People at Work is podcast by and is a series of conversations with individuals leading change to create extraordinary workplaces. The podcast gets real about common workplace issues like engagement, teamwork, leadership, and culture, and discuss practical ideas for making change happen.

People at Work: Episode 42 – Jessica Rousset

This podcast episode with CURE’s COO Jessica Rousset originally aired on Mar 2, 2020.

Audio Transcript:

[00:00:14] Bev: Hey there, this is Bev and I’ll be your host on the People at Work podcast today. People at Work is bought to you by Jostle. Jostle is the creator of an employee intranet that is helping people have less overwhelming days at work. So we’re hoping to simplify the really complex world of work, and in doing so, help people have much better experiences in the workplace.

[00:00:36] And that’s why we have this podcast too, because we are talking to and listening to people who are really making a difference in the experiences that people have during their workday. And that’s why I’m excited to welcome our guest on the show today. I’m going to be speaking with Jessica Rousset.

[00:00:55] Jessica is the chief operating officer of CURE Pharmaceutical, and she works tirelessly to advance CUREís mission by creating a culture of openness, meaningful conflict, and gratitude, which are all key to building trust. And that’s pretty important because today we’re going to be digging into why trust is a cornerstone of workplace culture.

[00:01:16] Bev: So welcome, Jessica. I’m excited to have you here with us today.

[00:01:18] Jessica: Thank you, Bev, for the invitation. It’s a pleasure to be a part of this conversation. This is important conversation.

[00:01:25] Bev: Yeah. Fabulous. So can you perhaps give our listeners just a quick snapshot of your background and why you’ve come to have this orientation around trust specifically as a cornerstone of culture?

[00:01:37] Jessica: Absolutely. So, as you mentioned, I’m the chief operating officer at CURE Pharmaceutical. Um, I’ve been with the company for three years. My background is in sciences. I’m a biochemical engineer by training. I started my career, uh, in the pharmaceutical industry at GlaxoSmithKline. I actually grew up in Europe.

[00:01:55] I came to the United States in 2001. I worked in academia. I worked in hospital settings. So I’ve worn many hats and I’ve reinvented myself many times. Um, but I would say this experience I’ve had at CURE over the last three years has developed me the most in terms of developing work force and, this question of culture.

[00:02:14] I’ll share with you why this topic is so relevant to me. Three years ago when I was contemplating joining CURE pharmaceutical this opportunity to build culture was really, I think, the driver for deciding. I had worked for large organizations my whole career, and so this was an opportunity to build something, right?

[00:02:35] An early stage company in which I could be deliberate and mindful to, uh, my approach to building culture. But the reason that I felt that this was possible was because of, uh, the rapport and shared values that I had the founding CEO, Rob Davidson. I knew that together, we could build a unique culture that was compatible with our shared views of life, of work, of making a difference in the world.

[00:03:06] You know, around the importance of relationships and doing right by people. And I was at a juncture in my career where I had seen, you know, the good, the bad, the ugly of the corporate world. And I also had spent a lot of time doing a lot of internal journeying of understanding myself and what I wanted out of life.

[00:03:26] And so it just felt like the perfect time. To bring all those life experiences and insights into building a company with a unique culture, um, to have a unique impact.

[00:03:39]Bev: That’s a really interesting journey that you’ve been on. And specifically because I think coming from academic environments and perhaps more science oriented environments, perhaps the culture piece isn’t something that’s necessarily at the forefront.

[00:03:52] And I mean, I personally haven’t had any experience working in those environments, but from other conversations that I’ve had just understanding different industries. I’m sure that there must have been some incredible hurdles for you to have to overcome to make the case for why culture is important in the workplace.

[00:04:10] Perhaps you can talk us through it a little bit around, um, you know, when you joined CURE pharmaceutical, what was one of the hardest things that you actually had to overcome in order to sort of unleash this feeling that that culture was actually a key driver of business?

[00:04:26]Jessica: So intuitively I knew this was important. I am someone who’s sort of balanced in terms of right, left brain. So I’m a scientist, but I know the importance of emotional intelligence and intuition in decision making from a business standpoint. So I knew that this was the experiments that I needed for myself and that I, I knew there was something special we could do.

[00:04:53]You know, how just in life things happen serendipitously and, um, at the beginning of this, of this adventure with CURE, uh, my path crossed with an amazing woman, her name is Denise Leone. She’s in the Bay area and she’s a brand expert. And she usually consults, you know, for large brands. Um, not necessarily the small life science company, but.

[00:05:20]for some reason I felt I want to engage this woman and have a workshop and really understand her view of building a big brand and building a big company, uh, and having all that brand equity, which is again, as a life science small company, that’s not what sciences are typically focused on.

[00:05:39] So that was a big shift to say, trust me. Let’s do this. And so we had an offsite. She came, uh, we had a few days of, of learning about this vision. She has a brand, this business, and it’s really this integration of culture and marketing. And it’s, really about the [00:06:00] why. And it’s about, you know, understanding who you are as an entity and what your values are, and being very deliberate and answering all those questions in a foundational way.

[00:06:10] And I think that. Lots of companies that she can, you know, advises you, have lost their way or have sort of lost track of what that foundation is, maybe never really had it in the first place. So it kind of was a Frankenstein. Fine. Um, so I, you know, I saw this as well,

how. Privileged are we to have this perspective and be able to take all this knowledge and this wisdom and this learning at the very early stages of building a company.

[00:06:38] And I will tell you that a lot of the pieces that I’ve learned from her and built on over the last three years, um, I think has made a huge difference in all, all of the things that I’ll probably be sharing with you in different ways that we’re building trust.

[00:06:52]Bev: I think that having someone guide you through that process was a brave move and a bold step, but it sounds like it paid off for you. And I’m really intrigued by this notion of brand as business. And I know we’re going to unpack that a little bit as we talk today. As you went through that process, how did you come to the realization or the commitment level, perhaps, that, um, trust is the cornerstone of all of your business, and I don’t know if trust is one of your core values per se, but, um, how did this emphasis on trust come about?

[00:07:26]Jessica: So, I’ve been thinking about how trust and culture connect. And for me in thinking about it, they are one and the same. Culture is essentially a set of values and principles. You’re telling the world, this is who we are.

[00:07:44] And so you are basically putting out a contract with your various stakeholders to say, when you engage with us, this is the experience you can expect. Um, so it’s not a paper contract. It’s a contract based on trust. So your culture or your brand, however you want to call it, will only have credibility if you can trust it.

[00:08:08] So the two are inextricably connected. And so, when I talk about culture and trust that cannot be separated in my mind.

[00:08:17] Bev: Yeah, that’s a really interesting lens through which to look at culture. And I think that what it speaks to me about is just the, the humanness of it.

[00:08:26] Because trust is such a human, um, action and it’s something that you have to work hard to gain and it’s easy to break. And there’s a lot wrapped up in how to actually build and enrich and nurture trust. Perhaps we can spend a couple of minutes and lay the foundation here, um, what does trust look like in your opinion, in the workplace?

[00:08:48] Jessica: I think it can boil down to knowing that the company you work for or work with is going to do the right thing. It’s an important asset or currency, you know, unemployment’s at an all time low. There’s a lot of talent out there they’re looking for more than pay and, and benefits and we’re not talking perks, right?

[00:09:10] Thinking about intangible, meaningful value that you can give, which is feeling, feeling valued, feeling safe, feeling purposeful. And I can trust in the workplace also means knowing that if you’re employed by a certain company, that you belong there and that the company is committed to your growth, uh, professional growth even when you make mistakes.

[00:09:35] And also knowing that that company, when it makes mistakes, is prepared to hear them, own them and do right and make them right. I think broadly that’s for me what trust

looks like in the workplace. But you know, there’s obviously many ways that we work towards building that trust.

[00:09:54] Bev: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

[00:09:57] And then if we lay down the next plank here, how does trust then result in either a strong or a weak culture or a vibrant or a less than vibrant culture?

[00:10:09]Jessica: I think what’s important to make sure we establish that there isn’t sort of a perfect culture, right?

[00:10:14] There isn’t a good culture or bad culture. It’s, uh, the culture has to be right for the performance that you’re looking to achieve. Um, so a strong culture first needs to align with that. It has to be right sized for the impact you’re looking to have in the world and the performance and the results we’re looking to drive.

[00:10:38] Uh, so that’s, that’s one. Um, and then two, I think when we talk about strong culture, um, to me it has to be distinctive and consistent and enduring. Because just building on that concept, that culture should be thought of with the end in mind. And it should be thought of with what, you know, unique, uh, outcomes and performance are we looking to achieve, but not just achieve, but to also establish

[00:11:08] a sustained competitive advantage around. So that’s the differentiating aspect of it. It has to be differentiated and has to be distinct and enduring. And just like, you know, having, you know, when you’re a parent with children, you have to be consistent to build trust, to trust that the next step is going to be what you expect.

[00:11:25] You have to be consistent, with your culture, uh, and with your choices and your behaviors.

[00:11:31] Bev: And which do you think comes first? Do you, like you were talking about how the culture is the longterm outcome, um, but do you start with saying, well, I want to build trust within my company and therefore it leads to X kind of culture, or I want to start building this kind of culture and to do that I have to have trust. Which way does it work for you?

[00:11:56] Jessica: I think for me it’s about, um, first establishing the types of values and behaviors that you think are going to be conducive to an outcome. I’ll give you some examples. Certainly for CURE, we know one of our values is creativity; that means both innovation and also creating together and collaborating.

[00:12:17] So what are the behaviors and, how do you cultivate that, for example, but the trust factor is more than the how you do it. Are you doing it in a way that is consistent, that is accountable, um, that is allowing people to engage with those values, make them their own, have a sense of ownership and the culture that you’re building.

[00:12:39] So it’s more how you do it that builds trust. But the what should be based on the performance that you’re seeking. And that’s honestly, you know, that’s how I sort of sold this

thing in the first place in saying, hey, let’s focus on culture. Let’s focus on building values and really being thoughtful about this because this is what it’s going to drive results.

[00:12:59] Itís about results. It’s not about kumbaya feeling good and being happy to come to work. It is about performance. So when you bring it back to that. You know, your, your investors get it, your founders get it. And because it, at the end of the day, that’s what this is about. But to get there, you need to do it the right way.

[00:13:18] And by doing it the right way, you build, you know that that capital of trust, and that’s the only way to actually get to the end game.

[00:13:28]Bev: And along the way, there are things and there are people that can disrupt that, that sort of mission. Um, and in particular, I think with something like trust, the role of leaders is critical.

[00:13:43] Perhaps you can talk to us a little bit about how you’ve built your leadership team to really walk the talk around the importance of trust and. How do they then help others engender, that same principle, um, within your organization?

[00:14:01] Jessica: That’s a great question. So I’ll start by focusing on meaningful conflict.

[00:14:07] And you mentioned this in your intro, and I think it is the cornerstone of all of this for us, um, an essential pillar. It’s having the difficult conversations, not shying away from those. It’s uncomfortable. You know, just like public speaking, we don’t like doing it, but it requires discipline and practice in the morning practice.

[00:14:27] And the more you do it, the easier it gets. And when you overcome your fears, right? When you get into that, you know, go into your discomfort and overcome it and get to the other side, you’re stronger for it. You grow personally, you grow collectively, and you know that healthy friction is going to happen.

[00:14:46] And so either you deal with it in a healthy way. And you actually harness the learnings that, that are both into that because there’s growth in that or you ignore it and just like, you know, a cancer cell, it’s gonna metastasize, and then it’s going to be out of your control.

[00:15:01] Right? So I think that healthy conflict is really essential, but it requires discipline and it requires practice. And when you do that, it’s really transformational because people then stop second guessing people’s motives, right? And having passive aggressive sort of energy. And so if you could take all that energy of thinking about the politics of things and actually do the work.

[00:15:23] You know, that’s a huge shift. You’re harnessing so much more productivity and potential in your people, but in order to deliver this from a leadership standpoint, you need to architect your workforce in a way that I think is going to share those common values that are. You know, the hearts and the soul of who you are and you want to be consistent with that, but that are going to bring a lot of diversity in how these values manifest is there’s not one way.

[00:15:48] Right. Um, so whether it’s bringing, you know, your, your sort of brutally honest people with your diplomats and your optimists, with your skeptics, all that diversity of perspectives is healthy. It’s necessary. And you want that cause you want those collisions cause we all grow from them. So you actually want to architect your organization, your workforce, to, uh, uh, form meaningful conflicts.

[00:16:13] Um, but you do need to nurture it and you need to give people the tools to, uh, be comfortable with it.

[00:16:20] Bev: Yeah, I would agree with that. And I see that in our environment as well. We’re a smaller organization. We’re a 75 person tech company and one of our core operating approaches is this process of working together that we call co-creation and co-creation necessarily is a space where you have to debate and argue with one another.

[00:16:43] And a lot of people shy away from that kind of engagement with each other, but we actually force that conflict to happen in healthy ways because it actually gets us all to a better place, much faster. So we actually define our culture already by this way of co-creating

[00:17:00] and necessarily trust is a really, really significant part of being successful in this environment here, because you have to trust that the other person has your best interests at heart, even if you disagree on something.

[00:17:13] Right. And that’s not easy to achieve. So I don’t know. You’re seeing things like that in your environment as well.

[00:17:20] Jessica: I think that’s exactly right. I do believe we have that established among each other that we know we all have the best interest of the company in mind. We all are rowing in the same direction.

[00:17:30] We understand that we will run into each other, there’ll be collisions, and um, and that we can work through them and be stronger on the battle on the other side. And so, but no, not everyone is as comfortable. There’s no question. And, but having those strong figures that will enforce it. we don’t make it a requirement say, I mean, it’s very interesting what you just shared that I’ll be thinking about that after this podcast. Uh, so we don’t force it in as sort of a formalized way, but you have people that by nature that’s going to happen and you want those people if your organization.

[00:18:05] Bev: Yeah, and it’s interesting here that we have probably 75% of our workforce at Jostle leaning onto the introverted side of things.

[00:18:13] So when you have a quieter set of people, um, forcing conflict into that type of person can be really uncomfortable. So it’s, it’s really quite rewarding to see people along their journey of actually becoming more, um, expressive and standing up for themselves and, and you know, it’s by no means not combative here.

[00:18:34] Like it’s, it’s not meant to be something that causes a lot of discomfort for people. But it really is something that we think is, is the best way for us to build our product is by, by

forcing people to bring different ideas. And you basically have to defend your ideas, and that’s such a healthy skill to have in life generally.

[00:18:55] Right? Like I wish that someone, when I was in primary school at taught me how to be a better debater because I think it would have prepared me for life in general. And trust is at the core of operating in that way. Now, obviously people have different definitions of trust and different levels of respect for the trust in different circumstances and an end relationship.

[00:19:20] So, um, you know, I’m sure you see in your environment too, that people don’t always act in good faith and that trust does get eroded. Perhaps you can tell us a little bit about what have been some of the hurdles or obstacles to you putting trust at the cornerstone of your business?

[00:19:37]Jessica: I would say on that front, what erodes it the most is when you have people in a leadership roles that don’t, um, embrace that discipline that we just talked about, uh, and that practice in the way that you would. So when you have at the leadership level, people shying away from that responsibility to help people grow and face their fears and rip the bandaid, if you will.

[00:20:05] Um, and, trust in that process. Because they have clarity in their view of it. And people, as you said, everyone has, you know, a very different phenotypes and people have very different life experiences, and so you can’t expect them to do the same thing or to address a conflict in the same way, but having strong leadership that will give people the space to navigate that.

[00:20:28] However. It makes sense, and then have enough intuition to figure that out and let people find their own path to resolution. Um, it takes a level of presence and space to do that. I think that’s a challenge is to find leaders that have that clarity, and that desire and understand the importance of it.

[00:20:48] When you have some gaps at the leadership level, that’s where this whole, very fragile, trust-based fabric that you created can start eroding. Um, I don’t know that I have great solutions for that, other than talk, you know, talking, addressing it, you know, doing your parts to make sure others understand the importance of it and conferring that to them.

[00:21:10] and I’m sure what we’ll pivot over to the, the gratitude side of it, but another way to build trust is not so much through these scary, scary conflicts, you know, but, but more just about spending time on, uh, around the good feelings. And, um, and I think there’s so much power in that, that we don’t realize, or recognize.

[00:21:32] I’ll go back to the value of creativity that I was sharing with you. Um. I think trust is a huge enabler to creativity. And when you trust your team, trust your environment, you can let your guard down, uh, without feeling like you’re going to be judged. You can take more risks, step out of your comfort zone, be more innovative.

[00:21:55 ]and so, one thing that we do for example, as a group. And you know you also have to trust to show emotion, right? So it’s a different way to build that trust for those that need, you know, not be as comfortable from a conflict resolution perspective too.

[00:22:08] Something that we do, for example, we ask people to recognize others and appreciate something. We used something very concrete, very concrete example, um, that highlights or ties to one, up to our values so that we’re, you know, bringing our values to life, uh, making them personal.

[00:22:29] Um, but we also know, you know, through neuroscience that when you express gratitude, something changes in your brain and you release dopamine and that’s the pleasure hormone. And so you become less stressed, you become more creative, you have more feelings of self worth and empathy for others.

[00:22:47] And so these exercises seem, you know, innocuous to people, but they don’t actually realize that there’s a seismic shift happening in their brain and it’s in the community that we are as humans. And that’s an enduring imprint. And it ends subconsciously. A lot of things are happening and you’re changing a lot of the brain chemistry to be more trusting and more open.

[00:23:09] So I think that’s, you know, the other side of this that’s very powerful.

[00:23:14] Bev: Yeah, I see that in our environment here as well. And in other workplaces that I’ve been part of where building trust is as, I had suggested earlier, it’s such a human quality. It’s such a human action that we take. And, um, I think you can be intentional with it in, you know, in ways that perhaps you can be with some other human qualities or human behaviors.

[00:23:41] Um, and you can choose to show gratitude, kindness, compassion, understanding empathy, which all amount to the building blocks for building trust. I spend quite a bit of time thinking about this whole notion of psychological safety, and I’m sure that you’ve come across that as well in your reading, but it really amounts to the feeling that you are creating for people in your workplace.

[00:24:06] And. If that is a positive, reaffirming feeling, then you’re probably more likely to build trust. Then if you don’t practice those behaviors. And, there’s small things, like gratitude is such a powerful, um, contributor to the state of a human relationship. Um, and it takes nothing. You know, you can just thank someone for their effort or write them a little note or.

[00:24:31] Take someone for coffee and it’s so powerful, if done in a meaningful, honest way. Um, and I agree with you, I think it is important to look at the positive side of building trust. Perhaps we can talk a little bit about what are some of the other powerful positive outcomes that you’ve seen with making trust a priority in your work environment?

[00:24:56] Jessica: I think from a CURE perspective, one thing I’ll just start by saying is as leaders, uh, entrepreneurs, executives in our organizations, um, there’s so much as many

external factor that we don’t control, right? Um, the, uh, you know, competition regulations. Climate change, you know, all these things that come at us.

[00:25:19] But there was one thing that we do have control over that’s under our purview, one thing, and it’s our culture, our people. And so I want to start by answering that question in that I think that’s just an empowering thing to realize and recognize that. What are the things we can control, we should nurture.

[00:25:38] We should invest in meaningfully and intentionally. And so, and when you do that, whenever you feel empowered as a leader, you know, the outcome is going to be better. Um, and so, more specifically when it comes back down to cure, what I’ve seen in a lot of our, our staff have been with the company from the beginning 2011.

[00:25:55] Um, and Iíve seen their growth and, you know many of them have really blossomed in their way, you know, and they taught their path, but they have grown and they’ve become, you know, more confident, more productive, more engaged, more professional. Um, for me, that’s the most rewarding thing to see is their personal growth and journey and how that’s contributing to the company.

[00:26:22] Being more, you know, a higher performing and seeing that, you know, when given the chance and you put the right nurturing environment, you can accomplish that. Uh, because turnover is brutal. It’s. Really draining to an organization at any level, any level. So if you can avoid that, that is a huge win across the board.

[00:26:41] I would say that it’s also looking at, from an external standpoint, a happy and productive work environment translates to higher shareholder confidence, getting that strategic partnership, landing that big contract.

[00:26:53] Because at the end of the day, there’s going to be other companies, right, that offer the same products, services as you do. What’s going to make that candidate choose to work for you or that company to choose to do a deal with you is, you know, that trust and that reputation that you’ve established in the marketplace, and that’s what they’re.

[00:27:16] buying into, right? There’s the price of the services, but it’s the trust in who you are and that you are going to be a, you know, a trusted partner, uh, or employer. Um, so I think the competitive advantage in that is enormous. Um, and it really just can’t be understated.

[00:27:33] Bev: Well, that’s a really great way to wrap up our conversation here, reinforcing that there are many, spillover effects of actually starting with this kernel of trust at the center of your organization.

[00:27:48] And I love what you were talking about with, nurturing and controlling what you have control over. Just spend the time on controlling the things you can control and, hopefully good comes from that. I think you’ll see good things happening inside and outside your business if you just have that as your starting point.

[00:28:04] So you’ve given us, a lot to think about today. I’ll just ask if you have anything else to share, maybe a tip or two for any leaders or folks who are in leadership positions listening today that might really be struggling with building trust. Like, where should someone start?

[00:28:21] If it’s just like there’s something they really are tripping over, what’s the best thing for them to do?

[00:28:26] Jessica: That’s a great and difficult question. So back to sort of what you control, you control yourself and your organization, you control your thoughts and your approach. And so you know, if you’re feeling out of control and you’re not, you know, you don’t have your arms around this.

[00:28:43] I think it starts with centering yourself and just finding your voice of why is this important, and being guided by that sometimes just taking some time to center yourself and your thoughts and being clear with your intentionality around a challenge. Sounds, maybe cheesy, but it’s actually really powerful.

[00:29:00] And, starting there and really understanding, and tapping into where, uh, intuitively where the frictions are coming from. Um, but then secondly, what we talked about, finding your allies, finding likeminded people, um, and, uh, you know, where you’re, you’re finding, you know, conflict and hurdles.

[00:29:18] Having honest conversations, but it’s helpful to center yourself before having those conversations so emotion doesn’t get in the way, and you can actually speak from a place of, of truth, because we all want what’s best for the company, and we can all align on that. Uh, so that’s a good place to start.

[00:29:32] Bev: Yeah, that’s a really good tip. And what I like about that, uh, framing is that if you’re really struggling with something, oftentimes, you know, if it’s a project, for example, it’s sometimes helps just to start with the smallest possible part of that project. And same with this being a big gnarly thing that we call trust.

[00:29:53] Just start with what you can actually focus on, and that is yourself. start with yourself with self-awareness, understanding how you build, trust, what you expect from trust. Um, so thank you. That’s a really great tip for, for people to take and put into practice right away. If our listeners would like to get hold of you to chat further or ask you any questions, um, how could they do that?

[00:30:16] Jessica: I am very accessible. If you Google my name, there are many ways I’m on, you know, I’m on Twitter, I’m on LinkedIn. Um, I like to engage with, you know, uh, the community. I like to just give it my time, um, from a mentoring standpoint and receiving mentoring.

[00:30:33] I’m happy to engage with your listeners.

[00:30:35] Bev: Fantastic. And we will share your key coordinates, uh, in the show notes, so folks will have those there. And just, uh, I’d like to thank you for spending time with us, and, for sharing, your viewpoi

[00:30:52] And I know that it’s something that all of us can work on daily because there really isn’t an end to building trust. And I really appreciate your humility and your passion and commitment for creating what I would imagine is a fabulous place to be at CURE Pharmaceutical and all the best to you.

[00:31:11] Thank you.

[00:31:11] Jessica: Take care. Bye.

[00:31:14] Bev: Bye. Bye.