Abigail Baker, Founder of Centient Imagine.
She is a consultant and public speaker that works to inspire organizational change by working with executives to forge a better humanity through the convergence of technology, belonging, advisory, and creativity. When it comes to transformation, disruption, and change, her favorite words are “let’s imagine” and “I wonder” to inspire companies to reach new heights.
She is a firm believer that stories have the power to change the world and is a wellness advocate who often pushes the envelope in organizational development, challenging the status quo, and creating a holistic work environment. She believes that creating space in your life to play, imagine and dream is vital in culture evolution, problem-solving, stress management, and innovation. She is also a workplace safety thought leader who teaches defense thinking, radical belonging, and active shooter training.
Connect with Abigail on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Their fight against the recession has the potential to breed workplace violence and betray belonging
- Becoming more skilled at developing leaders in our organizations
- Anchoring change in organizational culture
- Change requires sitting in your discomfort and pushing deeper into issues before driving towards solutions because when we sit in our discomfort we’re forced to face the truth about ourselves and the ecosystem that has made us who we are professionally and personally
- Taking the “not on my watch” vow as a leader and the importance of drawing the line in the sand
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Atlanta Business Radio. Brought to you by on pay. Atlanta’s New standard in payroll. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:24] Lee Kantor here another episode of Atlanta Business Radio, and this is going to be a good one. But before we get started, it’s important to recognize our sponsor, Onpay. Without them, we couldn’t be sharing these important stories. Today on Atlanta Business Radio, we have Abigail Baker with Centient Imagine. Welcome, Abigail.
Abigail Baker: [00:00:43] Thank you so much for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:45] Lee I am so excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us about Sentient. Imagine how you serving folks.
Abigail Baker: [00:00:51] Basically what we do is we want to forge a better humanity and we do that through a lot of different ways, and we focus on technology and help business leaders really capture modern tools and craft the stories needed to create culture change and transformation and creativity and innovation within their organization. So we are excited to partner with executives and really use these stories and initiatives as the backbone of organizational culture shifts and communications initiatives. Program audits, workforce training. We cover a lot, but technology and kindness and care and just creating a better workforce is at the heart of everything that we do.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:33] So what’s your backstory? How’d you get involved in this line of work?
Abigail Baker: [00:01:37] So I came from a very untraditional background. I started out kind of going a little bit, you know, more of the corporate path. I was actually a creative for a long time. I was in music and was telling stories through music. I was in production, and then I went back to school as an adult and I got my bachelor’s degree and my master’s degree. And I really realized that my creativity and the way that I see things differently is really, really needed in the workplace. And so that’s what I chose to do, is follow that and not step away from that creativity, but reconstruct it and learn a lot about technology. And technology has grown over the years since I’ve been in the workforce as a full time employee, and I started my first company in 2016 and now, you know, I’m spinning up some different entities and doing some different things and it’s just been a wild ride and a fantastic journey.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:40] So how has it been talking to the corporates regarding using storytelling and using your creativity to help them with their messaging and help them with their corporate culture?
Abigail Baker: [00:02:51] You know, a lot has happened since the pandemic. I think pre-pandemic I want to say that it was a lot harder to do. So we were in a different time. Things were somewhat less complex and the pandemic threw a lot of corporations into a tailspin and they just needed new solutions, Right? And so by the time I was popping up and really putting together my portfolio, a lot of the business leaders that I was in touch with reached out to me and we forged collaborations because of that, because new ideas were needed, because creativity was needed. And a lot of times it really is just looking at the same issue in a different light. And that’s why I think inclusion and having just a broad set of people across the table and people who can really lead versus manage, that’s another thing that I’ve realized, you know, as I’ve worked and as we’re kind of in this post pandemic phase right now is that we are not really cultivating leadership in our organizations. And so there’s a huge leadership gap right now, and we need people who can rally people together and step up and set the vision and push forward.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:09] So what are some symptoms an organization might have that’s kind of breadcrumbs if they’re paying attention that maybe they do have issues with their culture, maybe they do have a lack of leaders on the bench. What are some of the things that maybe are obvious to you but aren’t so obvious for the people that are in the midst of the chaos?
Abigail Baker: [00:04:31] That’s such a great question. One thing that I said to my clients recently is no news is not good news. Silence is not golden. We really have to get away from this concept of, oh, well, I don’t hear anything. And so I think my clients are, you know, are my employees are doing okay. Right. You know, I don’t hear any buzz at the water cooler. We have to dig deeper. We have to ask questions. And a lot of times business leaders forget that because there is a power dynamic, right? So people really have to be able to trust you. And that trust comes by asking questions and listening instead of talking and always being the loudest voice in the room. And so I really want to tell, you know, businesses, if you’re hearing nothing from your employees, that is not a good sign. Right. And a lot of business leaders and. Managers ignore that.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:26] Now, some of the things that you’re asking of the leaders are to have some uncomfortable conversations with their people. Is this one of those kind of necessary evils? This is just part of you have to go through this type of pain in order to have the growth that the leaders ultimately want.
Abigail Baker: [00:05:46] Absolutely. You know, in I think it’s a Western society thing. We really don’t like discomfort. Right. And we’re so lucky to live in a country where we have so much abundance. Right. And we often forget that change comes through discomfort and leaders often have to stop rescuing people. We have to learn to get uncomfortable together in a holistic way and in a way that promotes change in order to move forward. Right. It’s like clearing a path through the jungle. Yeah, You have to hack at the trees and, you know, get the bugs out of the way. But once you do that, you have a way forward. You’re forging a new path. And so it’s it’s critical that we have these crucial conversations right where that are that are really grounded in trust. And so what what some leaders, I think have done is as we you know, we’re coming out of the pandemic now. We have all of these this recession buzz going on is, you know, they’re like, well, hey, tell me, you know, tell me what you think. But if you haven’t built that trust, those crucial conversations fall short. So you have to make a practice of asking questions, having crucial conversations, building trust and getting your team and even yourself used to being uncomfortable. One thing I do, Lee, is every single week, multiple times a week, I do my best to get out of my comfort zone. At this point, I actually do get out of my comfort zone. I will do something or experience something that I’m afraid of that makes me uncomfortable and I notice that if I even go one week without doing that, I start to fall back in old habits and old rhythms that really block my my critical thinking and innovation. So it’s so important that we do things and explore together as a community, things that are uncomfortable so that we are enlightened and can think outside of where we are right now.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:47] Now are the strategies you deploy different for like kind of a mega corporation? The ones that get all the headlines, the ones that are typically laying off thousands of people at a time, and then they go through one of those cycles and then it’s over. And then they’re like, for all the survivors, they say, Trust me, things are different now. And then all those people are, you know, have these scars that they remember two years before they were layoffs. And, you know, nothing’s really changed as opposed to like a smaller company where everybody knows everybody and there’s, you know, more organic conversations and authentic conversations. Are the strategies the same or are they foundationally the same or and the tactics are a little different or are they totally different?
Abigail Baker: [00:08:33] I think that the foundation are are very much the same. The tactics are completely different because with larger organizations you have to learn how to measure change differently. And if you don’t, you can be very discouraged. Right? You also have to really get good at influence, right? Especially as an outside consultant. You have to learn how to influence in a matrixed organization and be able to kind of follow a path to get to the decision makers who can then move the needle and bring about change. And you’re so right. In a smaller organization, there’s different dynamics now, I will say with smaller organizations, and that’s mid sized companies, that’s small businesses, startups and nonprofits. So what are the biggest obstacles can be when you have the person at the top who is really not on board, right? So there’s kind of less decision makers that are there that can balance the equilibrium a little bit. And so that can be challenging in itself. But you really have to use different tactics and different measurements of success in different types of organizations.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:46] So now, what’s it like working with your firm? How does an engagement begin? What is usually that first point of contact?
Abigail Baker: [00:09:54] So I work very relationally and for me, I take on projects where I feel that I can make an impact and where I feel that people will be able to change. I’m not the I’m not the type of consultant to hire. If you want a quick fix. I always put myself out there as a revolutionary and a positive disruptor. And so when engagements come in, it usually starts with a relationship and a conversation. I also do a lot of discovery myself and my team. So there’s a series of discovery meetings, lots of conversation and communication to make sure that we’re a good fit and also to make sure that organizations are often ready to change. Right. And of course, you know, I don’t like to go nuclear. I don’t like to to, you know, airdrop into into a gig and start to, you know, drop bombs. I work very holistically and we start from the bottom and and we move up. But at the same time, there has to be a readiness for change. And so I take a lot longer probably than most consultants to set up engagements. But the engagements I have are deep and they’re long term, and I often walk away with lifelong connections, relationships, friendships and colleagues that I respect and they respect me. And we trade value in these in these types of engagements. So, you know, I’m a deep thinker. I’m passionate about what I do, and I build all of my my engagements on a relational level.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:28] Can you share a story of maybe one of your successes? Don’t name the name of the company, but maybe share what the challenge was and how you were able to go in there and help them go to a new level.
Abigail Baker: [00:11:38] Yeah, I think one of the most incredible experiences as a consultant is to to witness growth, and that’s whether you’re consultant consulting or speaking. And there was a nonprofit that I was working with where they were really, really struggling with resistance. There was a lot of people who didn’t understand the need for change. They couldn’t wrap their heads around the technology. And one of the biggest messages that I crafted was you have to be in love with learning. And that’s really how change becomes easier, is you’re in love with learning, and curiosity fuels your learning. And you also have to just tackle new challenges playfully. And that was that was probably the biggest thing that was able to deflate all of the tension around the required trainings that we were rolling out and really get people on board and just playful. You know what? You’re not going to know everything that this technology is supposed to do. The training might be difficult, but be playful, be curious, let your imagination run wild. But we often squash this right as especially as we grow up. The older we get as adults, we really kind of turn that down on ourselves. And I think it’s so opposite to hear someone say, you know what, that playfulness, that imagination and that curiosity that you had as a kid and maybe even young adult, I want you to flip that light switch on and that is going to fuel you for the rest of your professional journey. And that’s probably one of the biggest changes that I saw in that organization at that time.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:17] Is that kind of a common challenge for organizations to foster that beginner’s mindset when so many people are afraid to show the weakness and vulnerability of I don’t know, or, you know, they might lose their job because they’re supposed to know, like it’s a balance between I have to, you know, exude confidence and competence and show that I know stuff. But I also have to be humble and mindful that I don’t know everything. And it changes so rapidly. But I know where to look. I think, you know, like that balance is difficult for especially those politically minded people that are good maybe at climbing the corporate ladder. Yes.
Abigail Baker: [00:14:01] Absolutely. And that’s such a good point because we’ve lost well-being in our organizations. And there’s so much fear right now, like you said. I mean, there’s a huge mental health crisis happening in corporate America and also just our country. Right. People are still suffering from the trauma that they experienced during the pandemic. We have a huge, you know, thing happening with women leaving the workforce because they have other duties and they’re not finding the support they need. And now we have companies insisting that people come back to the office because they’ve lost human connectivity, which is a real concern. Right. And then we’ve had cost containment because of recessionary, you know, measures and indicators that have been coming up. So there’s just so much fear right now in the workforce that people cannot play. And I think it’s people cannot even be passionate. Right. But I also think that people are so focused on climbing up that they’re not really committing to learning. Right. And again, it’s a strategy and that comes down to organizations, leaders. They are the ones who guide culture. They are the ones that really set the standard. And if you find that your populace is only interested in moving up instead of gaining knowledge and working with other humans to create something good that is on you. And I think leaders really have to. Again, we talked about leadership versus management. Leaders have to realize that they are driving this car. Right. And they need to be the ones to initiate the fixes.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:43] Yeah, I remember. Or one of my first interviews I ever did was an HR person. He told me something that kind of stuck with me. He said when it was regarding this type of training, he’s like, Do you want to train people and then have the fear that they might leave or do you want to not train them and just keep them the way that they are? You know, like what? What’s a bigger win, you know, which is worse from a risk reward standpoint, You know, letting them just figure it out and hope it works and then they stay a long time and then you’re dealing with somebody that’s not happy, that’s, you know, kind of sabotaging or you train them and they become a superstar and inspire other people. But they might leave and go. And, you know, they’re so inspired and valued that they go somewhere else. I mean, it’s a risk and it’s an investment. But I think I’d rather have a bunch of people with the right attitude than just be stuck with somebody that’s not I’m not thrilled with. And I kind of dread seeing every day.
Abigail Baker: [00:16:44] Exactly. And that’s that’s ecosystem. So let’s say we take this model, right, where companies are committed to investing in their employees, they’re training them up. They’re creating rock stars. Right? The truth is, you know, depending on some of their other indicators, such as, you know, is there a gender pay gap? Are they, you know, paying people in accordance to market rate? What’s their culture like? But, you know, I think personally that that that measures out in the ecosystem, right? That balances. So, yes, you’ll have a couple people who are rock stars who might want to go and move up. But if you holistically support those people, guess what? Those rock stars are going to refer other people, Hey, I’m leaving. You know, I got someone else behind me that can come in. And I told them how great the training program was. Don’t worry. You know, you’re in good hands when you when you do the right thing. It pays off. And companies have to remember that.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:38] Well, what do you need more of? How can we help you?
Abigail Baker: [00:17:42] You know, I’m on a mission to create a better world, a better America where everybody everybody benefits from the holistic health of the workforce. And I’m also really passionate about corporate America because it impacts society. It impacts our government. Right. People who work 40 hours a week for a company, you are committed, you know, and there’s so much that companies and people can do to really grow and just be better. And so that’s what I’m looking for. You know, anybody who wants to collaborate, who wants to work together, who wants to have coffee, who shares the same passion, you know, please feel free to reach out to me. I’d love to chat with you.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:28] So is there a website for someone to connect?
Abigail Baker: [00:18:31] Yes, there is sentient with a C. Imagine.com and from there you’ll be able to see a plethora of some of the other initiatives and think tanks that I’m spinning up and LinkedIn is a great place to connect with me as well. I’m Abigail Baker on LinkedIn and I look forward to connecting.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:49] Well, thank you so much for sharing your story. You’re doing such important work and we appreciate you.
Abigail Baker: [00:18:54] Thank you so much, Leigh.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:55] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on Atlanta Business Radio.
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