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Preparing for the Unthinkable

No one prepares you or tells you what to do if you lose an employee (abducted by aliens, ghosted, or the absolute worst, if they pass away). Never mind if they are a trusted member of your leadership team. There’s no playbook. SHRM provides one article with cold notification text for telling your employees. There is no humanity in it.

When we faced the worst of these possibilities, I didn’t know where to turn. I did what I thought was best in the moment. I followed my heart and tried to act with as much humanity as possible.

Here are some observations and lessons from this experience:

 

Notifying Your Team

Points of Contact: We all have emergency POCs for our employees. But how often are they updated? Our team had been okay about this, but now I’m going to be militant getting them reviewed semi-annually.

On the employee side, how many partners/family members have contact information for your employee’s supervisor? We may all go home and talk about work but how many of us share contact information? Further, how many share it for more than one person in the organization? We now insist that all our employees give their families not only their supervisors contact info but mine as well. In an emergency, time counts. Having two POCs for the company increases the likelihood that someone will pick up when they call and can handle all the company aspects.

The Leadership Team: Leadership and colleagues need to know. The sooner the better. My immediate reaction was to get all of the Directors on a call immediately. Better that they hear it from me than on social media.

The Ground Team: Coworkers also need to know – not only because they care, but because we may need their help in trying to cover for the employee in question. We held a quick all hands 10 min zoom call (a sign of the times). I told everyone everything that I could, so we all worked from the same information.

Partners and Clients: For us, it wasn’t as clear what was actively being worked on by the employee as they had multiple projects and clients. I personally talked to as many as I could to let them know of the situation. All have been understanding and kind. We’ve had to ask for grace way more often than I ever want to, but the support has been universal.

 

Work Product:

Our employee was working off their own computer and therefore wasn’t under our prevue. We had thought all client files were being backed up in the cloud, and luckily for us, that ended up being the case. If it wasn’t we wouldn’t have had access to their personal laptop. We would be in the unfortunate position of guessing on deliverables, going back through emails, and trying to construct what had happened. Going forward, we will repeatedly spot check that all company work is in the cloud. And not doing so will result in discipline up to and including possible termination. That’s how seriously we are going to take it.

 

Insurance:

Our employee was not a standard salaried employee, so their insurance coverage wasn’t always as clear cut as we would like. We worked closely with our broker to ensure that the information we had was exactly what the carriers had, so there were no questions in coverage. In doing so, we discovered that we needed to audit the basis of coverage under STD, LTD, ADD and Life insurance policies. Most companies offer these coverages for free to employees and you sign up once when onboarding and then never think of it. We are now going back to audit all of our invoices for the year and the basis of salary that the carriers are using. We’ve been good about auditing health insurance, but we need to be better about this bill.

 

Helplessness:

Because their passing was so unexpected and out of nowhere, everyone is wrestling with it. We all want to be helpful in some manner. Unfortunately, especially when in wait and see mode, there is absolutely nothing that can be done, except to cover for client work, ensure the family has food and make sure we’re there to answer any questions. This leads many of us (myself very much included) to feel helpless. Our jobs as leaders is to help solve problems. And there was no solving this one. This personally weighed me down. Everyone wants to feel useful. We ended up opening a 529 plan for our employee’s son. This at least gives us something to contribute towards to feel useful. It also allows us to make an impact. My personal goal is to drive as much money into this fund as possible in the memory of our colleague. Flowers are nice, but debt free college options for their 9-year-old is was more important in my mind.

 

Humanity:

My company has now seen me ugly cry via zoom (let me tell you how ugly that is). Clients I’ve never spoken with have heard from me and we’ve talked about life and death in a manner that some people never share with friends. I have personally swung from rage to despair in 5 short minutes. Instead of hiding my feelings or trying to remain nothing but professional, I’ve just been me. It’s the only way I know how to be. Time will tell if this was a bad idea or if showing your humanity is indeed the way to lead.

 

As stated before, there is no standard for experiencing this depth of sadness in your work or personal life. All in all, it is necessary to lead with heart and putting humans first. I truly hope that you never have to experience something like this, but in the unlikely event that you do, I hope these reminders make the ‘company-stuff’ as painless as possible.

Current Events and the Job Market

It goes without saying that the world is in quite an upheaval in culture and moving toward a new normal.
Yet, as we’ve said before, business must continue especially in the GovCon market and that includes hiring.

We must ask: Are you currently in the job market?

If so, you’re probably questioning whether to use your “professional platform” like LinkedIn to express your viewpoint during this #blacklivesmatter social justice movement. Well, you’re certainly not alone. Our talent acquisition team is constantly looking at candidates on a multitude of platforms before moving forward with them in the hiring process*. It would be difficult to present an outwardly misogynistic candidate – per his Instagram page – to a woman-owned/operated small business.  That would probably blow up in our faces as it should. However, simply moving forward with a candidate based on the meeting of requirements alone, sans a full picture of digital activity, is a definite oversight and a lesson learned once and forever. As social media presences have mattered before to recruiters, you can be sure they continue to be important now.

What does that mean for you as a candidate in an already COVID-19 riddled job market?

Do you shy away from posting things, or go out of your way to make accounts uber private and difficult for a google search or your name to find? Our answer to you would be a resounding “Hell NO!” Do not shy away from posting well-thought-out viewpoints because you’re concerned an organization may use it against your candidacy. Quite frankly if they do, you don’t want to work for them anyway, believe us. Our Talent Acquisition team wants to know that you are confident, expressive (a great way to show off your writing skills!), committed, and vocal when it mattered above all else. We wouldn’t want you to be any other way. If the tables were turned (we have ALL been candidates before) we would absolutely post about a ‘controversial’ topic without thinking twice about the ramifications because we’re very secure in our value as a candidate, and we would hope an organization would see it the same way. Our advice to all of the recruiters and the candidates in the market today would be to lean in. Lean in purposefully, kindly, with your eyes and hearts wide open. Through well thought out action we can all work toward the change that we’ve hoped to see in this world.

(*As a note, we are NOT lawyers, but we know some great ones, so to CYA you may want to double-check things with your lawyer friends to be safe.)

If you would like to discuss more about your digital footprint and best practices for job searching as a candidate or as a company, let’s have a conversation. Our Recruiting and Marketing teams work together to determine our client’s company culture and how you appear online to your potential employees.

Staring “New-Normal” in the Face

Are we ready to start talking about “coming back?”  In our humble opinion, regardless of what any politician says, we are not “back” until we can get our kids out of our house (sanity now!), but that’s a whole other story!

Honestly, we’re not sure if its safe yet, or what “coming back” truly looks like, but we do know that there are a ton of things we should be preparing for in the meantime.

Here are a few to get us started.

Employees – First and Foremost.
If they have successfully done their jobs remotely for the past months, first ask if they must come back. Could their jobs be done remotely going forward?  Maybe they just need to come in for a few meetings on site with the customer or a few team meetings.  Assuming you’ve already made the investment in providing access (i.e. laptop, etc.), why not consider making their position remote?

Clients – Partners or Pain?
Your relationship with your government customer and/or your prime is vital to the new path forward.  How often are you communicating with them?  Are you all messaging the same information to the workforce?  Are your policies consistent in how you will handle social distancing on site, providing PPP, sick leave requests, etc.?  Consistent, direct messaging is always best, especially now when nerves are frayed, and rumors are rampant.

New Employees – Recruiting isn’t the same.
Now more than ever we are hiring people via Zoom calls.  Make sure that your recruiting process is standardized so that you aren’t discriminating against potential candidates.  Really work on the questions you will ask (there are a ton of resources currently available). This will help you get the best feel for the candidate and if they will be a good fit for your company.  Make sure your online presence is updated so they can get a feel for you as a business.  Consider extending the interview panel to not just leadership, but peers so the candidate can get a good feel for the organization.  Currently, candidates are reluctant to make a move – for them it’s about the devil you know versus the devil you don’t.  You need to be able to easily convey what your organization stands for and its culture, so candidates feel confident to make the jump.

Office Space – It’s a whole new world.
Depending on your landlord, consider renegotiating your lease.  Look in the contract for any modifications that you need to make to have a more “socially distant” office space.  Gone are the days of 2 or 3 people sharing a cube.  There will be a ton of advice coming out about this, start paying attention to best practices.  Please give up on the idea that everyone must be in the same place at the same time.  Even our intel folks are finding ways to spread out the work, spread out the timing.  This will be the new standard going forward.

There are a million landmines ahead, and we’re pretty sure the lawyers will end up making out as we traverse this new world. But our strongest bet is on common sense and doing what is right will hold up. If you need help navigating this world, give us a shout.

Puzzle Me This

As puzzles are back in vogue these days, I thought this might be of interest. Unfortunately, I’ve only had the opportunity to complete one over the past few weeks, but several themes rang true as I worked on it. Puzzling (is that what we call it?) makes you go through several stages, much like the business circle of life.

At first, puzzles are exciting. You find all the outside pieces, you put the four corners in a special place.

Startups are exciting!
You have a new mission, it’s constantly evolving, you get to make things up as you go along. The world of possibilities is endless.

You compile the outer ring and you start to feel like you can really do this.

You’ve got your first clients.
You are starting to hit your stride on marketing and hiring. You start to fill in some infrastructure. You hire your first BD person, your first C-Suite.

Then, the grind hits. You must keep at the puzzle. What seemed easy 100 pieces ago is suddenly very monotonous (for me, it’s always the sky portion!). The buzz wears off.

Months bleed into years.
Your offerings may change or expand, as does your client base. But the excitement starts to leave and the magnitude of what you want to accomplish and how hard you have to work hits you.

You find yourself trying the same pieces in the same spots, over and over. And they don’t fit. Yet you keep trying, expecting different answers. You find that you can’t see the forest for the trees (or the entire picture for the one area you are working on).

You lose focus on what’s important.
You can get caught up in the tactical, day to day without your eye on the exit plan. You may retain team members that you had from the beginning but no longer fit or they aren’t in the right positions. You know you have to pivot but you aren’t quite sure how. You feel like you are stuck in one place.

Through it all, you keep trudging along and the puzzle slowly comes together. Big chunks get done and you start to feel accomplished. You feel like you are working on the big picture and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. You’ll get stuck a few times, but you know that you will make it through. Pieces that you didn’t think would fit actually do. All it took was a different perspective.

Did you read that? All it took was a different perspective.

Right team in the right places.
Corporate culture that aligns. Everyone is focused on the mission and works together.

Finally, you complete the puzzle. A sense of reward, a sense of accomplishment. In my case, I turn it over to someone else to put it away, not wanting to personally break up what I worked so hard on.

This is different for everyone.
It may be the big sale, it could be a purchase of another company, it could be an ESOP or Management Buy Out. You could decide to step down as the CEO and let someone else run it.

And then you consider your next puzzle.

Or your next opportunity.
Entrepreneurs at heart always have another company they’d like to start or will serve on boards or as advisors for those that want to start their own thing. We are a community that pays it forward.

What stage of the puzzle are you in with your current company? If you’re in the “grind” or “focus” section and you’re looking to get to the next phase we’re poised to help you prep. Change IS coming and preparing for it now is your best course of action. We have virtual support while you need it and on-the-ground professionals when the new-normal resumes. Contact us, and let’s discuss.

Business Lessons from the Billy Goat Trail

I recently had the opportunity to get away from my laptop and go hiking at the Billy Goat Trail along the Potomac River.  Beautiful day, only a little bit of foot traffic and plenty of time to think (or not think), whichever way my mind felt like going.

As I began to traverse the trail, a theme started going through my mind.  I could clearly see how the trail was much like business.

Here’s how:

• There is no straight path.
There is no right or wrong.  There were blazes to follow, but it wasn’t an exact science.  I went right where some might have gone left.  I walked directly most times but strayed if I thought the view was interesting or if I wanted to see something that caught my eye.

Lesson: Others in your industry may have done it one way or another, but there are no absolute duplicates of success.  Do what works for you and your business.

• Everyone moves at their own pace.
I was easily passed by very seasoned hikers who had been there before.  I stepped aside and admired their skill.  But I also passed my fair share on the trail.  Those that stopped for a break between scrambles, those that were out of their comfort zones, those that were waiting for others.

Lesson: Set your own pace in business, don’t let others set it for you.  Do what’s right for the business, the cash flow, the employees, and the clients.

• Leading the way.
For some of the time, I led the way with my partner and navigated which rocks to climb and where to step.  Other times, he led the way.  In the end, we still chose different footings, different areas to ascend, but it was nice to be in both positions.  I thrived on finding the best place to stand/climb when I led.  I also enjoyed following in the path and spending more time being present.

Lesson: You don’t have to lead the competition all the time.  You need to lead when it’s important to you.  And even if you aren’t leading now, it doesn’t mean you won’t sometime soon.

• Horizontal versus Vertical.
As with any climbing and scrambling, you really must watch where you step and where you place your feet.  This means a lot of time looking down.  But you can’t be so focused on looking down that you don’t see the big picture, don’t see the path and don’t get to enjoy the scenery.

Lesson: You can’t be only inwardly focused, nor can you be solely outwardly focused.  Leaders tend to navigate to one area over the other, but your job is to be conscious of both.  Know when to put your head in the weeds and when to keep it above the forest.

Almost two hours out in nature, away from the worries of the business world is a great way to step back and refresh your entire outlook.

If you’d like help with your outlook, feel free to contact me (Stephanie) for executive coaching at [email protected]

Corporate Housekeeping

As we turn our attention to back to school sales, last summer vacays, finishing up our trashy beach novels and start shifting towards the fall, it’s a good time to take a minute and do some general housekeeping. Face it – it will be the holidays before you know it!

GovCons, you are in the lull between the storm – proposals are submitted, awards are forthcoming but not here yet. Tt’s a great time to catch up on some of the mundane, but necessary parts of doing business.  It’s boring, and always gets pushed to the back burner as more revenue-generating opportunities come in.  But ignore these at your peril – they always come back to haunt you at tax time, during a transaction or with any litigation.

We’re kind of like sour patch kids, here at BOOST. Now that we’ve given you a bit of a gut punch, here’s a quick checklist to keep you sane:

1. Org Chart
When was the last time you actually updated it?  Do it now before you onboard all the new contract wins.  This way it’s readily available.  Now might also be time to consider if folks are really in the right positions/titles.

2. Articles of Incorporation
Time to dust it off and make sure it’s still legit and up to date

3. Board meeting minutes
For privately held companies, this can feel like an administrative task you don’t want to do.  Remember that these board meeting minutes come in handy when you are looking toward a sale, are in litigation/disputes and are just plain good practice.

4. Tax Filings
Given all the changes, are you structured the way you should be?  If your uncle is still providing all of your advice, it might be time to get a second opinion.  Are you maximizing your tax status for your long-term strategy?

5. State filings
We always forget that when we add new employees in new states, we suddenly must start filing taxes.  Be proactive about registering and don’t let it be a nasty surprise year in arrears.

6. Insurance
When was the last time you sat down and went through what you are covered for and where you might have gaps?  I absolutely HATE this practice but make myself (and another person to get a different perspective) sit in the excruciating meeting and review everything.  Line by freaking line.  It’s horrible, my broker hates us, but we’ve discovered multiple things that weren’t covered or that we didn’t need to pay for.  It’s worth the investment of time (and sanity) once a year to know your risks.

 

If you need help with anything, we’re happy to give you our advice or introduce you to others that have that specialty.  Don’t slack off as we head towards the fall.  It will only come back to haunt you when you least expect it (or have time to deal with it!).