Harnessing The Culture Of Chaos To Become More Productive With Claire Chandler

Penny ZenkerTake Back Time Podcast

TBT Claire Chandler | Culture Of Chaos


Leaders often struggle with the chaos that gets in the way of clarity, growth, and higher-level thought. So how do we get back on track and become more productive? In this episode, Claire Chandler, The President and Founder of Talent Boost, shares insights about the culture of chaos and how we harness it to grow and become productive. Claire highlights that everyone should slow down to speed up because when you do everything else simultaneously, that’s where chaos builds up. Also, if leaders allow chaos to build within the organization, overwhelm and disengagement would resurface and force many good performers to leave their organization. You better harness that chaos and ride the winds of productivity with Penny Zenker and Claire Chandler today!

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Harnessing The Culture Of Chaos To Become More Productive With Claire Chandler

I am so excited to talk to Claire Chandler. We’re going to talk about the chaos that’s going on in our system, so the culture of chaos in our lives and our businesses. That’s pretty exciting. Let me tell you a little bit about Claire. She’s the President and Founder of Talent Boost. She specializes in aligning HR and business leaders so that they can deliver strategic outcomes both today and in the future.

She’s got over 25 years of experience in people leadership, human resources, and business ownership. To help leadership teams work together more effectively in less time with less cultural resistance so that they can accelerate their business growth. There are lots more great stuff about her, but we’re going to get right to it. Claire.

Penny, how are you?

I am fantastic. I like that we’re going to talk about the chaos. You chose that word, and I’m down with it. Tell me, what is chaos to you?

This started right before we started the episode when you said, “What’s your deal? What’s your focus? What’s your area?” I said, “Culture building. Specifically, there is this culture of chaos.” What does that mean? I certainly am not a proponent of creating, nurturing, or continuing the culture of chaos. As an executive leadership advisor, I find that when I come into organizations, that is often what we are facing.

It’s this quest to build a culture that can support sustainable growth, engagement, and retention of talent. In fact, what they’re struggling with is chaos. That takes on many forms. There is this sense of overwhelm by the sheer volume and pace of work, unlike anything we have seen before. That is getting in the way of clarity, forward action, and higher-level thought. That starts at the top of an organization. Of course, it then infects every corner of an organization if that chaos continues. I’m interested in unpacking this a little bit with you and see if we can solve that a little bit for folks.

Don’t you think we’re creating a little bit of our own chaos? Maybe I’m going to go into a tangent here or there, but if I think about communication. Communication can be chaos. Keeping things simple. What happened in the culture and the changes made in communication when the pandemic came through is that we thought we were improving communication, but we only scattered it even further.

We created more chaos because now we’ve got more platforms to communicate over, and it makes it very unclear as to, should I be on this platform or that platform. You talked about it from a capacity perspective, and so much is coming at us. We don’t slow down to think things through, so it just gets more chaotic. What do you think?

It’s just like the technology that was introduced many years ago now where we all have phones. Back in my corporate days, it was a Blackberry. We’ve got portable devices that enable us to stay connected to email, text, chat apps, and all these things under the guise of convenience and expediency. To your point, it has created this notion that we are always on, we are always accessible, we are always working, and we are always connected.

That’s the big lie of technology. We have diluted ourselves. I’m very sensitive to what you said about we are bringing this chaos on ourselves. We glum onto technology. We accumulate apps and other forms of staying connected under the guise that we are going to be more productive and more efficient in our work. I think the opposite is true. What that has created is this overload and sense that I can never fully step away from my role professionally. You’re right to call that out because that is one of the ways that we are bringing chaos onto ourselves.

You said diluted. There are apps and things that people use outside of work to make themselves more productive. There are the ones that are dictated by the work that you’re to use. It made me think of diluting attention. Each of those little apps and platforms that we have to be present to at some time during the day, sap up that little bit of energy.

Little by little, it saps up this energy and this energy, and then all of a sudden, you’re drained because you’re pulled in so many different directions. What I’d like to say is this is one of your areas of specialty, to deal with chaos theory and help people to build truly productive cultures. I think everybody gets the problem. Let’s talk about what are some of the solutions. What have you seen works against our better judgment to add another tool or another platform?

This is where some of what we do automatically is so working against us. It’s going to be counterintuitive to say turn off things and say no to more things, but let me pick on email as an example. I am sure we are all guilty of having email open in the background while we are working. It’s not just email anymore. If it’s a Microsoft platform, there’s also Teams. If it’s Google, then there’s chat.

We’ve got Slack channels. We’ve got Telegram. We’ve got all these sorts of things that, even if we say we have closed or muted them, pop up in our field of vision. That is one of the great myths as well. That email is just something we look quickly at, we knock a couple of responses out, and we go back to work.

I have found that every time you turn your attention from whatever it is that you are productively attempting to work on. You go to check your email. I don’t care how long or short the email or your response is, that’s instantly a ten-minute disruption to what you were doing. I do a lot of work with leadership teams.

Now that we are over the hump of the pandemic, we are back in person together, which I love because I feed off of the energy of the people in the room. I’ll meet with teams of senior-level leaders. They’ve already walked into the room with a little bit of, not suspicion, but reservation that the sacrifice of a day or half-day or several hours away from the firefighting is going to be worth it.

I come back to answer the question you just posed, which is how do we get back control over this chaos? I think this is where the counter-intuitiveness comes in. We have to slow down in order to speed up. We have to distance ourselves from the day-to-day in order to see it from a higher perspective and to get our focus back.

I’m all about that. I’m the Focusologist here.

Of course, you are. I knew you were going to love that. Company after company, team after team, and leader after leader, I am surrounded by people who are self-professed problem solvers. It’s wonderful that we’re problem solvers. We live in a world of chaos. We live in a world where work speed, volume, and pace are unprecedented. I always have to stop these leaders and say, “There’s a difference between being problem solvers and solving the right problems.”

I say the same thing. We’re solving the wrong problems. We’re solving the wrong thing.

We’re solving everything and feel productive that way, but in reality, we’re not. In reality, we are losing ground because we are playing whack-a-mole. Versus taking that strategic step back or up to say, “What are the right problems to solve? Which ones are going to move the needle? Which ones are just noises that are contributing to this chaos?

We’re solving whatever comes up and allowing that to be the determiner of where our time should be spent. That is the wrong criteria just because it showed up.

It rocks us back on our heels, especially as leaders, because it forces us into a reactive mode. Same as going automatically when you start your day, opening your email, and seeing what’s waiting for you. That is a reactive mode, especially as leaders, let alone individual contributors, because everybody’s guilty of this.

Don’t start your day by opening your email and seeing what the day is going to unfold for you. You’ve got to take back control of how you’re going to frame your day, how you’re going to lead your day, and how you’re going to end your day. That is not going to be accomplished if the first place you go is to open your email.

Don't start your day by opening your email and seeing what the day will unfold for you. Take back control of how you're going to frame your day, how you're going to lead your day, and how you're going to end your day. Click To Tweet

I say the same thing, so we’re like two peas in a pod here. That’s what we’re doing. We check it first thing in the morning. Immediately, we’re in reactive mode, following up on what other people’s priorities are instead of focusing on our own. For those of you who are reading, if you’re checking your email first thing in the morning, stop. Give yourself the ability to know what’s most important and do that thing first, and then you can get to the other things that are more on the reactive list.

It’s a muscle you have to build up. I’m sure you and your audience are going to relate to this as well. I used to be incredibly guilty of waking up in the morning, the alarm goes off. My second eye isn’t even open yet, and I’m rolling over to pick up my phone because it’s right on the charger, right on my nightstand, and opening up the email.

Honestly, that’s the worst thing you can do because you’re not even out of bed yet. You’re not even sitting in front of your computer and you’re already giving over control of your day. We do have to be much more disciplined in when and how we open the email. Don’t open it from the standpoint of, “Let me give over control to what email is going to dictate is going to be my priority, my schedule, or my mood today. Let me reframe my day and lean in from a far more intentional, if not strategic, perspective.”

I’m trying to think. There’s so much that we could talk about. Tell me what you think when you’re talking about culture. We’ve been talking a lot about an individual checking their emails and whatnot. What are things that an organization can do and take responsibility for to help the employees? What I’ve found is we aren’t good at setting our own boundaries. I think there’s a two-part There’s our part, but what could the company do? What are you seeing companies do that are working that’s helping people in this process?

I’m going to give you a little bit of the consultant’s answer first, which is, 1) It depends. 2) There’s no one solution. There’s no single answer. However, having said that, what’s been interesting is that I think there’s this sandwich layer of leadership organizationally. You’ve got the executive leadership team. You’ve got your senior-level leaders.

Depending on the size and complexity of the organization, you’ve got some other layers of leaders like managers and supervisors before you get to the boots on the ground who are trying to execute the strategy. There’s this disconnect between what the executive leadership team sees, understands, and believes they have to pull their organization toward.

As far as a strategic direction and a longer-term view, how do those middle layers, especially toward the top of leadership, translate that into action and keep their teams focused? I do a lot of work with leadership teams. One of the big complaints is the lack of transparency or perceived lack of transparency in communication from the highest levels of leadership.

TBT Claire Chandler | Culture Of Chaos

Culture Of Chaos: One of the big complaints is the lack of transparency or perceived lack of transparency in communication from the highest levels of leadership.


The more I’ve been unpacking that, it’s been interesting because I think people misunderstand the difference between strategy and tactics. What I mean by that is a lot of times, people in the workforce, even leaders, will say, “The executives are changing their minds a lot and they’re changing their strategic direction.”

In reality, that’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is they are making course corrections on the tactical direction, the tactical execution, and the tactical translation of, “How do we get from here to that strategic fulfillment?” I think it’s incumbent upon the leaders in between to filter where they need to get into tactical direction and clear expectations of their people.

Also, then, feed that back up to the executive team to say, “Here’s the perception. Here’s what I need to advocate for my team and to keep them focused on the right things.” Otherwise, that’s where chaos builds again. There’s that thing of *** rolls downhill. There’s all this other stuff, and it does snowball. The lower you are in the hierarchy, the more you tend to get inundated with the tactical without a perceived purpose. When those two things are so disconnected, it’s why there’s overwhelm and disengagement. It’s why you’re seeing a lot of good performers leaving their organizations.

The lower you are in the hierarchy, the more you tend to get inundated with the tactical without a perceived purpose. When those two things are so disconnected, it's why there's overwhelm and disengagement. Click To Tweet

I think it keeps people from being creative as well and pivoting on their own. If they’re just giving, “This is the tactic. This is what you’re going to be doing,” but you don’t know why you’re doing it. I’m very good at executing something tactically, but I’m even better when I know the why. Maybe I could do it even better because I understand the bigger picture.

Traditionally, the way that companies were run was very segmented. The leaders were the strategic people and we don’t need to share that with anyone else. They would give out little pieces of information of what people need. That might have worked for a period of time for the way that society was at that time and the type of workers.

People didn’t jump to new jobs so easily. Even if you didn’t manage them well, they stayed. Now, it’s a free market. Especially if you don’t even have to live in the area that your company is in, you have a lot more options and people don’t stay around for bad leadership, lack of communication, or autonomy. I do think there’s something very important to that that leaders need to think about.

What are some ways that executives can make sure that the whisper down the lane that the strategy is getting clearly down to the bottom level and so that they’re able to connect the dots to what they’re doing? How that affects the bigger picture, but also, if they were to do something differently, how that would affect the bigger picture.

Here is where it does get much simpler. There’s one word that jumps out at me, and that’s empowerment. I was talking to a CEO the other day. I was giving them a little bit of this feedback, “I’ve been meeting with your leadership teams. Some of them are saying they don’t fully understand why there were all these changes in strategic direction. What they’re really talking about is the tactical side, but they don’t all understand the strategy.”

The first thing he said was, “How can they not understand where we are going strategically? Every time I’m out there talking to employees, I’m talking about the strategy. What about that are they not understanding?” The light bulb moment we got through that conversation was, it’s not that they don’t understand the strategy, per se.

It’s that they feel like they’re still waiting for your permission to go out and make some decisions at a more localized level to prioritize work, filter out noise, and get things done through the combined talents of their people. All of that I sum up as the word empowerment. You start to get into this whole notion of you’ve got to give your people permission.

That feels a little bit squishy and people back away from that. In essence, that’s what we’re saying. You need to empower your teams, especially those leadership layers in the middle. Remind them that they cannot continue to wait for the executive team to make things more clear for them on a tactical level. If they are not clear, they need to ask. Once they are clear, they need to act.

I think that’s a really important point. People don’t ask enough questions. If you don’t understand, why would you just sit there? I never understood that. I’m always someone who’s like, “Hold on a second. Can I verify that I understood what that is?” I’m going to repeat that back to you so that I’m 100% sure I understand what we’re working towards.

I’m always the person asking a question, making sure that there’s clarity. I don’t understand why people don’t ask. Whether they’re afraid that they’ll look stupid or whatever it is, it’s just to reiterate your point. It’s so important to ask, so you don’t waste time solving the wrong problems or working on different problems.

That’s the other piece that contributes to chaos, which is why getting together with teams is so important. I’ll try to compress the soapbox moment here, but what drives me crazy is when executive leaders come to me and say, “My leadership teams are not collaborating effectively.” I always say to them the biggest reason why is because you are incentivizing them to achieve objectives, targets, and outcomes within their vertical. Given the choice, I’m sure they want to collaborate more effectively across the horizontal. If you’re incentivizing and motivating them financially advancement-wise and recognition-wise to achieve vertical outcomes, no wonder there’s also a disconnect.

Just to summarize some of the things that we talked about. Ways that organizations themselves, so senior leadership, can help to keep the chaos at bay is to make sure that they are clearly communicating their strategy and giving autonomy. Empowering the people below to make decisions. I like what you said about incentivizing people to work more together and to be checking in that they are solving the same problem. There’s that transparency. There’s the incentive. Is there anything else that I missed in that conversation to highlight?

The takeaway, especially that message to the executive team, is this notion of framing up to free up. What I mean by that is they need to be mindful, intentional, and very clear on how they frame up the strategy and then free up their leaders right on down the hierarchy to go out and achieve that.

Thank you. Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you feel you want to make sure that you tell the audience before we close down?

I think it’s just to reinforce this notion of focus, which I know I’m cheating because that’s your big word. I want to definitely reinforce and pay homage to that. I do think that’s the key. I think individually, as teams and as organizations, we have to be striving for focus. That is the best way and the clearest path to taking back control of the chaos.

TBT Claire Chandler | Culture Of Chaos

Culture Of Chaos: As teams and as organizations, we have to strive for focus. That is the best way and clearest path to taking back control of the chaos.


Tell the audience how they can get ahold of you after the show. Where’s the best place to find you?

Two best places. My website is ClaireChandler.net. LinkedIn is my biggest social media hangout, so come find me on LinkedIn and say hello.

Thanks for being here, Claire.

Thanks. It’s been a pleasure

Thank you all for being here. You know that it’s chaotic and you know that you are part of the problem. We all know it. I’m not saying you. For every finger I point at you guys, I’m pointing two back at myself. It’s something that we have to pay attention to every single day. To be intentional and focused on the things that matter most.

We talked about a lot of great ways, as leaders in the organization, that you can be conscious of the things that you can do as an individual. It’s up to you to take your little bite out of chaos and help the organization see where they can do more for other people. How can you support your team to do more and to block out that chaos, the noise, and the distractors? Thanks for being here. My name is Penny Zenker. This is Take Back time. We’ll see you in the next episode.


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About Claire Chandler

TBT Claire Chandler | Culture Of ChaosPresident and Founder of Talent Boost, Claire Chandler specializes in aligning HR and business leaders so they can deliver strategic outcomes… both today and in the future. She taps into over 25 years of experience in people leadership, human resources, and business ownership to help leadership teams work together more effectively in less time, with less cultural resistance, so they can accelerate their business growth.

She has broad-based expertise in management team due diligence, organizational design, acquisition integration and onboarding, strategic planning, executive coaching, and performance acceleration.

Claire gets results because she’s insanely easy to work with, cuts through the corporate clutter, and has a simple, proven approach for assessing and accelerating organizations’ growth readiness.

Claire holds a certificate in strategic HR leadership from Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, a master’s degree from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and a bachelor’s degree from Fairfield University. She has appeared as a guest on over 100 podcasts and is the author of several books on leadership and business strategy.


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