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The ‘right’ way to downsize

What years of working with startups taught me about laying people off

A little over a year into launching StrongLoop, an enterprise API startup eventually acquired by IBM, we were out over our skis. It was my doing — having built a vast top of funnel, we expected our product to have a specific sell-through rate and I’d optimistically hired in engineering, customer support, marketing and sales. However, the sales cycles were long, burn rate was too high and we had too many highly skilled people who were a little bored. It was time to orchestrate a reduction in force.

I’d been laid off a few times myself, once from a pivoting startup and again during the downturn of 2001, so I knew what it felt like. I’d also been a manager at a larger company that laid off employees, so I’d seen the corporate playbook. But as the CEO, I had personally sold these people on our vision, cramming into a small substandard office with them for months or years — it felt very personal. Back then, the job market was robust: I didn’t worry about team members finding new jobs. Today is more uncertain.

With many startups under the pressure of a pandemic-fueled economic crisis, I interviewed several CEOs who have had to orchestrate COVID-19-related layoffs to capture (what I believe) are some best practices to downsize correctly and compassionately.

Put people before projects

One company had a pending product launch, yet a few renewals were pushed due to COVID-19-based uncertainty. Meanwhile, the board had decided to extend runway to have more options. The question was: Should the company complete the product launch and let employees know they’re losing their jobs after? Or should they tell employees ahead of time, risking a loss in focus while some members of the team (correctly) start looking for jobs?

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Sponsoring a Protégé — Remotely

Executive Summary

Career development doesn’t stop, just because we’re working remotely. To retain and fully realize the brightest and the best — and to secure the current and future success of your organization — managers and executives must prioritize sponsorship. They need to figure out how to continue to invest in a small, diverse portfolio of high performers using virtual tools and tactics.

First, make the relationship reciprocal. Encourage your protégé to pitch in to ensure team success, and ask them to create an inventory of their assets. Next, demonstrate commitment to your protégé by talking them up and suggesting them for opportunities. Introduce them at the start of key projects and highlight their strengths. Finally, emphasize gravitas in one-on-one meetings. Look to remote coaches or have targeted coaching via video chat.

Illustration by Artbyrobel/Robel Assefa

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For the past three months, executives have scrambled to manage through the ongoing crisis. Many have found creative ways to lead teams and listen to clients and customers in a world where face-to-face contact is impossible.

Despite the transition to remote work and economic uncertainty, career development doesn’t stop. It’s important to meet the needs of top junior talent looking to ensure careers aren’t stalled. Remember that young stars are mobile — in 2002 and again in 2008, it was the top producers on Wall St. and on Main St. that were lured away by competitors eager to show them more “love” through leadership development opportunities as well as higher salaries. In sharp contrast, poor performers tended to stick around. They had nowhere else to go.

Further Reading

To retain and fully realize the brightest and the best — and to secure the current and future success of your organization — managers and executives must prioritize sponsorship. They need to figure out how to continue to invest in a small, diverse portfolio of high performers using virtual tools and tactics.

The value of winning a sponsor is well known: A junior manager with a sponsor is 21% more likely than a junior manager without a sponsor to progress to the next rung of the career ladder. The other side of the relationship is just as promising: A manager or executive with a protégé is 53% more likely than a manager or executive without to progress to the next rung of the career ladder.

But the benefits aren’t just at the individual level. According to research by the Center of Talent Innovation, when at least a third of managers and executives proactively invest in a small portfolio of diverse protégés that include at least two individuals who are of a different identity — which happens in only 22% of companies — that company is 45% more likely to see improvement in market share and 70% more likely to capture a new market. This research traces the precise link between diversity and innovation and is a rich source for both data and case studies.

Whether you are an up-and-coming talent or an established leader, becoming a sponsor and having a protégé are great investments for individuals and companies, and these relationships can be built successfully, even in virtual working environments. Here’s how.

Make It Reciprocal

A protégé needs to give as well as get. This exchange of value and respect reflects the foundational premise of sponsorship. The biggest shift for a manager moving from being a mentor to being a sponsor is taking on board and actualizing this two-way street.

Sponsors value high performing junior talent who leave their ego at the door. In mid-2020 when so many business models are under stress, it’s particularly important for a protégé to pitch in and do whatever it takes to enable the team to hit a target or deadline. Putting up your hand to fix a tech snafu, or proactively reaching out via phone or Zoom to soothe a needy stakeholder, will improve your stock and standing.

A high-performing junior talent often has skillsets or life experiences that are not known to a sponsor. This is particularly true when the sponsor/protégé relationship crosses lines of gender, ethnicity, or any other line of difference. An efficient tactic here for a time-starved sponsor (and most managers are overloaded in these difficult times) is to ask your pick to create a one-page detailed inventory of their assets. This will allow you to better visualize the value being brought to the table. Ask your protégé to stress skillsets and experiences that are not currently on offer in the team, and make sure to include contacts and networks outside of work in the wider business world. This tactic is particularly helpful to sponsors who want to have a line of sight into potential of a junior talent of a different identity, someone who is not a “mini-me.” An inventory of assets often includes military service and not-for-profit leadership roles, as well as more predictable elements such as a language skill or global experience.

Demonstrate Commitment

Sponsors demonstrate full commitment to a protégé when they “use up a chip” on behalf of the junior talent. Reach out to a senior colleague or an important client (via phone or Zoom), talk up the impressive skill sets of your protégé, then make a watertight case for why they should be considered for a specific big opportunity. Vigorous advocacy is made easier if you have an inventory of your protégé’s assets in hand.

Alternatively, identify a project that your protégé may not have been included in prior to remote work and invite them to participate. As the project kicks off, make sure to introduce your protégé with respect and enthusiasm (perhaps in the first conference call) lifting up key strengths and outlining the value add this bringing to bear. Again, having an inventory of your protégé’s assets at hand is enormously useful.

Emphasize Gravitas in One-on-one Meetings

No matter how high performing, most protégé need to grow their soft skills. Top of list is learning how to project gravitas — how does a junior talent convey that they know their stuff cold? Working from home precludes modeling leadership behavior in person, but sponsors are becoming inventive, leaning on external resources (a remote media coach can be a life saver for protégé facing a high stakes virtual presentation) and plunging in themselves with 30-minute targeted coaching via video chat. Over the last few months we’ve interviewed executives across a range of sectors, including finance, tech, and media, and found out what dimensions of the gravitas they zero in on most frequently in their virtual coaching sessions. Among the top traits are decisiveness, authenticity, confidence, likability, poise, grace under fire, and vision.

Of course, successful sponsors focus on tone as well as tactics when investing in protégés. Conveying respect for junior talent whatever their background or identity, demonstrating sensitivity, and communicating informed empathy are critical behaviors for any manager seeking to sponsor a portfolio of diverse talent because these behaviors engender trust — a foundation stone of reciprocal, fully aligned sponsorship relationships. These issues of tone and trust are particularly important in a time when the country faces mounting racial and equal opportunity challenges. Sponsors are well advised to put these values center stage.

Creating or continuing a trust-filled, mutually beneficial sponsorship relationship is difficult in a remote setting — but it is possible. A manager or executive needs to be much more self-conscious about how to celebrate a protégé, even as they engage more in a conference calls or virtual meetings, where face-to-face options aren’t available. One senior executive gave us this golden rule: “Place the word respect in the center of your brain, and the details of inclusive interaction in cyberspace will fall into line.”

If our free content helps you to contend with these challenges, please consider subscribing to HBR. A subscription purchase is the best way to support the creation of these resources.

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Players on Pause: How to Keep High-Performance Teams Motivated

Andre Iguodala shares insight on how team members can stay focused during the COVID-19 shutdown.

By Andre Iguodala, Venture Partner at Comcast Ventures’ Catalyst Fund

On March 11, I didn’t even have a chance to get out of my uniform, before hearing the basketball season was suspended. Within hours, I was coordinating travel to be with my family, learning how to set up teammates for remote conditioning, and working with fellow investors at Comcast Ventures as we assessed how to help our portfolio companies respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Over the next several weeks, I’ve been able to experience what it takes to keep high-performance teams motivated. It’s about fostering the right culture of camaraderie and embracing the process, which starts with being in the right state of mind.

Mindfulness From the Very Start

Right now, most “high performers” are concerned with the uncertainty of their future — not being able to predict wins or losses regardless of how highly skilled they are. During this time, the only thing we can control is ourselves, more specifically our state of mind. It drives everything around us, including our home environment, digital interactions, and decisions. So much of our stress comes from wanting this moment to be something other than what it is, instead of just embracing it for exactly what it is. By instituting daily practices to solidify a mindful approach, we will all be clear-headed and ready to perform when it’s game time again and businesses around the globe start to open back up.

My team holds Zoom workouts five days a week. At the beginning of each session, we meditate for five minutes to become centered. We acknowledge and appreciate the opportunity of simply being there, and we set the mood. Through deep breaths, we calm our minds and bring back focus. Our virtual workouts are a mix of pilates, yoga, biking, and other drills. Even though we are not physically together, we are all alert and connected.

Our present reality draws similarities to a team facing tough times. Think of a team midway through a season with wins that are few and far between. The team has to muster up the mental fortitude to accept that another loss may be inevitable. And yet, you must continue to show up. So you ask yourself, how does one stay motivated and upbeat through turmoil? I’ve been in this situation more than once in my career, and as I look back I’m actually thankful for the insight I gained through those tough times. Here’s what I learned and what I’m doing today:

  • Get the most out of myself and those around me
  • Don’t let noise be a distraction
  • Embrace being in an underdog position and let the hunger prove to myself and the team that we can still win

If losing is still what ends up being the outcome, then so be it. With the appropriate mental framework, a loss isn’t a loss, it’s a lesson.

Culture of Winning and Camaraderie

The thing players who retire or leave the game miss the most is camaraderie. They miss their teams, the shared bus rides, the grueling practices. During the COVID-19 shutdowns, digital businesses can carry on with remote work, but that’s not the same for professional athletic teams — we require physical proximity. The restrictions are forcing us to come up with creative ways to build a strong remote team culture and camaraderie. It starts with structure and a routine where everyone’s individual circumstance is taken into consideration.

Some of our players didn’t have home workout gear or hoops at home. We had to make sure everyone could participate in virtual workouts, sending weights, bands, and even basketball hoops out to players. At the same time every day, no matter the time zone, we are all committed to joining a virtual workout where we see each other on video. We challenge each other, talk a bit of smack as we would in person, and stay engaged as a team. Even without the physical courts, “work” remains a place of fierce competitive passion. We continue to work with the same fire and intention to win. I see this with hospitals and healthcare workers. I see this in many startups and neighborhood small businesses determined to make it through.

Managers of high performing teams need to ask themselves –

  • Do my teammates have the right equipment at home to succeed?
  • Do they have family obligations we need to consider?
  • Does anyone need extra support?
  • Do we have all the structures in place to ensure we succeed together?”

The Warriors were a prime example of what foundational culture can achieve. All the top talent wanted the opportunity to be a part of that culture because, in the end, we all want to do what we love to do and be rewarded for it. The culture we built allowed us to withstand the toughest times.

Play the Long Game and Enjoy the Process

Business people are used to operating in environments where they get feedback and results quickly, especially in tech. Milestones, product launches, winning customer deals… growth happens on a quarterly cadence, if not monthly, and under the scrutiny of customers, investors, and advisors. But, sports are not like that. It’s a grind. Success takes years. Nobody turns around a team that is in the midst of a crisis in two quarters. Kobe would say that all he focused on was the process. There are so many debates about how and when the world will recover from the impacts of the pandemic — it’s going to be a grind — we all need to find the motivation and vision to play the long game here and even joy in the process that lies ahead.

A key part of making progress is in setting forth a plan. Use this ‘break’ in routine to find balance and assess what’s important in life. It’s interesting to see how my fellow athletes are thinking differently about their lives and about their future. They are adjusting financially and taking this time to learn how the business of basketball works. They are thinking about management and investing. They are learning about different sectors beyond the game including media, technology, real estate, and more. Many players don’t think about life outside of basketball until later in their careers. The COVID-19 ‘break’ from the game is forcing players to think about other interests, strengths, and opportunities. I’m working on this myself. I have 2 kids in the house, I create a schedule where I am with the kids for a couple of hours, and then focus on basketball and training while making sure I join meetings with the investing team at Comcast Ventures, where I serve as a Venture Partner on the Catalyst Fund.

The days can feel never-ending as they blend into each other. Do what you need to do in order to internalize this process. One of the things that really helps me adapt is journaling. I put pen to paper, which I haven’t done since college — I know I’m dating myself — but writing helps me focus on a pattern of activity to reach short and long term goals over time.

Being a professional athlete, one quickly accepts the fact that tough times are the norm. Media scrutiny, egos, team continuity, personal identity (at the end of one’s career) — all play a role in the constant battle of finding true mental and physical balance. The current COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to compete harder than many of us ever have — not toward an end score, but for that balance that builds strength as individuals and as high performing teams.

On April 16th, Comcast Ventures’ Forecast Labs held a Town Hall for our founders. The recording of “Keeping High-Performance Teams Motivated During the COVID-19 Recovery” is now available on the Forecast Labs content page.


Players on Pause: How to Keep High-Performance Teams Motivated was originally published in The Forecast on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Now Is The Time To Finally Start Practicing Gratitude: Insights From Organization Culture Expert Dr. Kim Cameron

As part of our series, Rising to the Challenge: Values-Driven Leadership During the Coronavirus, we sat down with some of the leaders and thinkers we most respect, to get their thoughts on what this moment means and how we can face it with hope and resilience.

Here, we share Part 2 of our conversation with Dr. Kim Cameron, one of the world’s foremost researchers and thinkers in the area of organizational culture and positive leadership. Cameron is a Professor Emeritus of Management and Organization at the University of Michigan, where he co-founded the Center for Positive Organizations. Find Part 1, which covered survivor’s guilt and envy when organizations downsize, at this link.

This interview has been abridged and edited for readability. You can find an audio version of the full interview here.

Please note, as may be evident in the conversation, this interview was recorded prior to the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests.

You’ve written about the importance of gratitude as an individual practice that, regardless of circumstances, can transform your experience and your wellbeing in the moment. Tell me about it and how it applies to our current context of the coronavirus.

KC: This is difficult to live in all circumstances, of course, but one of the best pieces of advice I have to give is to look for the silver lining. Look for things that are going well, celebrate what’s right with the world.

I’m going to give you a two or three studies to explain. In one study, there are a group of students who are in a classroom. The students are all asked to keep a journal every day. Half of the students are assigned to write in their journal three things for which they are grateful or the best three best things that happened today. The other half of these students are assigned to simply keep a normal daily event journal: write down events and relationships, problems they faced, whatever.

At the end of the semester, several studies were conducted. One of them was to give everybody a flu shot. Turns out, one week later, those keeping a gratitude journal are healthier. They had more antibodies in their system than the others. People were given a mental acuity test by asking them to memorize information or come up with some sophisticated rules for difficult decisions. There is more mental acuity displayed in the first group than in the second. In fact, grade point average is almost a half a grade higher among that gratitude group.

In another study, people were given a creativity task. Something like, how many uses can you think of for a brick, or a ping pong ball, or a piece of paper? Again, the gratitude group had a broader variety of ideas.

Gratitude is a very well researched topic now, that is, to concentrate on something for which you’re grateful. In fact, one of the most effective therapeutic techniques has been not only mindfulness meditation (loving kindness meditation probably is the most effective) but also to count your blessings. This means , think of all the bad things going on in your life. Think of all the problems you’re facing. Think of all the stress you’re encountering. Now, flip those and ask, “What am I learning? What should I be thankful for? What’s not occurred that could have? How can I be thankful for even the most difficult situations?”

I’m not a therapist or a psychiatrist, but it’s an interesting and very effective therapy that people are using, especially in crises like we are facing right now. Gratitude can seem kind of syrupy, but it actually matters in terms of health, resilience, and performance.

Do you know of any teams that are doing gratitude practices together?

KC: I do. There are a number of organizations with whom we have done some work or research. For example, there’s an experiment going on right now at the University of Michigan involving the business and finance group. That’s approximately 3,000 employees at the university and a very diverse group. They are colleagues from groundskeepers and custodians through people managing multimillion-dollar investment portfolios. So white collar and blue collar employees, all over the campus. A diverse group.

They decided they were going to implement something they simply referred to as “positive leadership culture.” We gave them an assignment to “infect” 90% of the employees in business and finance in 90 days, the 90 in 90 challenge. Well, what does infect mean? It means gain the ability to teach this new set

of values, this new set of principles and implement a 1% change directed at positive leadership. They exceeded the 90 in 90 challenge. All the empirical markers are up, as you might expect. But one of the best things is the custodians and the people who are out in the field, who are in the tunnels, the people in the offices and the administration, they’re all keeping gratitude journals.

The former head coach at the University of Michigan basketball team, John Beilein, who was hired by the Cleveland Cavaliers to be their basketball coach, keeps a gratitude journal. His athletes keep gratitude journals. He starts every entry in his journal with a scripture, by the way, which I think is admirable. John is probably known as the best bench coach strategist in the NCAA. He’s quite an amazing guy, just a wonderful human being who’s decided to take gratitude seriously.

We have at Michigan the head swimming and diving coach, Mike Bottom, who is also an Olympic coach. He was in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics. He has the swimmers keeping gratitude journals, and they win the Big 10 Championships almost every year. These are Olympic athletes, getting really serious about trying to perform every day. Mike says, “you know what, I’ve got a practice that will help you.” And it sure does.

Gratitude seems especially important right now, now that we’re with our families in home isolation. Reminding ourselves of what we’re grateful for can help keep us calm when we’re a little frayed around the edges.

KC: Frayed around the edges, that’s right. Gratitude is just kind of a grounding technique.

I have a friend who’s little daughter was going to kindergarten, and she just hated it. Didn’t like it at all. Her mom thought, “I don’t know what to do with her because she dislikes school so much.”

The girl’s teacher suggested that the mom get a sticker book and when the little girl came home, her mother would say, “All right, take a sticker and show me the best thing that happened to you today.” As it turns out, her little daughter started really looking for things that she loved to do at school and that would be represented by a sticker. Her mother said they ended up together calling the sticker book her gratitude journal. The little girl couldn’t write it, but she could put stickers in this book to show what she was grateful for. The mother said somehow it resonated with that sweet little girl.

Gratitude is an all ages practice. I have one more question for you. This is a time of unprecedented disruption, but whenever things change, there’s a chance they can change for the better. What are you hopeful for, that we could come out of this period being a better world, being a better place around our offices? What are you hopeful for?

KC: You’ve highlighted it perfectly. We know it will not be the same. We will do interesting things. Technologically, we will do interesting things in terms of leading people, helping people lead themselves, helping people learn how to thrive better on their own as opposed to being dependent on someone else.

I think those kinds of things will happen. But my hope is, and my wish as well, is that we will use this crisis to come together. That rather than dividing us, my hope is that the crisis will cause us to identify our common core: the things we most believe in and trust and the things that bring us together and that we share. That’s what I would hope. That we emerge not only stronger but more loving and collaborative and a group of people who say I’ve learned to love and appreciate you more than I did before.

Find more inspiring insights in this series at this link.

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By Taking On Fox’s Tucker Carlson, Will K-Pop Fans Help Save America?

After weeks of demonstrations and social protests helped reshape the American conversation about race, advocates for the Black Lives Matter movement recently gained a powerful group of allies:

K-pop fans.

Fans of South Korean pop music, commonly referred to as K-pop, are nothing new in Asia, but they are growing in explosive numbers around the world as bands like BTS, EXO, and Blackpink claim the international music stage. K-pop fans are well known for their passionate adoration of their music idols, and they have developed a ubiquitous social media presence that produces a steady stream of video clips of performances (known as fancams), memes, and other illustrations of online adoration. Social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and others fuel the growth of K-pop in the United States since they make it possible for fans to not only watch their favorite acts endlessly online, but also create content that demonstrates their devotion to them.

Increasingly, however, K-pop has stepped beyond fandom into a different arena – social activism.  

Last week, amidst the protests that have swept the United States, one of K-pops biggest bands, South Korea’s BTS, shared a tweet in both Korean and English aligning itself with the Black Lives Matter movement. In the statement to its 26 million followers, it wrote, “We stand against racial discrimination. We condemn violence. You, I and we all have the right to be respected. We will stand together. #BlackLivesMatter.” The reaction from its fans was swift, and its fervent fan base, known as ARMY, short for “Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth,” quickly matched the band’s $1 million contribution to Black Lives Matter causes.

But it appears K-pop fans aren’t done being allies with the Black Lives Matter movement. In fact, it looks like they are just getting started. 

This week, as Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson came under fire for critical comments he has made about both the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent protests, K-pop fans once again sprang into action. Carlson, the popular host of his own show Tucker Carlson Tonight, gave an incendiary monologue on Monday night in which he questioned the legitimacy of the protests in startling terms.

“This may be a lot of things, this moment we’re living through, but it is definitely not about Black lives. And remember that when they come for you — and at this rate, they will,” Mr. Carlson said on Monday evening.

Following his offensive comments, Carlson was dumped by several of his high-profile sponsors, and in response, the hashtag #IStandWithTucker, began trending on Twitter. But in another act of online activism, K-pop fans started spamming the hashtag filling it with fancams and photos of K-pop stars, essentially drowning out the tweets supporting Carlson.

In some ways, it is not surprising that K-pop fans are stepping up their activism. Much of the world is feeling a surge of interest in ways to step up their attitudes and actions around issues of racial justice. And as the music industry starts to more closely examine how its own actions might have sustained systemic racism in America and around the world, it shouldn’t be surprising that fans will continue to find ways to channel their sense of connection to artists and one another in ways that help the cause.

One thing that is clear. K-pop is flexing its music fandom muscles at a time when the United States could benefit from a surge of activism and allyship in the fight for racial justice. And regardless of whether it is said or sang in Korean, English, or any other language, the sound of people supporting one another is always good to hear.

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Icons: Busy Philipps Helps Spread A Pandemic Of Love

In the face of a global pandemic, retreat is a natural response. Not for Shelly Tygielski – a meditation teacher and community organizer – and Busy Philipps – an accomplished actor and activist for a range of causes. Both are rare examples of how embracing fear and using your platform can lead to big-scale, meaningful change. Pandemic of Love has raised over $21 million in just 12 weeks. It even led to a casual Sunday evening conversation with former Vice President, Joe Biden.

We chatted about the innate human urge to give, how to build a grassroots movement, and why mutual aid communities can be the simplest of human connection in a world of increased isolation.

Brendan Doherty: Welcome to Icons of Impact. I’m really excited today to have two extraordinary people who are teaming up. One is Shelly Tygielski, the founder of Pandemic of Love; she’s also a renowned meditation teacher. And we have Busy Philipps, an extraordinary actor and activist, who has helped Shelly amplify her incredible work. Shelly, I’d love to start with you: we are obviously in the midst of a pandemic, and you took that moment to step back and ask what you could do in response. Tell me about Pandemic of Love? 

Shelly Tygielski: Sure! Pandemic of Love is the culmination of my life as a meditator for the last 20 years. It’s always been a personal practice, and for the last four years, I’ve been a full-time meditation teacher after leaving the corporate world. I wanted to figure out a way to not be afraid of what was coming, to choose love over fear. When we’re afraid we’re in fight or flight mode, but we have the ability to create a new default mode of empathy and action instead. That’s the seed behind Pandemic of Love. 

Doherty: So what’s the model for Pandemic of Love?

Tygielski: It’s a mutual aid community, which is not something that I invented. It’s been around a very long time. Our grandparents, your parents, my parents, everybody used to use the phrase back in the day when people used to live in a community together… when they knew their neighbors. People would know what was happening, but since the Industrial Revolution and the Technological Revolution, we’ve lost that human connection. So, the theory behind this mutual aid community was people are in fear, they’re losing jobs, they need to stock up on supplies. But most people don’t even have enough money to make ends meet at the end of the week, so how do we expect them to now shelter successfully at home? The mutual aid community was designed in a simple way: there are two forms – one where people can “get help” and have their needs met for groceries, utility bills, gas, and other needs. And a “give help” for people who could be donors or patrons, those who have privilege and are able to fulfill those needs. Now we have over 600 volunteers who spend their time just making matches. That’s it, we’re matchmakers, money never touches our organization.

Doherty: Give us a quick stat – to date, how much money raised and what’s the average amount? 

Tygielski: So to date, we are almost at 130,000 matches. Which means, at least 260,000 people have made a human connection. The average transaction is $145. And we’re over $21 million in transactions. We have micro-communities around the globe, everywhere from Australia, to the UK to Iceland, plus in the Caribbean, Latin America, and all across the US. This is a grassroots movement, it really is neighbor helping neighbor.

Doherty: Busy, you must come across so many folks who want you to amplify their cause or get behind it. How did you hear about this, and what drew you in? What resonated personally for you? 

Busy Philipps: A friend of mine, Ashley Margolis, posted about what Shelly was starting to do on her own Instagram. And I’m always looking for ways to help… I’ve been involved in many charity organizations and seek different ways to help communities in need, especially those in my backyard. I know that people can get fatigued and feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the need. And there are different kinds of donors. You have to figure out different ways to reach people and have it make sense to them. A one-to-one connection was something that made so much sense, and I just knew that people really respond to that. For instance, at another amazing organization, Baby2Baby, we started posting Amazon wish lists instead of asking people for monetary donations. There was something that people loved about just like, “Oh yeah, I’ll buy this cute thing, since it’s already on my Instagram.” So that was what drew me to Shelly. I just wanted to put it out there, repost it. There are all kinds of people that follow me, from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, so I just put – “if you can help, maybe this is a thing you want to do; and if you need help, maybe this is the thing you want to do too.” It’s been incredible how people have really responded to it.

Doherty: Shelly, what did you experience after Busy got involved? 

Tygielski: A surge of people coming to the site. I reached out to her on her Instagram and said, “thank you, you have no idea what this has meant.” We can match so many more people now, there’s always three people in need for every one person who donates. Every time somebody like Busy amplifies the message, it goes down to two- to- one for a short while, and we’re able to do more.   

Philipps: I was thinking about this earlier today, we are currently in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests, and I’m trying to help engage a lot of my followers who are a majority white women — I know that because I get the analytics from Instagram. I’m trying to figure out ways to have them be involved and donate if they’re able. One really valuable thing that I’ve done for years, and advocated for other people who are in a position of comfort to do too, is to think about an amount of money where you wouldn’t blink an eye – to send your kids camp, or to buy yourself a new outfit to go to an event, nice things you’re able to do for yourself or your family —  and match that with a comparable charitable donation.  

Doherty: That also helps folks personalize it. The elegance of Pandemic of Love is that it’s stripped away of all of the fluff, and is really just about how you can connect someone in need with someone who has means in that moment; because that role could be reversed. Speaking as someone who has participated, I was paired with a young mother in North Georgia and after I supported her, we shared a bit. It felt very real suddenly, like I had a little micro-window into someone’s life.  

Tygielski: Yes, that really is the most important part of it, honestly. It’s disruptive. In the business world, we always talk about how companies like Uber are disruptive. This movement is a disruption because it’s like, “Wait a minute, I don’t need this overhead and the staff to get this person help. And I know exactly where my gift is going.”

Doherty: What does this look like post-COVID-19? Is it one of those things that pops up to fit the need and then disappears? Does the model of an exclusively volunteer based organization work longer term given that it can be harder to maintain and relies on generosity of spirit?

Tygielski: Well, being a meditation teacher I live in the present. But I’m thinking about how the concept of mutual aid can be sustainable long after the pandemic is over. After this is all over, something new will emerge. So what does the new order look like? My “BHAG,” my “big, hairy, audacious, goal” is that I’d love to see the institutionalization of mutual aid. Why shouldn’t every municipality have a mutual aid community that’s formalized in some way?  

Then there’s equity. People always have the need to give. It creates that connection constantly. We’re pivoting — like with the Navajo tribe. We’re in Minnesota. We’re in Atlanta. We’ve doubled our efforts. We’ve gotten more donors last weekend and we are allowing people in those cities to select whether or not they want to assist with specifically things like bail money or legal aid. 

Doherty: Busy, with a platform of your size, often there is increased scrutiny. I had  a good conversation with Jameela Jamil about this and about call out culture and cancel culture. I know even myself, especially in this moment, as a white person wanting to speak out and be even more active as an anti-racist … I’m still mindful of not wanting to get it wrong.  

Philipps: You can’t get it wrong if you’re standing up for a thing that is right. It won’t be wrong. Sure, we can always do better, we can always learn better words to use, and we can always own our own ignorance and say, “I’m learning, I’m trying, I will do better.” But the baseline for me, especially if we’re shifting and talking about Black Lives Matter is simply: do you think that racism is okay? If the answer is no, then you think Black Lives Matter. In terms of showing up and using my platform to help the people who follow me use their ears on all kinds of social justice issues, it’s the same thing… there can be a fatigue, you can feel overwhelmed, you can be like “I don’t want to see that.” Well, you know, neither do my friends who live with this daily as their reality due to their skin tone. So I owe it to them to be uncomfortable and upset and own my own place in it and do what I can do in the ways I can do it. I can’t go to protests that are three blocks away right now because of COVID and because I have two small kids. But I do know I can donate, sign petitions, make phone calls. 

Doherty: I also think, given that you have a mostly white female online audience base, that your standing up on these issues and speaking publicly to your audience is bringing new folks in — converting them, making the case accessible and relatable. And eventually, where I came down, is that any ridiculous fear I have of saying it wrong is nothing compared to the fear of being black in America today. So I’m 100% with you.

Philipps: I’m curious and excited to see where Shelly takes Pandemic of Love. I think that she’s right, we’re at a real turning point in our society. Where we go from here is truly up to every single one of us, and it involves both participation and a willingness to be open, to listen, and to know when to take a step back. I would say that the overarching thing — and I know Shelley agrees with me — is that people really do want to help. They do. Most people want to help, they just either feel overwhelmed or they don’t know where to start or they’re worried they’re going to make a mistake or they’re afraid of something. So, being able to strip it all away and just say like, “Shelly, this is Busy. You guys can help each other out”… that’s an incredibly powerful way to move forward. 

Doherty: Thank you both, really appreciate you taking the time. Let’s give Pandemic of Love some lift!

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This Is Why The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Lost Their Pay Discrimination Suit

Title IX revolutionized women’s sports in colleges, bringing strict new rules about gender equality to college sports. While participating in college sports is seen as its own reward, gender equality in college sports has also led to stronger women’s professional teams. As reported by CNN: “there’s been an explosion of women in athletics since the passage of Title IX. And particularly for women’s sports, it’s had a worldwide effect. According to data from the NCAA, all but nine of the 24 teams competing at the World Cup had at least one current or former player who played US college soccer. That includes three teams — US, Canada and Jamaica — where most of the roster competed at a US school.”

For American female athletes, the jewel in the crown has been women’s soccer. Largely as a result of Title IX, the U.S. Women’s Soccer team has had a powerful pipeline of student athletes to draw upon. According the Los Angeles Times: “Between the year Title IX was passed (1972) and the first Women’s World Cup (1991), the sport saw a 17,000% increase in U.S. girls playing on high school soccer teams, according to the National Federation of High School Assns.”

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team has been impressive indeed, winning four World Cup Championships and Four Olympic Gold Medals. Understandably, they want to paid like the champions they are. In 2019 they filed a federal lawsuit alleging pay discrimination based on their gender.

Last week however, a federal judge dismissed most of their lawsuit. A few claims remain alive such as the allegation that male players get better travel accommodations. But on the key claim that the women are getting paid less than the men, the judge found the opposite: the women are getting higher compensation than the men.

The court found that the female players “received more money than [male] players on both a cumulative and an average per-game basis. Indeed . . . payments to the [female athletes] totaled approximately $24 million and averaged $220,747 per game, whereas payments to the [male players] totaled approximately $18 million and averaged $212,639 per game.”

The female players argued that, even though they got paid more than the male players, they would have been paid even more if they were operating under the same contract as the men. The judge rejected that claim because the men’s and women’s representatives negotiated different contracts during collective bargaining. The women’s team was far more risk adverse and bargained for numerous guarantees including a guaranteed minimum salary, injury protections, a minimum number of games played and a guaranteed number of players on the roster. The men’s team accepted a great deal more risk and agreed to terms under which they are only paid for the games they play. (This is called “pay to play.”) Because the women’s team was so successful, it turns out they would have made more money under the men’s arrangement, but they would have taken the risk that things wouldn’t have turned out that way. 

The women’s team has promised to appeal, but if they do they face a more fundamental problem. Their lawsuit is based on the presumption that the men and women are playing the same sport: they are all playing soccer so compensation should be the same. But if the courts accept that premise, this may have serious negative consequences for female athletes. 

Take, for example, the New York Marathon. Both the first place man and first place woman receive a $130,000 prize. The top ten male and female finishers also get prizes, with the smallest prize of $1000 going the tenth place man and tenth place woman.

But the first place woman finished 31st overall in the 2019 New York Marathon. That means that twenty men who finished ahead of her got nothing while she got $130,000. In fact she got more prize money than all but one of the top-10 men who finished well ahead of her. This makes sense if the men’s marathon is a different sport than the woman’s marathon. But if the men and women are seen as running the same race, then all those men who finished ahead of the fastest woman, but got nothing, are victims of gender discrimination. 

When all this is combined with the growing issue of transgender athletes in sports, it becomes increasingly reasonable to ask whether society should be gender segregating sports at all any more. The military doesn’t. And, acting awards are also beginning to move away from giving separate awards to men and women. Gender segregation in sports is becoming increasingly anachronistic. 

But if society isn’t ready for gender integrated teams, then there is no reason not to expect men’s teams and women’s teams to prioritize different aspects of compensation when they collectively bargain. It’s wonderful that the women were so successful that a less conservative compensation structure would have worked out better for them. But that won’t be always be the case. It is very unclear what will happen to professional soccer while COVID-19 is still shutting down stadiums. Given that the women have safeguards built into their contract that protect their salaries if they don’t play, soon it may be the men looking with envy at the women.

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The Future Of Work Post-COVID19: Why Embracing The Odyssey And Valuing Rebellion Is The New Recipe For Success

We’re all learning to swim.

We are no longer on the beach. I’ve reference this in a previous article, “How to Approach Change Like a Skill.” We’ve became accustomed to a certain level of expected stability. The solid ground beneath our feet is not supposed to shift. The water is supposed to stay at the edge of the beach and we should be safe to build sandcastles. The truth is, this pandemic has swept us out to sea, and we will never go back to that safe, quiet little beach. Instead, the ocean is our new home.

The ocean moves, waves crash and even when the waters are still, there is no solid matter on which to stand. It is in that environment that businesses and people find themselves today. It would be a mistake to assume that the goal should be to swim back to shore. Instead, the ones that will thrive and evolve will be the ones who learn how to swim, surf and build a boat. But what does that look like in a Post-COVID19 world?

We Are Going On an Odyssey vs. a Journey

Aidan McCullen, a transformation consultant in innovation and host of the popular podcast, “The Innovation Show,” shares that business destinations are no longer clear. Today, we are embarking on odysseys, not journeys. A journey has a defined destination while an odyssey does not. A journey follows a predictable path, while an odyssey is ambiguous. A journey follows a map, just as business execution follows a strategy. In contrast, an odyssey follows a sense of purpose, vision and collective values.

What does it take to even undertake going on an odyssey?

We Need to Learn How to Rebel

Nicola Smith, CEO and Founder of Rebel & Reason, an organization that helps to drive disruption and innovation for the numerous brands they serve, says, “We misinterpret rebels. Angry rebellion is part of this mythology. This idea of rebel without a cause or misbehaving teenage rebel that wants to break all the rules is outdated.” Instead, she recommends we recognize that every major accomplishment, whether it’s a piece of literature that sticks with us, a scientific discovery that changes the course of life or a societal revolution that shifts our consciousness, began with a rebellious thought. “The act of creation itself is an act of rebellion. It is breaking the rules of what came before.”

We Have to Be a Rebel that Affects Change vs. Resists It

To overcome the negative stigma that rebellion has had in the workplace, you can’t just rebel for the sake of thwarting authority. It requires purpose, skill and collaboration. How do you approach rebellion without alienating those that you are hoping to influence? The first step is understanding that you are not rebelling against a person. You are rebelling against a policy, process or structure. The goal is for others to come along with you. With that in mind, Nicola recommends the following steps to ensure your rebelliousness affects change in a productive way.

  • Go where the energy is. Find the other rebels. Do small tests and experiments to build momentum and create a tangible example of what you are hoping to achieve. Expand that out to benefit more than just yourself or your territory. Find the people that are passionate about what you are trying to achieve. 
  • Build a business case. Make it easy for those that don’t think like you to come on board and support you. Connect the dots between what you are thinking and how that benefits the employees, clients and the business overall. Help others to see, not just what you want to do that’s different, but how it’s possible to make it a reality. Use the results of your mini experiments to help show what you’re trying to achieve vs. solely relying on telling people you have a better idea.
  •  Frame the narrative of your rebellion to show how you’re trying to help people. Many rebels get a bad rap because they lack the patience to help people process the distance between how they currently are doing things to where the rebel sees things needing to go. But telling people that if they don’t change bad things will happen or getting frustrated with them for not thinking like you is not a recipe for influencing others. Instead, frame the narrative to why your rebellion is for a greater cause, how it can help others and why it’s worthwhile taking a risk and following you.

It’s Time to Recognize Employees Are Paying Attention

There have been new expectations brewing for some time now around how employees and employers should interact and support one another. We went from the culture of employees should be lucky to have a job and employers providing them with security well into retirement to a free agent philosophy of employers reorganizing as they see fit and employees changing jobs as frequently as needed to grow their careers. COVID-19 has brought those two philosophies crashing together.

Now we are seeing two counter-trends emerging. There is a need for agility and stability cropping up in the workforce. Companies are recognizing there are is a need for a certain employee population to keep the company running, the so-called essential employee. Then there are those that are strategic support and require more flexibility in terms of how they do their work and what work they do. There are also employees who are looking for more movement, while others want to see better job security from their employers.

Suffice it to say that the job market and talent pool will eventually right itself and for in-demand positions, the talent war will still exist. Employees will be evaluating how prospective companies supported their employees through all of this. Were they quick to lay off? Did they furlough? Did they come up with creative ways to keep their staff employed. Did they demonstrate responsible business planning in the first place to ensure they could protect people’s livelihoods when hit with a market low?

We Have to Identify the New Skills Needed for High-Performing Talent

Though technical skills are critical for any job we take on, there are transferrable skills that are job-agnostic. All companies should be hiring for and all employees should be honing these skills. Nicola shares a few to keep at the top of your list:

  • Demonstrate a commitment to being autodidactic. What does that mean? The literal definition is a person who learns subjects without the benefit of a teacher or formal education. In other words, a person skilled at figuring things out, motivated to learn without being told to do so and able to find the right resources to help them increase their knowledge base.
  • Solving problems vs. merely finding them. Often, I see people fine tuning their skill set at pointing out the roadblocks in the way of success but having very little practice in finding the solution. The two require different mindsets. You must be looking for deficiencies to spot the problem. That means you have to cultivate your skepticism, sometimes misconstrued as negative thinking. However, you can’t stop there. You then have to switch modes and engage your creativity and find or come up with solutions.
  • Using solutions to move forward. Nicola recommends leaders and individuals implement the ‘Can-If’ approach. This means that you stick to the best practice of never bringing up a problem without also having a potential solution. But phrasing solutions from the viewpoint of, “we can do this, if we do that.” This way, you embrace reality, but you also invite your brain to find a way out. Remember that the solution may not be the ideal, but it should help the business move forward.
  • Setting goals for purpose and momentum vs. to get a guarantee. When it comes to navigating the unknown, it is critical for individuals and businesses to have the audacity to say they plan on making something happen, even though there are no guarantees they will be able to achieve it. The danger is waiting until things feel certain. So many people view goal setting as making a promise that they can’t break vs. using it to create a sense of purpose and direction. Without that, you are guaranteed to be knocked around by the environment you’re in. Focus needs to move from surviving today to creating tomorrow.

“Disruption is not going to slow down. It’s no longer the threat to business but the environment in which we are creating and working. It’s the water we swim in and the air we breathe,” says Nicola. The goal isn’t to learn how to survive COVID-19. It’s about evolving the way we plan, work and support one another so we can be storm resilient. This isn’t about knowing the details of the disruption ahead of time. We rarely, if ever get that luxury. Instead, it’s about navigating all disruption in a way that enables us to use it as a source of energy, momentum and innovation.

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How Vulnerability Can Be a Leadership Superpower

May 04, 2020

Good leaders bring mentally healthy values to their teams and organizations. And that means showing weakness, at times, and facing the resulting risk of being perceived as a weak leader. But accessing that vulnerability is harder for some leaders than others.

In this episode, host Morra Aarons-Mele speaks with Jason Rosario about his own journey with depression and anxiety, and the lessons he’s learned about vulnerability, masculinity, and leadership. Rosario left a career in finance to found The Lives of Men, a social impact and creative agency focused on decoding masculine psychology and challenging false concepts of masculinity.

HBR Presents is a network of podcasts curated by HBR editors, bringing you the best business ideas from the leading minds in management. The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Harvard Business Review or its affiliates.

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Tecton.ai Snags $20 Million To Solve AI’s Data Problem

While the COVID-19 pandemic has halted many venture fundings, Tecton.ai has been able to buck the trend. This week the company announced a $20 million investment from Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia (last year there was a $5 million angel round).

Tecton is a platform that morphs raw data into AI models that can be successfully deployed.  And yes, this is far from a trivial process.

“The foundational success of an AI-based technology revolution or even the build of a very simple algorithm ultimately lies in the health of the data,” said Kim Kaluba, who is the Senior Manager for Data Management Solutions at SAS. “However, in survey after survey organizations continue to report problems with accessing, preparing, cleansing and managing data, ultimately stalling the development of trustworthy and transparent analytical models.”

Consider that the data wrangling is often the most time-consuming and expensive part of the AI process. “Some data scientists report spending 80% of their time collecting and cleaning data,” said Jen Snell, who is the Vice President of Product Marketing and Intelligent Self Service at Verint. “This problem has become so ubiquitous that it’s now called the ‘80/20 rule’ of data science.”

Regarding Tecton, the technology is the result of deep experience of its three founders, who helped build the AI platform for Uber (called Michelangelo). “When we got to Uber, everything was breaking because of the extreme growth,” said Mike Del Balso, who is the CEO and co-founder of Tecton. “Data was spread across silos and there were challenges with the deployment of models. With Michelangelo, we made an end-to-end platform that was targeted for the average data science person. We didn’t want to create huge engineering teams. We also built Michelangelo with the focus on production, collaboration, visibility and reusability.”

Within a couple years, the platform would lead to the development of thousands of AI models, helping with such capabilities as ETA, safety and fraud scores. The result was more sustainable growth and stronger competitive advantages for Uber.

Why Is Data So Complicated?

Data is actually fairly simple. It’s just a string of numbers, right?

This is true. But data does present many tough challenges for enterprises, even for some of the most advanced technology companies.

“Oftentimes the data that we receive is ‘dirty,’” said Melissa McSherry, who is the SVP Global Head of Credit and Data Products at Visa. “Think about your credit card statement. The merchant names are sometimes unrecognizable—that has to do with the way merchants are set up in the system. When we clean up the data, we can often generate amazing insight. But that is significant work. Oftentimes organizations don’t understand how much work is required and are disappointed in what it takes to actually get results.”

Another issue with data is organizational. “Enterprises enforce data security and governance policies that weren’t designed to feed data science teams with a steady stream of up-to-date, granular business data,” said Bethann Noble, who is the Senior Director of Product Marketing and Machine Learning at Cloudera. “As data science teams start new projects with different stakeholders, they have to solve for data access once again, which could mean a different journey through a different bureaucratic maze every time. And the necessary data can be anywhere, in any form—residing across different data centers, cloud platforms, or edge devices. It needs to be moved and pre-processed to be ready for machine learning, which can involve complex analytical pipelines across physical and organizational silos.”

Keep in mind that the data problem is only getting more complicated. Based on research from IDC, the total amount of global data will reach 175 zettabytes by 2025, up from 33 zettabytes in 2018 (a zettabyte is 10 to the 21st power or 1 sextillion bytes!)

“In this digital age, we are suffering from ‘InfoObesity’—gorging ourselves on an inconsumable amount of data that is not just unwieldy but can become dysfunctional, especially as we increase the amount of data we collect without scaling our ability to support, filter and manage it,” said Michael Ringman, who is the CIO of TELUS International. “While investing in Big Data is easy, efficient and effective use of it has become difficult.”

Oh, and then there are the privacy and security issues. “Given the mass amounts of data used for complex algorithms, data science platforms can be hot targets for data breaches,” said Ross Ackerman, who is the Director of Analytics and Transformation at NetApp. “Often, the most important data for algorithms contain or can be mapped to CII (Customer Identifiable Information) or PII (Personal Identifiable Information).”

Tecton’s Capabilities

For enterprise AI applications, there are really two main approaches. First, there are analytical models, which provide insights like forecasted churn rates. These types of applications do not need real-time data.

Next, there are operational models. These are embedded in a company’s product, such as a mobile app. They need highly sophisticated data systems and scale. “This is where you can create magical experiences,” said Del Balso.

For the most part, Tecton is about operational models, which are essentially the most demanding–but can provide the most benefits. “It’s high stakes,” said Del Balso.

Tecton is built to streamline the data pipeline, which means that data scientists can spend more time on building effective models. An essential part of this is a feature store that allows for the seamless transition between data scientists and data engineers. Tecton, of course, has other cutting-edge features–and the funding will definitely accelerate the innovation (the platform is currently in private beta).

“For decades, companies have worked to develop technology, knowledge, skills and infrastructure to handle and harvest unstructured data in pursuit of unlocking answers to the most difficult questions,” said Michal Siwinski, who is a Corporate VP at Cadence Design Systems. “However, there’s more work to be done. Because the technology is still continuing to evolve, data is a virtually untapped resource with only as high as 4% of today’s data being analyzed.”

Tom (@ttaulli) is the author of Artificial Intelligence Basics: A Non-Technical Introduction and The Robotic Process Automation Handbook: A Guide to Implementing RPA Systems.

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