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The latest virus forecast: The US has had a 36% decline from two weeks earlier, with about 22,000 new cases on Friday, and about 65% of US adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Seventy percent of adults are at least partially vaccinated in nine states, most of which are in New England.
The business impact: “Inflation pressures abound,” Costco’s CFO told investors, as prices are rising on goods from meat to plastic bags amid surging demand and supply constraints. Consumer prices excluding food and gas were up 3.1% last month from a year earlier, the biggest annual increase since 1992. President Joe Biden’s proposed federal budget forecasts GDP growth of 5.2% this year, 3.2% in 2022, and slowing to 2% or below through 2027.
Focus on Getting Started on the Right Foot
Remote and hybrid setups amplify the challenges of bringing new people into an organization. Already, prior to the pandemic, just 12% of workers strongly agreed that their company did a great job of onboarding new employees. And now the shift to ways of working that are less place and time specific can make it even more difficult for new hires to absorb the culture and norms of a business, build trust with colleagues, and improve their skills by observing others.
When people criticize hybrid workplaces, these are among the challenges they have in mind. For a better sense of how to get virtual onboarding right, I reached out to Christy Johnson, CEO of a roughly 40-person strategy consulting practice called Artemis Connection. Artemis has operated on a fully remote basis since its founding by Johnson six years ago, and its approach to onboarding has drawn praise from Lynda Gratton, the London Business School professor of management practice who I interviewed last week.
“It seems to me that we are only just beginning on our journey of creating practices and processes that help new joiners understand their organization’s culture and build tacit knowledge,” Gratton wrote recently, saying that Johnson’s approach “shows what could be possible.”
Here are excerpts from my recent conversation with Johnson, edited for space and clarity:
Could you walk me through how you approach onboarding?
Our goal is to get them active on projects as fast as possible, because what we found is that if people weren't, they would get a little bit nervous. Operationally, it's a little bit challenging. We warm up the bench as projects are getting ready to start, so we can quickly staff someone and then get them plugged in with the team. What that means from an onboarding standpoint is that we have a checklist that we run through. We try to remove as much friction as possible. The boring stuff we have more self-serve, so that they can get through what they need to get through. And we have two people on-call when an onboarding day happens, so if people hit roadblocks or are having trouble with something, they can get through that quickly.
Then we get them plugged in with the project and with the team. They feel like they're part of a team and are doing something that's meaningful, which seems to help quite a bit. Kickoff is important, where they get to talk about experiences they have that might be relevant, because it helps us get to know them better and the strengths that they have. Or just something that they might be curious about with a particular project. Having them share that, and everyone else's too, helps people learn about each other more.
If we have a bunch of employees starting at the same time, that's when we'll launch the Artemis Academy. It's a lot more structured, but it's a nice mix. It has a little bit of theory, especially if people don't come from the McKinsey, Bain, BCG background. We have jargon that we picked up for problem solving. So when we say this, here's what it means. Here's an approach and then let's all practice together and then go apply it to whatever it is that we're working on and get some feedback. Bring it back tomorrow to the group and we'll do feedback. It's four days a week for usually eight to 10 weeks.
What's been really fun is we've had our strong analysts, people who have been with us one to two years, teach it. They'll pull in more senior people as needed—a principal comes in and says, ‘Here's what a day in my life looks like.’ They have more perspective on what's happening with the projects. We'll have clients come in, which is really fun. The clients actually love it too, which surprised me. They get to talk about a project, how they think about strategy, why they use consultants, and where that hasn't worked well for them. The clients usually share a bit of their career journey. We tend to get a lot of clients who used to be consultants. They're able to talk through how that's helped their career.
The new employees do some fun things too, which depends on what they're into. They had a bunch of funny things during Covid. They would do all these polls and would bring them into our larger group meetings. If you were stuck in a reality TV show, which one would you be in? They had a problem-solving Olympics where there were all these puzzles that were coming out every day. We give them quite a bit of freedom to connect however they want to.
How long and how often do they do it?
It's usually 60 to 90 minutes, four days a week, and then they'll share their work in the Slack channel and people will comment on other people's work. We use Google Docs because then you can comment really easily. Everybody can be working in the same document at the same time and commenting, but you don't have to be on a video call for that to happen.
You've been operating on a remote basis for over six years. What are other best practices that you've developed?
The key was learning really hard lessons around intentionality. For example, culture is one of those things that people toss around all the time, but what does culture really mean? We break that down as certainly your values. But not so much the words you might have on the back of a badge or the posters—rather how those values translate into action and behaviors.
It's part of how we promote, and it's part of what we're looking for when we're hiring—what gets celebrated and what gets mourned. We celebrate things that people do outside of work that they're particularly proud of that probably couldn't happen if they were working all the time, like they might have been at the consulting groups they could have worked at. What gets mourned, what are we sad about? We're very open to people sharing things in their personal life that might be taking time.
And along with that culture, all the stories that we tell—I actually did this a week and half ago. I was doing a pitch and was asking the client what he expected of a team. He said, 'I want them on call.' As in they need to be able to hop on a plane at the drop of a hat. He had this long list. I was like, 'Oh, that's great. We're probably not the right firm for you. I can introduce you to some who are.' Then I came back and shared that with the team. So it's making sure that those kinds of stories are getting told and celebrated as well.
You can read a full transcript of our conversation, including discussion of best practices for communications and performance management when colleagues are remote.
Content from our partner McKinsey & Company
The digital dash. Is the party over for all things digital when the pandemic ends? Not by a long shot. But COVID-19 reshaped consumer behavior abruptly, and more shifts could be ahead as the crisis recedes. Here’s what you need to know about tomorrow’s digital consumers, as you plot your course.
What Else You Need to Know
Activists won big victories in their battles with energy companies. The landmark outcomes demonstrate an increasing consensus among investors that carbon emissions are bad for business in the long run.
- Engine No. 1, a small investment fund with an impact-investing focus, won at least two seats on the board of Exxon Mobil.
- The surprise defeat for the oil giant’s leadership was possible because big investment funds supported Engine No. 1’s push for aggressive efforts by Exxon Mobil to reduce its carbon footprint.
- A majority of Chevron investors this week backed a proposal, opposed by its board, to increase efforts to reduce emissions by its customers.
- Environmentalists also won a separate Dutch court ruling against Royal Dutch Shell, successfully arguing that the Anglo-Dutch energy firm’s climate impact amounted to a human rights violation. The court ruled that Shell needed to cut its carbon emissions, including those of its customers, nearly in half by the end of the decade.
Shareholders can indeed have short-term agendas that inhibit executives from doing the right thing—witness the drops in Walmart’s shares when it announced wage increases for its lowest-paid workers. But at least in the case of climate change, they’re now proving more enlightened than the energy companies and their boards.
US companies are hiring more Black board members. One-third of the new directors of S&P 500 companies appointed since July 1 are Black, compared to just 11% a year earlier. Black directors make up about 11% of S&P 500 board members, up from 8.3% a year earlier, amid racial justice initiatives following George Floyd’s murder.
- There’s also been a boom in the business of diversity consulting over the past year. But there is skepticism about how much companies actually want to change, and whether such consulting is effective most of the time anyway.
- The “inclusion” part of diversity, equity, and inclusion can be hard for organizations to measure. Gartner has come up with a series of statements to gauge how workers experience inclusion. The statements include “I feel welcome to express my true feelings at work” and “Communication we receive from the organization is honest and open.”
Companies should devote 2% of their earnings to initiatives to promote racial equity, argues Robert F. Smith, CEO of Vista Equity Partners.
Better-managed organizations had more success at weathering the pandemic. A new UK government study found that businesses with management practices like performance reviews and training programs had greater productivity and higher rates of remote working than other firms over the past year.
- A separate World Bank study had come to similar conclusions, though it specifically called out a correlation between structured incentive practices such as employee bonuses with the performance of firms last year. In such cases, employees may “feel reassured during a crisis that leaders will continue to reward high performance, and that they will not lay off workers,” the study’s authors wrote. “This may encourage them to work harder or more cooperatively in order to respond.”
Return to workplace speed round:
- Employers can require workers to be vaccinated before entering the workplace, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled. The federal agency also said that organizations can legally offer incentives for employees to be vaccinated.
- Companies are offering free or subsidized meals to entice workers to come into the office. Finance and tech firms including Cowen, Credit Suisse, and Neuberger Berman are among those subsidizing meals.
- Sabre has gone from four buildings to one at its headquarters in a Dallas suburb, as the travel-tech company expects just 25% of its staff to be in a mode where they consistently come to the office every day.
- Software companies such as Envoy, Proximity, Robin, and Salesforce are offering apps to allow workers to book desks and meeting rooms, and help managers keep track of employees on a given day.
- European auditors warned that hybrid-work approaches could weaken organizational culture, making it harder to detect fraud as well as to retain employees.
- Office occupancy has slowly ticked up to 28% of pre-Covid activity nationally for buildings using Kastle access systems, as of May 19.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Make unconventional hires. People who challenge your assumptions about career paths and bring different worldviews will strengthen your team. This often requires focusing on potential over experience, and stripping many of the usual requirements out of job listings.
- Develop a “rest ethic.” Elite athletes like LeBron James treat rest and recovery as part of their regimen, and research shows that it improves mental performance as well. You might take a day off from technology each week, or make a list of what you want more of and less of in your life, to help step back from day-to-day stimuli.
- Send handwritten thank you notes. They can be short, on index-card-sized paper. And it’s rarely too late to send one. Such notes can be helpful for networking—and probably will make you feel good even if they’re not.
- Let job candidates hold on to offers longer. Researchers found that women accepted jobs almost a month sooner into their job searches than men, but on average ended up with lower compensation because they might not have waited for more lucrative offers to materialize. If employers let candidates hold on to job offers for an extra month before they expired, it could dramatically shrink this wage gap. (Though hiring managers might not like it!)
Airline passengers are out of control. The Federal Aviation Administration has received 2,500 reports of unruly passengers so far this year, many times the normal level.
- Southwest Airlines has delayed resuming alcohol service after a flight attendant was badly assaulted by a passenger.
- Refusal to comply with federal mask requirements, which are in place until September, played a role in three-quarters of the incidents.
It’s unclear why rage—and not gratitude—needs to be the governing emotion of passengers now that people are flying again.
Weeping at work. Work is the most common public place that people cry, with 26% of adults polled recently by Ipsos saying that they had cried there.
- School was the second most common, followed by airports and parks.
- Baby boomers were the least likely to have cried at work, while a full one-third of millennials had shed tears there.
- Another study recently found that 17% of workers had cried with a colleague in the past year.
What comes after athleisure? “Joy dressing.” Over-the-top clothes are summer’s biggest fashion trend, according to the Wall Street Journal. Think bold colors and spirited prints—Americans are emerging from the pandemic dressing with the exuberance of Lady Gaga.
The handbook for this new era of business doesn’t exist. We’re all drafting our own as we go along—and now we’d like to start doing so together. You can sign up here to receive this briefing by email.