The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

In a surprising twist of fate in 2015, Joe Hart took the helm of one of the most iconic companies in personal and professional training. A visionary and risk-taker, Hart helped build two technology-based companies, including an e-learning business called InfoAlly, before becoming president of Asset Health. Now, as president and chief executive officer of Dale Carnegie Training, he oversees the development of soft skills around the world. In 2017, he launched a rebranding of the 106-year-old organization that has impacted his life since an early age. The ACCJ Journal sat down with Hart to learn more about that story and his thoughts on the future of the workplace.

What led you to Dale Carnegie Training?
I grew up in a house where my dad talked about Dale Carnegie, so the name was one that was familiar to me. He gave me a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People when I was a teenager and, when I started my career as a young lawyer in 1995, I decided to take a Dale Carnegie course. It changed everything for me. I didn’t expect it to—I was just expecting to take a great course—but it really impacted my vision of myself.

I ultimately left the practice of law and started a learning business, which I sold, and then helped start another company, and so forth. But that course was all about living an intentional life, and it really got me thinking about what I wanted to do. It also impacted my ability to work with people more effectively.

After I took a Dale Carnegie course, I just wanted to keep applying the principles. I followed the system and would try, every day, to practice a different principal. For years, I did that. And, ultimately, that led to the creation of a product concept that became my first business. So, Dale Carnegie had been a really important part of my life.

When the prior CEO of Dale Carnegie retired, and I was recruited for the position, it was exhilarating and a little scary at the same time. I have six kids and we were all living in the state of Michigan. We made a big decision to move. I was the president of a different company, and it was a big decision to leave that company, which I helped start, and go to Dale Carnegie. I don’t think I would have done that for anyone else. But this was a chance to lead a company that had such a profound impact on my life. I saw as an opportunity to really work to take the company to an entirely different level.

That’s a rare and profound situation. How did you feel thinking back to your dad giving you that book?
It was very emotional for me—just to be transparent—because of that course and how it had meant so much to me. Now I had a chance to work with this iconic company. I was literally assuming the responsibility of Dale Carnegie, the founder. So, it was overwhelming and, at the same time, just exhilarating. I have been here at Dale Carnegie for three years now and I love what I do. I can’t get enough of it. And my father, he certainly couldn’t have envisioned when he gave me that book that I was going to end up leading the company one day.

What difference do you see in the importance of soft skills today compared with the past?
Our belief is that the fundamentals don’t change. The fundamen­tals of human nature don’t change. So, the things that people need to do to communicate, to influence, to develop stronger relation­ships effectively, those things haven’t changed. What has changed is the environ­ment in which we operate. The tech­nology has changed, but the need to listen, to give appreciation, to admit when we make mistakes, to build trusting relationships—all of those things are still the same. What is different is the way we connect with one another.

Do you find that technology helps or harms people’s ability to build relationships?
There’s no question that a lot of the technology—especially mobile technology and social media—can have the tendency to desensitize us to how we interact with each other, to the impact of our words, and so forth. Ironically, social media is about being more social yet it can make us more insular. I know from my own kids, and also from people in the workplace, that sometimes people lack the skills to interact the way they once did. They just don’t have the same kind of opportunity to be in front of each other, not to the same degree as before.

At the same time, technology creates a lot of oppor­tunity to bring people together—if they know how to connect and use that technology in a positive way. So, recognizing that I am talking with someone—even if it’s through a website or through a phone—is important. What is my tone? What words do I choose? How do I express appreciation? How do I demonstrate listening? How do I help that person feel important? There are pros and cons to technology, but I think the opportunity for people to cultivate soft skills, the need for those, has probably never been greater.

Hart presents the Dale Carnegie Leadership Award to Salesforce President and CEO Koide Shinichi in August 2018.

Do new Dale Carnegie courses take social media into account?
There was a rewrite of How to Win Friends and Influence People for the digital age some years ago. I think the core training hasn’t changed. Some of the product has changed in terms of integrating blended learning, that type of thing. The context might be different, but the core product is the same. Recognizing, for example, who is in the classroom means the trainer may engage those participants in a different way, but the training itself—the Dale Carnegie course that has influenced millions of people—is still the same.

It often seems that people today are less aware of how their words are interpreted.
I think you’re exactly right. That was the case for a while with email, but now it is even more so with texts and other kinds of things—for example, Snapchat. Things are so fast and people really are, in some ways, desensitized to thinking about how the other person is feeling. We’re just kind of communicating an idea without really thinking about how that idea might be received.

How does AI change the skills that will be needed in the future?
That’s a big question and an important question. And a timely one. First, there is some perspective around the impact that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will have on the job market in the short term. Longer term, what the research tells us—I’ve looked at a lot of research and we’ve conducted our own research for Dale Carnegie as well—is that the kinds of things that will be automated are things that are, at least in the short term, more process-oriented, things that are replicable. And, as those things happen, what we believe is that some of the more mundane aspects of either specific jobs—or jobs themselves—will be transitioned out.

That means people must improve their social and creative intelligence. It’s the soft skills that will really differentiate them, because the things that will not be automated in the short term are things that involve social and creative intelligence. Influence, interaction, empathy, impact. Those things will become even more important. But, I don’t see, at least in the immediate term, a wholesale change in the job market.

Dale Carnegie began licensing the course in the United States in 1930.

Will the skills Dale Carnegie teaches become more important in the tech­nological age?
That’s what we believe, which I think is something that a lot of people probably don’t consider. I think, sometimes, there’s this bifurcation between hard skills and soft skills, and some­times people put a premium on what might even be a hard skill. The reality is that many of the “hard skills” are things that can be automated. In fact, some of the research is showing that, within a certain period of time, a lot of those types of things—things that could be in engineering, medicine, accounting, or law, aspects of which will be susceptible to automation—leaves a requirement for people to focus on soft skills.

Why is Japan an important market?
The Japanese market has been, is, and will continue to be, a very important market for us. Dale Carnegie has been in Japan for 55 years. It is one of the most successful, industrialized, mature, technologically savvy economies on the planet. We feel there’s a very significant opportunity around the Dale Carnegie skills. We have something that can be beneficial to companies and individuals, as evidenced by the success that our team is having here. So, we will continue to see Japan as an important market.

In terms of what we’ve learned from Japan, we do cross-cultural research and part of what we’re trying to do is to constantly look at, and listen to, what’s happening here and then weave that into our thought leadership. We look at what really motivates or demotivates people, and we’ve taken some of that from Japan.

Our AI research influences our thinking about how people around the world—especially in a technologically sophisticated market such as Japan—respond to AI and then how that informs things that we talk about as we think about the future.

What human resources trends are you seeing as more Millennials enter the workforce?
This issue of cross-generational leadership is one that is not unique to Japan, and the question of how to engage Millen­nials is something that I hear in every country I visit. It’s something that usually comes up as an opportunity, so I think that people look at this generation as one that has a lot of potential to really reshape the workforce in a very, very positive way.

The key is the cross-generational aspect—how to engage Millennials who see things very differently from Generation X and baby boomers. How do you get people working together? That’s also something that we talk about. The AI research is really big. It’s about understanding, from a trend standpoint, how to manage a workforce in terms of shifting technology and so forth. How do you communicate?

Do you have any tips for improving soft skills for cross-generational teams?
The single biggest tip relates to a principle that we teach: trying to see things from the other person’s point of view. Often, the friction that can occur between people of different generations has to do with a lack of understanding and a lack of desire to understand. Not only do I not understand, I really don’t desire to understand. I just want you to do what I want you to do.

You can make a difference by taking the time and really just recognizing that someone has inherent value, that they’ve got a lot to offer. Start with that assumption and then see in what ways you can learn from that person and work together.

These principles were applicable 50 years ago—100 years ago—and yet we find them coming up again today in different ways. That’s what I would say is the starting point. It’s about listening. It’s about demonstrating appreciation. It’s about trying to see things from the other person’s point of view.

How do you keep Dale Carnegie relevant in the face of newer offerings?
There are a lot of things that are kind of the flavor of the day. Something is new, something is hot, some­thing is coming up all the time. What has been valuable about Dale Carnegie? I can’t think of too many things in life that people have experienced or studied 10, 20, even 30 years ago and still talk about today. So, the proven nature of what we do speaks for itself.

The opportunity really, then, is to get it in front of people. That’s part of what we’ve been working on with our rebranding. How do we really make sure that we are communicating and sharing the value of what it is that we’re doing in a really effective way? The rebranding is making a difference, and we are working with some cutting-edge companies. Google is a client, Apple is a client, we have many clients such as them.

And we’ve got many youth programs. So you might have young people taking a Dale Carnegie course, and they’ll talk about it. What we’re talking about is transformative and powerful. It’s effective, and it remains effective even though it’s been around for more than 100 years. It’s something that is very proven. Our opportunity, I think, is to tell our story more effectively.

When you took over, what were your initial thoughts on rebranding and relevance?
I had felt for a long time that Dale Carnegie—and, again, it depends on the market because in some markets the brand is very strong and in others it is less so—had an opportunity to reinvigorate the brand. Part of what that means is not just the look and feel and how we communicate, but it’s really taking the Dale Carnegie experience and bringing it to life through that communication. To me, that seemed like one of the biggest and most important opportunities.

In addition, we’re a global company with 200 operations in 90 countries, so getting our entire business to work together as one company was important so that when a particularly large company wants to work across a global platform—and have the same kind of experience across the globe—that’s something that we can deliver. And that’s something I think we have really gotten better at over the past three years.

We continue to look at the product experience, the customer experience with Dale Carnegie, and work to make that even stronger by integrating blended learning into our programs, offering different kinds of solutions, and looking at our whole experience. I really believe that the opportunity for our business—because of the impact that we have on people—has never been better than it is today.

Tell us about your thought leadership research initiatives.
We have a director of thought leadership, Dr. Mark Marone, and we’ve got other people within our team that work on the thought leadership initiative conducting new research on different themes around the world. We produce at least two major pieces of research every year together with white papers, blogs, and such.

We also do specific country research on different topics. Some of the major topics that we have worked on are AI, as we discussed, and we’ve looked at cross-cultural leadership issues to identify leadership blind spots—things that leaders don’t see in themselves that can cause them to be derailed or less effective. We’ve looked at the characteristics of leadership across 13 countries along with engagement and the things that motivate and demotivate people the most.

What is a common trait among leaders with blind spots?
The first thing is a lack of confidence. We believe that every person has inherent greatness. Dale Carnegie believed that, and it’s an underlying concept of our program. Sometimes a person doesn’t see that they are far more capable than they believe they are. So, to have that knowledge—whether someone is new starting out in their career or whether they have reached a level of authority—they may still get to a point where they start to have doubts.

The thing then is to really understand who you are. Believe that you have greatness and then assess your strengths and weaknesses. If you start by doing at least an inventory of some of your key strengths, and in what ways or at what times you have been successful, you’ll start to get it and say, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that. I really have had that success.” And, at the same time, balance that against the area where maybe you are weak. Play to your strengths. But that starts with confidence. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to talk to people about it. I think, sometimes, people feel like they are on their own. Sometimes we need that external thing—a mentor or a program such as Dale Carnegie—to help us get to the next level.

Any final thoughts on the future of the workplace?
I’m optimistic. I know that some people have significant fears about what automation and technology may mean. But, if we look back, every technological innovation, while it did involve disruption, ultimately led to greater production and more financial success for companies and for people. We’re going into a very different kind of a technological stage, but I’m very optimistic about the future and, frankly, about the need for people. Humans are always going to have to interact with each other. And, as long as they do, they’re going to need the skills to do so effectively. That’s where Dale Carnegie plays.

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.
Influence, interaction, empathy, impact. Those things will become even more important.