Businessolver Blog

Brews with Bruce: The Year of Pivots

Brews with Bruce: The Year of Pivots
Posted on Wednesday, February 3, 2021 by Bruce Gillis

2020 was a year of pivots, changes, pain, growth and more. 

We sit down with our Chief Engagement Officer to talk about pivots and plans for next year. 

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Video transcript: 

Iliana Pacheco:          

Hello everyone, and happy Friday. Welcome to another episode of Brews with Bruce. Actually, this is our last broadcast of 2020. I can’t really believe it’s over. A lot of us are ready to say, “Sayonara, 2020.” We will definitely be joining you again in 2021 with a lot of great new guests and content, but this will be our last broadcast of 2020.

Because of that, we have a really special guest joining us today, Marcy Klipfel, who is our Chief Engagement Officer at Businessolver. We have a jam-packed conversation for you today. We’re going to be talking about, 2020, which was the year of pivots, so we’re going to be talking about how we pivoted and give a peak, if you will, into 2021 and chat about what Bruce and Marcy are thinking about for next year. With that, I’ll turn it over to Bruce.

Bruce Gillis:

Thanks, Iliana. And Marcy, thank you for joining us this afternoon.

Marcy Klipfel:

Thanks for having me.

Bruce Gillis:

So, let’s talk about the topic of looking back at this year and looking in the rear-view mirror and then looking down the road to 2021. What a year, right? I know in my mind I always start thinking about March 13th, Friday the 13th, when we all moved home and became 100% remote work. But even before that, right, there was a lot of groundwork that had to be laid and a lot of thought that went into that decision. Do you want to take us through how you think of this year and the challenges of moving everyone home?

Marcy Klipfel:

Sure. I’m so happy to be here. So, thanks for having me. I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of that we really had overnight to deploy disaster recovery. The situation was something where we, just like the rest of the United States, had heard about this virus, didn’t really think it would ever apply, and then here it was on our doorstep. We had to rely on the fact that we are a Baldrige organization which means that because of our, framework, business continuity, technology, all of the items to keep your business running and consistent, regardless of where you are from a geography standpoint, we were able to pivot very quickly.

And so, I’m really thankful that we’ve made that investment over the last several years to have that framework because it certainly set us up to make lemonade out of lemons and continue to support and delight our clients.

Marcy Klipfel:

But I also have to give tremendous credit to our Solvers. Our Solvers are resilient. They are passionate about what they do, and they go above and beyond to make sure, again, that our clients, and their members, are taken care of. The combination of having the framework and then the Solvers and the talent to be able to pull this off, it’s a huge credit to the organization.

Let me back up a bit. Before March 13, 2020, we had about 20% of our workforce that were remote. So, we had some semblance of how remote and virtual work worked and we learned a lot from those Solvers because they had formed a group to give us that feedback.

But when you think about the member services, our call centers, this was completely uncharted territory, where thankfully, again, we had framework in place to pivot and we did.

Bruce Gillis:

It really is amazing, right? To think of how quickly those conversations and those decisions were made. I was part of, when I first joined Businessolver, I was part of that 20% remote workforce for a while until our local office opened. I think there are some things within the Businessolver culture that helped us. I was afraid, honestly, coming home and working remotely that the Businessolver culture, that we’d miss a beat, right? Because the Businessolver culture is so unique.

I enjoy being in the office with everyone and our stand-ups and there’s such a connection. But working in the period that I was remote, before the Louisville office was set up, all of our meetings were already pretty engaging. If you’re having a meeting, your camera’s on. You’re called out in the first 30 seconds of the meeting if you don’t have your camera on, right?

We were all used to that kind of engagement and expectation already. When we went remote, I think things like that helped because it wasn’t a conference call. It was still a conversation, and I think that went a long way to help us stay engaged.

In fact, even I was looking at some statistics earlier today talking about engagement of folks through that transition time, and it’s pretty amazing to look at it. At first the conversation was around the fear of losing something. “Are we going to be able to keep our culture? Are we going to be able to stay engaged?” And apparently, we very much did. The way we measure our employee satisfaction is through our employee pulse which is a great way to easily measure how people are doing emotionally. Do you want to talk about that? You probably know the statistics I’m referring to.

Marcy Klipfel:

I think, again, that’s just something where, from a culture perspective, we have always subscribed to continuous improvement and consistency, and so we have asked within the product and the client operations organization for our clients to pulse our product and our service on a monthly basis, and teeing off of that because of course, delighted Solvers equal delighted clients, and so the more we can do to have engaged Solvers the better the service is to our clients.

We took that to heart and several years ago, probably going on five years now, we put in an employee pulse. Same concept where we ask employees on a 30-day basis to provide their engagement polls, and that is comprised of 10 questions. Those questions are around areas that we know equal engagement, and then at the very end of answering those 10 questions, the Solver provides their overall pulse.

This maps to the same thing we ask clients. The categories are: red, yellow, green, blue. So, blue is the highest engagement or satisfaction that you can achieve. What happens behind the scenes is we have the reported pulse, but we also have a calculated pulse, and what that means is there are certain questions within those 10 that we know directly affect engagement, no matter how you feel about the rest of the nine questions.

Marcy Klipfel:

For example, having someone who cares about you at work is a huge driver of engagement. And if you reverse engineer that, of course, that makes sense. No one wants to show up to a place where they don’t think anybody cares about them. So, if, for example, a Solver reported that, “No, no one cares about me at work,” but they put their overall pulse as green or blue, that’s going to signal a disconnect.

We have a dashboard that leaders have access to, to be able to see that disconnect, and that’s where a leader with intentionality and empathy and thoughtfulness can go and dig into that question, because even though the person is saying they’re blue or green, eventually someone who does not feel like someone cares about them at work is at risk from an engagement and a retention standpoint.

We’ve been lucky, again, to have that in place and carry that forward as a framework of measuring engagement and putting it to action. And then when we went all virtual in March, we actually added two questions. Now it’s 12 questions. The reason we did that was because we felt like we needed to be very targeted during this time around two additional items. One, if people felt supported in their remote working. So, really a question around, do they have what they need to be successful specifically in a virtual world?

Marcy Klipfel:

There’s another question that’s broader about having the tools they need, but this is specific. Do I have what I need to be successful in a remote environment? And then the second one about mental health during this time.

As much as we’ve enjoyed a 20% increase in overall engagement month over month, we don’t want to miss a demographic who may be struggling from a mental health perspective. These employees may have never struggled before, or this unique situation is really shining a bright light into their struggles and making them worse.

We want to make sure that we don’t miss that in the overall data. The employees who don’t think remote work is for them are still highly productive individuals but may be struggling right now, so how can we care for these individuals also?

That’s been a great question for us to answer by being proactive and have conversations to make sure that all employees feel cared for and supported during this time. Again, of course we enjoy that they are more engaged and more productive, but we have to stay on top of it. It cannot be a one and done. This situation is going to go on and we need to be here to support them.

Bruce Gillis:   

I can really appreciate that and I appreciate how we’ve done a few different things connecting not just with the Solvers that are out there, but even with their families, right? And addressing that challenge. We have the Empathy Explorers Club that was created.

Even in the summer, before the kids returned to school, we had Empathy Explorers Junior, right? To help empower and enable the children of Solvers to navigate this new world. Here’s some remote things to do to get you moving. To take care of the mind and the body, and here’s some remote exercises. We do that as part of our wellness program and we even have remote workouts.

There’s a variety of different ones depending on the day of the week, which I really have, well, I’ve struggled to participate in all of them, of course. Things that you took for granted in March, right? The ability to get out and about.

Bruce Gillis:

Health considerations and concerns are up thought, correct? Some members of the population, whether it’s our population or the family members, are more vulnerable to COVID, which brings a heightened sense of worry.

I think that focus and the awareness of the mental health challenges and the emotional toll that this has taken on individuals is very important.

I think it’s been really, nice seems a simple word for it, but it’s really appreciated that we’ve been so deliberate in tackling that, right? And not focusing only on the work. Because we got a lot of that, but we’re focusing on the people that are doing the work as well, which is, I think, great.

Marcy Klipfel:

Well, peoples lives intersected and so we thought about that and the intentionality was we are in people’s homes at this point, right? I mean, our cameras are up, as you mentioned, and so the likelihood of a child or a spouse or a pet or anybody entering into that is in the family and they were in the family before, but now it’s front and center.

And so why not use some of the amazing talent that we have, use the fact that we have a great wellness leader who is so committed to reach into people’s homes and make a positive effect on their lives overall? Tracey ran fitness classes geared towards different ages. She dressed up in costumes. I think we tried some magic shows. I mean, it was just a great opportunity to say,

“We understand the place that you’re in.”

And candidly, if you look at the statistics, it’s sad, right? So many women have opted of the workforce because they just are unable to juggle it all. And so instead of making that even worse on people, we needed to embrace it and we still embrace it and drive different programs so that, again, our Solvers understand that we are with them.

We know what they’re going through, and we want to try to provide things that can help in any way possible and fill gaps for them. Because at the end of the day, we don’t want to lose great talent and it is an opportunity for us to connect with their family in a way that we haven’t necessarily had before. So, why not grab it and take advantage of it?

Bruce Gillis:   

Shifting to a compliance perspective. I’m often having conversations with employers about, “We’ve got these employees who have all of this dependent care FSA money sitting on their accounts that they haven’t been able to use, right? And what are our options available to them?”

I work with them and let them know what the options are. There aren’t a lot, but there was relief provided earlier in the year, but the other issue that’s not captured there is that means these employees are having to solve the childcare issue.

How do I work if I don’t have childcare?

Bruce Gillis:

That’s a completely different issue that we’re not solving when we’re taking care of the dependent care FSA. But to your point, it’s absolutely an issue that all of these individuals are dealing with at their houses, right?

They are now putting in a 40, 50 plus hour workweek and disproportionately that responsibility falls on the moms, right? So, to your point, it creates a challenge not just for the individuals, but it’s a challenge for the employers as well. To be able to have that awareness and empathy and thoughtfulness to focus and tackle those issues, I think it’s been great for our organization.

We’ve seen engagement actually. It’s great because we had, as you said, five years of data coming into this, right? So, we’ve actually seen engagement increase through this transition, which is amazing, but it’s very much to the credit of everyone, led by you of course, to take these steps and to be very deliberate in how we approach this. I won’t say it’s been a fun year, but it’s been a successful year, right? That overall, we rose to the challenge, which is good to see.

Bruce Gillis:

There’s just so much to talk about, we’ve talked about the pandemic, but now looking beyond, there are other things, social justice, Black Lives Matter, the diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives that have come to the front page and stayed. That’s, I think, also been a big story this year and a big issue that individuals have had to work through, and employers are working through internally.

We’ve made a lot of very deliberate changes there. I think even the whole work from home scenario provides challenges for those above initiatives as well. So, I’m going to tee up that challenging topic and then kick it over to you. But I know we’ve had a lot of conversations about this, and I think organizationally I really appreciated the directions that we’ve moved in and some of the changes we’ve been making.

Marcy Klipfel:

We’ve had a transformation and a maturation, honestly, in this arena and we, and I will speak on behalf of the executive team, we had always felt that our culture was already conducive to, “We accept all. We are very forward thinking,” and our key cornerstone is to reflect the demographic that we operate in and that we serve.

And so, we had always felt that diversity, equality and inclusion was already embedded in everything we did. What we learned through listening and really seizing the opportunity where it did become front page is we have to be vocal and intentional. We have to shine the bright light on it, or again, it doesn’t have the effect and make the change in the outcomes to really be meaningful.

What was so special about getting our targeted diversity, equality, inclusion strategy off the ground was it came from very strong leadership and executive level support. 

Marcy Klipfel:

However, the real work has been done and is being done by Solvers who came together and said, “We want to make a difference and we’re going to do this in an authentic way. That is not a check the box. It’s not about filling quotas. We’re going to do this in a way that is transformational and makes actual change and affects people in a really meaningful way.”

That, I believe, is what’s going to be the difference in how we succeed in this area, right? It’s never going to be done, but we’re already seeing these wins and successes along the way. And because of being remote now and having a transformation in our viewpoint about the productivity that we thought we would lose by not being in our hubs, we’ve already proven out that we’re more productive. We’ve taken this opportunity to diversify our candidate pool to take advantage of the fact that, unfortunately, our largest hubs are not in the most diverse geographic locations.

The one in Denver wasn’t affording us as diverse of a population as we would like, and so now between infusing DE&I in everything that we do and how we approach things and learning and growing together, you are going to see a more diverse Businessolver, which is exciting.

Marcy Klipfel:

Again, it will be to the credit of all these Solvers that have come together and made a big difference in an authentic and meaningful way. I think the book club that you’ve been part of, Bruce, as well, is a real testament to that.

We wanted to figure out how to start to transform people and not just check the box workplace conduct training, but truly transform? And so, we all took a pledge and read our Subtle Acts of Exclusion book, which I highly recommend, by the way, to those of you out there who aren’t familiar with it. It really has helped set a foundation for setting company-wide language.

I think the best part that we have taken from a real action standpoint is our Subtle Acts of Exclusion pledge. I bring that up because I do think it’s helpful whenever you’re trying to tackle and step into, candidly, a conversation that can be a lightning rod at your dinner table and at work.

Marcy Klipfel:

People tell you, “stay away from these types of conversations.” And we’re saying, “well, they’re happening. We have to embrace them, right?” And so to give people a framework to fall back on. Our Subtle Acts of Exclusion pledge is around being kind, whether you fall into a privileged or impacted group, your core tenet will be to be kind in your words and actions. Second is to speak up. You will act with integrity. You will provide direct communication when you witness or experience a subtle act of exclusion.

You hold yourself accountable to speak up and listen deeply. And then third is do the work. You commit to the work without expecting praise or reward, knowing that the commitment is helping Businessolver and the world be a better place. Those are powerful words and the fact that we’re over 800 Solvers that have signed that pledge, which then puts them into a book club to discuss how we are going to tackle microaggressions, it says a lot.

Just having that to fall back on, because I get a lot of questions about, “how’s HR policing these conversations to make sure they don’t get out of hand?”

The reality is, we don’t have to because people sign that pledge and they come from that place of the framework of saying, “this is awkward. I experienced this or I witnessed this. It’s awkward for me to bring it up, but I signed a pledge and I committed to it. So, out of respect for that, and respect for you, I’m going to bring this up to you and have this tough conversation.” Right there we’ve made huge strides, and I’m really proud of that.

Bruce Gillis:

It’s been great, and I’ll echo your endorsement of the Subtle Acts of Exclusion book. It’s provided a great framework for those conversations that are potentially uncomfortable at times, right? It’s provided a framework where, in some level, you’re talking about the book, but really, you’re talking about the bigger issues that are raised by the book, right? It just gives you an entry into the conversation, and I think that has been huge.

It is really interesting how cohesive the book club has become. We were working through and talking through these issues, and we get very close-knit very quickly. I know we’re planning more of those next year and I’m looking forward to it. I’m actually going to be facilitating some of them, but it’s really been, I think, it’s been very positive.

There’s the old saying: real change requires real change. You can’t do the same thing and expect some new results. You’ve got to make changes if you want changes. I think that we’ve, to some extent, made lemonade with the lemons we were given.

Bruce Gillis:

We’ve taken this pandemic and the fact that we’ve gone home, and we’ve capitalized on the opportunities it’s presented. Has it presented challenges? We certainly know it has. But it’s presented opportunities and we have, wherever we can, we’ve tried to seize them. We’re no longer geographically bound so that we can find the best employees wherever they may be.

This allows us to engage a more diverse workforce. We are having conversations that we might’ve considered uncomfortable or maybe even taboo before, out of an effort to be sensitive.

Now we’re saying, “Steer into the conversation. It’s uncomfortable, but that’s how we grow.” We’re holding people accountable not just for what they say, but how they respond to what others say.

There has also been a lot of focus on being an ally.

Bruce Gillis:

So, if someone says something inappropriate, the subject of the comment is not the only one who is expected or anticipated to have a response. Everyone around has a responsibility to steer the conversation to an appropriate place and is being trained on how to do that so that you’re not winging it or coming from an uninformed position. I think that’s really helpful. We’ve, through these conversations, laid that framework that everyone knows what’s expected, what’s expected of you as an individual and you as an ally.

I’m accountable to you for my conversation, but you’re also accountable to me to help me see the world and approach the world appropriately. It’s been really enjoyable to be a part of these conversations, as hard as they are, and I’ve really been happy by everyone in our book club meetings who say, “You know, I’ve really been looking forward to these conversations.”

Again, through this challenging year, we’ve seized some opportunities and through the difficulties we’re learning from them.

Bruce Gillis:

I think that’s what we need to do. We’re making changes as a result of them.

I knew we were going to be hard-pressed to get through all of the information that we have to talk about today. I’m going to jump ahead and say, okay, so with all of the crazy that we’ve had this year, all of the challenges, all the opportunities and all of the success we’ve had, with engagement, with strengthening our diversity and our DE&I efforts, and with all of this looking ahead to next year, there’s a different set of challenges.

Returning to work.

Well, I should say, returning to the office is a challenge because vaccinations are not going to be distributed all at one time, organizations are debating the issue if we can or should require people to be vaccinated before they return to the office, and to what extent do we return to the office?

I think as we’ve seen a level of success that surprised some people in the organization with our ability to go remote. So, when you’re looking ahead to 2021, and I think we’re all glad 2020 is going to be in the rear-view mirror soon, but when you’re looking ahead to 2021, what do you think the bigger challenges are for us as an employer, and then looking at the Solver populations and saying, we as a group, as a close-knit family, what are the challenges we’re facing?

Marcy Klipfel:

I think weighing on the minds of anyone who has to contemplate bringing people back in and bringing them in safely is the risk that’s associated with that. Making sure that we make good decisions around how and when will be the most important. And so, our stance right now is we are going to stay virtual until we have a level of comfort that we can bring our people back in a responsible way.

However, we’re also listening to our Solvers because again, there’s a segment of the population who need to get back into the work environment for a variety of different reasons, and so we are going to approach this with intentionality and reimagine some of our hubs with purpose. We envision that it is important for people to collaborate. We do need to figure out ways to bring people together, to have that connection, to innovate, to collaborate.

But I don’t envision us really ever returning to a, ‘you have to be in this workstation just because.’ I mean, I think there’s going to be more flexibility yet an eye towards bringing people together with purpose and intentionality.

Marcy Klipfel:

I think where I see a lot of opportunity and in the reverse, if we don’t turn it into an opportunity, it is going to be a struggle, is bringing collegiate potentials into a virtual workforce if they’ve never been in a professional setting before. I don’t have the answers to this, but we will have to work with colleges and institutions and whatnot to fill that gap. Because learning professionalism is usually done by watching it and experiencing it. I’m not sure how to onboard that particular demographic in a more thoughtful way, and to provide the right level of flexibility in that population, but yet make sure that they’re learning the right type of skillset.

That is, again, hard to train in a classroom. You have to observe it, watch it, demonstrate it, learn it. So, that’s where I think an opportunity and a challenge as you go into 2021 is, depending on when we are able to start to bring people back, how do you think about that collegiate right out of college, or the different demographic that starts completely virtual, never having been in a professional setting? 

Bruce Gillis:

It’s a really interesting challenge. We’ve talked in the past about, there’s no water cooler conversations when you’re remote. You don’t have a lot of those opportunities to share more casual or more informal guidance.

When you look at 2020, and I’ve not really thought about this, but so many employers saw a contracting of their workforce. So, looking at 2021 as people may be beginning to build out their workforces again, you’re going to see a lot more employers facing this challenge with the collegiate population, these younger, less workforce-experienced individuals who are going to be moving into a remote environment with no one to mirror in terms of professional etiquette.

I can very much appreciate that. It’s going to present some challenges. Technically we all know these individuals coming out of school are going to probably be light years ahead of me. But at the same time that doesn’t always translate into the ability or the understanding of how to manage your eight-hour day or how to engage with others in a virtual environment.

I know we are over our scheduled time. Marcy, thank you so much for joining. I really hope you’ll come back to the conversations after the first of the year, because there are so many things, so many topics that we’ve touched on that I would love to dig into a little deeper because they’re a lot of important stuff.

I’ve been really excited about some of the things we’ve done in this time to capitalize on the opportunities and rise to the challenges that we’ve had. But thank you so much for joining in the conversation today.

Marcy Klipfel:

Thank you. I’d be happy to come back anytime. I love talking with you and hopefully some of this has been helpful. And, of course, engaging from, also, viewers, if they have best practices to share, of course, I always would love to hear those too.

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