Episode 91: Subir Chowdhury – The Difference
How can you develop employees who care? That’s the subject of bestselling author Subir Chowdhury’s newest book, The Difference: When Good Enough Isn’t Enough. Discover how much your company stands to gain by developing caring mindsets, the four elements in Subir’s STAR formula, and the one question you should ask yourself every morning.
- “Making a difference can be ANYBODY’S business.” @subirchowdhury #leadership
- Don’t wait for leaders – be the change you want to see in the world. @subirchowdhury #change
Book: The Difference: When Good Enough Isn’t Enough
Bio: Subir Chowdhury is chairman and CEO of ASI Consulting Group, LLC, a global leader on strategic initiatives, quality consulting, and training. Under Subir’s leadership, ASI Consulting Group has helped hundreds of clients around the world save billions of dollars and increase revenues. Subir has worked with many organizations, large and small, across diverse industries including manufacturing, healthcare, food, government, and nonprofit organizations.
Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most.
We have with us on the podcast Subir Chowdhury. He is a leading management consultant. He’s written several books, and the book that we’re going to be talking with him about is the one he’s written most recently. It’s called “The Difference: When Good Enough Isn’t Enough.”
Subir and I know each other from a group that we’re in together, the MG100 Group. You’ve heard Marshall Goldsmith on the podcast. Subir and I are both in the group together. He’s a delightful guy. It’s always great to interview for the podcast people who you meet who you know live up to their advice, that they preach certain things, that they also walked the path that they suggest people walk.
Subir is one of those people. I really enjoyed the book. It’s a short book that packs a punch, is fun to read, and leaves you with a real sense of some things that are important that we’ll talk about today. Subir, thank you so much for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Subir: Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m looking forward to it.
Peter: You open the book with a few different stories that seem to point to a common principle, which is that we aren’t different people when we walk into the office versus when we’re home, that what we do with the toothpick after we used it is the same as what we do with a quality process organizationally, that how we treat people in the office should not be any different from how we treat them at home, or in synagogue, or in church, or in a mosque. Can you talk about that a little bit and explain why it’s so important?
Subir: Yeah. As you know, and I want to do a little bit backup. As you know, last 14 books I’ve written and all the management consulting I’ve done for last 20 years using the idea of process improvement, right? I literally save organization billions of dollars, right? Basically, as you know, the Six Sigma became very popular, and I was one of the leading authority on that field. By doing all this process improvement, what I found out that some companies … suppose for the sake of discussion, we have two same industry, two similar-sized client, and for the sake of discussion, I’m just giving an example of G.M. Ford, or maybe automotive industry, or maybe Airbus and Boeing in aerospace industry.
Suppose both the companies hired me as a consultant and used my processes, and what I found out, one company is getting 10X return, another company is getting 100X return, and I was puzzled by that. I said, “What the heck I’m doing? Maybe my process are flawed,” so I went, brought all my consultants, and literally screaming at them, saying that maybe our process is flawed. Maybe we are not doing certain things correctly.
So then, after a lot of discussions, my colleague said, “No, Subir. Maybe we should … If somebody is getting 100X return, maybe we should start at those organizations.” Last six, seven years, I’ve been starting all types of organizations to understand why one is getting 100X return and the companies which are not getting 100X, which is only getting 5X or 10X return, and then what really immersed is nothing to do with process. Nothing to do with process. It’s about the people, right?
The argument I’m making is, is we really wanted to improve quality, or if you wanted to improve your organization, you have to think of how is your all the people’s mindsets are, right? If they don’t have the good mindset or I call it as a caring mindset, then you may not get the best out of that organization, right? Then, the question comes to, can the caring mindset can be taught? Can anybody become and demonstrate the caring mindset? The answer is yes. Ideally, what I try to do with this book is about how to teach common people from a janitor all the way to the CEO level and in between anyone of them to truly can practice the caring mindset and develop the caring mindset.
Peter: Have you reduced it to that distinction of the caring mindset that the difference between a 10X return on an effective process versus 100X return is that people care, and if you’ve got an organization of people who care, then you’re going to maximize the returns?
Subir: Yes, yes. Yes. Right. Right. You’re absolutely right. The other thing is that what is really even puzzling like recent incident in Google. You know about the … that Google wanting … Somebody wrote an email, and he got immediately fired, and all this stuff.
Now, if you truly understand what he wrote on that email, and I’m not suggesting anyone of the side I’m not taking, but the question is that some of the issues he raised is a core issue like if 90% of the Google employees have a one party viewpoint, another 10% have another party viewpoint, you cannot left out the other 10%. You can’t. You have to have, realistically, a good dialogue and having the caring mindset demonstration for both sides, and that’s what is missing right now.
In fact, America is paying a big price of literally not … You and I may not agree to certain things, but that doesn’t mean that I have to be hateful to you, right? I have to be not sharing my caring for you. We can have a different viewpoint. That’s okay.
Peter: I don’t want to necessarily go down this road, but I’ll just ask a follow-up question about it because what if that 1% perspective is a non-caring mindset? Meaning, so what if that 1% perspective is hate talk, or is a destructive voice, or the pointing the fingers and the blame? If that’s that 1% voice, is it still important to have that 1% voice included? I’m not saying yes or no. I’m just asking you the question.
Subir: Yes. I think we have to include them, and maybe over time, the 99% can turn that around, right? Think about in any organization, so I talked about the caring mindset. The other perspective is a lot of the time, these people, this human being do not understand. They can develop the caring mindset. They can really do it. See, that is one of the reasons that in the book, I talked about making a difference can be anybody’s business, any human being’s business, right?
You don’t need a big financial bet or you do not need any kind of a societal elite status to make a difference. You know like Mother Theresa was not rich, financially rich person when she started. Think about it, and then the money poured in, and people supported her cause, right? I think anybody can make a difference. The question is that it is the mindset. In the book, I define about what is the caring mindset, and I talk about the four element, and it’s very easy to remember. It’s called the “STAR,” right?
Peter: Great. Let’s go into each of those. I have a question for each one that’s a little deeper, but why don’t you give us an overview of the four elements of STAR?
Subir: Right. STAR basically stand for Straightforward, Thoughtful, Accountable, and Resolve, so it’s very, very simple. Straightforward. Straightforward means you talk from your heart. You just don’t do any politics or any of that and talk from your heart, and give your opinion, and be respectful to the other person, and listen to what the other person is saying, and then you still make your point in a straightforward way.
Now, if you don’t have the straightforward culture in an organization, then what will happen, the Volkswagen type of incident will happen because they are hiding the information. A lot of the time, in straightforward stuff, I talk about the reason people are not straightforward is two reason. Number one is that they are fearful or afraid, and number two is that a lot of the time, they have grandiose amount of ego or pride, right? These are the two things, right? If you can control those two things, you can become a straightforward.
Peter: Let’s talk about that for a second – about the fear, because most people I know who aren’t straightforward, it comes from a lack of courage. It comes from a sense of vulnerability, and sometimes, by the way, that vulnerability is well-placed. The fear is well-placed that ultimately, they might be punished for being straightforward or saying what they think.
Subir: Right, and that is the key question that you say that we’re punished, right? The question is that it is the leader’s job. When I dealt with Jack Welch, right? When he asked a question to the … even the low level in an organization, and if they don’t have an answer, they’re not afraid to telling it straight, and why is that? Because Jack never punish them, right? He never punish them. He basically, “Okay, you don’t know. Next time I come in, you fix it. Figure it out. Two months later or six months later, I’ll visit again. I wanted to see this fixed.” There’s no punishment, right?
I think that whole culture of the fear and punishment culture is the leader’s responsibility, is the top of the house. They are the one who clean that culture, right? Unless they demonstrate themselves and make sure that people within the middle management or the next level management, everybody is not punished for their openness. Then, it will be … Like for an example, in my viewpoint, I think in Google, they’re firing the employee. I strongly feel that the Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, made a mistake.
I really felt bad. He should not have been … instantly made that decision. Rather than give him a little bit of a chance, have a dialogue about that, try to find out what really motivated him to write that article or whatever, and then dig in too little bit, but he did it too quickly, too fast because he thought about that 90% of their employees are alienating so he doesn’t want to go into that problem.
You cannot avoid that problem like that way. Rather than you try to discuss, and so that’s what I think. Without that problem, I think the more problem will come. Think about this way. White-collar crime in America in organizations costs $300 billion annually by a Cornell University study. $300 billion, white-collar crime. Now, that is sickening. Think about that. These are highly educated people are doing this crime, right?
Why they are doing that. In fact, one of the thing in the story I talked about, a gentleman about, Nick, he wants to get his next level promotion at any cost, anyone cost. Ultimately, when he diagnosed with cancer and he only survives six more months, and that is the six more months he wants to fix himself, and he wants to go to these next level people and try to apologize to them, try to earn their forgiveness. It’s a very profound story. Think about that, right? I think I always discuss about that if the leaders, true leaders come in and create a culture based on data, not based on their opinion or their emotion, they can develop a good organization, a good culture organization.
Peter: What you’re saying to my question of, “How do you help people have the courage to speak with straightforwardness?” your answer in part is, “Yeah, maybe you can help them have the courage, but really, it’s the leader’s job to create a culture in which every voice is heard, and important, and not punished.”
Subir: Yes. Absolutely. Yes.
Peter: Great. Okay, so straightforward is the S. Let’s talk about being thoughtful, the T of STAR.
Subir: Being thoughtful is basically about the attentive to the others, considerate, unselfish, helpful. Think about this way like every single day, when I wake up, my number one goal, when I was brushing my teeth, I ask myself, “What is the one thing I can do to another human being and give pleasure?” That’s it. What is the one thing I can do for another human being to bring pleasure? Right? That’s it, so that’s what thoughtfulness is all about.
I talk about a lot of the time especially the internet era with the social media era, even during the lunch break, we are looking at our iPhone and checking that out, and even in front of meal where other people are sitting and we are not talking to each other. How to avoid that? How to take that? Put your device out and to have some dialogue with your colleague. Try to look at them and even if you find another colleague that is stressed or whatever, try to ask them. Try to ask them, “Hey, what can I do for you?” Right?
I talk about being thoughtful is a two-step process. Step number one is listening. I think 99.9% of the people, we are very good in hearing, but we are not listening. What is the difference between hearing and listening? Hearing means you are talking to me and I’m just hearing, but I’m not internalizing. I’m not understanding what you are saying. It’s going in one ear, another ear is passing out. That’s it. That is the hearing.
Listening means not only I’m hearing what you’re saying, I’m having the eye contact, I’m internalizing it, and then I’m putting myself in your shoes. When you do that, that was the time the second step comes in. Then, the empathy kicks in. If you and I are not having a dialogue, when you’re having an argument, the reason the argument happen is because we are not listening to each other, right? Then, the argument comes in, but if we truly listen instead of hearing, argument will not happen. Then, we’ll empathize, and then once the empathy kicks in, you will be much more inclining with my viewpoint and I’ll be inclining with your viewpoint, and that’s what is missing in organizations.
Peter: The challenge I see most people having around that is how busy we all are.
Peter: There’s a part of us that looks at our iPhones instead of talking to people because we’re shy or because we’re a little uncomfortable, but there’s also a part where everyone is working so fast and so hard that to actually listen, or to be thoughtful, or to do what you suggested, which is to take even a moment to say, “What can I do that would express care for somebody else?” that is a difficult thing for people to do because they’re so overwhelmed with business.
Subir: Okay, so think about this way. Very simple. First of all is the mindset, right? Unless you have the mindset, you cannot do it. First question to yourself is that, “Am I going to fix myself? Am I going to improve myself?” Every day, when I wake up, I feel I’m a number one failure in the world, right? I wanted to say that I have so many flaws and how I can fix my flaws. Every single day, I feel that I have lots of flaws and how I can fix myself.
As soon as I have that mindset, first thing I do is that, “Okay. What can I do?” You are absolutely right. We are too busy. We are not taking the time. Think about this way. Five minutes. Nothing else. Five minutes. You just sit yourself. Either you can meditate, or you can walk, or you can not looking at the iPhone, or whatever, and just try to find your own self inside of you, the person you have, and ask that very simplistic question, “Why I’m here? Why I’m in this earth? Can I make a difference for another human being? What can I do to my next-door neighbor?”
As soon as you have that mindset, then you can become thoughtful, right? Then, you will be more listening. Then, you will create more empathy. Remember, that I was … I gave an example about in my … I was taking a flight from Los Angeles to Detroit. Normally, I get the business class ticket during my business travel time. All is paid for. I’m sitting in the first-class cabin, and there is an older gentleman came in and sit on the first row of the economy class cabin, and the flight attendant served the drinks on the first-class cabin before the flight takes off, and this older gentleman asked a simple glass of water. Just a glass of water. The flight attendant responded, “Hey, we don’t serve any drink to anybody like in economy class until the flight takes off.”
Now, the older gentleman again requested, “I’m very thirsty. I have to walk so many blocks to come over here. Can I get a class of water?” She again didn’t even respond, right? Guess what happened, these are very profound lesson learned for me too because I was sitting on the window like on the aisle seat, but there’s another guy who’s also sitting on the aisle seat. That young man didn’t say anything. He went in the flight cabin area and then poured a glass of water, gave it, served to the older gentleman, and then everybody over there clapped.
Now, the real question is that I asked myself a question why I did not act where that other young gentleman acted, and I was continuously puzzled by that. Why not? See, a lot of the time, we see certain things. If we know that you can make a small difference, very small difference, just do it. That is a big lesson learned for me. Later on, any time I see some problem that I can make a difference or I can make some contribution, I try to act on it. A lot of the time, we hesitate to take an act on it.
Peter: You’re also saying something that is important and I think profound, which is you’re describing a situation in which someone has privilege and which someone else doesn’t have privilege. You have someone who’s in first-class who has privilege and you have someone who’s in the economy class who doesn’t have that privilege, and that there’s a responsibility, especially for those of us who are in positions of rank and privilege to be thoughtful about what’s around us, beyond us for people who don’t have privilege and do what we can that represents care and thoughtfulness.
Subir: Exactly, you’re right. Yes. That is so critical, and a lot of the time, we forget about it. Recently, she ultimately apologized. Even the treasury secretary’s wife, she tweeted something bragging about her expensive clothes and all these stuff, and then ultimately, Twitter is all over her. Then ultimately, she apologized. Right? It’s shade. You should not act like that. We are very lucky. Every day, when I feel … one point of time like the majority of the people in America is self-made. Majority of them, right? Think about it. One point of time, we are doubted that privileged position. We work hard, and on the process, we also got lucky.
Anyway, so the next point comes too after the thoughtfulness is the accountable, right, which is much more about taking an action, taking the personal responsibility, right? One of the quote, I talk about Mother Theresa quote, and she used to say, “Don’t wait for leaders. Do it alone.” “Don’t wait for leaders. Do it alone.”
The point she was making is, believe it or not, irrespective of our position, God gave us some kind of inner power to each human being, right? I was listening to a talk by Nelson Mandela, right, that after living in the jail for almost 30 years, that when he came out, still, he’s dreaming to make a difference for his nation, his country. He wants to rebuild. Think about in 30 years. Somebody took the 30 years of his life and the whole nation took the 30 years of his life. After he came out, first thing he was thinking about, how he could make a difference for his nation. Think about that. Right?
That is the part we have to think about that any time we see something, how can we take personal responsibility? If we are not making accountable our self, anything we see, either at home, or in the community, or in the workplace, right? If we don’t like whenever I … A lot of the time, when I talk with some of the leaders, they said, “Well, Subir. That is not my job.” I said, “Why not? Why not? Why you are not raising that issue because your paycheck is coming from this organization? If you don’t take that action now, then something … maybe over time, everybody else who works for you, they’re following that you are not a true leader. Then ultimately, they will do the similar thing, and ultimately, you will create a mess without even knowing for it, and then you will call a council like me to come in to help you to fix it.”
I give some example of a 13-year-old Chicago girl. Her name is Trisha Prabhu. She was one day coming from the school and she read a 11-year-old Florida girl committed suicide because of the cyberbullying, so she … It hit her so much. She thought the whole system, her school system, her parents, and her teachers, everybody failed her, so she felt, “What can I do? Enough is enough. I’m going to change myself.” She take that as a personal responsibility. A 13-year-old girl.
Then, she started digging to the research how to solve the cyberbullying issue. She came up with an app called “ReThink.” The app name is called “ReThink.” What that app does is that what she found out that adolescents, when they write some nasty email or text without even thinking about it, so what she does is that at that time, if you can stop them, so this ReThink app, what they do, if you have that app in your phone, or iPad, or anything, then what you do is that as you type a message, nasty message, immediately, that ReThink will automatically … Artificial intelligence. It will automatically kick in and ask the question, “Are you sure? Your message is going to harm somebody. Are you sure you wanted to send this message?” Guess what happened. 93% of the adolescent decided stop, not to send.
Peter: Wow, not to send it.
Subir: Think about that. Now, ReThink. ReThink. You can check that app. Now, the ReThink is adopted by Facebook, Google, and everybody is promoting. A 13-year-old girl did that. Think about that, right? If a 13-year-old girl can take the personal responsibility, and make something, and feel herself as an accountable on her action and she can make a difference, why not you? Why not all of us? Right?
Peter: Let’s talk briefly about having resolve, which is the fourth piece of the STAR model.
Subir: Having resolve is all about having the passion, having determination, having the perseverance, and I talk about always the story about when I came to the United States in 1991, and I was short of $200, right, because I suppose to given a scholarship, and I didn’t … My professor said no. He will not give it to me, and I got the message after coming to the US on the first day after landing in US, and I don’t have any money. I have $200 sorted. I went to a bank. Bank rejected $200, so I cannot even register.
What I’ve done, I went to … so all my other … people I met. Indians, Bangladesh, all these different people. We met. They said, “Subir, don’t worry about it. You can work illegally.” I said, “No, I’m not going to do that.” Guess what I did. I personally felt that I need to resolve. I have resolve that I came to America. I had a big dream to make a difference in America. This cannot be the country. One person denied me doesn’t mean that America is bad, so I did not believe in that system. I believed in the American system.
Guess what I did. Next two weeks, I went to every single department, 23 department … 22 department rejected me. 23rd department opened the door for me, and the rest is history. I literally got the complete scholarship from Dow Chemical in that week for my graduate degree. Think about that. Coming to America for the first time with the culture shock. Everything. No family member, nobody, right? The first person on the first generation coming in from both my parents side, and I went to the 22 … knocked 22 doors, and the 23rd door opened.
Peter: You hear those stories … You hear about Harry Potter being given to 25, 26 publishers before it was accepted.
Subir: Rejected, right. Absolutely.
Peter: In order to have that resolve, you have to have the belief in yourself.
Peter: These pieces of the model fit together, being straightforward, being thoughtful, being accountable, having resolve. The example you gave about being thoughtful and having the man in first-class bring water to the older man in economy, that required thoughtfulness. It required accountability. It required some element of resolve. It required all of them, and these are the four things that seem to make the difference. You’ve reduced it to these four things, straightforward, thoughtful, accountable, and having resolve, that makes the difference between taking a process that you have in an organization that’s perfectly fine and having it have the 10 times impact versus a hundred times impact.
Subir: Exactly. Yes.
Peter: Those are the four things that really represent the kind of caring that you’re talking about.
Subir: Right. Ideally, if you ask me the question that, “Subir, why the hell you didn’t do this 20 years ago?” Very honestly, I wish my first book is on this area because then, I should have been … delivered better results in the process of improvement. You know what I’m saying? You know what I’m saying?
Peter: Every time. Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s great.
Subir: That’s what I was trying to do now.
Peter: Thank you. We’re with Subir Chowdhury. The book is The Difference: When Good Enough Isn’t Enough. Subir, it’s such a delight to have you on the Bregman Leadership Podcast. Thank you for coming on.
Subir: Thank you so much for featuring me.
Peter: If you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership Podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. For more information about the Bregman Leadership Intensive as well as access to my articles, videos, and podcasts, visit peterbregman.com. Thank you to Clare Marshall for producing this episode and to Bryan Wood who created our music. Thanks for listening and stay tuned for the next great conversation.
Peter Bregman is CEO of Bregman Partners, a company that strengthens leadership in people and in organizations through programs (including the Bregman Leadership Intensive), coaching, and as a consultant to CEOs and their leadership teams. Best-selling author of 18 Minutes, his most recent book is Four Seconds. To receive an email when he posts, click here.