Podcast

Redefining Employee Well-being and Burnout with Bryan Smith

Podcast

Redefining Employee Well-being and Burnout with Bryan Smith

Podcast

Redefining Employee Well-being and Burnout with Bryan Smith

Podcast

Redefining Employee Well-being and Burnout with Bryan Smith

Podcast

Redefining Employee Well-being and Burnout with Bryan Smith

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Podcast

Redefining Employee Well-being and Burnout with Bryan Smith

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Podcast

Redefining Employee Well-being and Burnout with Bryan Smith

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MIN
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About the Episode
How are employees similar to athletes? They need time to recover in order to hit their peak performance. In this episode, Bryan Smith, co-founder of LEON, digs into the science behind employee health and happiness. Learn about the complex systems that impact employee well-being, from stress and burnout to recovery and building resiliency. This episode will help any employee, especially managers, better understand how they can create a work environment that makes employees happy, healthy, and engaged.
Episode Highlights

Managing people is complex
Your strategy must adjust to the many aspects that impact employee morale, happiness, and engagement.

Data is crucial to HR
Instead of using a one-size-fits-all strategy for employees, develop specialized plans according to employee data and statistics. 

Stress impacts employee performance
Employees are like athletes; they need time to recover after stress but can also be challenged more upon recovery.


Meet our Guest

Bryan Smith is taking his experiences as a pro sports performance coach and applying them to the corporate world. As the co-founder of LEON, an AI-powered employee performance platform that enables companies to scale growth, Bryan is determined to build humankind’s healthiest and happiest generation of employees. His passion for employee wellness and teaching people about burnout, stress, and recovery led him to also found Humans. This community is focused on bridging the gap between entry-level employees and CEOs by cultivating deeper human connection and good conversations.

Episode Transcript

Chris Byers: When we think about employee wellness, often what comes to mind are beverages on tap, ping pong tables and other surface level perks. But what if we went deeper than these superficial benefits and instead focused on truly impactful employee happiness? To help answer the question today, as Brian Smith, he is the CEO and founder of Leon and Humans. We'll dig into what those two organizations are here in a minute, but before we do, you should also know that Brian is a wellness professional and pro sports performance coach, turned founder and start up advisor. How did he get where he is today, and what's the driving force behind people's performance and well-being? Let's find out. I'm Chris Byers of Form SAC, and this is Ripple Effect, a show celebrating the positive impact our decisions create. Brian, welcome to the show, and I have to imagine with your line of work, you see the ripple effect on a number of levels. Before we get to those stories, can you give our listeners a bit of a snapshot of what Leon is?

Bryan Smith: Leon, essentially what we are is we're a performance tool based off of data science. So ultimately, what we do is we predict things like employee burnout, employee happiness, employee grit, organizational adaptability. And then in the back end, we actually quantify specific playbooks for you to run to be able to improve your organization and improve your people. For example, implementing a four day workweek, we can tell you exactly when to do it, who to do it with and how long to run it or no meetings Friday, which everybody knows what is the exact effect of implementing those types of strategies. You know, we show light on, on and off those types of things.

Chris Byers: Well, I assume last year was really just a pretty interesting year to utilize your technology and in that A.I. and how you think about things because you all of a sudden went from calling it a normal environment to something that was very abnormal. And I would say for us, we've tried to be progressive in the way that we think about doing work remote work very early. But last year it was tough. It was like, Yeah, we can be flexible, but never felt like a program or a system would work. I'm curious how you guys tackled last year and how you navigated that.

Bryan Smith: It was a huge pivot for everybody, and obviously we went to remote and we went to different work environments and obviously the strain and stress of just COVID in life changing for every single human being on the planet. But I think in a lot of ways it defines what we are as a product and how we want to work to help people and back this up by saying, is that everything we experience as human beings? It really comes down to stress and recovery and sort of compensation. So there's a little bit of stress that you go through. Your body learns how to adapt to that stress and then you super compensate, right? Like you develop a higher level of resiliency. And with COVID, it was like this gigantic stress response where no one has ever felt that level of strain, but on that because most of the times when you have stress like that, it's major life changes, right? It's divorce, it's having a child, it's a death in the family. It's all these different things where we were all experiencing all those things, all at one time. Right? Like from the fear of people dying to your kids, not going to school to potentially losing your job. It was just a crazy thing. And like anything, I think it reinvigorated us to really define and really understand. Like what, as you opened up what employee wellness really means and how it's not ping pong tables. It's not kombucha, it's the wellbeing and the performance. And this I love this term readiness of our team to be able to perform at their job with minimal cost. And that cost part is so important because we always forget that everything we ask of our charges, and I say that word charges like really meaning it is like our employees, our responsibility and everything we ask of them is stress. And it's up to us to understand that stress and how much stress that we're giving them and what they affect our cost is going to be. And with COVID that you showed, the cost of stress and the cost of not having wellbeing can do to an organization.

Chris Byers: What inspired you to start your company?

Bryan Smith: My background was in sports science, so I worked with primarily track and field athletes and Olympic level track and field athletes to ultimately predict performance or predict injury on an Olympic level. And so what we would do is we do all sorts of different physiological monitoring and surveys, GPPs analysis, all these types of things to ultimately develop a model to predict injury or predict a. And I wanted to do that. In business, right in the tech world, because we're always looking about quantifying things, if that's or whatever that is. But we never really quantify our people in a way that benefits them. So is your typical employee engagement survey that gives something to a manager to be able to manage a little bit better, but it never directly affects the employee. So yeah, I just think it came from living in the sports science world and protecting athletes and protecting their livelihood and wanting to do that within the employee space.

Chris Byers: And tell us about humans. You've got this other organization at the same time. What does that look like and what are you trying to accomplish there?

Bryan Smith: Yes. So humans is a community, and what we're trying to do with humans is we want to create an environment where. Like, that concept of human optimization can be talked about right and tested and iterated on and true culture can have a conversation about what people really need and what works because we look at these terms like well-being and well-being is probably the most subjective term you could ever talk about in your whole entire life. Obviously, there are the physical aspects of well-being, and that's heart rate and blood pressure and all these other things. But the way that I achieve wellness might be very, very different than the way that you achieve illness. And then we wanted to create a conversation about how people are going about managing their health in their own very, very subjective way, rather than forcing everybody into a Headspace membership or forcing everybody to a happy hour. 5:00 p.m. on a Friday.

Chris Byers: So you've talked about this idea of human optimization and would love to hear you dig into a little bit of that. What does that mean? What are the outcomes of that?

Bryan Smith: The concept of like human optimization, it's a very broad topic, but really it comes down to is that everything that we do from a leadership standpoint, it's always about improvement. Right? Like, we're always trying to like when we implement elements, systems or upskilling or whatnot, like we're or optimizing that specific human being. But what we fail to think about is, can that employee take on that stress right now? And is the effect of implementing an upskilling strategy at form stack going to actually cause a negative response in that employee? And yes, you might be training that employee to do something better, but if they're burnt out, all right or they're highly fatigued, you're actually going to cause a negative physiological response. So when I talk about human optimization, I talk about this concept of a linear curve on making humans better and making them more resilient. Resiliency is the key to everything. If you can make a more resilient human being mentally and physiologically, and they can accomplish anything. So as companies, we need to be looking at human optimization in the way that we prescribe strategies and learning and training as a way to make human beings better and more resilient. Because if we can do that, then we have a more resilient company.

Chris Byers: So you talk about the complexity of managing people and especially as they relate to trying to grow an organization and grow a company would love for you to talk a little bit about that because I'm sure every one of us has had the challenge of and frankly, I'll say this kind of quietly. We've said, Oh man, if I could do this without people, that would be great, but I'd love for you to talk about that complexity.

Bryan Smith: Yeah, that's actually pretty good. Such a complex system, right? Complex system is a theory based a long time ago on the idea that our human body is made up of a bunch of systems all feeding input. So like you have, like mentally, you have a central nervous system, you have all these different systems in the body. And our company is pretty much the same way because your company, it's an organism and that organism has constant inputs coming into it. There are people's inputs as revenue inputs. There's marketing inputs, all these different things, it's always constantly growing. When we manage people, we have to take that into account that we are not in, especially now in a closed environment where you can say this is your goal and this is what you need to accomplish. Get after because that's impossible, because what if you give me a goal? You set my OKR for the next quarter and next year, and God forbid, I get a divorce or there's a death in the family, understanding those things and talking to your people and making management live and breathe. That's the concept of like management is a complex system because we always have to take into account all these other inputs and all these other stressors, and then reassess how we manage our people, how we lead our people, what type of strategies we implement and so on and so forth.

Chris Byers: One of the things we just had our company event recently, and normally that company event is in person, and at the end of the week, I was just really taxed and I was like, Why is that? It's all been remote. And someone reminded me of my introverted nature, and I was like, That's so weird. That doesn't make sense in a virtual world. I get it in a physical world, but I think you're speaking to just all of these things that drive us and make us energetic, lose energy and where you can identify those and help people surround themselves with the right community resources. I think you just create some great lift. So I love what you're doing there.

Bryan Smith: It's a really interesting concept, right? Because I think in each hour and really just how we manage people, everything is always starting a strategy for everybody. It's always, you have this one specific strategy. And like I said, if it's using Headspace and buying Headspace membership, your entire population or if it's happy hour or if it's a mental health seminar like all those things are fantastic, but they just might not work for 10 percent of your population. And what do you do with that other 10 percent of that population? And how do you find the signal through all that noise and understand how to best? Support your product team or your sales team when your marketing team, when, like you said, like personality traits and how you were raised and where you grew up, and all these things impact how you help or support your people. But right now, we don't have enough information to truly help each and every single person on our team

Chris Byers: dig into that idea of happiness. How do you think about employee happiness?

Bryan Smith: Happiness is very much a moving target, and all things considered. I tend to look at happiness being measured, Elma says. Terms like resiliency, right? Like, how resilient are you to the stress that's going to affect you today, tomorrow and the next day? And are you resilient enough where that's not going to disrupt your mental health to cause a disruption in your happiness? Are you resilient enough to be able to create the environment that you want, either in your personal life or your work life, or whatever that is to actualize that happiness?

Chris Byers: And as you think about companies who are listening and say, Oh, this sounds like this sounds great, I think this is probably an important topic to us. How do you think about navigating where the company gets involved and how they participate? Because of course, there are these moments where we probably can't create a full time counseling service, but you do want to create these wonderful environments and places where people, I think, get something that they don't get at the next company. How do you think about that

Bryan Smith: performance and happiness and all these other things? Very much is a moving target, and it's not necessarily the strategy that you decide to implement. It's the timing of that strategy, managing people and human beings and running companies. It's all a very complex system with multiple different inputs, driving every single aspect of what we do. Intervention is always needed on a company level, but it's just understanding the timing of that intervention if it's the right time to actually step in and do something. The power of understanding team sentiment is huge and understanding where if it's regardless of its surveys or wearables or whatever that is, it's great to have that data. But you have to understand what to do with that data and when is the proper time to implement the strategy to using that data, but also on the other end, and this is actually something from sports. When we're tracking our athletes, we're not always looking for who's beat up right or who is burnt out, which is what we do in our space. We're always looking for the people that need support. But what we also need to start looking at is like the people that can be challenged, right? Because the people who are challenged, who are ready and recovered, they're the people that maybe pick up the slack for the people that are maybe going through some struggles and also to monotony and boredom is an impact of employee burnout. I think it's zooming out a little bit understanding that teams that need you right now and when to step in and what that strategy is, but also understanding the teams that are actually who recovered. And maybe you can increase their OK hours, or maybe you can give them more autonomy and use a strategy by Google or Atlassian where you let them work on side projects? Or maybe you implement some sort of job crafting strategy. That's the interplay of performance, and that's what we do with athletes. We're always looking at things like, how can we fix the athletes that are beat up and how can we maximize the adaptation for the athletes that are highly recovered? And that's the way that we can look at employee performance. Let's bring the people that need support up right at the right time with the right dose and the right strategy. And let's make sure that employees that are highly recovered. Let's push them a little farther because we know they can handle the stress. And if we give them the proper dose of stress, they're going to become better high performers. They're going to start excelling more at their job. And I know this is conceptual as a whole, but that's what one Leon does. But two, that's the way I look at it. Employee performance, it's assessing readiness and then making decisions off of that readiness level on either supporting your team or challenge.

Chris Byers: Do you have any stories of how you've seen that kind of happiness improve and impact performance at work?

Bryan Smith: So there's a couple companies we work with in Silicon Valley, and what we looked at was this concept of monotony and how that relates to employee burnout. And using that same example, what we did is we took a series of inside sales teams with about five or six different companies. Now what we did is we assessed burnout, we assessed happiness and great resiliency, adaptability and all of these different things. And what we do is we compared that over the past year as well as revenue growth. And what was interesting is that the managers that manipulated OKRs, meaning one month went up 10 percent, one month went down five percent. Whatever their employees not only perform better, but they also reduce their risk of burnout and whatnot because there was this a constant increase decrease perform, recover, perform, recover a concept that. And to a higher level of alignment within their company, a reduced risk of burnout and a higher level of happiness within those specific companies compared to the other team, that OK, ours pretty much stayed stagnant. Right. So there was never this like stretch and recovery or perform a recovery concept. So what we do with that, teams that work with nowadays, like we recommend like a playbook to make Oak Forest live in breeds where based off the readiness or the wellness of your team. All right, let's say your team is trending towards burnout. Maybe next month you just decrease. OK, here's a little bit you allow them to back off and recover. Not so much that's going to affect your company, but enough that it allows them to take a breath. And now that they're recovered, that's super compensated to use a sports science term the next month, and we ramp up a little bit more. Not enough to put him back into that fight or flight response, but enough that it makes him stretch a little bit because now they are recovered. That was a really interesting example of breaking up monotony and seeing huge changes in not just well-being, but also job performance.

Chris Byers: When I think that idea of monotony speaks to some of what we all experienced last year, which is even just the day to day these small delights, maybe we took delight in like we ran out to get coffee or we sat in a coffee shop to work or whatever. All these things get compressed and you didn't get to do them at all, or not nearly as much. And so even the stuff that you were doing all before all of a sudden kind of became more monotonous because you didn't get a break from it. And I think you can see how that causes a huge tax on people. How do you think that actually impacts people at home, too?

Bryan Smith: I have two daughters and they were home. And obviously, I love them being home, but, you know, I still have other responsibilities and whatnot and that experience of waking up every day, making breakfast, getting them logged in to go to school, then trying to do your own job and then going into that process, you're essentially working two full time jobs. And you'll remember when things started opening up a little bit where you could walk out the door and, like you said, getting a cup of coffee or going to Starbucks like that and little break. And I want to I want people to understand, like there's a physiological response to that break, like literally that's your body perceives that as a downregulation of your autonomic or sympathetic nervous system, right? So there's a downregulation in that elicits a recovery response. So a lot of times breaking up monotony throughout your day, if that's going for a walk, if that is playing with your dog or your kids or whatever, that triggers a recovery response and those little micro recovery responses is what leads to a longer term break in monotony or a longer term recovery response. So it's hugely important to have these micro recovery sessions and days, week months, whatever that is.

Chris Byers: Brant, how do you define burnout? It's clearly something that comes up in every article everywhere, and we all feel it at times. How do you think about it?

Bryan Smith: It's an interesting concept within the business space. And when I say interesting, there's some issues with the way that we quantify in a way that we assess it and whether we think about what it is and what I mean by that is everything that we've taken into account of. What burnout is from a clinical level has been most of the time dictated by organizational psychologists or psychologists. It's a physiological problem. It's a psychological problem. It's multiple different factors, but on a simple basis. And the most simple level of burnout is an overreaction of the autonomic nervous system causing a heightened fight or flight response over long periods of time without giving adequate recovery. So we all know the term fight or flight response, that it's essentially your body's stuck in a fight or flight response, and it gets so bad that eventually it causes an illness. So lack of a better term, right, it causes mental health issues like depression and whatnot. But it also causes physiological issues like high blood pressure, eventually even low blood pressure, hypoglycemia, a bunch of other things that we don't take into account because we only look at burnout as being a company problem when really it's a systemic physiological psychological problem.

Chris Byers: So a lot of what we've talked about, our ideas that are not baked into the culture we're used to strive more, push more, achieve more if you could introduce something into the world and into the culture. What would you wish people would embrace and say, Yeah, let's try to make this a part of our day to day lives.

Bryan Smith: More often we talk about this concept of hustle culture. But what we don't understand is that a hustle culture doesn't happen. Like you can't hustle unless you recover, like, it's virtually impossible. But I also agree that sometimes we have overreactions to rest and recovery, and that's going to sound a little bad. And I'll explain we either put ourselves in camps. It's either I'm a hustler and I am going to ride until I die, and that's what I do. Where the other side of it, where it says I am the rest and recovery person. And I think I should only work three hours a day and I am going to jump in a cry of it today, as well as to do yoga, as well as workout and meditate for 45 minutes. What we need to understand is that we do have to earn the right to recover, and that's important because you don't earn the right to recover. There is no compensation like you recover to get better. You don't recover just to relax. So I think it's important that we understand that to recover, you still have to work hard and it's not one way or the other. It's like a symbiotic relationship. Bust your ass so you can recover and then be a better employee, worker, performer, whatever that is on the back. And that's like how biology works.

Chris Byers: I love what you're talking about there and how it just speaks to so much of the experience we all have had over these past months and years or so. As companies do try to embrace like, all right, what do we do about this? How do we engage? I'm sure plenty of us forms that could be included have put programs in place that have just been kind of a waste like you don't really get problems solved. What are some common misconceptions or programs or things put in place that you find to be just not nearly as valuable as everybody thinks they should be?

Bryan Smith: None of us are similar and none of us are alike. I mean, you mentioned the introverted thing earlier, for a lot of people doing a happy hour with your team if you're introverted is a high amount of stress. Right? So you're thinking you're doing something which is actually causing a higher amount of stress for your employer, which is actually causing them more issues and burnout and happiness and all those other things. I think what it comes down to is regardless of whatever you're doing, if that's purchasing a subsidy thing for mental health services or you're implementing certain strategies to lower the cognitive load like reducing meetings or whatnot. There is no one size fits all for anything when it comes down to really like human biology, and that's what we're doing when we're talking about helping our people recover. It's not just a mental state like this, there's a physiological response to when it comes to helping your people recover from things like burnout. That burnout is a physiological response that presents itself as a mental health problem, but it starts on a physiological level first. Nothing is one-size-fits-all. So don't ever think that purchasing headspace or whatever you do is going to fix everything. It takes a real time strategy, much like it takes professional athletes to be able to manage the well-being and the readiness of our team. And it's a full time job. It really is if you want it to impact performance. If you just want to check the boxes and say that we have a mental health service and we want to survey every year, then that's fine. You can definitely check the boxes. But if you want those things to impact performance, it needs to be something that's done often. All right. And there has to be a strategy built around it.

Chris Byers: Once somebody is saying, All right, I'm hearing this and I want to do something good with it. What are some things you'd say? Get started here?

Bryan Smith: One of the things I love right now is a general wellness questionnaire of five questions and that's talking about how you feel, how your sleep is impacted, what you do is you use that before a quarter or an after quarter or before sprint and after spring. And then what you do is you track that over periods of time and then you just give it a sort of a composite score. So like my team's wellness score for this month at the beginning of this month, at the end of this month was a five and a two. All right. And then you don't have to be reactive to it that first month. But if you track it over a longer period of time, you start to see signals within your data, right like you go back to last year and like, all right, based off of a wellness questionnaire, we know that December our team was highly burnt out. Why is that? So you can go back and understand, but you can also like you're getting into a prediction model or we know coming into this December that our team is going to be highly burned. How can we strategize around that to make sure it doesn't happen again? All right. Or if you want to maybe drill down a little poser at the beginning of this product spring, my team was out of 10. All right, at the end of this product sprint, they were out of four. OK, so we know that. So the question you need to ask is what could we have done before the product sprint to make sure the cost of this product sprint wasn't as great? What could we have done during the product sprint to make sure that coming out of the sprint they're not going to be in for? And what can we do after that product sprint to make sure that we allow our recovery response to happen?

Chris Byers: Absolutely. I think that you're talking about just live feedback, and I think we often wait way too long. We do annual reviews, we do even quarterly surveys. There's a great visual that I loved, which is I got to go to the Olympics, one of the Olympic training sites, one time in Colorado Springs. And I noticed during the tour, and you probably know this everywhere you go. There are these TVs, and I was like, What are they here for? And then the explanation comes as there are cameras and trees that are always on a 30 second delay. And I love that visual of I go do my whatever sport, and I can always stop the moment I'm done and go, glance at, OK, what did I do? How did I do it? And so I think you're just talking about that idea of much more rapid feedback and how it can really help us make much smarter decisions.

Bryan Smith: Variant that doesn't happen if your team burns out like that's a management problem. Like you are not managing your people properly because you allowed that to happen. But it's very easy to mitigate, right? Because you just need to understand. You just need to get a signal of when your team is trending that way and when they're trending that's when you provide some sort of mitigation strategy. All right. And then over time, I think you eventually figure out what that is as you get feedback, as you see your scores change and then that becomes part of your toolbox, right? But an important part, too, is employee engagement and employee performance, we tend to look at it as an organizational thing or as like a major thing like we all do this, but true employee performance needs to happen on a team level. So if you want your sales team to be able to reduce burnout by the time it kicks up to H.R., you're screwed. At that point, they're already burned out. Performance has already dropped, opportunities are going down, call lines going down. But if you empower your sales manager to have employee engagement data and give and empower them with strategies to be able to implement when that slight puff of smoke starts happening within burnout, that's performance management. But we tend to rely on H.R. to fix everything. When managers, that's our responsibility. Like we're stressed givers and we're stress takers. All right. Managers need to understand exactly when you give that stress, when you take away and then you do your OK hours and you're one of ones and all those other things,

Chris Byers: How do you think life has changed in the past few years in terms of employee wellness.

Bryan Smith: I really think they employees, their expectations have changed now. I was just on LinkedIn and someone was like, Do we need a sales enablement like health officer, a wellbeing officer or whatever? And I think that's where we're moving to, where employees are going to expect that their health and their well-being is taken care of. And if it's not taken care of that, they're not going to be willing to jeopardize it anymore. And quite honestly, they shouldn't, our employees, our responsibilities, there are charges if we hurt them. We're not doing the right thing. This isn't the 1940s where you could do those types of things. This is in an environment where I think more than anything, we've learned that we're all in this together. So now as leaders, we need to live up to the expectations of protecting our charges.

Chris Byers: I love that idea. I'm feeling the criticism somebody might be listening and saying, though, is, OK, I hear you and I'm not trying to abuse people, but they're adults. Why can't they take part of this responsibility on themselves? How do you think about that?

Bryan Smith: There is a personal responsibility that they need to own right like a person does have to exercise. They do have to eat healthy, they do have to do all those other things, and that's something that they have to take on themselves. But when it comes down to their expectations of what you're giving them, that's where we ask managers that we need to be smarter. For example, for a sales team, say you've average 100 opportunities a month and next month, because I'm the boss, I'm going to say your goal is a thousand opportunities. Would you say that's fair, Chris?

Chris Byers: That doesn't sound great. That sounds rather undoable.

Bryan Smith: Exactly. So we do this all the time. We're always understanding that we would have to be cognitive of the stress that we're giving our people. All right. We just don't have strategies or we're too lazy to understand exactly how to support them in a science sort of data driven way. I think it just comes down to is that we need to realize that the wellness of our people is a performance driver. All right? And it doesn't take much. You just need to look at those things in the same light. Right? Your wellness score, whatever you want to call it, is the same thing as your revenue number. They should grow together on a linear curve. And if they're not, you either have a management issue or something else. But it takes a village where people do have to protect themselves. But at some point we have to be cognizant of the stress that we're getting on our people as well.

Chris Byers: If you could give some advice to our listeners, how can they unlock their genius to create more happiness in their work or personal lives?

Bryan Smith: I think the most important thing we can do for our employees is building resiliency, and that's such a buzzword in the world that we live in today. Every VR article ever written, it's like resiliency and how to build it, but understand that resiliency is something that has grown over time. And then if you want a resilient workforce, you have to be able to manipulate the stress that is giving them. If you burn your employees out, you would never have a resilient organization and never have an adaptable organization. So if you manage the well-being of your people, that is leading to a more resilient organization which allows you to scale faster and grow faster. All those other things. It's not just the soft aspects of, Oh, we want our people to be happy, so we're going to do mental health. It's if you want to align it with better performance and understand that every decision that you make regarding the well-being of your people is going to be an exponential return of the resiliency and adaptability of your company and your organization.

Chris Byers: What do you think people need to think about when it comes to employee happiness? What what do they need to start with

Bryan Smith: and managers need to first understand what stress is and how things like that work. There is a great book called Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers from University of Stanford. It's like an amazing book. It's not science at all. It's an amazing book. I would suggest that managers and leaders understand the stress response of people and what happens, because I think as you start understanding and gaining empathy of what actually happens to your people when you do a, you know, 24 hour product sprint, right, it will allow you to make better people decisions on the back end. But understanding again that our job as leaders are to prescribe stress and take away stress. Everything else, the training, they require, all those other things, right? That's still part of our job. But the first and foremost job is to make sure that the job is getting done and that is prescribing stress. So long story short, read a book, understand stress and then gain something that's great.

Chris Byers: It's interesting. I'm actually reading a book right now, and it actually covers the views of the idea of Sabbath from a number of different faiths and how most faiths have a Sabbath concept built in this time of rest. But I just read this chapter on progress and how we're all stuck in this idea that life is just satisfying in the way that it is now. We're trying to get to some future destination. And I think that too creates this constant. That's why we go from 100 opportunities to a thousand because we're like, it's going to be better there. And yet I don't think that really gets us anywhere, doesn't it?

Bryan Smith: No, I think sometimes that dropping down to 50 opportunities probably makes for a better company. Biology dictates that we're always trying to improve. That's our system to a certain extent, because if you take away stress. All right, your body then reduces resiliency. So there is, I think there's a biological construct of like your body's always receiving inputs and always receive always making systems to adapt and improve. So I think that's a little bit built into our DNA. But understanding that to do that, to happen, for that, to happen, for that new system and that new adaptation and that new level of resiliency to actually take place, it does require a Sabbath. It does require a rest and recovery time for that super compensation process to happen.

Chris Byers: What do you think people listening can do differently in their day to day to create a positive impact for other people?

Bryan Smith: I think you lead with empathy no matter what you do. I think that's the most important part of leading people when you're raising children. Just understanding that stress, regardless, if you're running a marathon or if you are leading a sales department, it's all the same thing in how we perceive that stress is dictated by our genetics, our epigenetics, our you know, how we were raised, our lack of a mother or a lack of a father, like all those things matter and drive who we are as people and how we adapt to stress. If you understand that and you're leading people, you have to lead with empathy first because we all have biological settings that we can either break through and or not. And if you want to support your people, you have to understand that

Chris Byers: as you think about humans or Leon, jump forward a handful of years. What's the impact you hope to have through those organizations?

Bryan Smith: Quite honestly, I just want to prove the concept that well-being and performance align. I want to be able to show that the best way to grow a company is by also reducing the most amount of cost on your people. Because I look at a company, that scale is exponentially but burns their people out, that's not a successful company. A successful company to me is someone who can scale exponentially but also support and protect their people doing it. So I want to be able to prove out that concept.

Chris Byers: I love that in recent episodes, guests have brought up kind of the way they view or have experienced failure. How do you view failure without failure?

Bryan Smith: There's no growth, and I know that is a very much like management consulting phrase, but it's absolutely true on a physiological biological level. And if there is not an overt stress response that your body goes through failure or system fatigue, that system is never going to be able to compensate and develop patterns to be able to overcome that stress again. Failure is just biological, and it's something we all go through and then you learn how to recover or succeed after the fact.

Chris Byers: Thank you for joining me on this episode of Ripple Effect. To learn more about how people like Brian are reimagining their world of work, head over to formstack.com/practically-genius also linked in our show notes.

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Redefining Employee Well-being and Burnout with Bryan Smith

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Redefining Employee Well-being and Burnout with Bryan Smith

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Chris Byers: When we think about employee wellness, often what comes to mind are beverages on tap, ping pong tables and other surface level perks. But what if we went deeper than these superficial benefits and instead focused on truly impactful employee happiness? To help answer the question today, as Brian Smith, he is the CEO and founder of Leon and Humans. We'll dig into what those two organizations are here in a minute, but before we do, you should also know that Brian is a wellness professional and pro sports performance coach, turned founder and start up advisor. How did he get where he is today, and what's the driving force behind people's performance and well-being? Let's find out. I'm Chris Byers of Form SAC, and this is Ripple Effect, a show celebrating the positive impact our decisions create. Brian, welcome to the show, and I have to imagine with your line of work, you see the ripple effect on a number of levels. Before we get to those stories, can you give our listeners a bit of a snapshot of what Leon is?

Bryan Smith: Leon, essentially what we are is we're a performance tool based off of data science. So ultimately, what we do is we predict things like employee burnout, employee happiness, employee grit, organizational adaptability. And then in the back end, we actually quantify specific playbooks for you to run to be able to improve your organization and improve your people. For example, implementing a four day workweek, we can tell you exactly when to do it, who to do it with and how long to run it or no meetings Friday, which everybody knows what is the exact effect of implementing those types of strategies. You know, we show light on, on and off those types of things.

Chris Byers: Well, I assume last year was really just a pretty interesting year to utilize your technology and in that A.I. and how you think about things because you all of a sudden went from calling it a normal environment to something that was very abnormal. And I would say for us, we've tried to be progressive in the way that we think about doing work remote work very early. But last year it was tough. It was like, Yeah, we can be flexible, but never felt like a program or a system would work. I'm curious how you guys tackled last year and how you navigated that.

Bryan Smith: It was a huge pivot for everybody, and obviously we went to remote and we went to different work environments and obviously the strain and stress of just COVID in life changing for every single human being on the planet. But I think in a lot of ways it defines what we are as a product and how we want to work to help people and back this up by saying, is that everything we experience as human beings? It really comes down to stress and recovery and sort of compensation. So there's a little bit of stress that you go through. Your body learns how to adapt to that stress and then you super compensate, right? Like you develop a higher level of resiliency. And with COVID, it was like this gigantic stress response where no one has ever felt that level of strain, but on that because most of the times when you have stress like that, it's major life changes, right? It's divorce, it's having a child, it's a death in the family. It's all these different things where we were all experiencing all those things, all at one time. Right? Like from the fear of people dying to your kids, not going to school to potentially losing your job. It was just a crazy thing. And like anything, I think it reinvigorated us to really define and really understand. Like what, as you opened up what employee wellness really means and how it's not ping pong tables. It's not kombucha, it's the wellbeing and the performance. And this I love this term readiness of our team to be able to perform at their job with minimal cost. And that cost part is so important because we always forget that everything we ask of our charges, and I say that word charges like really meaning it is like our employees, our responsibility and everything we ask of them is stress. And it's up to us to understand that stress and how much stress that we're giving them and what they affect our cost is going to be. And with COVID that you showed, the cost of stress and the cost of not having wellbeing can do to an organization.

Chris Byers: What inspired you to start your company?

Bryan Smith: My background was in sports science, so I worked with primarily track and field athletes and Olympic level track and field athletes to ultimately predict performance or predict injury on an Olympic level. And so what we would do is we do all sorts of different physiological monitoring and surveys, GPPs analysis, all these types of things to ultimately develop a model to predict injury or predict a. And I wanted to do that. In business, right in the tech world, because we're always looking about quantifying things, if that's or whatever that is. But we never really quantify our people in a way that benefits them. So is your typical employee engagement survey that gives something to a manager to be able to manage a little bit better, but it never directly affects the employee. So yeah, I just think it came from living in the sports science world and protecting athletes and protecting their livelihood and wanting to do that within the employee space.

Chris Byers: And tell us about humans. You've got this other organization at the same time. What does that look like and what are you trying to accomplish there?

Bryan Smith: Yes. So humans is a community, and what we're trying to do with humans is we want to create an environment where. Like, that concept of human optimization can be talked about right and tested and iterated on and true culture can have a conversation about what people really need and what works because we look at these terms like well-being and well-being is probably the most subjective term you could ever talk about in your whole entire life. Obviously, there are the physical aspects of well-being, and that's heart rate and blood pressure and all these other things. But the way that I achieve wellness might be very, very different than the way that you achieve illness. And then we wanted to create a conversation about how people are going about managing their health in their own very, very subjective way, rather than forcing everybody into a Headspace membership or forcing everybody to a happy hour. 5:00 p.m. on a Friday.

Chris Byers: So you've talked about this idea of human optimization and would love to hear you dig into a little bit of that. What does that mean? What are the outcomes of that?

Bryan Smith: The concept of like human optimization, it's a very broad topic, but really it comes down to is that everything that we do from a leadership standpoint, it's always about improvement. Right? Like, we're always trying to like when we implement elements, systems or upskilling or whatnot, like we're or optimizing that specific human being. But what we fail to think about is, can that employee take on that stress right now? And is the effect of implementing an upskilling strategy at form stack going to actually cause a negative response in that employee? And yes, you might be training that employee to do something better, but if they're burnt out, all right or they're highly fatigued, you're actually going to cause a negative physiological response. So when I talk about human optimization, I talk about this concept of a linear curve on making humans better and making them more resilient. Resiliency is the key to everything. If you can make a more resilient human being mentally and physiologically, and they can accomplish anything. So as companies, we need to be looking at human optimization in the way that we prescribe strategies and learning and training as a way to make human beings better and more resilient. Because if we can do that, then we have a more resilient company.

Chris Byers: So you talk about the complexity of managing people and especially as they relate to trying to grow an organization and grow a company would love for you to talk a little bit about that because I'm sure every one of us has had the challenge of and frankly, I'll say this kind of quietly. We've said, Oh man, if I could do this without people, that would be great, but I'd love for you to talk about that complexity.

Bryan Smith: Yeah, that's actually pretty good. Such a complex system, right? Complex system is a theory based a long time ago on the idea that our human body is made up of a bunch of systems all feeding input. So like you have, like mentally, you have a central nervous system, you have all these different systems in the body. And our company is pretty much the same way because your company, it's an organism and that organism has constant inputs coming into it. There are people's inputs as revenue inputs. There's marketing inputs, all these different things, it's always constantly growing. When we manage people, we have to take that into account that we are not in, especially now in a closed environment where you can say this is your goal and this is what you need to accomplish. Get after because that's impossible, because what if you give me a goal? You set my OKR for the next quarter and next year, and God forbid, I get a divorce or there's a death in the family, understanding those things and talking to your people and making management live and breathe. That's the concept of like management is a complex system because we always have to take into account all these other inputs and all these other stressors, and then reassess how we manage our people, how we lead our people, what type of strategies we implement and so on and so forth.

Chris Byers: One of the things we just had our company event recently, and normally that company event is in person, and at the end of the week, I was just really taxed and I was like, Why is that? It's all been remote. And someone reminded me of my introverted nature, and I was like, That's so weird. That doesn't make sense in a virtual world. I get it in a physical world, but I think you're speaking to just all of these things that drive us and make us energetic, lose energy and where you can identify those and help people surround themselves with the right community resources. I think you just create some great lift. So I love what you're doing there.

Bryan Smith: It's a really interesting concept, right? Because I think in each hour and really just how we manage people, everything is always starting a strategy for everybody. It's always, you have this one specific strategy. And like I said, if it's using Headspace and buying Headspace membership, your entire population or if it's happy hour or if it's a mental health seminar like all those things are fantastic, but they just might not work for 10 percent of your population. And what do you do with that other 10 percent of that population? And how do you find the signal through all that noise and understand how to best? Support your product team or your sales team when your marketing team, when, like you said, like personality traits and how you were raised and where you grew up, and all these things impact how you help or support your people. But right now, we don't have enough information to truly help each and every single person on our team

Chris Byers: dig into that idea of happiness. How do you think about employee happiness?

Bryan Smith: Happiness is very much a moving target, and all things considered. I tend to look at happiness being measured, Elma says. Terms like resiliency, right? Like, how resilient are you to the stress that's going to affect you today, tomorrow and the next day? And are you resilient enough where that's not going to disrupt your mental health to cause a disruption in your happiness? Are you resilient enough to be able to create the environment that you want, either in your personal life or your work life, or whatever that is to actualize that happiness?

Chris Byers: And as you think about companies who are listening and say, Oh, this sounds like this sounds great, I think this is probably an important topic to us. How do you think about navigating where the company gets involved and how they participate? Because of course, there are these moments where we probably can't create a full time counseling service, but you do want to create these wonderful environments and places where people, I think, get something that they don't get at the next company. How do you think about that

Bryan Smith: performance and happiness and all these other things? Very much is a moving target, and it's not necessarily the strategy that you decide to implement. It's the timing of that strategy, managing people and human beings and running companies. It's all a very complex system with multiple different inputs, driving every single aspect of what we do. Intervention is always needed on a company level, but it's just understanding the timing of that intervention if it's the right time to actually step in and do something. The power of understanding team sentiment is huge and understanding where if it's regardless of its surveys or wearables or whatever that is, it's great to have that data. But you have to understand what to do with that data and when is the proper time to implement the strategy to using that data, but also on the other end, and this is actually something from sports. When we're tracking our athletes, we're not always looking for who's beat up right or who is burnt out, which is what we do in our space. We're always looking for the people that need support. But what we also need to start looking at is like the people that can be challenged, right? Because the people who are challenged, who are ready and recovered, they're the people that maybe pick up the slack for the people that are maybe going through some struggles and also to monotony and boredom is an impact of employee burnout. I think it's zooming out a little bit understanding that teams that need you right now and when to step in and what that strategy is, but also understanding the teams that are actually who recovered. And maybe you can increase their OK hours, or maybe you can give them more autonomy and use a strategy by Google or Atlassian where you let them work on side projects? Or maybe you implement some sort of job crafting strategy. That's the interplay of performance, and that's what we do with athletes. We're always looking at things like, how can we fix the athletes that are beat up and how can we maximize the adaptation for the athletes that are highly recovered? And that's the way that we can look at employee performance. Let's bring the people that need support up right at the right time with the right dose and the right strategy. And let's make sure that employees that are highly recovered. Let's push them a little farther because we know they can handle the stress. And if we give them the proper dose of stress, they're going to become better high performers. They're going to start excelling more at their job. And I know this is conceptual as a whole, but that's what one Leon does. But two, that's the way I look at it. Employee performance, it's assessing readiness and then making decisions off of that readiness level on either supporting your team or challenge.

Chris Byers: Do you have any stories of how you've seen that kind of happiness improve and impact performance at work?

Bryan Smith: So there's a couple companies we work with in Silicon Valley, and what we looked at was this concept of monotony and how that relates to employee burnout. And using that same example, what we did is we took a series of inside sales teams with about five or six different companies. Now what we did is we assessed burnout, we assessed happiness and great resiliency, adaptability and all of these different things. And what we do is we compared that over the past year as well as revenue growth. And what was interesting is that the managers that manipulated OKRs, meaning one month went up 10 percent, one month went down five percent. Whatever their employees not only perform better, but they also reduce their risk of burnout and whatnot because there was this a constant increase decrease perform, recover, perform, recover a concept that. And to a higher level of alignment within their company, a reduced risk of burnout and a higher level of happiness within those specific companies compared to the other team, that OK, ours pretty much stayed stagnant. Right. So there was never this like stretch and recovery or perform a recovery concept. So what we do with that, teams that work with nowadays, like we recommend like a playbook to make Oak Forest live in breeds where based off the readiness or the wellness of your team. All right, let's say your team is trending towards burnout. Maybe next month you just decrease. OK, here's a little bit you allow them to back off and recover. Not so much that's going to affect your company, but enough that it allows them to take a breath. And now that they're recovered, that's super compensated to use a sports science term the next month, and we ramp up a little bit more. Not enough to put him back into that fight or flight response, but enough that it makes him stretch a little bit because now they are recovered. That was a really interesting example of breaking up monotony and seeing huge changes in not just well-being, but also job performance.

Chris Byers: When I think that idea of monotony speaks to some of what we all experienced last year, which is even just the day to day these small delights, maybe we took delight in like we ran out to get coffee or we sat in a coffee shop to work or whatever. All these things get compressed and you didn't get to do them at all, or not nearly as much. And so even the stuff that you were doing all before all of a sudden kind of became more monotonous because you didn't get a break from it. And I think you can see how that causes a huge tax on people. How do you think that actually impacts people at home, too?

Bryan Smith: I have two daughters and they were home. And obviously, I love them being home, but, you know, I still have other responsibilities and whatnot and that experience of waking up every day, making breakfast, getting them logged in to go to school, then trying to do your own job and then going into that process, you're essentially working two full time jobs. And you'll remember when things started opening up a little bit where you could walk out the door and, like you said, getting a cup of coffee or going to Starbucks like that and little break. And I want to I want people to understand, like there's a physiological response to that break, like literally that's your body perceives that as a downregulation of your autonomic or sympathetic nervous system, right? So there's a downregulation in that elicits a recovery response. So a lot of times breaking up monotony throughout your day, if that's going for a walk, if that is playing with your dog or your kids or whatever, that triggers a recovery response and those little micro recovery responses is what leads to a longer term break in monotony or a longer term recovery response. So it's hugely important to have these micro recovery sessions and days, week months, whatever that is.

Chris Byers: Brant, how do you define burnout? It's clearly something that comes up in every article everywhere, and we all feel it at times. How do you think about it?

Bryan Smith: It's an interesting concept within the business space. And when I say interesting, there's some issues with the way that we quantify in a way that we assess it and whether we think about what it is and what I mean by that is everything that we've taken into account of. What burnout is from a clinical level has been most of the time dictated by organizational psychologists or psychologists. It's a physiological problem. It's a psychological problem. It's multiple different factors, but on a simple basis. And the most simple level of burnout is an overreaction of the autonomic nervous system causing a heightened fight or flight response over long periods of time without giving adequate recovery. So we all know the term fight or flight response, that it's essentially your body's stuck in a fight or flight response, and it gets so bad that eventually it causes an illness. So lack of a better term, right, it causes mental health issues like depression and whatnot. But it also causes physiological issues like high blood pressure, eventually even low blood pressure, hypoglycemia, a bunch of other things that we don't take into account because we only look at burnout as being a company problem when really it's a systemic physiological psychological problem.

Chris Byers: So a lot of what we've talked about, our ideas that are not baked into the culture we're used to strive more, push more, achieve more if you could introduce something into the world and into the culture. What would you wish people would embrace and say, Yeah, let's try to make this a part of our day to day lives.

Bryan Smith: More often we talk about this concept of hustle culture. But what we don't understand is that a hustle culture doesn't happen. Like you can't hustle unless you recover, like, it's virtually impossible. But I also agree that sometimes we have overreactions to rest and recovery, and that's going to sound a little bad. And I'll explain we either put ourselves in camps. It's either I'm a hustler and I am going to ride until I die, and that's what I do. Where the other side of it, where it says I am the rest and recovery person. And I think I should only work three hours a day and I am going to jump in a cry of it today, as well as to do yoga, as well as workout and meditate for 45 minutes. What we need to understand is that we do have to earn the right to recover, and that's important because you don't earn the right to recover. There is no compensation like you recover to get better. You don't recover just to relax. So I think it's important that we understand that to recover, you still have to work hard and it's not one way or the other. It's like a symbiotic relationship. Bust your ass so you can recover and then be a better employee, worker, performer, whatever that is on the back. And that's like how biology works.

Chris Byers: I love what you're talking about there and how it just speaks to so much of the experience we all have had over these past months and years or so. As companies do try to embrace like, all right, what do we do about this? How do we engage? I'm sure plenty of us forms that could be included have put programs in place that have just been kind of a waste like you don't really get problems solved. What are some common misconceptions or programs or things put in place that you find to be just not nearly as valuable as everybody thinks they should be?

Bryan Smith: None of us are similar and none of us are alike. I mean, you mentioned the introverted thing earlier, for a lot of people doing a happy hour with your team if you're introverted is a high amount of stress. Right? So you're thinking you're doing something which is actually causing a higher amount of stress for your employer, which is actually causing them more issues and burnout and happiness and all those other things. I think what it comes down to is regardless of whatever you're doing, if that's purchasing a subsidy thing for mental health services or you're implementing certain strategies to lower the cognitive load like reducing meetings or whatnot. There is no one size fits all for anything when it comes down to really like human biology, and that's what we're doing when we're talking about helping our people recover. It's not just a mental state like this, there's a physiological response to when it comes to helping your people recover from things like burnout. That burnout is a physiological response that presents itself as a mental health problem, but it starts on a physiological level first. Nothing is one-size-fits-all. So don't ever think that purchasing headspace or whatever you do is going to fix everything. It takes a real time strategy, much like it takes professional athletes to be able to manage the well-being and the readiness of our team. And it's a full time job. It really is if you want it to impact performance. If you just want to check the boxes and say that we have a mental health service and we want to survey every year, then that's fine. You can definitely check the boxes. But if you want those things to impact performance, it needs to be something that's done often. All right. And there has to be a strategy built around it.

Chris Byers: Once somebody is saying, All right, I'm hearing this and I want to do something good with it. What are some things you'd say? Get started here?

Bryan Smith: One of the things I love right now is a general wellness questionnaire of five questions and that's talking about how you feel, how your sleep is impacted, what you do is you use that before a quarter or an after quarter or before sprint and after spring. And then what you do is you track that over periods of time and then you just give it a sort of a composite score. So like my team's wellness score for this month at the beginning of this month, at the end of this month was a five and a two. All right. And then you don't have to be reactive to it that first month. But if you track it over a longer period of time, you start to see signals within your data, right like you go back to last year and like, all right, based off of a wellness questionnaire, we know that December our team was highly burnt out. Why is that? So you can go back and understand, but you can also like you're getting into a prediction model or we know coming into this December that our team is going to be highly burned. How can we strategize around that to make sure it doesn't happen again? All right. Or if you want to maybe drill down a little poser at the beginning of this product spring, my team was out of 10. All right, at the end of this product sprint, they were out of four. OK, so we know that. So the question you need to ask is what could we have done before the product sprint to make sure the cost of this product sprint wasn't as great? What could we have done during the product sprint to make sure that coming out of the sprint they're not going to be in for? And what can we do after that product sprint to make sure that we allow our recovery response to happen?

Chris Byers: Absolutely. I think that you're talking about just live feedback, and I think we often wait way too long. We do annual reviews, we do even quarterly surveys. There's a great visual that I loved, which is I got to go to the Olympics, one of the Olympic training sites, one time in Colorado Springs. And I noticed during the tour, and you probably know this everywhere you go. There are these TVs, and I was like, What are they here for? And then the explanation comes as there are cameras and trees that are always on a 30 second delay. And I love that visual of I go do my whatever sport, and I can always stop the moment I'm done and go, glance at, OK, what did I do? How did I do it? And so I think you're just talking about that idea of much more rapid feedback and how it can really help us make much smarter decisions.

Bryan Smith: Variant that doesn't happen if your team burns out like that's a management problem. Like you are not managing your people properly because you allowed that to happen. But it's very easy to mitigate, right? Because you just need to understand. You just need to get a signal of when your team is trending that way and when they're trending that's when you provide some sort of mitigation strategy. All right. And then over time, I think you eventually figure out what that is as you get feedback, as you see your scores change and then that becomes part of your toolbox, right? But an important part, too, is employee engagement and employee performance, we tend to look at it as an organizational thing or as like a major thing like we all do this, but true employee performance needs to happen on a team level. So if you want your sales team to be able to reduce burnout by the time it kicks up to H.R., you're screwed. At that point, they're already burned out. Performance has already dropped, opportunities are going down, call lines going down. But if you empower your sales manager to have employee engagement data and give and empower them with strategies to be able to implement when that slight puff of smoke starts happening within burnout, that's performance management. But we tend to rely on H.R. to fix everything. When managers, that's our responsibility. Like we're stressed givers and we're stress takers. All right. Managers need to understand exactly when you give that stress, when you take away and then you do your OK hours and you're one of ones and all those other things,

Chris Byers: How do you think life has changed in the past few years in terms of employee wellness.

Bryan Smith: I really think they employees, their expectations have changed now. I was just on LinkedIn and someone was like, Do we need a sales enablement like health officer, a wellbeing officer or whatever? And I think that's where we're moving to, where employees are going to expect that their health and their well-being is taken care of. And if it's not taken care of that, they're not going to be willing to jeopardize it anymore. And quite honestly, they shouldn't, our employees, our responsibilities, there are charges if we hurt them. We're not doing the right thing. This isn't the 1940s where you could do those types of things. This is in an environment where I think more than anything, we've learned that we're all in this together. So now as leaders, we need to live up to the expectations of protecting our charges.

Chris Byers: I love that idea. I'm feeling the criticism somebody might be listening and saying, though, is, OK, I hear you and I'm not trying to abuse people, but they're adults. Why can't they take part of this responsibility on themselves? How do you think about that?

Bryan Smith: There is a personal responsibility that they need to own right like a person does have to exercise. They do have to eat healthy, they do have to do all those other things, and that's something that they have to take on themselves. But when it comes down to their expectations of what you're giving them, that's where we ask managers that we need to be smarter. For example, for a sales team, say you've average 100 opportunities a month and next month, because I'm the boss, I'm going to say your goal is a thousand opportunities. Would you say that's fair, Chris?

Chris Byers: That doesn't sound great. That sounds rather undoable.

Bryan Smith: Exactly. So we do this all the time. We're always understanding that we would have to be cognitive of the stress that we're giving our people. All right. We just don't have strategies or we're too lazy to understand exactly how to support them in a science sort of data driven way. I think it just comes down to is that we need to realize that the wellness of our people is a performance driver. All right? And it doesn't take much. You just need to look at those things in the same light. Right? Your wellness score, whatever you want to call it, is the same thing as your revenue number. They should grow together on a linear curve. And if they're not, you either have a management issue or something else. But it takes a village where people do have to protect themselves. But at some point we have to be cognizant of the stress that we're getting on our people as well.

Chris Byers: If you could give some advice to our listeners, how can they unlock their genius to create more happiness in their work or personal lives?

Bryan Smith: I think the most important thing we can do for our employees is building resiliency, and that's such a buzzword in the world that we live in today. Every VR article ever written, it's like resiliency and how to build it, but understand that resiliency is something that has grown over time. And then if you want a resilient workforce, you have to be able to manipulate the stress that is giving them. If you burn your employees out, you would never have a resilient organization and never have an adaptable organization. So if you manage the well-being of your people, that is leading to a more resilient organization which allows you to scale faster and grow faster. All those other things. It's not just the soft aspects of, Oh, we want our people to be happy, so we're going to do mental health. It's if you want to align it with better performance and understand that every decision that you make regarding the well-being of your people is going to be an exponential return of the resiliency and adaptability of your company and your organization.

Chris Byers: What do you think people need to think about when it comes to employee happiness? What what do they need to start with

Bryan Smith: and managers need to first understand what stress is and how things like that work. There is a great book called Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers from University of Stanford. It's like an amazing book. It's not science at all. It's an amazing book. I would suggest that managers and leaders understand the stress response of people and what happens, because I think as you start understanding and gaining empathy of what actually happens to your people when you do a, you know, 24 hour product sprint, right, it will allow you to make better people decisions on the back end. But understanding again that our job as leaders are to prescribe stress and take away stress. Everything else, the training, they require, all those other things, right? That's still part of our job. But the first and foremost job is to make sure that the job is getting done and that is prescribing stress. So long story short, read a book, understand stress and then gain something that's great.

Chris Byers: It's interesting. I'm actually reading a book right now, and it actually covers the views of the idea of Sabbath from a number of different faiths and how most faiths have a Sabbath concept built in this time of rest. But I just read this chapter on progress and how we're all stuck in this idea that life is just satisfying in the way that it is now. We're trying to get to some future destination. And I think that too creates this constant. That's why we go from 100 opportunities to a thousand because we're like, it's going to be better there. And yet I don't think that really gets us anywhere, doesn't it?

Bryan Smith: No, I think sometimes that dropping down to 50 opportunities probably makes for a better company. Biology dictates that we're always trying to improve. That's our system to a certain extent, because if you take away stress. All right, your body then reduces resiliency. So there is, I think there's a biological construct of like your body's always receiving inputs and always receive always making systems to adapt and improve. So I think that's a little bit built into our DNA. But understanding that to do that, to happen, for that, to happen, for that new system and that new adaptation and that new level of resiliency to actually take place, it does require a Sabbath. It does require a rest and recovery time for that super compensation process to happen.

Chris Byers: What do you think people listening can do differently in their day to day to create a positive impact for other people?

Bryan Smith: I think you lead with empathy no matter what you do. I think that's the most important part of leading people when you're raising children. Just understanding that stress, regardless, if you're running a marathon or if you are leading a sales department, it's all the same thing in how we perceive that stress is dictated by our genetics, our epigenetics, our you know, how we were raised, our lack of a mother or a lack of a father, like all those things matter and drive who we are as people and how we adapt to stress. If you understand that and you're leading people, you have to lead with empathy first because we all have biological settings that we can either break through and or not. And if you want to support your people, you have to understand that

Chris Byers: as you think about humans or Leon, jump forward a handful of years. What's the impact you hope to have through those organizations?

Bryan Smith: Quite honestly, I just want to prove the concept that well-being and performance align. I want to be able to show that the best way to grow a company is by also reducing the most amount of cost on your people. Because I look at a company, that scale is exponentially but burns their people out, that's not a successful company. A successful company to me is someone who can scale exponentially but also support and protect their people doing it. So I want to be able to prove out that concept.

Chris Byers: I love that in recent episodes, guests have brought up kind of the way they view or have experienced failure. How do you view failure without failure?

Bryan Smith: There's no growth, and I know that is a very much like management consulting phrase, but it's absolutely true on a physiological biological level. And if there is not an overt stress response that your body goes through failure or system fatigue, that system is never going to be able to compensate and develop patterns to be able to overcome that stress again. Failure is just biological, and it's something we all go through and then you learn how to recover or succeed after the fact.

Chris Byers: Thank you for joining me on this episode of Ripple Effect. To learn more about how people like Brian are reimagining their world of work, head over to formstack.com/practically-genius also linked in our show notes.

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Infographic

Redefining Employee Well-being and Burnout with Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith of LEON sheds light on the complex systems that impact employee well-being, from stress and burnout to recovery and building resiliency.
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Chris Byers: When we think about employee wellness, often what comes to mind are beverages on tap, ping pong tables and other surface level perks. But what if we went deeper than these superficial benefits and instead focused on truly impactful employee happiness? To help answer the question today, as Brian Smith, he is the CEO and founder of Leon and Humans. We'll dig into what those two organizations are here in a minute, but before we do, you should also know that Brian is a wellness professional and pro sports performance coach, turned founder and start up advisor. How did he get where he is today, and what's the driving force behind people's performance and well-being? Let's find out. I'm Chris Byers of Form SAC, and this is Ripple Effect, a show celebrating the positive impact our decisions create. Brian, welcome to the show, and I have to imagine with your line of work, you see the ripple effect on a number of levels. Before we get to those stories, can you give our listeners a bit of a snapshot of what Leon is?

Bryan Smith: Leon, essentially what we are is we're a performance tool based off of data science. So ultimately, what we do is we predict things like employee burnout, employee happiness, employee grit, organizational adaptability. And then in the back end, we actually quantify specific playbooks for you to run to be able to improve your organization and improve your people. For example, implementing a four day workweek, we can tell you exactly when to do it, who to do it with and how long to run it or no meetings Friday, which everybody knows what is the exact effect of implementing those types of strategies. You know, we show light on, on and off those types of things.

Chris Byers: Well, I assume last year was really just a pretty interesting year to utilize your technology and in that A.I. and how you think about things because you all of a sudden went from calling it a normal environment to something that was very abnormal. And I would say for us, we've tried to be progressive in the way that we think about doing work remote work very early. But last year it was tough. It was like, Yeah, we can be flexible, but never felt like a program or a system would work. I'm curious how you guys tackled last year and how you navigated that.

Bryan Smith: It was a huge pivot for everybody, and obviously we went to remote and we went to different work environments and obviously the strain and stress of just COVID in life changing for every single human being on the planet. But I think in a lot of ways it defines what we are as a product and how we want to work to help people and back this up by saying, is that everything we experience as human beings? It really comes down to stress and recovery and sort of compensation. So there's a little bit of stress that you go through. Your body learns how to adapt to that stress and then you super compensate, right? Like you develop a higher level of resiliency. And with COVID, it was like this gigantic stress response where no one has ever felt that level of strain, but on that because most of the times when you have stress like that, it's major life changes, right? It's divorce, it's having a child, it's a death in the family. It's all these different things where we were all experiencing all those things, all at one time. Right? Like from the fear of people dying to your kids, not going to school to potentially losing your job. It was just a crazy thing. And like anything, I think it reinvigorated us to really define and really understand. Like what, as you opened up what employee wellness really means and how it's not ping pong tables. It's not kombucha, it's the wellbeing and the performance. And this I love this term readiness of our team to be able to perform at their job with minimal cost. And that cost part is so important because we always forget that everything we ask of our charges, and I say that word charges like really meaning it is like our employees, our responsibility and everything we ask of them is stress. And it's up to us to understand that stress and how much stress that we're giving them and what they affect our cost is going to be. And with COVID that you showed, the cost of stress and the cost of not having wellbeing can do to an organization.

Chris Byers: What inspired you to start your company?

Bryan Smith: My background was in sports science, so I worked with primarily track and field athletes and Olympic level track and field athletes to ultimately predict performance or predict injury on an Olympic level. And so what we would do is we do all sorts of different physiological monitoring and surveys, GPPs analysis, all these types of things to ultimately develop a model to predict injury or predict a. And I wanted to do that. In business, right in the tech world, because we're always looking about quantifying things, if that's or whatever that is. But we never really quantify our people in a way that benefits them. So is your typical employee engagement survey that gives something to a manager to be able to manage a little bit better, but it never directly affects the employee. So yeah, I just think it came from living in the sports science world and protecting athletes and protecting their livelihood and wanting to do that within the employee space.

Chris Byers: And tell us about humans. You've got this other organization at the same time. What does that look like and what are you trying to accomplish there?

Bryan Smith: Yes. So humans is a community, and what we're trying to do with humans is we want to create an environment where. Like, that concept of human optimization can be talked about right and tested and iterated on and true culture can have a conversation about what people really need and what works because we look at these terms like well-being and well-being is probably the most subjective term you could ever talk about in your whole entire life. Obviously, there are the physical aspects of well-being, and that's heart rate and blood pressure and all these other things. But the way that I achieve wellness might be very, very different than the way that you achieve illness. And then we wanted to create a conversation about how people are going about managing their health in their own very, very subjective way, rather than forcing everybody into a Headspace membership or forcing everybody to a happy hour. 5:00 p.m. on a Friday.

Chris Byers: So you've talked about this idea of human optimization and would love to hear you dig into a little bit of that. What does that mean? What are the outcomes of that?

Bryan Smith: The concept of like human optimization, it's a very broad topic, but really it comes down to is that everything that we do from a leadership standpoint, it's always about improvement. Right? Like, we're always trying to like when we implement elements, systems or upskilling or whatnot, like we're or optimizing that specific human being. But what we fail to think about is, can that employee take on that stress right now? And is the effect of implementing an upskilling strategy at form stack going to actually cause a negative response in that employee? And yes, you might be training that employee to do something better, but if they're burnt out, all right or they're highly fatigued, you're actually going to cause a negative physiological response. So when I talk about human optimization, I talk about this concept of a linear curve on making humans better and making them more resilient. Resiliency is the key to everything. If you can make a more resilient human being mentally and physiologically, and they can accomplish anything. So as companies, we need to be looking at human optimization in the way that we prescribe strategies and learning and training as a way to make human beings better and more resilient. Because if we can do that, then we have a more resilient company.

Chris Byers: So you talk about the complexity of managing people and especially as they relate to trying to grow an organization and grow a company would love for you to talk a little bit about that because I'm sure every one of us has had the challenge of and frankly, I'll say this kind of quietly. We've said, Oh man, if I could do this without people, that would be great, but I'd love for you to talk about that complexity.

Bryan Smith: Yeah, that's actually pretty good. Such a complex system, right? Complex system is a theory based a long time ago on the idea that our human body is made up of a bunch of systems all feeding input. So like you have, like mentally, you have a central nervous system, you have all these different systems in the body. And our company is pretty much the same way because your company, it's an organism and that organism has constant inputs coming into it. There are people's inputs as revenue inputs. There's marketing inputs, all these different things, it's always constantly growing. When we manage people, we have to take that into account that we are not in, especially now in a closed environment where you can say this is your goal and this is what you need to accomplish. Get after because that's impossible, because what if you give me a goal? You set my OKR for the next quarter and next year, and God forbid, I get a divorce or there's a death in the family, understanding those things and talking to your people and making management live and breathe. That's the concept of like management is a complex system because we always have to take into account all these other inputs and all these other stressors, and then reassess how we manage our people, how we lead our people, what type of strategies we implement and so on and so forth.

Chris Byers: One of the things we just had our company event recently, and normally that company event is in person, and at the end of the week, I was just really taxed and I was like, Why is that? It's all been remote. And someone reminded me of my introverted nature, and I was like, That's so weird. That doesn't make sense in a virtual world. I get it in a physical world, but I think you're speaking to just all of these things that drive us and make us energetic, lose energy and where you can identify those and help people surround themselves with the right community resources. I think you just create some great lift. So I love what you're doing there.

Bryan Smith: It's a really interesting concept, right? Because I think in each hour and really just how we manage people, everything is always starting a strategy for everybody. It's always, you have this one specific strategy. And like I said, if it's using Headspace and buying Headspace membership, your entire population or if it's happy hour or if it's a mental health seminar like all those things are fantastic, but they just might not work for 10 percent of your population. And what do you do with that other 10 percent of that population? And how do you find the signal through all that noise and understand how to best? Support your product team or your sales team when your marketing team, when, like you said, like personality traits and how you were raised and where you grew up, and all these things impact how you help or support your people. But right now, we don't have enough information to truly help each and every single person on our team

Chris Byers: dig into that idea of happiness. How do you think about employee happiness?

Bryan Smith: Happiness is very much a moving target, and all things considered. I tend to look at happiness being measured, Elma says. Terms like resiliency, right? Like, how resilient are you to the stress that's going to affect you today, tomorrow and the next day? And are you resilient enough where that's not going to disrupt your mental health to cause a disruption in your happiness? Are you resilient enough to be able to create the environment that you want, either in your personal life or your work life, or whatever that is to actualize that happiness?

Chris Byers: And as you think about companies who are listening and say, Oh, this sounds like this sounds great, I think this is probably an important topic to us. How do you think about navigating where the company gets involved and how they participate? Because of course, there are these moments where we probably can't create a full time counseling service, but you do want to create these wonderful environments and places where people, I think, get something that they don't get at the next company. How do you think about that

Bryan Smith: performance and happiness and all these other things? Very much is a moving target, and it's not necessarily the strategy that you decide to implement. It's the timing of that strategy, managing people and human beings and running companies. It's all a very complex system with multiple different inputs, driving every single aspect of what we do. Intervention is always needed on a company level, but it's just understanding the timing of that intervention if it's the right time to actually step in and do something. The power of understanding team sentiment is huge and understanding where if it's regardless of its surveys or wearables or whatever that is, it's great to have that data. But you have to understand what to do with that data and when is the proper time to implement the strategy to using that data, but also on the other end, and this is actually something from sports. When we're tracking our athletes, we're not always looking for who's beat up right or who is burnt out, which is what we do in our space. We're always looking for the people that need support. But what we also need to start looking at is like the people that can be challenged, right? Because the people who are challenged, who are ready and recovered, they're the people that maybe pick up the slack for the people that are maybe going through some struggles and also to monotony and boredom is an impact of employee burnout. I think it's zooming out a little bit understanding that teams that need you right now and when to step in and what that strategy is, but also understanding the teams that are actually who recovered. And maybe you can increase their OK hours, or maybe you can give them more autonomy and use a strategy by Google or Atlassian where you let them work on side projects? Or maybe you implement some sort of job crafting strategy. That's the interplay of performance, and that's what we do with athletes. We're always looking at things like, how can we fix the athletes that are beat up and how can we maximize the adaptation for the athletes that are highly recovered? And that's the way that we can look at employee performance. Let's bring the people that need support up right at the right time with the right dose and the right strategy. And let's make sure that employees that are highly recovered. Let's push them a little farther because we know they can handle the stress. And if we give them the proper dose of stress, they're going to become better high performers. They're going to start excelling more at their job. And I know this is conceptual as a whole, but that's what one Leon does. But two, that's the way I look at it. Employee performance, it's assessing readiness and then making decisions off of that readiness level on either supporting your team or challenge.

Chris Byers: Do you have any stories of how you've seen that kind of happiness improve and impact performance at work?

Bryan Smith: So there's a couple companies we work with in Silicon Valley, and what we looked at was this concept of monotony and how that relates to employee burnout. And using that same example, what we did is we took a series of inside sales teams with about five or six different companies. Now what we did is we assessed burnout, we assessed happiness and great resiliency, adaptability and all of these different things. And what we do is we compared that over the past year as well as revenue growth. And what was interesting is that the managers that manipulated OKRs, meaning one month went up 10 percent, one month went down five percent. Whatever their employees not only perform better, but they also reduce their risk of burnout and whatnot because there was this a constant increase decrease perform, recover, perform, recover a concept that. And to a higher level of alignment within their company, a reduced risk of burnout and a higher level of happiness within those specific companies compared to the other team, that OK, ours pretty much stayed stagnant. Right. So there was never this like stretch and recovery or perform a recovery concept. So what we do with that, teams that work with nowadays, like we recommend like a playbook to make Oak Forest live in breeds where based off the readiness or the wellness of your team. All right, let's say your team is trending towards burnout. Maybe next month you just decrease. OK, here's a little bit you allow them to back off and recover. Not so much that's going to affect your company, but enough that it allows them to take a breath. And now that they're recovered, that's super compensated to use a sports science term the next month, and we ramp up a little bit more. Not enough to put him back into that fight or flight response, but enough that it makes him stretch a little bit because now they are recovered. That was a really interesting example of breaking up monotony and seeing huge changes in not just well-being, but also job performance.

Chris Byers: When I think that idea of monotony speaks to some of what we all experienced last year, which is even just the day to day these small delights, maybe we took delight in like we ran out to get coffee or we sat in a coffee shop to work or whatever. All these things get compressed and you didn't get to do them at all, or not nearly as much. And so even the stuff that you were doing all before all of a sudden kind of became more monotonous because you didn't get a break from it. And I think you can see how that causes a huge tax on people. How do you think that actually impacts people at home, too?

Bryan Smith: I have two daughters and they were home. And obviously, I love them being home, but, you know, I still have other responsibilities and whatnot and that experience of waking up every day, making breakfast, getting them logged in to go to school, then trying to do your own job and then going into that process, you're essentially working two full time jobs. And you'll remember when things started opening up a little bit where you could walk out the door and, like you said, getting a cup of coffee or going to Starbucks like that and little break. And I want to I want people to understand, like there's a physiological response to that break, like literally that's your body perceives that as a downregulation of your autonomic or sympathetic nervous system, right? So there's a downregulation in that elicits a recovery response. So a lot of times breaking up monotony throughout your day, if that's going for a walk, if that is playing with your dog or your kids or whatever, that triggers a recovery response and those little micro recovery responses is what leads to a longer term break in monotony or a longer term recovery response. So it's hugely important to have these micro recovery sessions and days, week months, whatever that is.

Chris Byers: Brant, how do you define burnout? It's clearly something that comes up in every article everywhere, and we all feel it at times. How do you think about it?

Bryan Smith: It's an interesting concept within the business space. And when I say interesting, there's some issues with the way that we quantify in a way that we assess it and whether we think about what it is and what I mean by that is everything that we've taken into account of. What burnout is from a clinical level has been most of the time dictated by organizational psychologists or psychologists. It's a physiological problem. It's a psychological problem. It's multiple different factors, but on a simple basis. And the most simple level of burnout is an overreaction of the autonomic nervous system causing a heightened fight or flight response over long periods of time without giving adequate recovery. So we all know the term fight or flight response, that it's essentially your body's stuck in a fight or flight response, and it gets so bad that eventually it causes an illness. So lack of a better term, right, it causes mental health issues like depression and whatnot. But it also causes physiological issues like high blood pressure, eventually even low blood pressure, hypoglycemia, a bunch of other things that we don't take into account because we only look at burnout as being a company problem when really it's a systemic physiological psychological problem.

Chris Byers: So a lot of what we've talked about, our ideas that are not baked into the culture we're used to strive more, push more, achieve more if you could introduce something into the world and into the culture. What would you wish people would embrace and say, Yeah, let's try to make this a part of our day to day lives.

Bryan Smith: More often we talk about this concept of hustle culture. But what we don't understand is that a hustle culture doesn't happen. Like you can't hustle unless you recover, like, it's virtually impossible. But I also agree that sometimes we have overreactions to rest and recovery, and that's going to sound a little bad. And I'll explain we either put ourselves in camps. It's either I'm a hustler and I am going to ride until I die, and that's what I do. Where the other side of it, where it says I am the rest and recovery person. And I think I should only work three hours a day and I am going to jump in a cry of it today, as well as to do yoga, as well as workout and meditate for 45 minutes. What we need to understand is that we do have to earn the right to recover, and that's important because you don't earn the right to recover. There is no compensation like you recover to get better. You don't recover just to relax. So I think it's important that we understand that to recover, you still have to work hard and it's not one way or the other. It's like a symbiotic relationship. Bust your ass so you can recover and then be a better employee, worker, performer, whatever that is on the back. And that's like how biology works.

Chris Byers: I love what you're talking about there and how it just speaks to so much of the experience we all have had over these past months and years or so. As companies do try to embrace like, all right, what do we do about this? How do we engage? I'm sure plenty of us forms that could be included have put programs in place that have just been kind of a waste like you don't really get problems solved. What are some common misconceptions or programs or things put in place that you find to be just not nearly as valuable as everybody thinks they should be?

Bryan Smith: None of us are similar and none of us are alike. I mean, you mentioned the introverted thing earlier, for a lot of people doing a happy hour with your team if you're introverted is a high amount of stress. Right? So you're thinking you're doing something which is actually causing a higher amount of stress for your employer, which is actually causing them more issues and burnout and happiness and all those other things. I think what it comes down to is regardless of whatever you're doing, if that's purchasing a subsidy thing for mental health services or you're implementing certain strategies to lower the cognitive load like reducing meetings or whatnot. There is no one size fits all for anything when it comes down to really like human biology, and that's what we're doing when we're talking about helping our people recover. It's not just a mental state like this, there's a physiological response to when it comes to helping your people recover from things like burnout. That burnout is a physiological response that presents itself as a mental health problem, but it starts on a physiological level first. Nothing is one-size-fits-all. So don't ever think that purchasing headspace or whatever you do is going to fix everything. It takes a real time strategy, much like it takes professional athletes to be able to manage the well-being and the readiness of our team. And it's a full time job. It really is if you want it to impact performance. If you just want to check the boxes and say that we have a mental health service and we want to survey every year, then that's fine. You can definitely check the boxes. But if you want those things to impact performance, it needs to be something that's done often. All right. And there has to be a strategy built around it.

Chris Byers: Once somebody is saying, All right, I'm hearing this and I want to do something good with it. What are some things you'd say? Get started here?

Bryan Smith: One of the things I love right now is a general wellness questionnaire of five questions and that's talking about how you feel, how your sleep is impacted, what you do is you use that before a quarter or an after quarter or before sprint and after spring. And then what you do is you track that over periods of time and then you just give it a sort of a composite score. So like my team's wellness score for this month at the beginning of this month, at the end of this month was a five and a two. All right. And then you don't have to be reactive to it that first month. But if you track it over a longer period of time, you start to see signals within your data, right like you go back to last year and like, all right, based off of a wellness questionnaire, we know that December our team was highly burnt out. Why is that? So you can go back and understand, but you can also like you're getting into a prediction model or we know coming into this December that our team is going to be highly burned. How can we strategize around that to make sure it doesn't happen again? All right. Or if you want to maybe drill down a little poser at the beginning of this product spring, my team was out of 10. All right, at the end of this product sprint, they were out of four. OK, so we know that. So the question you need to ask is what could we have done before the product sprint to make sure the cost of this product sprint wasn't as great? What could we have done during the product sprint to make sure that coming out of the sprint they're not going to be in for? And what can we do after that product sprint to make sure that we allow our recovery response to happen?

Chris Byers: Absolutely. I think that you're talking about just live feedback, and I think we often wait way too long. We do annual reviews, we do even quarterly surveys. There's a great visual that I loved, which is I got to go to the Olympics, one of the Olympic training sites, one time in Colorado Springs. And I noticed during the tour, and you probably know this everywhere you go. There are these TVs, and I was like, What are they here for? And then the explanation comes as there are cameras and trees that are always on a 30 second delay. And I love that visual of I go do my whatever sport, and I can always stop the moment I'm done and go, glance at, OK, what did I do? How did I do it? And so I think you're just talking about that idea of much more rapid feedback and how it can really help us make much smarter decisions.

Bryan Smith: Variant that doesn't happen if your team burns out like that's a management problem. Like you are not managing your people properly because you allowed that to happen. But it's very easy to mitigate, right? Because you just need to understand. You just need to get a signal of when your team is trending that way and when they're trending that's when you provide some sort of mitigation strategy. All right. And then over time, I think you eventually figure out what that is as you get feedback, as you see your scores change and then that becomes part of your toolbox, right? But an important part, too, is employee engagement and employee performance, we tend to look at it as an organizational thing or as like a major thing like we all do this, but true employee performance needs to happen on a team level. So if you want your sales team to be able to reduce burnout by the time it kicks up to H.R., you're screwed. At that point, they're already burned out. Performance has already dropped, opportunities are going down, call lines going down. But if you empower your sales manager to have employee engagement data and give and empower them with strategies to be able to implement when that slight puff of smoke starts happening within burnout, that's performance management. But we tend to rely on H.R. to fix everything. When managers, that's our responsibility. Like we're stressed givers and we're stress takers. All right. Managers need to understand exactly when you give that stress, when you take away and then you do your OK hours and you're one of ones and all those other things,

Chris Byers: How do you think life has changed in the past few years in terms of employee wellness.

Bryan Smith: I really think they employees, their expectations have changed now. I was just on LinkedIn and someone was like, Do we need a sales enablement like health officer, a wellbeing officer or whatever? And I think that's where we're moving to, where employees are going to expect that their health and their well-being is taken care of. And if it's not taken care of that, they're not going to be willing to jeopardize it anymore. And quite honestly, they shouldn't, our employees, our responsibilities, there are charges if we hurt them. We're not doing the right thing. This isn't the 1940s where you could do those types of things. This is in an environment where I think more than anything, we've learned that we're all in this together. So now as leaders, we need to live up to the expectations of protecting our charges.

Chris Byers: I love that idea. I'm feeling the criticism somebody might be listening and saying, though, is, OK, I hear you and I'm not trying to abuse people, but they're adults. Why can't they take part of this responsibility on themselves? How do you think about that?

Bryan Smith: There is a personal responsibility that they need to own right like a person does have to exercise. They do have to eat healthy, they do have to do all those other things, and that's something that they have to take on themselves. But when it comes down to their expectations of what you're giving them, that's where we ask managers that we need to be smarter. For example, for a sales team, say you've average 100 opportunities a month and next month, because I'm the boss, I'm going to say your goal is a thousand opportunities. Would you say that's fair, Chris?

Chris Byers: That doesn't sound great. That sounds rather undoable.

Bryan Smith: Exactly. So we do this all the time. We're always understanding that we would have to be cognitive of the stress that we're giving our people. All right. We just don't have strategies or we're too lazy to understand exactly how to support them in a science sort of data driven way. I think it just comes down to is that we need to realize that the wellness of our people is a performance driver. All right? And it doesn't take much. You just need to look at those things in the same light. Right? Your wellness score, whatever you want to call it, is the same thing as your revenue number. They should grow together on a linear curve. And if they're not, you either have a management issue or something else. But it takes a village where people do have to protect themselves. But at some point we have to be cognizant of the stress that we're getting on our people as well.

Chris Byers: If you could give some advice to our listeners, how can they unlock their genius to create more happiness in their work or personal lives?

Bryan Smith: I think the most important thing we can do for our employees is building resiliency, and that's such a buzzword in the world that we live in today. Every VR article ever written, it's like resiliency and how to build it, but understand that resiliency is something that has grown over time. And then if you want a resilient workforce, you have to be able to manipulate the stress that is giving them. If you burn your employees out, you would never have a resilient organization and never have an adaptable organization. So if you manage the well-being of your people, that is leading to a more resilient organization which allows you to scale faster and grow faster. All those other things. It's not just the soft aspects of, Oh, we want our people to be happy, so we're going to do mental health. It's if you want to align it with better performance and understand that every decision that you make regarding the well-being of your people is going to be an exponential return of the resiliency and adaptability of your company and your organization.

Chris Byers: What do you think people need to think about when it comes to employee happiness? What what do they need to start with

Bryan Smith: and managers need to first understand what stress is and how things like that work. There is a great book called Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers from University of Stanford. It's like an amazing book. It's not science at all. It's an amazing book. I would suggest that managers and leaders understand the stress response of people and what happens, because I think as you start understanding and gaining empathy of what actually happens to your people when you do a, you know, 24 hour product sprint, right, it will allow you to make better people decisions on the back end. But understanding again that our job as leaders are to prescribe stress and take away stress. Everything else, the training, they require, all those other things, right? That's still part of our job. But the first and foremost job is to make sure that the job is getting done and that is prescribing stress. So long story short, read a book, understand stress and then gain something that's great.

Chris Byers: It's interesting. I'm actually reading a book right now, and it actually covers the views of the idea of Sabbath from a number of different faiths and how most faiths have a Sabbath concept built in this time of rest. But I just read this chapter on progress and how we're all stuck in this idea that life is just satisfying in the way that it is now. We're trying to get to some future destination. And I think that too creates this constant. That's why we go from 100 opportunities to a thousand because we're like, it's going to be better there. And yet I don't think that really gets us anywhere, doesn't it?

Bryan Smith: No, I think sometimes that dropping down to 50 opportunities probably makes for a better company. Biology dictates that we're always trying to improve. That's our system to a certain extent, because if you take away stress. All right, your body then reduces resiliency. So there is, I think there's a biological construct of like your body's always receiving inputs and always receive always making systems to adapt and improve. So I think that's a little bit built into our DNA. But understanding that to do that, to happen, for that, to happen, for that new system and that new adaptation and that new level of resiliency to actually take place, it does require a Sabbath. It does require a rest and recovery time for that super compensation process to happen.

Chris Byers: What do you think people listening can do differently in their day to day to create a positive impact for other people?

Bryan Smith: I think you lead with empathy no matter what you do. I think that's the most important part of leading people when you're raising children. Just understanding that stress, regardless, if you're running a marathon or if you are leading a sales department, it's all the same thing in how we perceive that stress is dictated by our genetics, our epigenetics, our you know, how we were raised, our lack of a mother or a lack of a father, like all those things matter and drive who we are as people and how we adapt to stress. If you understand that and you're leading people, you have to lead with empathy first because we all have biological settings that we can either break through and or not. And if you want to support your people, you have to understand that

Chris Byers: as you think about humans or Leon, jump forward a handful of years. What's the impact you hope to have through those organizations?

Bryan Smith: Quite honestly, I just want to prove the concept that well-being and performance align. I want to be able to show that the best way to grow a company is by also reducing the most amount of cost on your people. Because I look at a company, that scale is exponentially but burns their people out, that's not a successful company. A successful company to me is someone who can scale exponentially but also support and protect their people doing it. So I want to be able to prove out that concept.

Chris Byers: I love that in recent episodes, guests have brought up kind of the way they view or have experienced failure. How do you view failure without failure?

Bryan Smith: There's no growth, and I know that is a very much like management consulting phrase, but it's absolutely true on a physiological biological level. And if there is not an overt stress response that your body goes through failure or system fatigue, that system is never going to be able to compensate and develop patterns to be able to overcome that stress again. Failure is just biological, and it's something we all go through and then you learn how to recover or succeed after the fact.

Chris Byers: Thank you for joining me on this episode of Ripple Effect. To learn more about how people like Brian are reimagining their world of work, head over to formstack.com/practically-genius also linked in our show notes.

Chris Byers: When we think about employee wellness, often what comes to mind are beverages on tap, ping pong tables and other surface level perks. But what if we went deeper than these superficial benefits and instead focused on truly impactful employee happiness? To help answer the question today, as Brian Smith, he is the CEO and founder of Leon and Humans. We'll dig into what those two organizations are here in a minute, but before we do, you should also know that Brian is a wellness professional and pro sports performance coach, turned founder and start up advisor. How did he get where he is today, and what's the driving force behind people's performance and well-being? Let's find out. I'm Chris Byers of Form SAC, and this is Ripple Effect, a show celebrating the positive impact our decisions create. Brian, welcome to the show, and I have to imagine with your line of work, you see the ripple effect on a number of levels. Before we get to those stories, can you give our listeners a bit of a snapshot of what Leon is?

Bryan Smith: Leon, essentially what we are is we're a performance tool based off of data science. So ultimately, what we do is we predict things like employee burnout, employee happiness, employee grit, organizational adaptability. And then in the back end, we actually quantify specific playbooks for you to run to be able to improve your organization and improve your people. For example, implementing a four day workweek, we can tell you exactly when to do it, who to do it with and how long to run it or no meetings Friday, which everybody knows what is the exact effect of implementing those types of strategies. You know, we show light on, on and off those types of things.

Chris Byers: Well, I assume last year was really just a pretty interesting year to utilize your technology and in that A.I. and how you think about things because you all of a sudden went from calling it a normal environment to something that was very abnormal. And I would say for us, we've tried to be progressive in the way that we think about doing work remote work very early. But last year it was tough. It was like, Yeah, we can be flexible, but never felt like a program or a system would work. I'm curious how you guys tackled last year and how you navigated that.

Bryan Smith: It was a huge pivot for everybody, and obviously we went to remote and we went to different work environments and obviously the strain and stress of just COVID in life changing for every single human being on the planet. But I think in a lot of ways it defines what we are as a product and how we want to work to help people and back this up by saying, is that everything we experience as human beings? It really comes down to stress and recovery and sort of compensation. So there's a little bit of stress that you go through. Your body learns how to adapt to that stress and then you super compensate, right? Like you develop a higher level of resiliency. And with COVID, it was like this gigantic stress response where no one has ever felt that level of strain, but on that because most of the times when you have stress like that, it's major life changes, right? It's divorce, it's having a child, it's a death in the family. It's all these different things where we were all experiencing all those things, all at one time. Right? Like from the fear of people dying to your kids, not going to school to potentially losing your job. It was just a crazy thing. And like anything, I think it reinvigorated us to really define and really understand. Like what, as you opened up what employee wellness really means and how it's not ping pong tables. It's not kombucha, it's the wellbeing and the performance. And this I love this term readiness of our team to be able to perform at their job with minimal cost. And that cost part is so important because we always forget that everything we ask of our charges, and I say that word charges like really meaning it is like our employees, our responsibility and everything we ask of them is stress. And it's up to us to understand that stress and how much stress that we're giving them and what they affect our cost is going to be. And with COVID that you showed, the cost of stress and the cost of not having wellbeing can do to an organization.

Chris Byers: What inspired you to start your company?

Bryan Smith: My background was in sports science, so I worked with primarily track and field athletes and Olympic level track and field athletes to ultimately predict performance or predict injury on an Olympic level. And so what we would do is we do all sorts of different physiological monitoring and surveys, GPPs analysis, all these types of things to ultimately develop a model to predict injury or predict a. And I wanted to do that. In business, right in the tech world, because we're always looking about quantifying things, if that's or whatever that is. But we never really quantify our people in a way that benefits them. So is your typical employee engagement survey that gives something to a manager to be able to manage a little bit better, but it never directly affects the employee. So yeah, I just think it came from living in the sports science world and protecting athletes and protecting their livelihood and wanting to do that within the employee space.

Chris Byers: And tell us about humans. You've got this other organization at the same time. What does that look like and what are you trying to accomplish there?

Bryan Smith: Yes. So humans is a community, and what we're trying to do with humans is we want to create an environment where. Like, that concept of human optimization can be talked about right and tested and iterated on and true culture can have a conversation about what people really need and what works because we look at these terms like well-being and well-being is probably the most subjective term you could ever talk about in your whole entire life. Obviously, there are the physical aspects of well-being, and that's heart rate and blood pressure and all these other things. But the way that I achieve wellness might be very, very different than the way that you achieve illness. And then we wanted to create a conversation about how people are going about managing their health in their own very, very subjective way, rather than forcing everybody into a Headspace membership or forcing everybody to a happy hour. 5:00 p.m. on a Friday.

Chris Byers: So you've talked about this idea of human optimization and would love to hear you dig into a little bit of that. What does that mean? What are the outcomes of that?

Bryan Smith: The concept of like human optimization, it's a very broad topic, but really it comes down to is that everything that we do from a leadership standpoint, it's always about improvement. Right? Like, we're always trying to like when we implement elements, systems or upskilling or whatnot, like we're or optimizing that specific human being. But what we fail to think about is, can that employee take on that stress right now? And is the effect of implementing an upskilling strategy at form stack going to actually cause a negative response in that employee? And yes, you might be training that employee to do something better, but if they're burnt out, all right or they're highly fatigued, you're actually going to cause a negative physiological response. So when I talk about human optimization, I talk about this concept of a linear curve on making humans better and making them more resilient. Resiliency is the key to everything. If you can make a more resilient human being mentally and physiologically, and they can accomplish anything. So as companies, we need to be looking at human optimization in the way that we prescribe strategies and learning and training as a way to make human beings better and more resilient. Because if we can do that, then we have a more resilient company.

Chris Byers: So you talk about the complexity of managing people and especially as they relate to trying to grow an organization and grow a company would love for you to talk a little bit about that because I'm sure every one of us has had the challenge of and frankly, I'll say this kind of quietly. We've said, Oh man, if I could do this without people, that would be great, but I'd love for you to talk about that complexity.

Bryan Smith: Yeah, that's actually pretty good. Such a complex system, right? Complex system is a theory based a long time ago on the idea that our human body is made up of a bunch of systems all feeding input. So like you have, like mentally, you have a central nervous system, you have all these different systems in the body. And our company is pretty much the same way because your company, it's an organism and that organism has constant inputs coming into it. There are people's inputs as revenue inputs. There's marketing inputs, all these different things, it's always constantly growing. When we manage people, we have to take that into account that we are not in, especially now in a closed environment where you can say this is your goal and this is what you need to accomplish. Get after because that's impossible, because what if you give me a goal? You set my OKR for the next quarter and next year, and God forbid, I get a divorce or there's a death in the family, understanding those things and talking to your people and making management live and breathe. That's the concept of like management is a complex system because we always have to take into account all these other inputs and all these other stressors, and then reassess how we manage our people, how we lead our people, what type of strategies we implement and so on and so forth.

Chris Byers: One of the things we just had our company event recently, and normally that company event is in person, and at the end of the week, I was just really taxed and I was like, Why is that? It's all been remote. And someone reminded me of my introverted nature, and I was like, That's so weird. That doesn't make sense in a virtual world. I get it in a physical world, but I think you're speaking to just all of these things that drive us and make us energetic, lose energy and where you can identify those and help people surround themselves with the right community resources. I think you just create some great lift. So I love what you're doing there.

Bryan Smith: It's a really interesting concept, right? Because I think in each hour and really just how we manage people, everything is always starting a strategy for everybody. It's always, you have this one specific strategy. And like I said, if it's using Headspace and buying Headspace membership, your entire population or if it's happy hour or if it's a mental health seminar like all those things are fantastic, but they just might not work for 10 percent of your population. And what do you do with that other 10 percent of that population? And how do you find the signal through all that noise and understand how to best? Support your product team or your sales team when your marketing team, when, like you said, like personality traits and how you were raised and where you grew up, and all these things impact how you help or support your people. But right now, we don't have enough information to truly help each and every single person on our team

Chris Byers: dig into that idea of happiness. How do you think about employee happiness?

Bryan Smith: Happiness is very much a moving target, and all things considered. I tend to look at happiness being measured, Elma says. Terms like resiliency, right? Like, how resilient are you to the stress that's going to affect you today, tomorrow and the next day? And are you resilient enough where that's not going to disrupt your mental health to cause a disruption in your happiness? Are you resilient enough to be able to create the environment that you want, either in your personal life or your work life, or whatever that is to actualize that happiness?

Chris Byers: And as you think about companies who are listening and say, Oh, this sounds like this sounds great, I think this is probably an important topic to us. How do you think about navigating where the company gets involved and how they participate? Because of course, there are these moments where we probably can't create a full time counseling service, but you do want to create these wonderful environments and places where people, I think, get something that they don't get at the next company. How do you think about that

Bryan Smith: performance and happiness and all these other things? Very much is a moving target, and it's not necessarily the strategy that you decide to implement. It's the timing of that strategy, managing people and human beings and running companies. It's all a very complex system with multiple different inputs, driving every single aspect of what we do. Intervention is always needed on a company level, but it's just understanding the timing of that intervention if it's the right time to actually step in and do something. The power of understanding team sentiment is huge and understanding where if it's regardless of its surveys or wearables or whatever that is, it's great to have that data. But you have to understand what to do with that data and when is the proper time to implement the strategy to using that data, but also on the other end, and this is actually something from sports. When we're tracking our athletes, we're not always looking for who's beat up right or who is burnt out, which is what we do in our space. We're always looking for the people that need support. But what we also need to start looking at is like the people that can be challenged, right? Because the people who are challenged, who are ready and recovered, they're the people that maybe pick up the slack for the people that are maybe going through some struggles and also to monotony and boredom is an impact of employee burnout. I think it's zooming out a little bit understanding that teams that need you right now and when to step in and what that strategy is, but also understanding the teams that are actually who recovered. And maybe you can increase their OK hours, or maybe you can give them more autonomy and use a strategy by Google or Atlassian where you let them work on side projects? Or maybe you implement some sort of job crafting strategy. That's the interplay of performance, and that's what we do with athletes. We're always looking at things like, how can we fix the athletes that are beat up and how can we maximize the adaptation for the athletes that are highly recovered? And that's the way that we can look at employee performance. Let's bring the people that need support up right at the right time with the right dose and the right strategy. And let's make sure that employees that are highly recovered. Let's push them a little farther because we know they can handle the stress. And if we give them the proper dose of stress, they're going to become better high performers. They're going to start excelling more at their job. And I know this is conceptual as a whole, but that's what one Leon does. But two, that's the way I look at it. Employee performance, it's assessing readiness and then making decisions off of that readiness level on either supporting your team or challenge.

Chris Byers: Do you have any stories of how you've seen that kind of happiness improve and impact performance at work?

Bryan Smith: So there's a couple companies we work with in Silicon Valley, and what we looked at was this concept of monotony and how that relates to employee burnout. And using that same example, what we did is we took a series of inside sales teams with about five or six different companies. Now what we did is we assessed burnout, we assessed happiness and great resiliency, adaptability and all of these different things. And what we do is we compared that over the past year as well as revenue growth. And what was interesting is that the managers that manipulated OKRs, meaning one month went up 10 percent, one month went down five percent. Whatever their employees not only perform better, but they also reduce their risk of burnout and whatnot because there was this a constant increase decrease perform, recover, perform, recover a concept that. And to a higher level of alignment within their company, a reduced risk of burnout and a higher level of happiness within those specific companies compared to the other team, that OK, ours pretty much stayed stagnant. Right. So there was never this like stretch and recovery or perform a recovery concept. So what we do with that, teams that work with nowadays, like we recommend like a playbook to make Oak Forest live in breeds where based off the readiness or the wellness of your team. All right, let's say your team is trending towards burnout. Maybe next month you just decrease. OK, here's a little bit you allow them to back off and recover. Not so much that's going to affect your company, but enough that it allows them to take a breath. And now that they're recovered, that's super compensated to use a sports science term the next month, and we ramp up a little bit more. Not enough to put him back into that fight or flight response, but enough that it makes him stretch a little bit because now they are recovered. That was a really interesting example of breaking up monotony and seeing huge changes in not just well-being, but also job performance.

Chris Byers: When I think that idea of monotony speaks to some of what we all experienced last year, which is even just the day to day these small delights, maybe we took delight in like we ran out to get coffee or we sat in a coffee shop to work or whatever. All these things get compressed and you didn't get to do them at all, or not nearly as much. And so even the stuff that you were doing all before all of a sudden kind of became more monotonous because you didn't get a break from it. And I think you can see how that causes a huge tax on people. How do you think that actually impacts people at home, too?

Bryan Smith: I have two daughters and they were home. And obviously, I love them being home, but, you know, I still have other responsibilities and whatnot and that experience of waking up every day, making breakfast, getting them logged in to go to school, then trying to do your own job and then going into that process, you're essentially working two full time jobs. And you'll remember when things started opening up a little bit where you could walk out the door and, like you said, getting a cup of coffee or going to Starbucks like that and little break. And I want to I want people to understand, like there's a physiological response to that break, like literally that's your body perceives that as a downregulation of your autonomic or sympathetic nervous system, right? So there's a downregulation in that elicits a recovery response. So a lot of times breaking up monotony throughout your day, if that's going for a walk, if that is playing with your dog or your kids or whatever, that triggers a recovery response and those little micro recovery responses is what leads to a longer term break in monotony or a longer term recovery response. So it's hugely important to have these micro recovery sessions and days, week months, whatever that is.

Chris Byers: Brant, how do you define burnout? It's clearly something that comes up in every article everywhere, and we all feel it at times. How do you think about it?

Bryan Smith: It's an interesting concept within the business space. And when I say interesting, there's some issues with the way that we quantify in a way that we assess it and whether we think about what it is and what I mean by that is everything that we've taken into account of. What burnout is from a clinical level has been most of the time dictated by organizational psychologists or psychologists. It's a physiological problem. It's a psychological problem. It's multiple different factors, but on a simple basis. And the most simple level of burnout is an overreaction of the autonomic nervous system causing a heightened fight or flight response over long periods of time without giving adequate recovery. So we all know the term fight or flight response, that it's essentially your body's stuck in a fight or flight response, and it gets so bad that eventually it causes an illness. So lack of a better term, right, it causes mental health issues like depression and whatnot. But it also causes physiological issues like high blood pressure, eventually even low blood pressure, hypoglycemia, a bunch of other things that we don't take into account because we only look at burnout as being a company problem when really it's a systemic physiological psychological problem.

Chris Byers: So a lot of what we've talked about, our ideas that are not baked into the culture we're used to strive more, push more, achieve more if you could introduce something into the world and into the culture. What would you wish people would embrace and say, Yeah, let's try to make this a part of our day to day lives.

Bryan Smith: More often we talk about this concept of hustle culture. But what we don't understand is that a hustle culture doesn't happen. Like you can't hustle unless you recover, like, it's virtually impossible. But I also agree that sometimes we have overreactions to rest and recovery, and that's going to sound a little bad. And I'll explain we either put ourselves in camps. It's either I'm a hustler and I am going to ride until I die, and that's what I do. Where the other side of it, where it says I am the rest and recovery person. And I think I should only work three hours a day and I am going to jump in a cry of it today, as well as to do yoga, as well as workout and meditate for 45 minutes. What we need to understand is that we do have to earn the right to recover, and that's important because you don't earn the right to recover. There is no compensation like you recover to get better. You don't recover just to relax. So I think it's important that we understand that to recover, you still have to work hard and it's not one way or the other. It's like a symbiotic relationship. Bust your ass so you can recover and then be a better employee, worker, performer, whatever that is on the back. And that's like how biology works.

Chris Byers: I love what you're talking about there and how it just speaks to so much of the experience we all have had over these past months and years or so. As companies do try to embrace like, all right, what do we do about this? How do we engage? I'm sure plenty of us forms that could be included have put programs in place that have just been kind of a waste like you don't really get problems solved. What are some common misconceptions or programs or things put in place that you find to be just not nearly as valuable as everybody thinks they should be?

Bryan Smith: None of us are similar and none of us are alike. I mean, you mentioned the introverted thing earlier, for a lot of people doing a happy hour with your team if you're introverted is a high amount of stress. Right? So you're thinking you're doing something which is actually causing a higher amount of stress for your employer, which is actually causing them more issues and burnout and happiness and all those other things. I think what it comes down to is regardless of whatever you're doing, if that's purchasing a subsidy thing for mental health services or you're implementing certain strategies to lower the cognitive load like reducing meetings or whatnot. There is no one size fits all for anything when it comes down to really like human biology, and that's what we're doing when we're talking about helping our people recover. It's not just a mental state like this, there's a physiological response to when it comes to helping your people recover from things like burnout. That burnout is a physiological response that presents itself as a mental health problem, but it starts on a physiological level first. Nothing is one-size-fits-all. So don't ever think that purchasing headspace or whatever you do is going to fix everything. It takes a real time strategy, much like it takes professional athletes to be able to manage the well-being and the readiness of our team. And it's a full time job. It really is if you want it to impact performance. If you just want to check the boxes and say that we have a mental health service and we want to survey every year, then that's fine. You can definitely check the boxes. But if you want those things to impact performance, it needs to be something that's done often. All right. And there has to be a strategy built around it.

Chris Byers: Once somebody is saying, All right, I'm hearing this and I want to do something good with it. What are some things you'd say? Get started here?

Bryan Smith: One of the things I love right now is a general wellness questionnaire of five questions and that's talking about how you feel, how your sleep is impacted, what you do is you use that before a quarter or an after quarter or before sprint and after spring. And then what you do is you track that over periods of time and then you just give it a sort of a composite score. So like my team's wellness score for this month at the beginning of this month, at the end of this month was a five and a two. All right. And then you don't have to be reactive to it that first month. But if you track it over a longer period of time, you start to see signals within your data, right like you go back to last year and like, all right, based off of a wellness questionnaire, we know that December our team was highly burnt out. Why is that? So you can go back and understand, but you can also like you're getting into a prediction model or we know coming into this December that our team is going to be highly burned. How can we strategize around that to make sure it doesn't happen again? All right. Or if you want to maybe drill down a little poser at the beginning of this product spring, my team was out of 10. All right, at the end of this product sprint, they were out of four. OK, so we know that. So the question you need to ask is what could we have done before the product sprint to make sure the cost of this product sprint wasn't as great? What could we have done during the product sprint to make sure that coming out of the sprint they're not going to be in for? And what can we do after that product sprint to make sure that we allow our recovery response to happen?

Chris Byers: Absolutely. I think that you're talking about just live feedback, and I think we often wait way too long. We do annual reviews, we do even quarterly surveys. There's a great visual that I loved, which is I got to go to the Olympics, one of the Olympic training sites, one time in Colorado Springs. And I noticed during the tour, and you probably know this everywhere you go. There are these TVs, and I was like, What are they here for? And then the explanation comes as there are cameras and trees that are always on a 30 second delay. And I love that visual of I go do my whatever sport, and I can always stop the moment I'm done and go, glance at, OK, what did I do? How did I do it? And so I think you're just talking about that idea of much more rapid feedback and how it can really help us make much smarter decisions.

Bryan Smith: Variant that doesn't happen if your team burns out like that's a management problem. Like you are not managing your people properly because you allowed that to happen. But it's very easy to mitigate, right? Because you just need to understand. You just need to get a signal of when your team is trending that way and when they're trending that's when you provide some sort of mitigation strategy. All right. And then over time, I think you eventually figure out what that is as you get feedback, as you see your scores change and then that becomes part of your toolbox, right? But an important part, too, is employee engagement and employee performance, we tend to look at it as an organizational thing or as like a major thing like we all do this, but true employee performance needs to happen on a team level. So if you want your sales team to be able to reduce burnout by the time it kicks up to H.R., you're screwed. At that point, they're already burned out. Performance has already dropped, opportunities are going down, call lines going down. But if you empower your sales manager to have employee engagement data and give and empower them with strategies to be able to implement when that slight puff of smoke starts happening within burnout, that's performance management. But we tend to rely on H.R. to fix everything. When managers, that's our responsibility. Like we're stressed givers and we're stress takers. All right. Managers need to understand exactly when you give that stress, when you take away and then you do your OK hours and you're one of ones and all those other things,

Chris Byers: How do you think life has changed in the past few years in terms of employee wellness.

Bryan Smith: I really think they employees, their expectations have changed now. I was just on LinkedIn and someone was like, Do we need a sales enablement like health officer, a wellbeing officer or whatever? And I think that's where we're moving to, where employees are going to expect that their health and their well-being is taken care of. And if it's not taken care of that, they're not going to be willing to jeopardize it anymore. And quite honestly, they shouldn't, our employees, our responsibilities, there are charges if we hurt them. We're not doing the right thing. This isn't the 1940s where you could do those types of things. This is in an environment where I think more than anything, we've learned that we're all in this together. So now as leaders, we need to live up to the expectations of protecting our charges.

Chris Byers: I love that idea. I'm feeling the criticism somebody might be listening and saying, though, is, OK, I hear you and I'm not trying to abuse people, but they're adults. Why can't they take part of this responsibility on themselves? How do you think about that?

Bryan Smith: There is a personal responsibility that they need to own right like a person does have to exercise. They do have to eat healthy, they do have to do all those other things, and that's something that they have to take on themselves. But when it comes down to their expectations of what you're giving them, that's where we ask managers that we need to be smarter. For example, for a sales team, say you've average 100 opportunities a month and next month, because I'm the boss, I'm going to say your goal is a thousand opportunities. Would you say that's fair, Chris?

Chris Byers: That doesn't sound great. That sounds rather undoable.

Bryan Smith: Exactly. So we do this all the time. We're always understanding that we would have to be cognitive of the stress that we're giving our people. All right. We just don't have strategies or we're too lazy to understand exactly how to support them in a science sort of data driven way. I think it just comes down to is that we need to realize that the wellness of our people is a performance driver. All right? And it doesn't take much. You just need to look at those things in the same light. Right? Your wellness score, whatever you want to call it, is the same thing as your revenue number. They should grow together on a linear curve. And if they're not, you either have a management issue or something else. But it takes a village where people do have to protect themselves. But at some point we have to be cognizant of the stress that we're getting on our people as well.

Chris Byers: If you could give some advice to our listeners, how can they unlock their genius to create more happiness in their work or personal lives?

Bryan Smith: I think the most important thing we can do for our employees is building resiliency, and that's such a buzzword in the world that we live in today. Every VR article ever written, it's like resiliency and how to build it, but understand that resiliency is something that has grown over time. And then if you want a resilient workforce, you have to be able to manipulate the stress that is giving them. If you burn your employees out, you would never have a resilient organization and never have an adaptable organization. So if you manage the well-being of your people, that is leading to a more resilient organization which allows you to scale faster and grow faster. All those other things. It's not just the soft aspects of, Oh, we want our people to be happy, so we're going to do mental health. It's if you want to align it with better performance and understand that every decision that you make regarding the well-being of your people is going to be an exponential return of the resiliency and adaptability of your company and your organization.

Chris Byers: What do you think people need to think about when it comes to employee happiness? What what do they need to start with

Bryan Smith: and managers need to first understand what stress is and how things like that work. There is a great book called Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers from University of Stanford. It's like an amazing book. It's not science at all. It's an amazing book. I would suggest that managers and leaders understand the stress response of people and what happens, because I think as you start understanding and gaining empathy of what actually happens to your people when you do a, you know, 24 hour product sprint, right, it will allow you to make better people decisions on the back end. But understanding again that our job as leaders are to prescribe stress and take away stress. Everything else, the training, they require, all those other things, right? That's still part of our job. But the first and foremost job is to make sure that the job is getting done and that is prescribing stress. So long story short, read a book, understand stress and then gain something that's great.

Chris Byers: It's interesting. I'm actually reading a book right now, and it actually covers the views of the idea of Sabbath from a number of different faiths and how most faiths have a Sabbath concept built in this time of rest. But I just read this chapter on progress and how we're all stuck in this idea that life is just satisfying in the way that it is now. We're trying to get to some future destination. And I think that too creates this constant. That's why we go from 100 opportunities to a thousand because we're like, it's going to be better there. And yet I don't think that really gets us anywhere, doesn't it?

Bryan Smith: No, I think sometimes that dropping down to 50 opportunities probably makes for a better company. Biology dictates that we're always trying to improve. That's our system to a certain extent, because if you take away stress. All right, your body then reduces resiliency. So there is, I think there's a biological construct of like your body's always receiving inputs and always receive always making systems to adapt and improve. So I think that's a little bit built into our DNA. But understanding that to do that, to happen, for that, to happen, for that new system and that new adaptation and that new level of resiliency to actually take place, it does require a Sabbath. It does require a rest and recovery time for that super compensation process to happen.

Chris Byers: What do you think people listening can do differently in their day to day to create a positive impact for other people?

Bryan Smith: I think you lead with empathy no matter what you do. I think that's the most important part of leading people when you're raising children. Just understanding that stress, regardless, if you're running a marathon or if you are leading a sales department, it's all the same thing in how we perceive that stress is dictated by our genetics, our epigenetics, our you know, how we were raised, our lack of a mother or a lack of a father, like all those things matter and drive who we are as people and how we adapt to stress. If you understand that and you're leading people, you have to lead with empathy first because we all have biological settings that we can either break through and or not. And if you want to support your people, you have to understand that

Chris Byers: as you think about humans or Leon, jump forward a handful of years. What's the impact you hope to have through those organizations?

Bryan Smith: Quite honestly, I just want to prove the concept that well-being and performance align. I want to be able to show that the best way to grow a company is by also reducing the most amount of cost on your people. Because I look at a company, that scale is exponentially but burns their people out, that's not a successful company. A successful company to me is someone who can scale exponentially but also support and protect their people doing it. So I want to be able to prove out that concept.

Chris Byers: I love that in recent episodes, guests have brought up kind of the way they view or have experienced failure. How do you view failure without failure?

Bryan Smith: There's no growth, and I know that is a very much like management consulting phrase, but it's absolutely true on a physiological biological level. And if there is not an overt stress response that your body goes through failure or system fatigue, that system is never going to be able to compensate and develop patterns to be able to overcome that stress again. Failure is just biological, and it's something we all go through and then you learn how to recover or succeed after the fact.

Chris Byers: Thank you for joining me on this episode of Ripple Effect. To learn more about how people like Brian are reimagining their world of work, head over to formstack.com/practically-genius also linked in our show notes.

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8
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23
140
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23
25
135+
1
1
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13
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9
9
5
6
4
4
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Chris Byers: When we think about employee wellness, often what comes to mind are beverages on tap, ping pong tables and other surface level perks. But what if we went deeper than these superficial benefits and instead focused on truly impactful employee happiness? To help answer the question today, as Brian Smith, he is the CEO and founder of Leon and Humans. We'll dig into what those two organizations are here in a minute, but before we do, you should also know that Brian is a wellness professional and pro sports performance coach, turned founder and start up advisor. How did he get where he is today, and what's the driving force behind people's performance and well-being? Let's find out. I'm Chris Byers of Form SAC, and this is Ripple Effect, a show celebrating the positive impact our decisions create. Brian, welcome to the show, and I have to imagine with your line of work, you see the ripple effect on a number of levels. Before we get to those stories, can you give our listeners a bit of a snapshot of what Leon is?

Bryan Smith: Leon, essentially what we are is we're a performance tool based off of data science. So ultimately, what we do is we predict things like employee burnout, employee happiness, employee grit, organizational adaptability. And then in the back end, we actually quantify specific playbooks for you to run to be able to improve your organization and improve your people. For example, implementing a four day workweek, we can tell you exactly when to do it, who to do it with and how long to run it or no meetings Friday, which everybody knows what is the exact effect of implementing those types of strategies. You know, we show light on, on and off those types of things.

Chris Byers: Well, I assume last year was really just a pretty interesting year to utilize your technology and in that A.I. and how you think about things because you all of a sudden went from calling it a normal environment to something that was very abnormal. And I would say for us, we've tried to be progressive in the way that we think about doing work remote work very early. But last year it was tough. It was like, Yeah, we can be flexible, but never felt like a program or a system would work. I'm curious how you guys tackled last year and how you navigated that.

Bryan Smith: It was a huge pivot for everybody, and obviously we went to remote and we went to different work environments and obviously the strain and stress of just COVID in life changing for every single human being on the planet. But I think in a lot of ways it defines what we are as a product and how we want to work to help people and back this up by saying, is that everything we experience as human beings? It really comes down to stress and recovery and sort of compensation. So there's a little bit of stress that you go through. Your body learns how to adapt to that stress and then you super compensate, right? Like you develop a higher level of resiliency. And with COVID, it was like this gigantic stress response where no one has ever felt that level of strain, but on that because most of the times when you have stress like that, it's major life changes, right? It's divorce, it's having a child, it's a death in the family. It's all these different things where we were all experiencing all those things, all at one time. Right? Like from the fear of people dying to your kids, not going to school to potentially losing your job. It was just a crazy thing. And like anything, I think it reinvigorated us to really define and really understand. Like what, as you opened up what employee wellness really means and how it's not ping pong tables. It's not kombucha, it's the wellbeing and the performance. And this I love this term readiness of our team to be able to perform at their job with minimal cost. And that cost part is so important because we always forget that everything we ask of our charges, and I say that word charges like really meaning it is like our employees, our responsibility and everything we ask of them is stress. And it's up to us to understand that stress and how much stress that we're giving them and what they affect our cost is going to be. And with COVID that you showed, the cost of stress and the cost of not having wellbeing can do to an organization.

Chris Byers: What inspired you to start your company?

Bryan Smith: My background was in sports science, so I worked with primarily track and field athletes and Olympic level track and field athletes to ultimately predict performance or predict injury on an Olympic level. And so what we would do is we do all sorts of different physiological monitoring and surveys, GPPs analysis, all these types of things to ultimately develop a model to predict injury or predict a. And I wanted to do that. In business, right in the tech world, because we're always looking about quantifying things, if that's or whatever that is. But we never really quantify our people in a way that benefits them. So is your typical employee engagement survey that gives something to a manager to be able to manage a little bit better, but it never directly affects the employee. So yeah, I just think it came from living in the sports science world and protecting athletes and protecting their livelihood and wanting to do that within the employee space.

Chris Byers: And tell us about humans. You've got this other organization at the same time. What does that look like and what are you trying to accomplish there?

Bryan Smith: Yes. So humans is a community, and what we're trying to do with humans is we want to create an environment where. Like, that concept of human optimization can be talked about right and tested and iterated on and true culture can have a conversation about what people really need and what works because we look at these terms like well-being and well-being is probably the most subjective term you could ever talk about in your whole entire life. Obviously, there are the physical aspects of well-being, and that's heart rate and blood pressure and all these other things. But the way that I achieve wellness might be very, very different than the way that you achieve illness. And then we wanted to create a conversation about how people are going about managing their health in their own very, very subjective way, rather than forcing everybody into a Headspace membership or forcing everybody to a happy hour. 5:00 p.m. on a Friday.

Chris Byers: So you've talked about this idea of human optimization and would love to hear you dig into a little bit of that. What does that mean? What are the outcomes of that?

Bryan Smith: The concept of like human optimization, it's a very broad topic, but really it comes down to is that everything that we do from a leadership standpoint, it's always about improvement. Right? Like, we're always trying to like when we implement elements, systems or upskilling or whatnot, like we're or optimizing that specific human being. But what we fail to think about is, can that employee take on that stress right now? And is the effect of implementing an upskilling strategy at form stack going to actually cause a negative response in that employee? And yes, you might be training that employee to do something better, but if they're burnt out, all right or they're highly fatigued, you're actually going to cause a negative physiological response. So when I talk about human optimization, I talk about this concept of a linear curve on making humans better and making them more resilient. Resiliency is the key to everything. If you can make a more resilient human being mentally and physiologically, and they can accomplish anything. So as companies, we need to be looking at human optimization in the way that we prescribe strategies and learning and training as a way to make human beings better and more resilient. Because if we can do that, then we have a more resilient company.

Chris Byers: So you talk about the complexity of managing people and especially as they relate to trying to grow an organization and grow a company would love for you to talk a little bit about that because I'm sure every one of us has had the challenge of and frankly, I'll say this kind of quietly. We've said, Oh man, if I could do this without people, that would be great, but I'd love for you to talk about that complexity.

Bryan Smith: Yeah, that's actually pretty good. Such a complex system, right? Complex system is a theory based a long time ago on the idea that our human body is made up of a bunch of systems all feeding input. So like you have, like mentally, you have a central nervous system, you have all these different systems in the body. And our company is pretty much the same way because your company, it's an organism and that organism has constant inputs coming into it. There are people's inputs as revenue inputs. There's marketing inputs, all these different things, it's always constantly growing. When we manage people, we have to take that into account that we are not in, especially now in a closed environment where you can say this is your goal and this is what you need to accomplish. Get after because that's impossible, because what if you give me a goal? You set my OKR for the next quarter and next year, and God forbid, I get a divorce or there's a death in the family, understanding those things and talking to your people and making management live and breathe. That's the concept of like management is a complex system because we always have to take into account all these other inputs and all these other stressors, and then reassess how we manage our people, how we lead our people, what type of strategies we implement and so on and so forth.

Chris Byers: One of the things we just had our company event recently, and normally that company event is in person, and at the end of the week, I was just really taxed and I was like, Why is that? It's all been remote. And someone reminded me of my introverted nature, and I was like, That's so weird. That doesn't make sense in a virtual world. I get it in a physical world, but I think you're speaking to just all of these things that drive us and make us energetic, lose energy and where you can identify those and help people surround themselves with the right community resources. I think you just create some great lift. So I love what you're doing there.

Bryan Smith: It's a really interesting concept, right? Because I think in each hour and really just how we manage people, everything is always starting a strategy for everybody. It's always, you have this one specific strategy. And like I said, if it's using Headspace and buying Headspace membership, your entire population or if it's happy hour or if it's a mental health seminar like all those things are fantastic, but they just might not work for 10 percent of your population. And what do you do with that other 10 percent of that population? And how do you find the signal through all that noise and understand how to best? Support your product team or your sales team when your marketing team, when, like you said, like personality traits and how you were raised and where you grew up, and all these things impact how you help or support your people. But right now, we don't have enough information to truly help each and every single person on our team

Chris Byers: dig into that idea of happiness. How do you think about employee happiness?

Bryan Smith: Happiness is very much a moving target, and all things considered. I tend to look at happiness being measured, Elma says. Terms like resiliency, right? Like, how resilient are you to the stress that's going to affect you today, tomorrow and the next day? And are you resilient enough where that's not going to disrupt your mental health to cause a disruption in your happiness? Are you resilient enough to be able to create the environment that you want, either in your personal life or your work life, or whatever that is to actualize that happiness?

Chris Byers: And as you think about companies who are listening and say, Oh, this sounds like this sounds great, I think this is probably an important topic to us. How do you think about navigating where the company gets involved and how they participate? Because of course, there are these moments where we probably can't create a full time counseling service, but you do want to create these wonderful environments and places where people, I think, get something that they don't get at the next company. How do you think about that

Bryan Smith: performance and happiness and all these other things? Very much is a moving target, and it's not necessarily the strategy that you decide to implement. It's the timing of that strategy, managing people and human beings and running companies. It's all a very complex system with multiple different inputs, driving every single aspect of what we do. Intervention is always needed on a company level, but it's just understanding the timing of that intervention if it's the right time to actually step in and do something. The power of understanding team sentiment is huge and understanding where if it's regardless of its surveys or wearables or whatever that is, it's great to have that data. But you have to understand what to do with that data and when is the proper time to implement the strategy to using that data, but also on the other end, and this is actually something from sports. When we're tracking our athletes, we're not always looking for who's beat up right or who is burnt out, which is what we do in our space. We're always looking for the people that need support. But what we also need to start looking at is like the people that can be challenged, right? Because the people who are challenged, who are ready and recovered, they're the people that maybe pick up the slack for the people that are maybe going through some struggles and also to monotony and boredom is an impact of employee burnout. I think it's zooming out a little bit understanding that teams that need you right now and when to step in and what that strategy is, but also understanding the teams that are actually who recovered. And maybe you can increase their OK hours, or maybe you can give them more autonomy and use a strategy by Google or Atlassian where you let them work on side projects? Or maybe you implement some sort of job crafting strategy. That's the interplay of performance, and that's what we do with athletes. We're always looking at things like, how can we fix the athletes that are beat up and how can we maximize the adaptation for the athletes that are highly recovered? And that's the way that we can look at employee performance. Let's bring the people that need support up right at the right time with the right dose and the right strategy. And let's make sure that employees that are highly recovered. Let's push them a little farther because we know they can handle the stress. And if we give them the proper dose of stress, they're going to become better high performers. They're going to start excelling more at their job. And I know this is conceptual as a whole, but that's what one Leon does. But two, that's the way I look at it. Employee performance, it's assessing readiness and then making decisions off of that readiness level on either supporting your team or challenge.

Chris Byers: Do you have any stories of how you've seen that kind of happiness improve and impact performance at work?

Bryan Smith: So there's a couple companies we work with in Silicon Valley, and what we looked at was this concept of monotony and how that relates to employee burnout. And using that same example, what we did is we took a series of inside sales teams with about five or six different companies. Now what we did is we assessed burnout, we assessed happiness and great resiliency, adaptability and all of these different things. And what we do is we compared that over the past year as well as revenue growth. And what was interesting is that the managers that manipulated OKRs, meaning one month went up 10 percent, one month went down five percent. Whatever their employees not only perform better, but they also reduce their risk of burnout and whatnot because there was this a constant increase decrease perform, recover, perform, recover a concept that. And to a higher level of alignment within their company, a reduced risk of burnout and a higher level of happiness within those specific companies compared to the other team, that OK, ours pretty much stayed stagnant. Right. So there was never this like stretch and recovery or perform a recovery concept. So what we do with that, teams that work with nowadays, like we recommend like a playbook to make Oak Forest live in breeds where based off the readiness or the wellness of your team. All right, let's say your team is trending towards burnout. Maybe next month you just decrease. OK, here's a little bit you allow them to back off and recover. Not so much that's going to affect your company, but enough that it allows them to take a breath. And now that they're recovered, that's super compensated to use a sports science term the next month, and we ramp up a little bit more. Not enough to put him back into that fight or flight response, but enough that it makes him stretch a little bit because now they are recovered. That was a really interesting example of breaking up monotony and seeing huge changes in not just well-being, but also job performance.

Chris Byers: When I think that idea of monotony speaks to some of what we all experienced last year, which is even just the day to day these small delights, maybe we took delight in like we ran out to get coffee or we sat in a coffee shop to work or whatever. All these things get compressed and you didn't get to do them at all, or not nearly as much. And so even the stuff that you were doing all before all of a sudden kind of became more monotonous because you didn't get a break from it. And I think you can see how that causes a huge tax on people. How do you think that actually impacts people at home, too?

Bryan Smith: I have two daughters and they were home. And obviously, I love them being home, but, you know, I still have other responsibilities and whatnot and that experience of waking up every day, making breakfast, getting them logged in to go to school, then trying to do your own job and then going into that process, you're essentially working two full time jobs. And you'll remember when things started opening up a little bit where you could walk out the door and, like you said, getting a cup of coffee or going to Starbucks like that and little break. And I want to I want people to understand, like there's a physiological response to that break, like literally that's your body perceives that as a downregulation of your autonomic or sympathetic nervous system, right? So there's a downregulation in that elicits a recovery response. So a lot of times breaking up monotony throughout your day, if that's going for a walk, if that is playing with your dog or your kids or whatever, that triggers a recovery response and those little micro recovery responses is what leads to a longer term break in monotony or a longer term recovery response. So it's hugely important to have these micro recovery sessions and days, week months, whatever that is.

Chris Byers: Brant, how do you define burnout? It's clearly something that comes up in every article everywhere, and we all feel it at times. How do you think about it?

Bryan Smith: It's an interesting concept within the business space. And when I say interesting, there's some issues with the way that we quantify in a way that we assess it and whether we think about what it is and what I mean by that is everything that we've taken into account of. What burnout is from a clinical level has been most of the time dictated by organizational psychologists or psychologists. It's a physiological problem. It's a psychological problem. It's multiple different factors, but on a simple basis. And the most simple level of burnout is an overreaction of the autonomic nervous system causing a heightened fight or flight response over long periods of time without giving adequate recovery. So we all know the term fight or flight response, that it's essentially your body's stuck in a fight or flight response, and it gets so bad that eventually it causes an illness. So lack of a better term, right, it causes mental health issues like depression and whatnot. But it also causes physiological issues like high blood pressure, eventually even low blood pressure, hypoglycemia, a bunch of other things that we don't take into account because we only look at burnout as being a company problem when really it's a systemic physiological psychological problem.

Chris Byers: So a lot of what we've talked about, our ideas that are not baked into the culture we're used to strive more, push more, achieve more if you could introduce something into the world and into the culture. What would you wish people would embrace and say, Yeah, let's try to make this a part of our day to day lives.

Bryan Smith: More often we talk about this concept of hustle culture. But what we don't understand is that a hustle culture doesn't happen. Like you can't hustle unless you recover, like, it's virtually impossible. But I also agree that sometimes we have overreactions to rest and recovery, and that's going to sound a little bad. And I'll explain we either put ourselves in camps. It's either I'm a hustler and I am going to ride until I die, and that's what I do. Where the other side of it, where it says I am the rest and recovery person. And I think I should only work three hours a day and I am going to jump in a cry of it today, as well as to do yoga, as well as workout and meditate for 45 minutes. What we need to understand is that we do have to earn the right to recover, and that's important because you don't earn the right to recover. There is no compensation like you recover to get better. You don't recover just to relax. So I think it's important that we understand that to recover, you still have to work hard and it's not one way or the other. It's like a symbiotic relationship. Bust your ass so you can recover and then be a better employee, worker, performer, whatever that is on the back. And that's like how biology works.

Chris Byers: I love what you're talking about there and how it just speaks to so much of the experience we all have had over these past months and years or so. As companies do try to embrace like, all right, what do we do about this? How do we engage? I'm sure plenty of us forms that could be included have put programs in place that have just been kind of a waste like you don't really get problems solved. What are some common misconceptions or programs or things put in place that you find to be just not nearly as valuable as everybody thinks they should be?

Bryan Smith: None of us are similar and none of us are alike. I mean, you mentioned the introverted thing earlier, for a lot of people doing a happy hour with your team if you're introverted is a high amount of stress. Right? So you're thinking you're doing something which is actually causing a higher amount of stress for your employer, which is actually causing them more issues and burnout and happiness and all those other things. I think what it comes down to is regardless of whatever you're doing, if that's purchasing a subsidy thing for mental health services or you're implementing certain strategies to lower the cognitive load like reducing meetings or whatnot. There is no one size fits all for anything when it comes down to really like human biology, and that's what we're doing when we're talking about helping our people recover. It's not just a mental state like this, there's a physiological response to when it comes to helping your people recover from things like burnout. That burnout is a physiological response that presents itself as a mental health problem, but it starts on a physiological level first. Nothing is one-size-fits-all. So don't ever think that purchasing headspace or whatever you do is going to fix everything. It takes a real time strategy, much like it takes professional athletes to be able to manage the well-being and the readiness of our team. And it's a full time job. It really is if you want it to impact performance. If you just want to check the boxes and say that we have a mental health service and we want to survey every year, then that's fine. You can definitely check the boxes. But if you want those things to impact performance, it needs to be something that's done often. All right. And there has to be a strategy built around it.

Chris Byers: Once somebody is saying, All right, I'm hearing this and I want to do something good with it. What are some things you'd say? Get started here?

Bryan Smith: One of the things I love right now is a general wellness questionnaire of five questions and that's talking about how you feel, how your sleep is impacted, what you do is you use that before a quarter or an after quarter or before sprint and after spring. And then what you do is you track that over periods of time and then you just give it a sort of a composite score. So like my team's wellness score for this month at the beginning of this month, at the end of this month was a five and a two. All right. And then you don't have to be reactive to it that first month. But if you track it over a longer period of time, you start to see signals within your data, right like you go back to last year and like, all right, based off of a wellness questionnaire, we know that December our team was highly burnt out. Why is that? So you can go back and understand, but you can also like you're getting into a prediction model or we know coming into this December that our team is going to be highly burned. How can we strategize around that to make sure it doesn't happen again? All right. Or if you want to maybe drill down a little poser at the beginning of this product spring, my team was out of 10. All right, at the end of this product sprint, they were out of four. OK, so we know that. So the question you need to ask is what could we have done before the product sprint to make sure the cost of this product sprint wasn't as great? What could we have done during the product sprint to make sure that coming out of the sprint they're not going to be in for? And what can we do after that product sprint to make sure that we allow our recovery response to happen?

Chris Byers: Absolutely. I think that you're talking about just live feedback, and I think we often wait way too long. We do annual reviews, we do even quarterly surveys. There's a great visual that I loved, which is I got to go to the Olympics, one of the Olympic training sites, one time in Colorado Springs. And I noticed during the tour, and you probably know this everywhere you go. There are these TVs, and I was like, What are they here for? And then the explanation comes as there are cameras and trees that are always on a 30 second delay. And I love that visual of I go do my whatever sport, and I can always stop the moment I'm done and go, glance at, OK, what did I do? How did I do it? And so I think you're just talking about that idea of much more rapid feedback and how it can really help us make much smarter decisions.

Bryan Smith: Variant that doesn't happen if your team burns out like that's a management problem. Like you are not managing your people properly because you allowed that to happen. But it's very easy to mitigate, right? Because you just need to understand. You just need to get a signal of when your team is trending that way and when they're trending that's when you provide some sort of mitigation strategy. All right. And then over time, I think you eventually figure out what that is as you get feedback, as you see your scores change and then that becomes part of your toolbox, right? But an important part, too, is employee engagement and employee performance, we tend to look at it as an organizational thing or as like a major thing like we all do this, but true employee performance needs to happen on a team level. So if you want your sales team to be able to reduce burnout by the time it kicks up to H.R., you're screwed. At that point, they're already burned out. Performance has already dropped, opportunities are going down, call lines going down. But if you empower your sales manager to have employee engagement data and give and empower them with strategies to be able to implement when that slight puff of smoke starts happening within burnout, that's performance management. But we tend to rely on H.R. to fix everything. When managers, that's our responsibility. Like we're stressed givers and we're stress takers. All right. Managers need to understand exactly when you give that stress, when you take away and then you do your OK hours and you're one of ones and all those other things,

Chris Byers: How do you think life has changed in the past few years in terms of employee wellness.

Bryan Smith: I really think they employees, their expectations have changed now. I was just on LinkedIn and someone was like, Do we need a sales enablement like health officer, a wellbeing officer or whatever? And I think that's where we're moving to, where employees are going to expect that their health and their well-being is taken care of. And if it's not taken care of that, they're not going to be willing to jeopardize it anymore. And quite honestly, they shouldn't, our employees, our responsibilities, there are charges if we hurt them. We're not doing the right thing. This isn't the 1940s where you could do those types of things. This is in an environment where I think more than anything, we've learned that we're all in this together. So now as leaders, we need to live up to the expectations of protecting our charges.

Chris Byers: I love that idea. I'm feeling the criticism somebody might be listening and saying, though, is, OK, I hear you and I'm not trying to abuse people, but they're adults. Why can't they take part of this responsibility on themselves? How do you think about that?

Bryan Smith: There is a personal responsibility that they need to own right like a person does have to exercise. They do have to eat healthy, they do have to do all those other things, and that's something that they have to take on themselves. But when it comes down to their expectations of what you're giving them, that's where we ask managers that we need to be smarter. For example, for a sales team, say you've average 100 opportunities a month and next month, because I'm the boss, I'm going to say your goal is a thousand opportunities. Would you say that's fair, Chris?

Chris Byers: That doesn't sound great. That sounds rather undoable.

Bryan Smith: Exactly. So we do this all the time. We're always understanding that we would have to be cognitive of the stress that we're giving our people. All right. We just don't have strategies or we're too lazy to understand exactly how to support them in a science sort of data driven way. I think it just comes down to is that we need to realize that the wellness of our people is a performance driver. All right? And it doesn't take much. You just need to look at those things in the same light. Right? Your wellness score, whatever you want to call it, is the same thing as your revenue number. They should grow together on a linear curve. And if they're not, you either have a management issue or something else. But it takes a village where people do have to protect themselves. But at some point we have to be cognizant of the stress that we're getting on our people as well.

Chris Byers: If you could give some advice to our listeners, how can they unlock their genius to create more happiness in their work or personal lives?

Bryan Smith: I think the most important thing we can do for our employees is building resiliency, and that's such a buzzword in the world that we live in today. Every VR article ever written, it's like resiliency and how to build it, but understand that resiliency is something that has grown over time. And then if you want a resilient workforce, you have to be able to manipulate the stress that is giving them. If you burn your employees out, you would never have a resilient organization and never have an adaptable organization. So if you manage the well-being of your people, that is leading to a more resilient organization which allows you to scale faster and grow faster. All those other things. It's not just the soft aspects of, Oh, we want our people to be happy, so we're going to do mental health. It's if you want to align it with better performance and understand that every decision that you make regarding the well-being of your people is going to be an exponential return of the resiliency and adaptability of your company and your organization.

Chris Byers: What do you think people need to think about when it comes to employee happiness? What what do they need to start with

Bryan Smith: and managers need to first understand what stress is and how things like that work. There is a great book called Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers from University of Stanford. It's like an amazing book. It's not science at all. It's an amazing book. I would suggest that managers and leaders understand the stress response of people and what happens, because I think as you start understanding and gaining empathy of what actually happens to your people when you do a, you know, 24 hour product sprint, right, it will allow you to make better people decisions on the back end. But understanding again that our job as leaders are to prescribe stress and take away stress. Everything else, the training, they require, all those other things, right? That's still part of our job. But the first and foremost job is to make sure that the job is getting done and that is prescribing stress. So long story short, read a book, understand stress and then gain something that's great.

Chris Byers: It's interesting. I'm actually reading a book right now, and it actually covers the views of the idea of Sabbath from a number of different faiths and how most faiths have a Sabbath concept built in this time of rest. But I just read this chapter on progress and how we're all stuck in this idea that life is just satisfying in the way that it is now. We're trying to get to some future destination. And I think that too creates this constant. That's why we go from 100 opportunities to a thousand because we're like, it's going to be better there. And yet I don't think that really gets us anywhere, doesn't it?

Bryan Smith: No, I think sometimes that dropping down to 50 opportunities probably makes for a better company. Biology dictates that we're always trying to improve. That's our system to a certain extent, because if you take away stress. All right, your body then reduces resiliency. So there is, I think there's a biological construct of like your body's always receiving inputs and always receive always making systems to adapt and improve. So I think that's a little bit built into our DNA. But understanding that to do that, to happen, for that, to happen, for that new system and that new adaptation and that new level of resiliency to actually take place, it does require a Sabbath. It does require a rest and recovery time for that super compensation process to happen.

Chris Byers: What do you think people listening can do differently in their day to day to create a positive impact for other people?

Bryan Smith: I think you lead with empathy no matter what you do. I think that's the most important part of leading people when you're raising children. Just understanding that stress, regardless, if you're running a marathon or if you are leading a sales department, it's all the same thing in how we perceive that stress is dictated by our genetics, our epigenetics, our you know, how we were raised, our lack of a mother or a lack of a father, like all those things matter and drive who we are as people and how we adapt to stress. If you understand that and you're leading people, you have to lead with empathy first because we all have biological settings that we can either break through and or not. And if you want to support your people, you have to understand that

Chris Byers: as you think about humans or Leon, jump forward a handful of years. What's the impact you hope to have through those organizations?

Bryan Smith: Quite honestly, I just want to prove the concept that well-being and performance align. I want to be able to show that the best way to grow a company is by also reducing the most amount of cost on your people. Because I look at a company, that scale is exponentially but burns their people out, that's not a successful company. A successful company to me is someone who can scale exponentially but also support and protect their people doing it. So I want to be able to prove out that concept.

Chris Byers: I love that in recent episodes, guests have brought up kind of the way they view or have experienced failure. How do you view failure without failure?

Bryan Smith: There's no growth, and I know that is a very much like management consulting phrase, but it's absolutely true on a physiological biological level. And if there is not an overt stress response that your body goes through failure or system fatigue, that system is never going to be able to compensate and develop patterns to be able to overcome that stress again. Failure is just biological, and it's something we all go through and then you learn how to recover or succeed after the fact.

Chris Byers: Thank you for joining me on this episode of Ripple Effect. To learn more about how people like Brian are reimagining their world of work, head over to formstack.com/practically-genius also linked in our show notes.

Chris Byers: When we think about employee wellness, often what comes to mind are beverages on tap, ping pong tables and other surface level perks. But what if we went deeper than these superficial benefits and instead focused on truly impactful employee happiness? To help answer the question today, as Brian Smith, he is the CEO and founder of Leon and Humans. We'll dig into what those two organizations are here in a minute, but before we do, you should also know that Brian is a wellness professional and pro sports performance coach, turned founder and start up advisor. How did he get where he is today, and what's the driving force behind people's performance and well-being? Let's find out. I'm Chris Byers of Form SAC, and this is Ripple Effect, a show celebrating the positive impact our decisions create. Brian, welcome to the show, and I have to imagine with your line of work, you see the ripple effect on a number of levels. Before we get to those stories, can you give our listeners a bit of a snapshot of what Leon is?

Bryan Smith: Leon, essentially what we are is we're a performance tool based off of data science. So ultimately, what we do is we predict things like employee burnout, employee happiness, employee grit, organizational adaptability. And then in the back end, we actually quantify specific playbooks for you to run to be able to improve your organization and improve your people. For example, implementing a four day workweek, we can tell you exactly when to do it, who to do it with and how long to run it or no meetings Friday, which everybody knows what is the exact effect of implementing those types of strategies. You know, we show light on, on and off those types of things.

Chris Byers: Well, I assume last year was really just a pretty interesting year to utilize your technology and in that A.I. and how you think about things because you all of a sudden went from calling it a normal environment to something that was very abnormal. And I would say for us, we've tried to be progressive in the way that we think about doing work remote work very early. But last year it was tough. It was like, Yeah, we can be flexible, but never felt like a program or a system would work. I'm curious how you guys tackled last year and how you navigated that.

Bryan Smith: It was a huge pivot for everybody, and obviously we went to remote and we went to different work environments and obviously the strain and stress of just COVID in life changing for every single human being on the planet. But I think in a lot of ways it defines what we are as a product and how we want to work to help people and back this up by saying, is that everything we experience as human beings? It really comes down to stress and recovery and sort of compensation. So there's a little bit of stress that you go through. Your body learns how to adapt to that stress and then you super compensate, right? Like you develop a higher level of resiliency. And with COVID, it was like this gigantic stress response where no one has ever felt that level of strain, but on that because most of the times when you have stress like that, it's major life changes, right? It's divorce, it's having a child, it's a death in the family. It's all these different things where we were all experiencing all those things, all at one time. Right? Like from the fear of people dying to your kids, not going to school to potentially losing your job. It was just a crazy thing. And like anything, I think it reinvigorated us to really define and really understand. Like what, as you opened up what employee wellness really means and how it's not ping pong tables. It's not kombucha, it's the wellbeing and the performance. And this I love this term readiness of our team to be able to perform at their job with minimal cost. And that cost part is so important because we always forget that everything we ask of our charges, and I say that word charges like really meaning it is like our employees, our responsibility and everything we ask of them is stress. And it's up to us to understand that stress and how much stress that we're giving them and what they affect our cost is going to be. And with COVID that you showed, the cost of stress and the cost of not having wellbeing can do to an organization.

Chris Byers: What inspired you to start your company?

Bryan Smith: My background was in sports science, so I worked with primarily track and field athletes and Olympic level track and field athletes to ultimately predict performance or predict injury on an Olympic level. And so what we would do is we do all sorts of different physiological monitoring and surveys, GPPs analysis, all these types of things to ultimately develop a model to predict injury or predict a. And I wanted to do that. In business, right in the tech world, because we're always looking about quantifying things, if that's or whatever that is. But we never really quantify our people in a way that benefits them. So is your typical employee engagement survey that gives something to a manager to be able to manage a little bit better, but it never directly affects the employee. So yeah, I just think it came from living in the sports science world and protecting athletes and protecting their livelihood and wanting to do that within the employee space.

Chris Byers: And tell us about humans. You've got this other organization at the same time. What does that look like and what are you trying to accomplish there?

Bryan Smith: Yes. So humans is a community, and what we're trying to do with humans is we want to create an environment where. Like, that concept of human optimization can be talked about right and tested and iterated on and true culture can have a conversation about what people really need and what works because we look at these terms like well-being and well-being is probably the most subjective term you could ever talk about in your whole entire life. Obviously, there are the physical aspects of well-being, and that's heart rate and blood pressure and all these other things. But the way that I achieve wellness might be very, very different than the way that you achieve illness. And then we wanted to create a conversation about how people are going about managing their health in their own very, very subjective way, rather than forcing everybody into a Headspace membership or forcing everybody to a happy hour. 5:00 p.m. on a Friday.

Chris Byers: So you've talked about this idea of human optimization and would love to hear you dig into a little bit of that. What does that mean? What are the outcomes of that?

Bryan Smith: The concept of like human optimization, it's a very broad topic, but really it comes down to is that everything that we do from a leadership standpoint, it's always about improvement. Right? Like, we're always trying to like when we implement elements, systems or upskilling or whatnot, like we're or optimizing that specific human being. But what we fail to think about is, can that employee take on that stress right now? And is the effect of implementing an upskilling strategy at form stack going to actually cause a negative response in that employee? And yes, you might be training that employee to do something better, but if they're burnt out, all right or they're highly fatigued, you're actually going to cause a negative physiological response. So when I talk about human optimization, I talk about this concept of a linear curve on making humans better and making them more resilient. Resiliency is the key to everything. If you can make a more resilient human being mentally and physiologically, and they can accomplish anything. So as companies, we need to be looking at human optimization in the way that we prescribe strategies and learning and training as a way to make human beings better and more resilient. Because if we can do that, then we have a more resilient company.

Chris Byers: So you talk about the complexity of managing people and especially as they relate to trying to grow an organization and grow a company would love for you to talk a little bit about that because I'm sure every one of us has had the challenge of and frankly, I'll say this kind of quietly. We've said, Oh man, if I could do this without people, that would be great, but I'd love for you to talk about that complexity.

Bryan Smith: Yeah, that's actually pretty good. Such a complex system, right? Complex system is a theory based a long time ago on the idea that our human body is made up of a bunch of systems all feeding input. So like you have, like mentally, you have a central nervous system, you have all these different systems in the body. And our company is pretty much the same way because your company, it's an organism and that organism has constant inputs coming into it. There are people's inputs as revenue inputs. There's marketing inputs, all these different things, it's always constantly growing. When we manage people, we have to take that into account that we are not in, especially now in a closed environment where you can say this is your goal and this is what you need to accomplish. Get after because that's impossible, because what if you give me a goal? You set my OKR for the next quarter and next year, and God forbid, I get a divorce or there's a death in the family, understanding those things and talking to your people and making management live and breathe. That's the concept of like management is a complex system because we always have to take into account all these other inputs and all these other stressors, and then reassess how we manage our people, how we lead our people, what type of strategies we implement and so on and so forth.

Chris Byers: One of the things we just had our company event recently, and normally that company event is in person, and at the end of the week, I was just really taxed and I was like, Why is that? It's all been remote. And someone reminded me of my introverted nature, and I was like, That's so weird. That doesn't make sense in a virtual world. I get it in a physical world, but I think you're speaking to just all of these things that drive us and make us energetic, lose energy and where you can identify those and help people surround themselves with the right community resources. I think you just create some great lift. So I love what you're doing there.

Bryan Smith: It's a really interesting concept, right? Because I think in each hour and really just how we manage people, everything is always starting a strategy for everybody. It's always, you have this one specific strategy. And like I said, if it's using Headspace and buying Headspace membership, your entire population or if it's happy hour or if it's a mental health seminar like all those things are fantastic, but they just might not work for 10 percent of your population. And what do you do with that other 10 percent of that population? And how do you find the signal through all that noise and understand how to best? Support your product team or your sales team when your marketing team, when, like you said, like personality traits and how you were raised and where you grew up, and all these things impact how you help or support your people. But right now, we don't have enough information to truly help each and every single person on our team

Chris Byers: dig into that idea of happiness. How do you think about employee happiness?

Bryan Smith: Happiness is very much a moving target, and all things considered. I tend to look at happiness being measured, Elma says. Terms like resiliency, right? Like, how resilient are you to the stress that's going to affect you today, tomorrow and the next day? And are you resilient enough where that's not going to disrupt your mental health to cause a disruption in your happiness? Are you resilient enough to be able to create the environment that you want, either in your personal life or your work life, or whatever that is to actualize that happiness?

Chris Byers: And as you think about companies who are listening and say, Oh, this sounds like this sounds great, I think this is probably an important topic to us. How do you think about navigating where the company gets involved and how they participate? Because of course, there are these moments where we probably can't create a full time counseling service, but you do want to create these wonderful environments and places where people, I think, get something that they don't get at the next company. How do you think about that

Bryan Smith: performance and happiness and all these other things? Very much is a moving target, and it's not necessarily the strategy that you decide to implement. It's the timing of that strategy, managing people and human beings and running companies. It's all a very complex system with multiple different inputs, driving every single aspect of what we do. Intervention is always needed on a company level, but it's just understanding the timing of that intervention if it's the right time to actually step in and do something. The power of understanding team sentiment is huge and understanding where if it's regardless of its surveys or wearables or whatever that is, it's great to have that data. But you have to understand what to do with that data and when is the proper time to implement the strategy to using that data, but also on the other end, and this is actually something from sports. When we're tracking our athletes, we're not always looking for who's beat up right or who is burnt out, which is what we do in our space. We're always looking for the people that need support. But what we also need to start looking at is like the people that can be challenged, right? Because the people who are challenged, who are ready and recovered, they're the people that maybe pick up the slack for the people that are maybe going through some struggles and also to monotony and boredom is an impact of employee burnout. I think it's zooming out a little bit understanding that teams that need you right now and when to step in and what that strategy is, but also understanding the teams that are actually who recovered. And maybe you can increase their OK hours, or maybe you can give them more autonomy and use a strategy by Google or Atlassian where you let them work on side projects? Or maybe you implement some sort of job crafting strategy. That's the interplay of performance, and that's what we do with athletes. We're always looking at things like, how can we fix the athletes that are beat up and how can we maximize the adaptation for the athletes that are highly recovered? And that's the way that we can look at employee performance. Let's bring the people that need support up right at the right time with the right dose and the right strategy. And let's make sure that employees that are highly recovered. Let's push them a little farther because we know they can handle the stress. And if we give them the proper dose of stress, they're going to become better high performers. They're going to start excelling more at their job. And I know this is conceptual as a whole, but that's what one Leon does. But two, that's the way I look at it. Employee performance, it's assessing readiness and then making decisions off of that readiness level on either supporting your team or challenge.

Chris Byers: Do you have any stories of how you've seen that kind of happiness improve and impact performance at work?

Bryan Smith: So there's a couple companies we work with in Silicon Valley, and what we looked at was this concept of monotony and how that relates to employee burnout. And using that same example, what we did is we took a series of inside sales teams with about five or six different companies. Now what we did is we assessed burnout, we assessed happiness and great resiliency, adaptability and all of these different things. And what we do is we compared that over the past year as well as revenue growth. And what was interesting is that the managers that manipulated OKRs, meaning one month went up 10 percent, one month went down five percent. Whatever their employees not only perform better, but they also reduce their risk of burnout and whatnot because there was this a constant increase decrease perform, recover, perform, recover a concept that. And to a higher level of alignment within their company, a reduced risk of burnout and a higher level of happiness within those specific companies compared to the other team, that OK, ours pretty much stayed stagnant. Right. So there was never this like stretch and recovery or perform a recovery concept. So what we do with that, teams that work with nowadays, like we recommend like a playbook to make Oak Forest live in breeds where based off the readiness or the wellness of your team. All right, let's say your team is trending towards burnout. Maybe next month you just decrease. OK, here's a little bit you allow them to back off and recover. Not so much that's going to affect your company, but enough that it allows them to take a breath. And now that they're recovered, that's super compensated to use a sports science term the next month, and we ramp up a little bit more. Not enough to put him back into that fight or flight response, but enough that it makes him stretch a little bit because now they are recovered. That was a really interesting example of breaking up monotony and seeing huge changes in not just well-being, but also job performance.

Chris Byers: When I think that idea of monotony speaks to some of what we all experienced last year, which is even just the day to day these small delights, maybe we took delight in like we ran out to get coffee or we sat in a coffee shop to work or whatever. All these things get compressed and you didn't get to do them at all, or not nearly as much. And so even the stuff that you were doing all before all of a sudden kind of became more monotonous because you didn't get a break from it. And I think you can see how that causes a huge tax on people. How do you think that actually impacts people at home, too?

Bryan Smith: I have two daughters and they were home. And obviously, I love them being home, but, you know, I still have other responsibilities and whatnot and that experience of waking up every day, making breakfast, getting them logged in to go to school, then trying to do your own job and then going into that process, you're essentially working two full time jobs. And you'll remember when things started opening up a little bit where you could walk out the door and, like you said, getting a cup of coffee or going to Starbucks like that and little break. And I want to I want people to understand, like there's a physiological response to that break, like literally that's your body perceives that as a downregulation of your autonomic or sympathetic nervous system, right? So there's a downregulation in that elicits a recovery response. So a lot of times breaking up monotony throughout your day, if that's going for a walk, if that is playing with your dog or your kids or whatever, that triggers a recovery response and those little micro recovery responses is what leads to a longer term break in monotony or a longer term recovery response. So it's hugely important to have these micro recovery sessions and days, week months, whatever that is.

Chris Byers: Brant, how do you define burnout? It's clearly something that comes up in every article everywhere, and we all feel it at times. How do you think about it?

Bryan Smith: It's an interesting concept within the business space. And when I say interesting, there's some issues with the way that we quantify in a way that we assess it and whether we think about what it is and what I mean by that is everything that we've taken into account of. What burnout is from a clinical level has been most of the time dictated by organizational psychologists or psychologists. It's a physiological problem. It's a psychological problem. It's multiple different factors, but on a simple basis. And the most simple level of burnout is an overreaction of the autonomic nervous system causing a heightened fight or flight response over long periods of time without giving adequate recovery. So we all know the term fight or flight response, that it's essentially your body's stuck in a fight or flight response, and it gets so bad that eventually it causes an illness. So lack of a better term, right, it causes mental health issues like depression and whatnot. But it also causes physiological issues like high blood pressure, eventually even low blood pressure, hypoglycemia, a bunch of other things that we don't take into account because we only look at burnout as being a company problem when really it's a systemic physiological psychological problem.

Chris Byers: So a lot of what we've talked about, our ideas that are not baked into the culture we're used to strive more, push more, achieve more if you could introduce something into the world and into the culture. What would you wish people would embrace and say, Yeah, let's try to make this a part of our day to day lives.

Bryan Smith: More often we talk about this concept of hustle culture. But what we don't understand is that a hustle culture doesn't happen. Like you can't hustle unless you recover, like, it's virtually impossible. But I also agree that sometimes we have overreactions to rest and recovery, and that's going to sound a little bad. And I'll explain we either put ourselves in camps. It's either I'm a hustler and I am going to ride until I die, and that's what I do. Where the other side of it, where it says I am the rest and recovery person. And I think I should only work three hours a day and I am going to jump in a cry of it today, as well as to do yoga, as well as workout and meditate for 45 minutes. What we need to understand is that we do have to earn the right to recover, and that's important because you don't earn the right to recover. There is no compensation like you recover to get better. You don't recover just to relax. So I think it's important that we understand that to recover, you still have to work hard and it's not one way or the other. It's like a symbiotic relationship. Bust your ass so you can recover and then be a better employee, worker, performer, whatever that is on the back. And that's like how biology works.

Chris Byers: I love what you're talking about there and how it just speaks to so much of the experience we all have had over these past months and years or so. As companies do try to embrace like, all right, what do we do about this? How do we engage? I'm sure plenty of us forms that could be included have put programs in place that have just been kind of a waste like you don't really get problems solved. What are some common misconceptions or programs or things put in place that you find to be just not nearly as valuable as everybody thinks they should be?

Bryan Smith: None of us are similar and none of us are alike. I mean, you mentioned the introverted thing earlier, for a lot of people doing a happy hour with your team if you're introverted is a high amount of stress. Right? So you're thinking you're doing something which is actually causing a higher amount of stress for your employer, which is actually causing them more issues and burnout and happiness and all those other things. I think what it comes down to is regardless of whatever you're doing, if that's purchasing a subsidy thing for mental health services or you're implementing certain strategies to lower the cognitive load like reducing meetings or whatnot. There is no one size fits all for anything when it comes down to really like human biology, and that's what we're doing when we're talking about helping our people recover. It's not just a mental state like this, there's a physiological response to when it comes to helping your people recover from things like burnout. That burnout is a physiological response that presents itself as a mental health problem, but it starts on a physiological level first. Nothing is one-size-fits-all. So don't ever think that purchasing headspace or whatever you do is going to fix everything. It takes a real time strategy, much like it takes professional athletes to be able to manage the well-being and the readiness of our team. And it's a full time job. It really is if you want it to impact performance. If you just want to check the boxes and say that we have a mental health service and we want to survey every year, then that's fine. You can definitely check the boxes. But if you want those things to impact performance, it needs to be something that's done often. All right. And there has to be a strategy built around it.

Chris Byers: Once somebody is saying, All right, I'm hearing this and I want to do something good with it. What are some things you'd say? Get started here?

Bryan Smith: One of the things I love right now is a general wellness questionnaire of five questions and that's talking about how you feel, how your sleep is impacted, what you do is you use that before a quarter or an after quarter or before sprint and after spring. And then what you do is you track that over periods of time and then you just give it a sort of a composite score. So like my team's wellness score for this month at the beginning of this month, at the end of this month was a five and a two. All right. And then you don't have to be reactive to it that first month. But if you track it over a longer period of time, you start to see signals within your data, right like you go back to last year and like, all right, based off of a wellness questionnaire, we know that December our team was highly burnt out. Why is that? So you can go back and understand, but you can also like you're getting into a prediction model or we know coming into this December that our team is going to be highly burned. How can we strategize around that to make sure it doesn't happen again? All right. Or if you want to maybe drill down a little poser at the beginning of this product spring, my team was out of 10. All right, at the end of this product sprint, they were out of four. OK, so we know that. So the question you need to ask is what could we have done before the product sprint to make sure the cost of this product sprint wasn't as great? What could we have done during the product sprint to make sure that coming out of the sprint they're not going to be in for? And what can we do after that product sprint to make sure that we allow our recovery response to happen?

Chris Byers: Absolutely. I think that you're talking about just live feedback, and I think we often wait way too long. We do annual reviews, we do even quarterly surveys. There's a great visual that I loved, which is I got to go to the Olympics, one of the Olympic training sites, one time in Colorado Springs. And I noticed during the tour, and you probably know this everywhere you go. There are these TVs, and I was like, What are they here for? And then the explanation comes as there are cameras and trees that are always on a 30 second delay. And I love that visual of I go do my whatever sport, and I can always stop the moment I'm done and go, glance at, OK, what did I do? How did I do it? And so I think you're just talking about that idea of much more rapid feedback and how it can really help us make much smarter decisions.

Bryan Smith: Variant that doesn't happen if your team burns out like that's a management problem. Like you are not managing your people properly because you allowed that to happen. But it's very easy to mitigate, right? Because you just need to understand. You just need to get a signal of when your team is trending that way and when they're trending that's when you provide some sort of mitigation strategy. All right. And then over time, I think you eventually figure out what that is as you get feedback, as you see your scores change and then that becomes part of your toolbox, right? But an important part, too, is employee engagement and employee performance, we tend to look at it as an organizational thing or as like a major thing like we all do this, but true employee performance needs to happen on a team level. So if you want your sales team to be able to reduce burnout by the time it kicks up to H.R., you're screwed. At that point, they're already burned out. Performance has already dropped, opportunities are going down, call lines going down. But if you empower your sales manager to have employee engagement data and give and empower them with strategies to be able to implement when that slight puff of smoke starts happening within burnout, that's performance management. But we tend to rely on H.R. to fix everything. When managers, that's our responsibility. Like we're stressed givers and we're stress takers. All right. Managers need to understand exactly when you give that stress, when you take away and then you do your OK hours and you're one of ones and all those other things,

Chris Byers: How do you think life has changed in the past few years in terms of employee wellness.

Bryan Smith: I really think they employees, their expectations have changed now. I was just on LinkedIn and someone was like, Do we need a sales enablement like health officer, a wellbeing officer or whatever? And I think that's where we're moving to, where employees are going to expect that their health and their well-being is taken care of. And if it's not taken care of that, they're not going to be willing to jeopardize it anymore. And quite honestly, they shouldn't, our employees, our responsibilities, there are charges if we hurt them. We're not doing the right thing. This isn't the 1940s where you could do those types of things. This is in an environment where I think more than anything, we've learned that we're all in this together. So now as leaders, we need to live up to the expectations of protecting our charges.

Chris Byers: I love that idea. I'm feeling the criticism somebody might be listening and saying, though, is, OK, I hear you and I'm not trying to abuse people, but they're adults. Why can't they take part of this responsibility on themselves? How do you think about that?

Bryan Smith: There is a personal responsibility that they need to own right like a person does have to exercise. They do have to eat healthy, they do have to do all those other things, and that's something that they have to take on themselves. But when it comes down to their expectations of what you're giving them, that's where we ask managers that we need to be smarter. For example, for a sales team, say you've average 100 opportunities a month and next month, because I'm the boss, I'm going to say your goal is a thousand opportunities. Would you say that's fair, Chris?

Chris Byers: That doesn't sound great. That sounds rather undoable.

Bryan Smith: Exactly. So we do this all the time. We're always understanding that we would have to be cognitive of the stress that we're giving our people. All right. We just don't have strategies or we're too lazy to understand exactly how to support them in a science sort of data driven way. I think it just comes down to is that we need to realize that the wellness of our people is a performance driver. All right? And it doesn't take much. You just need to look at those things in the same light. Right? Your wellness score, whatever you want to call it, is the same thing as your revenue number. They should grow together on a linear curve. And if they're not, you either have a management issue or something else. But it takes a village where people do have to protect themselves. But at some point we have to be cognizant of the stress that we're getting on our people as well.

Chris Byers: If you could give some advice to our listeners, how can they unlock their genius to create more happiness in their work or personal lives?

Bryan Smith: I think the most important thing we can do for our employees is building resiliency, and that's such a buzzword in the world that we live in today. Every VR article ever written, it's like resiliency and how to build it, but understand that resiliency is something that has grown over time. And then if you want a resilient workforce, you have to be able to manipulate the stress that is giving them. If you burn your employees out, you would never have a resilient organization and never have an adaptable organization. So if you manage the well-being of your people, that is leading to a more resilient organization which allows you to scale faster and grow faster. All those other things. It's not just the soft aspects of, Oh, we want our people to be happy, so we're going to do mental health. It's if you want to align it with better performance and understand that every decision that you make regarding the well-being of your people is going to be an exponential return of the resiliency and adaptability of your company and your organization.

Chris Byers: What do you think people need to think about when it comes to employee happiness? What what do they need to start with

Bryan Smith: and managers need to first understand what stress is and how things like that work. There is a great book called Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers from University of Stanford. It's like an amazing book. It's not science at all. It's an amazing book. I would suggest that managers and leaders understand the stress response of people and what happens, because I think as you start understanding and gaining empathy of what actually happens to your people when you do a, you know, 24 hour product sprint, right, it will allow you to make better people decisions on the back end. But understanding again that our job as leaders are to prescribe stress and take away stress. Everything else, the training, they require, all those other things, right? That's still part of our job. But the first and foremost job is to make sure that the job is getting done and that is prescribing stress. So long story short, read a book, understand stress and then gain something that's great.

Chris Byers: It's interesting. I'm actually reading a book right now, and it actually covers the views of the idea of Sabbath from a number of different faiths and how most faiths have a Sabbath concept built in this time of rest. But I just read this chapter on progress and how we're all stuck in this idea that life is just satisfying in the way that it is now. We're trying to get to some future destination. And I think that too creates this constant. That's why we go from 100 opportunities to a thousand because we're like, it's going to be better there. And yet I don't think that really gets us anywhere, doesn't it?

Bryan Smith: No, I think sometimes that dropping down to 50 opportunities probably makes for a better company. Biology dictates that we're always trying to improve. That's our system to a certain extent, because if you take away stress. All right, your body then reduces resiliency. So there is, I think there's a biological construct of like your body's always receiving inputs and always receive always making systems to adapt and improve. So I think that's a little bit built into our DNA. But understanding that to do that, to happen, for that, to happen, for that new system and that new adaptation and that new level of resiliency to actually take place, it does require a Sabbath. It does require a rest and recovery time for that super compensation process to happen.

Chris Byers: What do you think people listening can do differently in their day to day to create a positive impact for other people?

Bryan Smith: I think you lead with empathy no matter what you do. I think that's the most important part of leading people when you're raising children. Just understanding that stress, regardless, if you're running a marathon or if you are leading a sales department, it's all the same thing in how we perceive that stress is dictated by our genetics, our epigenetics, our you know, how we were raised, our lack of a mother or a lack of a father, like all those things matter and drive who we are as people and how we adapt to stress. If you understand that and you're leading people, you have to lead with empathy first because we all have biological settings that we can either break through and or not. And if you want to support your people, you have to understand that

Chris Byers: as you think about humans or Leon, jump forward a handful of years. What's the impact you hope to have through those organizations?

Bryan Smith: Quite honestly, I just want to prove the concept that well-being and performance align. I want to be able to show that the best way to grow a company is by also reducing the most amount of cost on your people. Because I look at a company, that scale is exponentially but burns their people out, that's not a successful company. A successful company to me is someone who can scale exponentially but also support and protect their people doing it. So I want to be able to prove out that concept.

Chris Byers: I love that in recent episodes, guests have brought up kind of the way they view or have experienced failure. How do you view failure without failure?

Bryan Smith: There's no growth, and I know that is a very much like management consulting phrase, but it's absolutely true on a physiological biological level. And if there is not an overt stress response that your body goes through failure or system fatigue, that system is never going to be able to compensate and develop patterns to be able to overcome that stress again. Failure is just biological, and it's something we all go through and then you learn how to recover or succeed after the fact.

Chris Byers: Thank you for joining me on this episode of Ripple Effect. To learn more about how people like Brian are reimagining their world of work, head over to formstack.com/practically-genius also linked in our show notes.

Chris Byers: When we think about employee wellness, often what comes to mind are beverages on tap, ping pong tables and other surface level perks. But what if we went deeper than these superficial benefits and instead focused on truly impactful employee happiness? To help answer the question today, as Brian Smith, he is the CEO and founder of Leon and Humans. We'll dig into what those two organizations are here in a minute, but before we do, you should also know that Brian is a wellness professional and pro sports performance coach, turned founder and start up advisor. How did he get where he is today, and what's the driving force behind people's performance and well-being? Let's find out. I'm Chris Byers of Form SAC, and this is Ripple Effect, a show celebrating the positive impact our decisions create. Brian, welcome to the show, and I have to imagine with your line of work, you see the ripple effect on a number of levels. Before we get to those stories, can you give our listeners a bit of a snapshot of what Leon is?

Bryan Smith: Leon, essentially what we are is we're a performance tool based off of data science. So ultimately, what we do is we predict things like employee burnout, employee happiness, employee grit, organizational adaptability. And then in the back end, we actually quantify specific playbooks for you to run to be able to improve your organization and improve your people. For example, implementing a four day workweek, we can tell you exactly when to do it, who to do it with and how long to run it or no meetings Friday, which everybody knows what is the exact effect of implementing those types of strategies. You know, we show light on, on and off those types of things.

Chris Byers: Well, I assume last year was really just a pretty interesting year to utilize your technology and in that A.I. and how you think about things because you all of a sudden went from calling it a normal environment to something that was very abnormal. And I would say for us, we've tried to be progressive in the way that we think about doing work remote work very early. But last year it was tough. It was like, Yeah, we can be flexible, but never felt like a program or a system would work. I'm curious how you guys tackled last year and how you navigated that.

Bryan Smith: It was a huge pivot for everybody, and obviously we went to remote and we went to different work environments and obviously the strain and stress of just COVID in life changing for every single human being on the planet. But I think in a lot of ways it defines what we are as a product and how we want to work to help people and back this up by saying, is that everything we experience as human beings? It really comes down to stress and recovery and sort of compensation. So there's a little bit of stress that you go through. Your body learns how to adapt to that stress and then you super compensate, right? Like you develop a higher level of resiliency. And with COVID, it was like this gigantic stress response where no one has ever felt that level of strain, but on that because most of the times when you have stress like that, it's major life changes, right? It's divorce, it's having a child, it's a death in the family. It's all these different things where we were all experiencing all those things, all at one time. Right? Like from the fear of people dying to your kids, not going to school to potentially losing your job. It was just a crazy thing. And like anything, I think it reinvigorated us to really define and really understand. Like what, as you opened up what employee wellness really means and how it's not ping pong tables. It's not kombucha, it's the wellbeing and the performance. And this I love this term readiness of our team to be able to perform at their job with minimal cost. And that cost part is so important because we always forget that everything we ask of our charges, and I say that word charges like really meaning it is like our employees, our responsibility and everything we ask of them is stress. And it's up to us to understand that stress and how much stress that we're giving them and what they affect our cost is going to be. And with COVID that you showed, the cost of stress and the cost of not having wellbeing can do to an organization.

Chris Byers: What inspired you to start your company?

Bryan Smith: My background was in sports science, so I worked with primarily track and field athletes and Olympic level track and field athletes to ultimately predict performance or predict injury on an Olympic level. And so what we would do is we do all sorts of different physiological monitoring and surveys, GPPs analysis, all these types of things to ultimately develop a model to predict injury or predict a. And I wanted to do that. In business, right in the tech world, because we're always looking about quantifying things, if that's or whatever that is. But we never really quantify our people in a way that benefits them. So is your typical employee engagement survey that gives something to a manager to be able to manage a little bit better, but it never directly affects the employee. So yeah, I just think it came from living in the sports science world and protecting athletes and protecting their livelihood and wanting to do that within the employee space.

Chris Byers: And tell us about humans. You've got this other organization at the same time. What does that look like and what are you trying to accomplish there?

Bryan Smith: Yes. So humans is a community, and what we're trying to do with humans is we want to create an environment where. Like, that concept of human optimization can be talked about right and tested and iterated on and true culture can have a conversation about what people really need and what works because we look at these terms like well-being and well-being is probably the most subjective term you could ever talk about in your whole entire life. Obviously, there are the physical aspects of well-being, and that's heart rate and blood pressure and all these other things. But the way that I achieve wellness might be very, very different than the way that you achieve illness. And then we wanted to create a conversation about how people are going about managing their health in their own very, very subjective way, rather than forcing everybody into a Headspace membership or forcing everybody to a happy hour. 5:00 p.m. on a Friday.

Chris Byers: So you've talked about this idea of human optimization and would love to hear you dig into a little bit of that. What does that mean? What are the outcomes of that?

Bryan Smith: The concept of like human optimization, it's a very broad topic, but really it comes down to is that everything that we do from a leadership standpoint, it's always about improvement. Right? Like, we're always trying to like when we implement elements, systems or upskilling or whatnot, like we're or optimizing that specific human being. But what we fail to think about is, can that employee take on that stress right now? And is the effect of implementing an upskilling strategy at form stack going to actually cause a negative response in that employee? And yes, you might be training that employee to do something better, but if they're burnt out, all right or they're highly fatigued, you're actually going to cause a negative physiological response. So when I talk about human optimization, I talk about this concept of a linear curve on making humans better and making them more resilient. Resiliency is the key to everything. If you can make a more resilient human being mentally and physiologically, and they can accomplish anything. So as companies, we need to be looking at human optimization in the way that we prescribe strategies and learning and training as a way to make human beings better and more resilient. Because if we can do that, then we have a more resilient company.

Chris Byers: So you talk about the complexity of managing people and especially as they relate to trying to grow an organization and grow a company would love for you to talk a little bit about that because I'm sure every one of us has had the challenge of and frankly, I'll say this kind of quietly. We've said, Oh man, if I could do this without people, that would be great, but I'd love for you to talk about that complexity.

Bryan Smith: Yeah, that's actually pretty good. Such a complex system, right? Complex system is a theory based a long time ago on the idea that our human body is made up of a bunch of systems all feeding input. So like you have, like mentally, you have a central nervous system, you have all these different systems in the body. And our company is pretty much the same way because your company, it's an organism and that organism has constant inputs coming into it. There are people's inputs as revenue inputs. There's marketing inputs, all these different things, it's always constantly growing. When we manage people, we have to take that into account that we are not in, especially now in a closed environment where you can say this is your goal and this is what you need to accomplish. Get after because that's impossible, because what if you give me a goal? You set my OKR for the next quarter and next year, and God forbid, I get a divorce or there's a death in the family, understanding those things and talking to your people and making management live and breathe. That's the concept of like management is a complex system because we always have to take into account all these other inputs and all these other stressors, and then reassess how we manage our people, how we lead our people, what type of strategies we implement and so on and so forth.

Chris Byers: One of the things we just had our company event recently, and normally that company event is in person, and at the end of the week, I was just really taxed and I was like, Why is that? It's all been remote. And someone reminded me of my introverted nature, and I was like, That's so weird. That doesn't make sense in a virtual world. I get it in a physical world, but I think you're speaking to just all of these things that drive us and make us energetic, lose energy and where you can identify those and help people surround themselves with the right community resources. I think you just create some great lift. So I love what you're doing there.

Bryan Smith: It's a really interesting concept, right? Because I think in each hour and really just how we manage people, everything is always starting a strategy for everybody. It's always, you have this one specific strategy. And like I said, if it's using Headspace and buying Headspace membership, your entire population or if it's happy hour or if it's a mental health seminar like all those things are fantastic, but they just might not work for 10 percent of your population. And what do you do with that other 10 percent of that population? And how do you find the signal through all that noise and understand how to best? Support your product team or your sales team when your marketing team, when, like you said, like personality traits and how you were raised and where you grew up, and all these things impact how you help or support your people. But right now, we don't have enough information to truly help each and every single person on our team

Chris Byers: dig into that idea of happiness. How do you think about employee happiness?

Bryan Smith: Happiness is very much a moving target, and all things considered. I tend to look at happiness being measured, Elma says. Terms like resiliency, right? Like, how resilient are you to the stress that's going to affect you today, tomorrow and the next day? And are you resilient enough where that's not going to disrupt your mental health to cause a disruption in your happiness? Are you resilient enough to be able to create the environment that you want, either in your personal life or your work life, or whatever that is to actualize that happiness?

Chris Byers: And as you think about companies who are listening and say, Oh, this sounds like this sounds great, I think this is probably an important topic to us. How do you think about navigating where the company gets involved and how they participate? Because of course, there are these moments where we probably can't create a full time counseling service, but you do want to create these wonderful environments and places where people, I think, get something that they don't get at the next company. How do you think about that

Bryan Smith: performance and happiness and all these other things? Very much is a moving target, and it's not necessarily the strategy that you decide to implement. It's the timing of that strategy, managing people and human beings and running companies. It's all a very complex system with multiple different inputs, driving every single aspect of what we do. Intervention is always needed on a company level, but it's just understanding the timing of that intervention if it's the right time to actually step in and do something. The power of understanding team sentiment is huge and understanding where if it's regardless of its surveys or wearables or whatever that is, it's great to have that data. But you have to understand what to do with that data and when is the proper time to implement the strategy to using that data, but also on the other end, and this is actually something from sports. When we're tracking our athletes, we're not always looking for who's beat up right or who is burnt out, which is what we do in our space. We're always looking for the people that need support. But what we also need to start looking at is like the people that can be challenged, right? Because the people who are challenged, who are ready and recovered, they're the people that maybe pick up the slack for the people that are maybe going through some struggles and also to monotony and boredom is an impact of employee burnout. I think it's zooming out a little bit understanding that teams that need you right now and when to step in and what that strategy is, but also understanding the teams that are actually who recovered. And maybe you can increase their OK hours, or maybe you can give them more autonomy and use a strategy by Google or Atlassian where you let them work on side projects? Or maybe you implement some sort of job crafting strategy. That's the interplay of performance, and that's what we do with athletes. We're always looking at things like, how can we fix the athletes that are beat up and how can we maximize the adaptation for the athletes that are highly recovered? And that's the way that we can look at employee performance. Let's bring the people that need support up right at the right time with the right dose and the right strategy. And let's make sure that employees that are highly recovered. Let's push them a little farther because we know they can handle the stress. And if we give them the proper dose of stress, they're going to become better high performers. They're going to start excelling more at their job. And I know this is conceptual as a whole, but that's what one Leon does. But two, that's the way I look at it. Employee performance, it's assessing readiness and then making decisions off of that readiness level on either supporting your team or challenge.

Chris Byers: Do you have any stories of how you've seen that kind of happiness improve and impact performance at work?

Bryan Smith: So there's a couple companies we work with in Silicon Valley, and what we looked at was this concept of monotony and how that relates to employee burnout. And using that same example, what we did is we took a series of inside sales teams with about five or six different companies. Now what we did is we assessed burnout, we assessed happiness and great resiliency, adaptability and all of these different things. And what we do is we compared that over the past year as well as revenue growth. And what was interesting is that the managers that manipulated OKRs, meaning one month went up 10 percent, one month went down five percent. Whatever their employees not only perform better, but they also reduce their risk of burnout and whatnot because there was this a constant increase decrease perform, recover, perform, recover a concept that. And to a higher level of alignment within their company, a reduced risk of burnout and a higher level of happiness within those specific companies compared to the other team, that OK, ours pretty much stayed stagnant. Right. So there was never this like stretch and recovery or perform a recovery concept. So what we do with that, teams that work with nowadays, like we recommend like a playbook to make Oak Forest live in breeds where based off the readiness or the wellness of your team. All right, let's say your team is trending towards burnout. Maybe next month you just decrease. OK, here's a little bit you allow them to back off and recover. Not so much that's going to affect your company, but enough that it allows them to take a breath. And now that they're recovered, that's super compensated to use a sports science term the next month, and we ramp up a little bit more. Not enough to put him back into that fight or flight response, but enough that it makes him stretch a little bit because now they are recovered. That was a really interesting example of breaking up monotony and seeing huge changes in not just well-being, but also job performance.

Chris Byers: When I think that idea of monotony speaks to some of what we all experienced last year, which is even just the day to day these small delights, maybe we took delight in like we ran out to get coffee or we sat in a coffee shop to work or whatever. All these things get compressed and you didn't get to do them at all, or not nearly as much. And so even the stuff that you were doing all before all of a sudden kind of became more monotonous because you didn't get a break from it. And I think you can see how that causes a huge tax on people. How do you think that actually impacts people at home, too?

Bryan Smith: I have two daughters and they were home. And obviously, I love them being home, but, you know, I still have other responsibilities and whatnot and that experience of waking up every day, making breakfast, getting them logged in to go to school, then trying to do your own job and then going into that process, you're essentially working two full time jobs. And you'll remember when things started opening up a little bit where you could walk out the door and, like you said, getting a cup of coffee or going to Starbucks like that and little break. And I want to I want people to understand, like there's a physiological response to that break, like literally that's your body perceives that as a downregulation of your autonomic or sympathetic nervous system, right? So there's a downregulation in that elicits a recovery response. So a lot of times breaking up monotony throughout your day, if that's going for a walk, if that is playing with your dog or your kids or whatever, that triggers a recovery response and those little micro recovery responses is what leads to a longer term break in monotony or a longer term recovery response. So it's hugely important to have these micro recovery sessions and days, week months, whatever that is.

Chris Byers: Brant, how do you define burnout? It's clearly something that comes up in every article everywhere, and we all feel it at times. How do you think about it?

Bryan Smith: It's an interesting concept within the business space. And when I say interesting, there's some issues with the way that we quantify in a way that we assess it and whether we think about what it is and what I mean by that is everything that we've taken into account of. What burnout is from a clinical level has been most of the time dictated by organizational psychologists or psychologists. It's a physiological problem. It's a psychological problem. It's multiple different factors, but on a simple basis. And the most simple level of burnout is an overreaction of the autonomic nervous system causing a heightened fight or flight response over long periods of time without giving adequate recovery. So we all know the term fight or flight response, that it's essentially your body's stuck in a fight or flight response, and it gets so bad that eventually it causes an illness. So lack of a better term, right, it causes mental health issues like depression and whatnot. But it also causes physiological issues like high blood pressure, eventually even low blood pressure, hypoglycemia, a bunch of other things that we don't take into account because we only look at burnout as being a company problem when really it's a systemic physiological psychological problem.

Chris Byers: So a lot of what we've talked about, our ideas that are not baked into the culture we're used to strive more, push more, achieve more if you could introduce something into the world and into the culture. What would you wish people would embrace and say, Yeah, let's try to make this a part of our day to day lives.

Bryan Smith: More often we talk about this concept of hustle culture. But what we don't understand is that a hustle culture doesn't happen. Like you can't hustle unless you recover, like, it's virtually impossible. But I also agree that sometimes we have overreactions to rest and recovery, and that's going to sound a little bad. And I'll explain we either put ourselves in camps. It's either I'm a hustler and I am going to ride until I die, and that's what I do. Where the other side of it, where it says I am the rest and recovery person. And I think I should only work three hours a day and I am going to jump in a cry of it today, as well as to do yoga, as well as workout and meditate for 45 minutes. What we need to understand is that we do have to earn the right to recover, and that's important because you don't earn the right to recover. There is no compensation like you recover to get better. You don't recover just to relax. So I think it's important that we understand that to recover, you still have to work hard and it's not one way or the other. It's like a symbiotic relationship. Bust your ass so you can recover and then be a better employee, worker, performer, whatever that is on the back. And that's like how biology works.

Chris Byers: I love what you're talking about there and how it just speaks to so much of the experience we all have had over these past months and years or so. As companies do try to embrace like, all right, what do we do about this? How do we engage? I'm sure plenty of us forms that could be included have put programs in place that have just been kind of a waste like you don't really get problems solved. What are some common misconceptions or programs or things put in place that you find to be just not nearly as valuable as everybody thinks they should be?

Bryan Smith: None of us are similar and none of us are alike. I mean, you mentioned the introverted thing earlier, for a lot of people doing a happy hour with your team if you're introverted is a high amount of stress. Right? So you're thinking you're doing something which is actually causing a higher amount of stress for your employer, which is actually causing them more issues and burnout and happiness and all those other things. I think what it comes down to is regardless of whatever you're doing, if that's purchasing a subsidy thing for mental health services or you're implementing certain strategies to lower the cognitive load like reducing meetings or whatnot. There is no one size fits all for anything when it comes down to really like human biology, and that's what we're doing when we're talking about helping our people recover. It's not just a mental state like this, there's a physiological response to when it comes to helping your people recover from things like burnout. That burnout is a physiological response that presents itself as a mental health problem, but it starts on a physiological level first. Nothing is one-size-fits-all. So don't ever think that purchasing headspace or whatever you do is going to fix everything. It takes a real time strategy, much like it takes professional athletes to be able to manage the well-being and the readiness of our team. And it's a full time job. It really is if you want it to impact performance. If you just want to check the boxes and say that we have a mental health service and we want to survey every year, then that's fine. You can definitely check the boxes. But if you want those things to impact performance, it needs to be something that's done often. All right. And there has to be a strategy built around it.

Chris Byers: Once somebody is saying, All right, I'm hearing this and I want to do something good with it. What are some things you'd say? Get started here?

Bryan Smith: One of the things I love right now is a general wellness questionnaire of five questions and that's talking about how you feel, how your sleep is impacted, what you do is you use that before a quarter or an after quarter or before sprint and after spring. And then what you do is you track that over periods of time and then you just give it a sort of a composite score. So like my team's wellness score for this month at the beginning of this month, at the end of this month was a five and a two. All right. And then you don't have to be reactive to it that first month. But if you track it over a longer period of time, you start to see signals within your data, right like you go back to last year and like, all right, based off of a wellness questionnaire, we know that December our team was highly burnt out. Why is that? So you can go back and understand, but you can also like you're getting into a prediction model or we know coming into this December that our team is going to be highly burned. How can we strategize around that to make sure it doesn't happen again? All right. Or if you want to maybe drill down a little poser at the beginning of this product spring, my team was out of 10. All right, at the end of this product sprint, they were out of four. OK, so we know that. So the question you need to ask is what could we have done before the product sprint to make sure the cost of this product sprint wasn't as great? What could we have done during the product sprint to make sure that coming out of the sprint they're not going to be in for? And what can we do after that product sprint to make sure that we allow our recovery response to happen?

Chris Byers: Absolutely. I think that you're talking about just live feedback, and I think we often wait way too long. We do annual reviews, we do even quarterly surveys. There's a great visual that I loved, which is I got to go to the Olympics, one of the Olympic training sites, one time in Colorado Springs. And I noticed during the tour, and you probably know this everywhere you go. There are these TVs, and I was like, What are they here for? And then the explanation comes as there are cameras and trees that are always on a 30 second delay. And I love that visual of I go do my whatever sport, and I can always stop the moment I'm done and go, glance at, OK, what did I do? How did I do it? And so I think you're just talking about that idea of much more rapid feedback and how it can really help us make much smarter decisions.

Bryan Smith: Variant that doesn't happen if your team burns out like that's a management problem. Like you are not managing your people properly because you allowed that to happen. But it's very easy to mitigate, right? Because you just need to understand. You just need to get a signal of when your team is trending that way and when they're trending that's when you provide some sort of mitigation strategy. All right. And then over time, I think you eventually figure out what that is as you get feedback, as you see your scores change and then that becomes part of your toolbox, right? But an important part, too, is employee engagement and employee performance, we tend to look at it as an organizational thing or as like a major thing like we all do this, but true employee performance needs to happen on a team level. So if you want your sales team to be able to reduce burnout by the time it kicks up to H.R., you're screwed. At that point, they're already burned out. Performance has already dropped, opportunities are going down, call lines going down. But if you empower your sales manager to have employee engagement data and give and empower them with strategies to be able to implement when that slight puff of smoke starts happening within burnout, that's performance management. But we tend to rely on H.R. to fix everything. When managers, that's our responsibility. Like we're stressed givers and we're stress takers. All right. Managers need to understand exactly when you give that stress, when you take away and then you do your OK hours and you're one of ones and all those other things,

Chris Byers: How do you think life has changed in the past few years in terms of employee wellness.

Bryan Smith: I really think they employees, their expectations have changed now. I was just on LinkedIn and someone was like, Do we need a sales enablement like health officer, a wellbeing officer or whatever? And I think that's where we're moving to, where employees are going to expect that their health and their well-being is taken care of. And if it's not taken care of that, they're not going to be willing to jeopardize it anymore. And quite honestly, they shouldn't, our employees, our responsibilities, there are charges if we hurt them. We're not doing the right thing. This isn't the 1940s where you could do those types of things. This is in an environment where I think more than anything, we've learned that we're all in this together. So now as leaders, we need to live up to the expectations of protecting our charges.

Chris Byers: I love that idea. I'm feeling the criticism somebody might be listening and saying, though, is, OK, I hear you and I'm not trying to abuse people, but they're adults. Why can't they take part of this responsibility on themselves? How do you think about that?

Bryan Smith: There is a personal responsibility that they need to own right like a person does have to exercise. They do have to eat healthy, they do have to do all those other things, and that's something that they have to take on themselves. But when it comes down to their expectations of what you're giving them, that's where we ask managers that we need to be smarter. For example, for a sales team, say you've average 100 opportunities a month and next month, because I'm the boss, I'm going to say your goal is a thousand opportunities. Would you say that's fair, Chris?

Chris Byers: That doesn't sound great. That sounds rather undoable.

Bryan Smith: Exactly. So we do this all the time. We're always understanding that we would have to be cognitive of the stress that we're giving our people. All right. We just don't have strategies or we're too lazy to understand exactly how to support them in a science sort of data driven way. I think it just comes down to is that we need to realize that the wellness of our people is a performance driver. All right? And it doesn't take much. You just need to look at those things in the same light. Right? Your wellness score, whatever you want to call it, is the same thing as your revenue number. They should grow together on a linear curve. And if they're not, you either have a management issue or something else. But it takes a village where people do have to protect themselves. But at some point we have to be cognizant of the stress that we're getting on our people as well.

Chris Byers: If you could give some advice to our listeners, how can they unlock their genius to create more happiness in their work or personal lives?

Bryan Smith: I think the most important thing we can do for our employees is building resiliency, and that's such a buzzword in the world that we live in today. Every VR article ever written, it's like resiliency and how to build it, but understand that resiliency is something that has grown over time. And then if you want a resilient workforce, you have to be able to manipulate the stress that is giving them. If you burn your employees out, you would never have a resilient organization and never have an adaptable organization. So if you manage the well-being of your people, that is leading to a more resilient organization which allows you to scale faster and grow faster. All those other things. It's not just the soft aspects of, Oh, we want our people to be happy, so we're going to do mental health. It's if you want to align it with better performance and understand that every decision that you make regarding the well-being of your people is going to be an exponential return of the resiliency and adaptability of your company and your organization.

Chris Byers: What do you think people need to think about when it comes to employee happiness? What what do they need to start with

Bryan Smith: and managers need to first understand what stress is and how things like that work. There is a great book called Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers from University of Stanford. It's like an amazing book. It's not science at all. It's an amazing book. I would suggest that managers and leaders understand the stress response of people and what happens, because I think as you start understanding and gaining empathy of what actually happens to your people when you do a, you know, 24 hour product sprint, right, it will allow you to make better people decisions on the back end. But understanding again that our job as leaders are to prescribe stress and take away stress. Everything else, the training, they require, all those other things, right? That's still part of our job. But the first and foremost job is to make sure that the job is getting done and that is prescribing stress. So long story short, read a book, understand stress and then gain something that's great.

Chris Byers: It's interesting. I'm actually reading a book right now, and it actually covers the views of the idea of Sabbath from a number of different faiths and how most faiths have a Sabbath concept built in this time of rest. But I just read this chapter on progress and how we're all stuck in this idea that life is just satisfying in the way that it is now. We're trying to get to some future destination. And I think that too creates this constant. That's why we go from 100 opportunities to a thousand because we're like, it's going to be better there. And yet I don't think that really gets us anywhere, doesn't it?

Bryan Smith: No, I think sometimes that dropping down to 50 opportunities probably makes for a better company. Biology dictates that we're always trying to improve. That's our system to a certain extent, because if you take away stress. All right, your body then reduces resiliency. So there is, I think there's a biological construct of like your body's always receiving inputs and always receive always making systems to adapt and improve. So I think that's a little bit built into our DNA. But understanding that to do that, to happen, for that, to happen, for that new system and that new adaptation and that new level of resiliency to actually take place, it does require a Sabbath. It does require a rest and recovery time for that super compensation process to happen.

Chris Byers: What do you think people listening can do differently in their day to day to create a positive impact for other people?

Bryan Smith: I think you lead with empathy no matter what you do. I think that's the most important part of leading people when you're raising children. Just understanding that stress, regardless, if you're running a marathon or if you are leading a sales department, it's all the same thing in how we perceive that stress is dictated by our genetics, our epigenetics, our you know, how we were raised, our lack of a mother or a lack of a father, like all those things matter and drive who we are as people and how we adapt to stress. If you understand that and you're leading people, you have to lead with empathy first because we all have biological settings that we can either break through and or not. And if you want to support your people, you have to understand that

Chris Byers: as you think about humans or Leon, jump forward a handful of years. What's the impact you hope to have through those organizations?

Bryan Smith: Quite honestly, I just want to prove the concept that well-being and performance align. I want to be able to show that the best way to grow a company is by also reducing the most amount of cost on your people. Because I look at a company, that scale is exponentially but burns their people out, that's not a successful company. A successful company to me is someone who can scale exponentially but also support and protect their people doing it. So I want to be able to prove out that concept.

Chris Byers: I love that in recent episodes, guests have brought up kind of the way they view or have experienced failure. How do you view failure without failure?

Bryan Smith: There's no growth, and I know that is a very much like management consulting phrase, but it's absolutely true on a physiological biological level. And if there is not an overt stress response that your body goes through failure or system fatigue, that system is never going to be able to compensate and develop patterns to be able to overcome that stress again. Failure is just biological, and it's something we all go through and then you learn how to recover or succeed after the fact.

Chris Byers: Thank you for joining me on this episode of Ripple Effect. To learn more about how people like Brian are reimagining their world of work, head over to formstack.com/practically-genius also linked in our show notes.

Chris Byers: When we think about employee wellness, often what comes to mind are beverages on tap, ping pong tables and other surface level perks. But what if we went deeper than these superficial benefits and instead focused on truly impactful employee happiness? To help answer the question today, as Brian Smith, he is the CEO and founder of Leon and Humans. We'll dig into what those two organizations are here in a minute, but before we do, you should also know that Brian is a wellness professional and pro sports performance coach, turned founder and start up advisor. How did he get where he is today, and what's the driving force behind people's performance and well-being? Let's find out. I'm Chris Byers of Form SAC, and this is Ripple Effect, a show celebrating the positive impact our decisions create. Brian, welcome to the show, and I have to imagine with your line of work, you see the ripple effect on a number of levels. Before we get to those stories, can you give our listeners a bit of a snapshot of what Leon is?

Bryan Smith: Leon, essentially what we are is we're a performance tool based off of data science. So ultimately, what we do is we predict things like employee burnout, employee happiness, employee grit, organizational adaptability. And then in the back end, we actually quantify specific playbooks for you to run to be able to improve your organization and improve your people. For example, implementing a four day workweek, we can tell you exactly when to do it, who to do it with and how long to run it or no meetings Friday, which everybody knows what is the exact effect of implementing those types of strategies. You know, we show light on, on and off those types of things.

Chris Byers: Well, I assume last year was really just a pretty interesting year to utilize your technology and in that A.I. and how you think about things because you all of a sudden went from calling it a normal environment to something that was very abnormal. And I would say for us, we've tried to be progressive in the way that we think about doing work remote work very early. But last year it was tough. It was like, Yeah, we can be flexible, but never felt like a program or a system would work. I'm curious how you guys tackled last year and how you navigated that.

Bryan Smith: It was a huge pivot for everybody, and obviously we went to remote and we went to different work environments and obviously the strain and stress of just COVID in life changing for every single human being on the planet. But I think in a lot of ways it defines what we are as a product and how we want to work to help people and back this up by saying, is that everything we experience as human beings? It really comes down to stress and recovery and sort of compensation. So there's a little bit of stress that you go through. Your body learns how to adapt to that stress and then you super compensate, right? Like you develop a higher level of resiliency. And with COVID, it was like this gigantic stress response where no one has ever felt that level of strain, but on that because most of the times when you have stress like that, it's major life changes, right? It's divorce, it's having a child, it's a death in the family. It's all these different things where we were all experiencing all those things, all at one time. Right? Like from the fear of people dying to your kids, not going to school to potentially losing your job. It was just a crazy thing. And like anything, I think it reinvigorated us to really define and really understand. Like what, as you opened up what employee wellness really means and how it's not ping pong tables. It's not kombucha, it's the wellbeing and the performance. And this I love this term readiness of our team to be able to perform at their job with minimal cost. And that cost part is so important because we always forget that everything we ask of our charges, and I say that word charges like really meaning it is like our employees, our responsibility and everything we ask of them is stress. And it's up to us to understand that stress and how much stress that we're giving them and what they affect our cost is going to be. And with COVID that you showed, the cost of stress and the cost of not having wellbeing can do to an organization.

Chris Byers: What inspired you to start your company?

Bryan Smith: My background was in sports science, so I worked with primarily track and field athletes and Olympic level track and field athletes to ultimately predict performance or predict injury on an Olympic level. And so what we would do is we do all sorts of different physiological monitoring and surveys, GPPs analysis, all these types of things to ultimately develop a model to predict injury or predict a. And I wanted to do that. In business, right in the tech world, because we're always looking about quantifying things, if that's or whatever that is. But we never really quantify our people in a way that benefits them. So is your typical employee engagement survey that gives something to a manager to be able to manage a little bit better, but it never directly affects the employee. So yeah, I just think it came from living in the sports science world and protecting athletes and protecting their livelihood and wanting to do that within the employee space.

Chris Byers: And tell us about humans. You've got this other organization at the same time. What does that look like and what are you trying to accomplish there?

Bryan Smith: Yes. So humans is a community, and what we're trying to do with humans is we want to create an environment where. Like, that concept of human optimization can be talked about right and tested and iterated on and true culture can have a conversation about what people really need and what works because we look at these terms like well-being and well-being is probably the most subjective term you could ever talk about in your whole entire life. Obviously, there are the physical aspects of well-being, and that's heart rate and blood pressure and all these other things. But the way that I achieve wellness might be very, very different than the way that you achieve illness. And then we wanted to create a conversation about how people are going about managing their health in their own very, very subjective way, rather than forcing everybody into a Headspace membership or forcing everybody to a happy hour. 5:00 p.m. on a Friday.

Chris Byers: So you've talked about this idea of human optimization and would love to hear you dig into a little bit of that. What does that mean? What are the outcomes of that?

Bryan Smith: The concept of like human optimization, it's a very broad topic, but really it comes down to is that everything that we do from a leadership standpoint, it's always about improvement. Right? Like, we're always trying to like when we implement elements, systems or upskilling or whatnot, like we're or optimizing that specific human being. But what we fail to think about is, can that employee take on that stress right now? And is the effect of implementing an upskilling strategy at form stack going to actually cause a negative response in that employee? And yes, you might be training that employee to do something better, but if they're burnt out, all right or they're highly fatigued, you're actually going to cause a negative physiological response. So when I talk about human optimization, I talk about this concept of a linear curve on making humans better and making them more resilient. Resiliency is the key to everything. If you can make a more resilient human being mentally and physiologically, and they can accomplish anything. So as companies, we need to be looking at human optimization in the way that we prescribe strategies and learning and training as a way to make human beings better and more resilient. Because if we can do that, then we have a more resilient company.

Chris Byers: So you talk about the complexity of managing people and especially as they relate to trying to grow an organization and grow a company would love for you to talk a little bit about that because I'm sure every one of us has had the challenge of and frankly, I'll say this kind of quietly. We've said, Oh man, if I could do this without people, that would be great, but I'd love for you to talk about that complexity.

Bryan Smith: Yeah, that's actually pretty good. Such a complex system, right? Complex system is a theory based a long time ago on the idea that our human body is made up of a bunch of systems all feeding input. So like you have, like mentally, you have a central nervous system, you have all these different systems in the body. And our company is pretty much the same way because your company, it's an organism and that organism has constant inputs coming into it. There are people's inputs as revenue inputs. There's marketing inputs, all these different things, it's always constantly growing. When we manage people, we have to take that into account that we are not in, especially now in a closed environment where you can say this is your goal and this is what you need to accomplish. Get after because that's impossible, because what if you give me a goal? You set my OKR for the next quarter and next year, and God forbid, I get a divorce or there's a death in the family, understanding those things and talking to your people and making management live and breathe. That's the concept of like management is a complex system because we always have to take into account all these other inputs and all these other stressors, and then reassess how we manage our people, how we lead our people, what type of strategies we implement and so on and so forth.

Chris Byers: One of the things we just had our company event recently, and normally that company event is in person, and at the end of the week, I was just really taxed and I was like, Why is that? It's all been remote. And someone reminded me of my introverted nature, and I was like, That's so weird. That doesn't make sense in a virtual world. I get it in a physical world, but I think you're speaking to just all of these things that drive us and make us energetic, lose energy and where you can identify those and help people surround themselves with the right community resources. I think you just create some great lift. So I love what you're doing there.

Bryan Smith: It's a really interesting concept, right? Because I think in each hour and really just how we manage people, everything is always starting a strategy for everybody. It's always, you have this one specific strategy. And like I said, if it's using Headspace and buying Headspace membership, your entire population or if it's happy hour or if it's a mental health seminar like all those things are fantastic, but they just might not work for 10 percent of your population. And what do you do with that other 10 percent of that population? And how do you find the signal through all that noise and understand how to best? Support your product team or your sales team when your marketing team, when, like you said, like personality traits and how you were raised and where you grew up, and all these things impact how you help or support your people. But right now, we don't have enough information to truly help each and every single person on our team

Chris Byers: dig into that idea of happiness. How do you think about employee happiness?

Bryan Smith: Happiness is very much a moving target, and all things considered. I tend to look at happiness being measured, Elma says. Terms like resiliency, right? Like, how resilient are you to the stress that's going to affect you today, tomorrow and the next day? And are you resilient enough where that's not going to disrupt your mental health to cause a disruption in your happiness? Are you resilient enough to be able to create the environment that you want, either in your personal life or your work life, or whatever that is to actualize that happiness?

Chris Byers: And as you think about companies who are listening and say, Oh, this sounds like this sounds great, I think this is probably an important topic to us. How do you think about navigating where the company gets involved and how they participate? Because of course, there are these moments where we probably can't create a full time counseling service, but you do want to create these wonderful environments and places where people, I think, get something that they don't get at the next company. How do you think about that

Bryan Smith: performance and happiness and all these other things? Very much is a moving target, and it's not necessarily the strategy that you decide to implement. It's the timing of that strategy, managing people and human beings and running companies. It's all a very complex system with multiple different inputs, driving every single aspect of what we do. Intervention is always needed on a company level, but it's just understanding the timing of that intervention if it's the right time to actually step in and do something. The power of understanding team sentiment is huge and understanding where if it's regardless of its surveys or wearables or whatever that is, it's great to have that data. But you have to understand what to do with that data and when is the proper time to implement the strategy to using that data, but also on the other end, and this is actually something from sports. When we're tracking our athletes, we're not always looking for who's beat up right or who is burnt out, which is what we do in our space. We're always looking for the people that need support. But what we also need to start looking at is like the people that can be challenged, right? Because the people who are challenged, who are ready and recovered, they're the people that maybe pick up the slack for the people that are maybe going through some struggles and also to monotony and boredom is an impact of employee burnout. I think it's zooming out a little bit understanding that teams that need you right now and when to step in and what that strategy is, but also understanding the teams that are actually who recovered. And maybe you can increase their OK hours, or maybe you can give them more autonomy and use a strategy by Google or Atlassian where you let them work on side projects? Or maybe you implement some sort of job crafting strategy. That's the interplay of performance, and that's what we do with athletes. We're always looking at things like, how can we fix the athletes that are beat up and how can we maximize the adaptation for the athletes that are highly recovered? And that's the way that we can look at employee performance. Let's bring the people that need support up right at the right time with the right dose and the right strategy. And let's make sure that employees that are highly recovered. Let's push them a little farther because we know they can handle the stress. And if we give them the proper dose of stress, they're going to become better high performers. They're going to start excelling more at their job. And I know this is conceptual as a whole, but that's what one Leon does. But two, that's the way I look at it. Employee performance, it's assessing readiness and then making decisions off of that readiness level on either supporting your team or challenge.

Chris Byers: Do you have any stories of how you've seen that kind of happiness improve and impact performance at work?

Bryan Smith: So there's a couple companies we work with in Silicon Valley, and what we looked at was this concept of monotony and how that relates to employee burnout. And using that same example, what we did is we took a series of inside sales teams with about five or six different companies. Now what we did is we assessed burnout, we assessed happiness and great resiliency, adaptability and all of these different things. And what we do is we compared that over the past year as well as revenue growth. And what was interesting is that the managers that manipulated OKRs, meaning one month went up 10 percent, one month went down five percent. Whatever their employees not only perform better, but they also reduce their risk of burnout and whatnot because there was this a constant increase decrease perform, recover, perform, recover a concept that. And to a higher level of alignment within their company, a reduced risk of burnout and a higher level of happiness within those specific companies compared to the other team, that OK, ours pretty much stayed stagnant. Right. So there was never this like stretch and recovery or perform a recovery concept. So what we do with that, teams that work with nowadays, like we recommend like a playbook to make Oak Forest live in breeds where based off the readiness or the wellness of your team. All right, let's say your team is trending towards burnout. Maybe next month you just decrease. OK, here's a little bit you allow them to back off and recover. Not so much that's going to affect your company, but enough that it allows them to take a breath. And now that they're recovered, that's super compensated to use a sports science term the next month, and we ramp up a little bit more. Not enough to put him back into that fight or flight response, but enough that it makes him stretch a little bit because now they are recovered. That was a really interesting example of breaking up monotony and seeing huge changes in not just well-being, but also job performance.

Chris Byers: When I think that idea of monotony speaks to some of what we all experienced last year, which is even just the day to day these small delights, maybe we took delight in like we ran out to get coffee or we sat in a coffee shop to work or whatever. All these things get compressed and you didn't get to do them at all, or not nearly as much. And so even the stuff that you were doing all before all of a sudden kind of became more monotonous because you didn't get a break from it. And I think you can see how that causes a huge tax on people. How do you think that actually impacts people at home, too?

Bryan Smith: I have two daughters and they were home. And obviously, I love them being home, but, you know, I still have other responsibilities and whatnot and that experience of waking up every day, making breakfast, getting them logged in to go to school, then trying to do your own job and then going into that process, you're essentially working two full time jobs. And you'll remember when things started opening up a little bit where you could walk out the door and, like you said, getting a cup of coffee or going to Starbucks like that and little break. And I want to I want people to understand, like there's a physiological response to that break, like literally that's your body perceives that as a downregulation of your autonomic or sympathetic nervous system, right? So there's a downregulation in that elicits a recovery response. So a lot of times breaking up monotony throughout your day, if that's going for a walk, if that is playing with your dog or your kids or whatever, that triggers a recovery response and those little micro recovery responses is what leads to a longer term break in monotony or a longer term recovery response. So it's hugely important to have these micro recovery sessions and days, week months, whatever that is.

Chris Byers: Brant, how do you define burnout? It's clearly something that comes up in every article everywhere, and we all feel it at times. How do you think about it?

Bryan Smith: It's an interesting concept within the business space. And when I say interesting, there's some issues with the way that we quantify in a way that we assess it and whether we think about what it is and what I mean by that is everything that we've taken into account of. What burnout is from a clinical level has been most of the time dictated by organizational psychologists or psychologists. It's a physiological problem. It's a psychological problem. It's multiple different factors, but on a simple basis. And the most simple level of burnout is an overreaction of the autonomic nervous system causing a heightened fight or flight response over long periods of time without giving adequate recovery. So we all know the term fight or flight response, that it's essentially your body's stuck in a fight or flight response, and it gets so bad that eventually it causes an illness. So lack of a better term, right, it causes mental health issues like depression and whatnot. But it also causes physiological issues like high blood pressure, eventually even low blood pressure, hypoglycemia, a bunch of other things that we don't take into account because we only look at burnout as being a company problem when really it's a systemic physiological psychological problem.

Chris Byers: So a lot of what we've talked about, our ideas that are not baked into the culture we're used to strive more, push more, achieve more if you could introduce something into the world and into the culture. What would you wish people would embrace and say, Yeah, let's try to make this a part of our day to day lives.

Bryan Smith: More often we talk about this concept of hustle culture. But what we don't understand is that a hustle culture doesn't happen. Like you can't hustle unless you recover, like, it's virtually impossible. But I also agree that sometimes we have overreactions to rest and recovery, and that's going to sound a little bad. And I'll explain we either put ourselves in camps. It's either I'm a hustler and I am going to ride until I die, and that's what I do. Where the other side of it, where it says I am the rest and recovery person. And I think I should only work three hours a day and I am going to jump in a cry of it today, as well as to do yoga, as well as workout and meditate for 45 minutes. What we need to understand is that we do have to earn the right to recover, and that's important because you don't earn the right to recover. There is no compensation like you recover to get better. You don't recover just to relax. So I think it's important that we understand that to recover, you still have to work hard and it's not one way or the other. It's like a symbiotic relationship. Bust your ass so you can recover and then be a better employee, worker, performer, whatever that is on the back. And that's like how biology works.

Chris Byers: I love what you're talking about there and how it just speaks to so much of the experience we all have had over these past months and years or so. As companies do try to embrace like, all right, what do we do about this? How do we engage? I'm sure plenty of us forms that could be included have put programs in place that have just been kind of a waste like you don't really get problems solved. What are some common misconceptions or programs or things put in place that you find to be just not nearly as valuable as everybody thinks they should be?

Bryan Smith: None of us are similar and none of us are alike. I mean, you mentioned the introverted thing earlier, for a lot of people doing a happy hour with your team if you're introverted is a high amount of stress. Right? So you're thinking you're doing something which is actually causing a higher amount of stress for your employer, which is actually causing them more issues and burnout and happiness and all those other things. I think what it comes down to is regardless of whatever you're doing, if that's purchasing a subsidy thing for mental health services or you're implementing certain strategies to lower the cognitive load like reducing meetings or whatnot. There is no one size fits all for anything when it comes down to really like human biology, and that's what we're doing when we're talking about helping our people recover. It's not just a mental state like this, there's a physiological response to when it comes to helping your people recover from things like burnout. That burnout is a physiological response that presents itself as a mental health problem, but it starts on a physiological level first. Nothing is one-size-fits-all. So don't ever think that purchasing headspace or whatever you do is going to fix everything. It takes a real time strategy, much like it takes professional athletes to be able to manage the well-being and the readiness of our team. And it's a full time job. It really is if you want it to impact performance. If you just want to check the boxes and say that we have a mental health service and we want to survey every year, then that's fine. You can definitely check the boxes. But if you want those things to impact performance, it needs to be something that's done often. All right. And there has to be a strategy built around it.

Chris Byers: Once somebody is saying, All right, I'm hearing this and I want to do something good with it. What are some things you'd say? Get started here?

Bryan Smith: One of the things I love right now is a general wellness questionnaire of five questions and that's talking about how you feel, how your sleep is impacted, what you do is you use that before a quarter or an after quarter or before sprint and after spring. And then what you do is you track that over periods of time and then you just give it a sort of a composite score. So like my team's wellness score for this month at the beginning of this month, at the end of this month was a five and a two. All right. And then you don't have to be reactive to it that first month. But if you track it over a longer period of time, you start to see signals within your data, right like you go back to last year and like, all right, based off of a wellness questionnaire, we know that December our team was highly burnt out. Why is that? So you can go back and understand, but you can also like you're getting into a prediction model or we know coming into this December that our team is going to be highly burned. How can we strategize around that to make sure it doesn't happen again? All right. Or if you want to maybe drill down a little poser at the beginning of this product spring, my team was out of 10. All right, at the end of this product sprint, they were out of four. OK, so we know that. So the question you need to ask is what could we have done before the product sprint to make sure the cost of this product sprint wasn't as great? What could we have done during the product sprint to make sure that coming out of the sprint they're not going to be in for? And what can we do after that product sprint to make sure that we allow our recovery response to happen?

Chris Byers: Absolutely. I think that you're talking about just live feedback, and I think we often wait way too long. We do annual reviews, we do even quarterly surveys. There's a great visual that I loved, which is I got to go to the Olympics, one of the Olympic training sites, one time in Colorado Springs. And I noticed during the tour, and you probably know this everywhere you go. There are these TVs, and I was like, What are they here for? And then the explanation comes as there are cameras and trees that are always on a 30 second delay. And I love that visual of I go do my whatever sport, and I can always stop the moment I'm done and go, glance at, OK, what did I do? How did I do it? And so I think you're just talking about that idea of much more rapid feedback and how it can really help us make much smarter decisions.

Bryan Smith: Variant that doesn't happen if your team burns out like that's a management problem. Like you are not managing your people properly because you allowed that to happen. But it's very easy to mitigate, right? Because you just need to understand. You just need to get a signal of when your team is trending that way and when they're trending that's when you provide some sort of mitigation strategy. All right. And then over time, I think you eventually figure out what that is as you get feedback, as you see your scores change and then that becomes part of your toolbox, right? But an important part, too, is employee engagement and employee performance, we tend to look at it as an organizational thing or as like a major thing like we all do this, but true employee performance needs to happen on a team level. So if you want your sales team to be able to reduce burnout by the time it kicks up to H.R., you're screwed. At that point, they're already burned out. Performance has already dropped, opportunities are going down, call lines going down. But if you empower your sales manager to have employee engagement data and give and empower them with strategies to be able to implement when that slight puff of smoke starts happening within burnout, that's performance management. But we tend to rely on H.R. to fix everything. When managers, that's our responsibility. Like we're stressed givers and we're stress takers. All right. Managers need to understand exactly when you give that stress, when you take away and then you do your OK hours and you're one of ones and all those other things,

Chris Byers: How do you think life has changed in the past few years in terms of employee wellness.

Bryan Smith: I really think they employees, their expectations have changed now. I was just on LinkedIn and someone was like, Do we need a sales enablement like health officer, a wellbeing officer or whatever? And I think that's where we're moving to, where employees are going to expect that their health and their well-being is taken care of. And if it's not taken care of that, they're not going to be willing to jeopardize it anymore. And quite honestly, they shouldn't, our employees, our responsibilities, there are charges if we hurt them. We're not doing the right thing. This isn't the 1940s where you could do those types of things. This is in an environment where I think more than anything, we've learned that we're all in this together. So now as leaders, we need to live up to the expectations of protecting our charges.

Chris Byers: I love that idea. I'm feeling the criticism somebody might be listening and saying, though, is, OK, I hear you and I'm not trying to abuse people, but they're adults. Why can't they take part of this responsibility on themselves? How do you think about that?

Bryan Smith: There is a personal responsibility that they need to own right like a person does have to exercise. They do have to eat healthy, they do have to do all those other things, and that's something that they have to take on themselves. But when it comes down to their expectations of what you're giving them, that's where we ask managers that we need to be smarter. For example, for a sales team, say you've average 100 opportunities a month and next month, because I'm the boss, I'm going to say your goal is a thousand opportunities. Would you say that's fair, Chris?

Chris Byers: That doesn't sound great. That sounds rather undoable.

Bryan Smith: Exactly. So we do this all the time. We're always understanding that we would have to be cognitive of the stress that we're giving our people. All right. We just don't have strategies or we're too lazy to understand exactly how to support them in a science sort of data driven way. I think it just comes down to is that we need to realize that the wellness of our people is a performance driver. All right? And it doesn't take much. You just need to look at those things in the same light. Right? Your wellness score, whatever you want to call it, is the same thing as your revenue number. They should grow together on a linear curve. And if they're not, you either have a management issue or something else. But it takes a village where people do have to protect themselves. But at some point we have to be cognizant of the stress that we're getting on our people as well.

Chris Byers: If you could give some advice to our listeners, how can they unlock their genius to create more happiness in their work or personal lives?

Bryan Smith: I think the most important thing we can do for our employees is building resiliency, and that's such a buzzword in the world that we live in today. Every VR article ever written, it's like resiliency and how to build it, but understand that resiliency is something that has grown over time. And then if you want a resilient workforce, you have to be able to manipulate the stress that is giving them. If you burn your employees out, you would never have a resilient organization and never have an adaptable organization. So if you manage the well-being of your people, that is leading to a more resilient organization which allows you to scale faster and grow faster. All those other things. It's not just the soft aspects of, Oh, we want our people to be happy, so we're going to do mental health. It's if you want to align it with better performance and understand that every decision that you make regarding the well-being of your people is going to be an exponential return of the resiliency and adaptability of your company and your organization.

Chris Byers: What do you think people need to think about when it comes to employee happiness? What what do they need to start with

Bryan Smith: and managers need to first understand what stress is and how things like that work. There is a great book called Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers from University of Stanford. It's like an amazing book. It's not science at all. It's an amazing book. I would suggest that managers and leaders understand the stress response of people and what happens, because I think as you start understanding and gaining empathy of what actually happens to your people when you do a, you know, 24 hour product sprint, right, it will allow you to make better people decisions on the back end. But understanding again that our job as leaders are to prescribe stress and take away stress. Everything else, the training, they require, all those other things, right? That's still part of our job. But the first and foremost job is to make sure that the job is getting done and that is prescribing stress. So long story short, read a book, understand stress and then gain something that's great.

Chris Byers: It's interesting. I'm actually reading a book right now, and it actually covers the views of the idea of Sabbath from a number of different faiths and how most faiths have a Sabbath concept built in this time of rest. But I just read this chapter on progress and how we're all stuck in this idea that life is just satisfying in the way that it is now. We're trying to get to some future destination. And I think that too creates this constant. That's why we go from 100 opportunities to a thousand because we're like, it's going to be better there. And yet I don't think that really gets us anywhere, doesn't it?

Bryan Smith: No, I think sometimes that dropping down to 50 opportunities probably makes for a better company. Biology dictates that we're always trying to improve. That's our system to a certain extent, because if you take away stress. All right, your body then reduces resiliency. So there is, I think there's a biological construct of like your body's always receiving inputs and always receive always making systems to adapt and improve. So I think that's a little bit built into our DNA. But understanding that to do that, to happen, for that, to happen, for that new system and that new adaptation and that new level of resiliency to actually take place, it does require a Sabbath. It does require a rest and recovery time for that super compensation process to happen.

Chris Byers: What do you think people listening can do differently in their day to day to create a positive impact for other people?

Bryan Smith: I think you lead with empathy no matter what you do. I think that's the most important part of leading people when you're raising children. Just understanding that stress, regardless, if you're running a marathon or if you are leading a sales department, it's all the same thing in how we perceive that stress is dictated by our genetics, our epigenetics, our you know, how we were raised, our lack of a mother or a lack of a father, like all those things matter and drive who we are as people and how we adapt to stress. If you understand that and you're leading people, you have to lead with empathy first because we all have biological settings that we can either break through and or not. And if you want to support your people, you have to understand that

Chris Byers: as you think about humans or Leon, jump forward a handful of years. What's the impact you hope to have through those organizations?

Bryan Smith: Quite honestly, I just want to prove the concept that well-being and performance align. I want to be able to show that the best way to grow a company is by also reducing the most amount of cost on your people. Because I look at a company, that scale is exponentially but burns their people out, that's not a successful company. A successful company to me is someone who can scale exponentially but also support and protect their people doing it. So I want to be able to prove out that concept.

Chris Byers: I love that in recent episodes, guests have brought up kind of the way they view or have experienced failure. How do you view failure without failure?

Bryan Smith: There's no growth, and I know that is a very much like management consulting phrase, but it's absolutely true on a physiological biological level. And if there is not an overt stress response that your body goes through failure or system fatigue, that system is never going to be able to compensate and develop patterns to be able to overcome that stress again. Failure is just biological, and it's something we all go through and then you learn how to recover or succeed after the fact.

Chris Byers: Thank you for joining me on this episode of Ripple Effect. To learn more about how people like Brian are reimagining their world of work, head over to formstack.com/practically-genius also linked in our show notes.

Chris Byers: When we think about employee wellness, often what comes to mind are beverages on tap, ping pong tables and other surface level perks. But what if we went deeper than these superficial benefits and instead focused on truly impactful employee happiness? To help answer the question today, as Brian Smith, he is the CEO and founder of Leon and Humans. We'll dig into what those two organizations are here in a minute, but before we do, you should also know that Brian is a wellness professional and pro sports performance coach, turned founder and start up advisor. How did he get where he is today, and what's the driving force behind people's performance and well-being? Let's find out. I'm Chris Byers of Form SAC, and this is Ripple Effect, a show celebrating the positive impact our decisions create. Brian, welcome to the show, and I have to imagine with your line of work, you see the ripple effect on a number of levels. Before we get to those stories, can you give our listeners a bit of a snapshot of what Leon is?

Bryan Smith: Leon, essentially what we are is we're a performance tool based off of data science. So ultimately, what we do is we predict things like employee burnout, employee happiness, employee grit, organizational adaptability. And then in the back end, we actually quantify specific playbooks for you to run to be able to improve your organization and improve your people. For example, implementing a four day workweek, we can tell you exactly when to do it, who to do it with and how long to run it or no meetings Friday, which everybody knows what is the exact effect of implementing those types of strategies. You know, we show light on, on and off those types of things.

Chris Byers: Well, I assume last year was really just a pretty interesting year to utilize your technology and in that A.I. and how you think about things because you all of a sudden went from calling it a normal environment to something that was very abnormal. And I would say for us, we've tried to be progressive in the way that we think about doing work remote work very early. But last year it was tough. It was like, Yeah, we can be flexible, but never felt like a program or a system would work. I'm curious how you guys tackled last year and how you navigated that.

Bryan Smith: It was a huge pivot for everybody, and obviously we went to remote and we went to different work environments and obviously the strain and stress of just COVID in life changing for every single human being on the planet. But I think in a lot of ways it defines what we are as a product and how we want to work to help people and back this up by saying, is that everything we experience as human beings? It really comes down to stress and recovery and sort of compensation. So there's a little bit of stress that you go through. Your body learns how to adapt to that stress and then you super compensate, right? Like you develop a higher level of resiliency. And with COVID, it was like this gigantic stress response where no one has ever felt that level of strain, but on that because most of the times when you have stress like that, it's major life changes, right? It's divorce, it's having a child, it's a death in the family. It's all these different things where we were all experiencing all those things, all at one time. Right? Like from the fear of people dying to your kids, not going to school to potentially losing your job. It was just a crazy thing. And like anything, I think it reinvigorated us to really define and really understand. Like what, as you opened up what employee wellness really means and how it's not ping pong tables. It's not kombucha, it's the wellbeing and the performance. And this I love this term readiness of our team to be able to perform at their job with minimal cost. And that cost part is so important because we always forget that everything we ask of our charges, and I say that word charges like really meaning it is like our employees, our responsibility and everything we ask of them is stress. And it's up to us to understand that stress and how much stress that we're giving them and what they affect our cost is going to be. And with COVID that you showed, the cost of stress and the cost of not having wellbeing can do to an organization.

Chris Byers: What inspired you to start your company?

Bryan Smith: My background was in sports science, so I worked with primarily track and field athletes and Olympic level track and field athletes to ultimately predict performance or predict injury on an Olympic level. And so what we would do is we do all sorts of different physiological monitoring and surveys, GPPs analysis, all these types of things to ultimately develop a model to predict injury or predict a. And I wanted to do that. In business, right in the tech world, because we're always looking about quantifying things, if that's or whatever that is. But we never really quantify our people in a way that benefits them. So is your typical employee engagement survey that gives something to a manager to be able to manage a little bit better, but it never directly affects the employee. So yeah, I just think it came from living in the sports science world and protecting athletes and protecting their livelihood and wanting to do that within the employee space.

Chris Byers: And tell us about humans. You've got this other organization at the same time. What does that look like and what are you trying to accomplish there?

Bryan Smith: Yes. So humans is a community, and what we're trying to do with humans is we want to create an environment where. Like, that concept of human optimization can be talked about right and tested and iterated on and true culture can have a conversation about what people really need and what works because we look at these terms like well-being and well-being is probably the most subjective term you could ever talk about in your whole entire life. Obviously, there are the physical aspects of well-being, and that's heart rate and blood pressure and all these other things. But the way that I achieve wellness might be very, very different than the way that you achieve illness. And then we wanted to create a conversation about how people are going about managing their health in their own very, very subjective way, rather than forcing everybody into a Headspace membership or forcing everybody to a happy hour. 5:00 p.m. on a Friday.

Chris Byers: So you've talked about this idea of human optimization and would love to hear you dig into a little bit of that. What does that mean? What are the outcomes of that?

Bryan Smith: The concept of like human optimization, it's a very broad topic, but really it comes down to is that everything that we do from a leadership standpoint, it's always about improvement. Right? Like, we're always trying to like when we implement elements, systems or upskilling or whatnot, like we're or optimizing that specific human being. But what we fail to think about is, can that employee take on that stress right now? And is the effect of implementing an upskilling strategy at form stack going to actually cause a negative response in that employee? And yes, you might be training that employee to do something better, but if they're burnt out, all right or they're highly fatigued, you're actually going to cause a negative physiological response. So when I talk about human optimization, I talk about this concept of a linear curve on making humans better and making them more resilient. Resiliency is the key to everything. If you can make a more resilient human being mentally and physiologically, and they can accomplish anything. So as companies, we need to be looking at human optimization in the way that we prescribe strategies and learning and training as a way to make human beings better and more resilient. Because if we can do that, then we have a more resilient company.

Chris Byers: So you talk about the complexity of managing people and especially as they relate to trying to grow an organization and grow a company would love for you to talk a little bit about that because I'm sure every one of us has had the challenge of and frankly, I'll say this kind of quietly. We've said, Oh man, if I could do this without people, that would be great, but I'd love for you to talk about that complexity.

Bryan Smith: Yeah, that's actually pretty good. Such a complex system, right? Complex system is a theory based a long time ago on the idea that our human body is made up of a bunch of systems all feeding input. So like you have, like mentally, you have a central nervous system, you have all these different systems in the body. And our company is pretty much the same way because your company, it's an organism and that organism has constant inputs coming into it. There are people's inputs as revenue inputs. There's marketing inputs, all these different things, it's always constantly growing. When we manage people, we have to take that into account that we are not in, especially now in a closed environment where you can say this is your goal and this is what you need to accomplish. Get after because that's impossible, because what if you give me a goal? You set my OKR for the next quarter and next year, and God forbid, I get a divorce or there's a death in the family, understanding those things and talking to your people and making management live and breathe. That's the concept of like management is a complex system because we always have to take into account all these other inputs and all these other stressors, and then reassess how we manage our people, how we lead our people, what type of strategies we implement and so on and so forth.

Chris Byers: One of the things we just had our company event recently, and normally that company event is in person, and at the end of the week, I was just really taxed and I was like, Why is that? It's all been remote. And someone reminded me of my introverted nature, and I was like, That's so weird. That doesn't make sense in a virtual world. I get it in a physical world, but I think you're speaking to just all of these things that drive us and make us energetic, lose energy and where you can identify those and help people surround themselves with the right community resources. I think you just create some great lift. So I love what you're doing there.

Bryan Smith: It's a really interesting concept, right? Because I think in each hour and really just how we manage people, everything is always starting a strategy for everybody. It's always, you have this one specific strategy. And like I said, if it's using Headspace and buying Headspace membership, your entire population or if it's happy hour or if it's a mental health seminar like all those things are fantastic, but they just might not work for 10 percent of your population. And what do you do with that other 10 percent of that population? And how do you find the signal through all that noise and understand how to best? Support your product team or your sales team when your marketing team, when, like you said, like personality traits and how you were raised and where you grew up, and all these things impact how you help or support your people. But right now, we don't have enough information to truly help each and every single person on our team

Chris Byers: dig into that idea of happiness. How do you think about employee happiness?

Bryan Smith: Happiness is very much a moving target, and all things considered. I tend to look at happiness being measured, Elma says. Terms like resiliency, right? Like, how resilient are you to the stress that's going to affect you today, tomorrow and the next day? And are you resilient enough where that's not going to disrupt your mental health to cause a disruption in your happiness? Are you resilient enough to be able to create the environment that you want, either in your personal life or your work life, or whatever that is to actualize that happiness?

Chris Byers: And as you think about companies who are listening and say, Oh, this sounds like this sounds great, I think this is probably an important topic to us. How do you think about navigating where the company gets involved and how they participate? Because of course, there are these moments where we probably can't create a full time counseling service, but you do want to create these wonderful environments and places where people, I think, get something that they don't get at the next company. How do you think about that

Bryan Smith: performance and happiness and all these other things? Very much is a moving target, and it's not necessarily the strategy that you decide to implement. It's the timing of that strategy, managing people and human beings and running companies. It's all a very complex system with multiple different inputs, driving every single aspect of what we do. Intervention is always needed on a company level, but it's just understanding the timing of that intervention if it's the right time to actually step in and do something. The power of understanding team sentiment is huge and understanding where if it's regardless of its surveys or wearables or whatever that is, it's great to have that data. But you have to understand what to do with that data and when is the proper time to implement the strategy to using that data, but also on the other end, and this is actually something from sports. When we're tracking our athletes, we're not always looking for who's beat up right or who is burnt out, which is what we do in our space. We're always looking for the people that need support. But what we also need to start looking at is like the people that can be challenged, right? Because the people who are challenged, who are ready and recovered, they're the people that maybe pick up the slack for the people that are maybe going through some struggles and also to monotony and boredom is an impact of employee burnout. I think it's zooming out a little bit understanding that teams that need you right now and when to step in and what that strategy is, but also understanding the teams that are actually who recovered. And maybe you can increase their OK hours, or maybe you can give them more autonomy and use a strategy by Google or Atlassian where you let them work on side projects? Or maybe you implement some sort of job crafting strategy. That's the interplay of performance, and that's what we do with athletes. We're always looking at things like, how can we fix the athletes that are beat up and how can we maximize the adaptation for the athletes that are highly recovered? And that's the way that we can look at employee performance. Let's bring the people that need support up right at the right time with the right dose and the right strategy. And let's make sure that employees that are highly recovered. Let's push them a little farther because we know they can handle the stress. And if we give them the proper dose of stress, they're going to become better high performers. They're going to start excelling more at their job. And I know this is conceptual as a whole, but that's what one Leon does. But two, that's the way I look at it. Employee performance, it's assessing readiness and then making decisions off of that readiness level on either supporting your team or challenge.

Chris Byers: Do you have any stories of how you've seen that kind of happiness improve and impact performance at work?

Bryan Smith: So there's a couple companies we work with in Silicon Valley, and what we looked at was this concept of monotony and how that relates to employee burnout. And using that same example, what we did is we took a series of inside sales teams with about five or six different companies. Now what we did is we assessed burnout, we assessed happiness and great resiliency, adaptability and all of these different things. And what we do is we compared that over the past year as well as revenue growth. And what was interesting is that the managers that manipulated OKRs, meaning one month went up 10 percent, one month went down five percent. Whatever their employees not only perform better, but they also reduce their risk of burnout and whatnot because there was this a constant increase decrease perform, recover, perform, recover a concept that. And to a higher level of alignment within their company, a reduced risk of burnout and a higher level of happiness within those specific companies compared to the other team, that OK, ours pretty much stayed stagnant. Right. So there was never this like stretch and recovery or perform a recovery concept. So what we do with that, teams that work with nowadays, like we recommend like a playbook to make Oak Forest live in breeds where based off the readiness or the wellness of your team. All right, let's say your team is trending towards burnout. Maybe next month you just decrease. OK, here's a little bit you allow them to back off and recover. Not so much that's going to affect your company, but enough that it allows them to take a breath. And now that they're recovered, that's super compensated to use a sports science term the next month, and we ramp up a little bit more. Not enough to put him back into that fight or flight response, but enough that it makes him stretch a little bit because now they are recovered. That was a really interesting example of breaking up monotony and seeing huge changes in not just well-being, but also job performance.

Chris Byers: When I think that idea of monotony speaks to some of what we all experienced last year, which is even just the day to day these small delights, maybe we took delight in like we ran out to get coffee or we sat in a coffee shop to work or whatever. All these things get compressed and you didn't get to do them at all, or not nearly as much. And so even the stuff that you were doing all before all of a sudden kind of became more monotonous because you didn't get a break from it. And I think you can see how that causes a huge tax on people. How do you think that actually impacts people at home, too?

Bryan Smith: I have two daughters and they were home. And obviously, I love them being home, but, you know, I still have other responsibilities and whatnot and that experience of waking up every day, making breakfast, getting them logged in to go to school, then trying to do your own job and then going into that process, you're essentially working two full time jobs. And you'll remember when things started opening up a little bit where you could walk out the door and, like you said, getting a cup of coffee or going to Starbucks like that and little break. And I want to I want people to understand, like there's a physiological response to that break, like literally that's your body perceives that as a downregulation of your autonomic or sympathetic nervous system, right? So there's a downregulation in that elicits a recovery response. So a lot of times breaking up monotony throughout your day, if that's going for a walk, if that is playing with your dog or your kids or whatever, that triggers a recovery response and those little micro recovery responses is what leads to a longer term break in monotony or a longer term recovery response. So it's hugely important to have these micro recovery sessions and days, week months, whatever that is.

Chris Byers: Brant, how do you define burnout? It's clearly something that comes up in every article everywhere, and we all feel it at times. How do you think about it?

Bryan Smith: It's an interesting concept within the business space. And when I say interesting, there's some issues with the way that we quantify in a way that we assess it and whether we think about what it is and what I mean by that is everything that we've taken into account of. What burnout is from a clinical level has been most of the time dictated by organizational psychologists or psychologists. It's a physiological problem. It's a psychological problem. It's multiple different factors, but on a simple basis. And the most simple level of burnout is an overreaction of the autonomic nervous system causing a heightened fight or flight response over long periods of time without giving adequate recovery. So we all know the term fight or flight response, that it's essentially your body's stuck in a fight or flight response, and it gets so bad that eventually it causes an illness. So lack of a better term, right, it causes mental health issues like depression and whatnot. But it also causes physiological issues like high blood pressure, eventually even low blood pressure, hypoglycemia, a bunch of other things that we don't take into account because we only look at burnout as being a company problem when really it's a systemic physiological psychological problem.

Chris Byers: So a lot of what we've talked about, our ideas that are not baked into the culture we're used to strive more, push more, achieve more if you could introduce something into the world and into the culture. What would you wish people would embrace and say, Yeah, let's try to make this a part of our day to day lives.

Bryan Smith: More often we talk about this concept of hustle culture. But what we don't understand is that a hustle culture doesn't happen. Like you can't hustle unless you recover, like, it's virtually impossible. But I also agree that sometimes we have overreactions to rest and recovery, and that's going to sound a little bad. And I'll explain we either put ourselves in camps. It's either I'm a hustler and I am going to ride until I die, and that's what I do. Where the other side of it, where it says I am the rest and recovery person. And I think I should only work three hours a day and I am going to jump in a cry of it today, as well as to do yoga, as well as workout and meditate for 45 minutes. What we need to understand is that we do have to earn the right to recover, and that's important because you don't earn the right to recover. There is no compensation like you recover to get better. You don't recover just to relax. So I think it's important that we understand that to recover, you still have to work hard and it's not one way or the other. It's like a symbiotic relationship. Bust your ass so you can recover and then be a better employee, worker, performer, whatever that is on the back. And that's like how biology works.

Chris Byers: I love what you're talking about there and how it just speaks to so much of the experience we all have had over these past months and years or so. As companies do try to embrace like, all right, what do we do about this? How do we engage? I'm sure plenty of us forms that could be included have put programs in place that have just been kind of a waste like you don't really get problems solved. What are some common misconceptions or programs or things put in place that you find to be just not nearly as valuable as everybody thinks they should be?

Bryan Smith: None of us are similar and none of us are alike. I mean, you mentioned the introverted thing earlier, for a lot of people doing a happy hour with your team if you're introverted is a high amount of stress. Right? So you're thinking you're doing something which is actually causing a higher amount of stress for your employer, which is actually causing them more issues and burnout and happiness and all those other things. I think what it comes down to is regardless of whatever you're doing, if that's purchasing a subsidy thing for mental health services or you're implementing certain strategies to lower the cognitive load like reducing meetings or whatnot. There is no one size fits all for anything when it comes down to really like human biology, and that's what we're doing when we're talking about helping our people recover. It's not just a mental state like this, there's a physiological response to when it comes to helping your people recover from things like burnout. That burnout is a physiological response that presents itself as a mental health problem, but it starts on a physiological level first. Nothing is one-size-fits-all. So don't ever think that purchasing headspace or whatever you do is going to fix everything. It takes a real time strategy, much like it takes professional athletes to be able to manage the well-being and the readiness of our team. And it's a full time job. It really is if you want it to impact performance. If you just want to check the boxes and say that we have a mental health service and we want to survey every year, then that's fine. You can definitely check the boxes. But if you want those things to impact performance, it needs to be something that's done often. All right. And there has to be a strategy built around it.

Chris Byers: Once somebody is saying, All right, I'm hearing this and I want to do something good with it. What are some things you'd say? Get started here?

Bryan Smith: One of the things I love right now is a general wellness questionnaire of five questions and that's talking about how you feel, how your sleep is impacted, what you do is you use that before a quarter or an after quarter or before sprint and after spring. And then what you do is you track that over periods of time and then you just give it a sort of a composite score. So like my team's wellness score for this month at the beginning of this month, at the end of this month was a five and a two. All right. And then you don't have to be reactive to it that first month. But if you track it over a longer period of time, you start to see signals within your data, right like you go back to last year and like, all right, based off of a wellness questionnaire, we know that December our team was highly burnt out. Why is that? So you can go back and understand, but you can also like you're getting into a prediction model or we know coming into this December that our team is going to be highly burned. How can we strategize around that to make sure it doesn't happen again? All right. Or if you want to maybe drill down a little poser at the beginning of this product spring, my team was out of 10. All right, at the end of this product sprint, they were out of four. OK, so we know that. So the question you need to ask is what could we have done before the product sprint to make sure the cost of this product sprint wasn't as great? What could we have done during the product sprint to make sure that coming out of the sprint they're not going to be in for? And what can we do after that product sprint to make sure that we allow our recovery response to happen?

Chris Byers: Absolutely. I think that you're talking about just live feedback, and I think we often wait way too long. We do annual reviews, we do even quarterly surveys. There's a great visual that I loved, which is I got to go to the Olympics, one of the Olympic training sites, one time in Colorado Springs. And I noticed during the tour, and you probably know this everywhere you go. There are these TVs, and I was like, What are they here for? And then the explanation comes as there are cameras and trees that are always on a 30 second delay. And I love that visual of I go do my whatever sport, and I can always stop the moment I'm done and go, glance at, OK, what did I do? How did I do it? And so I think you're just talking about that idea of much more rapid feedback and how it can really help us make much smarter decisions.

Bryan Smith: Variant that doesn't happen if your team burns out like that's a management problem. Like you are not managing your people properly because you allowed that to happen. But it's very easy to mitigate, right? Because you just need to understand. You just need to get a signal of when your team is trending that way and when they're trending that's when you provide some sort of mitigation strategy. All right. And then over time, I think you eventually figure out what that is as you get feedback, as you see your scores change and then that becomes part of your toolbox, right? But an important part, too, is employee engagement and employee performance, we tend to look at it as an organizational thing or as like a major thing like we all do this, but true employee performance needs to happen on a team level. So if you want your sales team to be able to reduce burnout by the time it kicks up to H.R., you're screwed. At that point, they're already burned out. Performance has already dropped, opportunities are going down, call lines going down. But if you empower your sales manager to have employee engagement data and give and empower them with strategies to be able to implement when that slight puff of smoke starts happening within burnout, that's performance management. But we tend to rely on H.R. to fix everything. When managers, that's our responsibility. Like we're stressed givers and we're stress takers. All right. Managers need to understand exactly when you give that stress, when you take away and then you do your OK hours and you're one of ones and all those other things,

Chris Byers: How do you think life has changed in the past few years in terms of employee wellness.

Bryan Smith: I really think they employees, their expectations have changed now. I was just on LinkedIn and someone was like, Do we need a sales enablement like health officer, a wellbeing officer or whatever? And I think that's where we're moving to, where employees are going to expect that their health and their well-being is taken care of. And if it's not taken care of that, they're not going to be willing to jeopardize it anymore. And quite honestly, they shouldn't, our employees, our responsibilities, there are charges if we hurt them. We're not doing the right thing. This isn't the 1940s where you could do those types of things. This is in an environment where I think more than anything, we've learned that we're all in this together. So now as leaders, we need to live up to the expectations of protecting our charges.

Chris Byers: I love that idea. I'm feeling the criticism somebody might be listening and saying, though, is, OK, I hear you and I'm not trying to abuse people, but they're adults. Why can't they take part of this responsibility on themselves? How do you think about that?

Bryan Smith: There is a personal responsibility that they need to own right like a person does have to exercise. They do have to eat healthy, they do have to do all those other things, and that's something that they have to take on themselves. But when it comes down to their expectations of what you're giving them, that's where we ask managers that we need to be smarter. For example, for a sales team, say you've average 100 opportunities a month and next month, because I'm the boss, I'm going to say your goal is a thousand opportunities. Would you say that's fair, Chris?

Chris Byers: That doesn't sound great. That sounds rather undoable.

Bryan Smith: Exactly. So we do this all the time. We're always understanding that we would have to be cognitive of the stress that we're giving our people. All right. We just don't have strategies or we're too lazy to understand exactly how to support them in a science sort of data driven way. I think it just comes down to is that we need to realize that the wellness of our people is a performance driver. All right? And it doesn't take much. You just need to look at those things in the same light. Right? Your wellness score, whatever you want to call it, is the same thing as your revenue number. They should grow together on a linear curve. And if they're not, you either have a management issue or something else. But it takes a village where people do have to protect themselves. But at some point we have to be cognizant of the stress that we're getting on our people as well.

Chris Byers: If you could give some advice to our listeners, how can they unlock their genius to create more happiness in their work or personal lives?

Bryan Smith: I think the most important thing we can do for our employees is building resiliency, and that's such a buzzword in the world that we live in today. Every VR article ever written, it's like resiliency and how to build it, but understand that resiliency is something that has grown over time. And then if you want a resilient workforce, you have to be able to manipulate the stress that is giving them. If you burn your employees out, you would never have a resilient organization and never have an adaptable organization. So if you manage the well-being of your people, that is leading to a more resilient organization which allows you to scale faster and grow faster. All those other things. It's not just the soft aspects of, Oh, we want our people to be happy, so we're going to do mental health. It's if you want to align it with better performance and understand that every decision that you make regarding the well-being of your people is going to be an exponential return of the resiliency and adaptability of your company and your organization.

Chris Byers: What do you think people need to think about when it comes to employee happiness? What what do they need to start with

Bryan Smith: and managers need to first understand what stress is and how things like that work. There is a great book called Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers from University of Stanford. It's like an amazing book. It's not science at all. It's an amazing book. I would suggest that managers and leaders understand the stress response of people and what happens, because I think as you start understanding and gaining empathy of what actually happens to your people when you do a, you know, 24 hour product sprint, right, it will allow you to make better people decisions on the back end. But understanding again that our job as leaders are to prescribe stress and take away stress. Everything else, the training, they require, all those other things, right? That's still part of our job. But the first and foremost job is to make sure that the job is getting done and that is prescribing stress. So long story short, read a book, understand stress and then gain something that's great.

Chris Byers: It's interesting. I'm actually reading a book right now, and it actually covers the views of the idea of Sabbath from a number of different faiths and how most faiths have a Sabbath concept built in this time of rest. But I just read this chapter on progress and how we're all stuck in this idea that life is just satisfying in the way that it is now. We're trying to get to some future destination. And I think that too creates this constant. That's why we go from 100 opportunities to a thousand because we're like, it's going to be better there. And yet I don't think that really gets us anywhere, doesn't it?

Bryan Smith: No, I think sometimes that dropping down to 50 opportunities probably makes for a better company. Biology dictates that we're always trying to improve. That's our system to a certain extent, because if you take away stress. All right, your body then reduces resiliency. So there is, I think there's a biological construct of like your body's always receiving inputs and always receive always making systems to adapt and improve. So I think that's a little bit built into our DNA. But understanding that to do that, to happen, for that, to happen, for that new system and that new adaptation and that new level of resiliency to actually take place, it does require a Sabbath. It does require a rest and recovery time for that super compensation process to happen.

Chris Byers: What do you think people listening can do differently in their day to day to create a positive impact for other people?

Bryan Smith: I think you lead with empathy no matter what you do. I think that's the most important part of leading people when you're raising children. Just understanding that stress, regardless, if you're running a marathon or if you are leading a sales department, it's all the same thing in how we perceive that stress is dictated by our genetics, our epigenetics, our you know, how we were raised, our lack of a mother or a lack of a father, like all those things matter and drive who we are as people and how we adapt to stress. If you understand that and you're leading people, you have to lead with empathy first because we all have biological settings that we can either break through and or not. And if you want to support your people, you have to understand that

Chris Byers: as you think about humans or Leon, jump forward a handful of years. What's the impact you hope to have through those organizations?

Bryan Smith: Quite honestly, I just want to prove the concept that well-being and performance align. I want to be able to show that the best way to grow a company is by also reducing the most amount of cost on your people. Because I look at a company, that scale is exponentially but burns their people out, that's not a successful company. A successful company to me is someone who can scale exponentially but also support and protect their people doing it. So I want to be able to prove out that concept.

Chris Byers: I love that in recent episodes, guests have brought up kind of the way they view or have experienced failure. How do you view failure without failure?

Bryan Smith: There's no growth, and I know that is a very much like management consulting phrase, but it's absolutely true on a physiological biological level. And if there is not an overt stress response that your body goes through failure or system fatigue, that system is never going to be able to compensate and develop patterns to be able to overcome that stress again. Failure is just biological, and it's something we all go through and then you learn how to recover or succeed after the fact.

Chris Byers: Thank you for joining me on this episode of Ripple Effect. To learn more about how people like Brian are reimagining their world of work, head over to formstack.com/practically-genius also linked in our show notes.

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Chris is on a mission to turn people into great leaders. He's passionate about helping problem solvers see more value in the work they do every day.