Vaccine Mandates: The Remote Worker Question

Editor's Note: To keep the crazies away on both extremes, I present my status and views on vaccination below.

--Vaccination Status: Fully Vaccinated (Pfizer)
--View of Employer Mandates: Supportive that organizations should do what they think is best, especially in healthcare or high contact businesses
--Historic View of Broad Federal Mandates: Not Supportive
--Zodiac Sign: Scorpio (actually Taurus, but Scorpio sounds super credible)

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Now that we've got the housekeeping out of the way, let's break down one underreported aspect of the looming vaccine mandates by the federal government via OSHA.

Let's talk about remote workers. Cat

It's interesting to me that thinking about remote workers hasn't gotten more attention since the potential of an OSHA vaccine mandate was announced by the Biden administration. After all, the number of hours worked remotely by the American workforce rose by 500 percent during the pandemic, and many of these workers remain 100 percent remote. 

First up, if you're late to the game and need to know why OSHA is being used for the proposed vaccine mandate, click this link to read up. OHSA's involved because it's the clearest path for the Biden administration to get the mandate done in a legally defensible way.

The bones of the vaccine mandate proposal are pretty simple for the private sector: all employees in companies with one hundred or more employees must be fully vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID tests.

But what about remote workers? If you have an employee who's been Zooming the hell out of her job since April 2020, and there's no sign that she's coming back into the office, what's the requirement for her? Does she need to be vaccinated or tested under the mandate?

The simple answer is that we don't know. The OSHA rule covering this hasn't been released and likely won't be for thirty to sixty days. So, until we get that rule/guidance, we don't know for sure.

But there are some good hooks from a legal perspective in the past week. Consider this from our friends at SHRM, who above all else LOVE A GOOD LEGAL UPDATE:

"The details of what the ETS will include are scarce at this point, leaving many questions unanswered," Fisher Phillips said. How will the 100-employee threshold be counted? Will employers be required to collect proof of vaccination? What type of testing will be required? Will remote employees be covered?

Brightwell thinks it unlikely that the ETS will apply to remote workers under the "grave danger" requirement. If employees are not exposed to anyone in the workplace, the risk of contracting COVID-19 is not work-related."

That's speculation on the part of a legal expert who appears credible. Shirley, modifying your marketing PDFs from her cottage in Montana, would not seem to rise to the level of grave danger.

This specific update from Fisher-Phillips includes a cite from Labor Department late last week goes further and includes dialog with the Department of Labor:

Will remote employees be covered? Unless the ETS specifically addresses remote employees, remote employees likely will not be covered by the emergency rule. OSHA largely avoids addressing safety issues concerning employees working from home.

(Editor’s Note: On a September 10 webinar, Labor Department officials confirmed that remote workers not working in contact with others would not be covered by the emergency rule provided they don’t come to the workspace.)

So it's unlikely that remote employees will be covered. But remember, we have the following classes of remote employees:

1--Fully remote - I've never seen this person live and in the flesh.
2--Hybrid remote - Has a set schedule to be in an office periodically; could be one to two times a week, or one to two times a month.
3--Appears a few times a year to "build relationships" and "meet and greet." ("Shirley's in town for the bi-annual meeting, make sure you say hi.")

In addition, remote workers probably look a lot like the rest of America when it comes to vaccination status, with one big exception:

Most remote workers haven't faced a choice on vaccines. Many are vaccinated, but those who don't want the vaccine have been isolated for awhile. And if you've made the call that they can remain 100 percent remote, it's almost 100 percent guaranteed that the percent of unvaccinated is higher than the rest of America.

And now, we come to the big question and the accompanying reality:

--The Big Question - Do you treat remote employees like everyone else at your company and ask them to get vaccinated or tested?

--The Reality - If you believe that there's a higher percentage of unvaccinated in remote-work America, do you want to take steps that might make them ponder a move to a different employer?

To be sure, the proposed vaccine mandate is not a hard mandate. You can still decide to test the folks who don't want the vaccine, and you'd think you'd be fine. That is, until you start pondering the absurdity of testing a 100 percent remote worker who's not in the workplace with others, and will be reminded of the absurdity of taking a picture of their negative test on a weekly basis and uploading it to Sharepoint.

Yes, I just gave you the path to record keeping for remotes. Take a picture of your test. Upload it to Sharepoint. #winning

At the end of the day, there's no wrong path. Make your call and get ready to communicate if your remotes are included in this.

And yes, there will be key employees moving from hybrid remote to full remote until this is past us.  They'll test on the rare occasions they have to come in, without changing their status from "full remote."

Nothing makes broad calls on a topic like this more personal than the threat of losing great people. 

Good luck with your call on remote employees. 


Taking Sides Politically: Wrong For Your Company and For You as a Manager of People...

I'll start this post by saying this: I've been on the corner of "no politics at work" way before 2020 happened. I've been on this corner so long that I questioned the wisdom of many small business owners pressuring their employees to vote GOP in the 2016 election for reduced taxation and concerns about Obamacare.

Ah, 2016. Ah, Obamacare. So long ago, such a simpler, innocent time. Mitch and nancy

When you choose political sides at work, you're alienating and decaying trust with close to 50% of your workforce. Go back historically and look at the vote splits. We're a 50/50 nation.  To choose either side politically is a bad look for any leader. You shouldn't do it. The great ones don't choose, because they know it's a suckers game from a leadership perspective.

"But, KD," you say, "times have changed! There's right and wrong!" I hear you, so let's dig into the topic a bit on 3 levels:

--The post 2020 escalation of what politics at work means

--The trap of picking any political side as a company—big or small

--Managing diverse sets of employees as a manager of people

Ready? Let's discuss.

The Post 2020 Escalation of What Politics at Work Means

It used to be that talking politics at work meant comparing, discussing, and arguing simple GOP vs Democratic platforms. You know the issues: taxes, government, social programs, etc.  Those days are gone. Discussing politics at work has exploded into nuclear identity politics and more. Regardless of what you believe, endorsing a political view as a company or a leader polarizes people more than it ever has and forces people to take sides.

In addition, allowing politics to be discussed in the workplace or taking a position as a company invites future employee activism that detracts from your goal—to serve customers/clients and be great at what you do. We'll talk more about that in the company section of this post.

Finally, if you have people in your company who aren't for opportunity for all, a world without racism, and other issues being discussed these days, you should get rid of those people. But that's not really the issue we're facing inside our companies when we talk politics and social issues identified with political platforms. Both major political parties weaponize the issues, which decreases meaningful conversations inside our companies, because the weaponization makes the issues (DEI, BLM, etc.) too hot to debate.

That loss of meaningful conversation means many view company positions as one of two things: 1) a call to make a portion of the business and their time about the political/social issues, or 2) empty virtual signaling. Neither outcome is great.

The Trap of Picking a Side or Allowing Politics/Causes to Be Discussed as a Company

Do Black Lives Matter? Of course, they do. Is BLM as an organization the carrier of the message we want to get behind? Uhhhh....

No one I know (including my GOP friends) argues with the fact that we need opportunity for all, a world without hate, and reasonable approaches to all the social issues on the table. Be about that 100% as a leader.

But the world, organizational life, and humanity gets in the way the more you try and formalize and activate your support of a platform. Are you in the business of focusing all your energy on your clients, or are you ready to channel 10-20% of your time talking about social/political issues (increasingly the same thing these days) whether you want to or not?  

You'll have a cross section of employees in any company who want you to formalize this support of social/political issues. The last year has shown us that formalizing your support for any political platform or cause creates activism inside your company.

Case in point: you're a US-based global company, and you promote Pride Month in the USA (good) complete with a logo change for the month, only to be reminded by a small section of your employee base that you didn't change the logo for all of your other country-based social accounts. Turns out, there are parts of the world that don't want anything to do with Pride month or what it stands for, and from a business perspective it's problematic to push this promotion in those parts of the world. Your employees on the left are disappointed in you and active in telling you about it, and your employees on the right think the whole show is PR. It's complicated.

As you wade into the political waters, a small percentage of your employees will become vocal activists, wanting to spend a percentage of their time at work active on politics. This has become a big enough issue that two companies with liberal, left leaning founders—Shopify and Basecamp—recently reversed course and sought to put firm limits/eliminate time spent at work on political/social issues, reminding employees that the company mission to serve clients was what work was about. While the Basecamp communication was bungled in many ways (link to outcomes here), the bigger of the two companies, Shopify, locked down the politics at work discussion hard.  See the entire note from Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke here.

Summary of this note to employees from Tobi Lütke:

We're not a family, we're a team. You came to Shopify to work with great people. Our record on liberal values and equality of opportunity. Sometimes we see opportunities to help nudge these causes forward. We do this because this directly helps our business and our merchants and not because of some moralistic overreach. Slack trolling, victimhood thinking, us-vs-them divisiveness, and zero sum thinking must be seen for the threat they are: they break teams. Teams survive and thrive on the actions of the collective, and the cohesiveness of the whole. Poor performance and divisiveness cannot be tolerated.  

How do I insert 1,000 handclap emojis? Magnificent. Get back to work and stop wasting time on things that aren't in support of our business goals.

Managing Diverse Sets of Employees as a Manager of People

It's simple for best results as a manager of people. You don't routinely share your political views or hot takes on things that could be considered to be political with direct reports.

The reasons are pretty simple. As a manager of people, you're responsible for shepherding a group of direct reports through a given week, quarter or year.

If you've done a good job of hiring, you're leading a diverse team - which broadly defined, means your people don't all look, sound or think like you. You're in a position of power, so the more you broadcast polarizing information like political views, the more you risk alienating good people who aren't a carbon copy of you.

I'm not saying you can't be you. And note I'm 100% saying you should be clear that you're against racism an a supporter of other ideas of note. You can and should share those views, and it's an important part of leading on issues.

I'm saying that the stronger/hotter you are on a polarizing take - whether you come from the hard left or hard right - the more you risk shutting someone down on your team from talking to you, which almost always results in lower engagement and one foot out the door.

Managers from both the hard right and the hard left struggle with this. For best results, remember that in competitive election years, the country is split pretty much evenly between two political parties.

Some of you will email me and say, "But Kris, how do I find the line?" Well, if you're manager of people, that's what the money is for.

Your job is to keep all the good people on the bus. The team that successfully navigates 2021 and arrives at 2022 at a different place with the highest percentage of talented employees retained and rowing in the right direction wins.

Leadership is art. I'm sorry I'm saying you shouldn't share that op/ed you loved from The New York Times or Fox News with the team. 

Listen more than you talk. Connect with everyone on your team on a 1/1 level. Show empathy to all.


Geriatric Millennials: The Next Generation Slice That's Supposed to Change the World...

On episode 66 of The HR Famous Podcast, long-time HR leaders (and friends) Tim Sackett, Jessica Lee  and me (KD) come together to discuss the topic of whether geriatric millennials are coming to save the world or not!

Move to minute 21:00 to dig into the topic of geriatric millennials. I might have gone off on a rant or two.

Listen below (click this link if you don’t see the player) and be sure to subscribe, rate, and review (Apple Podcasts) and follow (Spotify)!

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

1:00 - JLee is in the DC metro area and is currently being overrun by cicadas! 

3:00 - JLee, Tim, and KD were all named one of the top 100 HR Tech influencers of 2021! Our podcast has influence!

6:30 - Tim is getting reached out by not so reputable HR tech companies to be on their “top 10 lists” but he only wants to be on the robust, well-researched lists. 

9:45 - JLee doesn’t know if any of the other hundreds of other HR employees at her company know about her being on this list. She asks the crew the question “does this event matter?”. Tim thinks it’s great for the speaker bio. 

15:00 - JLee hasn’t been on lists for awhile but she’s back since starting HR Famous and starting back on the conference circuit. She says that getting back out there has helped her open her eyes and see what else is going on in the world. 

18:00 - KD says that he may not get more business from being on this list but he’s at the company he’s at now because of being out there in the HR space.  HIs last 2 career opportunities have come from being more active than normal in the HR space.  He also considers the HR Tech/HR Executive Magazine list to be the gold standard.

19:45 - An article has been going around JLee’s office and it’s about “geriatric millennials' ' and their eagerness to go into a world of hybrid work. 

21:00 - What’s a geriatric millennial? They were not digital natives and remember a time before cell phones and other technological advancements. JLee is the resident geriatric millennial of the pod.

23:45 - Geriatric millennials have the ability to go between the online and offline world where older and younger generations may struggle at being online/offline. Also, they have had to learn how to adapt to different digital technologies quickly. 

30:00 - KD calls BS on the concept that everyone in a generational slice is going to have impact in the world, noting that high performers throughout time in the 35-40 range are always "next up" in the world of work. But not everyone within a certain age group is going to save the world. There will always be high potential earners in every group, and they’ll rise to create change.

---------------Jessica Lee, Kris Dunn and Tim Sackett

Kinetix

HRU Tech

Jessica Lee on LinkedIn

Tim Sackett on Linkedin

Kris Dunn on LinkedIn

The Tim Sackett Project

The HR Capitalist

Fistful of Talent

Boss Leadership Training Series


Remembering Facebook vs Google+: The Value of the Rally BHAG...

There's a lot of hate heading Facebook's way these days. But step away from the politics and the obvious corrosive, addictive drawbacks of social media, and you'll see a company that has fought like hell, got lucky at times and generally rallied the troops better than most around BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). See this post for more on the value of a good BHAG.

BHAGs at Facebook include the move from campus focus to the general public, the move to mobile first and more.  But let's talk about one BHAG that most of us have forgot about.

Let's talk about Google Plus (or Google+) and remember the threat and the response. Lockdownlogo

Google+ ------ Man, some kids don't even know what this was. Here's a definition of the social app launched by Google back in 2011:

Google+ (pronounced and sometimes written as Google Plus; sometimes called G+) was a social network owned and operated by Google. The network was launched on June 28, 2011, in an attempt to challenge other social networks, linking other Google products like Gmail, Google DriveBlogger and YouTube. The service, Google's fourth foray into social networking, experienced strong growth in its initial years, although usage statistics varied, depending on how the service was defined. 

Google+ was introduced in June 2011. Features included the ability to post photos and status updates to the stream or interest-based communities, group different types of relationships (rather than simply "friends") into Circles, a multi-person instant messaging, text and video chat called Hangouts, events, location tagging, and the ability to edit and upload photos to private cloud-based albums.

Google+ was shut down for business and personal use on April 2, 2019. Google+ continued to be available as "Google+ for G Suite".

Google+ was perceived as a huge threat inside Facebook when it launched. After all, many of us live our lives through the Google Suite, so it makes sense that a social network that liquified that usage was going to pop in a big way.

At Facebook, the launch of Google+ was scene as a declaration of war. The company had a large sign in its Bay Area HQ that simply said "LOCKDOWN." It was rarely used. The sign was lit up upon the launch of Google+ and it was an all hands on deck moment.

Mark Zukerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, wasn't a great public speaker. But he took the mic during the all hands meeting that followed shortly after the LOCKDOWN sign was lit up. Here's how the scene was described in the book Chaos Monkeys:

"Rounding off another beaded string of platitudes, he changed gears and erupted with a burst of rhetoric referencing one of the ancient classics he had studied at Harvard and before. “You know, one of my favorite Roman orators ended every speech with the phrase Carthago delenda est. ‘Carthage must be destroyed.’ For some reason I think of that now.” He paused as a wave of laughter tore through the crowd.

The aforementioned orator was Cato the Elder, a noted Roman senator and inveigher against the Carthaginians, who clamored for the destruction of Rome’s great challenger in what became the Third Punic War. Reputedly, he ended every speech with that phrase, no matter the topic.

Carthago delenda est. Carthage must be destroyed!"

There's nothing more BHAG than a big ass sign that's the size of a family sedan that says "LOCKDOWN" and your CEO pointing at a competitor and saying, "Carthage Must Be Destroyed."  The internal PR team also went into BHAG mode as evidenced by another passage in Chaos Monkeys:

The Facebook Analog Research Laboratory jumped into action and produced a poster with CARTHAGO DELENDA EST splashed in imperative bold type beneath a stylized Roman centurion’s helmet. This was Facebook’s ministry of propaganda, and it was originally started with no official permission or budget, in an unused warehouse space. In many ways, it was the finest exemplar of Facebook values: irreverent yet bracing in its martial qualities.

The Carthago posters went up immediately all over the campus and were stolen almost as fast. It was announced that the cafés would be open over the weekends, and a proposal was seriously floated to have the shuttles from Palo Alto and San Francisco run on the weekends, too. This would make Facebook a fully seven-days-a-week company; by whatever means, employees were expected to be in and on duty. In what was perceived as a kindly concession to the few employees with families, it was also announced that families were welcome to visit on weekends and eat in the cafés, allowing the children to at least see Daddy (and, yes, it was mostly Daddy) on weekend afternoons. 

And if you're skeptical of the value of a true BHAG moment like LOCKDOWN AND "Carthage Must Be Destroyed," that's cool. Just know it matters when the survival of your company is at question. The final passage I'll share from Chaos Monkeys talks about the difference in moods at Google versus Facebook:

Facebook was not f**king around. This was total war.

I decided to do some reconnaissance. En route to work one Sunday morning, I skipped the Palo Alto exit on the 101 and got off in Mountain View instead. Down Shoreline I went and into the sprawling Google campus. The multicolored Google logo was everywhere, and clunky Google-colored bikes littered the courtyards. I had visited friends here before and knew where to find the engineering buildings. I made my way there and contemplated the parking lot.

It was empty. Completely empty.

Interesting.

I got back on the 101 North and drove to Facebook.

At the California Avenue building, I had to hunt for a parking spot. The lot was full.

Was there any question who would come out on top?

In a time of crisis, BHAGs matter.


KD's Personal Mission Statement on HR/Recruiting/Talent in Troubled Times...

If you're like me, 2020 and 2021 has felt rough in a lot of ways. But I'm incredibly blessed - I had a job, my company survived and my family is healthy. Check, check  and check.

But in a world with so much political and social unrest, it's easy for all of us to feel disrupted in some way. For me, all the change going on around us made me less confident to speak to many of the hard business+talent truths I have learned in my career.  Example - I was hesitant to put my thoughts down on the recent Union Vote at the Amazon Distribution Center (Bessemer, Alabama) because pro-business thoughts aren't super welcome in the cancel culture we live in. The things we think

I wrote the post (you can find it here), but I expressed my reservations of being cancelled, shamed or—God forbid—being called a Republican.

The hesitation that so many people feel toward having real conversations got me thinking - what I really needed to do was to create a mission statement of how I view HR/Recruiting/Talent that addresses the times and communicates what I believe.  I needed to do that more for me than anyone else. So I did it. I kept it short and note this is a living breathing document I'll update and fine tune moving forward.

Here's my personal mission statement for who I am and what I believe HR/Recruiting/Talent should be about in 2021:

I believe every employee deserves an opportunity to earn a great living based on their performance. They deserve a safe environment that respects all people and provides maximum opportunity to all, regardless of race, gender, orientation and any other identifier.

Of course, I'll get emails that say this isn't good enough on a variety of levels in 2021. That's OK. I'm not writing war and peace here, or even a 35-page document similar to the one that got Jerry Maquire fired (read the whole thing from Jerry here).  What's needed for me is a lightweight mission statement to keep me grounded and focused on what the most important things are in the world of HR/Recruiting/Talent in 2021 and beyond, which also allows me to call BS on things that make no sense (spoiler, there's a lot of that these days).

Let's break that simple statement shown above (in green) down a bit so I can tell you what's in my heart:

1--It all starts with performance wherever you are in life. The world is a hard place, and different people have different talents, different work ethic, etc. Someone less talented needs to work harder, and many do and absolutely crush it. Some are naturally talented and skate by without putting in the hours. Put on your helmet and get ready to compete, because this world is tough. Effort, focus and not being a victim matters.  

2--There are crazy talented people from every walk of life - every race, gender, orientation, country and any other identifier you want to name. I know this because I've worked for them and been fortunate enough to have them on my teams during my career - from all walks of life. I want to recruit them all BTW, not because of any identifier, but because they are great at what they do. High performer and achiever is a segment that is not limited by tag, identifier, identity politics, employment law, etc.  It is a DNA strand that elevates above the conversations we're having today.

3--The world works hard to try and lure high performers back to the pack. There's a bunch of quotes I could give you here. Whether it's a political conversation about how the business community mistreats labor, a co-worker pissed at you because you're killing it and they can't/wont, or Ricky Bobby's dad in Talledega Nights encouraging students to go fast, it's noted that the world around you wants you to be average.  See #1 and #2.  

4--Safety in the world - inside and outside of work - should be a given.  You should be safe in the workplace and not have to deal with bullshit, whether it's dealing with COVID, personal safety or just not getting tied up with non-work related conversations that make you feel at-risk because you're not in the cool clique, etc. I want people to feel safe outside of work as well, but that's a complicated post that transcends the scope of this work mission statement. Let's just say I'm open to all conversations and feel there's a clear path forward for safety for all - but I'm not drinking anyone's kool-aid. The path is complicated.

5 - Every employee and candidate deserves an environment/experience that provides maximum opportunity to all, regardless of race, gender, orientation and any other identifier.  Couple of things here - I'm no expert in what's required to put all on equal footing as they grow up and matriculate in our imperfect world (yes, that means outside the USA as well), so I'll leave that to the experts - I'm open to a lot of things. But when it comes to the workplace/workforce, I'm open and engaged to force conversations that need to happen to provide maximum opportunity to all.  I believe a proactive approach is needed to get to where we need to be, but note I'll never be a proponent of messaging that seeks to divide us instead of bringing us together. To accomplish both is part art and part science, and we need everyone in the tent to get to where we need to be.

That's it. Note I'll be updating this and I'll try to show a log below on what I add or take out in the future.

Edit Log:

First Created: 4.29.21
No Edits to date.


GOAL SETTING: A Question on OKRs/KPIs/SMART Goals from a KD Client...

CAPITALIST NOTE: The email below is a summary I sent to a client last weekend. For background, the client is a technology company with 500 employees, and they've made a real run at goal setting in 2021. They rolled out training on SMART goals with my BOSS Leadership series, have really stayed with it post training, and the CEO has gone through her own key area +KPI (Key Performance Indicators) process to establish some "big rocks" designed to measure progress apart from the SMART goal activity that's going on at the grass roots level.

Investors in the company have introduced the concept of OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) to my leader in the last two weeks, and she asked me for my take on how OKRs, KPIs and SMART goals can play together. Below is the rundown I sent over. I thought it was a meaningful question, and my response reinforces that terminology/methodology can often get in the way of just getting stuff started and done. Enjoy!

-------------------------------

Jill -

Good connecting with you on Friday.  I spent some time this weekend thinking about your question on OKR/Smart Goals. I think they can go together 100% from my perspective. Okr

I could write up something from my research and claim it as my own, but here’s the best rundown I could find, which directionally sets up what I would have told you on Friday if I was on a call with the consultant in question and forced to take a position.

https://www.perdoo.com/resources/okr-vs-smart-goals/

Simply put, I think you can have both. I think your process at the top—where you are focused on KPIs—is similar in my eyes to OKRs.  With your KPIs, you’re identifying a broad area, then you're setting a measurable goal (the KPI). I think any adjustment to looking at OKRs should probably first address the question: What additional work do we need to do on these KPIs to modify them and evolve them into OKRs? I feel like you’ve already done a good bit of this work at the company level.

There might be an opportunity to create departmental KPI/OKRs at the next level down in your company, but candidly, I feel like you’ve done that with your work at the company level.

I think the SMART goal process still works. As the referred link mentions, it gives your people a consumable process that’s easy to understand with goal setting. That’s a good thing. Also you’ll see in the referred link that they say SMART goals exist in isolation. I think that’s true but necessary. You want the manager and employee to work on goals together and figure out what the most important things are to create goals within the employee’s area.

But the link between OKR/KPIs that we had talked about—going out and collecting SMART goals that contribute to individual OKR/KPIs—still stands. In this way, you can create a OKR/KPI and track it, and talk openly about the “big goal” but reward linkage that happens with the SMART goal process.

As I mentioned on the call, execution is still the key. The hard work of your managers working through the goal setting process with their people is where the true magic happens in my eyes.

To summarize from my view:

  • Your KPIs are close to OKRs.
  • You’ve already done a lot of the work if you want to move to OKRs.
  • The SMART goal process is still a great way to make goal setting accessible for the masses and get some traction.
  • The hard work is still at the manager/employee level to use goal setting to get better results and velocity at the ground level.

Does this help? Ping me back with questions or we can jump on a call.

--KD


COVID Life: On Schools and Not Missing Opportunities

Let's get some level-setting items out of the way first, shall we? Here's some bio info about me and my family during COVID-19:

--We were in hard lockdown mode for the spring and summer of 2020.

--My family consists of me, my wife, a sophomore son in college and a junior son in high school. IMG_4944

--We wear masks everywhere we go where there are people.

--I live in Birmingham, AL.

--I identify as a moderate Republican.

--I never voted for Trump, but I'll automatically tune out anyone who throws all who did into a bucket labeled "evil". Life's not that simple, my friends. Not by a long shot.

--As it turns out, the point that appears above this one is important, because the rest of this post is about how the extremes of our system dominate these days and rob 90% of our citizens the chance to live their best lives.

I think COVID is a serious thing. I hate the fact that so many lives have been lost, and I'm supportive of President Biden flying the flag at half-mast as the death count passes 500K.

But let's do some real talk about how the issue has been treated politically. The USA's success rate in dealing with COVID is like most of the free world. If you go to resources like Statistica, you'll see a death rate per capita that looks a lot like our peers globally, with the USA better than the UK and Italy, a lot like Spain, and countries like Canada, Germany and Israel coping much better than the rest of the free world peer group. You can say that the USA sucks, but I'll point to the fact that the rest of the free world is struggling at various levels, and the USA isn't immune to that.

In addition, a quick glance at immunization rates globally is pretty fascinating. The previous administration was widely criticized for their vaccine roll out and generally not having a plan with COVID. Using a great tool called Our World in Data, I checked vaccination rates on 1/19/21 (the day before Biden took office) and the last available data as I wrote this post, 3/5/21.

I found that the truth about vaccinations is more complicated than the media would have us believe, as on 1/19/21, the USA was 4th in the free world in COVID vaccine roll out (as measured by COVID vaccinations administered per 100 people), trailing Israel, United Arab Emirates and the UK. On March 5th, guess where we are at? 4th! Still ahead and trailing the same countries by the same margins. The European Union has about 1/3 of the vaccination rate of the USA, both on 1/9 and today. Use this map to run your own data. My gut tells me we'll still be fourth at the time herd immunity is reached under a new president.

The point—and there is one—is that when it comes to COVID, we look like much of the rest of the free world. Maybe it's not about political platforms, maybe it's about trying to deal with COVID and still have a chance to live your best life. My take is that a pandemic is a challenge that impacts most of the free world in similar ways.

And that brings me to the topic of having kids in schools.

I'm fortunate to live in a state that got a lot of things right during COVID related to school and kids. Here's what's gone down in Alabama:

--Most Alabama schools opened up in Fall 2020 for 100% live instruction.

--As Alabama schools dealt with spikes, they turned to a blended option, where you could send your kid to school or take the virtual option. This pivot allowed them to serve parents who wanted kids in schools while reducing the live student population, which in turn limited risk.

--Just as importantly, most of Alabama went 100% live with all extracurricular activities from August 2020 on. Whether it's sports, band, show choir or something else, kids had the chance to do the things they love with appropriate mask and social distancing mandates.

That last part (sports and other activities) looked dicey as hell in August of 2020. But in the high school district in which I live (1600 students), it went off without a hitch. Kids did these activities masked up as appropriate and coaches had plans for social distancing during practice. As a result, if a kid tested positive for COVID, we didn't shut the programs down. Contact tracing in a reasonable form was conducted, and kids got quarantined from time to time, but widespread shutdowns didn't happen. It was a reasonable and pragmatic approach that's missing elsewhere.

Alabama got it right on every account.  My son is a basketball player. As a result of this responsible and pragmatic approach, his team played all 32 games on their schedule and won the 7A (largest school classification) State Basketball Title. He never would have gotten this chance in Illinois, California, and many other states. These are lifetime memories and life experiences that can't be replaced.

It's easy to make jokes about Alabama. But look around, and you'll see our state got it right during COVID. We found the middle ground and reasonable approach during the pandemic, kids are in school and getting life lessons in the activities they seek to participate in. 

COVID is awful, but the entire free world has struggled in similar regard.  We really aren't different from our aggregate peer group when you look objectively at the data.

The fear mongering and politicization of COVID is a shameful thing. Kids not having the option to be in school and do the things they love to do is the most shameful part of it all. Crushing small businesses takes runner-up position in the shame Hall of Fame.

I'm not an expert on any of this, but I'm thankful to live in a state that got it right. On a side note, as other states were lifting mask mandates recently, our governor announced it would be a month before the mask mandate in our state ended, which is a brilliant hedge—announcing the end, but having the unstated right to come back to the podium and keep the mask mandate going if the situation turns.

Just another way Alabama is getting it right. Welcome to Alabama—where free (and responsible) men/women live and thrive.


RESKILLING: A Good Idea That's Usually a Big Lie...

Let's have some real talk about a daring concept of the media, thought leaders and a bunch of other people who aren't on the ground level of running a business or an HR function.

Let's talk about Reskilling. First a definition:

Reskilling: The process of learning new skills so you can do a different job or of training people to do a different job. Drake

That description of reskilling works. We want people to be trained to do a different job as needed (if their current skills are obsolete), and there's basically two choices. We can rely on individuals to go get what they need, or we can create a program to give larger groups of people the training they need, which seems like an efficient way to get the right skills, to the people, who need them at the right time.

The concept and the intent are great instincts and it's a noble thought. Too bad that's where the practicality of reskilling ends.

Reskilling is hard—like riding a bike on the freeway hard, which is a favorite go-to line of my college basketball coach.

Why is reskilling a good idea on paper yet so hard to execute in real life?  Let's list the reasons:

1--Companies are the best option to reskill workers, but when it comes to the expense required, most companies can't/won't invest. Here's a test: The next time someone at your company wonders if reskilling is an option, ask them if they are willing to increase the training budget from $300 per FTE to $6,000 per FTE, with no guarantee of ROI. The consultants will say, "absolutely", at which point you need to invite them to give a presentation on this need and the cost to your C-suite—where they will either be shredded or treated politely but only to be ghosted after the meeting harder than a first date gone horribly bad.

No one denies reskilling is a great idea. But few with shareholder return responsibilities in the Corporate world can greenlight the cost associated with reskilling. The only company types that can/will realistically embark on a reskilling journey are the mega companies like Amazon that are facing a dramatic talent shortage in a specific area.  

For those types of companies, reskilling might work. But it rarely gets past its capable cost competitors vying for the chance to fill a skill gap—robots, automation, A.I. and offshoring.

2--Talent is mobile and there's no guarantee your reskilling will be rewarded with long-term retention.  Let's say you pull it off. You saw the need in your company and invested heavily in getting a cross-section of employees reskilled with relevant skills and get them the experience they need to be productive in the targeted roles in your company.

Congrats. You made it. You navigated significant execution risk and created a reskilling program that creates real results. It's wasn't easy, and you started from the bottom, and now you're here

On Tuesday of next week, you'll receive the award for innovation at your company.

On Thursday of next week, some smart recruiter outside your company makes a couple of calls and learns there's a class of 20 reskilled employees at your company with a hard-to-find skill she's been searching for without much success. Two months later, you've lost 6 of your original 20 Reskilled U. graduates who gave themselves a 30% pay increase by answering the recruiter's calls. Another 20% will be out the door in the next two months.

You've become an organ donor for the rich. Damn, didn't see that coming.

Always get payback agreements for inclusion in reskilling training, my friends.

3--Reskilling as an adult is hard, and it's hard to find willing participants for these types of programs.  The scenario that I would analyze reskilling to is the Tuition Aid Programs. As business leaders, we love to offer up Tuition Aid programs as a clear signal that we are fully invested in the career development of the people who work for us.

This just in; we can offer up to the max reimbursement allowed by the IRS for Tuition Aid Programs, because we know that only a small percentage of employees will take advantage of that benefit. Turns out, it's really hard to go back to school once you are past 25 years old because you are doing all that adulting stuff—starting families, hitting the gym after work, binging that C-level series on Amazon Prime Video, etc.

Oh yeah, the coursework is a giant pain in the ass too. 

Our experience with Tuition Aid tells us that the only way to make reskilling work is to not only cover the expense but to pay people to be a part of it as well which brings us back to point #1.

By the way, the sweet spot of reskilling probably exists in community colleges across the country, right?  Access to local folks who need to upskill to be relevant in the economy, a grass roots approach, etc. Community college reskilling programs seems like the perfect fit for our government getting involved in reskilling, but to maximize availability, they can't pay people for their time, they can only provide grants to cover the cost of the course. Thus the similarity to Tuition Aid. People have to keep working which makes reskilling hard to make time for. Only the most motivated and those in the perfect situation will be able to be focused on reskilling.

4--Add it all up, and it's easier to get better at recruiting and increase wages for roles with candidate shortages rather than reskill.  I hate to say it, but my advice to any well-meaning business leader interested in reskilling AND success/profitability is to focus on getting better at talent acquisition rather than reskilling.

When it comes to reskilling, you'll read a lot of things from high end sources—HBR, The New York Times and more—that suggest we must reskill for the future.

I don't disagree with the thought. But the people writing the features on reskilling don't work in the trenches, and they don't run companies. Out here in flyover country, it's a hard-knock life and we tend to work hard to remain profitable and not go out of business. Turns out, it's complicated.

KD out.

 


The Value of a Confidential Search BEFORE You Fire an Incumbent...

We've all been there. There's an incumbent in a key position, and for whatever reason, they're not getting it done.

So you do what you have to do. You make a move (more gracefully known as an organizational change) and you open up the role. If you're lucky, you nail the search, and within 45 days, you've got the new person starting. 

But, of course, sometimes the search in question is a train wreck, or maybe it's just a difficult search. 30 days turns into 60, then to the siren-emoting 90 day mark. In the interim, team members who now have no manager or a weak position interim leader are sending each other videos of famous castaways to note their rudderless floating in your organization.

Which begs the question - should you have done a confidential search and kept the struggling person in their role until you found a replacement?

Confidential searches feel bad - a true d**k/ass**** move in the mind of many. But before you discount this type of search as counter to your organizational ethos/values/integrity, you should probably ask yourself what the true cost of having the spot open for 60-90 days is.

Let's workshop whether a confidential search is right for you. How does the team feel about the person underperforming in the role in question?

--They hate him. OK! Your instincts to term and do a search are on the money. You'll be seen as a liberator, someone who "gets it" and made a move. Victory lap time, maybe even an email that majestically positions you as a liberator. If you are really up for it, hold a F2F meeting after the change with the team!

--They like/love her. DANGER. This team is likely focused on the person, not the performance. You term her, and you're the ass****, and the longer it takes you to fill it, the more chaos there is going to be. THIS SCENARIO IS THE ONE WHERE DOING A CONFIDENTIAL SEARCH MAKES THE MOST SENSE. Protect yourself before you (as Ice Cube so eloquently once put it) wreck yourself.

--They're neutral. There's no love or hate. This is the jump ball, and the big question is whether you feel lucky. Well, do you?  Because if you think you can make the move and get this thing filled in 45 days, you're probably OK. But the longer the spot is open, the shittier people are going to get. This one's on you. Tough call for sure.

For a nice primer on the potential value of the confidential search, I present two scenarios from the world of college football in 2020. Auburn University decided to part ways with Head Coach Gus Malzahn after 8 years, firing him in season and starting a national search. After a reported 7 candidates told them no in a very public way, they finally made a hire. The fan base (parallel to your employees) widely believed the search to be a complete clown show, because it took a long time (which can and will happen to you) and because the misses were so public (less likely to happen to you, except if you decide to make the team part of an interviewing process).

Now contrast that with the University of Texas (UT).  UT also wanted to change their football coach, but chose to talk to candidates in the background (confidential search) and have a deal done before they made a move. As a result, the announcement of the firing of Tom Herman was followed up by the announcement that UT was hiring Alabama Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian within 24 hours of the press release of the firing.

In other words, it was a done deal. They had their candidate via a confidential search and had agreed to terms. 

By the way, Steve Sarkisian was also a candidate for the Auburn job, but told them no in a public way. Cue the water cooler talk of whether management knows what the **** they are doing.

Auburn = Traditional Way Auburn

Texas = Confidential Search

RESULT: Auburn leadership plugged into Clown Memes, Texas leadership viewed as decisive, credible

The need for both searches was the same. Good, but not a great, leader who had not met oversized expectations at the organization they were serving. But one search was public, created organizational disruption that could have been avoided, and resulted in a perception that the organization got its 8th choice for the job in the marketplace - that is the recruiting marketplace we live in. The other search allowed the organization to recruit from a point of leverage, with a coach in place and the signal that we don't have to backfill this position unless we find the right deal for us.

I get it. It still feels itchy-scratchy, doesn't it?

Being more open to confidential searches is hard, because it doesn't feel like we're being 100% honest. But the brutality of what happens when you make a move, then miss a few times and hear the clock ticking sound and organizational float growing more prominent with each passing day, means you should always consider it as a business person.

Confidential searches are a tool for consideration. You should probably be using them more than you are if you're a C-level leader in your company.

Check your feelings at the door.


Thinking About Work in 2021: It's Probably Time To Get Out of the Fetal Position...

It's the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, and for me that means I'm working, but a bit reflective on the year we've just had. That's me every year during this time, but obviously, 2020 makes you reflect even deeper.

As I think about 2020 and what I want for me, my company and the world of work in 2021, one phrase comes to mind: Love what you do

"Let's Get Out of the Fetal Position"

There's a multiple reasons that 2020 put a bunch of incredible people on the defensive about doing their best work:

--Pandemic
--Widespread Social Change
--Political Firestorm
--Cancel Culture, Virtue Signaling and Shaming for anyone who dares to stray from the promoted mainstream media norm on the issues above

Add it all up, and it's fair to say that most of us haven't done our best work in 2020. And that's a shame, because so many of you are kick ass talents at what you do. But there's been risk in 2020, and you did what you had to do.

Congrats, you made it through.

What comes next?

For me, I have to get back to playing offense. That's where I'm at my best, and on most of the issues where I might stray from the promoted mainstream media norm, there's no question in my mind that my views are valid and deserving of a view.

Of course, there's also the value of doing the work the right way. Check out this great video of JJ Watt of the Houston Texans talking about doing the work and why it's important. I watched it and thought about all the excuses that are around us why we shouldn't be at our best at our companies. Are many of those reasons valid in 2020? Sure - but the question is how long does all the change we've experienced in 2020 impact the work you do in a negative way?

The work, as it turns out, deserves the best you. The people around you remember the best you - the pre-2020 version. They believe in that version of you, and you owe it to them, the business and yourself to provide that.

Work matters. But half-assed, scared work matters much less than the best version you can provide.

My biggest resolution for 2021 is to get back to playing offense. 

What about you?