This Inc article shares tips to keep innovation up with remote workers, but the tips are useful just to maintain culture in a remote world as well.

How to Stay Creative When Your Team Is Working Remotely – Innovation doesn’t have to suffer when employees go virtual. Done right, it can even improve.

Article by Leigh Buchanan

The 90-year-old Radio Flyer factory in Chicago is an exemplar of onsite innovation. Brainstorming takes place in the Engine Room, which is awash in whiteboards and Post-it notes. CNC machines and 3-D printers chug away in the Prototype Shop. In the bright, airy Play Lab, staff members observe children scooting around on the company’s newest children’s wagons, trikes, and electric cars. “Our products are very physical,” says Robert Pasin, CEO of the business his grandfather founded in 1917. “We need to see and touch them. We need to see kids riding them.”

Radio Flyer–with annual revenue in the $150 million range–reliably develops 20 to 30 new products each year. In 2020, with the company’s 80-some employees dispersed to their homes as a result of Covid, it maintained that pace with 25. Designers and engineers adopted a virtual whiteboard tool called Miro to collaborate on sketches. Two employees remained in the plant to mock up prototypes, which staff members passed around among themselves, making contact-less handoffs in parking lots. In their homes or on deserted schoolyards, employees filmed their kids (and occasionally petite wives and girlfriends) using the toys and shared the results online to make changes.

Post-Covid, Radio Flyer employees will return to their beloved building. But Pasin expects some changes wrought by the pandemic to stick. Among other things, the company will use video sessions to bring in customers like Walmart, Amazon, and Target at more points in the product-development process. Teams will still use Miro, allowing some people to work from home. As a result, for the first time, Pasin is open to hiring geographically dispersed design and engineering talent.

Radio Flyer headquarters in Chicago. inline image
Radio Flyer headquarters in Chicago.COURTESY COMPANY

“These kinds of blended situations give us much more flexibility,” he says. “There are definitely things worth keeping.”

Depending on whom you ask, working from home has been a blow or a boon to innovation. Among the pessimists is Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Bloom says he has spoken with dozens of CEOs and employees who report that while work-from-home is effective for continuing current activities, creativity has suffered. And while “change and crisis” will drive some innovation, he doubts it will make up for constraints on creativity created by working from home. “I fear 2020 will be the year of little innovation, and 2021 the year of disappointment,” he says.

Yet some companies say productivity is up since employees disbanded to their dens and back bedrooms. Tempted by the opportunity to save money on rent, many businesses plan to continue at least some professional distancing post-pandemic. A recent survey of the Inc. 5000, our ranking of America’s fastest-growing private companies, found that two-thirds intend to somewhat or greatly increase employees’ ability to work from home. Around 2 percent will go all in on virtual.

How, then, to keep creativity thrumming within digital work teams? Several innovation experts offered advice.

Embed in people’s lives: Innovation starts with understanding and empathy, achieved by observing in action those whose problems teams want to solve. That kind of research might actually expand under virtual business models. Companies can redirect budgets to dispatch small teams into the field, says Jay Erickson, chief innovation officer and a founding partner at Modus, a digital design firm based in New York City. “The screen lets you talk to people more efficiently,” he says. “But the gems of insight come when you see a physician do something in a consulting room and ask, ‘Why did you do that?’ That’s how you discover something you would not have known to ask about.”

Such fieldwork is the lifeblood of IDEO, the iconic global design and innovation company. Employees there have temporarily replaced visits to end users’ homes and workplaces with diaries that research subjects create with photographs and notes captured on phones. With the diaries, which have always been part of IDEO’s toolset, innovation teams can collect data over weeks and months, compared with site visits, which are time-constrained, says Bryan Walker, managing director of design for change. And the practice is equally effective for businesses with and without offices.

Get physical, sometimes: Innovation requires trust: People must feel safe to proffer out-there ideas. One signal that you are among friends is eye contact, hard to achieve in Zoom where you can’t look simultaneously into the camera and at the faces on the screen.

Erickson recommends that virtual innovation teams come together periodically in-person for activities like ideation–but also to build their relationships. Such gatherings also help replace that sense of place lost along with a physical office. “The idea of place creates a sense of belonging to each other,” he says. “If you are gathering somewhere with some frequency, you can create that cultural connectivity.”

Bring in more viewpoints: Innovation thrives on varied perspectives and experiences. Digital collaboration can be almost endlessly inclusive. IDEO, Walker says, has invited in experts from around the world and “curated interesting, open conversations around topics we are interested in.” Erickson believes digital dispersion will lead to more joint ventures with employees from different companies coming together fluidly for projects.

Scott Anthony, senior partner at the Boston-based strategy and innovation firm Innosight, recommends opening innovation sessions to more people within the business. “The more transparent you are about what you’re working on, the more likely someone will say, ‘That is interesting and there is something I can contribute,'” says Anthony, co-author of the new book Eat, Sleep, Innovate: How to Make Creativity an Everyday Habit Inside Your Organization

Give voice to the voiceless: Innovation also benefits from contributions from all levels. Digital tools like Zoom have what Anthony calls a “democratizing effect” that may level creativity-killing hierarchies. “There is not someone sitting at the head of the table. Everyone is in their own little squares,” he says. “That gives a voice to someone with a contrarian view or who has less experience in the organization.”

Introverts, too, may be more comfortable expressing themselves through Zoom chat and other digital tools, according to Walker. Like Radio Flyer, IDEO uses the collaborative whiteboarding tool Miro. “Someone who doesn’t normally want the spotlight will drop in a visual and that will become the center of the conversation,” he says.

Find ways to build: Innovation advances through constant experimentation and prototyping. Digital products don’t pose much difficulty to dispersed teams. Companies that build physical goods, by contrast, need to bring people and products together for tests, limiting their ability to innovate virtually. But even then there are workarounds.

In the past six months, IDEO has been using more computer-aided design (CAD) and 3-D modeling, and its in-house prototyping shop is large enough to allow for social distancing. But the company has also provided one member of each project team with a home 3-D printer and distributed to designers prototyping sets that include things like foam core, X-Acto knives, and glue guns. “We’ve seen some pretty sophisticated prototypes built that way,” Walker says. 

Keep individuals creative: Innovation declines along with team members’ energy and focus. To prevent participants from turning up drained, all the experts recommended setting aside at least one meeting-free hour before an innovation session. IDEO also suggests that some sessions take place over the phone, so participants can wander around while they talk. 

Erickson recommends sessions allow for solo ideation, in which participants remain–muted–on the virtual hangout, sketching ideas before coming back to share. He also suggests building in group stretches and other opportunities to get up and move around.

Of course, nothing disrupts the flow of ideas like technical glitches. Group leaders should be trained on every tool being used in the session. For one meeting that included multiple brainstorming activities, Anthony’s company Innosight chose facilitators from the client company and ran them through simulations before the actual session to ensure their mastery. “Really,” Anthony says, “it is just a matter of overpreparing.”

12 Powerful Benefits Gained from inside a CEO Peer Advisory Group

Article from Creative Blueprints for Leaders

(The Powerful Advantage of a CEO Peer Advisory Group)

Whether you are running a business for someone else, or you are the chief executive of your own business, the struggle is real.  There is never an easy path when you are the one steering the organization and there is no time like a world pandemic to make things even more challenging.  In these interesting times, it can often feel lonely at the top and there is always someone or something pulling at the edges of your attention and, all with competing priorities.  In situations like this, it is helpful to get independent and outside opinions.  This is where the power of a CEO Peer Advisory Group can be a critical success factor.

Peer Advisory Groups have been around since 1727, when Benjamin Franklin formed the Junto, a weekly mutual-improvement club made up of individuals with an array of interests and skills.  An important dynamic of these groups is the independent collective of knowledge sharing, support, accountability, and shared achievement.  This is a cycle of learning and working together that creates a momentum of success in all aspects for the members of the group, as it fuels continuous improvement.

After spending more than a decade inside a Peer Advisory Group, I decided it was time to share my stories along with the benefits I gained personally, and as a chief executive in my own companies.  Here are twelve powerful benefits from being part of a CEO Peer Advisory Group:

  1. Independent Thinking – you get objective observers who come from a cross section of different industries and different experiences that can provide an independent view of your situation.  Mismanaging organizations by using the thought, “we’ve always done it this way” causes many organizations to fail.  There are always members in these groups who have been through a similar process and the collective wisdom of the group can help guide you and significantly improve your chances for success.  In one organization I was tasked with scaling the company.  We needed to grow and diversify our service offerings, or we would certainly be closing our doors.  We had two options to scale: grow our funding to buy us more time or sell more services to the same set of customers.  When I brought these options to the group, they pulled all the pieces to the puzzle apart and at the end of the day, we identified several other potential solutions that would allow us to keep our doors open and expand our services and our customer base, resulting in a 60% growth rate over the next few years.
  2. Learning New Ideas – There is an old adage that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.  In the back and forth sharing of experiences, members share both their successes and their failures.  Even if you don’t need a particular lesson on a given day, the collective wisdom of the group allows for that information to be shared and used again should that situation arise in your business in the future.  The members bring awareness to certain challenges that can have an impact on all businesses and knowing about them before they happen, allows us to respond with knowledge rather than react with fear when they do occur.  We have the power of the group to learn from the mistakes and challenges of others and apply their lessons learned in our own lives.  One of our members told a story about how they found an employee was stealing from their company and the evidence was many layers deep in their records.  The details of how the evidence was uncovered was actually through an accident of running the “wrong” report from the accounting system.  One could say it was not “wrong” but in some ways, divine intervention that led to a series of interviews that then led to the knowledge of theft of funds.  This member shared the experience with the group, which then allowed all the group members to have knowledge of an interesting method to detect fraud in their own businesses.  A few years later, another member reported having used the knowledge gained to uncover a theft in her own company and was able to bring the issue to the group to work through how to handle this difficult conversation with a trusted employee.
  3. Sharing Experience – There is a story about a wise woman who is complimented for being a good teacher by her student.  She turns and says, it is wise students that create the teacher.  What is meant by that is we become the teacher when we share what we have learned by mirroring it back to others.  Peer groups engage in dialogue about new ideas and also ask the hard questions to challenge each other collectively so that they can improve their ability to handle complex issues. 
  4. Applying New Skills – With practice comes improved performance in almost any task.  The group holds each other accountable to practice and hone new ways of leading and new ways of working with their organizations in between the meetings.
  5. Achieving Results – In order to achieve a different result, one must have a different thought that creates a different perspective.  That new perspective creates a different action to be taken which in turn, creates a new result.  The individual themselves as well as the other members of the group who bear witness, become inspired by the new action and again, when the desired results are achieved.  This becomes a part of the cycle of enriched behavior and knowledge for the whole group.  
  6. Accountability to Each Other – Accountability is a critical success factor.  The members of the group hold each other accountable to achieve their goals and provide support in between meetings by checking in periodically to offer support and see how they are doing on achieving their goals.  On one particularly tough day, I was preparing to have a challenging conversation with a key member of my executive team.  This was not going to be an easy discussion and I knew that I had to stay calm and make sure my message could be heard.  One of the members of my group called me that morning to see if I was okay and offered to practice the discussion with me.  He also requested that I call him back at the end of the day to let him know how everything went.  He held me accountable to take the courageous action I needed to take that day.  That extra practice session and the requirement to report back in at the end of the day ensured that I would be successful and keep my plan on track.  I knew I had the support of my group and that made the tough conversation easier and more productive.
  7. Reflecting What We Might Not Be Able to See in Ourselves – Sometimes in the business of running our businesses, we lose sight of the role we play in situations.  In other words, we lose ownership of our own behavior.  In CEO Peer Advisory Groups, you receive honest and objective feedback.  Sometimes it is referred to as the tough love your employees are afraid to provide.  This information can be powerful in that it helps you to see areas where you need to make improvements in both your business and your personal life.
  8. Support to Survive the Tough Stuff – I have gone through fertility treatments when I was told I would not be able to get pregnant, while also growing a company.  It is always a challenge to keep your personal life and business life separate but knowing that fertility hormones could be mood altering and greatly impact my leadership style, I knew I needed to bring this challenge to my group.  The support I received was priceless.  My group helped me create a succession plan and a leadership development plan for my team to identify the next level of leadership.  This group also provided an outlet and support to get me through the toughest moments of both my business and personal transitions along the way.
  9. Resources to Help – The first six months of 2020 were a nightmare for businesses all across the globe.  The majority of businesses were vying for a place in line to apply for PPP loans and other assistance due to the impact of the Pandemic.  Everyone had questions and very few had sound answers.  Our CEO Peer Groups pulled together across the entire Network to help each other decipher the issues and applications and share resources and connections to experts who could supply real answers. 98% of our peer group members applied for the PPP loans and thanks to our members working together, 93% received their funds.  The stronger your network, the more resources and options available to help resolve problems.
  10.  Listening with Objectivity – In the day to day operations of our businesses, we rely heavily on our internal support teams to identify and solve problems as they arise.  We also have a tendency to use them as a sounding board for strategic discussions on new directions.  The problem is that many times they have a vested interest in doing it the way we describe or doing it the way it has always been done.  Their success is connected to making us right in some ways and can also be skewed by their need to receive their salary or other compensations from us.  This can create an unintended risk averse culture.  What we really need is a group of objective thinkers who have no vested interested other than to help us be successful.  We don’t want a team that totally agrees with everything we say.  We want objective thinkers who can challenge our assumptions in a respectful and professional way and not be afraid to do that.
  11. Community of Like-Minded Peers – Through our time together as peers in the group, we become a community that builds each other up to be better leaders, make better decisions, and achieve better results for our companies and our lives.  In this way, we help each other transform in extraordinary ways.
  12. Clearing the Path and Helping Us See a Way Forward – Through the process of holding each other accountable, holding up a mirror to reflect back to us things we may not see for ourselves, asking tough questions and offering support, the group participates in promoting meaningful and lasting change for all involved.

As leaders we need to make tough decisions. This article from Entrepreneur Magazine shares 5 you might consider in tough times.

5 Changes for Business Leaders to Consider Going Forward. These guidelines may help your business navigate the new abnormal.

Article by Kedma Mough, MBA

As business leaders, we have entered into an entirely new reality: The ongoing pandemic has forced many to reevaluate how we currently operate traditionally entrenched industries and working models. Many companies are still reacting to this “new abnormal” and have not taken the time to evaluate the strategic impact and address if or how they may need to pivot their current company trajectory. More than ever, business leaders have a clear and present obligation to reevaluate their organization from stem to stern with a critical eye towards longevity and financial success. 

One of the opportunities presented in moments such as this is how we can focus on and catalyze strategies that may have been brewing in the background for years. Times of immense change can also be a tremendous motivator to galvanize your business stakeholders to action around bold new initiatives. Before considering any such drastic changes, however, you need to consider five key questions that will serve to guide you and your company through this time of change.

Zero-based budgeting

While many businesses are scrambling to increase their sales, they may be overlooking strategies for obtaining a healthier net profit. It’s important to understand that increased sales don’t always lead to increased profits, however, decreasing expenses will always lead to a healthier bottom line. One of the best strategies for assessing your current business expense opportunities is through the incorporation of a “zero-based budget” assessment. Zero-based budgeting requires you to remove all business expenses and then add them back with a more critical eye on justification. This process can help business leaders determine spending outlays that must continue for baseline operation of the business, and expenses that can be offset until there is additional revenue or reconsidered altogether.

Changing pay structures

As wages are often the single biggest expense most companies have on their profit and loss, the topic of wages cannot be avoided. While broaching the subject of alternate pay structures can undoubtedly be a sensitive topic with employees, it is one that should be considered seriously and discussed directly. Faced with an opportunity to contribute to further longevity of the enterprise or risk dissolution of that company, many committed employees would likely take the opportunity to consider alternate options. If handled appropriately and consistently with clear communication and expectations, this can strengthen team cohesion and bring more commitment to working through the challenges faced by the company.

As with any such sensitive topic, it is also an opportunity to show the strength and the character of a company and its leadership by ensuring that impacts are burdened by all members of the organization, not just by a select few. It is also critical that any deferral commitments are upheld and the timing of any resumption or decisions to extend should be communicated early and often.

Reducing real estate assets

Decreasing leasing burden for real estate and associated costs for workforce facility support may be another, significant expense to consider. After many workforce segments were migrated to working from home scenarios, the established thinking about physical location dependencies (shared workspace, business travel, etc.) has been fundamentally put into question. A survey conducted in May 2020 for CNBC and Survey Monkey employees indicated increased levels of happiness as a consequence of working remotely. In fact, for many small businesses, production capacity has gone up for a number of related factors, including commute time reduction.

As an example of rethinking direction as it relates to the in-person workforce, REI recently announced its intention to sell the site of a proposed Seattle campus as part of a strategy to provide more flexibility for remote work opportunities for employees. If appropriate for your organization’s working model, surveying your current staff to determine if permanent remote working is feasible may open up some new options to financially benefit the organization broadly.

Automating processes to reduce time and cost

Before undertaking any initiative to automate processes, do be sure that the current key performance indicators (KPIs) of those processes and means of consistent measurement are understood – any potential change should be measurable to ensure the overall benefit and not degrade a potential value driver. Even simple time management logging for significant business processes may be helpful to determine areas of opportunity.

As an example, many business leaders still currently use manual management of employee records and compliance. For employers with a workforce that must be onsite or supporting services with needed human interaction during the current pandemic, many regional authorities have introduced new mandated policies and procedures that can be onerous to support in a manual manner. A simple means to reduce paperwork and ensure everyone is following your safety policies is to have each employee complete ongoing training and compliance tracking through online applications, allowing for real-time updates and on-demand progress reporting. This can be a tremendous boon to bottom lines where the need to have up-to-the-minute workforce status can be a make-or-break moment for an enterprise, and result in significant additional person-hours to recover.

Additional grants and resources 

While the Small Business Administration (SBA) federal disaster funding initiatives including the Payment Protection Program (PP) and the Economic Disaster Relieve Loans (EIDL) program have helped small businesses offset the loss of sales, all businesses should be aware that many other avenues of financial support exist, and might be uniquely appropriate for your organization.

Many state and local municipalities have set aside grants in an attempt to buoy up the local economies. For example, Prosper Portland is a regional organization funded by grants and local tax increment debt, with the specific goal of fostering economic prosperity locally. The organization had recently assigned more than $15 million in grants for small businesses, of which more than 200 businesses received grants upwards of $10,000 in the initial funding round.

Do check with your state and local economic development agencies to determine if additional funding or other in-kind resources are available for your company.

It’s unfortunate that Black Executives need to go abroad to feel valued.

America’s Black brain drain: Why African-American professionals are moving abroad—and staying there

Article from Fortune by Beth Kowitt

It was 2013, and Najoh Tita-Reid, then an executive at pharmaceutical giant Merck, was in the midst of the interview process for a job that would send her on her first international assignment. During a break in the conversation, “a white gentleman pulled me aside,” she says, and told her that all of the white men up for the role were “selling that they’d conquered the moon”—while she was focused on explaining what she saw as the weak spots in her résumé. If Tita-Reid wanted the position, he said, she would need to turn everything she had into an asset.

So she went back into the interview and laid out her biggest selling point: She was the best person for the job because she was a Black woman in the United States. She was used to being the only person in the room who looked like her. The “cultural competency” the hiring managers were looking for was not a skill she’d had to learn for work; it was something she’d had to master to just get by in her everyday life. “I can get the nuances of every culture because this is what you have to do as an African-American,” she told them. “You have to shape-shift to survive.” She sold it, she says, “and it was all true.” 

Tita-Reid got the promotion, running Western Europe for the company out of London. Seven years later, she’s still living and working abroad—now in Switzerland, where she holds a global marketing job for Logitech. And, at least for now, she has no plans to return to the U.S. 

Like many of corporate America’s ladder climbers, Tita-Reid first went after an international role with the goal of enhancing her career. But in the years since she made that first move to London, she’s become part of a cohort of Black American expats who have chosen to stay abroad because they’ve found that the professional benefits of working overseas are far more profound than the usual résumé-building check mark. Working in Europe, Tita-Reid says, has been like wearing an oxygen mask. It’s allowed her to breathe—to lead and perform without feeling the crushing weight of America’s dysfunctional racial dynamics at every moment. 

I’d never been an American first and then Black. It’s a refreshing change.

NANCY ARMAND, AN EXECUTIVE AT HSBC BANK USA

With her friends, Tita-Reid calls it the “James and Josephine effect”—a hat tip to James Baldwin and Josephine Baker, Black Americans who fled the racial persecution of the U.S. during the first half of the 20th century and ended up with thriving careers in Europe. “It’s not a new phenomenon at all,” she says. “I feel like part of that legacy.” 

The decision to work and live abroad has been brought into sharp relief for many Black American expats this spring and summer as they watch a national movement take hold back home in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd. There’s a sense of guilt at not being on the front lines, mixed with affirmation of why they did not want to return. 

Working abroad, these executives say they left behind the fatigue that many described as routine for Black people in corporate America: the exhaustion brought about by being asked to solve your company’s diversity issues; living by the unwritten rules that dictate how you present yourself at work; having to prove every day that you deserve to be in your role. Once abroad, with the weight of their companies behind them, many Black expatriates said they felt instantly valued and treated with a level of respect and deference from their colleagues they had not known in the U.S. 

The benefits extend far beyond the office. The prevailing message in more than a dozen interviews with Black Americans who are working or have worked overseas: Their international experience was the first time race was not the primary frame of reference through which they were viewed. “You’re an American, you’re not African-American,” says Shaundra Clay, who lived in Europe for eight years as a health care executive. “You are not made to feel like you are carrying the burden of anything. You are carrying the power of something.” She said it was a level of privilege she had never experienced before in her life. In the U.S., Nancy Armand, an executive at HSBC Bank USA, was always conscious of her gender and race, she says. In the U.K., she was always conscious of her nationality first. “I’d never been an American first and then Black,” Armand says. “It’s a refreshing change.”

And yet these jobs can be isolating. Rarely does Tita-Reid see another Black woman at her level. “On a day-to-day basis,” she says, “I am alone.” That’s in part because the expat universe is running 20 to 30 years behind the larger corporate world in terms of diversity and inclusion, says Adrian Anderson, a partner in KPMG’s global mobility services. He has both personal and professional experience here: For more than 25 years, Anderson has worked in the industry, which helps multinational organizations manage their workforces’ foreign assignments; he has also lived abroad as a Black American executive. Most of these coveted international roles come through word-of-mouth networks, which have historically boxed out Black employees. Or they are reserved for developing those expected to move into the executive suite—a space that has also long passed over Black talent. Anderson says most global organizations prefer that executives have international experience in order to move into top-level roles, making the lack of access to the expat world a systemic barrier that has kept Black employees from reaching the top echelons of corporate America. 

Black executives who pack their bags and leave the U.S. behind are quick to point out that they are by no means moving to any sort of utopia. “I’m very clear that wherever I go, I’m perceived as a Black man,” says Warren Reid, Tita-Reid’s husband and founder and CEO of Nemnet Minority Recruitment, a diversity recruitment and consulting firm that works with educational institutions. “Unfortunately, in the overwhelming majority of the globe, I don’t have a positive brand image. I’m mindful and not naive about that.” Despite such awareness, Reid and others interviewed for this story said they had not realized how heavily the stress of being Black in America weighed on them until they left. Even when they faced bias abroad, they never feared for their lives or their children’s the way they did in the U.S. Says Ini Archibong, a designer and business owner originally from California who now lives in Switzerland: “The brand of racism in America is unique.”

In corporate America, Black executives are used to having to tell people they’re the boss. Otherwise, says Tita-Reid: “When you walk into a room in the U.S. and you are five levels above your sales rep who’s a white man, they look at him and shake his hand and give you the bag.” But soon after transferring to the U.K., she had a meeting with a client who immediately identified her as the person in charge. “You’re a Black American female, and you’re here, so you have to be the best,” she recalls him saying. It was the first time anyone had labeled her the “best” at anything, she says. “I almost cried.” Reid distills the dynamic this way: In the U.S., he says, the question is always, How did you get in the room, and who let you in? In the U.K., the assumption is that if you’ve made it into the room you deserve to be there.

But working in Europe means adjusting to more subtle forms of racial prejudice—which often intersect with a strong vein of classism, say many Black execs who have done tours abroad. Arlene Isaacs-Lowe, a 22-year vet of Moody’s, transferred to the U.K. in 2015 to run relationship management for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa for the ratings agency. The day she met her new U.K. team, she recalls being repeatedly introduced as an alumna of Howard University and a board member of its business school, followed by a recitation of Howard’s famous alumni. It stuck her as odd, she says, until she realized it was a way of establishing the bona fides of the historically Black university—and by extension, proving her “pedigree” as fellow member of the upper class.

Once that fear lifted from me, I realized I was never going to move back.

INI ARCHIBONG, A DESIGNER AND BUSINESS OWNER WHO NOW LIVES IN SWITZERLAND

In 2017, Tita-Reid joined a health food company as global CMO, and the family moved to Switzerland. In her new home, nationalism was the dominant force, she says. Swiss people support Swiss people first, she says: “If you don’t happen to be of that culture, it has nothing to do with you.” She recalls a conversation with a German businessman, who felt that there was bias against his nationality throughout the country. To Tita-Reid, it was a relief that everyone was considered an outsider. “We’re all equal-opportunity excluded,” she says. “To me, that’s amazing. It’s the first time I’ve ever been equally excluded.” She explained to the businessman that unlike when he returned to Germany and felt accepted, when she went back to the U.S., she still felt like an outsider. “The negativity of being an American in Europe is not as bad as being a Black American in America,” she says.

Three years ago, Tita-Reid had a chance at a job that would take her back to the U.S., but she turned it down. It wasn’t just a career decision but one for her family. “The stress that I felt in the U.S. and concern for my husband and son was gone,” she says. “It was more of a weight than I had ever realized.” 

I spoke to Reid over Zoom, where he sat outside their Zurich home on a sunny day with birds chirping in the background. He told me about the family’s first night in London when they were living in temporary housing. He was going back and forth between the hotel and the flat late at night when he saw two police officers walking toward him. “I remember in that moment, I went through my mental checklist of no sudden moves, communicate, make sure you’re seen.” The police officers walked past him with nothing more than a good night. “That blew my mind,” he said. 

After we talked, Reid sent me a follow-up email, quoting James Baldwin: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost, almost all of the time.” Living abroad, Reid was free of that rage, he said: “It does not consume or preoccupy me in the way that it did and does when I return home.”

Newsletter-Gold-Line

For Dimitry Léger, the narrative of the Black American expat who thrives abroad holds true—until you want to get hired by a European company. If you have the wealth of America behind you, “you are welcomed with open arms,” he says. “When you ask for a job, things change.”

Léger made the move abroad 15 years ago. His then-wife is Swedish and wanted to live closer to her family, and Léger had always been intrigued by the idea of an international career. In 2004, he left journalism behind to get a graduate degree in international relations at Harvard, and the following year ended up in Geneva with the World Economic Forum as a partnership and communications manager. (Léger worked at Fortune from 1999 to 2002, but we never overlapped.) 

Over a decade, Léger says he tried repeatedly to secure a full-time role with the UN, or as a corporate communications executive with a multinational company. Léger, who is Haitian-American and speaks both English and French, says at the UN he was repeatedly passed over; the jobs ended up going to Brits who were not perfectly bilingual—a supposed prerequisite for those roles. In the corporate world, interviews abounded, but he says the leads would turn cold once he showed up in person. One would-be employer went as far as explicitly citing his race as an issue, he says, telling him, “Our investors will have a problem with a Black spokesperson.” Eventually Léger started following the European practice of putting his photo on his résumé to spare himself the grief. Once he did, even the interviews dried up. 

Léger attributes part of his struggle to a lack of formal or informal support structures. The number of top Black executives in the U.S. is woeful, but in Europe Léger found the situation to be far worse. “There are no senior Black executives anywhere,” he says, “so there’s no network of us to look out for each other.” Several Black men, including Léger, told me it was often assumed that they were visitors, because otherwise how could they be eating in this fancy restaurant in this nice part of town? 

Now, with his oldest child thinking about attending college in the U.S., Léger was back in New York, living in Midtown Manhattan. When we spoke in June, he was regularly encountering the Black Lives Matter protests in the city and feeling nervous every time he saw a police car. “I did not miss that,” he says. But he was still glad to be home. “I like my odds of finding a stable full-time job in media,” he says, “of getting the job that eluded me in Europe, even in the middle of a pandemic and the ongoing fight for racial justice here.”

Newsletter-Gold-Line

One of the major downsides of transferring abroad is the struggle that comes with moving back. All of a sudden, executives’ worlds felt much smaller, their jobs narrower. Clay returned to the U.S. in 2016 after eight years in Europe. She described the experience as akin to going back to your hometown after decades away, and having your successes celebrated but no one fully understanding how much you have grown and changed. 

But for Black Americans, repatriation also came with unique baggage. Clay said the racism she had always seen and experienced in the U.S. now emerged with a different sense of clarity. “The longer you’re away, the more stinging and shocking it becomes,” she said. “All the burdens become your burdens again, and they feel heavier because you’ve lost the muscle of carrying them.” She and others I spoke to said they now had less tolerance for the racism they regularly experienced. 

Those who have remained abroad have faced their own new personal struggles this spring and summer, describing feelings of deep conflict in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and protests that have followed. Reid says by being abroad he’s meeting his primary obligation to provide a safe and affirming environment for his family; his children have not had to wrestle with some of the issues he did as a Black kid growing up in the U.S. “That’s been the good side,” he says. “The other side is there is a movement that’s going on, and I’m removed from it. There’s a little guilt that goes along with it: How could I bring to bear my education, resources, and network to move the movement forward?”

Archibong, the American designer based in Switzerland, says it’s difficult not to be in the U.S. right now. But while Switzerland has its own problems, he says, it’s not enough to make him want to go back. The power of escaping that constant existential fear described by so many of the Black American executives I spoke to is too strong. “Once that fear lifted from me, I realized I was never going to move back,” he says. Not being constantly concerned with his physical safety has allowed him to “clear up space” in his head and be more creative in his work. A few years into his move to Europe, Archibong stopped wearing the collared shirts he’d long worn every day—even if it meant being overdressed for the occasion. The formal look had started as an aesthetic choice, he says, but at some point he realized it had become a kind of armor. In the U.S., he’d felt safer when he was dressed up, he says, and the dressier clothes had helped him command the same professional respect that other, non-Black designers got even when casually attired. In Switzerland, he no longer feels the need; now he pulls out the suit and tie only when he’s in the mood.

Tita-Reid struggled to articulate what it’s been like watching the current movement in the U.S. from afar. She, like her husband, says she feels somewhat guilty that she’s an ocean away. It has been both sad and validating to see all of the concerns that had kept her from wanting to return bubble up to the surface. It’s also made her acutely aware of all the good things she had left behind. “You do give up something, which is having your culture, your people, your friends and family,” Tita-Reid says. “It’s at a cost.” 

Newsletter-Gold-Line

77%

Share of companies that say international experience is a critical skill for moving into leadership
Experts say Black executives have less access to global assignments, contributing to the systemic bias that Black professionals face in corporate America.

41%

Share of employers that said they have specific diversity and inclusion objectives as part of their global mobility strategy
Some employers are now focusing on ensuring that international assignments don’t exclude women and people of color, but it’s still a long way from being a top priority for most.

20%

Share of companies that said they were likely to see a decrease in international moves as a result of COVID-19
This shift could have an outsize impact on Black executives, who are already less likely to land foreign assignments because of the informal way they are doled out.

Sources: PWC, KPMG

A version of this article appears in the August/September 2020 issue of Fortune with the headline “America’s Black brain drain.”

Without Compassion, Resilient Leaders Will Fall Short

Article by Carol Kauffman from HBR

It can come out of nowhere — a contempt attack. Like a panic attack, it arises suddenly and takes over completely. You feel a roil of emotions and an overpowering sense of exasperation: the person you’re working with is wasting your time, undermining your efforts, holding back the team. They’re weak, lazy, willfully misguided. In the grips of the attack, you can no longer focus on the matter at hand. The problem is more fundamental. What troubles you about this person is not so much what they’re doing as who they are.

Most leaders experience contempt attacks at one time or another, especially during times of crisis, uncertainty, and high stress. Leaders need to be strong and resilient to make it through these periods. Paradoxically, however, those very strengths make leaders vulnerable to these attacks, because in the heat of the moment they forget that not everybody is as strong and resilient as they are.

Consider a CEO I’ll call Gwen, who leads a well-known financial institution. During the financial crisis of 2009, Gwen was the picture of calm: perfectly coiffed hair, Chanel suit, and a commitment to doing whatever it took to help her institution navigate the crisis — which it did, with flying colors. Understandably, in the aftermath of the crisis, Gwen was proud of what she’d done. As she put it, “Under pressure I lowered my pulse, stayed strategic, and got everyone to execute brilliantly.”

In the work she’d done, Gwen had withstood the kind of pressure that would crush a normal person. Unfortunately, a lot of the people who worked for Gwen hated the experience. As one of them put it, she was an “ice queen slave driver” who couldn’t be bothered to connect to her people. She drove the team relentlessly, micromanaged, and took over herself when she felt members of her team were falling short. In her view, she had done this to rescue the team — but they weren’t grateful, and she couldn’t understand why. She may have won the war, by successfully navigating the crisis, but her team was unhappy, and she sure wasn’t winning the peace. So to turn things around, the board insisted that she hire a coach.

I ended up being the person Gwen chose to work with. When we first met, she didn’t hold back. “They think I’m the one that needs coaching!” she told me. “It’s the team, not me. They collapsed. They put our entire organization in jeopardy, and I had to carry them out of the mess on my back. I’ve seen their feedback: How I need to listen and slow down. ‘Take them all with me.’ I am supposed to be more open? And they want me to be vulnerable?”

Her eyes narrowed, and she leaned toward me with fury and contempt shooting out of every pore of her being.

“Frankly, Carol,” she said, “I’d rather walk on nails.”

Gwen is not a “bad” person. She felt betrayed by her team, who she felt had abandoned her when she needed them most and now threatened her leadership. It never occurred to her that the members of her team might not be as relentlessly resilient and mentally tough as she was. Blind to this fact, she was unable to relate to her employees empathetically and instead assumed they had chosen to fail her. From her standpoint, they deserved her contempt.

In my decades of working as an executive coach, I’ve seen versions of this story play out time and again. Men are more likely to experience contempt attacks than women, but, as Gwen’s case makes clear, leaders of both genders are vulnerable. And no matter what the situation, the attacks put leaders, their people, and their companies at risk. To put it simply, contempt is dangerous in a leader.

Just how dangerous was something I learned years ago, when I was part of a research team, at the Maudsley Royal Hospital, in London, that was studying what we called “levels of expressed emotion.” What we found was shocking. Working with patients who had suffered episodes of depression or schizophrenia, we found that a high number of remarks given in a critical or contemptuous tone by a family member was as powerful a predictor of relapse as their not having taking medication.

As a leader, you need to recognize how powerfully your contempt can affect the people you’re working with. You overlook this at your peril. Fortunately, it’s possible to train yourself to be alert to signs of an impending contempt attack — and in so doing, to help yourself hit the reset button.

***

Awareness is key. One early sign of an impending attack is that you feel like rolling your eyes. Another is disparaging somebody in your mind. (“What a loser,” “Get a grip.”) Do you feel a sneer coming on? Are you looking down your nose at that person, or blaming them for their weakness? If these things are happening, you’re no longer creating a zone of psychological safety for the two of you, and you lose effectiveness as a leader. Don’t let this kind of amygdala hijack control your actions. Once you recognize that an attack is imminent, deactivation has to become your only goal. Only after you’ve addressed your own behavior can you start thinking again about somebody else’s.

Consider how another client of mine — I’ll call him John — coped in this sort of situation.

Second in command of a pharma giant, John hit the ground running after Covid-19 arrived. Early on, however, he saw it from a different vantage point than most. His take, as he described it to me recently, was this: “This is horrible, and we’re racing against time for the vaccine, but, still, our parents and grandparents had it so much worse during WWII.”

John went on to describe his leadership team. “Some are amazing,” he said. “Really stepping up, and not always the one’s you’d expect. They are incredible. But others? They’re just missing in action. What they are doing? Sitting on their hands? I need them. It’s pathetic.”

John scoffed, rolled his eyes, and said, “One guy, Kevin — I just don’t get it. He’s afraid of his shadow, for Pete’s sake. He needs to get stuff done not hide at home quivering under his desk.”

As I listened to John, I was baffled. His attitude was shockingly out of character. I knew him as a beloved, highly collaborative, and empathic leader, but suddenly he was on a judgmental rant. And I heard telltale signs of contempt in his voice. How could he be so callous? I was reminded of Gwen, and then it hit me. He was a former military officer and, like Gwen, he was fearless. He was the epitome of a guy with the “right stuff” — but he couldn’t imagine what it was like not to have it.

“John,” I asked, “do you remember what you loved to do in your twenties?”

He looked and me blankly.

“After your time in the military, didn’t you fly helicopters for fun? And each time you took off, didn’t you have to face death and overcome your fear?”

He gave a short nod.

“For the hundreds of times you strapped into that seat, you built up your resistance to danger. It’s like you inoculated yourself against fear, over and over. And you loved it, didn’t you?”

“Well yes,” he admitted, looking down. “I used to weave them through the trees for fun.”

I could only imagine looking up at a helicopter thundering past, 30 feet off the ground. For fun?

“Here’s the thing,” I told him. “You’ve developed a backbone of steel. There are few people with more fortitude than you have. And that means you aren’t the normal one here. Kevin is. You can’t measure his behavior by yours.”

John is a quick thinker, and it took him only seconds to pivot.

“You’re right,” he said. “Damn! I never thought of it that way. Kevin didn’t deserve that attitude. It’s good thing I didn’t call him yesterday. It wouldn’t have been pretty.”

“But now?”

“I’ll be a lot kinder.”

***

In my work as a coach, I’ve found that leaders can take several steps to help keep a contempt attack at bay:

• If you’re an exceptionally strong and resilient leader, like John, recognize that you are the unusual one and don’t judge others based on yourself. Instead, think about what prepared you for the experiences that have made you stronger. Then apply that thinking to others, who haven’t been trained as you have. Take that “What’s wrong with them?” energy and use it to create an environment for them to be stronger. Don’t be so quick to judge them as failures. You have no idea what else may be going on for them. And don’t forget the genetic lottery — some of your stability may be inborn, and you can’t take credit for that.

• Remind yourself of who this person really is, not who they are at this moment. If you find yourself looking down on them, see if you can come up with three things that you respect about them. What have they accomplished that matters to you or the organization? When have they gone out of their way for you or someone on your team? If you can’t come up with anything, you’re probably too stressed to think straight — or you need to turn your attention back on yourself. If this person really isn’t up to the challenge of being on your team, why are they still on it? It’s not their fault that you chose to keep them there.

• Empathy involves making an extra effort to be kind. Walk over the bridge to where the other person is, try to see the world from their point of view, and then help them see yours. That’s what Gwen did. At one of our later sessions, I found her holding a black moleskin notebook open to a long list of names. About half of them had checkmarks next to them. “Carol,” she said, “you’ll be proud of me. Last time we talked about my starting conversations with people to understand them better. So I made a list of people and started doing that. It’s my kindness campaign — and it’s been amazing. They aren’t anything like I thought. They’re bright and interesting. I get it now.”

• Finally, to create the impact you want, ask yourself these questions: Who do I want to be right now? Am I living my values? Ask yourself about 30 times today. And then do it all over again tomorrow.

Many of us have wondered why the stock market isn’t reflecting the economy. This Wharton article sheds some light…

The continuing strength of the stock market even as the coronavirus pandemic batters the U.S. economy has baffled many observers. The Dow Jones Industrial Index fell some 30% in the first three weeks of March as COVID-19 began spreading rapidly globally, but it has since gained nearly 60% to current levels above 28,650. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy shrank 31.7% in the April-June quarter, the Commerce Department reported last Thursday.

During a recent segment of the Wharton Business Daily radio show on SiriusXM, Wharton finance professor Itay Goldstein identified three factors that explain the apparent disconnect between the stock market and the economy. 

Fast Forward, and a Fed Push

The first, which is true of all times, is that “the stock market is meant to be forward-looking,” Goldstein said. “In general, the stock market is a bit different from the economy, in the sense that what you see right now in the economy is what is going on right now” such as production, employment and so forth, he noted. Even in “normal times,” stock prices and economic output would not move in tandem, according to Goldstein. In fact, we may have situations “where the stock prices may predict something that is going to be different from what we see right now.”

Secondly, the Federal Reserve has “put a lot of money into the market, and that certainly helps keep prices up, maybe above what we would expect without this intervention,” said Goldstein.

“The fact that the Fed started injecting all this money into the market pushed prices up.”–Itay Goldstein

“What the Fed is doing right now is unprecedented,” he continued. The Fed has continued on the trajectory of low interest rates since mid-2019, but also pressed on with its “quantitative easing” approach to inject liquidity into the financial system, which it had used in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. “In recent months, it is not only doing the traditional quantitative easing of buying treasuries and mortgage-backed securities, but also continuing to buy other assets like corporate bonds, which is something that the Fed has not done before.”

In March, in response to the pandemic, the Federal Reserve announced a stimulus package that included expanded windows for its purchase of securities and new credit facilities for businesses and municipalities.

“The fact that the Fed started injecting all this money into the market pushed prices up,” said Goldstein. The prices of assets are “mechanically pushed up” by the Fed’s act of purchasing them. That causes prices for other assets also to rise, “because investors are always looking for places to put their money,” he added.

Last Thursday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell spoke of a shift in its inflation goals, “signaling that it wanted inflation to rise modestly above its 2% target,” as a Wall Street Journal report said. That essentially “ushers in a longer era of lower rates,” the Journal noted. Stocks were mixed in their reaction to Powell’s remarks, but generally trended higher.

“Inflation that is persistently too low can pose serious risks to the economy,” Powell had noted. “Inflation that runs below its desired level can lead to an unwelcome fall in longer-term inflation expectations, which, in turn, can pull actual inflation even lower, resulting in an adverse cycle of ever-lower inflation and inflation expectations.” The Fed was clearly worried about the prospect of the U.S. facing a sustained period of low inflation, a trap that ensnared Japan and Europe, the Journal article said.

“Powell’s statement reinforces the expectation that the Fed will continue to have very low interest rates for a while, which will continue to be a force pushing market prices up,” Goldstein told Knowledge@Wharton. “There was nothing in the statement that changed things in the short term. But the change in framework that was described implies that the Fed will not quickly raise rates when inflation starts to rise. Hence, one should expect rates to remain low for even longer.”

To be sure, the stock markets are factoring in expectations that the U.S. economy will rebound 20% or more in the current third quarter, with the lifting of lockdowns and resumption of modest economic activity in many parts of the country. The latest tally for jobless claims also brought cheer as it fell to 1 million in the week ended August 22, a sharp reversal from the peak of 7 million in March; however, it is five times as large as pre-pandemic levels of about 200,000 a week.

Apples and Oranges

The third factor is the fact that “the stock market is a collection of firms that is not necessarily representative of the economy as a whole,” Goldstein said. “That is amplified these days.”

“The stocks that are doing very well – Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix – haven’t been hurt that much by the current economic conditions.”–Itay Goldstein

In fact, the stocks that have been gaining strength do not really reflect the pain from the pandemic. “In particular, the stocks that are doing very well – Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix – haven’t been hurt that much by the current economic conditions. Some of them maybe have benefited from them. They are very dominant in the stock market, but they are not necessarily representing the economy as a whole.”

The disconnect extends to the share of those companies in employment or other macroeconomic parameters. “It’s very easy to look at the stock market, see those headlines, see those firms doing very well and pulling the market up,” Goldstein said. “But at the same time, their contribution to the overall economy is not as big.”

Further, Goldstein pointed out that many small businesses are hurt by the current economic conditions. “They certainly are affecting employment data, output data, but they are nowhere to be seen in the stock market,” he said. “In general, small businesses have no access to the stock market…. You see they are closing down. They are firing people, and so on, but you don’t see any reflection of those particular businesses in the stock market.”

A Coming Correction?

The current bull market will not last forever, especially if hopes of an economic revival don’t materialize as early as expected. “It’s certainly possible that we will see a drop in prices on Wall Street pretty soon,” said Goldstein. “There are a number of ways to look at it, but it could definitely be the case that we will wake up and see prices starting to decrease. As I said, part of what’s going on is the fact that stock prices are forward-looking, so maybe they are seeing something optimistic. But it could be that they are missing some negative signals, and maybe those negative signals will come back to hit the market soon.”

Goldstein added: “The unprecedented actions that the Fed took indicate that they thought this is a time of emergency, and they need to do whatever it takes to keep the markets up and help the economy.” That included calling for fiscal actions from Congress to do more in order to help the economy, he noted.

Amid all those liquidity infusions are worries that the federal debt will balloon to unmanageable proportions, Goldstein said. At the same time, “probably the majority of people think that the times are so unprecedented, the problems are so difficult, that you shouldn’t think so much about the debt but rather put more money to work in order to save the economy from falling further down.”

Women in Leadership 2020: A powerful journey in a single day

Women in Leadership 2020 was the first event of its kind for Vistage.

Bringing together a national, virtual audience of hundreds of female Chairs, members and member candidates, the event on Aug. 21, 2020, raised the bar on the depth and value attendees can experience within the “new reality.” And it illuminated with heartfelt clarity the sisterhood that thrives within the Vistage community.

In informal networking sessions, targeted learning breakouts and guided discussions, 700+ women gathered in small groups with peers they’d never met previously, to speak candidly about what it means to be a woman in leadership. With laughter and an outpouring of honesty, the women of Vistage shared professional challenges and triumphs, and some lighter insights too — connecting as never before with their female peers across the U.S.

Below find three key learnings from a game-changing day, each packed with supporting takeaways.

1. With the right mindset, you can harness headwinds to make you a better, stronger leader.

Self-doubt. Change. The unexpected. As for a pilot in flight, headwinds arise for business leaders that are very much beyond your control. What is in your control, is how you respond. “Risk is required for growth,” shared our first keynote, Col. Nicole Malachowski, USAF (Ret.).

Col. Nicole Malachowski, USAF (Ret.)

For Nicole, the headwinds in the sky never held her back. It was with feet firmly on the ground she faced challenges like overcoming gender bias to become the first female Thunderbird pilot, redefining “work/life” balance, and persevering through grave illness.

“Choose an unscripted life,” Nicole declared. And take caution to not write yourself out of it. “The only way you’ll figure out what you’re capable of, is if you try.”

That’s not to say you should over-extend yourself. In a suggestion many attendees found novel, Nicole shared a secret to her success was in setting clear boundaries, and in working to 85% — not 100%. She explained, “You can’t live your life to 100% every day in peace time. You need to reserve something for war.”

At the peak of her success, illness left Nicole bedridden — unable to move, speak or talk for nine months. When facing unexpected hardship, “yield to overcome,” Nicole advised. “It’s not about resilience, it’s about resurgence.”

As the event chat panel filled with comments and personal anecdotes from attendees, it was clear Nicole had struck a chord, sparking lively guided discussions on harnessing headwinds of their own.

“Believe those who believe in you,” Nicole urged. “You are surrounded by those women right now.”

2. Care personally, while challenging directly.

Our second keynote speaker Kim Scott was the yang to Nicole Malachoswki’s yin. Presenting a tangible framework drawn from her best-seller, “Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss without Losing your Humanity,” Kim pulled no punches as she shared good, bad and ugly personal anecdotes, including how her first experience with Radical Candor™ came from a frank exchange with Sheryl Sandberg.

Kim Scott, Best-selling author and co-founder, Candor Inc.

In no uncertain terms, Sheryl told Kim just what she needed to do to improve as a speaker. Her feedback was direct, it was actionable and it was heartfelt. And this is the core of Radical Candor.

An intersection of art and science, Radical Candor is in large part about avoiding the following leadership pitfalls:

  • Obnoxious Aggression™ Challenging directly, without caring personally.
  • Ruinous Empathy™ Not being honest, in order to spare short-term feelings. 
  • Manipulative Insincerity™ Backstabbing. Passive aggressive behavior. Insincere praise. 

“Common human decency is something you can offer to everyone in your organization,” Kim countered. “At the core of management, is a good relationship.” 

The best way to introduce Radical Candor into your organization, is to ask for feedback: 

  • Ask a question that invites engagement.
  • Wait for a response.
  • Listen with intent to understand.
  • Reward the candor!

Kim explained, “Your job as a leader is to paint a picture of what’s possible for people.”

As attendees broke out to discuss, the wheels were turning — Kim’s challenge of being human vs. professional resonating. Coupled with Nicole’s declaration, “all you have is the runway ahead of you,” attendees now had tools to optimize their leadership AND the motivation to fuel it.

3. Be the pebble in the pond.

Sarita Maybin, Communications expert and author

Following an extended break, Women in Leadership 2020 attendees reunited to close the day in gratitude. Communications expert Sarita Maybin led an interactive journey through how to stay positive and hopeful even in challenging times, and real-time insights poured in.

The women of Vistage freely shared just what is keeping them going, with an overarching feeling — we’re all truly in this together. Sarita challenged attendees to “be the pebble in the pond,” continuing to support one another in embrace of the notion, even one small move can make big ripples.

Thank you to all who joined us on Aug. 21, and thank you to our event sponsors.  In the words of Vistage member and event attendee, Tamera Wobbe, “Let’s do it again!”

We most surely will.

Vistage members may visit the post-event page here to access all of the day’s presentations, resources and more.

A great post from HBR for people with kids that are remote learning….

Article by Avni Patel Thompson

How to Plan Child Care in Uncertain Times

Lisa and Geoff are a dual career couple, living in Chicago, IL with their six- and eight-year-old sons. Until last March, managing two careers and two kids was challenging — especially without family in town — but they had figured out a routine that worked for them. The boys were in kindergarten and second grade at a neighborhood school they loved that also had a great after-school program. Work was demanding and engaging but manageable. Like most families today, it wasn’t easy, but it worked.

Then Covid hit and the foundation of every working family’s careful balance was pulled out from under them — namely, school and child care. While Lisa and Geoff managed to cobble things together for the rest of the school year and through the summer, they held out hope that the fall would bring a return to some semblance of structure and certainty. That hope was shattered when, like many school districts across the country, their school announced options for 100% remote learning or a limited hybrid model of two days in school and three days remote.

Now Lisa and Geoff, like millions of other working parents, are left wondering how they’re going to manage. Some are navigating suboptimal options for schooling — trying to decide whether structure, socialization, and support of an in-person classroom outweighs the health risks and extra complexity of managing remote learning at home (if given the option at all). Others are weighing different questions: understanding the risks of sending a child back to day care; whether they can afford the cost of a tutor, nanny, or part-time sitter; whether this is the opportunity to move closer to family for help; or whether one partner needs to cut back at work to help weather the uncertainty for the family.

As the founder and CEO of a company that builds software to help working parents manage the weekly complexities of running a family, I’ve seen variations of these dilemmas play out in thousands of households. There are different priorities and situations for each, but the worry, anxiety, and exhaustion are all the same. What we’ve found is that there are two things at play:

  1. Dealing with constant uncertainty: On top of existing work and home challenges, parents are managing the cognitive load and exhaustion of making — and adjusting — plans that can be quickly rendered obsolete.
  2. Lack of child care makes everything shaky: For most families, schools form a critical part of daily child care. Without in-person school, parents are feeling uncertainty in all of the other parts of their lives — from their ability to work to their mental health. And with day cares limiting class size and others not reopening, this stress extends to most parents with kids under 12.

Given this, we’ve found it’s important to help parents build plans that work for their specific needs but that can also be adapted for a range of situations. Here are three steps for how you can do the same.

Start with your priorities.

Parents are already master prioritizers, but in times of greater uncertainty, we need to protect the most important things — no matter what. Make a list of all possible priorities in your family’s life. (To make it feel less daunting, focus on just the next quarter.) Then, pick the three that you want and need to protect most. This doesn’t mean that the others aren’t important, but just that anytime the top three are in jeopardy, the rest will have to take a backseat.

For instance, a single parent living close to high-risk grandparents may prioritize their extended family’s health, their job, and their family’s social and emotional health. A dual-working couple with elementary-aged kids may prioritize their relationship, consistent logistics, and both jobs. And a single-income family with a high-risk child may put education, physical health, the parent’s job first. Even though each of these families have core child care needs, what their priorities are will guide the options they’ll explore. A starter list of priorities for your consideration include:

  • Extended family
  • Relationships with partner + kids
  • Education and extra learning
  • Physical health
  • Social/emotional + mental health
  • Socializing with friends
  • Careers
  • Financial health

Identify options for each priority. 

Now that you have your top family priorities, consider how you’ll best be able to maximize each as using three sets of options: Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. Plan A can be what is ideal, assuming all is going as planned. Plan B is your classic backup for when A falls through for the most obvious reasons, like a sick caregiver, an unexpected injury, a scheduling conflict, and so on. Finally, Plan C is your safety net, a potentially more drastic option if the first two stop being effective.

To create these plans, consider how options on the table might vary depending on your priorities. For instance, if extended family is a priority, like it was in the single parent example above, your options may range from including grandparents within your bubble, choosing remote learning, or taking the opportunity to move to be closer to family. Protecting your career may mean reducing your child care uncertainty; options can range from hiring a nanny to teaming up with two to three other families in a similar position and taking turns handling last-minute hiccups. For education, you might decide to dedicate part of your budget for a private tutor that can supplement school curriculum, or you might keep learning opportunities at the forefront all week through real-world adventures and explorations. Consider your priorities and outline plans that work within them — what you want to do, a backup, and a third-tier option.

Put plans in action, with ample buffer.

With the plans and options identified, it’s time to enlist the help of others and create actionable weekly plans. Communicate the high-level points of your plan with people in your life — from your nanny or sitter to helpful neighbors and fellow parents in the community that you might be collaborating with during Covid.

With high-level plans in place, it’s time to execute efficiently. We’ve found that the greater the uncertainty, the greater the gains in proactive planning vs. last-minute reacting. Families we work with find that dedicating just 10 minutes on Sunday evening to plan the week ahead results in fewer missed things, an ability to anticipate tricky spots, and a general feeling of family cohesion and collaboration. We also found that this approach saves roughly 20 minutes each day that is otherwise spent in researching, debating, and deciding — a number that easily adds up to a critical 10 hours a month.

To get started, schedule a standing weekly meeting with your partner (Sunday evening after the kids are in bed is a popular time). Then, use this guide to walk through the six main areas:

  1. Schedule review: Identify your meetings and high-priority items that you need dedicated time for and must work around.
  2. Child care shifts: Decide who handles pickup and drop-offs for school and day care, or covers remote learning and child care shifts throughout the week.
  3. Meal plan: Jot down a quick list of what lunches and dinners — nothing fancy — to save valuable time and energy during the week.
  4. Key reminders: Talk through anything remaining that you need to remember.
  5. Priority household to-dos: Pick no more than five chores to divvy up and add them to the schedule.
  6. Backup planning: Talk about the trickiest parts of the week and how Plan B and Plan C will kick in if Plan A fails.

Despite the best-laid plans, we know each day can and will bring unexpected challenges. The goal, then, is not planned perfection, but something solid that you and your partner feel good about.

Families have never been under greater pressure to manage a tremendous amount of uncertainty, while needing to make critical decisions that involve our health, learning and relationships. In this marathon, we need all the help we can get in lessening the uncertainty and creating plans that work for our specific needs, whether that’s in the time of a worldwide pandemic or simply another week as working parents.

The Value of Peer Advisory Groups

Article by Spark Growth Strategies

One of the best “Secret” weapons that some of our most successful clients utilize is the Peer Advisory Group concept. If you aren’t familiar with the terminology, it is basically an organized group of CEO’s, Business Owners and other key leaders working together to help solve critical business issues and gain insight pulling from the collective experience of the group.

These Peer Groups come in all shapes and sizes and there are several organizations that provide a framework and leadership for organizing and driving the most value from the concept.

The recognized leader in the space is Vistage with over 23,000 members worldwide across 20 countries and more than 60 years in business. There are several other organizations that exist as well, many of which have sprouted up in recent years. In addition to the organized, paid membership solutions many business leaders have taken on the concept and built their own groups with similar goals in mind.

If you are not sure how a Peer Advisory Group could help you strategically with your business, here are some things to consider.

According to an article from Forbes, the Five Superpowers of Peer Groups are:

  • Confidentiality
  • Feedback
  • Expertise
  • Formal Structure and Facilitation
  • Accountability

Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Confidentiality is key as it allows the group members to dive deep into the specific business challenges and issues they face without concern. This is a fundamental piece of any solid Peer Advisory Group. Without a high level of confidentiality, you won’t be able to get into the depth of issue processing that can be so beneficial.

Gathering Feedback from peers is another powerful element of the Peer Advisory Group concept. In their book, The Power of Peers, authors Leo Bottary and Leon Shapiro, share that participation in peer groups helps leaders optimize their professional development time and cash investment.

Drawing on the collective expertise of the group can be the catalyst for some great development, growth and innovation. As many Peer Advisory Groups are between 10 and 20 members strong, that is a whole lot of group experience and expertise to benefit from.

The primary reason that the organized, paid membership groups are so popular is the added layer of formal structure and facilitation. A strong Chair, Moderator or Group Leader makes all the difference.

Our advice is to take that into account when looking at joining a Peer Advisory Group. The value the members will derive from the experience is very closely tied to the effectiveness of the Group Chair.

Last but probably one of the most valuable dynamics of the Peer Advisory Group concept is Accountability. Surrounding yourself with other successful leaders and putting yourself in the position of accountability to the group can be a very powerful thing in overcoming obstacles and ultimately achieving your goals.

If you haven’t already, do some research into the different options and consider adding this to your overall strategy. It can be a powerful asset no matter if you are a CEO of a large enterprise, a small business owner or even a solo entrepreneur.