Does Payroll Transparency Empower Workplaces? | Everett Harper

"If we can get comfortable with being uncomfortable, we'll be ready to act in the face of serious challenges." Everett Harper, Episdoe 106

Ever heard of payroll transparency?

Many leaders are reinventing workplace culture by allowing employees to see how much everyone makes…

Wondering how this would work (& if it benefits employees)?

Everett Harper returns to the podcast to share how his company implemented payroll transparency—and what the results of this change were.

Everett also breaks down the Purpose Playbook, a tool he uses to make complex decisions and maximize alignment.

Mentioned in this episode:


Everett Harper: We as leaders are always in uncomfortable situations. And if we can get comfortable with being uncomfortable, we will be that much further ahead when we have to really act in the face of really serious challenges.

Voiceover: You’re listening to the Build a Vibrant Culture podcast with professional speaker, coach and consultant Nicole Greer.

Nicole Greer: Welcome everybody to the Build a Vibrant Culture podcast. My name is Nicole Greer, and they call me the vibrant coach and I am here with Everett Harper. Does that sound familiar because he’s been on the show before. He is the CEO and co-founder of Truss, a human-centered software development company named as Inc’s 5000, fastest growing private company for 2020 and 2021. He is a rare combination of a black entrepreneur, Silicon Valley pedigree, national champion and a proven record for solving complex problems with social impact. 

And he went to school here in North Carolina, where I’m from. He went to Duke. So I’m so excited to have him on the show. Now everybody take a look, I got the book, I got the book, I got the book, and the name of his book is Move to the Edge and Declare it Center. So practices and processes for creatively solving complex problems. And don’t you know, we all got a bunch of those to solve. All right. So Everett. I’m so glad you’re back. Thank you for coming back for round two.

Everett: Yeah, thank you. I’m really excited to be here. And I really appreciated the first one. And so thank you for asking me for round two.

Nicole: Absolutely, absolutely. Okay, so for those who are like, what there was around one? You’ll have to listen to it and reverse everybody. So first thing I want to ask you to do is, will you tell us what you mean, in the book title, Move to the Edge and Declare it Center? Can you explain that to us?

Everett: Sure. Moving to the edge is really about moving to the edge of your abilities of your knowledge. And that’s important because if you’re learning something, you’re usually trying to learn something you don’t know how to do. And as we’ve seen over the last couple of years, collectively, we’ve encountered a lot of experiences where there isn’t a right answer. There isn’t a clear answer. Pandemic, forest fires, wildfires in multiple continents, various other various other things, the last couple of years have shown oh, climate change does some thinking about. 

Last time I checked, there isn’t one answer. And so in order to really discover what we need to do, for a complex problem with lots of interacting pieces, we need to move to our edge, we need to be able to learn and iterate. The problem is that a lot of times those of us who are accomplished or are very comfortable in our abilities, when we’re faced with something that we don’t know the answer, there’s some folks who actually freeze or who want to fight it off and just kind of double down on what they’ve always been doing, and drive their companies off a cliff. 

So move to the edge is an important part of being able to manage your emotions, to make great decisions when there’s lots of uncertainty. Now, that could be an innovator, you could have the best idea, but that’s only half of the equation. The second half of the equation is declared center. How do you take that new knowledge, or the new process or that innovation and bring it back to the center of your organization, so it becomes just part of the operations. And so they way I think about it is there lots of times to be heroic, but heroic, being heroic is not sustainable. 

You can’t do that over and over again for months on end. By putting into operations, then you build systems. And those systems can scale. Those systems can be shared, and they can be sustained. So it’s not just you saying I have an innovation, it’s embed it into a system. Everybody’s doing something new, everybody’s learning, and everybody’s carrying through the innovation. And that’s how great innovations actually come to the center.

Nicole: I love that. Okay, so this is what I just heard you say is that, because it’s a complex world out there, we’ve got to move to the edge and the edge I’m thinking of I just popped in my head, Everett. It was like the growing edge. Is that the edge you’re talking about? Yeah. Okay, I got it. I got it. Okay. And then when we’re there, there’s two things he said. So I’m repeating this back to you because you should be writing all this down. 

But in case you didn’t, you need to manage your emotional intelligence and you need to learn to make great decisions and then declare that place the center and put systems in place that help you scale and share and sustain. Okay, so I love all your S’s. Systems, scale, shared, sustained. Everybody write down four S’s from Everett Harper. Okay, now, you’ve actually practiced this. Two times that I read in your book. The first time was that pre-pandemic, you were trying to go remote. 

Everett: That’s correct. 

Nicole: And don’t miss that everybody. Like he wasn’t forced. He was trying to do this upfront. And then the other thing that you did is pretty radical, and this is, you know, we you can talk about whatever you want to, of course, but pretty radical is he’s got this idea about transparency in what everybody makes in the payroll. So these are, these are, you know, the remote thing is not that radical anymore. But you were doing it when everybody’s like, what are you talking about? You’re sending everybody home? All right, talk about both those. Very exciting.

Everett: Yeah. So the examples in the book for folks in the audience, it’s one thing for me to talk about these concepts, but like, give me an example and tell me how you how you did it. And what’s in there in these two stories are there’s specific things that we did, and processes that people out in the listening audience can use in your own organizations. So I’ll take you through it. So we went remote in 2012, when we founded the company. Why? Well, we’re actually just trying to solve a problem, a complex problem. How do you communicate over distance? Why did we want to do that? 

Well, it’s because when we got our third co-founder, Jen, she said, yes, I would love to join the company, except my husband just got a fellowship that’s going to take us abroad for the next 18 months, you think we can work that out? We’re like, well, that’s not what I expect to hear. But let’s figure out the problem. But we hadn’t done it before, necessarily, in this way. And we broke it down into some component parts. And we said, okay, what’s the really key thing that we need to do? What are the key principles? Well, we need to make sure that we meet on time. 

So do we have a commitment that we’re going to meet, and when we say we’re going to meet, we’re going to be there. The second was, what’s the process we’re going to use to make sure we can stay connected? Well, you have to make sure to get a room or a hotel or Airbnb, that has good connectivity. If we can do that, then we can move forward. And the third thing we need to do is we needed to display our work. So rather than walking around and being able to see something on a whiteboard, is there a way that we can display what we’re doing while not being in the same place? Those were the three challenges. 

The part that’s applying this work is about saying we didn’t know the answer. We didn’t have a right answer. But we were going to test something. And then we’re going to iterate. And that’s a key concept in move to the edge, declare it center. You don’t have to have the right answer all at once. In fact, you probably don’t have a right answer. What’s the thing to start with? Can you evaluate that? Can you get quick feedback? And can you make adjustments over time? So that was the start, it was actually really simple. 

And then we started to build new processes to make sure as we added more people, is that going to work? I’ll give you another quick example. At some point, we started hiring people in multiple locations. And at first, we had Zoom, all hands meetings. So most people were in San Francisco, and we gather in one place. And there’s a couple of people that are the locations. But we realized that that’s not a great situation, because everybody’s been in that situation where it’s a call a Zoom call, or it’s a conference call. And someone says, can you repeat that? Or can you move the mic closer, or someone mutes it, and then you can hear you can tell people are laughing. 

But you’re not part of that if you’re the one that’s remote. Well, that means it’s not a great experience for everybody. And everybody’s not having the same experience. So what we decided to do was, let’s iterate. Let’s have our Zoom meetings where everybody is at their own computer, even if they’re at the same place. So now everybody has the same experience. And we need to develop tools and systems to make sure that everybody can be heard. So we use the reaction, we do the hands up in Zoom, for example. And everybody here is has many people here probably done that. 

But the application to this model is you can start to ask questions, do an experiment, iterate on the experiment, have what we call retros. So retrospectives. How did that work? What worked poorly, what didn’t work? And do them quickly as opportunities for learning, and then move on. And slowly but surely, what you’ll get to is a really novel solution that works for your culture. So that’s one example of using the processes in move to the edge, declare it center in a real life example.

Nicole: I love that. I love that. Yeah. And, and the thing is, is, you know, I do virtual stuff all the time, because I do a lot of training in my company, as you know. And, you know, they want to do this hybrid thing. And it’s tough, because how do I talk to the humans right here, and then I gotta remember that they’re here, you know, and it’s a real challenge. Now, it can be done and you can do it effectively. But I love the fact that you said, hey, let’s all let’s all go. Now, here’s what he said is that you put together some test around the big idea, right. The problem, the complex problem. 

And then you have a retro, what he calls a retrospective, sit down, think about it, and then have a new version, you know, iterate what the next thing is and put new processes in place. So there’s just a little project management or a little process for you guys. So that’s fantastic. All right. So I think remote is fantastic. I think it makes a wonderful work/life balance for people as long as they can shut their office door and turn off things and go have dinner. All right, very good. All right. Well, let’s talk about this thing that I know, everybody’s like, no wait, talk about that payroll thing where everybody knows what everybody makes? How does that work? Yeah, talk to us about that. 

I think it’s a fantastic idea. And, you know, I, for those of you who are listening, it is Thanksgiving Eve. So I have these young people here from up in Lynchburg. They’re two of them are getting their, going to be doctors in physical therapy, and the other young man is already working in business. And he said, man, that’s what we need to do, it would make people work harder. So let’s see what you have to say, Everett. Is that the truth? I don’t know. That’s his theory. So tell us all about it.

Everett: I’m curious about his theory. But here’s the way we do it. So again, move to the edge, declare it center is about how to make good decisions in complex environments where there’s not really a known right answer. The complex problem that we were trying to solve was, how do you make sure that people get paid the same amount for the same work? Now, there’s lots of evidence, and that continues to be the case, particularly women don’t get paid the same amount of men for the same band of work. People of color, same thing. This even happens with companies who are well-intentioned, but don’t have a mechanism to track what people’s salaries are. 

And I’ll make it even more concrete. What happens if you have somebody that start, two people who start at a 5% difference in their salary because somebody negotiated something, but they’re doing the exact same work, and they’re good at what they do. And they get raised at 5%, 10%, 20% raise every single year. That 5% difference compounds over time. And over five years, that difference becomes greater. So then what happens when that person happens to find out that their colleague, who they have no ill will towards is doing the same work at the same rate at the same level of quality, but they have a 15 to 20% difference in salary. 

That person probably leaves. And as a company, you can’t afford to have your highest performers leaving, right when they’re really going to make a big difference. So that’s the essence of the problem. So there’s a lot of different ways we could do it. One of the ways we said was well, what would happen if we enabled everybody to see each other’s salary in internally, not externally, but internally. Alright, so that was the question. The first thing we did first process we used was a simple survey. And in some ways, it’s called a pre mortem. 

And a pre mortem is when you, when you’re at a project, and you’re about to launch it, maybe a couple of weeks before launch, you get everybody together, and you say, okay, we launch this thing and in nine months, this project is a complete disaster. Everything went wrong, what happened. And it’s an amazing tool to get people to talk. And as a leader, you go first, and you say, well, I wasn’t paying attention, or I let down this client or whatever. And then people start talking. And it’s a way of using projecting into the future, so that you can then plan for those outcomes in the in the present. It’s an amazing tool. 

And that’s an example of very specific tool that I outlined in the book and people can follow. So in this case, we did that. And we had a simple question, would you leave if salaries are transparent, that’s a pretty bad outcome. And when we asked that question, this survey people said, no, we wouldn’t. 19 out of 20 and the 20th person said, I’m not sure but I’m down to play. Let’s keep going. And so we went step by step through different stages. First, we did that. Then we said, well, are we figuring out the right problem? Is there a different way to solve it? 

So we did a lot of research. Key research is a step in move to the edge, declare it center. But what we did that was different, was we involved people from all parts of the organization, not just me, not my co-founders, not the leaders, everyone. There was a person at each level. Because they’re going to see something different than what we’d see. Brings up the third point you have to have a diverse team with diverse perspectives. It could be age, it can be gender, it could be race, it could be position. Having a diverse teams means you reduce the number of blind spots so that you have early. 

Once we got that information, what we realized we had to do was the really, we realized that our HR policies, and our leveling and our rubrics and stuff like that, were not sophisticated. Uh oh. We have to do a lot of work, the unsexy work of trying to figure it out. And that took the majority of the time. But what we realized is, if you’re going to do this system, you I’m sorry, you’re going to do this move, you have to have a system. So this is one of those declare it center moments. Do we have a set of rubrics that can scale with the organization to make sure people know what level they’re at and what their salary expectations are? 

Once we did that, we then went to the next step, which is, how do we communicate this? Well, what we had been doing throughout the project was making sure that, here’s what we’re doing, here’s what you can expect. So communication cadence is a tool to make sure that everybody stays aligned with where you’re going, why you’re going there. And then you make sure that you keep those promises, so that people say, hey, I may or may not agree, but I know you’re going to deliver when you say you’re gonna deliver. And I know I have an opportunity to give feedback. Really important step. I’ll skip a few for brevity. 

But at the end, we said, okay, we’re going to announce this in the front of the company. Before we did that, we say, what are the things we don’t know? We did another pre mortem, we cleaned up some things, and then we announced it. The reaction, kind of like, oh, okay ho-hum. Now, people, of course, went to look at the database and the spreadsheet with everybody’s salaries on it go, you would right, you’re going to be curious. But because we had brought them along the process that gave them opportunity to give feedback, had a diverse team and different perspectives, it enabled people to learn and trust the process that we’re going through, and that we built a system that they could rely on. 

Once those two things were there, moved to the edge, all the experimentation and all the discovery, declare it center, build the systems and the rubrics. Once we had all that people are like, I have all the information, all I just was going to do is see what the answer was. Now, one person said, now it was a lot of people who probably out there saying, oh, but I wouldn’t want to know if people my salary. And like, what if? What if? What if somebody knows that I’m making X amount that’s gonna induce some fear? And what if someone comes and says, I should be paid more than this person? What happened for us was the exact opposite. 

Someone said, hey, based on what I read, this person over here, should be paid more. It wasn’t them, this other person should get paid more. And they were right. Oh, so what that meant, oh, we had another thing we needed to do. Let’s build a system for communicating exceptions and when there’s challenges. So that the person doesn’t have to wonder where to go, they know where to go. Again, that’s a system. 

So we built a system for people to advocate for themselves and for others. All of these things build trust within the organization. And it took about seven months. So to be really clear about the timeline. But that system, because we’d done that work, has scaled from when we did it 20 people in 2017, to now about 150. And we have the same system, the same database. And there’s all these other advantages for that, that don’t come otherwise.

Nicole: All right, that is fantastic. Yeah. And so one of the things that’s really cool about this podcast is a big group of people that listen is our HR professionals. So their minds are absolutely blown right now. So I think that’s fantastic. Now, a couple of things that he mentioned in here that I don’t want you to miss is number one, that this is in the book number two, that he’s got the step-by-step process of how to do the pre mortem. 

And I love the fact, you know, because I’m a coach, and one of the things that I love are really good questions. And it sounds like this pre mortem. And this process of moving to the edge declaring center, before we start, the leaders who are doing this moving to the edge, are asking themselves very powerful questions. And here’s what I wrote down. What if everything went wrong, which I love. I have another guru. Everett’s one of my gurus now. He doesn’t know it, but he’s one of my gurus now. But I have this other gentleman, his name is Dan Sullivan. 

And Dan Sullivan says, teaches this thing about the three brains. And he says the first brain says you know what we could do? He goes but then immediately the second brain goes, oh, be careful. That can be hard, dangerous, challenging, you could get in trouble. It could be awful. And I think this pre mortem is how you address the second brain. You’re like, okay, well, let’s just play with it. Let’s just get out there and get messy, and figure it out. And then the third part of the brain is the brain that starts to work on the complex problem-solving and removes the the problems, right. 

So that’s how he talks about it. And the other powerful question you said, is we met and we asked ourselves before we start rolling this out, what do we not know? Which is so counterintuitive, because most leaders are like, I think we’re prepared. I think we know what we’re going to do. But your question was the flip.

Everett: Right. I can’t, I’m glad you emphasize that, and I can’t underscore how important that is. 

Nicole: Absolutely.

Everett: We’ve all been taught from grade school, to have the right answer to put our hand up to say loudly to say it first, right. And we got rewarded for decades for that. The world’s problems now are not ones that have the right answer, we can put our hands up for. And so the skill is asking better questions. The skill is understanding where are my blind spots and finding other sources of information to make up for that. We don’t have we don’t have all the answers. So I’m really glad that you brought that point up, particularly for leaders, because that can get hard. I’ll tell you one quick story after George Floyd was killed, and this is after the pandemic and wildfires, I asked a group of CEOs behind closed doors. 

So what are you doing to communicate about this complex problem about police killings and racism and so forth on top of everything else? And these were experienced people who had taken companies public. And I was both surprised and not surprised that people were like, I don’t know what to say. They hadn’t said anything. They were silent. And when they reveal why they said, look, I don’t know what to say, I don’t know if I’m gonna say the wrong thing. 

I’m afraid of pissing people off. I’m afraid, I’m afraid of all, those are totally human emotions, right. We all feel that way. But as leaders, we often don’t project that. And so the step of basically saying, yeah, it’s okay to say, I don’t know. And what this book is trying to do is saying, start there. And here’s some tools and some guides about how to get to places where you know,a little bit more. The edge for leaders is, I don’t know, that’s often where it starts.

Nicole: Yeah, I think that’s fantastic. I actually had a client that I was working with, and she went to her leader. And she said, we got to say something. And he’s like, I don’t know what to say. And so she said, well, we need to say something. He said, okay. And so it was kind of like left like, well, we’ll see what happens. Well, she, I don’t know, she just had like, a moral or ethical drive inside of her or I like to call it heart, you know? And she said, she’s like, I’m just gonna send something out to my team, from me. 

So she sent it out to her team. And, and then she got in trouble. Because she didn’t wait. But like, it was a long time. You know what I’m saying. So I said to her, you know, if that’s the best trouble that you’ve gotten in this year, you’re doing exactly what you need to do. Because it wasn’t that they were mad at her. They were just, you know, like, ah, you know, we should have done something. You know, like, they were feeling bad about it, you know, yeah. So, you know, I really celebrate that. And another thing you said, I, you know, I sit here and you see my head go down. 

It’s not because I’m checking my email. I’m writing down things you said. You said another thing about diversity that I think is so important too since we’re talking about George Floyd and responding to that not knowing and all this other jazz. So DEI is, you know, out there, people are talking about it, people are doing it, they’re trying to figure out how to do it correctly. I think it’s one of those things where we’re just on the edge, we don’t really know what we’re trying to figure it out. So just be comfortable with it being on the edge. 

But you said I think the best thing about, you know, the pre mortem is what could go wrong, do your research, look at all parts of it. And then make sure you get diverse perspectives because that people is what it’s about. You know, like you said, you know, people of different race, different age, different departments, different whatever, to give their feedback, so you can get this thing so don’t miss this. This is what Everett says everybody, remove the blind spot. That’s it. That’s all we’re trying to do here. You know, so I absolutely love that. Okay. All right. 

So please get the book let me tell you like you’re like well can he say all that again? No, he can’t say all that. We have more to talk about. So the book is called Move to the Edge. We get a good shot here and Declare it Center. All right, get the book and he’s got all the goods in there. All right. So you just gotta get to reading hat on. Okay, so the next place I want to go which I thought was great is on page 84 you talk about values. And I do this a ton in my strategic planning that I do with companies. 

But I’m going to tell you some of these values people come up with are boring and common and fluffy. And we need to be more creative. So will you talk for just a little bit about Truss’, core values and how you came up with them. I love this. Let me just read this one little thing. We wanted them to be verbs instead of nouns, concepts or ideas. I just want to say amen. Okay, go ahead.

Everett: Yeah. So this was probably two years after we founded the company. And all of us had been part of strong cultures and cultures, whether it’s culture each strategy for breakfast, or just, it just feels good to be everybody going the same direction, in a supportive way, culture is really important. And the mistake a lot of people make, particularly in startup back when we were small, is I don’t have time for culture, we got to do a bunch of other things. 

Well, culture is happening, whether you say so or not. And you’re gonna find out what that culture is sometime later. And that may not be what you hoped for. So it’s important to get ahead of that. So we knew is was really important. And we didn’t want to do it multiple times, we wanted to put a good effort in doing it once. So we sat down. And this is important, because the effort, I want to give people a sense of the effort. After a full day, we got together for six weeks, for three hours every Wednesday with a facilitator to hammer out these values. 

And of course, we worked on it during the week. But it was that kind of commitment that we needed to make. And what we were trying to do was, as I said, verbs instead of nouns, because this is the action, we want people to act into these values. Second, we wanted them to be memorable in short. So build alliances, pay attention, show up and step up, be adaptable, act without fear, pursue mastery. People can remember that. And then third, we have things underneath these principles. 

And all of these principles were designed that if someone came into Truss, and faced an unknown situation, a complex situation, could they use the values to make a decision without necessarily oversight? That’s when you know the values are doing the job. So we hammered those out, got them up. People really received them well, great. But here was the thing. And we can’t claim credit for this. But this was the brilliant thing. One of our employees said, you know, we have a Friday, we have Friday, all hands. Why don’t we do this? Let’s do a value shout out. 

So if you Nicole did something the past week, that helped, that was an example of practicing situational awareness, which is one of our principles. I’m going to say I am going to recognize Nicole for practicing situational awareness for this thing that she did. And this is the impacted it had. Here’s what happened. One, you like getting shout out. Oh, that’s really cool. I didn’t even know somebody noticed. Two, the person shouting the person out gets a chance to say thank you, or appreciation. Everybody else in the company gets to hear oh, this is something Nicole does. I wonder, I could learn from her. 

So it’s the cross-cultural communication thing going on, and then me as one of the founders, values get repeated every Friday. Not because you’re trying to memorize them, but because we’re getting examples of how they’re put into action. That was the genius. And we can’t credit for that. We just, we just said keep going do more of it. And it’s now again, this was started when we were like 5, 10 people. And we’re now 15, it is still a thing that people look forward to most every Friday, that value shout out. It’s amazing.

Nicole: Yeah, I love it. And one of the things that you have on here is, is your core values act without fear. Yeah. And oh my gosh, I just want to say everybody, hello out there. There’s so much fear in these workplaces that I go into Everett, you know. And here’s the thing, when I show up, I show up as the coach or the consultant, and you should be somebody’s here to help. But like, it is rare that that is the case. It may be if I showed up at your place. There’s a gal here to help, you know, because you guys have this thing where we’re not scared. 

But like I go other places. Everybody’s like, what does she want to know? Am I in trouble? Am I gonna get fired? I mean, it’s this whole thing. And so you have on here practice radical candor. And I’ll just put a little shout out to Kim Scott. I don’t know if y’all know the word Kim Scott, but her book, oh my god, great, book. Or please go get that or just at least go watch one of her YouTube videos that she’s hilarious and she’s very straightforward chick. And I’ve been asked to teach about her book. People want. And so I just think she’s fantastic. All right. 

So please get the book, again, let me tell you the name of the book, you’re like, what’s that book again? Move to the Edge, Declare it Center: Practices and Processes, o it’s not just a bunch of theory it has how to in it as well don’t miss that. Okay, last thing we’re going to talk about is, you know, values naturally lead into purpose. And so you have this thing called the purpose playbook. Can you give us a little download on that. So listen to everybody, we can put a playbook together.

Everett: So I’ll start by saying, a lot of the interior and exterior practices you can use in the organization is designed to be effective at the organizational level, to be able to move to the edge, declare it center. However, a framework is only as effective as the person using it. So if you don’t have your own alignment, and we’re all growing, it’s not perfect. But if you don’t have your own internal alignment, you probably need to start there. So I wrote the second piece, which is about how to take the practices from a personal standpoint. How do I and others that are interviewed deal with uncertainty and fear and so forth? And how do they overcome them? 

It’s funny, you pointed out the act without fear, because that’s the one that I would love to rewrite slightly, it’s act despite fear. Because I think fear is something that we all feel right. What you do with it, is the important bit. So I’ve outlined a couple of practices. For me, I’ve been meditating since 1992, on a fairly regular basis, did a bunch of silent workshops. There’s things that you can learn, if you are an athlete, or a musician, or taking anything where you’re really passionate about it, and you’re trying to get better. 

It’s amazing how much one can learn not from being nice and comfortable practicing the same thing every day, but putting a variation to be uncomfortable and learning. Boy I was terrible today. How can I do something better? That’s a different version of the edge. And what one is doing is practicing being uncomfortable. Because we as leaders are always in uncomfortable situations. And if we can get comfortable with being uncomfortable, we’ll be that much further ahead when we have to really act in the face of really serious challenges. So one of the pieces of that is the purpose playbook. 

And it comes from, it’s using a similar tactic, as the pre mortem. It’s called a counterfactual, it’s imagining the future that you’re not part of, and putting it into a playbook helps. I got this from a friend, as I was trying to decide between grad schools, I didn’t know what to do. I had two great choices, but I didn’t know how to do it. And when I was younger, I’d make pro/con lists, or I get lots of me. And it’s just it didn’t really work. As she goes, oh, you need to write a letter to yourself. Like what does that mean? Here’s the short version, pick one of the options. Doesn’t matter which. Write it down, then write it down in vivid, vivid detail. Where do you live? What’s it smell like? Who your friends, what are you studying, and all that. 

Two things will happen. Either you’ll be like, oh, I do not want this, throw that out. Or you say, hey, this sounds really cool. Go for it, make that decision. Then close the letter. And then say do not open for another six months. Open in six months. And you test your hypothesis, you test the reasons why you made decision. How close are you? I did that it really worked. It worked better than I expected. I won’t get into that story for you if we maybe can come back to a different time. 

So I developed this and I said wait a minute, how can we use the same thing to develop purpose. So rather than doing a end of year beginning of year and this would be good timing, because you know, we’re going towards the end of the year. Instead of doing a list of new year’s resolutions, which by the way, and I’m sure you know, Nicole and listeners out there. I think 60% of people give up on their New Year’s resolutions by the fourth week after the new year. It just goes crazy down.

Nicole: Yeah, unless it’s the gym and it’s only a week. 

Everett: Yeah, right, exactly.

Nicole: It’s too crowded. I couldn’t get on the treadmill.

Everett: Yeah. There’s gotta be a better way to do this. So I iterated through a couple of things and I came up with a purpose playbook. And so what it is is basically saying okay, what did I do well in the past year, and I’d write some things down. I’d look at my calendar month by month. I don’t know, but if you’ve had that experience where you’re like, wow, that happened in February, that seemed like a zillion years ago. And you write those things down and you take notes on each month, grab a glass of wine, or some tea or whatever, spend some time. 

Then go to your photo album, because a lot of our history is now captured in images, not in writing. So that’s another thing. So some of it’s personal, some is professional, and you gather all those things in. Okay. Well, what is this telling me? Are there any themes? Are there places that you’re like, wow, that gives me lots of energy, or places like, wow, I never want to do that, again. You start to draw some of these themes out. First round, first iteration, no big deal. 

Then you take a look at maybe some things in the past, in the distant past. What are the things that really energize you? And not just the accomplishments, it could be something small, but something where you got that feeling where you’re really energized, you’re really feeling confident, you’re on top of the world, whatever it happens to be. Is there any relationship between what you just did, and some things in the past? 

Okay, so then becomes the crux. How can that be expressed in five words or less? All right. How can that be expressed in five words or less. Those themes. You can test it out. You might write, a couple of different versions, you might ask some people, and this is for you. It could be some people do it in pictures, some people do it with movement, but it’s capturing something that’s motivating. And then you can say, okay, that’s my purpose. Now, here’s so for example, for me, what I noticed was, I really liked doing podcasts, I really liked writing articles. 

I liked interacting with people and exchanging ideas. This was probably five, six years ago. And what I noticed was, by taking a couple steps in writing, I got invited to different podcasts, different meetings, different opportunities. I was like, wow, I’m kind of moving into different rooms. And I started to write my, my purpose, as moved to the upper room, moved to the higher room. Now, that sounds like well, that’s not concrete. This is not about kind of concrete, it’s not a planning, it’s about a direction, it’s a compass. 

And so what would happen is during the rest of that year, and this was two years ago, I would basically come up with decisions, should I go to this conference or this conference? Should I do this piece of work? Or this piece of work? Should I travel? Or should I stay home? And I started to use move to the upper room to help me sort through this decision. 

And when I would use that, I was like, oh, wow, it’s really clear. I should stay home. And maybe I should take some of these ideas I have for book and maybe write them down, maybe share it with another person. Yes, I should say yes to that podcast, even though it’s three in a day, because you never know which one of them is going to move to me to the next room. And it became an incredibly effective way of sorting through decision-making when I had two great choices, or I didn’t know how to evaluate it. 

That’s the core of the purpose playbook. Now, you might be like, oh, okay, this is pretty simple. Take your time, take hours, take a weekend. It’s all good. But here’s the key thing. At the end of it, every day, I, and I still do this. I do three categories. What I’m grateful for, gratitude practice. I’m sure a lot of people do that. A couple of things I’m grateful for today. Two, what is my purpose. And I usually try and do no more than three for a year. 

And I write them down. And then I write down anything that I did during the last 24 hours that I had done. What did I do? What did I finish that has something to do with those purposes? So it’s not the entire list, it’s the one that’s directed to the purpose. And yes, I write down my purpose over and over again, every day. Why? Because it’s not going to leak out of my brain. Right? That’s really important.

Nicole: The doctors called that cognitive therapy. That’s what they call it.

Everett: Okay, there you go.

Nicole: Right, yeah. So I tell people all the time, you know, there you have these things in your brain called dendrites. And if you don’t challenge them, they just hang in the same place. And really, you know, this moving to the edge and declaring it center is constantly rearranging these dendrites and better neural passageways is really what you’re talking about, which is fantastic. 

All right. So again, let’s say one more time move to the edge and declare it center. It’s in there how to have this purpose playbook. I got it. Okay, purpose playbook. Alright. And I have so many notes. That’s why I got lost. Alright, so here’s the thing. He said, write a letter to yourself when you got a decision, you know. I’m gonna do this or I’m gonna do this. And he decided, now is this the decision to go to Duke?

Everett: It was a decision to go to Stanford for business school.

Nicole: For business school. Okay. Alright.

Everett: I knew I wanted to go to Duke.

Nicole: He didn’t have to think about coming to North Carolina.

Everett: One, March, late March day, and a Carolina blue sky. Warm spring weather after all the pollen is out, right. I was like, I have to go here. So yes.

Nicole: Absolutely. Okay. Yeah. So come to North Carolina, come see me and I’ll take you over to the campus. And we’ll also go to my other favorite place which is High Point University. We’ll talk about that another time. Oh, my gosh, that’s an amazing spot too. Alright, so anyways. Alright, so I love what you said about the whole purpose playbook, you know, is that it helps you write a letter to yourself. 

You go in and you said what, you know, what do I do well? I think the greatest thing in there that I’m going to do is go through my pictures from the year. Oh, my gosh, that is genius. All right, and then look at, you know, in the past, what are the things that have kind of brought me to life and you know, the themes that I pick up, and then how do I, you know, sit with those, think about them. 

Maybe this idea, he said, also I do meditation, one of the things that I do is the Christian practice of centering prayer, same thing, and then getting in silence. And then those of you who are listening, I have a mentor, I talk about her quite often. Her name’s Anne Starrette. And she has every year two rounds of this thing called the Big Silence. It changes people, I’m just saying. They slow down. Here’s how she says it, Everett. She says, this helps people slow down to the speed of their soul.

Everett: Yeah, I like it. I like that. Yeah.

Nicole: Then you come up with kind of a one-sentence theme for the year. And I think yours is beautiful. Move to the higher room, and then use this as a compass to move yourself forward. And then finally, he says every day, write down some things you’re grateful for. Rewrite your purpose. And what did you do to add to your purpose in the last 24 hours. Did I do a decent job of getting it all?

Everett: Yeah, yeah. And I think I will just add two things. One is, I sort of gave the story about writing letters to yourself to kind of almost give some background, it’s a separate practice. But the purpose playbook, it’s really something you can do over a weekend. Or, you know, over vacation is a perfect time, because as you’re saying, people slow down to the speed of their soul, right? Often, not all the time. But often there’s opportunities there. 

But the other thing is, I don’t know if you or anybody else, when you hear about like set your purpose. The first thing I think is like, oh my God, what’s the right one. What if I choose the wrong one, it felt like a lot of pressure. And instead, what this is, is like, you’re writing something down, you’re taking evidence from your own history. And then you can change it. You know, a quarter down the road, in January 2020, I had certain purposes. 

By March, and by April, did that make any sense whatsoever because of everything that happened? No. So why would I change? Why wouldn’t I change my purpose? Or why would I adjust my purpose? So giving yourself opportunity to give yourself feedback. And then each year you look back and like, well, was that the right purpose? Yeah, that sounds really cool. How can I even do better?

Nicole: Yeah, I love it. I love it. Yeah. And here’s the thing, you know, Everett is way younger than me. But you go through stages, you know what I mean? Like so like, I’m an empty nester, I have a different set of things I need to be getting done. And now I kind of have the luxury of like, you know, the focus is back on me again. You know, so I had a little 30-year stint where it was not focused on me. You know, my purpose was to, you know, raise people and create a loving environment. And, you know, and now they all have mortgages, car payments, their own cell phone bill. I’ve raised taxpaying adults, this was a very big success in my life. 

Everett: Excellent. Well done. Well done. 

Nicole: Yeah. And they’re, and they’re actually really cool, fun people too. So I think you have different stages, and I don’t, I have what I call a mission statement, which I think is very similar. But Nicole Greer is on a mission to energize, impact and influence people to lead a more vibrant life through considering what’s possible and taking action to make it probable. I mean, that’s what a coach does. That’s what a trainer does. That’s, you know, that’s what this podcast is about. So I think it’s important. 

The other thing I wanted to say too, is the other thing I love the images is because it is almost towards the end of the year and so I just did my vision board. It’s a little teenie tiny one. Yeah, but I think that’s another cool tool. So if you if you want to do a vision board, I got a little thing for that. You can email Nicole@ vibrantcoaching. 

And here’s the deal. If you want to know how to do your purpose playbook, you got to get a hold of Everett Harper. Get the book, it’s right in there. Let me tell it to you one more time, Move to the Edge and Declare it Center. And then you can reach Everett on Twitter. He’s at Everett Harper. And it’s e v e r e t t h a r p e r. He’s also on LinkedIn, same spelling, find him on LinkedIn. And what did I miss Everett?

Everett: Um, it was, this was great. I will say something you didn’t miss. But something that I didn’t add, which is I am trying to do the purpose playbook in an interactive form. I have a website, Same spelling as Nicole just gave. And so I hope at the beginning of the year, and I’ll send it to you and you can put in show notes, etc. About how to do a mini purpose playbook using the tools in the book. The other thing I would say is it’s hardcover, but it’s also an audio book. And it’s also an e book. So whatever way you like to consume your information, we got you.

Nicole: That is fantastic. Again, thank you for being on the Build a Vibrant Culture. podcast. It’s been such a great pleasure to be with you and listen, everybody, go get the book and go check it out. Get your purpose figured out. Everett, you are such a blessing. Thank you so much.

Everett: Thank you and have a great holiday everybody.

Voiceover: Ready to build your vibrant culture? Bring Nicole Greer to speak to your leadership team, conference or organization to help them with her strategies, systems and smarts to increase clarity, accountability, energy and results. Your organization will get lit from within. Email And be sure to check out Nicole’s TEDx talk at

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