Designing our Work with Susan O’Malley

Susan O’Malley is an expert at building high-performance teams and culture. This is the passion that influenced her work at Google, as well as her current position of Senior Director at IDEO. She joins Barry O’Reilly on this week’s show to share her inspiring story.


Being Open to Following Your Heart

Few people approach new opportunities with the openness that Susan displays, Barry comments. She credits her mindset to a love of learning and the ‘harmonizer’ role she embodied as a middle child. It deepened when she joined Google in its early years. “I literally saw the product changing the world and changing people’s business models,” she says. “…And it gave me this tremendous sense of optimism around what technology can do, not just for the big guys, but actually for the little guys and the guys in the middle. That was a really, really inspiring thing.”  [Listen from 4:20]



What Makes Great Leaders

Susan looked to the great leaders around her for traits she could cultivate in her own life. From her observations, great leaders were charismatic, fair, intentional and they succeeded at whatever they put their hand to. Barry adds about great leaders, “…they all seem to be working in a different field than they originally trained, and yet they really cultivated this capability to continuously adapt to changing circumstances. And they build systems that allow them to explore uncertainty very intentionally; they build a lot of fast feedback mechanisms into things. They’re very curious to get outside their comfort zone.” [Listen from 11:35]


The Value of Authenticity

Authenticity is about being yourself. Susan says, “It helps other people be attracted to what you’re trying to do. It helps us communicate. It helps us produce amazing results in other people… Our job is to cultivate companies and teams where we have a great mix of people, and where people can really be themselves so that we can all find this energy and find this collaboration that’s gonna take us to the next level.” Barry comments that being inauthentic demands energy, while just being your true self gives you energy. [Listen from 17:00]


Designing our Work with Susan O’Malley

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Living Your Values

Performing at your highest level as an organization demands living out your values. Susan relates that she had to unlearn several ideas when she joined IDEO, including how to embrace ambiguity and how to work with designers. She now teaches these lessons to her coaching clients. “It’s not about your performance, and it’s not about what you know,” she tells her clients. “It’s about the things that everybody can make together.” Creating this kind of high-performance environment means knowing your culture, she points out. She describes how leaders and teams can create the culture they aspire to. [Listen from 21:00]


Focus on the Process Not the Outcome

High performance is more about perfecting the process rather than the outcome, according to Susan. Barry adds, “The result is secondary to figuring out what’s the real problem here and having a good process to explore it. And if we do that well, we’re gonna be taken to the direction that we should go, that’s probably not where we thought we would be at the start.” Susan shares practical tips including the Hierarchy of W’s and having Torque Partners. [Listen from 31:10]



Looking Ahead

Susan is coming to understand more and more how important culture change is in building an organization that will succeed. She is delving into talent design: helping organizations identify, retain and develop the talent they need to win. [Listen from 39:25]



Susan O’Malley on LinkedIn 

Twitter: @suzisch


Books referenced:

Nine Lies About Work Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall

Dying for a Paycheck – Jeffrey Pfeffer

Building Microservices – Sam Newman

Unleashed – Frances Frei and Anne Morriss 


Listen and Subscribe to the Unlearn Podcast at

Apple Podcasts | Stitcher | Google Play | Google Podcasts | Spotify | iHeartRadio

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