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Rethinking Leadership GC, Episode 3: Creating a Culture of Belonging (TRN4-P10)


In this episode of the Rethinking Leadership GC podcast, Lorie Corcuera draws on her 20 years of experience as a culture and belonging strategist and workplace culture expert to share her unique insights on how to create meaningful workplaces.

Duration: 00:47:00
Published: September 24, 2021
Type: Podcast

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Rethinking Leadership GC, Episode 3: Creating a Culture of Belonging

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Transcript: Rethinking Leadership GC, Episode 3: Creating a Culture of Belonging

Robert Armstrong: Hello, Bonjour and welcome back to Rethinking Leadership GC, a podcast series that aims to inspire and challenge your personal leadership journey. My name is Robert Armstrong and I'm currently a regional manager of HR Programs at Public Services and Procurement Canada.

In this episode, we welcome Lorie Corcuera, the Head of Human Resources at DNEG in Vancouver and Los Angeles, as well as culture and belonging strategist and executive coach. Over the past 20 years, Lorie has cultivated her community relations and leadership coaching experience as both a strategic and progressive senior human resources leader. She's brought her expertise to the technology interactive entertainment, retail, hospitality, manufacturing and non-profit spaces. Lorie is a certified professional coactive coach with the Coaches Training Institute, and she's also a business mentor for a few innovative startups.

In this podcast, Lorie draws on her subject matter expertise in the area of culture and belonging to share unique insights on why and how she encourages organizations she works with to create meaningful workplaces, irrespective of what stage of culture development they're experiencing.

So welcome, Lorie. Before we jump into this fascinating topic, I thought it might be interesting for our audience to hear how you got to where you're at today. So, you know, more specifically, how does one become a culture and belonging strategist?

Lorie Corcuera: What a great question to start. And again, thank you so much, Robert for having me part of your podcast.  Really excited to have this conversation on culture and belonging.

Robert Armstrong: Me too.

Lorie Corcuera: Yeah, it's a great topic. So, first of all, the culture of belonging strategist isn't. I don't know if it's an actual title. I'm just wishing that it is, and that's why I'm using it. It's something that I'm very passionate about. And the way that I got to where I am today, I always think about what could have sparked me to be the person I am, and I've done a lot of work on myself. I've done a lot of reflection and there was this exercise that I did where it brought me to myself when I was six years old, and I was on the playground. And so, I want to give you a bit of context, Robert. When I was six years old, what happened was my family moved from Edmonton to Vancouver. And in Edmonton, I was still like this kid at school who was like, liked to party. I had a lot of friends. I didn't have any problems connecting with people, and so I just kind of expected that would happen when I came to this new school. So, I go to this new school, the teacher has me at the front and says, "Hey, this is Lorie. She's coming. She's moved from Edmonton. Please welcome her."  And the kids kind of seemed a little friendly and smiled, and then recess came around. I'm on the playground. I noticed some of the kids I recognize in my class. I go up to them and I'm like, "Hey, my name is Lorie." And they just sort of looked at me and then turned around. And I'm sure that wasn't the intention of the kids. And I obviously, I'm just remembering as much as I can. And it was a long time ago. But I guess what I remember from that experience was the feeling of just not feeling included, not feeling wanted. Like maybe I did something wrong. Like, why wouldn't these kids like me or want me to be a part of their group or play with them? And so all those thoughts, I just remember it being really heavy and strong that I feel that that is today what is inspired me to ensure that everyone I meet feels, seen, heard and cared for. And that really, for me is what creating a wonderful culture that does that, but also belonging is the way to sort of foster that culture to be something that everyone feels they matter and belong.

Robert Armstrong: So that brings me to maybe asking you to kind of refine our understand of what are those two key words, right? Because you were talking about culture and there's so many layers of that, right, there's the big culture, and then there's all sorts of kind of local and regional cultures. And then we have our own workplace cultures and inside my workplace, which is kind of big, we have unit cultures and stuff. So can we explore that for a second and tell me what you mean when you talk about culture?

Lorie Corcuera: Yeah. I love that you actually started to define that in different aspects or different dimensions. Because even when I started doing the work on culture and of course, I'm doing it within a workplace or within an organization, it doesn't have to be, you know, it could be public, private or nonprofit. For me, I started to look at it at a bigger kind of scope, like what you said when you're going into a country or a community, like what is culture? And so I want to start with that because I still think it relates to what it is today. So for me, culture is the heart and energy of a shared human experience.

Robert Armstrong: Okay.

Lorie Corcuera: So I'm going to repeat that it's the heart and energy of a shared human experience. So at first, when I share those words with you, you're probably like, "What does that have to do with work? Like heart and energy?" I know probably seems some words that we don't really use in the workplace-

Robert Armstrong:  You're scaring me a bit.

Lorie Corcuera: Am I scaring you a little bit? And then the shared human experience. But I would love for you to stay open and curious about this statement because at the end of the day, and even more now during the pandemic, our worlds are blending, right? We are now in this virtual remote work environment or possibly a hybrid situation. And so we're starting to see people more than the person that comes into work, you know, all dressed up, comes out of the elevator and here we are: I'm my work version of myself. We're now seeing there is like a pet or a child. And so I think we are now starting to see work and people kind of like the whole person. And I guess it's still different for every organization, but I still want that's what we talk about when we talk about belongings, that it is about more of a human sort of experience and seeing the individuals than more than just a role or even just more than what you see even in a video or as they look like. I think really taking the time to understand the individual, the whole person. So that's why I really still feel strongly about that definition. But you know, if you wanted to make it more work related, you know, it's how we work together. It's the behaviours and actions that we see among each other. It's like describing to people outside of our organization, "what do we stand for as a company?" Because we do want to attract clients, people who we interact with daily in organizations to know what we are so that we are making those meaningful connections.

Robert Armstrong: How do you and your work find that leaders inside those workplaces that you work with, how do you find them and their ability to define their cultures? I'm just curious.

Lorie Corcuera: Yes.

Robert Armstrong: Are they able to do that for you?

Lorie Corcuera: You know, when I was in my SPARK company, all we were doing was working with companies to define culture or work on their culture strategy. We would conduct a culture discovery session, and the first three questions we would ask is define what is culture? The second question would be define your culture within your organization? And the third question would be define your ideal culture? Because we also might have a current state, but we also want to define what would be ideal, and that would help us then figure out how we can support the organization. But that very first question is so interesting because every single person, no matter who's in the room, whether it's all leaders or a combination of different backgrounds, depending on the organization, it's always different. It is always different in how they define it. And the reason being is just how if you're if I were to ask you what you value in your life, you would have your own perspective. So people generally answer that question depending on what's most important to them. They're actually defining culture or defining values from what is important to them. So that's why I think it's a bit, it's kind of this big question. But we, you know, in our culture report that we will talk a little bit about later that was the very first question that we answered where which we shared. And there was all these different statements, but the common thread when we looked at it is that it is around the human experience and it's shared.

Robert Armstrong: And so that belonging, does that attach to that idea of sharing that human experience?

Lorie Corcuera: Yes, it is. Yeah, definitely. I think it's a little bit of both. I think that there's a part of us understanding who we are, having that confidence in that sense of knowing that I belong. And then there is the environment that creates that belong in that inclusion. So I think it's kind of both. Just like how leadership in general is, right? I have the power or the choice to be a good leader. And of course, the environment also has to empower me as a leader. So there's this partnership that happens. And for me, I love the definition that Brené Brown, who for those of you who haven't heard of Brené Brown, she's an amazing author and speaker and has a great TED talk that I highly recommend. I just love everything that she speaks about belonging. And she defines belonging as, "If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in." And this is really key because in my work, Robert, a lot of people say, "Oh, we need to find the best cultural fit. Like the best person that would fit within our organization." We use the word fit. It's not really a true way to identify a person who would be, you know, diverse and equitable and truly belonging because we're not trying to get people to just fit. We want to be able to honour who they are and they honour who we are and we build this partnership and we decided honouring each other that we're going to work together and we're going to create something special. So that's really what belonging is and how it connects with creating a culture.

Robert Armstrong: I love where you've taken me already, because here in the public service, we have this concept that's been around for a long time when it comes to staffing and resourcing and making that final selection about which candidate we want to put into that spot. We have this concept called right fit, right? And the quote from Brené Brown is powerful, isn't it right? Because if you're if you're just fitting in, maybe that's scraping up against our concept of right fit. So-

Lorie Corcuera: Yeah, well, I didn't know that.

Robert Armstrong: No, no. And that's OK because you're not in the public service. You don't need to know it. But it's, we are struggling a bit with what that might mean. I think in the future workplace, right, and how people, you know, are asked to fit in and to adhere to our values or to kind of adopt and integrate into the culture. But the definition that you're working with and the Brené Brown idea is about letting them be themselves. So how do we talk to managers, for example, or cultures, people who are responsible for that culture? How do we talk to them about kind of softening those edges and then bringing those barriers down and allowing people to be themselves more? Do you know what I mean?

Lorie Corcuera: Yeah, I think I know what you mean and what's coming up for me, Robert, is even when I have defined that there is this difference between, you know, the feeling of belonging versus what we're trying to do within organizations to find a great fit. I think both are important so I just want to I want to share that. The fit I think might be more about relating to sort of the technical aspects of a job, for instance. Like there is, there is a job description, right? You still want to find people with specific skill sets and duties and experience that you want to have some confidence that they're going to be able to do the job, right? I think the fit is about doing and then the belonging is about the being, the person, and you need both. You need a balanced way of looking at the individual. It's not just, they're really good and they're really specialized. And you know, we've had these experiences where we find people who are really good at what they do, but they might not necessarily be aligned with the values. And so now how do you work with someone like that if the values are so disconnected or misaligned that it creates a negative impact on the team, cohesiveness and people start feeling uncomfortable or unsafe to go and work with somebody. Then are you then still going to keep them because you're so good at their work or are you going to have to make a hard decision to say, "Well, you know what? We want to also have a person that is, you know, aligning with whatever your values might be to support the, you know, the actual team environment."

Robert Armstrong: So I love that your talk about culture is often revolving around this idea of values, right? So how can we get managers and employees and teams to talk more about their values rather than the technical aspects of their work? Because, you know, let's be honest, a lot of us come into work and we do our job and we're focused on getting the job done, right? But we kind of forget that around us, supporting us underneath us is that shared system of values. So is there a way that we can kind of foster that discussion a little bit?

Lorie Corcuera: Yeah, for sure. And again, thank you for bringing this up because as you can probably tell, I do care about values and values is, it's such an important element of defining cultures within the organization or within ourselves. What I would do if the values, discovery or values conversation is still new for people is start with what they know, right? So when I ask people in my values discovery sessions like, "What are values?" I tend to get a lot of like, "Oh, I don't know." Like, I think it's, you know, maybe one person might say, "Are they strengths, maybe beliefs, principles?" But there's still a lot of guessing, right? There's uncertainty around it. So I said, "Well, tell me about the values within your company."

Robert Armstrong: Right.

Lorie Corcuera: Tell me why do you think that your company might have values, right? So now they can connect with it because obviously most companies have a set of values or core beliefs that they've identified, whether they have integrated it and their living it every day might be another story, but they still have it somehow defined and it's on their website. It's on the job description and it's there. It's on their walls, right? So start with what they see and then ask them, "So what do you think about these values and what are these values mean to you like the actual organization values? And then think about when you think about those values and what's important to you, how do you see that align? Like maybe tell me a value that resonates with you and why does it resonate with you?" So I think it's just really getting to connect with something that they know, which is your organizational values. I know that the government has a set of values. Getting them to have that conversation and then slowly asking them, "Well, what does it mean to you? What are those values mean to you? And how does it relate to what's important to you in your life or career?"

Robert Armstrong: I love it. Values discussions.

Lorie Corcuera: Yes.

Robert Armstrong: So you talk a lot about culture and belonging and the fact that it helps us thrive rather than survive. Right? That's what helps us flourish as an organization and be more successful. You collectively, but also individually, I think. So how do you when you walk into different organizations that you work for, now don't name any of them specifically, but how is it that you get kind of a gut feeling about which ones value belonging more than another, for example? What gives you indications?

Lorie Corcuera: Oh, interesting. So for me, if I start to connect with people within an organization and I ask them to describe they're experience today or describe the culture at this company. So again, coming from a very curious place and just getting them to describe their experience. If I hear words like, "I'm really excited, I feel supported. I love my job." Those types of things, then those that company or that team or that leader is probably doing something right by creating that experience and that feeling within that person that that person would be able to describe that in those words. But I've also heard the opposite. "I don't feel included when I bring up an idea. It doesn't feel anyone's really listening. I feel like there's miscommunication within an organization." So usually if it's the opposite of that or like a feeling of heaviness that it's not that they don't feel they belong or that they don't feel happy like just in general, that makes me curious about what is going on within that organization. And that's kind of like a pretty good sign. And I'll answer this question the other way too, which is when companies ask us or, you know, come to me for advice or guidance around how to support them with their culture. I always ask them, "What is important to you? Or describe that current culture." Kind of similar when I when I did the discovery, and it's so clear from those answers what's important to them and what's actually happening. So that's sort of how I would be able to tell.

Robert Armstrong: And, you know, a lot because you actually did a big study in British Columbia that two year workplace culture study. So you're not talking, you know, just from instinct, you're talking from actual, you know, looking at a lot of different organizations. So can you tell us some of the highlights and maybe connect them for us so that we can think of those and how we might apply them in the public service?

Lorie Corcuera: For sure. So let me give you the reason why we even decided to do this study. It's because for if you can imagine every time we go into a company, whether we were referred from another person or maybe they were feeling the disengagement that's happening within the organization, whatever the reason is that they contacted us. I would come in and I would do the discovery session, but I would still get a lot of resistance. "Well, OK, great. I get that this is how you define culture and it's important, but I still don't understand how that is going to affect the bottom line. I still don't know how it's all going to really impact people." And there is the logical part of our brain is trying to make a connection to like, you know, one plus one equals two. The thing about culture is that it's intangible and it's a human experience. Just like I can't describe to you, you know, how much I love my mom. I do love my mom. How do I describe to you what that love means? It's this feeling, right? And so I think that really inspired us to say, OK, we've got to have some data because obviously the majority of our world still needs to understand and have that sort of the data points to make it make sense to them. And so that's what we did. We were we embarked on a two year study with thirty BC companies. And really the intention was to understand what makes cultures great? And you know what it's not like we just chose the top companies. We had a variety of big companies with great cultures that have been all over, articles in media. And there's companies that no one's heard before because we wanted to be fair in understanding all different sizes of companies in different stages of the business and different industries. I think we were in about seven to ten different industries, and we just wanted to gather as much information. And yeah, we basically came up with themes and trends. And what it came up to is that culture thrives when it's intentional and defined, meaning if we just let the culture grow organically, it's probably going to, you know, we kind of feel there is a culture. But when you're intentional about it and you define it and everybody understands it, then there's more accountability and there's more ways to grow and make it more real for everyone.

Robert Armstrong: I feel like there's a garden analogy somewhere here because.

Lorie Corcuera: It is a garden analogy.

Robert Armstrong: Because you're talking about growth and you're talking about tending the garden, right? Because you can plant your things in the spring and maybe come back in the fall and see what happened. But I love what you're saying, right? If you could be more intentional, if you actually tend to the thing, then perhaps the growth will be more visible, right? And you'll get a better crop.

Lorie Corcuera: For sure.

Robert Armstrong: So you're targeting leaders then, right? And this is really a leadership discussion. And so what's one of the things that came out of that study when it comes to tangible advice to leadership?

Lorie Corcuera: For sure. I mean, so it was interesting because when we did the two year study it was from May 2018 to the end of 2019. And it was about October so we hadn't really heard about COVID 19 yet until December and January. And then we were planning to launch it in March and then everything closed down. So we thought, OK, let's just pause. Let's just, you know, it's not that we don't think that this report is important that this information is needed. It's probably even needed more now because companies are struggling to keep their people engaged during the pandemic with all of the different changes. But we really wanted to make sure that we're providing the trends and the information that would really support organizations. And so one of the trends that came forward that was so integral, especially during the pandemic, was this concept of self-leadership. And what that means for us and what came out of the study is that it's so much more significant for leaders or people who have an influence or impact, like influential role to lead by example. And when I say that I still feel as a leader, there's a lot of pressure on that. It's like, "Oh my gosh, isn't it so hard already? Like, I have to be a leader. I've got to be happy. I got to still show up for my team." And we all know that whether you've been a leader for 30 years or you're new leader like the global pandemic was new for all of us. So you know, anyone with the most experience still didn't really know how to be during this time and how to really support our people.

Lorie Corcuera: So I think the self-leadership was a focus because it was a time right now where we just need to breathe, pause and really take a moment to understand for ourselves what this all means. And then once we know and we're grounded in that, then we can also then support our people. Because if we're feeling, you know, all over the place or feeling a lot of fear which is natural, it's hard for us then to meet others because they can feel that. They can feel the energy, they can feel that we're lost. And it's OK to say that you don't want to be vulnerable and also show your true feelings. I think that that was also another eye opening thing is that everyone was going through this and they felt more connected to leaders because we're all human. The human side of our leaders came out naturally from this. But it's still a responsibility for all of us, whether we're leader or not, to really take the time to understand who we are and make a choice to do better and to lead through this experience.

Robert Armstrong: You talk a lot about humanizing leadership, right? And it's true during the pandemic, I remember seeing very senior leaders in my organization at their dining room table, not wearing a suit. You know, wearing sweats just like the rest of us. I have to say, it was actually a bit reassuring to know that everybody was living through this in similar ways, right? And everybody's challenges, you mentioned dogs and kids, and all those things that we've been living with throughout the pandemic made people seem less distant in terms of hierarchy, perhaps. But the public service is a little different, right? We are hierarchical, based on a military model from the old days, I guess. Other organizations are as well, but we tend to embrace it still. There's also this very solid encouragement on separation of personal and professional life, right? And so, you know, other organizations have been that way for a long, long time. And we've, I guess, discouraged that idea about bringing our vulnerabilities, bringing our emotional selves, bringing our whole selves into the workplace. We're talking about it now. I just don't know if we're doing it. I know your mom was a public servant. And so, what do you think we can do, and you can be honest. Give us real advice. Don't worry about hurting our feelings. What do you think we can do to bring that humanity into the workplace with some grace?

Lorie Corcuera: With some grace? I love that. So it's so interesting. I remember when I first started my career, I was on my first day, I was still living with my mom at the time and I was in university. Sorry, I just finished university. So it was my first day in my job. It was at Electronic Arts. And that morning, my mom said, "Okay, Lorie, when you come into the office, make sure that you are very professional. OK."

Robert Armstrong: What did she mean?

Lorie Corcuera: She meant to just, you know, just take the information, do as you're told. And this is this is how I interpreted it anyway. Right like, don't make a fuss, don't ask. Don't make things too complicated. Just be this person and-

Robert Armstrong: Be a good girl.

Lorie Corcuera: Be a good girl. Like, you're lucky to have a job. Like, just do your thing, right? And it's interesting. Like, I know my mom came from a place of love and from her own personal experience. So I get where she's coming from. But the way I interpret it, Robert, I was thinking, OK, I got to put a face on. I got to be Lorie at work, right? Anything that's "Lorie personal," can't show that. That doesn't happen, right? So I took it literally where I would come into work and I would be this person. And then as soon as I left the job, I'd feel so tired because I was trying so hard to be a certain way, whether I was silencing myself and not putting my hand up because I could hear my mom saying, you know, don't, you know, don't ruffling feathers. And so for a long time, that's how I lived. So I had a bit of that experience, and it was only later that I realized that I could be something else.

Robert Armstrong: At what point did you become aware of that? That you were actually separating yourself?

Lorie Corcuera: I was in a meeting with six other male executives and it was one of our weekly strategy meetings that happens. And there were two leaders that became upset with each other. Again, it wasn't the first time. We sometimes get really energized about different topics, but this one in particular seemed a lot more, and I was embarrassed for anyone else outside the room that they could hear. And you know, again, I am trying to keep the professional and personal, and I was thinking this was not a professional situation. I kept saying, you know, "Let's pause or let's stop the conversation or whatever. Can you take this outside?" I was doing whatever I could to sort of manage the conversation. And then it wasn't happening like I wasn't being seen. So what happens next is that I started to tear up. I started to cry. Yeah. And oh my goodness, Robert, I was thinking, I can't believe that this is happening. My mom told me not to show this personal side. And I'm crying. What's happening? So I, like they stopped when they saw this. I immediately went to the bathroom. I collected myself, dried up my tears, went back in, pretended nothing happened, the meeting continued. It actually stopped-

Robert Armstrong: Did they also pretend nothing happened?

Lorie Corcuera: So we finished the meeting. But here's what happened. I walked back to my office and tried to hide a little bit because I just couldn't. I still couldn't believe that that happened.

Robert Armstrong: Yeah.

Lorie Corcuera: And one by one, each leader came to see me to say it was so nice to finally see you.

Robert Armstrong: Whoa. I just, sorry, I just got shivers. Wow, really, that sounds like a breakthrough moment, but how did you react to that comment?

Lorie Corcuera: So I realize that I wasn't being myself, but I mean, it's hard to say that because it's not like I was faking it. But I think that there was a shield or there was some kind of protective layer that I only, you know, they could only see a certain part of me because I had to show up as this Executive female person. Like I had to own up to this title that I had in this environment that happened to be all male dominated. So I felt the pressures of just trying to be a certain way. And it finally, you know, just I couldn't, and then it happened. And then for them to actually create a safe space and to actually say that they saw me and that my vulnerability was being accepted, I felt safer. But also I realized that I was holding back. And then from that point on, I just said, You know what? I'm all about love. This is who I am. This is what I stand for. It actually gave me more confidence to speak up and just, you know, show up more as myself. And still, you know, I still have boundaries. I'm not sharing my whole life, but I still had more confidence that came from that experience.

Robert Armstrong: That's fascinating, because I think most of our parents raised us to respect that professional veneer, right? And you called it a protective layer and then that's what a veneer is, right? It protects us a bit. But you feeling like you could then show up more, I think is a fascinating thing that we could explore for a minute because it's about being more confident. But what kinds of confidence did that engender?

Lorie Corcuera: Yeah, well, I want to highlight that notice what the leaders did, right? Because I can't say that in other organizations that could have been the response. I could have easily went back to my office and no one said anything and everyone pretended that didn't happen. And I would just think it was another day, obviously a day where I felt like I shared too much. But at the same time, it could have just been forgotten and moved on. Nobody brought it up. I wasn't going to bring it up, and let's just pretend that didn't happen like, "Nothing to see here!" Or they could actually connect with me in a meaningful way to check in and see that I was OK. But also to say, "Lorie, it's so good to finally see you." And that, I think is another way for all of us. If there is those moments that happen, human moments that are probably happening anyway right now, because it's hard to define our way through this, like everyone's experiencing the pandemic and all of the different changes in the world differently, right? So some people are really good at hiding their emotions, and some people are like, "Oh, it's really hard to just put a smile on my face." So imagine a leader who is able to create such a safe space that the person feels OK to just be. But I'm not saying, OK, like we all just start, you know, we all have our ways to communicate or to express ourselves, but it still feels like a safe container. It's not like I was going to cry at every meeting after that, but there was a sense of acceptance of me. And so I just felt safe. And it made me feel more confident to show up because I felt safe.

Robert Armstrong: It's funny because it goes back to the idea of belonging, right? Because, you know, feeling accepted. You can imagine that somebody feels like they belong better, right? And that they're attaching better. And I love how you put it so simply right. It's about being seen, but it's the onus is on the leader in this instance to actually say, "I see you." Because you might have been seen, but you might not have known that you were seen until they were actually able to articulate that to you, right?

Lorie Corcuera: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. No, I love that you put that connection together. So there is that opportunity for us to really see someone. And whether you say the words or not, just you being there and listening is already an action of seeing them.

Robert Armstrong: Ah, you just exploded my brain. No, because listening to people is also a way of seeing them, right. And often we confound those two sentences, right? And we think that, you know, just by listening to somebody, go on about something or complain about something or make observations about the workplace, you feel like you're doing the right thing, right? But listening is not necessarily active listening, and it's not necessarily actually seeing that person as they need to be seen. So I love it.

Robert Armstrong: I want to change gears just a little bit right now. And again, go to that idea of, you know, public service and the structures that we live with, right? We have our values and ethics code that's shared and we talked about values and belonging and culture. We have mandates and purpose and we have, you know, reasons for coming to work every day because we need to serve Canadians one way or another. And that's, you know, cuts across all departments and all agencies. But we try and change and improve a lot, but we don't often, to be honest, do the best job of it. Maybe because we're just so big and we're just so varied and who knows, change leadership doesn't happen well in a lot of organizations. But what takes a hit sometimes is there a sense of belonging, right? And what I mean by that is belonging that in the way that we use it a lot, which is about feeling like we have a sense of pride in doing something larger and being something important for Canadians. And as, you know, we've taken a lot of hits, right? People like to make fun of public servants. People, you know, have some opinions that they share. But if you were to help us, maybe rebuild that sense of pride, of confidence that we just talked about, of belonging to something a bit bigger, do you have a couple, just off the cuff ideas, where might we start?

Lorie Corcuera: Again, it goes back to the values and how belonging and culture is different for everyone, right, how we define it. When you think about, how would I rebuild in a sense of personal pride in being a public servant, I would start with asking people, "What does it mean to feel proud? To be proud as a public service. Like share one of your proudest moments or share a time where you elevated another person or was able to support someone being in your role." And I think reconnecting to something that's already within them just so that they could feel more inspired and remember why they chose to be part of the public service. I think that that's where I would start. It's just really connecting to that because again, they already kind of know intuitively, but I think that maybe you might want to remind them. And that's where you make that personal connection. It's just another way of asking, you know what they value and all of that. And then if I wanted to go further around belonging is to really take the time to understand what does belonging mean to them and what do they need to feel they belong. And again, it's going to be different, but when you take the time to answer those questions, like, imagine Robert me asking you that question, I don't know if you'd want to answer that question on the spot right now, but like, what does belonging mean to you and what do you need to feel you belong?

Robert Armstrong: Well, I don't, I think it's different for all of us, but belonging for me anyway feels like I have a purpose, right? And it feels for me that I have belonged to various organizations inside the public service. And when I felt the most sense of belonging, it actually really, really again shivers, connects to something you just said, it was about elevating other people, right? And I think a lot of us feel like we belong to something larger and something more important when we help people. And that can be a citizen get their employment insurance straightened out. It could be, you know, search and rescue operation offshore. Or it could just be helping one of your colleagues with a promotion or getting a report done on time, right? And so I think, you know, for a lot of us in the public service, anyway, it's not about profit, right? It's not about shareholder stuff. It's more about that idea of service that I remember talking earlier with you that your mom kind of talked about in her career.

Lorie Corcuera: Exactly. My mom was so proud and has always been proud and still is about her work. She's spent over 30 years in the public service, in the federal government. And you know, that's one of her proudest moments in her life. She will always remember that she had that opportunity to be part of your organization or this greater organization and being able to service people. So I'm curious, Robert, when I asked you those questions about what belonging means to you and what do you need to feel you belong? How did that make you feel to answer those questions?

Robert Armstrong: I'm a really pure public servant. I hate it, right? You talk about stuff that's about feelings and emotions and that kind of stuff. And we're not, you know, necessarily good at that, right? Because we do have that professional veneer and it kind of puts people on the spot in the sense that you know, what you just did for me was making me articulate something that you might have a gut feeling around, but you may not have had to express in those ways, right? You talk a lot about caring for people and feeling safe, and that's not the kind of thing that we're really used to talking about.

So I'm going to switch it back, though, and put us into this kind of transitional phase that we're in across all organizations or a lot of them. And you work for a large one too. Not everybody's working in the old way and going back to work right. A lot of us are doing hybrid situations. A lot of people are still working at home. How do we, as managers and leaders, make sure that everybody feels seen, feels heard, feels listened to and feels cared for?

Lorie Corcuera: Yeah, I mean, that's the question for everyone, right? Especially as we're going into 2022 to all the trends are saying that it's still going to have a lot of changes and movement like it's still going to go on. And some people are even referring to the way that we're feeling these days as the pandemic flex syndrome. Meaning, you know, we had that surge capacity. We've used all our energy from the first few waves and it's still going on like it's still happening. And so we need to be aware of that. And I think we know that anyway because we're all going through it together. And so I don't know if there's ever going to be a normal working environment or even though if-

Robert Armstrong I suspect not.

Lorie Corcuera Yeah, I don't know if we want to use the word normal, but I think we have to stay open to what, you know, what's going to happen in the world. And I think for leaders, and I'll speak for myself, the way that I'm, what I'm doing right now to ensure my people or my team members feel seen, heard and cared for is I'm just really staying connected with them. Especially whether they're in the office or you know, working from home. I need to understand how they want to even stay connected. So I think I might have shared this in another conversation. We actually have a remote work plan where we sit down and we ask our team members a series of questions about what's their ideal work time, like when they're most productive? What motivates them? How do they like to receive feedback or feel appreciated? So, you know, going through some questions that really takes the time to understand what they need to feel they belong, but supported to do their jobs in that current work environment wherever they are. I think as you start to just be interested in your team member, they will start to feel seen and heard. Find the opportunity to have that conversation where you're fully present as well so that your person can feel that you're really having that conversation with them. So I think again, going back to that self-leadership before you even start having those connections, really check in with yourself on where you're at with everything and make sure you're good so that when you connect with them, it's more meaningful.

Robert Armstrong: Inclusion, I'm sure you're aware, is something that we're all talking about in terms of our organizations and there's a lot of reasons for that, and it's gripping the public service right now. We're talking about more than equity, which is a lovely kind of development, right? We're talking about more than diversity, actually. We're finally moving beyond that idea of diversity and working towards that inclusion, which I think really connects so strongly to your work in belonging. And so if I can describe it in simple terms, right? And I think diversity is when you can see yourself in an organization and inclusion is when we see everybody and enable them to come into it on equal footing. But belonging is actually even further than that, right where you can actually come in and be yourself and feel like you still belong there. But how do we encourage people to actually maintain that culture over time, right? How is it that we're going to not get trapped in this being a blip in time and moving on to the next big initiative or the next big idea? So I guess in a sense, what I'm asking you is how are you going to become a permanent culture and belonging strategist and not have to reinvent yourself? Like, how can we make this a real thing for years to come?

Lorie Corcuera: Yeah, I mean, a couple of things are coming up to me, and maybe there's an opportunity for a position to be created within your organization, right? That's why we've created diversity inclusion DNI specialists within organizations, even though I don't think it should only be on their shoulders to do all of this. But there still has to be a dedicated group of people that that's their intention because they're looking at the strategy of how to integrate it within the organization and I would say that that would be the same with belonging. I don't even know if we actually have to create a belonging person, because if you have someone who's focused on EDI, equity, diversity, inclusion or DNI, however which term you're using, the result of that, if you're doing those three aspects you know in harmony is the result is belonging. But it has to be, we have to be looking at all three throughout the organization. It has to be everyone's responsibility starting with the leaders, right? I say, the same thing around culture. I say the same thing around EDI. And EDI could even be fully part of your culture strategy. And so when it's intentional and it's part of a plan, a strategy or the goals of an organization, then it all kind of feeds down to making sure that we're all making it part of our goals and objectives. We need it to be somewhere where we can all see it and hold each other accountable, and then hopefully it just becomes something natural, but you know, as any new habit, it just doesn't come right away. We need to work at it. It's a lifelong journey, but we need to make sure that it's part of our intention, our plan and really make it intentional.

Robert Armstrong: So I'm going to ask the question that I asked managers sometimes because it frustrates me a little bit that I'll be honest, that a lot of managers are focused on the technical aspect of their work, right? And for good reason, right? There's a lot to be done, but the people side of things, which is the culture side of things, which is the belongings side of things, which is that inclusion side of things is very much corner of the desk, and maybe they weren't trained for it because they're a biologist or an accountant or whatever. It's not their fault. How do we bring them to be more intentional without making them feel like they're being punished or retrained, right? Because they're not doing a good job? How do we coax them into this in a genuine fashion?

Lorie Corcuera: Hmm. Well, a lot of organizations are actually integrating inclusive leadership as part of their training programs, as part of their leadership programs for emotional intelligence. Anything that supports leaders or individuals to learn more about themselves, right? Because the more we learn about ourselves or unconscious biases, our triggers, our strengths, our values, we can then have a level of consciousness where we can then choose how we want to respond to certain situations. It's not knowing or not being self-aware that makes us be reactive and not and then kind of send that email or say that thing and go, "Oh no, what happened, right?" But if you know better, we do better. So I think any type of opportunity or program or experience that we can facilitate within an organization that allows people to understand themselves better and especially at the leadership level, then I think that's going to support them. And I think emotional intelligence, I know is one of the programs that you offer and I think building upon that because it's anything to uncover what's happening here so that we can we can respond with more control, I guess, or more choice.

Robert Armstrong: And love is a word that you use often. I've listened to a lot of your interviews and podcasts, and I admire your lack of shyness in discussing love in the workplace. I've been taking notes of our conversation, Lorie. You're talking about heart, you're talking about being cared for, you're talking about feeling safe, you're talking about connection, you're talking about all sorts of humanity in the workplace. So before we close out, can you talk about love in the workplace? And this is going to scare people off right now, but I think I need to give you some space to talk about why that's important to you.

Lorie Corcuera: Oh, thank you, Robert. I really appreciate it. You know, I'll just keep it simple: to love is to be human and to be human is to love. We were all born with love. We know what love is, right. And I think the only reason why it's a little bit uncomfortable is because of that personal professional, right? It's not common that you would say, "I love you" to your team member, right? But you would say it automatically to someone at home. So there is there is a little bit difference, depending on your comfort level. But for me, love is really about being human.

Robert Armstrong: I love it. Thank you. It reminds me of those languages that appreciation, right? And it's OK to say to somebody at work, "I appreciate you." Right?

Lorie Corcuera: Yes.

Robert Armstrong: Or, "I value you." And it's almost like saying, "I love you," but in the professional manner.

Lorie Corcuera: Yes, you don't have to use the word love.

Robert Armstrong: Yeah, appreciate, value. I tell some of my team, you know on a regular basis, "I'm glad you're here."

Lorie Corcuera: Oh, I love that, Robert.

Robert Armstrong: I mean it, right? I'm really so happy that they're part of my team and so, you know, I'd be lost without them.

Lorie Corcuera: Mm hmm.

Robert Armstrong: I just want to say thank you, Lorie, for being here and being with me today. I enjoy your work so much. I think you're actually making a big difference. I think people should be listening to you as often as they can. And I think you are creating a culture of belonging by being that person that people want to hear, speak about this topic and I'm so glad we had this opportunity today. Thank you for making the time for me today. I really, really appreciate it.

Lorie Corcuera: I really appreciate you too, Robert.

Robert Armstrong: What a wonderful opportunity to talk to Lorie Corcuera about culture and belongings, safe spaces and being cared for. The time is right, isn't it, for having these types of conversations to enhance our workplaces in the public service by encouraging ourselves and our colleagues to shift things further and to begin to acknowledge the whole human being more. The Canada School of Public Service has recently launched a virtual classroom course: Coaching for Effective Leadership D101, where participants learn how to adopt a coaching approach to inspire others and lead more effectively. The school has also launched a virtual classroom series of courses called Thrive. Thrive offers a learning journey for leaders at all levels, and we invite you to explore our virtual classroom courses and job aids to empower you and your teams to better navigate and thrive within dynamic and evolving environments. I'm Robert Armstrong. Thank you for listening to Rethinking Leadership GC.


Any views or opinions presented in this podcast are solely of the individuals themselves and do not necessarily represent those of the School or the Government of Canada.

  • Lorie Corcuera, Head of Human Resources, DNEG, Vancouver and Los Angeles; Culture and Belonging Strategist and Executive Coach
  • Robert Armstrong, Regional manager of HR programs, Public Services and Procurement Canada

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