washington:

Of course, my clients, the ones that I work with closely are, if you’re listening, you’re doing a great job. No, I’m just kidding. I think that there’s a tension there. And something you bring out for me is, have you ever waited tables?

Allison Bar:

Oh, yeah.

Ren Washington:

You know when someone asks you, what’s your favorite thing on the menu, and then you tell them, and it’s not what they want to eat. So they go great, I’ll have the other thing. And what I’ve often reflected of is when they’re asking that, they want to know, all right, tell me my pick is a good pick because I really want to eat this meal, so tell me it’s good. And so I think leaders fall into that trap where they’re like, we’ve worked hard on this, and without any malice, [inaudible 00:23:19] the company and help people, we got this brilliant idea. Hey, organization, what do you think? And the people implementing goes, thanks for the gesture, but this is dumb, don’t do it. And then leadership goes, well, okay, but reevaluate my idea. And so I think that’s such an interesting tension that people have to manage. That’s one of the things that comes up for me.

Ren Washington:

And the other one that makes me think of what is that individual leader’s role. And when we talk leader and leadership, we know at CCL, we talk about leadership as a social process. I always talk with people that you don’t have to have a C next to your title to be a leader. In fact, someone’s leading a team or they’re leading a project, or if they’re not doing either one of those, they’re leading other things. They’re leading their own experience, they’re leading their lives at home. Everyone can play the role of a leader. And so, it makes me think about how do I leverage the social process of leadership, the change, the dialogue. And maybe it’s just opening up the space.

Ren Washington:

Is disruption the key to culture change? Disruption might be the key to call to change only if it opens up an environment for free discussion. As a leader, do I say, hey, you’re disrupting or we want disruption and we’re realizing that this disruption that we asked for is really going to hurt all the efforts that we’ve done, or it’s going to stand in opposition to it. So, let’s talk about it.

Allison Bar:

Let’s do that. Let’s talk about that. So in order to make a positive culture or disruption happen, I mean, we know we have to have those real conversations with our people. But if you zoom out further, if we zoom out further from that, we already know you got to have psychological safety, you just alluded to that, it’s a nonnegotiable for those conversations. However, there is an invisible caveat to psychological safety. And that lies within the acknowledgement of, and the response to organizational power dynamics in the same way they exist in society.

Allison Bar:

So I’m not talking about the obvious ones, boss to direct report. I mean the invisible dynamics at play, humans are so complicated, the invisible dynamics at play, when you’re in a space and you have to acknowledge race, gender identity, age, tenure in the company, education. Those are just to name a few, of course, there are so many more. But if we don’t acknowledge those in the space, and I don’t necessarily mean verbally, but individually, you can prohibit psychological safety.

Allison Bar:

So, it’s wonderful to talk about psychological safety, we need that. However, power dynamics are fluid and they can inhibit psych safety in ways that are invisible, and that’s what makes this very, very complicated. So if we want to avoid employees having those real conversations after the meeting or after the survey, and if we want to avoid groups gathering online because they think they’re safer, that is what people do. We want to negate that risk of a Twitter thread going viral because employees didn’t feel like they were safe to say it at the workplace or they weren’t heard. Leaders have to start investigating how their inherent power can make or break psychological safety. It’s again, a huge concept, a very big topic to talk about on 40 minute podcast. It is a leader’s responsibility to learn about how their power impacts various circles and individuals, and it’s 100% their role to ensure that trust is present.

Allison Bar:

Again, I know we’re not going to solve this in the next 10 minutes, but what are your responses to that?

Ren Washington:

It makes me have two questions, and you started to answer some of my second one, but you were talking about how words matter. And I think sometimes we take for granted our awareness of these things like what psychological safety is. And so, for someone who that term might be new to or they might have an implicit understanding but not an explicit understanding, how would you explain it in a sentence what psychological safety is?

Allison Bar:

In one sentence I would say, you are free to share your thoughts, experiences and ideas with zero retaliation.

Ren Washington:

Okay. As a leader, how do I then cultivate that freedom, and not punish someone with retaliation? What can I actually do tactically if I have a team who’s trying to share freely or if I’m leading an effort to try to shift the culture? How do I provide that safety?

Allison Bar:

I think there are a lot of ways to do that. And what immediately comes to mind is just transparency and conversation. We have a team meeting and I’m going to set the new norm. This is our standard, this is my expectation. I want us to be able to share ideas because I know they’re going to move us forward. Your idea might not work. That doesn’t mean that you’re right, wrong or bad. And it also means that I’m not going to criticize you or shame you, or retaliate against you because your idea was XYZ, and my expectation is that everyone in the room follows suit.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Something that you highlighted there, the no judgment is really key for what I think is having these real conversations that can mold and grow and maybe support disruption or culture change, or as a leader, trying to remove the good, the bad and the ugly from it. I was talking with a client just today and we’re having a conversation around needing to change the focus from problem and solution to how do we leverage all the assets we have to bear to be better. And they came back, is like, well, we work in a scientific field.

Ren Washington:

And so, we’ve been drilled into our head that problem solution is the way to attack issues. In the spirit of no judgment. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, but it’s an interesting reflection of, well, what if we change the binary frame? Then when I’m a leader who says hey, we need to disrupt our current culture or positively disrupt it, to also admit to myself, but I really like casual Fridays. Can we not positively disrupt that?

Ren Washington:

It’s okay for people to say, here’s what we want. And also, there are some things that we really still value in the ask of this. And then as a leader who’s moving the change or who’s got a team who’s ready to change stuff says, comes to the table and says, well, thank you for your point of view. This is what we value and why we’re trying to disrupt it.

Allison Bar:

You actually reminded me of a conversation I actually had too with a client last week, he said, I really want to bring the culture of feedback to my workplace. I can’t. I said, why not. He said, because it hasn’t been responded well to in the past. And so, it’s just an interesting tension, if you will, that people are sometimes not even aware of how they’re responding to someone who’s trying to bring a new idea, whether it’s feedback or a complete system restructure. It could be something small or it could be something ginormous, but either way, people are very predictable.

Allison Bar:

And so, when a leader is asking for employee’s feedback, if we bring it back to this notion of feedback, we want to have an environment where people can be honest about their experience, and to your point, psychological safety helps, and an outcome of psychological safety is trust. However, without that trust and without the acknowledgement of the inherent power in the room, you cannot do it, it’s very, very hard. So you have to be able individually, at the individual leader, to look around you and know that I might be influencing people’s ability to speak without even saying anything, because I’m a white woman and I have power in certain spaces. That’s me, of course, speaking to my experience.

Allison Bar:

And so, I have to know that, and it’s complicated because that power is fluid, it changes, it can change like that, it can change depending on who’s in the space. But when I think about what you can do that is tangible, is at the leader level, you can take a deeper look at how your invisible power impacts those around you. So know it, intellectually know it. And when people ask you, Ren, if you could wave a magic wand, what would you change about our organization, you actually then listen without becoming defensive and you believe them. So what happens is that people don’t get believed. It’s that third piece that is oftentimes missing. What’s your experience like? If you could wave a magic wand, what would you do? And then so and so says something that makes you feel defensive and you’re in a position of power, internally, you write it off.

Allison Bar:

So that’s what we’re trying to get rid of. So in order to have that culture change, you have to get rid of that last piece, which is very hard for people. What do you think?

Ren Washington:

So, going back to the idea of disruption, and then you said people are predictable. And so, we know when people face disruption, there might be some predictable response to that. So if in the experience of disruption or even just looking back at Wall Street and GameStop, disruption is a group of sub-culture really uproots common thinking or the best practices, and then changes the tenor of the conversation for a bit. But sort of, for me, the predictable outcome has been that GameStop is not trading at 400 bucks anymore, it’s trading at 50, granted, it’s up by a point, it’s on a green-ward trajectory, an upward trajectory right now. But I think eventually, it’s going to retract. And so do the big trading firms, so do the big hedge funds.

Ren Washington:

They say sooner or later, it’s going to lose its steam, this Reddit subculture, or whatever, it’s going to go away. We’re just going to wait this thing out. And it seems like the predictable part of it is, as leader, when I’m trying to motivate change or trying to do a culture shift, there’s going to be people who either explicitly or implicitly think we’re not going to be able to maintain course. We’re always going to retract to the norm or regress to the mean. I think that my biggest takeaway or my still lingering question is that, how do I maneuver around predictable responses with people as a leader of an organization or as a leader of a team in that disruptive space?

Allison Bar:

That’s the question of the day really, right? What makes that complicated, again, is that each organization has their own nuances. However, from a psychological standpoint, there’s some probably beauty and acknowledging and naming what is. This is going to be hard and we’re going to need to put a lot of energy behind this if we want to sustain it. Here’s the outcome and here are the benefits to that outcome. And again, that strategy is not going to work for everyone, but for the vast majority of people, we know that to sustain change or disruption, you have to work for it.

Allison Bar:

And so, if you tell me Ren, you could take this easy way that’s like you can sort of be on autopilot and just do things the way you’ve normally done them, or you can take this other way and you have to challenge your own thinking and every single moment. It’s going to be exhausting. You’re going to hate it, you’re going to disagree with me, you’re going to fight it. Which way are you going to take? And most people aren’t going to take that route.

Ren Washington:

Yeah, they’re going to want to. I can stick it out. Also, can you do both for me? Can I do the change and not have to change my own behavior? That’s what I hear the most. I want change, I just don’t want to change me.

Allison Bar:

Right. And why people don’t want to change themselves is also a complicated question. But it’s hard. It’s not easy, and I think we can just name that. You and I could talk about this for seven hours and still not scratch the surface. What’s one leadership lesson that you want our listeners to take away from our conversation today?

Ren Washington:

Kind of two things here. And if I could trouble you with a story, I’m going to share. Are you familiar with the story of the little girl on the beach with the starfish?

Allison Bar:

I’m not sure.

Ren Washington:

You might be. So this old man is walking along the beach next to his home, and it’s after a king tide, the highest of tides. And this tide has receded. And there are starfish on the beach as far as the eye can see, all the way back behind him to where his house was, and all the way in front of them all the way to the horizon line. And all he sees are starfish. And he’s going along his walk. And soon on the edge of his vision there, a small girl comes into focus. And he can see from a distance that she seems to be throwing something into the ocean, moving along a little bit, leaning down and then throwing other things in the ocean.

Ren Washington:

As he gets closer to her, he realizes that she’s picking up and throwing starfish back into the ocean. And he finds, is curious, because he looks behind him, he sees nothing but starfish, he looks in front of him, sees her and looks past her, nothing but starfish littering the beach. And he finally walks up to the little girl, she’s throwing a starfish into the ocean. And he asks her, “What are you doing?” And she said, “I’m throwing these starfish back, I’m putting them back into the ocean.” And the old man kind of furrows his brow, again, he looks behind him, sees starfish as far as he can see, he can’t even see his house anymore, but he can still see starfish. He looks in front of him again, nothing but starfish, he said, “Well, that’s not going to make a difference. Look how many starfish there are.” And she looks at him, she looks down at another starfish, bends down, picks it up, throws it in the ocean, looks back in him and says, “Well, it made a difference for that one.”

Ren Washington:

And it speaks to my big leadership lesson that small behaviors can make a big difference. I often talk about, we don’t have to climb the whole mountain in one day, and in fact, we’re not going to climb the whole mountain one day. But if we can do some small things, it can make a difference. And so, I’m looking at my idea from two parts here. From the bottom, if you’re not in the predominant culture in your organization, or you’re not the one who’s in the decision making, it doesn’t mean that you can’t cause positive disruption or that you can’t shift a culture because cultures are really just things that we say and do every single day. It’s just the habits that we have when we come into work.

Ren Washington:

And, so if I’m leading a team or just leading myself or working with some colleagues and we want to change the way we do work, we start by changing the way we do work. Because it doesn’t matter if it’s not going to impact 4000 people right away, it’s going to impact the way we do business. And then the transition point is when someone starts to recognize it, how do we get clarity on what we’re doing and why, and then make sure one of us in that group has some line of sight or visibility to where the decision is being made.

Ren Washington:

So that’s one of my lessons. And the other lessons, if you’re at the helm of an organization, if you’re leading or guiding or making decisions, you can’t ignore those small movement, because we can look at Wall Street and they can say, well, we’re just going to wait GameStop out. But some of the major trading firms or hedge funds, they’ve lost more than a billion dollars because of their short positions on these stocks. And they had the luxury of losing billions of dollars. I don’t know how many people or organizations do, though, who can run the risk of well, we’re going to ignore this, and instead, we’re just going to lose our money here.

Ren Washington:

So, if you’re at the top of the organization, you can’t ignore what’s happening in pockets, and then try to lift that action into the zeitgeist, into the organization’s culture. So, that disruption works in service of a positive culture change as opposed to against it. So, how do we create a, it’s a we as opposed to it’s a you versus me. So, small behaviors make a big difference, and if you’re at the helm of an organization, you can’t ignore small things that might make major change.

Allison Bar:

I’m still thinking about the girl with her starfish, that was a nice analogy. And I’m with you, I’m with you on both of those. And my takeaway would be sort of in conjunction with yours, that if you want to start to pay attention to, and you should start paying attention to the small movements, the small behaviors that are happening, the ones that might disrupt your own thinking, the best thing that you can do is take a deeper look at how your inherent and invisible power impacts those around you.

Allison Bar:

You need psychological safety to disrupt, and if you want to disrupt positively, you also have to understand why people aren’t speaking up, why people aren’t contributing, why people aren’t saying these are the trends that are happening that you just don’t see. You have to be willing to ask those questions, what should we change, and listen to them. And you also have to believe people when they share their experiences, even if it makes you wonder if you’ve done something wrong. Nobody’s perfect, there’s no such thing as a perfect leader rather. And so, being able to let your guard down and be willing to believe people when they share their experiences is a really great first step.

Ren Washington:

I wonder what Freud would say, that there’s no such thing as a positive leader, I mean, perfect leader.

Allison Bar:

Yeah, Freudian slip. As always, Ren, thanks for the intriguing dialogue.

Ren Washington:

I appreciate.

Allison Bar:

I’m walking away with a lot to think about now, and I also want to thank our listeners for tuning in. So if you are listening, don’t forget to subscribe to our leadership lessons On the Ground podcast. Be sure to give us a rating while you’re there. You can also find more leadership lessons from CCL on our LinkedIn page. And lastly, Ren, we’d be remiss if we didn’t give accolades to our behind the scenes unsung hero, Ryan. Thank you, Ryan. He does hours and hours and hours of prep and post work, helps us to strategize, gives us ideas. He does so much to make this podcast happen. So thanks to you, Ryan. Thanks again, folks, and we’ll look forward to seeing you next time.

Ren Washington:

That’s right. See you next week.

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Lead With That: What GameStop Can Teach Us About Disruption and Culture Change

In December, GameStop was trading at a little under $13. And at the time of this recording, it is trading at $193. This feels like a lot of disruption. A group of subredditors took on the Wall Street Establishment an disrupted the way Wall Street does business, at least for a bit. It got us thinking about disruption and its role in behavior change. Is this kind of disruption the key to changing the way work is done? From a leadership perspective, is harnessing disruption the missing piece of culture change in the workplace? Let’s talk about the lessons we can learn from the GameStop headlines and lead with that.

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