How to Overcome Bumper Car Moments

with Author and CHRO of Applied Materials, Susan Winchester

listen to apple podcastslisten to spotify podcastslisten on amazon podcastslisten on google podcastsWatch on YouTube

Susan Schmitt Winchester is SVP, CHRO for Applied Materials, with 30 + years of HR experience, previously as CHRO for Rockwell Automation and prior to that multiple leadership roles for the Kellogg Company. She is a National Academy of HR Fellow, the highest professional honor for HR leaders. She is a Board member for the HR Policy Association, member of the Executive Committee, Peer Roundtable for CHROs, Vice Chair Leadership Advisory Board for the Dean of Engineering, U of Michigan & Forbes HR Council member.

She is also the co-author of the book, Healing at Work: A Guide to Using Career Conflicts to Overcome Your Past and Build the Future You Deserve, with Martha I. Finney. 

  • Susan's role at Applied Materials as CHRO
  • How Applied Materials worked through the pandemic and return to office for different positions
  • Managing hundreds of global people leaders within the organization
  • How to maintain a calm presence during difficult times
  • How your childhood can affect your work life
  • The stressful reality of perfectionism and people-pleasing
  • Adult Survivor of a Damaged Past (ASDP)
  • Unconscious responses to co-workers behaviors' and understanding emotional triggers
  • "Bumper car moments" concept (23 min)
  • Competency models vs. suitability model
  • What's one thing most people don't know about Susan

[Tom Finn]    00:00:02    Hello, and welcome to the Talent Empowerment podcast, where we lift up people leaders so they can lift up their organizations. I'm your host, Tom Finn, co-founder and CEO of LeggUP. Together. We'll learn how to drive people innovation, how to transform HR into people ops, and how to secure buy-in to disrupt the status quo. And as I like to say, it's finally time to stop smoking on airplanes and update your people strategy. Let's transform your organization and move from a culture of talent management to talent empowerment. 

This week's episode of the talent empowerment podcast is brought to you by LeggUP’s Talent insurance, an inclusive people development platform designed to help HR leaders empower their people through one-on-one professional coaching with results like a 66% improvement in avoiding burnout, a 54% jump in leadership skills and a 73% increase in job satisfaction. LeggUP guarantees improved employee wellbeing, productivity, and retention. In fact, they ensure it, your people stay or they pay! Visit LeggUP, that's L E G G, to learn more. And without further ado, this is Talent Empowerment

Welcome to the talent empowerment podcast where we lift up people leaders. So you can lift up your organization. I am your host, Tom Finn. And today we have a 30-year HR veteran and author of the book healing at work on the show. I'd like to introduce you to Susan Schmit, Winchester, Susan, welcome to the show.

[Susan Winchester]    00:01:42    Thank you, Tom. I'm delighted to be here.  

[Tom Finn]   00:01:44    Well, we are absolutely delighted to have you. And before we go too far, let me introduce you to Susan. This might take me a minute. <laugh> she has an incredible track record and history in the HR space. And she currently serves as SVP and CHRO for a fabulous company called Applied Materials. She's got 30 years of HR experience previously. She served as CHRO at Rockwell Automation and had multiple leadership roles at Kellogg. Now here's where it gets fun. She's a national academy of HR fellow, the highest professional honor for HR leaders. She is a board member of the HR policy association. She's a member of the executive committee for peer round table for CHROs, the vice chair and the leadership advisory board for the Dean of engineering at the University of Michigan. Uh, she is a Forbes HR council member and contributor. Let me take a breath before we get onto the book. <laugh> okay, here we go. Now she is also the author of a book, “Healing at Work, a Guide to Using Career Conflicts to Overcome your Past and Build the Future you Deserve.” She wrote that book with Martha Finney. Um, I think I've covered it all. Did I get most of it?  

[Susan Winchester]    00:03:00    You got, you got plenty. Thank you.  

[Tom Finn]   00:03:03    Well, thank you for your dedication to the HR community and, and the work that you've done. We're, we're thrilled to have you and I can't wait to dig right in. So let's jump right into it. You're the SVP and C H R O at applied materials. Um, tell us about your role and your organization.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:03:17    Well, uh, Applied Materials is an amazing company. We're a Fortune 200 company based in Silicon Valley. I think maybe one of the only companies in Silicon Valley that's 50-plus years old. We are in the semiconductor industry and, uh, it's a very cool company that has amazing technology. We essentially build the very high-tech equipment that makes chips for companies like Intel, Samsung, TSMC, and many others. And, um, it's a growing company. When I started three and a half years ago, we had about 23,000 employees worldwide. We are fast approaching 30,000 employees because you, I'm sure you've read about the chips shortage in the, in the world. Chips are the foundation of everything. And so we can't make enough, um, given the demand, uh, in our industry. So we are fast growing. It's an exciting place to be. It's an amazing company. And, uh, it's the first time I've been in the summit conductor industry in my career. And I gotta say it is, it is exciting. It is credible, incredibly smart, talented people. And I feel very privileged to be a part of the company. 

[Tom Finn]   00:04:27    Wow, that's fabulous. So over the last couple of years, we've had this chip shortage, uh, as you mentioned, how does that feel when you're watching the news and you're looking at supply chain issues and, and you're living and breathing it at work every day? 

[Susan Winchester]    00:04:40    Well, what I always think about is how our company is the foundation of what the world needs. And so our company's vision is to make possible a better world for everyone. And I become inspired, you know, absolutely there are challenges with supply chain for all, all, most all companies. Uh, but I think that the challenges create opportunities to figure out how to do things differently, gives people in the company, new opportunities to, to step into leadership roles. And, uh, I'm very proud of what our company's been able to do and navigate in this difficult and challenging time. In addition to everything, we've all been through related to the pandemic. Uh, it's been a pretty amazing last two years, to say the least. 

[Tom Finn]   00:05:22    And is there something that in the last couple of years since you've been with the organization that you're most proud of that you've brought to the table for this fabulous company? 

[Susan Winchester]    00:05:31    Well, I, I don't think I necessarily take credit for this. This was definitely a team effort for sure, but I, I am so proud of how our company navigated the pandemic and, um, and how, how much, you know, front and center of everything. And I know this is true of most companies was the health and safety of our people. We're in a core infrastructure industry. So our people had to keep working, even when many people were sent home. So our amazing people that work in our manufacturing facilities, our engineers that are working on site and doing installations and working in partnership with our customers, we're doing that all through the pandemic in ways that we tried to create as much safety and, and health obviously around. And, you know, unlike a lot of companies, a lot of companies have declared certain dates when they wanna bring people back to the office. 

[Susan Winchester]    00:06:21    We've taken a very different approach. What I would describe as a very flexible approach is that the leaders, of course, the work is very different. If you're an R and D engineer and you need to be in the labs doing the product technology development that you do, then we need to figure out a way to make sure you can be safe and working in the labs. If you're manufacturing, you're coming on-site to ensure that we can build what we need to build for our customers. And yet there's also a lot of flexibility we can create for people who can be wildly productive working either fully virtually or in hybrid ways, working some in the office and some at home. And so rather than declaring, you know, one specific date, for example, in our, our headquarters, which is Santa Clara, California, uh, we've really created a lot of flexibility to that really focuses in on where can people be most productive to create and deliver the outcomes of their role. 

[Susan Winchester]    00:07:13    And, you know, obviously flexibility matters to people. And so I'm very proud of what I would describe as a, a bit more flexible approach to this. And I'm also really proud in terms of the relationship that we've been building with our people, managers, you know, people managers are at the core of every company, and we did some very specific things. Uh, our, uh, leader of our communications employee experience group came up with the idea that we would basically do, uh, people manager sessions where we'd get on the, the meeting, we'd have a panel of experts, including HR, our environmental health and safety team. And just take any question that our people managers had. Uh, and it really, you know, to be able to get 500, 600 people managers on a call together at one time, um, I think was, uh, you know, I'm really proud that we did everything we could to support the people that are really running the company, which is, are people managers deep in the organization? 

[Tom Finn]   00:08:10    Well, it's wonderful that you did that. And I'm sure that everybody was grateful on the strategy and the execution. We all want to be heard. We all do. Uh, I think it's natural for us to wanna be heard. And when we're going through a crisis or there's some waters that are a little more choppy than we used to, uh, it's nice to have a leadership team that gets it and, uh, and wants to help and answer questions. Even though I imagine there was some apprehension to make that decision with the, within the organization. 

[Susan Winchester]    00:08:40    There was, you know, I mean, you're really putting yourself out there when you're opening up to any question from managers. And so there, there were some, you know, questions about, is this really gonna work or are we gonna regret we did it? Uh, I would say absolutely not. I mean, people are hungry for information when things are uncertain and while we certainly didn't have all the answers, we did have some answers and we committed to get answers for the questions that we could not answer. And, uh, and so I, I just, uh, you know, again, I just am really proud of how the company navigated through, uh, through that situation and still continue to navigate, you know, we certainly have different countries in the world, China, for example, that are experiencing a peak again and in COVID incident rates and our teams around the world, our country leaders, our regional leaders have just UN unbelievable demonstration of leadership in helping their teams and the people in that particular country, um, manage and navigate through some pretty significant challenges. 

[Susan Winchester]    00:09:38    Um, it makes me think of our team in India, for example, when, when COVID rates were extremely high in India, remember when that happened? Oh yeah. Um, our team, uh, set up 24-hour call center, uh, for employees, they were able to get supplies for employees. They were literally working around the clock to support not only employees, but employees, family members and, you know, just a, a tremendous pulling together, uh, to support the organization. Just, I just a real, and, you know, I know there are a lot of special people in every company, but I just, I was blown away not only by that team, but you know, many of the teams as, as we've navigated the team in Israel, you know,  the teams in, in many of the countries in Asia and, um, just, it's just been an amazing experience. It's been challenging for sure, but just been incredibly proud to work for this company. 

[Tom Finn]   00:10:27    Wow. We're really well said. And when you run a global organization, you're gonna have so many differences between countries and people and dynamics, and, as you said, in different points of time, they face different issues. So, um, kudos to you and the team for, uh, really taking a global approach to a workforce that needed your help, uh, and will continue to need to be supported, uh, over the next decade. 

[Susan Winchester]    00:10:51    And again, it was definitely, uh, definitely a team effort, some amazing leaders that were responsible for the business, continuity planning, work, our EHS team, you know, our executives. It was, it was a full-on effort by everybody. 

[Tom Finn]   00:11:04    Yeah. Well, I think the takeaway there and, uh, Susan, thank you for saying that, but I think the takeaway for everybody is, look, not one person can handle this all on their own. Yep. And it is the united effort of a leadership team that comes together and agrees to go arm and arm and support the entire organization. And, uh, you know, as you said, there's a lot of people to thank when that happens. Absolutely 

[Susan Winchester]    00:11:28    Well said.

[Tom Finn]   00:11:29    So one of the things that I've learned about you, Susan, is you are cool as a cucumber. <laugh>, I mean, nothing rattles you. Um, how, how do I become a little bit more like that? How do our listeners have this presence and this calmness, where does that come from for you? 

[Susan Winchester]    00:11:45    Well, I think it comes from the journey, right? You know, so you'd mentioned the book that Martha and I wrote “Healing at Work,” I wasn't always like this to tell you the truth. And in fact, when I look at my career accomplishments and, and the opportunities that I've had along the way underneath all of that for 30 years of my almost 35-year career was an unconscious limiting belief that I had about myself that I wasn't good enough. And, you know, not to, to get into too many details, you know, this is certainly not about judging parents. Cause I think parents do the best they can with where they come from. Um, but when I was growing up and when I was little, my dad, um, who was an incredibly talented smart man also had some problems with his own anger. And I know it originated from some of the trauma he experienced when he was little, but when I was little growing up in that environment, living with someone who was unpredictably raging was stressful.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:12:47    And in order to try to navigate that environment, I adapted certain strategies because of course I thought it was my fault that if I could just be different or better or smarter or better behaved or whatever, that maybe that would curtail the anger. And of course, that was a small child's thinking. I didn't realize it wasn't my fault that he was doing this, but I started to believe deep down that something wasn't right about me, that if I could just be different or better. So I adopted what I would consider incredibly skilled people, pleasing skills, as well as, uh, you know, the ultimate and perfectionist. And, um, you know, so for years of my career, I was unconsciously responding to triggers where I would feel, um, like I wasn't good enough. And so I would work harder. I'd work longer. I'd, you know, be more diligent. Um, and constantly in that state of people pleasing, which is a really stressful, dysfunctional place to be  

[Tom Finn]   00:13:48    Perfectionism is also a really stressful place to be. It is because it's hard to be perfect.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:13:54    I know. Well, the reality is none of us are perfect, but if you were, if you were like me as a perfectionist, I would go home after each day. And I would basically give myself an evaluation of where I fell short of that perfection, that perfection standard, which of course nobody can meet. But, you know, I believe that I had to keep pushing and driving and pushing and driving. And the result was, of course, some great achievements, but I believe I could have had those same achievements without the dysfunctionality. Um, the lack of work-life balance, the, uh, the time I spent at work, trying to get validated by in particular bosses in particular men in authority positions, um, which led me to, to spend too much time away from my kids when they were growing up. You know, so there are just so many costs that come with that, that career path.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:14:44    And so I think that the question you ask is a really perceptive question. I don't know if there's a particular moment where all of a sudden I felt different. It was more a journey of realizing that I didn't like the stress and anxiety that I was feeling at the end of the day. And of course, as the jobs got bigger, the amount of stress and anxiety and worry that came along with that group. And, you know, my way of handling that for many years, which I'm certainly not proud of was using alcohol to numb the feelings of inadequacy. And I'm very grateful to God that I will have been sober. It'll be 18 years, God willing in April that I, I haven't turned to alcohol to try to self-soothe all those feelings of not being good enough. And, and so I, I think it's just been the journey it's been the work it's the, there was the process of working on the book with Martha that led to a number of insights around how many of us, in fact, two-thirds of us, the research show CDC and Kaiser Permanente did an amazing study years ago of 17,000 adults in the US.

[Susan Winchester]    00:15:54    And they asked them to indicate whether or not they experienced one of 10, what are called the adverse childhood events or adverse childhood experiences, the ACEs, and these are 10 pretty traumatic things that can happen in the life of someone before the age of 18, um, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect addiction in the home violence in the home, sort of, of that nature, what we're talking about with the ACEs and to their surprise, they found that nearly two thirds of the people that responded had experienced one or more of the adverse childhood experiences and 40% of the experience two or more, and almost 13% of the experience four or more. And frankly, I would never, in a bazillion years have thought about my childhood as a trauma-filled childhood. I, I just, you know, that concept did not resonate for me. And when I took the ACEs survey, I scored a five out of 10 <laugh>, you know, it's like, oh, maybe I did experience some trauma.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:16:57    I didn't really realize it. You know, so there was a complete detachment from my childhood, you know, I'm done with that. I'm onto my career. I had no idea that, that, you know, past reality was coming to work with me every day in ways that I didn't even realize. And when I became more conscious of it, what I call the conscious healing career path, I started to realize how often I would get emotionally triggered when something would happen at work. I call it Martha and I called them bumper car moments where someone either crashes into me or I crash into somebody else and I didn't intend it. And I'm all of a sudden in this cycle of, oh my God, I shouldn't have done that. Or I should have done this. Or I shouldn't have done that. This beating up cycle is related to this unconscious reaction to those old ity beliefs we have about ourselves and our old strategies.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:17:46    So I was constantly in tap dance mode, trying to please people so that I could, you know, divert them away from the fact that maybe I wasn't as good as I thought I was <laugh>. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, so there, there heavens, there are so many stories along that journey of coming to the re-realization of how often I was unconsciously fueling my reaction in a situation, my interpretation of someone else's behavior in a way that was way out of proportion to what was actually happening. And when I started to become aware of that, then I started to realize that we can actually change how we respond in those moments rather than going into that automatic triggered response.  

[Tom Finn]   00:18:25    Well, thank you for sharing your story. And I think that helps a lot of people to hear that this industry expert who's really dedicated your life to, to serving others in, in one capacity or another, um, has had a couple of bumps along the road <laugh> and, uh, it hasn't been a smooth ride all the time. And I think the question that really is on everybody's minds is, is do you have to do a lot of internal work to make that leap? How do I, how do I go from this unconscious state to being conscious and really getting a grip on my life?  

[Susan Winchester]    00:19:03    Oh yeah, that's a great question. And the answer is, it depends on how much a person wants to do personally. I think the more you're willing to look at yourself and start really asking yourself about why you're doing certain things, why you're believing certain things, why you're responding in certain ways, the more likely it is that we can break out of old patterns. So I'll give you an example. I'll give you a before and after example, maybe that would be helpful. And I'd love to hear your stories too, cuz I know, I know you have before and after stories as well. So a before story, this is like way back in the beginning of my career. So over 30 years ago, um, I had a manager and um, you know, I, I was actually a new manager in this particular company. So I was, you know, in my mid-twenties, a, a new manager with five direct reports.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:19:49    And one of the assignments that I was given early on in my career with this organization was to redesign the performance management system. And I had a great team and our team, uh, over delivered under budget within a, you know, less time than what was, what was planned. We had a very huge success with this initiative and my boss came to me one day and she said, you know, great job. Um, your team will be receiving, you know, kind of a top award in the company. So the CEO's award of excellence. So I was really excited, but then she said to me, but you're not gonna get the award. And I was confused. I'm like, what are you talking about? And she had no explanation that, I mean, it was just, I was dismissed. It was a dismissive response and I was just confused. Well, wait a minute.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:20:34    I led the team. I, you know, I had a great team, but you know, I don't understand why I would not be getting this. It was a financial award. It was a, it was a pretty decent financial award and she essentially dismissed me. So, so I, you know, I just asked her manager, her boss, you know, is there something, I don't know, you know, this, woman's not talking to me. I don't understand why, why I'm not being considered. So I was just seeking more information the next day she called me in her office and oh, by the way, I forgot to mention this important detail. She had a little statue that she had sitting on her desk every day. And on one side of the statue was Glenda, the good witch and on the other, oh boy was the wicked witch of the west.  

[Tom Finn]   00:21:14    I knew where that was going. Right. When you said good witch Susan. 


[Susan Winchester]    00:21:16    Well, you know, so she, and she would turn the statue every day, depending on her mood. So she called me into her office. The wicked witch is glaring at me. Right? I mean, the thing seemed huge when I sat down and the things sitting there layering at me and she proceeded to scream at me. How dare you go to Tom? How dare you? You know? I mean, she, I sat there in that moment, frozen like a little girl where my dad was raging at me. I didn't realize this at the time, but her anger was so over the top, I just sat there and cried. I was completely frozen. My physiological response was, was freeze. Not, not fight or flight. It was freeze. And I, I, I was almost a blur of what happened, but I left her office. I felt humiliated. I thought, oh my God, I'm so bad.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:22:05    How dare I do that? It's my fault that she got that angry. I had this completely unconscious response to when my dad would scream at me. It was, I knew it was my, I was bad. I did something wrong. I shouldn't have done that. I was disrespectful. How dare I seek information so much so that I left that organization and took a job at another company? I was embarrassed. I was humiliated. You know, I was completely lost in my emotional trigger that I was not good enough. I deserved her rage. And, um, and you know, left the organization, just, you know, like with my tail between my legs, never even dawned on me, that her response to the situation was way overexaggerated her treatment towards me was beyond appropriate in terms of her role as a leader in the company. Um, you know, so that was me on the unconscious wounded path.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:22:56    I beat myself up, I was wrong. I deserve that. You know, how dare I behave that way, you know, so fast forward now. So I, you know, I'm human, I get triggered, uh, obviously on a regular basis, like we all do. But now the difference is, you know, when a bumper car moment happens and this is what Martha and I teach in the book, and by the way, a workplace is a wonderful place for practicing this, cuz there's a lot of conflict with other people in the workplace. That's why I love this concept, that the workplace can be a laboratory for emotional healing when that happens now, um, I have a, a simple proprietary, you know, exclusive process I developed, which we introduce in the book, but it's really simple and I can teach it right now. We can't, we don't have time to go into all the details of how you actually do it, but it's pretty straightforward.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:23:43    Now when I get triggered and I start to feel all that fear, anxiety I'm bad, I did something wrong. It's my fault. I'm not good enough. I recognize that that that's one of my triggers. You know? So if I feel, uh, stupid, if I feel excluded, you know, it's really understanding what triggers me in the moment. And I definitely have my triggers. Like most people do now, I call it for what it is like, oh my God, it's a bumper car moment. What's going on, Susan. And the process is basically step one is to create choice. When we get lost in our trigger, whether we're in fight flight or freeze, we lose all ability to have choice, to respond from a completely mature adult, highest functioning self. And so the first step you gotta do is to manage that physiological response. It's real, my central nervous system, my brain, my neural pathways in my brain are wired to respond to angry people out of fear.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:24:38    You know, all of those things that I learned when I was little. And so by creating choice, I have to release the emotion going on inside of me. There are lots of different ways to do that. A simple way is just to take a pillow and slam it on the couch, screaming and yelling and get all that energy and emotion out. There are some other sophisticated ways to do that, which we won't get into now. Uh, so that's step one is you've gotta release that emotional, um, physiological response in order to create a new way of responding. Step two, I call elevate action. And so it's being very thoughtful. Once I release all that emotion that's in my body, literally, you know, there's a book called the body stores, the memories. I think that's what it's called, how all of that is wired in me.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:25:20    Once I've released that emotional discharge, you know, gotten it outta me, then the next step is elevating my action. So I sit down and I say, what can I do differently in this situation to elevate how I respond? And I'll give you an example in a minute. And then the final step is when we do elevate our action, we have to celebrate that moment in order to integrate it into our identity. And so here's the beauty of how neuroplasticity that the ability for us to rewire the neural pathways in our brain comes into play as well as a huge body of research on positive psychology, which says, if we focus on positive things, the quality of our life will improve TA. So let's give you an example that happened to me kind of post this process. So last summer, um, we were going through our strategic review process and of course, talent's a hot topic right now in every company, there was a lot of discussion about talent and I was starting to hear some of the words. I was interpreting it through the lens of I'm not doing enough as a head of HR to have a more robust talent strategy. So my, my trigger was, I'm not enough. I'm not doing enough. I am. Maybe they're wondering why they hired me. <laugh>, you know, this is all going on in my head. So  

[Tom Finn]   00:26:35  I don't think they feel that way about you at all.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:26:36    Well, just believe me, my own little brain, our, our brains can do a number on us when we're triggered and I was triggered. And as the week progressed, I was getting more and more emotional and feeling less and less confident about my capabilities by Wednesday night, our team had to present the next morning. I was a basket case. I was emotional. I was teary. I thought you know, this, this is, uh, this is terrible. So I immediately thought, you know what, bumper car moment, hello for yourself, Susan, you teach this, you need to do your, your own process on yourself. So the next morning I got up and I actually did, you know, step one, which is creating choice. I knew I had to let some of that negative energy outta me. And so, uh, I did an exercise where I basically screamed and yelled. I let all parts of, you know, whatever was going on in me, scream and talk and express. I was feeling rejected. I, you know, all these things that I was feeling that actually weren't happening, this is just what was going on in my own mental state. So I went through that part. 

[Tom Finn]   00:27:35    Did the pillow, did the pillow, Susan take a good beating?  

[Susan Winchester]    00:27:37    It took a, I lost my voice this morning. This time. Yes. I was slamming the pillow pretty hard on the couch. So, and then once I had that all outta me, like, oh, okay, what a relief, right? You gotta get it out in order to, to create choice. I elevated my action. What I did is I took one of these little yellow post-it notes. And on the yellow post-it note, I wrote your team has created the best HR strategy you've seen in 30 years. Second Strat. The second point that I made was you have choices and options, you know, for whatever reason, this isn't the right match. You're marketable. You know, I just brought some really the other thing I wrote, the one person that I was feeling kind of the most negative feedback from, I wrote that person's not your dad. And then I just kept that little post a note. 

[Susan Winchester]    00:28:22    I literally stuck that post note underneath my camera for my team's presentation. So I had created a choice by discharging that emotion. I'd elevated my action by saying, you know, these reminders to myself, the meeting went great, a wonderful engagement with all the people that were there. The team was inspired. You know, some from being a really teary person triggered, I'm not good enough, which is the unconscious state to, uh, I have choices here to using the, what I call it, the rapid power reclaim this three-step process. And so after the meeting, I was really proud of how I processed my own reactions. I went outside to celebrate and just stood in the summer sun and joined the blue sky and the sun beaming down on me and just taking it all in because that moment of really celebrating and appreciating that we've done something differently is the beginning of rewiring the neural pathways. It starts to change our identity, how we think about ourselves, and how we manage these moments when we get triggered, that's the conscious healing career path I talk about. So the opportunity is, first of all, it's a journey, right? We never, we never completely healed. We don't call the book heal at work, it's healing at work. Uh, but 

[Tom Finn]   00:29:33    Honestly, so there is no destination. It is just a journey. 

[Susan Winchester]    00:29:36    I think it's a journey, but I think that what we can do is we can minimize the amount of time we, we are spending in reaction. We can minimize the time we are misinterpreting the events of today through the lens of the past, you know, the outdated scripts getting in the way we can really get a handle on how we change that impact on us in the moment when we have an emotional response and it happens to everybody. And so that's the difference now, you know, I, I can, I'm very comfortable with angry people. I can sit in it and, and let it be theirs. Melody batty has a wonderful book called Le language of letting go. And one of her readings, I think it's like May 5th or something is all about property lines and realizing what's my property and what's your property. And if it's your property, then I'm not responsible for it. And therefore I can manage my interpretations of your behavior in a way that's healthy for me, rather than feeling attacked. And that ability to detach and stay calm, I think is one of the key outcomes that comes from this work. 

[Tom Finn]   00:30:39    Well, that was a lot, uh, Susan. Uh, so let me, let me try and recap for, for those, um, that are listening. And, and first of all, at the end of this show, we are gonna share, uh, a link. And in the show notes, we will have a link where you can go sign up for Susan's newsletter. So if you're driving or if you're exercising or whatever you might be doing while you're listening to this podcast, don't worry, we will get you in contact with Susan. So you can get all of this information for yourself in detail. But I think what's, what's important is you're going from that unconscious to conscious state. And there is a process. And I think what I heard is it's okay to be in an unconscious state. It's totally okay. And it is your choice. Yeah. You were there a long time and it's your choice to decide when you wanna move forward. 

[Tom Finn]   00:31:27    But on the other side of that journey, or maybe deeper into that journey, things get easier, right? They get easier and you have more control over your own emotion, your own physical being. And you're able to handle maybe difficult situations with a little more grace. Yeah. Uh, and not, not outwardly necessarily, but that inward grace, right? That we're okay. Yep. And I think that that's beautiful, it's a beautiful message, um, with so much detail behind it, which is why I wanna make sure we'll get everybody your link. Um, and, and we'll get everybody the link to the book, uh, and you can buy that as well. Um, if this is something that you feel moved by. 

[Susan Winchester]    00:32:07    Yeah. And actually, that link that we'll have in your show notes will give them an opportunity to get chapter five from the book it's, uh, why the workplace is a lab pre-emotional healing. And, uh, so I wanted to also mention that. 

[Tom Finn]   00:32:21    Yeah, fabulous. So let's, let's switch gears a little bit. Um, you do play the role, uh, of a senior leader in an organization, um, and you play the role of, of an HR professional. So let's talk about something that's very HR-specific competency models. Let's talk about how you feel about competency models. 

[Susan Winchester]    00:32:46    Well, I think the benefit of having worked in HR as many years as I have, is having had the opportunity to do really what I would describe as more traditional HR work and design and create traditional HR solutions. Um, but along the way, I started to really question some of the solutions to say, is this really helping, or is it actually creating confusion? And I came to that conclusion around competency models after being involved in developing a competency model for one of my companies where I decided that the company, the competencies create confusion, because people would see other people getting promoted and they'd look at the competency model and say, well, wait a minute that person's not demonstrating this competency. And, you know, people would believe that if they had, you know, good check marks on all the competencies, they would automatically get promoted, which of course doesn't happen. 

[Susan Winchester]    00:33:42    And on, you know, succession planning, experi during the succession planning meetings, we were often not even referring to the competencies, they were using totally different language to talk about people and capability that I, I just got frustrated with the competency models. I got people in my office that were upset that they didn't get a job. And it was hard for me to explain, of course you using competency models, why they weren't selected. And, um, luckily, uh, very early in my career, this would've been back in the mid nineties. Um, I was, uh, introduced to a body of work that was, uh, done over many years in many companies, large, small for profit, not for profit, uh, all over the world. And, um, the, the work was originally led by a guy named Dr. Elliot jacks, but many contemporaries have built on that original work. Um, but he had, he had looked at, you know, how, what makes an effective organization and into way oversimplify this amazing man's research over 50 years, he looked at, you know, how do you design an organization to drive the strategy? 

[Susan Winchester]    00:34:46    How do you match people into those roles? And then how do you ensure managerial practices that foster trust and performance and the part about matching people into roles? He never had a name for what he was looking at, but he spent years and years looking at what makes people successful. And, um, the model was a, what I would describe as a little bit theoretical in, in not, you know, maybe a little bit too academic. And so I adapted it slightly to make it more pragmatic for organizations and I named it, I call it the suitability model. In other words, how do you determine who is best suited to do a role? And it really becomes the foundation of every talent decision we make. How do we select people? How do we, um, develop people? How do we, uh, put people on succession plans? How do we manage performance? 

[Susan Winchester]    00:35:33    How do we coach them? What do we do to develop them? It becomes a foundation for, for all of those things. And, um, and so the model is pretty simple. It's very straightforward, the first category, which everybody gets, cuz everybody looks at this anyway already. Um, uh, I call it ski S K E E, which stands for skills, knowledge, experience, and education, right? So jobs have a certain set of requirements. How does this person line up to that? That's straightforward. The second category is less obvious and often not even discussed. Um, I was interviewing somebody recently for an HR role and they talked about a competency model. They built, and they didn't have anything in their competency model about the second category, which I call capacity for complexity. And it's based on the fact that work varies in complexity and people's ability to handle complexity also varies. And there's some really interesting model behind, uh, models behind differentiated work by different levels. You know, as, as, as complexity in roles increase, the complexity of innovation increases the complexity of how far out in the future does a person need to plan for the complexity of risks. You know, these things increase 

[Tom Finn]   00:36:46    Right. And not everybody can handle it.

[Susan Winchester]    00:36:47    Right? Of course not. You know, the majority of the world are operational concrete thinkers and we need that. That's right. Basically the, you know, the engine of most companies that systems thinking ability to conceptualize, you know, not only new products, new markets, and new services, but new business models, new industries, new global societies, you know, there's different levels of thinking capability. Sometimes companies will have strategic thinking in their competency model, but I'm like, okay, strategic thinking is that for a one-year strategy or a 20-year strategy, that's two very different things. Right? And so really thinking about what are we talking about in terms of the factors of complexity and the person's ability to navigate that third category? My personal favorite is called temperament. And it basically means that we all have a nature. We all have a way of showing up in this world. 

[Susan Winchester]    00:37:37    We all have pluses and minuses, good days and bad days. And the only question that's relevant when we're determining suitability for a role or suitability for coaching or whatever is asking the question, is there any element of this person's temperament that could impair them in this role? So for example, lots of people aspire to be CEOs. I work with a lot of super talented, uh, leaders who wanna be CEO and they have really strong skis. They have a really strong capacity for complexity, CFC, and the one element of temperament that I've seen derail a lot of people is they are too nice. They have a hard time, too nice, hard time making tough decisions about people. Wow. Yeah. I mean, I could probably name three people right off the top of my head <laugh>, which I will not do, who probably would've been great CEOs, but I'm assuming that the, the reason they didn't get it, knowing all the other things was because they, they had a hard time making tough decisions about people. And of course, as a CEO, you sometimes have to do that. 

[Tom Finn]   00:38:36    That's the role. I mean, that is the role of difficult decisions about the business and about people, right? And so that's what you sign up for. 

[Susan Winchester]    00:38:43    The reality is it doesn't have to be a negative element of temperament. If there's any element like me, a people pleaser, I can't be a people pleaser as a head of HR. There are a lot of people I have to interact with that. They're not gonna be pleased <laugh> I have to work with them on whatever issue. So I had to work through that or it could have been an impairment in my own ability, in my own journey. So, uh, that's, that's a fun way. I've got lots of stories on that, which we probably don't have time for. And then the last category is taking a look at, does the person understand and accepts the role requirements? Not everybody wants to be a people manager cause they don't really wanna do the people management aspect, but they want the bigger title, the more money, et cetera. But if they're not willing to do people management, it's gonna be a mismatch.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:39:26    And so I have found in two companies, two Fortune 500 that I've worked in, including my current one, that this concept of resonates, we can have much more, um, consistent discussions about capability and talent when we're using the elements of suitability, um, than anything I'd ever seen with the competency model. So I personally am not a fan of competency models. I think they're, they're too generic. They too oftentimes miss some of the key things that matter. And in fact, you know what, Tom, there's a book called billion dollar lessons. It's a book about companies that lost billions of dollars of shareholder value. And if you read the book through the lens of suitability, you can say, yep, the person didn't have the capacity for complexity for this role and or, oh gosh, they had some elements of temperament that got in the way <laugh>. Yeah.  

[Tom Finn]   00:40:17    Yeah. And those elements don't exist in traditional competency models. So for those of you out there thinking through my goodness, I've never heard this before. You haven't heard it before because Susan came up with it. Uh, and that's the beauty of these conversations is now you've got a little bit of a pathway to start thinking differently about how you assess your talent and how you build an organizational structure that embodies the talent that you want, that matches the culture that you want, that matches that leadership pathway, um, and is inclusive as, as an organization.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:40:49    Well, and, and to be, you know, it's, I, I named the suitability model. I made some of the factors easier to understand, but it was the body of research by Dr. Jacks, Nancy Lee, mark van Cleve, Ken Wright, Jillian stamp. There are many people that have shaped what one, some of the things I've talked about, I just simplified it.  

[Tom Finn]   00:41:09    Yeah. Well, sometimes that's, uh, some of the most important work so that we can all understand it in a really easy way. Uh, and we can implement it cuz that's what it comes down to. We're trying to short shortcut a few of those books, reading moments for our audience, right? And help them with some tools and some tricks to implement something that's different. And if, uh, if you want the full body of work, we'll put that in the show notes as well. So people can find out more, uh, about that work, Susan. Um, I've gotta ask you, um, what do people not know about you? I mean this illustrious career, um, all of this great work that you've done to help others, but what's something that we wouldn't know about you unless we were maybe having dinner with you one night, uh, that you can share with us.  

[Susan Winchester]    00:41:54    Uh, well a lot of people know that I'm an equestrian so my passion is horses. Uh, but what a lot of people don't know is I actually had dinner once with someone from the horse world who is later arrested and charged with 29 counts of horse insurance fraud and also charged with murder. Uh, and so I had dinner with this person. <laugh>  


[Tom Finn]   00:42:16    You had, you had dinner with somebody charged with murder?  

[Susan Winchester]    00:42:19    I did. And he was actually, um, his whole story was, uh, a one-hour dedicated unsolved mysteries show. Remember that show? 

[Tom Finn]   00:42:29    Yeah, of  course  

[Susan Winchester]    00:42:29    He was on, he was one full hour of, of that episode or that whole show was about this particular person. He's now in a prison. I believe in Wisconsin serving out a life sentence. He pled guilty to everything, but the murder charge.  

[Tom Finn]   00:42:42    Wow. Yeah. And did you, um, do you remember dinner? Did you have a nice time?  

[Susan Winchester]    00:42:46    Well, I do remember dinner. It was lovely. It was at one of the most expensive restaurants in Chicago. Uh, he picked me up in his little convertible red Mercedes with horses on the license plate, took me to this wonderful restaurant, Don Peron, and really interesting conversation. Well later after I'd left the stable, cuz the horse I bought was lame all the time. Six months later, the FBI called and wanted to interview me. And what I, you know, found out was that he wasn't being nice taking me to dinner to celebrate the purchase of the horse. I just purchased, he was taking me out to interview me to determine whether or not I had wealth, cuz if I did, he would've sold that horse and bought another lame horse and made more money. So I'm lucky I had no money <laugh> so it was just one dinner, uh, with this particular guy. Uh, but yeah, I remember the dinner very, very, very vividly cuz it was, you know, for me, I was in my mid-twenties, it was very exciting to have somebody that was, you know, taking attention and taking me out to the first dinner of, um, he, he was definitely interviewing me to see if he could get more money from me.  

[Tom Finn]   00:43:50    Wow. Well that is part of our life's journey, as you mentioned, right? We're all on this journey and uh, that is just one part of your, uh, very, uh, deep and rich story. Uh, and I'm so glad that you were able to join us on the podcast today. Um, where can people get a hold of you if they wanted to get in contact?  

[Susan Winchester]    00:44:09    Sure. Well, I've got a personal website, which is uh, Susan J. Schmidt, S C H M I And then also you can find me on LinkedIn, Susan J. Schmidt, Winchester, and, um, happy to connect.  

[Tom Finn]   00:44:24    Oh wonderful. So if you didn't get catch the title, it's healing at work, a guide to using career conflicts, to overcome your past and build the future you deserve. It's all about going from the unconscious to the conscious. I recommend you pick it up, give it a quick read. I think you're gonna love it. Um, and uh, we will put in the show notes, all of the details so that you can find Susan and connect with her. Um, Susan again, thank you for joining us today and to all of the listeners. Thank you for joining the talent empowerment podcast. I hope this conversation has lifted you up so you can lift up your organizations and let's get back to people and culture together. Thank you, Susan.  

Speaker 2    00:45:04    Thank you so much. 


Featured Episodes


How to be a "Great Place To Work"

Michael Bush, CEO, Great Place To Work

Listen Now
Talent Development and HR

Using Mission, Vision & Values for Everything

with Bamboo's Director of HR, Cassie Whitlock

Listen Now