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Resiliency is essential in any field, but especially so for those working in public relations. Whether managing the high expectations of top-tier media coverage or navigating through a PR crisis, resiliency is critical in keeping composure through turbulent PR times. Peter Rea is Vice President of Integrity and Ethics at Parker Hannifin Corporation and joins us this week to share how leaders can support their teams through stressful times and how PR professionals can combat stress through tough times. To learn more about resiliency in PR, purchase Peter’s book, Better Humans, Better Performance at: https://bit.ly/45pzZR3.

imPRessions Season 2 Episode #5 Transcript

Jenn: Hey, Kalli.

Kalli: Hi, Jenn.

Jenn: Happy Wednesday!

Kalli: Happy Wednesday to you, too.

Jenn: So I just picked up this book not long ago. Normally, I’m not really into leadership books or anything like that, but this one was really interesting. It’s called “Better Humans, Better Performance,” and it basically narrows in on hiring for character, on really being able to hone in on your team’s strengths and working with them through their weaknesses. And I know you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, there’s like a thousand books like that in the market.” This one was really, really, really cool. And what I loved about it are the ways that you can really integrate its teachings into PR.

Kalli: No, that’s really awesome, and I definitely will want to hear more about it because I agree. I think it’s so important, especially in in all workforces, but especially in PR where it’s so much based on your relationship with people, how to kind of manage that and think about it and really be a better human.

Jenn: Exactly. And you can take these learnings with you outside of the workplace now, in your relationships, your friendships, your hobbies, you know, wherever you really need to implement it into your life. So I’ve invited the author of the book, Peter Rea, onto our podcast, and we’re going to talk to him a little bit about some of the talking points in his book that really stood out to me, most predominantly resilience, because in PR we need to be resilient.

Kalli: Amazing! Can’t wait to chat.

Jenn: Public relations can be a stressful industry to work for. Between the high pressures of landing. Top-tier coverage to maintaining a potential crisis: PR professionals need to be strong-willed, muster a thick skin, and, most importantly, be resilient. Today’s episode delves into how leaders can support their teams emotionally, how to lessen the anxiety and stresses brought on by work, and, of course, how to remain resilient during turbulent times. Peter Ray is the vice president of integrity and ethics at Parker-Hannifin Corporation and has written “Better Humans, Better Performance,” a refreshing book on how to drive leadership, teamwork, and culture with intention. Hi Peter, we’re excited to chat with you today.

Peter: I appreciate the invitation. Thank you.

Jenn: Of course. So your title as Vice President of Integrity and Ethics is very unique. Can you tell us a little bit about what it entails and how your career path led you there?

Peter: Yeah. So the back story is I was a professor for many years, and I was teaching in an executive MBA class, and the CFO of Parker Hannifin was in the class. And I was talking about I was curious why organizations limited their definition of ethics to compliance. And what I wasn’t aware I was at the time is that Parker was sorting out that they weren’t confident more rules are going to keep the company safer, and we’re publicly owned. So we’ve got to adhere to all the SEC regulations. So it’s not that you can’t have compliance, but the question is if all you have is rules, you’re creating a culture where a small percentage of people are causing an awful lot of work for the vast majority who work hard every day. And the other side of it is not expressing adequate gratitude for those who work hard and do all the right things for the company. So I think the piece that, um, I don’t think I understood in the moment is this is actually a pretty common pain point for all organizations is, you know, you need rules, but you don’t want the culture to be defined by a set of rules. And you don’t want a culture that’s focused on compliance. You want a culture where it’s focused on character. And so that’s how this came about, looking for ways to take insights on these classical virtues and apply them to a Fortune 250 company. And I never expected I would end up doing this, but it’s basically a professor inside a company. I teach, I do research, I coach, and I don’t have to grade papers, so it’s been terrific.

Jenn: The best of both worlds.

Kalli: Yeah. That’s to say, not having to grade is always exciting. You know, aside from teaching and, you know, your work as VP, you also wrote “Better Humans, Better Performance,” A practical book that details the best approaches to bettering ourselves, which ultimately improves our work and, of course, our career paths. What was the inspiration behind writing this book?

Peter: I think the number one piece is there’s this big gap between what we know from research and then what’s practiced inside companies. So just a couple of data points on this. These virtues are at least 3,000 years old, and I think I can make a case that it goes back 10,000 years old. And the word virtue means excellence. So it’s it cuts across time, it cuts across borders. It’s what people have always looked like when they’ve excelled. And it appears that each generation needs to relearn these virtues, and right now, we’re at a time when they’re kind of widely known. And then if you fast forward and start to look at, well, what’s the performance benefit of virtue? This is one important data point. West Point looked at the relationship between cognitive and non-cognitive factors on academic and job performance over a hundred years, and what their data showed was roughly a 25/75 rule, which means about 25% of the variance in performance is attributed to cognitive skills, things like intelligence. 75% of the variance in performance has to do with character, commitment, and treating things as a challenge. That’s the part where I think there’s a huge opportunity. There’s this gap between what’s known and what’s practiced. So imagine if we spend as much time on our character skills as we do on our career skills. Given that 25/75 rule.

Jenn: There are so many people, too, that I just know off the top of my head that could benefit from this so well because it’s such a great concept. I mean, you’re right, like we build all these professional skills and, you know, any type of like professional skill set needed in the workplace, but character and integrity and respect and all of those things are just as valuable, and they’re glossed over I think a lot of times. So, I really love that concept.

Peter: Yeah, and to build on your point, of course, you have to know what you’re doing. In your case, you have to understand what public relations really means. But that’s table stakes. The real performance amplifier is going to be character, right?

Jenn: I want to talk a little bit more about character in terms of hiring. So, you know, at our agency, I specifically have been involved in the hiring process before, something that was very new to me. I had never done that before at other jobs. And so being on the other side of the table was very interesting as an interviewer. In your book, you state it’s often better to hire for character rather than experience because I think we know that a good leader can train a candidate with the right attitude and spirit. So, what are some character traits that you think a leader should look for when hiring for a role?

Peter: Yeah. I think you’ve picked on one of the biggest levers of kind of creating an excellent culture, meaning hiring. And at a high level, if a culture will give a pass to somebody with high competence and low character, and the person with threshold competence and high character doesn’t get a chance, that says a lot about the culture, and it’s a way to kind of cut through what stuff is on the wall and how we actually show up. So, to build on your question, we can think about this as hiring for character and training for competence. And just so unclear again, we’re back to there’s got to be some baseline competence that you’re capable of doing the job. And so minus that we just don’t have a good set. But the tendency is to focus almost exclusively on the competency piece: level of experience, what industry you have been in, where you went to school, and your skills, all of which are important. But again, they’re the threshold pieces. So, if you thought about a two-by-two that had high competence and high character, those are the people you’d want to hire immediately, and where they lacked character and competence, well, that would be a selection error. So, I think the trickier part is the high competence, low character or threshold competence, and high character, and how decisions are made on that really speaks volumes about the culture. And then, if it’s useful, I can get into some of the details about how would you go about evaluating character because it’s more abstract than it is to evaluate competence.

Yeah, I’d like to hear that. We have a follow-up question about the fact that your book and a lot of what we’re talking about can kind of resonate with any industry. But specifically, PR is very different. There really isn’t a guidebook to PR. PR is a lot of like street smarts kind of industry. So, you really can hire someone based on character a lot more than maybe some other jobs where you really have to have a very specific background or experience or education. So, I’d love to hear a little bit more about that, maybe in terms of PR or marketing.

So one part of PR, investor relations, there’s certainly some competency there. Right? You have to understand how to read a financial statement. You need to understand how investor relations work. So there’s clearly a competency component to that. But to your point, there’s lots of ways to acquire that competency where the real performance differentiator is about pro-social behavior, broadly defined. And the best pro-social technology ever invented is virtue. I know we don’t tend to use those words, but if I don’t know what excellence means, and I can’t kind of select for it, develop it, retain it. So to go a little bit deeper with, you know, what does it mean to be a good PR professional, a good marketing professional…So much of the job is relationship-driven. Your capacity to earn a client’s trust, the ability to help a client get through a tough spot…crisis management. Inevitably, there’s going to be issues around restoring trust between the client and the agency. All of which takes us right back to virtue and looking for ways to kind of practice those virtues. Those are, I think, where the opportunity both for PR and marketing in general and organizations outside of your industry.

Kalli: So kind of taking a step back and talking, you know, kind of outside of just PR, you know, for different companies and different industries. What are some of the key ways that a leader can help grow a culture within an agency? Can you give us a little bit more context about what a virtue-based culture entails?

Peter: Yeah. So let me pick up on your last point, first. The word “virtue” means excellence, and it’s not a virtue until I act. So talking to two nice people about virtues, I get zero points. The question is when, not if, things start going sideways, do I practice these virtues? So the paradox is the virtues are hardest to practice when things are going south. And that’s exactly when they’re needed. And they go one level deeper. There are seven classical virtues; let me just go through them very quickly: trust, compassion, courage, justice, wisdom, temperance, and hope. And these are known as classical virtues because they cut across time and they cut across borders. So they’re truly universal.

As an example, Parker operates in 50 countries. So we need to have an approach to character that’s not US-centric. It’s got to be truly universal. That’s the benefit to going one level deeper. It’s about the adopting a common language of “what does it mean to excel?” And I can’t remember paragraphs, but I can remember catchphrases attached with each of these virtues. So again, I’ll go through these very quickly. So we take trust. We can think of the catchphrase for trust. Trust is efficient. When teams trust each other, they’re going to move really quickly, and they’re going to save you a lot of money. And when they don’t trust each other, even if they’re really bright, they’re going to get stuck, and they’re going to cost you a lot of money. Compassion. The word literally means to suffer with, so it’s not a weak word. It’s a tough word. And the catchphrase is service before self, service before self. Courage. Those issues don’t tend to be complicated, but they come with a risk. So, the catchphrase is to do the hard right rather than the easy wrong. Justice is by far the most complicated virtue because there’s not an objective standard. And the key here on the catch phrase is lived by conviction and not by circumstance. That’s essential. Otherwise, we’re kind of blowing with the wind, and it’s our circumstances that define who we become as opposed to our convictions. Wisdom strives to understand rather than be understood, which strikes me as kind of key to your field if you’ve got to start with that. As you work with a client or understand a client you’ve been with for a long time and get some insights about their circumstance. Temperance. The catchphrase is calm is contagious. The leader is calm. The team is calm. Leaders chaotic, teams chaotic. And hope is a big deal. It’s not by frivolous hope. It’s not Disneyland. It’s kind of realistic optimism. It’s to get clear about what you can and can’t control. And the catchphrase is to be better and not bitter. So I’ll stop with that. But adopting a common language is the most important part in answering your question. Without that, I don’t know what excellence means.

Jenn: I love that. I think that’s really powerful. We touched a little bit about how this is beneficial for really any industry. This is not just for PR or for marketing. I think any leaders in any type of job force can really learn and grow from this mindset. I’d love to know though, why does it appeal specifically to those in PR though?

Peter: Well, I think you’re if you’re interested in PR and marketing, there’s a pro-social component to who you are as a person, right? I mean, you enjoy being with people. There’s got to be a service element to being an effective PR professional or marketing professional. That’s also true of sales, by the way.  The best salespeople have a service orientation. They’re more problem solvers. What can I do to contribute to your success? So, I think that’s a big deal in terms of why the virtues are particularly relevant for your industry. When I think about crisis management, which is certainly part of both PR and marketing, a crisis is a kind of an ultimate character test of how will we show up if things start going south? Certainly, trust is a big deal. You know, I think about your profession. You know, the Edelman Trust Barometer is a big deal to try to sort out. But how do we earn trust? How do we deepen trust? How do we restore trust? Those strike me as pretty basic, but not necessarily explicit skills that a PR or marketing professional that’s really good kind of mastered these things or wants to get better at it. And so there’s some paradox here. How do I earn trust in a new relationship? I’ve got a new client. The paradox is actually vulnerability is a pretty good way to do that. Vulnerability is the front door to trust. How do I strengthen trust in my best relationships? Gratitude is a pretty effective, evidence based tool to do it all. These have got more details to it, but in the interest of time, I’ll hit it at a high level. The restoration of trust. I think that’s a big, particularly important one. All of our relationships toggle back and forth between rupture and repair. Even our very best, closest relationships rupture in time. So, the rupture is going to happen. The question is how good am I to repair? You think about repair as a skill, and looking for ways to do that is, I think, would help any of us kind of figure out ways to deal with relationships that are struggling. We’re not sure how to resolve them. So, I’m packing the details of what does it mean to repair relationships, both for the benefit of my client or my teammate as well as me.

Kalli: One piece of advice that I really loved in your book is, “do the hard right thing rather than the easy wrong thing,” and you gave a great example of a grieving parent who worked with the hospital responsible for their child’s death. Rather than suing or filing for negligence, they actually decided to help ensure that no other parent would need to go through what they did. You know, how does this powerful rule apply to those working in PR?

Peter: Yeah, and I think it’s a pretty universal issue. So maybe one way to answer your question is to think about courage as a big separator about my capacity to deal with tough issues and to understand courage, like all the other virtues, is a skill. So if they’re a skill, that means they can be learned. And when people are courageous, they’re more reliable. So I kind of know how they’re going to show up when things are getting difficult, like the example you gave. At the same time, where our brain is wired is we have a negativity bias, whether you want to call it a lizard brain or, in medical schools, the amygdala.

Its purpose is to keep us alive. And it really stinks at being accurate in what we’re up against. There’s funny studies that kind of demonstrate this. Tell me what your greatest worries are in the next 6 to 12 months. And we write them down, and we go back to them and say, this is what you’re most concerned about. How many of these things actually happened? 85% of our worries never happened. Then those remaining worries must have been terrible. And actually, most people report the vast majority of those where I learned a valuable lesson. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. So this one particular study showed that only 3% of the things most flipped out about actually happen. It’s not to dismiss that some things that happen to us can be truly terrible, but we’re inaccurate and looking at the threat. So then we’re overstating the threat versus having perspective, which makes it hard to be courageous.

So, there’s three questions that we could consider. This is more of a toolkit of what does it look like to try to become a little more courageous. When I’m flipped out by something, I ask, okay, what’s the worst that could happen here? The second question is, what’s the likelihood that the worst would happen? Keeping in mind that 97% factor? And a third question is if the worst happened, could I handle it? And so that’s just one skill. There’s lots of other ones that try to think about ways to think of courage as a skill that can be developed. And the last piece on courage I’ll share with you, you’re both going to be good with language, so if you think of the word encourage and discourage, it’s other people who can help me become courageous. They encourage me. And there’s some people who can discourage me and kind of take my courage down to another level. It doesn’t mean that I give up agency to other people. It just means that a team that is clear on what courage looks like and do the hard right rather than the easy wrong are supporting each other. It’s a little bit easier to do what we all know is right, and that’s the key. With courage, I often already know what I should do, but I’m not sure how to handle the risk.

Jenn: Well, those stats that you gave have certainly helped my anxiety even in this moment. My odds are pretty good about the things I worry about if those are the odds.

 Peter: It gives us perspective.

Jenn: It does. And you’re right. I mean, what’s that saying? Is this going to be a problem in five years? Because most things won’t be what we worry about on a day-to-day basis. So, if it’s not going to be a problem in five years, why are you worrying about it today kind of thing?

Peter: Yeah, you got it.

Jenn: So, I want to pivot back to resilience for a minute. The military trained soldiers to be resilient by performing well under pressure in all circumstances in combat. And this is something that you actually touch on in your book. I’d love your perspective on how you think this applies to PR. You know, we talked about like a potential crisis, for instance. In our line of work, you could lose a client. There are a lot of different things that can happen in our industry that are not only immensely stressful but are common in our line of work. So, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

Peter: Yeah, I’m not a military person, but I’ve spent an awful lot of time at the service academies, Navy Seals, and others, and I think my takeaway from the military as a non-military person is they really understand that under pressure, you will default to your training. So they put more emphasis on training and creating habits than the knowledge piece, where more often and in many, many sectors of the economy, we don’t even talk about habits. We just kind of say, well, once you know this, you’re going to be good to go. But under pressure, it’s actually pretty hard to try something new. So I think understanding that, especially with these virtues, is it’s not so much do I know this stuff? The question is, can I create a habit? So if I give one illustration of this and we stick with courage, if you ask a five-year-old girl to tell me what courage is, more times than not, she’s going to give you a great answer. So, in other words, she already knows this. It’s not so much teaching it; it’s practicing it and making it a rule. So I think that’s a big piece that we can all kind of learn from the military. And to think about training in a little different way.

Another way to kind of think about it that I think is relevant for your industry and others is the practical problem that all of us confront: How will I navigate uncertainty, and what have we thought about navigating uncertainty as a skill that can be acquired, rather than uncertainty being something that I want to avoid, which I can’t even if I want to? So, what the evidence shows is there are three key pillars to thinking about navigating uncertainty as a skill. The first is character defined by virtue. The second is investing in relationships. Just one data point on that- the quality of our relationships is the best buffer against stress. I could wear you down with a number of studies that show this correlation between relationship and performance. So, our relationships are more important to us than anything, but they’re also frustrating. So, we’re not quite sure how to kind of manage that. The third pillar is purpose. To focus on things that commit my life to something bigger than myself. So basically, when you think about character investing in relationships and purpose, I’m going to double down on those three things that I can control to help me cope with the things that I cannot control in the external environment. And it’s reframing that uncertainty is the chance when I learn and grow when I’m not quite sure how it’s all going to turn out. So there, embrace that more than kind of try to eradicate it. And the practical side is I can eradicate uncertainty anyway, but it helps me to understand. Okay, well, give me a toolkit, which we’re back to kind of under pressure our default to my training. So, understanding how character relationships and purpose become my vehicle to better handle uncertainty and perhaps thrive under it.

Jenn: Yeah, there are so many pieces of great advice here on great leadership. You know, resiliency is crucial in any field. But as we’ve talked about throughout the episode, more so in PR, as we navigate a treacherous media landscape, we work to quickly resolve challenges that can directly impact our clients. You know, we know, based on your book and this conversation, Peter, it’s so important to drive innovation, lead with empathy, and grow a strong culture within your organization. So, thank you so much for joining us today. This was an amazing conversation. And once again, for our listeners, the Peter Rea book is called, “Better Humans, Better Performance.” We highly recommend picking up a copy. It’s amazing and will certainly help you in your professional journey. Don’t forget to check in every other Wednesday for new episodes wherever you listen to podcasts. We’re on the hunt for more guests, so please reach out either through social media or email us at imPRressions@pollackgroup.com to connect on a future episode. Until next time.