The ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ of leadership advising is an author, business consultant.
Business management consultant Jane Walton addresses “jellyfish” in the workplace, another term for disengaged employees, in her 2014 book.
VITAL STATS: She backpacked through Europe before earning a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Tulsa; holds a master’s degree in human resources management with an emphasis in organizational development from Webster University.
NOW: Described as the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” of leadership advising; she launched Jane Walton Consulting in 2010; authored her first book, “Why are the Jellyfish Taking Over?” in 2014; travels nationally giving keynote speeches about her innovative business management concepts; lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with her husband, Parke Randall.
Why did you start Jane Walton Consulting? HR is the eyes and ears of an organization, so early in my career, I saw the managers’ side of the story and the employees’ side of the story ... the reality is somewhere in between. I saw how decisions impacted people really profoundly. A leader can really lift people up or really destroy people.
I saw first-hand how a not-so-great situation can quickly become a bad situation and, worse, a chronic situation. The brain sees the workplace as a social system, so we must treat it as a social system. My philosophy is that employees need to understand the business, and the business needs to understand its employees — and they both need to understand the customer. Connecting those three things is critical.
In your book, you compare a workplace to an ecosystem, and a disengaged employee to a jellyfish. How did you come up with the concept? If we look at the balance of the ecosystem, and what happens when things start getting out of balance and why, there’s innate wisdom there. I went to the beach with my sisters and we splashed around in the ocean … We got back to the beach, and I heard someone talking about jellyfish in the water. I thought, if I had known about jellyfish, I would have never gone out and been as carefree and fun. Jellyfish can ruin a perfectly good day at the beach, and, in the workplace, jellyfish can ruin a perfectly good day at work.
What is the most common reason for jellyfish, and how do you recommend solving it? Executives not involving people. They’ll only involve a small group of people, and often times it’s the same group of people. A lot of times leaders are managing up — spending all of their energy managing to their superiors, and not enough time connecting and engaging with the people below them. That’s why what I call the DISH model is so important; the group needs Direction, Information, Support, and (the chance to be) Heard. What I tell leaders is that if something isn’t going great with their team, if people are starting to disengage, complain, be angry — one of those areas in their ecosystem is getting out of balance.
Your father, John Brooks Walton, was a renowned architect in Tulsa. How did he shape your career? I grew up with the antithesis of a jellyfish. My father was incredibly passionate about work and had a very resourceful, can-do attitude. My dad is at a retirement community now in Tulsa and is even still speaking about architecture. I saw a video a couple of weeks ago from my brother-in-law of a room full of wheelchairs, and my father standing at the front of the room speaking to everyone.