In the final episode of Series 5 of the Bet On Yourself podcast, I speak to global HR consultant Paul Falcone. He has worked at some of Hollywood's leading companies, including Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon, and is now setting about writing and publishing a five-book series on workplace leadership. His HR career started by chance at an executive search firm, and while it wasn't his first calling, his attitude and outlook took him to the top. Paul has some incredible stories to tell from his time in Hollywood, as well as some valuable lessons to pass on.
[Ann 00:00:00] Welcome to this week's episode of the Bet on Yourself podcast, where we speak to some of the world's most inspirational people who have all, at some point in their careers, taken a huge bet on themselves, transforming them personally and professionally. Today I am joined by Paul Falcone, Chief Human Resources Officer for the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Los Angeles and former CEO for Nickelodeon and head of International Human Resources at Paramount Pictures. Paul is also a bestselling author with his newest book, Workplace Ethics, Mastering Ethical Leadership and Sustaining a Moral Workplace. Recently hitting the shelves, the first in a series of five. This book gives incredible advice for businesses of all shapes and sizes and is peppered with amazing anecdotal stories. I don't want to spoil this episode for you, but Paul does recall one story that has put him in the history books at Universal Studios, and you don't want to miss that. I can't wait to share Paul's story with you all today. And if you love this episode as much as I think you will, then please do let me know in all the usual places such as a review on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube, or wherever you happen to be listening right now.
[Ann 00:01:15] Paul Falcone, Thank you so much for being on the Bed on Yourself podcast today.
[Paul 00:01:20] My pleasure. There's nowhere else I'd rather be.
[Ann 00:01:24] We were just laughing before we started recording, so I'm at the end of my day here in Spain and you are bright-eyed, 7am, camera ready. I'm very impressed.
[Paul 00:01:34] I woke up 30 minutes ago, but, you know what, no one's going to know. That's the goal. Bags under my eyes are a little deeper than normal, but shy of that, I'm okay.
[Ann 00:01:44] Well, I've had two coffees. I'm full of energy. This is going to be a super fun conversation. So I'm going to start with the traditional question that we start with here on the Bet on Yourself podcast. What did you want to be when you were young? What did little Paul think he was going to become in his career?
[Paul 00:02:00] Okay, so it was actually a little Pauly. I was little Pauly because I grew up in Brooklyn, New York and kind of the Italian neighborhood, the whole thing. But my goal was to go to the Naval Academy. I wanted to go to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. And it's funny because that's how I chose my high school. I went to a military school in New York City. I didn't end up going. I went to UCLA. But long story short was I saw I just I was kind of a disciplined young man. I really was. And even going through academia, I got my master's degree at UCLA. I always like publishing and writing. And so there was that kind of internal discipline that's still part of who I am, which may sound boring, but it's actually very interesting. So...
[Ann 00:02:44] If that sounds boring, then I am double boring because I relate to so much of that. I grew up in a military household. I am very, very linear little and from Seattle wanted to be a professor when she grew up. So that's how serious of a kid I was so I totally relate to that. Actually a little bird told me, Paul, I think this is a really fun start. So you and I have something in common where we both studied languages at a Master's level. So you ended up studying, so you didn't go to the Naval Academy, you pivoted. You ended up studying German, at UCLA? [Yes.] Which isn't maybe the biggest predictor towards the career you ended up having. But I too studied a language. I have two Bachelor's degrees. [Right.] Is that an understatement? Yeah, I, I have a bachelor's degree in international studies, which is a little bit more understandable, but my other is in Swedish, which is even more like indefensible. But tell me, how did you get interested in studying languages at the Master's level? And then we're going to pivot to and then how on earth did you get into HR?
[Paul 00:03:50] Well, the second part is really the question, but the first question was this when I was a kid, interestingly enough, my uncle had served in the war and he was the best storyteller I ever met. And he was under General Patton and did the whole thing at the Battle of the Bulge. And so as a young boy, I started reading all those books. You know, they have all the famous books from World War Two. And when I went to high school in Manhattan, they offered German and I said, Ooh, I want to do this. And then by my junior year, I had won a scholarship to study in Germany for a summer. And I'm still in touch with the family I stayed with in Nuremberg, and I fell in love with it. And so when I went to UCLA, it was kind of a no brainer. I didn't want to be an English major. I really wanted to be a German major. And so I stayed on there for my my Bachelor's and my Master's degree. And it was all, again, linear. I think to your point, it all made sense and I loved it. I did want Master's degree, you know, level education, and I love writing. So it all kind of came together for me that way. But the second half of your question, you read it. You know, this could take a lot... no, easy enough. When I got out of school. [That's a longer story.] Well, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Long story short is I went to an employment agency and said, Can you help me? And they said, why don't you come work for us? And I said what do you do here? And I stayed there for six years, and it was from being on the recruiting side that I moved into human resources. So it wasn't really planned or designed, but I'm glad it went the way it went.
[Ann 00:05:15] Oh, so much of my career was the same. There's a lot to unpack there, but before we get into this very glamorous, L.A. based career that you've had there, is it you had an interesting first look into this, this TV land experience while you were at UCLA, or was it shortly thereafter you were actually a tour guide, right? [Yes, I was] for NBC Universal. [Right.] Okay. And you also have a very hilarious story from your time there. In fact, I think you're a legend there now.
[Paul 00:05:48] Well, the persona is a legend. I don't think they use my name when they when they teach it. So what happened is when I was in college for my four years of undergraduate, I was also a tour guide at Universal Studios every summer. And it was great. And in 1984, when we had the Olympics here in L.A., it was Thanksgiving time. It was very cold, relatively speaking, for Los Angeles. It was chilly. And the tram, if you know the tour, the Red Sea opens up and the tram goes in and the tram is supposed to come out on the other side. In my case, it didn't quite make it. Whatever it is that keeps the water separate, it's like a garage door opener or something. Well, the beam broke and the water started coming in and it started coming in really, really fast. And I was in the first tram of the four cars because the tour guide sits at the front. This second one got pretty hit. The third one, they were really, really wet from all the splashing. In the fourth one, we literally had to get a tow truck to pull those people out in that car. So to this day on the Universal Tour, when they train tour guides, it's a what would you do if your tram got stuck and how would you handle it? And luckily we handled it fine. But it was my little claim to fame at NBC Universal. But of course it wasn't NBC back then, but Universal Studios. So. It's amazing that you knew that Ann, I'm very impressed.
[Ann 00:07:09] That's good. Thank you. We do our research around here.
[Paul 00:07:12] Yes, you do.
[Ann 00:07:18] It's funny, I like to call out that story because I, too, had a huge disaster. I mean, you were you were very young. You were still in your undergrad when that happened. So to be able to keep a cool head, manage people who are older than you, senior to you, you know, in a very stressful environment, be quick on your feet, says a lot about a young person and probably why you've been able to advance your career the way you did. I had a huge disaster in my very first job, which is a whole other story of having a helicopter crash that I hired for Jeff Bezos with him inside. [No!] So, ditto. [Really?] That's a longer story. Well.
[Paul 00:07:53] It's bigger than mine. My goodness. Wow.
[Ann 00:07:57] He's fine, obviously. So that isn't the end of that story or my career. But there is there's something that happens, I think, when you have these early moments of testing. But I think it doesn't really matter the scenario or whether it's nearly drowning an entire tour group or having a helicopter crash. I think you learn a lot about yourself in those early moments of being able to trust yourself and your instincts and know that you can keep a cool head and that you're an actual leader in those. I mean, actually, I think that's interesting because you were so interested in military. That really is that foxhole mentality, right? Like...
[Paul 00:08:32] A little bit. Yeah, exactly right. [Someone I like to call a foxhole friend.] Yeah, right. Right. And there's something that kicks in when you're in that kind of situation. And my personality always been to calm the room. Whatever's going on, I don't do drama. That's always informed a lot of my writing. It's like, you know, I write about workplace stuff, but how to be an effective leader without a lot of drama, it's all the same thing happens even when you're in the throes of the water splashing in there, pulling the tram out. And the people are scared because they think they know this isn't supposed to be happening, but they're not sure what's going on because they're at a theme park. But it all does kick in. You're right Ann. And I think that's a healthy thing, because when you get comfortable with crisis management, there's really nothing they can throw at you. You develop a sense of confidence about being able to handle anything. So I guess I have to thank all the folks at Universal who hired me as a tour guide who would drown one of their trams at one point. But I was not the driver. I just want to be clear the driver different person than I was just the tour guide.
[Ann 00:09:28] Oh, I love that story, though. I think it's important to highlight because we have really kind of several layers of listeners, some people who are just starting their career, especially in the crazy, nearly post-pandemic environment that we're in. Some people who are looking to take on big leadership roles for the first time and really want to get across that and then some people who are turning their side hustles into their main hustles and are moving from "intra-preneur" to entrepreneur. So I think there's something applicable in that story to each of those three categories.
[Paul 00:09:57] Yeah, I would agree.
[Ann 00:09:59] Your career is so interesting the way it unfolded, so I wonder if you can unpack this just a little bit about how this could be your resume. You you went and worked in executive recruiting, then you worked at – I don't know if I got the order right, I think so. NBC Universal, then Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon. I think I got the order wrong. But the company's right.
[Paul 00:10:22] You're right. You are correct. Oh, it's also the funny thing. [Okay.] So here's the scoop Ann, when you live in Los Angeles, entertainment is still a big employer and in a way, it's the biggest employer out here. And I wanted to work in that business. That was just something that went from being a tour guide when I was in college, I remember driving on that tram bus and looking up at the building saying, I want to work in here. One, I want to be an executive here one day. I have no idea what I'm going to do. Remember, I'm studying German at this point and I'm thinking, well, I can't see a translation job coming up, but I figured that's really what I want to do. And that was a big motivator for me. Even as a young kid. It's like I just saw there a level of prestige with that. So where my career ended up taking me on was about ten years with Viacom, which was the parent company of Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon, and I became the head of international HR for Paramount. Then I moved over to Nickelodeon as the head of HR for Nickelodeon, and i loved it. It was just fabulous. When I got to Nick, i was done. I said, I never want to leave this job. I want to work here till the day I'm off the planet. And then 2008 hit and in 2008, they laid off 12,000 people at Viacom. You know, it was just one of those things the world imploded. And so you have to be here for a lot to fall to and love for the company. But I was so in love with that company. It's like our kids were at the right age. My son, I got to take him to the studio to meet the SpongeBob guys. He watched them do the show. My daughter had done a high school internship there while I was there, so there she was younger. This is a while back, but at the same time it meant something for the whole family. I mean, we were all so into it, you know, when you're in the right place at the right time and the best boss I've ever had and you appreciate it as you get older, you can appreciate those things because once you've realized you've not been in perfect situations, when you get into something that you can love to that level, you try and hang on to it as best you can. But sometimes the forces just don't allow you to. So.
[Ann 00:12:17] So true. A love that you were the super cool dad like everyone. [I was the cool Dad! Yes, very true.] Yeah like going to visit dad at work was like literally that's. Basically. I love that and I relate to that as well. Like your environment is so informative of where you end up. I grew up in Seattle, post-military. We settled in Seattle and that was a tech heavy city. And even though I had zero intention of getting into tech, same like once I got a taste for that adrenaline, I did not leave even though the next 15 years was insane of my life. When you find something that that passion aligned, you just kind of lean into it and allow it. But same thing. I had a lot of pivots, you know, I started in tech just after the dot com crash. I was at Google looking to level up into a leadership role for the first time in 2008 when all those opportunities disappeared. And then I finally, after 12 years at Google, got brave enough to leave and start my own company, not knowing. It was just a year before this pandemic was going to happen. So I actually think knowing how to do that, these unexpected pivots is an essential part of actually creating a futureproof career strategy.
[Paul 00:13:27] Yeah, I would have to agree. And you know what they talk about in Silicon Valley, they need to know where you failed. When they interview you for these high level positions. They want to know where did you fail? Because if you don't have that accreditation, so to speak, if you haven't failed and bounced back, they worry a little bit. It's like you know, do you have that flexibility? Do they have the agility? And so the failure piece is okay, and I totally agree with you, Ann. It's the times when you get laid off are the times when something comes your way that you're not expecting. It's like, Yeah, that's when you build your character. I mean, that's when you define yourself. So yes, it's great if you have a linear, I stayed with the same company for 40 years and retired on my own terms, and that's rare these days, but there are people who are able to do it. At the same time, I think there's a lot of value in people who can land on their feet. And in theory, if you're getting stronger positions because of these changes that are coming, you're growing your career trajectory forward a lot faster. And it's just a it's a great experience, too. I have no regrets.
[Ann 00:14:29] Ditto. No regrets. So I'm wondering, as you look back on your career and some of these pivot moments that happened, I know for me, I can look back and realize in retrospect there were a couple of big breaks where someone took a chance on me and gave me a project or a job that I wasn't quite ready for that was senior to my experience, etc.. Looking back, what what were some of those big breaks that you got?
[Paul 00:14:53] Interesting for me, it was the job in International at Paramount. I always wanted to be international because I studied German. To get the Master's in German you had to pass the French equivalencies. I speak a little Italian because I was yelled at as a kid in Italian You know, I know how and I loved it. I love the international, I love the travel. And so at Paramount, they're Head of International or their international home entertainment group at the time was in Hammersmith in London, and they moved to the studio lot in Hollywood. And the person who was in charge of HR did not come. And so I said to my boss, I really, really, really, really want this job. And he said, but outside of having a masters degree, you haven't done business in an international environment. And I said, don't worry, I will learn it. I will do everything I can. And I was always that kind of student too. It's like, you know what? I bought the book on international employment law. I was teaching at UCLA Extension in the School of Business Management at the time. I mean, I still do off and on, but at the time I was really heavy into teaching and I was teaching a number of different classes and right away I said, I want to teach the international class. And so I've always come from that school Ann that says, you know, teach what you choose to learn. You don't have to be a master at this stuff to be able to get in front of a classroom. Now, you can't fake it. You have to have enough of a of a basic understanding. But what I was always the best student in my own class. And what I mean by that was I read the books, I underlined them, I circled them, I highlighted them. And then what I did and I was smart and this was a smart move. Each class was about 3 hours. It was 3 hours a week for 12 weeks to finish the international HR class. Well, I reached out to vendors who I wanted to know and I said, would you be interested in coming and teaching at my class at UCLA? So I'd have someone from Korn Ferry talking about international executive search and then someone from an international EAP, an employee assistance program. Then someone come and talk about, you know, immigration law and the different kinds of Visas. Well, by the time they finished the 12 week class, they had eight or nine speakers that they could reach out to any time and so did I. And I became friends with these people. And you had an automatic network by the time you finish that class. It's not just the teacher talking at you for 36 hours. It was really. Yeah, that's part of it. And we can cover laws by Europe or Asia or Latin America or whatever. That's part of it that I can teach because I had the books and I'd done the homework, plus I had the practical experience I was getting at the same time I was learning it at work, but it was building that network that was so important, and I wanted students to benefit the same way I did.
[Ann 00:17:24] I love that. All of my regular listeners are nodding their head, wondering if I prompted you for this, because this is this is why you belong on the Bet on Yourself podcast. These are things that we come back to over and over again is being an infinite learner. You learn it all not to know it all, continually building your network in a very authentic way and staying really humble of bringing in. I love that you brought in these experts to expand your expertize, your understanding, your knowledge and your network in a way that wasn't just selfish about like I want to get a business job is like you wanted to provide a rich experience for your students and you were learning right alongside them. [Right.] There is so, so much to mine out of that. That story is a great example of how you've not only been at the top of your field in HR. In some of the most exciting companies in the States, i think. But now you're also a top rated keynote speaker, certified executive coach, well known leadership trainer, and you go in and help companies manage on their front lines. That's kind of a big byline but now it all makes sense to me. I can actually manage to do both.
[Paul 00:18:27] Yeah, it's fine. That's nice of you to say Ann, thanks. The funny thing for me is what i realized doing HR now for three decades and being in charge of employee relations and labor relations and different kinds of things, you know, people tend to respond in kind. I worked in entertainment mostly, but I also worked in health care biotech. I've also worked in financial services, whether it's a union environment or a nonprofit environment or an international environment. The truth is people are people. And, you know, if you can understand how to deal with them and try and build them at the same point, you have to hold them accountable, don't get me wrong. But if you know how to build them to a point where they feel like you have their back, you suddenly become their favorite boss. And that's a very simple prysm to look through. Am I being someone favorite boss? Am I paying that forward? And if you're doing that one simple thing, everything else lines up, right? They talk about employee engagement, employee satisfaction, team alignment, blah, blah, blah. All of that can be funneled through a very simple concept. Are you being that to someone else? And the bottom line is, if you are, everything harmonizes in what you're doing. They don't teach that at MBA schools. You can get a top ten MBA. No one's teaching you about leadership in the trenches. They're not teaching you how to manage and motivate and develop. That's the stuff that, you know, teach the how. That's what people want. And that's what I realized for my books all these years was that's they know what to do, they don't know how to do it, teach them the how. And you'll find that people can use those tools and very easily customize them to fit their own style and their own personality.
[Ann 00:20:01] Paul, you've anticipated exactly where I am going in this conversation. I want to bring this around to exactly those principles of leadership. And I have managed to sneak an early edition copy of Workplace Ethics, which you've written as part of the series of books that you just published with HarperCollins. [Right.] This book, so I've only seen one. How many are in the in the set? [Five in this set.] Right, so I've only been able to get a sneak peek of one of the five. But this for me is really a how to manual. To fast forward, you're learning any of my listeners out there who are my entrepreneurs, my scale up CEOs, and I really wanting a checklist, a playbook of how to get things done. You've got a one stop shop now, but I want to get into I that's exactly where I wanted to start. Actually, what you just touched on, Paul, is I was kind of about this authenticity and leadership leading by example. And one of my favorite elements of this book, while it's very much a manual of definitions and history in terms you need to know and checklist of things you need to comply with, what really made that come to life for me were these stories that you shared of how you learned these principles and I wonder if we could start with one that you share in Chapter five, which is about Mark. So Mark Taylor was Nickelodeon's SVP and General Manager, and you highlight his leadership style through a very beautiful story. I wonder if you wouldn't mind sharing that.
[Paul 00:21:27] No, that's nice Ann, thanks, sure. Boy. Mark's ears must be ringing if he knew that we were talking about this in Europe right now, which is great. The theory was this you know, when you have a boss that you just adore and Mark was the general manager. He was not an HR Person. He was the general manager of Nick and he was a legend. I mean, you know, we would get animators from all over who wanted to come and work in Nickelodeon because at the time we were ahead of Disney in the children's space. We were not going out with so many great productions. And Mark took the time to get to know people. So as an HR guy, I was sitting on the side sidelines and thinking, wow, this is how it's supposed to work and what Mark would do – Two things real quick. On the first day of orientation and we did it every two weeks, we have a new class that came in. We sat in the big production room by the big long table and Mark would sit at the head of the table and he'd say, tell me about all of you. I want to know so I can welcome you here the right way. And each person would do a little spiel about themselves. And the funny thing is, you know, it's not just Mark Taylor, it's 'Mark Taylor'. And he wants to know about me. Wow, I'm sitting right next to him. I can't believe it. And again, it's this wasn't just the animators. This is if you were in the mailroom, it didn't matter which job everyone got that that that piece from him and Mark would talk about his eight pillars. And the eight pillars were what he believed were so critical to Nickelodeon that he... these were his principles and he wanted everyone to know what they were so that they could adopt them. And he said, as long as we do it this way, you know, one of them, for example, would be, you know, always assume good intentions and those you're working with and have one another's backs. That was one of eight. But he said, as long as you're coming from that principle, everything else we do will kind of fall into place in a line. But you have to have that good faith going into working with the teams you're going to be working with and the people you're going to be working with, because I'm holding all of you accountable for perpetuating this culture, which is so special here. And so we go through his eight and by the time he was done, you just say, Listen, I walk around all the time, I'll be coming by your offices, but you can come by mine. I've got an open door, blah, blah, blah, and people just felt that presence. Now that was Step A. Step B was about three days later, on the Wednesday, we'd have another follow up meeting in his office but this is only for the people who are in leadership roles. And then Mark would talk to them and say, okay, you guys, I know we went through on Monday what my big eight are, but because you're all in leadership roles and you're responsible for shepherding our employees through this whole thing we call work, I need to talk to you about what my expectations are for you as leaders. And then he would go through that. And there was never any drama. I mean, it worked so well. It aligned so well because people felt like there's a sincerity or whatever you want to call it, an authenticity. There's a trueness, and I can really thrive. And the sponsoring question is, can you do your best work every day? And if you're not in a situation where you can answer yes to that, we're doing something wrong as an organization. So as the leaders, I need you to ask that question of your people. And if there's a roadblock or someplace we have to pivot, come and let me know. Come and let Paul know. And Mark was always so great to partner with me on that stuff. You know, we made it a twosome. It's like HR's here for you, I'm here for you. But we need to set you up for success so you can set your people up for success. And just remember, are they doing their best work every day or something? Getting in the way of that? And these simple truisms and this is not rocket science. But Mark was so intuitive about knowing how people function, how people blossom, how they thrive. It's just a beautiful thing for me to watch to this day. I still write about him and I'm like, Mark, I'm writing an article on you. He's like, cool, that guy, and we'd go for lunch, you know, we do that kind of thing. But it really is a beautiful it's a beautiful friendship. And it worked so well in the workplace. It was just it was for me as a learner to see how that could be done by a general manager, it blew my socks off.
[Ann 00:25:22] I loved that story so much in the book. The first sentence of that story I highlighted was the way you introduced him. You said Mark was and still is an animation industry legend and I highlighted that and just had a huge smile on my face because I was like, what a privilege it would be if someone described me in that way later in my career. So it's a beautiful thing to chase of the type of leader I want to become. And then the second thing that stood out to me was at the end of that chapter number five is you wrote this, you said, if you're a CEO, a business owner, division or department head or supervisor or a team lead, share your values and expectations upfront and openly. I'm going to pause in the middle of the quote and say, I love that you highlighted that this isn't just for CEOs. This is for anyone of any responsibility of people managing to have this sense of ownership and authenticity and showing up in this way and the, quote continues, state them proudly and give examples of how they work and remind everyone that your culture is unique and worthy of attention. Celebrate success, lighten up and have fun. People – this is, I think, the most important part to me of this quote – people feel more secure when they understand what's expected of them. I loved that whole section and I have seen that in action many times. I love that. Just now you could recite for me from memory one of his eight pillars all these years later. That is true, because that means it wasn't just something on the letterhead. It was something in daily, constant conversation. I, too, can do that. I worked at Amazon. I left Amazon 15 years ago, makes me feel very old. I left 15 years ago and I can still recite from memory all of the ten original leadership principles. Not because anyone ever asked me to memorize them. It was just such a part of our vernacular and how we made decisions every day that is ingrained in me. Now there are 16. They've evolved and they've added some new principles, but that's in the heart of the DNA of my original business training. So perhaps that's why that particularly stood out to me. But I love that you're inspiring. [Yeah, it's a great example Ann, sure. Absolutely.] I love that you're inspiring leaders of all levels to rise up and realize their opportunity to influence in that way. I thought that part of the book was really special, and especially in a book about ethics. I wasn't necessarily expecting that, but when I read it I was like, Oh, obviously this is the heart of everything that is ethics in the workplace.
[Paul 00:27:42] Yeah and the funny thing is, you know, I have to talk in the book for a section on Sarbanes-Oxley, the law that was passed in the United States in 2002 after the great tech crash and so many companies had falsified their financial statements and CEOs had gone to jail when they passed this law. I was at Paramount Pictures and the general counsel at Paramount said to me, Paul, I know you like to train. I want you to train the whole all of Paramount here on the campus, globally. I want you to train everybody. And I was like, Cool, what's it called? And it's just like Sarbanes-Oxley. I'd never heard of it. Okay, that's fine. But I learned it. I learned it. And so that has informed so much of my HR practices, because you have to understand there's a big difference between how companies treat performance versus conduct. And managers a lot of times they don't realize you have a lot more discretion with conduct related stuff. And, you know, that is what misses awareness when I see really bad behavior, insubordinate behavior, rudeness, someone challenging a supervisor and I say to the supervisor, why do you allow that? And they're like, Paul, not for anything. You live in your HR ivory tower. I have to work with him every day. And if I going to start giving them a verbal warning and then a written warning, it's just going to really ruin everything. I can't I don't have the bandwidth. I don't have the patience and I'm like, yeah, but what you're telling me, it's not a verbal warning. It's a final written for them. And they're like, I can't give them a final written warning and give them a verbal or a written yet. And I'm like, Yeah, but with conduct you have more discretion. You can skip steps, you can go from zero to termination. Think about it. If there's theft, if there's forgery, if there's embezzlement, you're going to give him a verbal warning. He said, Well, no. I said, okay, that's because conduct is treated differently. Conduct gives you a lot more discretion. You can go zero to term, you can go zero to a final written warning for a first offense and they're like, you can? It's almost like bringing, it's like bringing fire to the caveman. Yes. The employers have more discretion when there's a conduct infraction involved. I agree with you. If there's a performance problem or attendance problem, it's typically three strikes before you're out. Right. Whatever you want to call it, a first rate morning, a second written warning and a final written warning for attendance that makes sense even for performance success of errors that make sense, but not with conduct. Not with conduct. And they've got more discretion there than they know. And that's when the eyes wide open, open up. And they're like, I didn't know I can do that. It's like, Yeah, and I'm here to help you if you need, you know, listen, my job Ann is to help the employees and it's to help the managers, but I have to hold everybody accountable. It's not okay if I've got an errant manager out there who's you know, spitting fire and throwing chairs. And it's not okay if I've got an employee who spit and fire and thrown chairs either. It's like it's time to reset those expectations. In the United States, if you do it with documentation and you do it the right way, you can fix that problem very, very quickly. But there's still that sense of i don't want HR in my business. Right. I'm a manager. I can do it on my own. I bring it to HR It's going to get out of my control. It's going to create drama. I don't want to do it. Or maybe they've had bad experiences working with someone in HR in their career and they don't want to replicate that. But my point is leadership is a team sport. You have to know where your resources are. You have to know who to partner with. So that management is aligned. Otherwise the employees are going to play mommy versus daddy. You know, the manager says this, they go straight to HR and complain about the manager. You got to get your team lined up on the front end. So if you're a VP, make sure your senior vice president and your HR person know what you're doing before you do it so that if those people then reach out to complain about you to human resources or to your boss, it's not a they're not being blindsided. They know what's going on. So, again, it's a horse sense kind of approach to leadership. But in a book on ethics, you have to put that in there. Sarbanes-Oxley is really important, but it's still compliance. And I guess the bottom line, I would say, on that end is ultimately you want to make ethics personal. Mark was able to make it personal through his stories. There are other examples in the book of how people have made it personal. If you really want to make it part of your brand, you can't just rely on the law and say Sarbanes-Oxley. Sarbanes-Oxley is good, it's a compliance law. But a compliance law doesn't pierce anyone's heart. To really get inside people's hearts, there has to be a human element, and that has to come from you and you share your values.
[Ann 00:31:59] I that is the quote of the whole interview. I love that that leadership is a team sport. I have seen that in examples of highly, highly functional teams, and I've also watched other companies disintegrate despite excellent funding and great ideas and product market fit. But they don't get that element right and they miss their opportunity to have impact in a way that they could otherwise. And you really touch on something where I think there's this interesting intersection between tech and Hollywood in the way that I think it comes with some preconceived notions of what it might be like to work there. And everyone's heard about the big personalities, you know, the, you know, for better or for worse, like the really bad personalities or the really, really good personalities. And they both exist for sure in tech anyway, I don't know Hollywood. But you've told a story in the book that I think illustrates this really well. What you're saying about leadership, being a team sport and making everyone feel included and like they have a part to play in preserving this culture that you're building through these things. Getting beyond Sarbanes-Oxley, which honestly, when I saw that chapter, it suddenly gave me flashbacks because I started my career in 2002 where that was like, [So you remember?] I know it intimately. Yes, I do. To my European listeners, they may or may not have ever heard that word before, but for me, I think they really gave me flashbacks. They wonder, can you walk us through a story that you share when you were on set and there was a new production just about to go in, and the production manager was sharing his expectations for what it was going to be like in this collaborative project. And he shared of two TV shows that had been recorded on stages right next to each other, stages 18 and 19. And how even on this same lot, there was completely different workplace cultures. Would you mind sharing that story? I really loved it.
[Paul 00:33:58] Yeah, yeah. It's a good story. It's kind of folklore in the Paramount Pictures with this... it was a it was the showrunner was the executive producer who's telling the story. What happens is in Hollywood, when they're going to do a new TV season, for example, they have one day where everyone has to come in, everyone has to go through harassment training, you know, they have to sign off on all these different things, go over the logistics of what's going to happen, when it's going to happen. But they have this pre production day where everyone comes in and takes care of all the business and it's a rah rah day. Yeah, it's going to be a great show. It's going to be a great season. And so this is this one line, this one producer was really interesting and he said, okay, guys, listen, we're here on the Paramount set. We're on the Paramount lot. And if you go for a walk over lunch, you're going to see these two soundstages. They're right next door to each other. In the seventies, there was one show made in soundstage – I forget which one – but the first soundstage was Happy Days and you know, Happy Days. It was produced by Garry Marshall, the famous producer, and Ron Howard was in it. And what a great show. Everyone loves Happy Days. You smile with happiness. But right next door was a show called Laverne and Shirley, which you may know. You may remember Laverne Shirley. Now, the interesting thing, it's right, Laverne was Penny Marshall and that was Garry Marshall's sister. So Garry Marshall was the executive producer for the two shows. But interestingly enough, his sister was the star of one of the two shows. So here's your bottom line. And I want to tell you this whole story. In Happy Days, the kids treated the onscreen parents like were real parents. There was true love on that set. Garry Marshall saw it. He felt it from the first day whenever there was someone who was a visiting VIP, he wanted to take them on that set, meet everybody. The show was so successful and everyone truly loved one another. It was just a we all have each other's backs. We learn from each other. We enjoy each other's company. And boy, you can see it on the show. Not so much with Laverne and Shirley. Now, even though Garry Marshall's sister was the star of the show, the two actresses who played Laverne and Shirley were very, very, let's just say, questionable. They had the vocabulary of sailors. Every other word out of their mouth was a bleep. They fired the team that was the writers. They rehired that same team of writers. They fired that team of writers again. They couldn't find any more writers to come because there was so much drama. It was so toxic. Seriously, they would never take anyone who was visiting the Paramount lot into that soundstage because you never knew who was throwing shoes at each other. I mean, it was an absolute mess. It was folklore bad, and they couldn't get people really to come on the show because she thought you'll ruin your career if you become a writer for them, they're just going to fire you anyway. And somehow that show is still successful. Now we may be successful because we're Happy Days or we may be successful because we're Laverne and Shirley, but I don't want to be successful. There's Laverne and Shirley. I want to be successful as Happy Days. I want to create our own Happy Days experience. I want us to be like in the office. When Andy says in the very last episode, I wish we knew at the time that we were in the best days of our lives right then and there. That's... these experiences we're going to be talking about for the next 20, 30, 40 years. So everything that happens on here has to be gold and it has to be that appreciated. And that's the experience that I want and they know you do too. So let's figure out how to make that happen. And I was like, wow, wow. You know, again, I'm I'm the HR guy, but I'm also a writer and I'm thinking, ooh, I got to capture this somewhere. So it took me a little while. This is a production from a like 15, 20 years ago, but the point is, I never forgot the narrative. The narrative impressed me so much and it was such an easy example because from the outside people figured both the shows are great. But what was going on behind the scenes was they couldn't have been more different and they were right next to each other, those soundstages, filming at the same time. So you don't always what you see is not necessarily what you get, but if you're deliberate and purposeful about what you want to experience going through it and you share that value with your people, they'll very easily latch on to that because they'll want the same experience for themselves.
[Ann 00:38:08] That is key. I have seen the nerd tech version of that. I was lucky enough to work at a very early stage Amazon and Google. I had amazing colleagues who are among my my foxhole friends family now, and I had incredible experiences with them. But I've also had friends who have worked in very famous Silicon Valley companies literally 5 minutes away from my headquarters, that had the Laverne and Shirley type of experience, and I didn't I, I decided early in my career I was only going to work with people I not only liked, but I wanted to become like. And that honestly has made all the difference. When several of those companies tried to recruit me, I said no thank you. I probably left quite a bit of money on the table because some of them were pre-IPO. I've never looked back like with zero regret. And one of my favorite parts of that story that you shared in the book, I love this line that you wrote in memory of that conversation where you said the production had said, most important, let's make sure that everyone feels like they've got a seat at the table, no matter their role. That is, leadership as a team sport in a nutshell, I just that line just flew off the page to me. I think that's a beautiful aspiration. No matter what your title is in a company, if you're the reception is, if you're the CEO or anyone in between, you really have a role to play in that company culture and how it feels to be on set or on that team. I love that. Paul, our team is flying by. How did this happen? [I'm having fun. I want to keep going. I understand.] I'm sure that I will try and control myself. And I want to wrap up our conversation by with all of this expertize that you have with the many facets of your career and your expertize. You're an author, you're a leader, you're an executive. I wonder if you can give us your perspective on the future of work. This is a big conversation happening now as we're hopefully, knock on wood, coming out the other side of this pandemic environment, we've got this great resignation happening. All of my consulting clients are a constant theme of our conversation around how to hire and retain top talent. So I wonder if that's the final thing we can take in our conversation. What do you see as the future of work and from your expert opinion, how can we hire and retain that high quality teammates that we want to have?
[Paul 00:40:34] And that's a great question Ann. Let me take 30 seconds to give a perspective. When you think of the Gen Y and the Gen Z, basically General Gen Y, millennials, 35 and under Gen Z, the Zenials, 25 and under, at least in the United States and probably this holds across most of the globe at this point, they're making up almost 50% of your workforce, and that number is changing very, very quickly. They're getting bigger and bigger and bigger, but they are the most studied generational cohorts in world history. We know what they want in survey after survey, we keep reading the same things, they want career and professional development. They want some form of I don't want to call it work life balance, but at least better work life control. They want corporate social responsibility, they want environmentalism, and they want to work for a boss that they trust or a company that they trust. These top five scenarios keep coming up survey after survey after survey. What I would say is, employers would be wise to listen. I don't think that new is bad. I don't judge. I'm not a judgmental person. Even with the Laverne and Shirley story, it's like, listen, you can be very successful despite people or you can be very successful because of people. If the ultimate goal is success, some people may feel like it doesn't matter. I do think the experience matters. I think we are stewards of the people who report to us and work in our companies. I think the greatest gift the workplace offers is touching people's lives and helping them grow in their careers. So I don't come from drama and I come from making space for people to motivate themselves. Just keep it very, very simple. But if you're thinking about what what COVID did for the world is it put this on steroids. It just shot it through the roof. It's all exposed now. So you have many people saying, I'm not doing this anymore. I'm too tired, life is too short. I'm going to do blah, blah, blah and they're not going to go back to waiting tables in a restaurant as an example. They're not going to go back to becoming a nursing assistant in a retirement home. They're not going to go back to whatever it was they were doing. So we've got this great scramble going on and they don't quite know what they're going to do yet, but they know it's not going to be what they were doing before. In a way, it's like, God rattled our cage. I hate to say it, but you better pay attention. This is not a dress rehearsal. And so you're trying to reestablish yourself and find a new footing. And that's not easy for companies to do. What I would say my best advice is this. Listen to what we're hearing out there. Consider some of these things if you can allow for greater workplace flexibility one or two days a week, working remotely, if you can do that, do that. That's something that's really important. My kids are 28 and 31 – that's really critical to them and I think their whole generational cohort is looking for that. So if you want to come from that, this is my company, I've done it this way and they will work 8-to-5 Monday to Friday. You certainly can do a wrong thing to do, but I don't know that it ultimately serves you. And so think about that in terms of framing the new normal with change in mind. Change isn't a bad thing, it's just change. But where are these things? Can your company adopt some kind of social responsibility project? Do you want to adopt a school? Do you want to give money to a certain cause? Do you want to have one day a year where everyone goes into the community and gives back? Understand that the values that these two generational cohorts have are not bad values. These are good values. I wish are, you know, I wish we were identified with that. I'm a the end of the baby boom. But that wasn't what people associated with us. But these are good values. And as much as you can incorporate them into your organization, you'll be doing the right thing for the world and for your local community. And you'll also have a lot of appeal for for the young ones who were basically saying, these are what we're looking for and we want to try and find a company that we can connect to who also espouses the same values. So I just think it's a smart thing to do, but change isn't a bad thing as long as it's change that you feel comfortable with as the owner, as the department head, the supervisor leader. But see what you can do. You don't have to change the foundation, maybe swap out a brick or maybe two bricks, keep the foundation the same, but try a little something new. And I think that will garner you some some positive results and some unexpected surprises.
[Ann 00:45:52] I love that. Just swap out a brick. I have seen that really move mountains brick by brick in tech. [Yes, you're absolutely right.] Just try it. Experiment, pivot, depending on how it goes and you can move the entire mountain. We could talk forever. You offer so much wisdom, you have so much expertize to share that so relevant for this audience. So in light of not being able to keep you on the podcast for the 10 hours, I'd like to where can people connect with you if they want to discover this beautiful collection of workplace empowerment books? That's what I've decided to call them. Where can they find the book that you've just launched and follow your work?
[Paul 00:45:33] Oh, that's nice. Thanks. Yeah. So everyone interesting. So my last name is Falcone in English. In Italian it's Fal-coné, which basically means Falcon. So just think of a bird. You'll remember who I am. You can find the books on Amazon. Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. I'm just PaulFalcone1 on LinkedIn. You're more than welcome to do that. And I do have a website which is paul falcone HR dot com. So those would probably be the easiest ways to get hold of you.
[Ann 00:45:58] That's incredible. I love to connect people in that way because then instead of being a one way conversation, they can engage with you and really benefit from that wisdom in a two way conversation. So now I...
[Paul 00:46:07] I would welcome it.
[Ann 00:46:09] Now I want to pronounce your name the Italian way, I would say Paolo Falcone. Grazie Mille. But I don't know.
[Paul 00:46:19] Yes. There you have it. But you could also say Papa, [ITALIAN], which means Grandpa, I didn't do it, I don't do anything. Those are the key words I know as a young child.
[Ann 00:46:28] Sounds well rehearsed. It does.
[Paul 00:46:30] Yes, it is rehearsed now. And I that's in the muscle memory at this point.
[Ann 00:46:35] Well, Paul, thank you again for being on the Bet on Yourself podcast, for sharing your wisdom and readers. Please go out and get your own copy of this book. I can personally say from reading Workplace Ethics, there is gold in here that will save you a lot of heartache. So thank you again and I really appreciate all the wisdom shared.
[Paul 00:46:53] Thank you Ann, it's been my pleasure.
About my guest

Paul Falcone

From his time as a Universal Studios tour guide, which has gone down in folklore, to leading international HR operations at Paramount Pictures, Paul Falcone has worked at every level in Hollywood. He has learnt a lot along the way, and has turned to his love of writing to share his experiences, his stories and his passions in a five-book series, starting with his first release Workplace Ethics.