Public Relations Tactics

AmyK Hutchens on Performance and Productivity

November 1, 2017

AmyK Hutchens [albert chau]
AmyK Hutchens [albert chau]

“Change your thinking. Change your behavior. Change your results,” said business strategist and leadership development expert AmyK Hutchens. “Your life is happening one conversation at a time.”

The author and think tank facilitator spoke on “Igniting Brilliance in Your Leadership” as part of the General Session on Oct. 9.

“As leaders, we are responsible for the quality of conversations,” she said. “And it’s our job to raise the quality of these conversations. We’re also responsible for the dialogue and the quality of thinking inside our organization.”

Hutchens noted the importance of critical thinking before the words that you say or the actions that you take, and understanding how our brains process information.

In our 90-mph world, everyone is coming together and saying things at once — “We need a clear strategy.” “Let’s make money.” “It needs to be less clear than that.” “Can it be illegal?” — and we have to make sense of it all, Hutchens said.

“Align brilliance inside the organization for buy-in,” she said. “When you use this formula, you can come up with a solution together: Go from engagement to buy-in to commitment to productivity.”

Start with strengths and assess what’s working in the partnership, she said. Set objectives, make a commitment and focus on finding solutions together. Think about taking responsibility and adding value. Then you can address concerns and tweak your plan as needed.

The brain is capable of selling two things: good feelings and a solution to the problem, she said. We have to look to our own decision-making and emotions to make the world a better place.

“We love to be asked and we hate to be told,” Hutchens said. Remember this when managing people, and ask yourself these questions:

  • How might we define a healthy company culture?
  • How might we judge great leadership?
  • How might we define a great team?
  • How might we define great performance and productivity?

A matter of perspective

“What do we really want?” she asked. “We crave trust, vulnerability and knowing that it’s safe to ask for help."

It’s essential to understand that other people may know things that we don’t, she said, and that’s OK.

“We need diversity of thought, diversity of experiences and diversity of perspective,” she said. “I want people to think differently and challenge perspective. Your No.1 job as a leader is to set your people up for success. What can we do for you? It’s called ‘servant leadership.’ What are we doing to grow the next generation of great leaders?”

Hutchens is tired of people bad-mouthing millennials.

“They are brilliant, go-getters, want to be challenged and want to be invested in. Every generation brings new energy, innovations, ideas and challenges,” she said. “We need to flip the corporate ladder on its side and just invest in people, with each rung as a different project.”

She also noted that there would be higher engagement among employees if there are “more project-solving meetings and not just data dumps. For every meeting, one-fourth should be about data and three-fourths should be spent trying to solve problems.”

Hutchens borrowed a line from the U.S. Armed Forces that she thinks resonates for everyone: “You are more loyal to the team that you play on than to the team that you lead.”

Team players are defined by productivity and performance. “We need a unity of command in our business. We need to leave a meeting with one voice and one message. If someone disagrees, then there needs to be a conversation about it,” rather than dispersing after the meeting and complaining about it at the water cooler.

“Get people to start thinking better. Just because you’re sure doesn’t mean you’re right. Ask yourself: 'What am I missing?' Hutchens said. “We need to be asking the bigger, badder, better, bolder questions.”

Backstage Q-and-A With AmyK Hutchens


How can companies break out of the endless meeting cycle?

We get caught up in a habit. And the habit is we’re going to have a team meeting. “We’re going to meet at 9 o’clock and we’re all going to update each other.”  You start five minutes late. People are still sipping their coffee, trying to get settled. They’ll look up and say, “Why are we even here today?”

There’s nothing wrong with an update, it’s just a poor use of everyone’s precious face time.

The best way to think about a meeting is not as a data dump, but as a problem-solving session. How can we leverage the quality of the brain power in the room to say that we have to move forward.
It’s a leader’s responsibility to show up at a meeting with just one or two bigger, badder, better, bolder questions that drive the dialogue, that get people engaged. A leader bringing one or two questions changes the entire quality of the meeting.

I often tell team leaders to send out those one or two questions the day before. On a subconscious level, I’m starting to answer those questions before the meeting even starts.

What do some leaders do wrong during meetings?

Leaders tend to fear debate. They end up undermining their own leadership by avoiding it. They’ll get lip service in a meeting — they don’t want a lot of robust dialogue and debate. And they’ll say, “Does everybody agree with that?” And everybody nods because they’re nervous, and then [the workers] actually go have the real meeting, the real debate back in their own departments around the water cooler.

Leaders can feel much more comfortable leading a dialogue or debate, but with guardrails around it with questions such as: What would happen to our brand integrity? What would happen to our market share? What would happen to our customers if we [went with] decision A or decision B? You keep the dialogue really focused. You take the emotion and politicking out of it.

After the debate, the leader has the right to say, “OK, what’s our messaging when we leave here? What are our next action steps? This is what we agreed to.”

One of the important things to remember: When it comes to debate, leaders aren’t looking for consensus, but they are looking for commitment — commitment that we’re going to do this together and we’re not going to undermine each other in the process.

What’s a common mistake that you see leaders make today?

We have a lot of leaders with what I call “competency addiction.” This is: “I was successful two years ago” or “I was successful 20 years ago.” However, this isn’t necessarily what’s making them successful today.

When leaders can let go of that, realize that yesterday’s success was yesterday and say, “Now I need to be intellectually curious again. I need to ask more questions and realize that I can’t do it alone nor am I expected to.” You get much more buy-in and engagement that way. We’re invested in co-creating a better future. We need more leaders doing that. — J.E.

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of PRSA's publications. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.



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