In addition to his work at Rackspace Hosting, Rick Lozano takes his more than 16 years of experience in talent development (and his guitar) to organizations and conferences around the globe as a keynote speaker, consultant, and musician. He intertwines live music into his speeches and training, which span the range of leadership development, onboarding, and employee engagement. Lozano has facilitated programs for the past five years at ATD, served on the ATD TechKnowledge Program Advisory Committee in 2017, and was the closing keynote speaker at the Core 4 Conference, also in 2017.
Why did you embark on a career as a musician-consultant-keynoter?
The big question is why I didn't do it sooner. I'd been working in talent development for years, but I've always been a musician too. It is who I am. But since music wasn't my full-time vocation, per se, there was always this "keep your personal and professional lives separate" mentality that I wrongly believed to be good advice. Until one day I had a mentor who encouraged me to combine all those worlds, and this incredible magic happened with opportunities popping up out of nowhere.
From there, everything seemed to flow. I continued mixing the talent development world with music, and it morphed into what it is today. I didn't always understand how to make it all work together and, truthfully, sometimes I still don't—but once I tapped into that source of inspiration, there was no turning back. And how much it resonated with people completely surprised me.
So, usually it's just me. I get to stand up and talk and play my guitar. But a while back I was doing an off-site session for some C-level executives at a hospital system. They found out I was coming in and a couple of them brought along their guitars. After the day ended, there we were—a bunch of doctors, C-level executives, and me sitting around, playing guitar until 2 in the morning.
What would you say is the greatest inhibitor to workplace engagement?
It's the idea that if I'm not a leader or manager, I can't do anything about engagement. I hear it over and over. The truth is, we all impact engagement. We just have to open the door and the discussions for it. Every single decision we make, every behavior, we all create—or destroy—engagement with the choices that we make. It's a shared responsibility. Individual contributors have a part to play in that they have to hold leaders accountable; that's where talent development comes in.
As TD or HR professionals, hopefully we are not only being good role models for what engagement looks like, but we're also helping people develop the skills and strategies to have the hard conversations and to do the work required to create and maintain engagement. Let me give you an example.
I was working with a team that was completely disengaged; the leader, honestly, was part of the problem. But everybody assumed that the leader wasn't going to listen to them or would do anything with the information. But we held a session and, once we opened the door for dialogue, employees were surprised that the leader actually listened to them and said, "Wow. This is important and I want to change things."
It wasn't until we opened the door for that dialogue and facilitated it safely that employees realized it was OK for them to speak up. You could visibly see their body language changing. And the leader built trust by showing that he was listening and willing to change. That led to everyone viewing each other differently.
What do you believe is the most important element of a successful onboarding program?
Taking the time to do it right. We work in a fast-paced world and there's pressure to just do things really, really fast. But taking the time to do it right and immersing people in organizational culture and values, whatever those values might be, is important.
Every person we hire is a guardian of our collective culture. If we don't present a united and authentic front about what that is, we allow our culture to be hijacked. Culture is going to evolve anyway, so if we're not specific about what we're trying to accomplish, culture is going to move in a different direction.
Spending time on values is important because values can't just be words on a poster. I've seen that in many organizations, "Oh, yeah. Here is our value statement," and yet you never see those behaviors in action. From the very beginning when we're onboarding people, they need to see those behaviors in action.
Another component is, even before we onboard, we've got to take the time to hire right. Nothing kills organizational culture more than a bad hire. That brilliant jerk, if you will, will ruin everything. So don't hire him or her.
It's really hard for many people to find their voice, express themselves, and bring their whole selves to work. What are two or three things that can help?
First, people tend to focus on what they need to become rather than focusing on what they already are. Pulling out more of what is already great about you rather than trying to put in what was left out is a key component here. I think our biggest opportunities come from the things that we're already great at—we just need to find a way to cultivate that and grow it. Look toward our strengths rather than our weaknesses. That's the first thing.
The second thing is don't believe the [BS]. There is so much out there, it's overwhelming. Sometimes people disqualify themselves because they don't have it all figured out. But the truth is, nobody does—and anyone who swears they do is trying to sell you something.
Because there's no clear roadmap, sometimes people get paralyzed. They don't know where they're going and they don't know what they want to be. The truth is, you don't need to know; you need to start.
To your original question, how do people find their voice—you find your voice by opening your mouth and making a sound and figuring it out as you go. Some of the best rock bands out there were kids who didn't know how to play their instruments. But they went into a garage and started banging on stuff; they sounded like crap for a long time until they figured it out. It's the same sort of idea for us, it's a matter of moving forward and starting and continuing to evolve.
And the third thing is to develop perspective. It's easy in this world to self-select our data stream. Rather than constantly surrounding myself with ideas that I agree with, maybe I should look for things that I don't understand and find value in those, and then find a way to incorporate it all into my life experience. I think all of those things are going to form what is ultimately people's legacy or people's voice.
What most excites you right now in the realm of technology and learning?
The absolute, most exciting thing going on right now, and potentially world-changing, is when technology itself is doing the learning. There is a lot of talk these days about deep learning and artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, and it's awesome and also daunting and confusing because we have to figure out how to do it right.
We are just now opening the door to this frontier, and the possibilities are immense. If you think about machines right now, for example, they are taking in data but they're still working on an if/then construct, right? For example, Alexa and Siri. They are waiting until we tell them what to do or until we program them, and then they're going to do something. But where deep learning and artificial intelligence is heading is machines are going to take all that data in and they're going to interpret it, and then they're going to make decisions based on their experience.
So, imagine: Right now we've got Alexa and Nest and others, but rather than just responding to commands or the information we program it with, instead what's going to happen is the machines are going to react based on your moods or behavioral patterns. So, you walk into your house and Alexa is examining your patterns and your rituals, and it's taking that in and interpreting that data, and then making its own decisions for what it thinks you might want. Sounds freaky, right?
But that's where we're heading. That's why it's so exciting and scary at the same time—because once we let machines make our decisions for us, it's going to create a whole new ethical conundrum.
I think that's really the next iteration of the Internet of Things.
Who's your favorite musician or band??
There's this band I've been listening to called the Cat Empire, and I absolutely love them. They're an Australian band and they do a wonderful mix of reggae, salsa, jazz, and Latin music. They don't come to the United States much, but they came to San Diego a couple of years ago and my wife and I flew from Texas to San Diego just to see them. In Australia, these guys sell out giant festivals, and here in San Diego we were in a 300-person venue and it was incredible.
They're my favorite band right now. Although there's always Tom Waits. I love his music. There's something beautiful about his cigarettes-filled-with-crushed-nails kind of voice.