Yitzi Weiner

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http://socialimpactheroes.com
Yitzi Weiner is a journalist, author, and the founder of Authority Magazine, one of Medium’s largest publications. Authority Magazine, is devoted to sharing interesting “thought leadership interview series” featuring people who are authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Magazine uses interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable. Popular interview series include, Women of the C Suite, Female Disruptors, and 5 Things That Should be Done to Close the Gender Wage Gap At Authority Magazine, Yitzi has conducted or coordinated hundreds of empowering interviews with prominent Authorities like Shaquille O’Neal, Peyton Manning, Floyd Mayweather, Paris Hilton, Baron Davis, Jewel, Flo Rida, Kelly Rowland, Kerry Washington, Bobbi Brown, Daymond John, Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Alicia Silverstone, Lindsay Lohan, Cal Ripkin Jr., David Wells, Jillian Michaels, Jenny Craig, John Sculley, Matt Sorum, Derek Hough, Mika Brzezinski, Blac Chyna, Perez Hilton, Joseph Abboud, Rachel Hollis, Daniel Pink, and Kevin Harrington Much of Yitzi’s writing and interviews revolve around how leaders with large audiences view their position as a responsibility to promote goodness and create a positive social impact. His specific interests are interviews with leaders in Technology, Popular Culture, Social Impact Organizations, Business, and Wellness.

How Colleen Moriarty Of Hunger Solutions Minnesota Is Helping To Address The Growing Challenge Of…

How Colleen Moriarty Of Hunger Solutions Minnesota Is Helping To Address The Growing Challenge Of Food Insecurity

An Interview With Martita Mestey

Be ready for anything. A pandemic, a fire that closed the only grocery store in town, a massive civil rights movement. If the past few years have taught me anything, it’s that the work can change on a dime. Always be ready to shift priorities to meet the needs of the community.

In many parts of the United States, there is a crisis of people having limited reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. As prices rise, this problem will likely become more acute. How can this problem be solved? Who are the leaders helping to address this crisis?

In this interview series, we are talking to leaders who are helping to address the increasing problem of food insecurity who can share the initiatives they are leading to address and solve this problem.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Colleen Moriarty.

Colleen Moriarty has been involved in poverty programs for the majority of her career. As Hunger Solution Minnesota’s Executive Director and co-chair of the Hunger-Free Schools campaign to bring universal school meals to Minnesota, she works to motivate decision-makers to take supportive action on state and national hunger policy issues.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I grew up in a politically active family. My grandfather was in politics and my father was a strong DFLer. As a young girl, my dad would ask — “what did you do for someone else today?” — that was leadership in our family, and a mindset that guided my career path. I’ve worked in many roles, including Chief of Staff to Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, served on the Minneapolis School Board, and was the Executive Director with the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board. My first job however was as a community organizer, and I still consider myself one today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

It might not be the most interesting, but the most surprising thing that’s happened since working in the anti-hunger field is realizing how many people don’t understand that hunger exists in their own communities. Many people don’t believe in funding resources for hunger because they don’t see it everyday and don’t realize how great of a need there is out there. Food insecurity exists in every single community; urban, rural, and suburban. It’s not just a third world issue, it’s in our own backyards.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

This year, we started to see traction on a career-long goal of mine to bring free breakfast and lunch to all students in Minnesota. When I first started advocating for the issue, it started with a belief that school meals need to be nutritious, then we moved towards advocating for adding school breakfast to schools. Then, when stories began coming out about school administrators punishing and humiliating students for unpaid lunch debt, we secured a legislative victory to end lunch shaming practices.

This year, after a 15-year fight and lots of persistence, Minnesota’s Governor Tim Walz announced funding for universal school meals in his budget. It was a great first step, and we’ve been working hard ever since to make it a reality. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done to get Hunger-Free Schools passed, but it’s a top priority for our Governor and it’s an issue that has finally been getting the attention it deserves.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Connie Greer served as the Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity at the Minnesota Department of Human Services for 30 years. Connie was instrumental in my success as leader of Hunger Solutions Minnesota and everything I’ve learned I attribute to her. She taught me the value in true partnership and it’s shaped the collaborative nature of the organization we have now. Thanks to my partnership with Connie and the Minnesota Department of Human Services, I came to learn that not one person or one organization can end hunger. It’s only a fight we will win if we all work together.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I’d say it starts with determination. We couldn’t have made the progress in the fight against hunger that we have without determination. For 15 years I’ve dreamed of a time when all school aged children were able to eat breakfast and lunch at school. It took a lot of determination from myself, my staff, and our partners to get to where we are today.

I also think as leaders we need to be willing to listen. Listen to our stakeholders, colleagues, and peers, but perhaps more importantly, listen to those that we are working to help. I’m focused on making sure that everything we do is of direct benefit to those facing food insecurity. Listening and learning from those with lived experience help guide my work.

And finally, being able to communicate effectively. I’ve learned after years of testifying for both state and federal anti-hunger policies that the most effective and impactful leaders are ones who are clear about their mission, the issues, and how it’ll impact real life people.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My family had an old Irish Catholic motto that has always stuck with me — “We Bend and Never Break”. It perfectly encompasses the struggles we all go through as humans, especially women balancing raising a family and having a thriving career. It became a special reminder as I raised my three boys as a single mother.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you describe to our readers how your work is helping to address the challenge of food insecurity?

I’ve always been a big picture person. Our work at Hunger Solutions does exactly that, it’s comprehensive. We aren’t just focused on one part of the food insecurity story; we focus on the emergency food system as a whole. From governmental programs like SNAP, to food shelves and farmers markets, to pop-up community fridges, from the senior center to the school lunchroom — it’s all connected.

Ending hunger in the long-term is always our top priority, which is why I’ve always gravitated to working with the Legislature. We need sound public policy changes to make a real impact. Right now, in Minnesota, 1 in 6 children are facing food insecurity. We know that school meals account for over half of a child’s daily calories. It’s policies like our Hunger-Free Schools campaign that could really make a difference in ending childhood hunger.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

In 2017, I was awarded a national award for SNAP innovation from the Food Research Action Council (FRAC.) FRAC is a national organization that we work very closely with. SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is a critical program for people and is one of the most effective ways of lifting families out of poverty. We implemented a program to connect patients at their health care clinics and hospitals with food resources through our Minnesota Food Helpline. Since its implementation, we’ve been able to help nearly 5,000 people find food help and have supported clinics and health care systems to bridge the gap between health care and food insecurity. It was an honor to see that work recognized and I’m very proud of that award.

In your opinion, what should other business and civic leaders do to further address these problems? Can you please share a few things that can be done to further address the problem of food insecurity?

Business leaders need to pay a living wage. Families are facing real challenges with the rising costs of food, housing, and other monthly expenses. Support your employees and their families in any way you can. Oh, and if your employee needs time off to visit a food shelf — grant it! Food shelves are often only open during business hours, so be flexible and understanding.

Are there other leaders or organizations who have done good work to address the challenge of food scarcity? Can you tell us what they have done? What specifically impresses you about their work? Perhaps we can reach out to them to include them in this series.

Sophia Lenarz-Coy is the Executive Director of The Food Group, a food bank that serves 30 counties throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin. Under Sophia’s leadership, The Food Group works hard to ensure the emergency food system works for those disproportionately affected by the issue. They purchase local products, support sustainable farming, distribute culturally specific foods, and drive food systems change.

If you had the power to influence legislation, are there laws that you would like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

We need universal school meals in every state in this country. We require kids to go to school, why shouldn’t we take care of them while they are there? It’s the most equitable and just way to ensure proper childhood nutrition.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Small wins are impactful. Ending hunger can sometimes seem like a big, insurmountable issue. It’s not a fight that will be easily won. Focus on what change you can make, and work hard to achieve it.
  2. Stay learning. You’ll never know it all. Continue to listen to and learn from everyone you meet.
  3. Cultural Competency is key. It’s not enough to have a DEI statement and call it a day. To lead a successful organization, you need to value diversity. You need to do the work to increase your own cultural competency and develop adaptations to your organization that reflect a better understanding of diversity and cultural differences.
  4. Be ready for anything. A pandemic, a fire that closed the only grocery store in town, a massive civil rights movement. If the past few years have taught me anything, it’s that the work can change on a dime. Always be ready to shift priorities to meet the needs of the community.
  5. Take care of yourself. It’s simple, you can’t help others if you’re not taking care of yourself.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We need to return to a more trusting and truth-telling environment. People have lost track of truth these days. Facts can easily be distorted, and it’s hard for people to trust what they’re hearing from the government and the media. I’d love to see a movement of respect, honesty and trust.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Bruce Springsteen. For years, I’ve traveled all around the world to see him perform. I don’t just love his music; I love what he stands for and his values.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow our work to bring free school meals to Minnesota at www.hungerfreeschoolsmn.org, or on social media:

https://twitter.com/hfschoolsmn

https://facebook.com/hfschoolsmn

https://instagram.com/hfschoolsmn

Follow the other work Hunger Solutions, or sign up for our Action Alerts on how you can help at:

https://hungersolutions.org.

Follow us on social media at:

https://facebook.com/HungerSolutionsMN

https://twitter.com/HungerSolutions

https://instagram.com/HungerSolutions

https://linkedin.com/company/hunger-solutions-minnesota

This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.


How Colleen Moriarty Of Hunger Solutions Minnesota Is Helping To Address The Growing Challenge Of… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Ieva Kazakeviciute Is Helping To Change Our…

Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Ieva Kazakeviciute Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Martita Mestey

You don’t always have to perform. I have certainly had days along this journey where there is so much to cope with I don’t know where to start. I have learnt that it’s sometimes best to take a step back, look at a bigger picture, prioritise and move forward at my own comfortable pace.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ieva Kazakeviciute.

Ieva Kazakeviciute, a co-founder of Sustain Academy. The first sustainability and green skills developing platform created for businesses to train and upskill their employees. Ieva is also a sustainability and B-Corp consultant at Sustain Advisory.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in a small town in the suburbs of Lithuania. A lot of my surroundings back then were sustainable by default — growing up with my grandparents with a backyard full of farm animals and a garden always full of fresh fruit and veg, that used to be a norm for most of the kids my age. Additionally I had a mother that had a strong interest and was working within the sustainable beauty sector. My very first face creams or nail polishes had no other option but to be organic and ethically made. 🙂 Because of that, sustainability has always been a topic close to my heart.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

I have spent the last 5 years working within the sustainable businesses sector. The first 3 were spent over in London, where I was working for a boutique consultancy firm helping sustainable FMCG brands enter the market and build sustainable growth strategies. For the last two years together with my business partner Auste we have been building and running Sustain Academy — a holistic sustainability training and mentorship program designed for businesses. We run engaging live online lectures with world’s leading sustainability experts on the key sustainability topics helping organisations develop the knowledge and green skills needed. They have the opportunity to learn from industry peers, engage in conversations with one another as well as speakers and have an opportunity to be mentored by one of the leading experts in sustainability when building a custom sustainability strategy.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

Back in 2017 I was volunteering in Madagascar at a marine conservation site together with Blue Ventures. I call that break in Madagascar between changing jobs my turning point where I realised that I certainly want to be working within the field of sustainability. I experienced first hand the damage that was being created due to overconsumption of resources by people and businesses and saw the potential where we could improve the old ways of doing things whether it will be the environmental, social or governance part of sustainability.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I don’t think there was an “aha moment” as such, however meeting my business partner and now a close friend Auste was certainly a deal breaker. We shared the same passion for this topic and had a matching set of skills. We were both also at the same stages of our careers where we were thinking “what’s next?” and had a burning desire to create solutions for sustainability professionals that we felt were so much needed. I call myself lucky that all those things fell into place and the rest has been just pure focus and work towards the set goals.

Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

Many don’t and we didn’t either. We knew we had an idea that we felt strongly passionate about and we knew the somewhat end point where we wanted to be within the next 6 months, and the rest followed. We researched, we arranged calls with pretty much every single person working within sustainability in Lithuania to truly understand what’s happening within the market, we asked for help, contacts and leads where needed and managed to successfully launch the project in time as planned.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

There isn’t one story that I would be able to exclude, however I’m happy to say that meeting our speakers/lecturers/mentors is certainly one of the most interesting parts of the job. We work with the world’s leading sustainability experts, innovators, leaders that run the world’s largest and most forward thinking organisations. Meeting those people and having the opportunity to work alongside them is a very thrilling part of our job.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

We didn’t have mentors as such, however having built a network of 25+ sustainability experts from the start, we always felt the support needed. Even when things were getting tough and we couldn’t find answers there are always those people we can turn to, that are always happy to help and support us with their expertise. For example, a lot of the high profile connections we made abroad were led by our very first mentors and speakers over here in Lithuania, we’re very grateful for that.

Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

The two main “helpers” in the problem we are trying to solve are politicians and society. Society raises awareness on the current issues and puts active pressure on the businesses. Due to that we see a lot of them actively seeking solutions and ways to implement changes. In the meantime politicians are responsible for introducing regulations that certainly speed up the process of business applications and implementations.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

Although a lot of the times when we look at short term sustainable practise implementations, changes in internal processes, innovations and so on, initial investment is often required. However, when we start looking at a bigger picture and long term strategies, organisations see that huge savings can be made. Our main job is to give organistions tools with which they can analyse/audit their current processes, analyse their effectiveness and be able to put a strategic plan into place that would allow them to act with a clear direction and a step by step plan. From the feedback we receive 67% of the organisations that have completed the course have managed to implement cost cutting measures across organisations.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Be patient, great things take time. Quickly after starting I realised that we want to create a quality product and we want to do it fast. It took us some time to realise, that some things take time and thorough thought processes to actually be put together.
  2. Focus. It’s easy to pulled into many different directions and get excited about a number of ideas especially when you’re just getting started. I remember at the beginning we had started a live event series on very niche topics within corporate sustainability. Although we got traction, we quickly realised it is taking us a lot of time to produce quality content, the returns are tiny considering the time we invest and we quickly diverted our efforts to more efficient ways to gain publicity.
  3. If it doesn’t work, let it go. We have had ideas along the way that we would get so attached to, we would forget our true main purpose. Having a strong business partner and team alongside has certainly helped us to stay on the right track.
  4. You don’t always have to perform. I have certainly had days along this journey where there is so much to cope with I don’t know where to start. I have learnt that it’s sometimes best to take a step back, look at a bigger picture, prioritise and move forward at my own comfortable pace.
  5. Have fun along the way. Things can get tough, but it’s crucial to be able to see the fun side of things, laugh at your own mistakes and sometimes remember that a team is a group of people with their own hobbies, interests, pet peeves etc. Embrace that, take things easy and most importantly appreciate one another.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

If anyone should feel the pressure to make a difference I believe it should be the young generation, who have the longest left here to stay. 🙂 If there ever is a moment in time where you feel too small to make a difference, remember that no one is too small to make a difference. Big things start with one tiny act of kindness that creates a knock-on effect across your closest circle and then a wider society and that’s how a real impact is made. Don’t be afraid to start!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my all time favourite quotes is “No individual or organisation can do everything, but we all can do something.”. I remember starting to do what we do now and feeling so small, so powerless, the problems seemed too big for us to tackle, yet slowly, step by step we have found the ways that work for us and we’re able to contribute towards a positive change across every organization that comes to learn with us. I’m happy we didn’t hesitate.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

That would certainly be Sylvia Earle, I have been fascinated by her passion for environmentalism and ocean health for years now and would love to get the opportunity to ask questions and discuss what in her opinion the future is holding for us.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Ieva Kazakeviciute Is Helping To Change Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Randy Schultz of HomeGardenandHomestead: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Vegeta

Randy Schultz of HomeGarden and Homestead: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Vegetable Garden To Grow Your Own Food

An Interview With Martita Mestey

Pick the best garden spot on your property. Most vegetables grow best in a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. So don’t put your vegetable garden underneath a big tree where it’s shady. And in hot climates, your vegetable garden plants are not going to be happy with hot, baking afternoon sun. So don’t try to grow vegetables next to a wall that’s in the hot sun all afternoon.

As we all know, inflation has really increased the price of food. Many people have turned to home gardening to grow their own food. Many have tried this and have been really successful. But others struggle to produce food in their own garden. What do you need to know to create a successful vegetable garden to grow your own food? In this interview series, called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Vegetable Garden To Grow Your Own Food” we are talking to experts in vegetable gardening who can share stories and insights from their experiences.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Randy Schultz, Founder and Content Editor of HomeGardenandHomestead.com.

Randy Schultz is a lifelong gardener who fell in love with gardening after growing “the world’s tastiest tomatoes” as a child. A communications professional by training, Randy has served as a marketing consultant to a wide range of home and garden companies including Summit Responsible Solutions, Botanical Interests, Power Planter, CobraHead, Logee’s Plants, and Park Seed. In 2018, Randy founded HomeGardenandHomestead.com, an online guide to what’s new and trending for homes and gardens. This website has twice been honored with a Gold Medal Award from GardenComm. Randy is a Master Gardener who still gets his hands dirty in his garden in Colorado Springs, CO.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

I have always enjoyed growing plants, and I have always been fascinated by plants that produce food. One of my earliest memories is picking peaches from our backyard tree in suburban Detroit. Later, when my family moved to Southern California, I really started getting my hands dirty in the family vegetable garden.

The closest thing I had to a gardening mentor was my paternal grandmother, but I only saw her for a week or two in the summer when we drove up to Oregon. So, mostly I learned about growing vegetables by trial and success. Yes, I learned by making mistakes. But I always tried to focus on the successes — like harvesting salad greens or eating homegrown squash.

I must admit that I started out as a “vegetable snob.” I had no idea why anyone would grow ornamental plants or flowers. I wanted to grow plants that rewarded me with a prize — something delicious I could eat. I still carry some of that bias with me now, even though I’m a Master Gardener and have grown all kinds of plants.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

In the early 1990s, I published 11 editions of a media guide called The Consumer’s Guide to Planet Earth. It was a directory of eco-friendly companies and their products. The idea was to promote environmentally friendly products so people could make consumer choices that would help the planet.

The most successful section of the Consumer’s Guide was the gardening section. Companies loved to be listed in it, and journalists loved to write about things such as organic gardening and composting. When I stopped publishing the Consumer’s Guide, I decided to focus my public relations and marketing business on garden products. It was one of those, “do what you like, and the money will follow” kind of decisions. My business flourished, and I got to learn about and talk about gardening — and get paid for it.

Along the way, I joined an organization that’s now called GardenComm. This is a group of garden writers and gardening communicators that spans North America and now the world. These are people who love gardening and have chosen it as a career path. I became one of them, and that’s how I managed to fully integrate gardening into my life.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Honesty. I have always strived to be honest in my dealings with other people and honest with myself. If you want to succeed in life, you need to tell the truth. My grandpa once gave me this advice: It’s a whole lot better — and easier — to tell the truth. Nobody is smart enough to remember which lie you told to which person.

A strong work ethic. Most of us don’t get rich quick, and most of us don’t achieve immediate success. You have to work at it. A strong work ethic is the one common trait among every successful person I have ever met. Luck is the residue of hard work. And good luck is where opportunity and preparation meet.

Positive outlook. I have always tried to look on the bright side and walk on the sunny side of the street. It’s part of my nature, but it’s also a trait that I’ve developed into a habit. I am a firm believer in this: your attitude determines your altitude. In other words, your positive outlook will determine how far and how high you can go in life. One of my greatest accomplishments as a parent was when my oldest son told me, “You were the one who taught me how important a positive attitude is.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite people in the world of gardening, Karen Park Jennings, once told me, “I’ve learned a lot by killing plants.” Karen was from a very famous family of gardeners — the Park Seed family. Yet she learned about gardening in the old-fashioned, hands-in-the dirt way. Karen reminded me that in gardening, and in life, it’s all right to make mistakes — as long as you learn from them.

Are you working on any interesting or exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My “passion project” continues to be https://homegardenandhomestead.com/. I started the website because I have always wanted to be a magazine editor. The Internet enabled me to start an online magazine without needing much “seed” capital (pun intended) and without having to move to New York. I have been delighted and gratified by the public reaction to the website.

My goal is to expand the reach of the website, expand the HG&H YouTube channel, and perhaps launch a Home Garden and Homestead TV show. Anything I can do to encourage people to garden interests me. The mission statement of my company is this: “We make the world a better place, one home and one garden at a time.”

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about creating a successful garden to grow your own food. Can you help articulate a few reasons why people should be interested in making their own vegetable garden? For example, how is it better for our health? For the environment? For our wallet?

Growing food in your backyard — or in containers on a patio or balcony — makes sense is so many ways. Where do I begin?

The simple act of planting a seed and nurturing it from a seedling to a mature plant lets you participate in the miracle of life that makes this planet unique. You get to experience the cycle of life — how a seed becomes a plant, and how that plant creates new seeds for the next generation of plants.

Growing food is essential to human life on Earth. It has been said that agriculture — the act of growing food — is what made civilization possible. Ten thousand years ago, when nomadic humans decided to settle down and start growing their own food, they changed Planet Earth forever. We have literally been reaping the benefits ever since.

In the modern 21st century world, growing food makes more sense than ever. Gardening in and of itself is a healthy endeavor. Growing plants makes us mentally and physically heathier. There is nothing healthier for a human body that eating locally grown, organic food. Growing homegrown food is wonderful for the environment, because no fossil fuels used for shipping or production. And once you get the hang of it, growing your own food is an act of financial independence. It’s a win-win-win proposition every way you look at it.

Where should someone start if they would like to start a garden? Which resources would you recommend? Which plants should they start with?

Start with the easiest plants to grow. What turns novice gardeners into lifelong gardeners is success. It doesn’t take much success to get the process started. Sometimes all it takes is a couple of ripe tomatoes. The flavor of a ripe, homegrown tomato has turned more people into gardeners than anything else.

Seriously, if your only experience of what a tomato tastes like is the hard, orange tomatoes from the supermarket, you are missing a real treat. A vine-ripened tomato is one of Mother Nature’s masterpieces. The taste of your first homegrown tomato can change your life.

All it takes is a few minutes of online research to decide what to plant in your garden. Google “easiest vegetables to grow.” Then pick a couple of veggies that you like to eat. Lettuce and spinach are great choices for beginners. Peppers and squash are, too. And there’s a really good reason why tomatoes are America’s favorite backyard crop. A tomato plant is easy to grow, it’s prolific, and homegrown tomatoes taste divine.

Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Vegetable Garden To Grow Your Own Food”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Know your climate. To grow a successful vegetable garden, you must know your climate. That’s true no matter where in the world you garden. In the United States, knowing your climate begins with knowing your USDA climate zone. (If you don’t know your zone, Google it.)

The USDA zone for your location will tell you when your average last frost date is in the spring and when your average first frost date is in the fall. The number of days between those two dates is the length of your growing season.

Why is this important? The majority of vegetable garden plants are not cold hardy. They die (or are damaged) when temperatures drop below freezing (32 degrees F.) So, you can only grow vegetables in your garden when there’s little or no chance of frost.

Know the difference between cool and warm season vegetables. Once you know the basics about your climate, then you need to learn the basics about the vegetables you want to grow. Many edible plants can be grouped into two types: cool season vegetables and warm season vegetables. Cool season veggies include peas, broccoli, kale, cabbage, lettuce, and spinach. Warm season vegetables include tomatoes, melons, squash, peppers, and corn.

As a beginning gardener, I planted cool season crops at the beginning of the gardening season and grew warm season crops later (well after the last frost date). Then, when I became more experienced, I also planted some cool season varieties at the end of summer. These thrived as the days cooled off in the fall.

Pick the best garden spot on your property. Most vegetables grow best in a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. So don’t put your vegetable garden underneath a big tree where it’s shady. And in hot climates, your vegetable garden plants are not going to be happy with hot, baking afternoon sun. So don’t try to grow vegetables next to a wall that’s in the hot sun all afternoon.

Then, make your soil better. Add organic fertilizer. Add compost, which increases the soil’s ability to retain water. Your garden will be successful if you create the most conducive conditions for growing healthy plants.

Examine your garden every day. The best way to become an expert gardener is to observe your plants. Notice when the leaves start to wilt. Then water those plants. Look for the first arrival of insect pests. A few insects can be easily removed by hand or washed from your plants with a stream of water from a hose. But hundreds of insects is an infestation, which usually requires a pest control treatment. (Always start with the least toxic approach.) If you are observing your plants every day, you almost never have to deal with a full-blown infestation.

Grow what you like to eat. There is no point in growing vegetables you don’t like. (Unless you’re growing it for someone else who does like it.) I must admit to growing a few vegetables I really don’t like. I don’t like hot chile peppers (but my wife does). I don’t like cantaloupe, but I didn’t know just how much I don’t like cantaloupe until I grew a bumper crop and got sick of eating them. Now I only grow the veggies I love to eat.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a garden? What specifically can be done to avoid those errors?

Often, beginners plant too many seeds or starter plants. They don’t know just how many cherry tomatoes one healthy plant can produce. Another mistake novices make is starting with a garden space that is too large. It is better to grow a successful small garden than to fail at a larger garden.

Another bit of advice: follow the planting instructions on the back of the seed packet. Remember that seedlings become small plants, and small plants become large, mature plants. Leave plenty of space between your starter plants and seeds. Trust me, the plants will fill in the open spaces — and crowded plants don’t produce as much food as properly spaced plants.

What are some of the best ways to keep the costs of gardening down?

Growing from seeds is best way to grow a vegetable garden on a budget. A packet of seeds is a very small investment, and each packet contains dozens of seeds. A seed packet usually costs just a few dollars. You might get 50 squash plants to grow from a single packet of squash seeds.

Compare this to starter plants. When you buy vegetable starter plants, you get a “jump start” on your vegetable garden. The commercially started seeds were planted in a greenhouse. The plants are already several weeks old when you buy them at a garden center or big box store. But this convenience costs you in dollars. The price for a single pepper or cucumber plant can be $5 or more (depending on the size of the plant). It can be very costly to use transplants to grow a large vegetable garden. And some plants — such as lettuce and spinach — don’t always transplant well. You’re better off sowing these seeds directly into your garden.

The primary exception to the Grow from Seeds Rule is tomato plants. Tomato seeds require a long growing season to go from sprouts to mature, fruiting plants. Unless your growing season is really long (USDA Zone 8 or higher), growing tomatoes from seed probably isn’t an option. Even the pros start their seeds indoors 6–8 weeks before their last frost date. So, it’s OK to buy a few tomato plants. Heck, that’s how I got started as a vegetable gardener. But I never buy the really big tomato plants for $25–35. I buy the $5 tomato plants. Tomato plants grow incredibly fast once the weather warms up. After a month in the garden, a $5 tomato plant and a $30 tomato plant look the same.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Let’s start a “Plant a Seed” initiative with the goal of teaching every child on Earth how to plant a seed and successfully grow a plant. Those of us who have been gardening for years might forget just how powerful it is to get a seed to grow the first time you do it.

Growing a seed and nurturing a plant teaches you how to care for another living thing. It makes you feel good. It makes you feel proud. In a subtle way, it teaches you about empathy for others. It is a “real world” skill that requires a person to get away from a video screen and do something constructive.

Then, after a child has had the “Plant a Seed” experience, I think we should encourage them to attend after-school classes to teach elementary school kids about gardening. The more urbanized and high-technified we become, the more important it is to teach basic skills about the natural world.

True story: When I lived in Albuquerque, one of my volunteer projects as a Master Gardener was to visit second grade classes and talk about seeds. In a one-hour session, I showed them different kinds of seeds and asked them to guess what kind of plant each seed would grow. I planted a seed in a cup, and then in an “abracadabra” fashion I revealed the plant that grew from the seed. The kids were always amazed. Then, every child got to plant a sunflower seed or bean seed in a cup of dirt and take it home. I’d like to think I helped “plant the seeds” for a whole generation of new gardeners. That’s why I think a universal “Plant a Seed” program would be good for kids — and good for the planet.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have lunch with Sir Paul McCartney. Yes, I was a major Beatles fan as a kid. But what interests me most about Sir Paul is he seems so normal. He has been one of the most famous people on the planet for over 50 years, but he still seems so down to earth. I would love to know how he has managed that. Plus, just after the Beatles broke up, he moved to a farm in Scotland to be with his wife and kids. How great is that?

I think Paul and I could have a nice lunch and he could tell me about his life — in and out of the public eye. Then we would take a walk through his garden, and we’d talk about our favorite plants.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Start by visiting https://homegardenandhomestead.com/. We post new stories several times a week about all aspects of gardening. We cover everything from how to grow specific vegetable varieties to organic pest control. We even have a whole library of stories that review cordless electric power equipment.

Then check out the Home Garden and Homestead pages on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. We also have a Home Garden and Homestead channel on YouTube and a store on Amazon.

Thank you so much for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success and good health.

Thank you! It was fun talking with you!


Randy Schultz of HomeGardenandHomestead: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Vegeta was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Media Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Broadway Actor Justin Schuman Is Helping To…

Social Media Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Broadway Actor Justin Schuman Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

I believe that ‘human’ is not just a noun, but is also a verb. And if it’s a verb, then it’s something we can continue to hone and learn to do better. The way any one individual humans best can only be defined by them, but I do think the commonalities involve authenticity, deservingness, ease, and happiness. And if I can, in any way, be a part of the change that I feel coming then I have to show up.

As a part of our series about leaders who are using their social media platform to make a significant social impact, we had the pleasure of interviewing Justin Schuman.

Justin is a Broadway actor (Tina: the Tina Turner Musical), owner of his own headshot photography studio (Jshoots), a content creator across multiple platforms, and a Human Creative Director, helping people human better every day. A TED speaker, with a following of over 200k across multiple platforms, he empowers people to break out of their boxes and practice authenticity in a conscious and purposeful way. Graduate of Northwestern University, based in NYC, you can find him on all platforms @JustinSchumanOfficial

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

The pieces of this puzzle only recently became clear to me. I’m a Broadway actor who is also an entrepreneur…and while those paths might seem unrelated, in reality, all actors are basically their own CEOs. From the time you get into this business, it’s clear that no one is going to carve out a space for you but YOU. So, you need to be smart, diligent, stubborn, and patient…it’s hard work and timing.

Part of my journey included starting my headshot photography business in 2015. I knew I had a passion for photography, and I also knew I wanted to live a lifestyle that I couldn’t afford unless I made money doing something aside from performing while pursuing this dream. My photo company, at least for the moment, is called Jshoots…not Justin Schuman photography. That’s an essential part of this story.

My coaching/consulting business, originally called just human well, was born out of the pandemic. I hoped that I could help people with my listening skills and ability to create compassionate spaces. I was again, hiding behind a brand name.

While both ventures were successful, I was hitting this ceiling. I felt like I wasn’t connecting with the right audiences, and my dream clients didn’t know I existed. So, after being on TikTok for a month or two, I ditched the idea of hiding behind names that weren’t my own and claimed my name, Justin Schuman, loudly and proudly.

And just recently, it all clicked. I am here to help people lean into the very deservingness I wasn’t willing to explore myself. I show up these days as a version of myself that I needed six or so years ago. And when I stopped hiding and embraced the idea that I matter and my voice is worth being heard, not only did my social media presence grow in a very big way, but my audience and clients started finding me.

I work primarily with content creators, CEOs, startup founders, and business owners who are not only hungry for an authentic social media presence but feel stuck in the process of zooming in on exactly the story they want to tell.

I do not champion the idea of niching down, though I know many who swear by it. Instead, I ask people to be willing to explore the idea that what they have to say and share is and will be inherently specific because THEY are intrinsically specific. So, I post under the large umbrella of Justin Schuman, where I discuss everything from entrepreneurship, Broadway, practicing authenticity, and monetizing a passion to 6-figures.

I’m finally taking up space in a way I’d never dreamed of when I started my photography business, and I help others be themselves loudly in their lives.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

I got to give a TED talk! At the time of this interview, I am a week out from giving it but I believe by the time of publishing it will have already happened. I am beside myself with excitement and cannot wait to share what I have to say with everyone.

I will say that the talk is largely inspired by what I’ve learned by being a content creator on social media. I believe that social media might be a perfect tool for exploring our authenticity and prompt self-discovery in a very real and meaningful way. And while the talk didn’t COME from having a social media presence it did come from me having the confidence to show up as an incredibly honest and revealed version of myself while applying. And that version of self is absolutely born out of the space I’ve learned to take up by showing up on social.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t always put “funny” and “mistake” in the same sentence but let me think for a second! I don’t think this is particularly funny but it was definitely the most telling mistake I made (and I made it several times.) When you’re starting a new venture it’s very easy to want to look everywhere for information, validation, and help. Oftentimes you’ll turn to “experts” or people you’ve looked up to and they’ll come to you with very specific and pointed advice. Well, I made the mistake of perhaps asking too many people, too many times for their thoughts. This inevitably steered me away from following many of my own impulses, especially in the beginning of this journey. I don’t mind laughing at some of these instances now because they all ultimately became learning opportunities but I can say with 100% surety I am far happier with the decisions I’ve made based on my gut instinct rather than what people told me I should do.

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

I think if you feel the prospect of failure to be daunting I would ask you…”When did you decide you were going to fail?”

I think that if you give too much weight to the possibility that whatever venture you’re pursuing could be a failure then at least a small part of you believes that failure is possible.

I have decided that failure is simply not an option. Does that mean everything always goes perfectly? 1000% no. But, I use every single opportunity when things go in a way I didn’t expect to learn, and shift, and grow. And in that way, nothing is ever a failure so much as an opportunity to pivot and move forward with new knowledge.

So my words of advice would include redefining what “failure” means, and looking at it as a continued opportunity for growth and not a daunting negative that would prevent you from starting something you believe in and enjoy.

Ok super. Let’s now jump to the core focus of our interview. Can you describe to our readers how you are using your platform to make a significant social impact?

Happily! My social media presence is dedicated to helping people human better.

I believe that ‘human’ is not just a noun, but is also a verb. And if it’s a verb, then it’s something we can continue to hone and learn to do better.

The way any one individual humans best can only be defined by them, but I do think the commonalities involve authenticity, deservingness, ease, and happiness. And if I can, in any way, be a part of the change that I feel coming then I have to show up.

The change I feel approaching is one where we celebrate authenticity, honesty, and muchness above all else. We’ve been through too much in the last several years and the collective exhaustion we’re all experiencing is at an all-time high. I don’t think anyone has the energy these days to put up a false front or waste time on performing a version of themselves that is built on fear of what others may think and people-pleasing.

I believe we are all entitled to a place where we can practice how we human and experiment with different versions of ourselves so we can show up in a conscious and chosen way. One tool for doing this is social media. So on my platform, I talk a lot about how using social media can not only help answer the question “Who am I?” but also helps people focus on “How DO I?”, which allows them to step into the practice of being their authentic selves in a much more active way.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?

I am adamant about maintaining the privacy of my clients, so without giving away too many details, I can share that on more than one occasion I have worked 1:1 with some content creators that most readers would recognize. Often, the reason they come to me is they’ve been showing up for so long — with the pressure of such large followings — they feel they’re now playing a version of themselves that doesn’t feel authentic. Frequently, this comes out of having some initial success with a certain type of content piece only to feel the pressure of recreating it, or having niched down early in their social media life only to feel pigeon-holed and burnt out by it all.

My 1:1 sessions are one hour long and they really end up being a mix of personal branding, authenticity content strategy, storytelling, and therapy. The work is really deep because the things keeping these creators hidden are often versions of self they’ve been performing for such a long time that they’ve become habit, so it’s important to really explore, identify goals, and see what’s keeping them from achieving all that they want.

This process, by the way, looks very similar for my CEO clients. It’s anyone in a position of high-visibility that feels like they’ve lost themselves after having eyes on them for so long.

Was there a tipping point that made you decide to focus on this particular area? Can you share a story about that?

As a Broadway actor, I’m able to inhabit roles written and created by others. As a photographer, my job is to capture the best authentic version of others. As a coach, I have the ability to help people see the roles they have created for the outside world and work toward crafting the personal satisfaction they are craving and deserve It’s hard to BE yourself and SEE yourself at the same time. I’m there to SEE you so you can focus on BEING you.

I can’t isolate one particular story that demonstrates this because it was made clear to me so many times. I can’t tell you how many headshot sessions turned into partial branding/career/therapy sessions. I believe strongly in my ability to know a person very deeply and very quickly. Because of this, I am able to show up for people and make them feel at ease, allowing them a space to land thoughts they haven’t previously verbalized or allow ideas to come to them that had been muddy until then.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Oh wow! Absolutely.

1. Cut your box open ASAP — this has to do with the idea that so many people are walking around hiding things in their box that other people have made them feel shame about. This manifests in people living small versions of themselves built to please others based on the fear of their real selves being seen. If we all continue to walk around in boxes we’ll never really SEE each other and we’ll also continue starving for meaningful connection.

2. Mental health/wellness/mindset education in schools — this one feels aggressively obvious to me. So much so that I cannot believe it hasn’t already happened. If emotional wellness and mindset management were implemented into school curricula I feel like kids would grow up with so many techniques the previous generations don’t/didn’t have.

3. Normalize individuality and authenticity. Celebrate uniqueness. Everybody has characteristics that set them apart, and we can appreciate and applaud those instead of deriding them and encouraging conformity. I’ll show you my weird if you show me yours — and we’ll all be a whole lot happier being ourselves and knowing we have the space and comfort to exist that way rather than hiding our gifts.

What specific strategies have you been using to promote and advance this cause? Can you recommend any good tips for people who want to follow your lead and use their social platform for a social good?

I work very hard to nurture a real bond between myself and my community, based on them seeing me and me seeing and reacting to them. While vitality on social might feel good, and it might get many eyes on your content/message quickly, it can be fleeting if an authentic foundation isn’t present.

Great change can take time, and I am playing the long game. If I plan to make any real and lasting change, this cannot be (nor has it ever been) just about views and dollars.

People need to hear things several times before it even starts to resonate or sink in. So, don’t feel like you’re being repetitive and don’t feel like your audience is going to get bored. With algorithms and how fast platforms move these days, there’s a chance that some of your content won’t even be seen by many of your followers. Take your time. Craft your message. Let your message evolve. Lean on your community and let them lean on you. Form a real relationship with the people who respond to you and what you say and you’ll have the most valuable resource there is: genuine connection and true influence.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1. You don’t have to niche down — this is a lesson where social media is concerned but the message behind it is also applicable on a much larger scale. When you jump on social media and begin to create content very quickly you’re going to be met with noise/feedback from certain accounts claiming that the only way to grow on social is to pick one thing incredibly specific to post about, identify your ideal target audience, and create only for them. Not only is this a surefire way to guarantee burnout, but it also effectively eliminates any chance of your audience actually getting to know you. You are too vast, too complex to be boxed in like that. Why create from the outside-in and reduce yourself to a label?

2. It’s never too early to invest in yourself — you will never regret the money, time, and energy spent investing in yourself. An investment in yourself is a downpayment on every single dream you hope to make come true. That expert you want to work with who can help you accomplish your goals faster? The piece of equipment you need that will make your home business 10x more efficient? The new suit you’re going to buy for the job interview? All worthwhile investments in self that will bring you more returns than you even know. You are your single best investment.

3. When you love what you do for work it’s very easy to lose your balance — Of course, it’s a goal that you love what you do to make money. But if you’re lucky enough to monetize a passion or be in a job that you genuinely love,it can sometimes be hard to remember that there is life outside of work. I find this is something that I still struggle with. I’m not very good at taking time off from work, and not only because I enjoy productivity. But because I enjoy everything that I do so much, I don’t often feel like I should need a break because it doesn’t usually feel like work. Don’t neglect the other parts of your life. They’ll inform both your work and your personal satisfaction outside of work, making your world that much richer and more interesting.

4. Imposter syndrome isn’t real — what I mean by this is that, with love and respect, we are ALL faking it. You just learn to fake it better and better until your faking has become doing. When you feel like an imposter it is something only you are seeing. The only way people around you will ever think you don’t belong is if you telecast to them that YOU don’t believe it first.

5. Everything didn’t make sense at one point — before I started my social media journey and sharing the idea of human as a verb I was told by so many people that while the idea was ‘cute’ and ‘interesting’ it was too difficult to understand. You can’t build a brand or a business on a concept that isn’t easily understood, apparently. Well, I’m going to disagree with that as I’m quickly turning my business into a 6-figure venture, and the social account nears 200k followers. Everything, at one point, didn’t make sense until someone was passionate (and stubborn) enough to shout it loudly and explain it patiently until it became clear.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe the idea that ‘human’ is a verb has the potential to change the world. If we consider how we human to be something worth leaning into and practicing, and then take it a step further by creating SAFE spaces for people to feel like they can do this exploration, we will be promoting self-discovery and expansion in a very real way.

I am suggesting social media as one viable option for this self-discovery and exploring, but imagine if there were actual places you could go to meet others who are possibly on a journey just like you. You could share experiences, make adult friends, work through things in community, and feel SEEN. So many people don’t even believe they are worthy of doing this work because they think they don’t deserve to take up space. The antidote to that is giving them the experience of really being seen for who they are. That’s a scary ask so there needs to be trust, integrity, and safety built into these spaces. But giving people a place where they can practice how they human could change the world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’ve always enjoyed the phrase that “anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” I think it’s important that we follow our impulses, whether it be that little tiny whisper telling you to do something or a download you get from the universe. You can take the quote at face value or you can read into it more deeply to mean that the things you think you should do/go for you should with 1000% of the full force of your being. I believe if you’re going to commit and say yes to something then you should be willing to dive headfirst into it. I suppose it brings up another life lesson quote that lives in a very similar land — “If it’s not a f — k yes, It’s a f — k no.”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I am a big fan of Bethany Frankel. We’re both New Yorkers and absolutely cut from the same cloth. I find her honesty and humor incredibly refreshing. And paired with her business acumen and philanthropy (as well as being an awesome mom) she’s an amazing role model. She also did an article recently on how her ‘overnight success’ was years in the making and I fell in love all over again.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The best way to follow me online is on TikTok and Instagram! My handle on both is @JustinSchumanOfficial

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

About The Interviewer: Growing up in Canada, Edward Sylvan was an unlikely candidate to make a mark on the high-powered film industry based in Hollywood. But as CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc, (SEGI) Sylvan is among a select group of less than ten Black executives who have founded, own and control a publicly traded company. Now, deeply involved in the movie business, he is providing opportunities for people of color.

In 2020, he was appointed president of the Monaco International Film Festival, and was encouraged to take the festival in a new digital direction.

Raised in Toronto, he attended York University where he studied Economics and Political Science, then went to work in finance on Bay Street, (the city’s equivalent of Wall Street). After years of handling equities trading, film tax credits, options trading and mergers and acquisitions for the film, mining and technology industries, in 2008 he decided to reorient his career fully towards the entertainment business.

With the aim of helping Los Angeles filmmakers of color who were struggling to understand how to raise capital, Sylvan wanted to provide them with ways to finance their creative endeavors.

At Sycamore Entertainment he specializes in print and advertising financing, marketing, acquisition and worldwide distribution of quality feature-length motion pictures, and is concerned with acquiring, producing and promoting films about equality, diversity and other thought provoking subject matter which will also include nonviolent storytelling.

Sylvan has been featured in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and has been seen on Fox Business News, CBS and NBC. Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc is headquartered in Seattle, with offices in Los Angeles and Vancouver.


Social Media Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Broadway Actor Justin Schuman Is Helping To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Lena Kwak Of Starday Foods On Chefs and Restaurateurs Helping To Promote Healthy Eating

An Interview With Martita Mestey

It is important to be flexible. Things will go wrong, it is bound to happen. What’s important is how you respond when things do.

As part of On “Chefs and Restaurateurs Helping To Promote Healthy Eating”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lena Kwak.

Lena Kwak is a culinary strategist, food innovator, former Research & Development Director at three-starred Michelin restaurant- French Laundry, Co-founder and former CEO of Cup4Cup, and Co-Founder of Starday Foods. She has been recognized as a rising food entrepreneur for her work in brand and product development, with 12 years of food and beverage CPG experience. Lena has been honored as one of Forbes “30under30”, Zagats “30under30”, Martha Stewart “American Made” Award Honoree, and named by Fortune Magazine as one of the most innovative women in Food + Wine.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?

Being surrounded by a family of artists, I was born and raised around creativity. Art, in all forms, whether ceramics or cooking was the way my family expressed their love and care for one another. I was inspired to become a chef because it was a way for me to connect with others and express my love for them through food.

Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?

When we think about the types of food we design, we like to think of the person — and most people are busy and don’t have the time to cook. All of our products at Starday are convenient, tasty yet healthy. There’s even an element of what’s going on with our climate — all of our products are plant-based and see through that lens; looking at Gooey, which doesn’t have palm oil, addresses deforestation.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that has happened to you since you started? What was the lesson or takeaway you took out of that story?

Of all the dishes I’ve cooked for family and friends over the years, the one I get the most compliments on that they remember time and time again is the simplest one. When I was on a camping trip with some friends, I made everyone avocado toast with kimchi on top. To this day everyone still raves about it. It’s funny because as a chef you would expect it to be a dish that takes hours to prepare and isn’t easy to execute, but it was the combination of two simple items that got everyone so excited. I think that’s the key to a successful dish, combining comfort and indulgence with a twist and it’s a winner.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

My mother has also been a hard-working professional, and typically in the Korean culture, we aren’t overly expressive with our emotions. Growing up, food and cooking was the way I felt emotional love from my mother and the way she expressed it. Expressing love and care is bread into my culture, and my mother is the one who influenced my desire to get into cooking and sharing food with others.

In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?

If you mash together two unfamiliar items that people wouldn’t think would go well together, it is more often than not, a huge hit!

Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal’ for you?

Personally, I like to eat quite simply myself. I follow a mostly vegan or pescatarian diet. I love raw crudité, especially fennel because it aids in digestion. My perfect meal would consist of salmon as it is high in Omega threes, whole grains most likely in the form of quinoa, and lightly cooked greens with a sprinkle of ALL DAY Poppin or Boom.

Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?

Being part of a family full of artists, I draw inspiration from different mediums of art. I love playing around with flavor, texture, and color theory to explore different compositions of food. Being constantly open and flexible to what may be good works in surprising ways that allow my creativity the room to explore.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?

I can’t give away too many specifics now, but Starday will have a handful of new brands launching throughout the year! I can say that I am really interested in gut health and how Starday products can bring a healthier lifestyle to our consumers.

Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an initiative to help promote healthy eating. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

Starday Foods is a data-driven umbrella company of responsible and better-for-you food brands. We launched in August 2021 with the first brand under the Starday umbrella, Gooey Snacks — bringing pleasure back to snacking by making responsible, better-for-you versions of chocolatey childhood favorites. The first Gooey product is an absurdly delicious chocolate hazelnut spread that is low-sugar, all-natural, vegan, gluten-free, and made without palm oil. ALL DAY is the latest addition to Starday’s suite of food brands focused on making home cooking easier and more satisfying with the most complete seasoning set bringing bold, complex flavors to every meal, mood, and season. All of Starday’s brands and products are developed through a lens of health and sustainability. We focus on plant-based shelf staples, and never make products that aren’t good for you and don’t taste good.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

My background is in nutrition science and I wanted to help develop products that make both your body and taste buds happy. I love designing products with the mindset of gifting. The perfect gift isn’t something you buy for yourself, it is something that reminds them they are truly seen and you understand who they are as a person.

Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was helped by your cause?

The other day, I received a comment about our ALL DAY spices. The consumer said “cooking in itself doesn’t make me happy, eating does. Using ALL DAY makes cooking fun for me and makes me even more excited to eat.” Knowing Starday brands make people feel more empowered to express themselves in the kitchen and that people are cooking on their own more brings me an immense amount of joy that inspires me to continue creating for others.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Eating is political. The most important thing consumers can do is support local farmers and businesses. Consumers get to define and influence businesses and policies around food by the choices they make. It is important to consider what values you want to see when you go out to buy things when you are choosing what brands to shop from.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Chef or Restaurateur” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.

First, it is important to be flexible. Things will go wrong, it is bound to happen. What’s important is how you respond when things do. Second, is to make it a priority to have a work life balance. Burnout is real- trust me, and in order to be creative you need to have a space to feel and think so your creative energy can flow through. Third, is to remove yourself from the equation. It isn’t about you, it is for other people so focus on what they are thinking, feeling, and needing. Next, is to have self-care be a driving force. Surround yourself with things and practices that make you happy and keep you sane. Lastly, is to take a step back if you ever have a moment where your reason for drive is unclear, and ask yourself why you’re doing it.

What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?

One of my favorite things to do is to take morning toast and switch it up. For example, topping your toast with nut butter and a sprinkle of ALL DAY Poppin or Fuego. Again, it is that mash of two things you might not think go together, but they create a combo people can’t get enough of.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Lizzo. Just as I am, she is really into plant-based eating and discovering new recipes that not only are healthy for you, but taste amazing. I’d also love to learn some dance moves from her and in exchange I’ll cook for her!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can follow my work on my website, as well as on Starday Foods, ALL DAY, and Gooey Snacks’ websites!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Lena Kwak Of Starday Foods On Chefs and Restaurateurs Helping To Promote Healthy Eating was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Eve Bastug Of Gelmart International Is Helping…

Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Eve Bastug Of Gelmart International Is Helping To Change Our World

… My travels overseas, specifically to China and India, helped spark my “aha moment.” Being exposed to the manufacturing side of apparel was shocking in some ways. Seeing the environmental impacts of these factories and dye houses due to their operations was concerning. After being in China for only two days, I distinctly remember experiencing an allergic reaction simply to the air. Coupled with visits to facilities that were producing materials such as foam, the chemical smell in the air was putrid. And then to see the people who work at these plants, day in and day out, exposing themselves to these hazards was genuinely disheartening. In this world of waste and harmful effects on the environment all coated in a thick, grey air that made me think, there has to be a better way.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”,

I had the pleasure of interviewing Eve Bastug, Chief Product Officer of Gelmart International and kindly -a new earth-friendly intimate and loungewear line sold exclusively at Walmart.

Eve Bastug is a 38-year intimate industry veteran. She has vast experience working across national brands including Warnaco, Maidenform, and Hanes, as well private labels brands. She joined Gelmart International in 2011 as their VP of Merchandising and Design and today is the Chief Product Officer.

Gelmart International has allowed Eve to grow and take ownership as a designer, product developer, entrepreneur, and engineer. At Gelmart International, she has pioneered the $3.98 program at Walmart, Feather Bra, and played a major role in the creation of the LIVELY product assortment, among many other things. Most recently, she created the first ever plant-based bra cup for the sustainable focused brand kindly sold exclusively at Walmart.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in Poland during communist times, where there were many restrictions in place, including food rationing. To address the hardships that accompanied food rationing, my parents relied heavily on my grandparents’ farm as an additional food source. Spending time on that farm made me prematurely aware of the impact and importance of sustainable practices and living. At the time, I didn’t connect the dots, but it was through that experience that led me to become aware of the impacts and the collective impact our society can have on our environment. It is up to us whether that impact is hurtful or harmful.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

I don’t know if it’s about changing the world overnight, but more about bringing awareness and increasing exposure to facilitate and (hopefully expedite) a series of gradual changes for the better. Changing people’s mindsets, habits and behaviors is not an easy task. Offering bite-size options can make that initiative for change a lot more palatable for most. People are going to buy bras, so with kindly we wanted to provide a simple solution for a more eco-conscious bra. The hope is for that simple switch to snowball and more sustainable switches to be considered and made. We are part of a global transformation that will take continued, collective efforts that can be achieved through small but profound steps.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

After moving to the US, I realized how the grocery shopping experience immensely varied. We would have reusable bags to fill flour or sugar in Poland. Fruits and vegetables were not covered in plastic. I saw how much garbage is generated from how the food is packaged in the US. This, of course, trickles into many other industries and how commodities are packaged. This was quite eye-opening for me and sparked an interest in how our company can join the pursuit of sustainability.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

My travels overseas, specifically to China and India, helped spark my “aha moment.” Being exposed to the manufacturing side of apparel was shocking in some ways. Seeing the environmental impacts of these factories and dye houses due to their operations was concerning. After being in China for only two days, I distinctly remember experiencing an allergic reaction simply to the air. Coupled with visits to facilities that were producing materials such as foam, the chemical smell in the air was putrid. And then to see the people who work at these plants, day in and day out, exposing themselves to these hazards was genuinely disheartening. In this world of waste and harmful effects on the environment all coated in a thick, grey air that made me think, there has to be a better way.

Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

I conducted a lot of research. I looked at different product categories. I searched for companies that produced eco-conscious products and what materials were being used. I took those gatherings and looked at them through an intimate apparel lens.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Meeting with companies who had nothing to do with our product category was certainly interesting. A majority of this audience was men, so I had to boil down our concept into terms and ideas they could understand. I had to explain the function of the cup and discuss how they may be able to help. I was definitely met with confusion and doubt, but luckily we found a partner who was just as excited as we were.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

I think a simple fact that a bra company approached a sugarcane supplier who produced mainly footwear and plastic products was quite the entertainment. A match made in sustainable heaven, although the stairway was certainly not paved in gold. There is inherent risk when pursuing an idea “so crazy it just might work”. We had to find a partner who was that right amount of crazy. The perfect blend of open-mindedness, creativity, and expertise. It’s funny that an idea that was farfetched to some, was greeted with open arms and a joint fervor for success.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

Giancarlos, who I met during the search for a sugarcane supplier, was an integral part of this project coming to fruition. He was a great partner because he was just as passionate about the project as I was. We leaned on each other for support. As we conducted trials and faced failures, we bounced ideas of each other and used our expertise and creativity to work swiftly and find solutions.I’d also like to acknowledge the Walmart bra buyer who truly believed in the mission of our project and helped provide the push and support to make it happen.

Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Politically speaking, implementing regulations against the usage of material that causes environmental damage will continue to nudge the needle in the right direction. As a society, continuing to encourage to challenge the everyday products we use out of ease despite their effect on the environment. Within the community, we need to continue to share the acknowledgment of responsibility our actions have on the environment. We need to continue to bring awareness about how there are small changes or swaps we can all make that can help make a change.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

When a business looks at sustainability, there is an initial investment. But that investment has a priceless return for humanity. In today’s world, one of the pillars businesses can focus on is the implications of logistics. The cost of shipping has skyrocketed so we need to start thinking about manufacturing geography, the locations of the supply chain, etc. If we can reduce the time of shipping, we are reducing the usage of fossil fuels. While a lot of the initiatives toward sustainability are easier said than done, it’s essential that we being to implement these practices in order to see change. Having entered the manufacturing world at a time that it occurred in the US with strict regulations, I went overseas and experienced that same manufacturing being done in countries with restrictions that were much more lax. Overseas saw the economic opportunity without recognizing the true cost these countries, and our world would face.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Patience — There was a cultural difference in the response times between China and Brazil. Embarking on this journey meant lots of learning and in working with Brazil, there is a different mindset around urgency. Brazil is completely self-sufficient in terms of the supply chain, so there was patience needed to endure as we worked with them through this project. We went through so many trials on the sugarcane pad until we got it right. Even when we did succeed, we continued to push the boundaries to try and achieve better. While the ultimate goal would be to have a 100% biodegradable bra, there really is no goalpost in the journey of sustainability. We will always be looking at opportunities to be better, chasing the vision of continuous improvement.

Drop the Perfectionism — It’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of perfection on a project that is as ground-breaking as this was, but knowing we’ll always be on the journey to improve is a reminder that helped shed some of the pressure to get everything perfect in one shot. Sustainability will never be about perfectionism considering the vast space for improvement that lies ahead of us as a society.

Persistence — While being persistent is not something I struggle with, this project required a new level of grit. Taking any variation of the word “no” was simply not a response I was willing to accept. I knew the puzzle pieces were out there, it was a matter of finding them and putting them together. I knew I was venturing down a path with plenty of resistance, but I also knew I needed to remain committed and determined to find the right partners and the right solutions to complete the puzzle.

Trust in the Power of Failure — We knew we were going to go through many trials and tribulations on the project, but the pressure to get it right as quickly as possible was certainly felt. We embraced the fact that we would endure many learnings and soon learned that the failures we experience were inevitable but, in the end, invaluable and necessary.

Never Stop Learning — Another sentiment that I was familiar, I knew embarking into an unknown world of sustainability would require me to become a sponge and soak up as much information as I could. I knew I was going to have to ask questions and push boundaries.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Because it they don’t, it’s going to affect their lives in a fundamental way that prior generations never experienced.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It is what it is, but it will become what you make of it. Whatever “it” is, has the opportunity to change, to get better. It’s about how you look at a situation and can see solutions or alternatives.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I think it would be interesting to have lunch with Greta Thunberg and Kylie Jenner. I would like to discuss with them how they could bring their platforms together and influence serious change. They are more “extremes” in their own ways which arguably important reach in their own ways. To combine their efforts would be interesting to see what kind of influence would come from their collaboration.

How can our readers follow you online? @teamkindly

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Eve Bastug Of Gelmart International Is Helping… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

How Gil Shalev Of Equinom Is Helping To Address The Growing Challenge Of Food Insecurity

Truly disruptive technologies take time to develop. As much as we crave a shortcut, there are no quick wins. But my team deeply believes that Equinom will change the future of food and will make plant protein a major, accessible source of nutrition to the world.

In many parts of the United States, there is a crisis of people having limited reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. As prices rise, this problem will likely become more acute. How can this problem be solved? Who are the leaders helping to address this crisis?

In this interview series, we are talking to leaders who are helping to address the increasing problem of food insecurity who can share the initiatives they are leading to address and solve this problem.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Gil Shalev.

As founder and CEO, Gil Shalev is the visionary, entrepreneur and driving force behind Equinom, a company on a mission to cultivate plant-based ingredients that are truly better for people and our planet. Shalev oversees the strategic direction of Equinom, and is responsible for accelerating global expansion and leading fundraising efforts to scale up the organization. Shalev sees better, naturally bred plant-based ingredients as an important, sustainable and pragmatic solution to our global health and climate crises.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Growing up, I was always very attracted to nature, even if I didn’t realize at the time it would be a major part of my life’s work and passion. I was always playing outside, and as I got older, I got into traveling. At first, I thought I would take the obvious and ideal path: go to university, finish my first degree, and go become a farmer. However, in Israel in order to be a successful farmer, you must come from a lot of money, and unfortunately this was not the case for me. I decided to instead pursue my path in education and continue schooling to study breeding. It was around the time of pursuing my third degree — where I was working with my professor to open a breeding company specifically for roses — that I started to recognize the much larger opportunity space when it comes to breeding. After completing my third degree in roses, I then moved on specifically to tomatoes, and the big ‘unlock’ continued to come to me. I felt there was an opportunity to explore different varieties of crops we already breed in order to help create a more sustainable food system. And thus, Equinom was born. Thinking back to my childhood, this is something my family really could have benefitted from — a reliable, sustainable, and secure food system. It was a sprinkling of different seeds and experiences versus one particular moment over my upbringing and education that eventually led me to create Equinom.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Two years ago, in the middle of Covid, I got a call from Sigal Meirovitch, the Director of Protein Research and Development at Equinom. Sigal told me, “We made it.” She had just received the result from an external lab that confirmed we had successfully created the pea protein with the highest protein content through dry fractionation ever — a world record at 65% protein content. We both knew immediately that those results would change the way the world eats. For Equinom, it was a once-in-a-lifetime milestone — the breakthrough that seems simple but would ultimately lead to a major change. After five years of pea breeding and another three years of breeding technology development, we had evidence that our approach was leading us to an important outcome.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

After receiving my Ph.D. in plant genetics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Agriculture, I applied my knowledge as a rose breeder. I eventually moved onto breeding tomatoes, where I had a unique experience learning about the natural potential certain crops can have. With a single seed, I had the revelation that we can create new varieties of crops with technology. This experience motivated me to start Equinom in order to apply technology to mother nature to create a better food system. The overall lesson is that while going down one path, there may be a hidden opportunity woven within. In my case, being a breeder brought me to pivot because I felt there was even more we could do to improve the current food system as we know it.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Curiosity is key. Did you know that 70% of the world’s food comes from 12 crops? There is very little variety in our food system today. Maybe you’re familiar with heirloom tomatoes, and you understand that in nature, tomatoes aren’t perfectly round, bright red, and sweet. They have lumps, they can be tiny, and the taste varies wildly from species to species. The same is true of every crop that we have commoditized — peas, corn, all of them. One of the animating forces of Equinom is the desire to recapture the incredible diversity that nature once provided us. Every leader should approach their work with curiosity rather than assuming the way things are is the best way.

Adaptability is part of the reason why I founded Equinom. Earlier in my career, I found that I had spent years pushing tomato breeders at my work to adopt new technology and genetic varieties. I came to realize I had become something of a middleman — I wasn’t breeding tomatoes, creating new varieties, or developing technology. But by being adaptable, I realized I had a unique experience working at the intersection of breeding and technology. Today, Equinom is at the forefront of using technology to enhance and speed up natural breeding, and I’m glad I had the chance to feel like I needed to adapt.

Having a strong sense of cooperation is an essential trait for a leader. By that, I mean leaders stand to gain so much by seeking partners rather than opponents. Our work at Equinom is to develop game-changing plant-based ingredients, but we are also just one part of the global food system. Without partners in the fields growing our seeds, and without food companies who are excited to use our ingredients, we can’t change anything. And rather than dictate to food companies that “this ingredient is better so you should use it,” we work with them to identify the traits that would make a better ingredient for their foods. We don’t need to match the expertise of food companies in knowing what their consumers love, and they don’t need to match our expertise in quickly developing specific ingredients — we can each provide our unique value. That’s true no matter what business you’re in.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you describe to our readers how your work is helping to address the challenge of food insecurity?

Our food system is not designed to feed 10 billion people, a milestone our planet is on track to reach in 20 years. The problem stems from the fact that I mentioned earlier, 70% of the world’s food comes from 12 crops. Of those, only a few varieties are grown at commercial scale, and those were originally optimized for use as animal feed, not human food. That’s why most of the food we eat requires heavy processing — it was never grown to maximize taste or nutrition.

To make food nutritious, companies are forced to use chemical-, energy-, and water-intensive processing. Beyond not being environmentally friendly, the world just can’t build enough processing plants to provide nutritious food to 10 billion people.

Our approach at Equinom is to start from a better source. What if the crop — a yellow pea plant, for example — was naturally bred to be so nutritious that we didn’t need to process it in the same unsustainable way? So we use two key assets — a vast vault of seeds from tens of thousands of different species, and Manna™, our proprietary AI and machine learning platform — to identify the best combinations of seeds that we can then crossbreed for the perfect plant.

To simplify, imagine Manna™ is like an online dating app, and its job is to look at the millions of possible combinations of seeds in the seed vault and determine which seeds, when bred together, would have the ideal mixture of high protein and nutritional content, disease resistance, and taste. We aim to find the perfect matches.

By breeding seeds that meet the needs for use in food without any intensive processing, we eliminate the bottleneck of expensive processing facilities and increase the availability of high-quality ingredients for use in foods that you love. We’re not only making ingredients for healthier, more nutritious, tastier food, but we’re also making the food system more sustainable and less reliant on heavy processing.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

I am proud of my team for being my companions on a long journey of development — 10 years already. Truly disruptive technologies take time to develop. As much as we crave a shortcut, there are no quick wins. But my team deeply believes that Equinom will change the future of food and will make plant protein a major, accessible source of nutrition to the world.

In your opinion, what should other business and civic leaders do to further address these problems? Can you please share a few things that can be done to further address the problem of food insecurity?

The key to improving our food system is partnership. No one company can change it alone. Because every part of the system is so interwoven — growers with processors, processors with food companies — the only way we can make a change is by moving together all at once. The only way we can encourage everyone in the food system to make a change is by making it profitable to do so.

In our vision of the future food system, the costs that are saved in processing are shared with food companies. The risk growers take on when they grow new crops is minimized by direct partnership with food companies, so growers know that their crops will be purchased. There’s a way to incentivize every player, and ultimately we all win when we have better access to affordable, nutritious food.

Are there other leaders or organizations who have done good work to address the challenge of food scarcity? Can you tell us what they have done? What specifically impresses you about their work? Perhaps we can reach out to them to include them in this series.

There are so many organizations doing great work to help fight food insecurity — Feeding America, No Kid Hungry, and Rise Against Hunger come to mind. But one that really stands out for me is World Central Kitchen, a Los Angeles based food relief organization. They support communities in need specifically in times of crisis, but they take it a step further — they don’t just provide the ingredients for meals, they cook them. They recognize that food isn’t just survival. Food is culture and it creates shared experiences. We cook for the ones we love. Growing up in a family that experienced food insecurity, cooking together or sitting around the table and sharing a meal was something I really valued. I really connect with WCK’s mission and their human-first approach.

If you had the power to influence legislation, are there laws that you would like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

Absolutely. I’d love to see local government get more involved in creating a more sustainable food system. By simply requiring local food producers to distribute a certain percentage of their crops or vegetables to local grocery stores, retail stores or restaurants, we could make a huge impact on creating a more reliable, sustainable and resilient food system at the regional level, which will impact our global food system as well.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Agility is key: When starting a company, you’re going to experience new challenges every day so embracing the unknown and remaining agile is important.

You don’t need to have all the answers: I quickly learned that there were so many areas where I was not the expert. I’m a breeder and a scientist at heart, but I’m not an expert at running a business. Accounting, marketing, sales — these aren’t my areas of expertise. So I built a team of rockstars who excel where I fall short.

Trust your gut: There are a lot of uncertainties in running a startup. True innovation comes from new ideas and new thinking, and there’s no blueprint for success. You will encounter a lot of situations where you need to trust your gut to lead you in the right direction — follow it.

Own up to your weaknesses: language has always been a barrier for me, but as soon I was honest with myself and those I encountered in my career path, I stopped seeing it as a barrier and made sure it motivated me even further to the things I was really good at.

No vision is too big: it may be expected that entrepreneurs are big dreamers, but I think it’s important. Don’t be afraid to set visionary targets and think as big as possible. It’s these ideas that have the power to have true change.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I envision a future where the majority of our diets consist of plant-based food, sourced from nature. A world where plant-based food doesn’t need to be pigeon-holed as ‘plant-based’ because it just becomes the norm of our diet overall — delicious, sustainable, and nutritious food to feed our planet. I encourage people to challenge themselves to go plant-based for a week, plant their own vegetables and experience truly fresh ingredients from the earth. These small steps can have a huge impact, and encourage someone on the path to eating more sustainable, affordable and nutritious foods. I hope we can create a food system that establishes food security for all, regardless of socio-economic status.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can follow my work through my LinkedIn and platforms on the Forbes Technology Council and Entrepreneur Leadership Network. On Forbes, I will be sharing my expertise being a CEO / Founder, and specific insights to the food industry, and how Equinom will be changing the future. If you’re looking for inspirational anecdotes of my journey from breeder to CEO, check out my Entrepreneur page. Also, follow along on the Equinom website, and our social channels on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to stay up to date with exciting company news.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.


How Gil Shalev Of Equinom Is Helping To Address The Growing Challenge Of Food Insecurity was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Yahoo News’ Eric Duran On 5 Steps We Can Take To Win Back Trust In Journalism

“Your voice matters!” I’ve worked in a lot of media spaces from Nickelodeon to Yahoo where I’ve often been the youngest person in the room. It can be intimidating to speak up, but there has never been a time I regretted it.

As a part of our series about “the 5 steps we can take to win back trust in journalism” I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Eric Duran.

Eric Duran is a TikTok Producer for Yahoo News. He is passionate about sharing diverse stories, making the news easy to understand and, of course, TikTok. He credits his personal love of social media and journalism for his success on the platform. Prior to Yahoo, he worked at NBC News and started out his work in journalism in local news working at the assignment desk for Univision Miami.

Thank you so much for joining us. Before we dive in, our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you share with us the “backstory” about how you got started in your career?

I’ve always been a digital first story teller. Currently, I oversee everything that happens on TikTok for Yahoo News. I choose the stories we cover, I produce them, write scripts, and get on camera for all of our videos and help build our audience of close to 2M followers. Using TikTok in my free time has made this job fun for me and helped me better connect with Gen Z.

My career in journalism started five years ago. I studied journalism and international relations at Florida International University. I started in local news in Miami working at Univision, and then got accepted to the NBCUniversal Page program. From there I went on to work on the Snapchat news show “Stay Tuned” and continued working in the digital space on various streaming sites. Once I saw the different ways the news can be shared across different platforms, I knew I wanted to continue to bring the news to younger generations. When Yahoo was looking for a TikTok producer, I knew it was a natural next step in my career.

Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

As of recently, I would say “Talking to Strangers” by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a good reflection on how we perceive and sometimes judge others. I think working in journalism and in social media, I’ve experienced how important tolerance and communication is first hand.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I think that there are so many underrepresented voices in the news and we are finally starting to see these stories being covered more. With TikTok, we have a ton of space to share these stories and that’s really exciting to us. We have done a lot of content for Pride Month and Black History Month, and on our website, we have a vertical for these specific stories.

Can you share the most humorous mistake that you made when you first started? Can you share the lesson or take away, you learned from it?

When I first started doing TikTok for work, I definitely experimented with all types of trending sounds. Some of them pushed the boundaries for us as a brand, but I think it ultimately allowed Yahoo to find its footing on the platform. That’s been the greatest part of working on TikTok, it’s all about trying new things and engaging with the community there.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Something that I’m really excited about is being able to introduce TikTok to other journalists across our newsroom. I love the power of social media and how Yahoo News has been able to tap into this new generation of news consumers on TikTok, so being able to work with reporters and producers across the company and share their original stories on our page has been fulfilling. I’m always looking for ways to amplify the amazing work coming out of our newsroom and have more diverse voices on our TikTok account.

What advice would you give to your colleagues in the industry, to thrive and not “burnout”?

Our most important work as journalists often happens during the toughest news cycles, and that doesn’t change on TikTok. It can feel like we always have to be “on,” but it’s important to set boundaries and check in with yourself to ensure you are not burning out. I encourage other journalists and social media managers alike to step away when possible and disconnect. It can feel like you will miss something, but at the end of the day your phone will still be there, the news will carry on, and you can pick it up when you’re back. Taking a mental health break in the middle of the day or just taking a random day off during the month can be refreshing for your health , but can also restart your productivity to continue doing an amazing job.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main parts of our interview. According to this Gallup poll, only 36% of Americans trust the mass media. This is disheartening. As an insider, are there 5 things that editors and newsrooms can do to increase the levels of trust? Can you give some examples?

  1. Between the ongoing pandemic and the war in Ukraine, it’s more important than ever that news outlets build a real trust with its audience. Yahoo News’ leadership position as a neutral, unbiased party in a polarized media landscape makes it an indispensable utility for its millions of users. Our strategy on TikTok is an extension of our overall transformation connecting our trusted reporting and delivering it in a new way. Our unbiased, fact-based strategy has become central to our TikTok account. Our approach is really resonating on the platform as we’ve quickly racked up close to two million followers in two short years.
  2. At Yahoo, we think transparency is incredibly important, which TikTok really allows us to do. It’s the closest many consumers have gotten to directly interacting with a news brand, whether it be commenting on our posts or tagging us on other videos to amplify their stories. I think it’s a really great asset for a news organization.
  3. I am fortunate to work for a multigenerational newsroom that works together to raise up the voices and stories that matter. As for TikTok, we always approached our audience with the idea that they take the news just as seriously as we do.
  4. Newsrooms should make sure they find a balance between creating native content on social media, but also engaging with the audience in a way that’s purposeful and educational.
  5. Given that TikTok is largely a platform for Gen Z, by Gen Z, it’s important that teams working on social content understand this audience. Our approach has really resonated on the platform as we’ve quickly racked up close to two million followers in two short years.

What are a few things that ordinary news consumers can do to identify disinformation, and help to prevent its dissemination?

With social media, it’s so easy to react after reading the first sentence of an Instagram post or Tweet. I encourage everyone to read carefully before sharing a post you found online. Check the source, do a quick search online and see if there are other reputable news outlets reporting the same story. If you have a hard time finding it online these days, chances are it’s not real. I think that’s why having major news outlets like Yahoo News on TikTok is so important. There are so many amazing creators sharing the news, but there are also other videos that haven’t been fact checked. So having verified pages like us, with access to a newsroom and trained journalists is critical to the TikTok ecosystem.

Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.

“Your voice matters!” I’ve worked in a lot of media spaces from Nickelodeon to Yahoo where I’ve often been the youngest person in the room. It can be intimidating to speak up, but there has never been a time I regretted it.

“Don’t take yourself too seriously!” As a perfectionist it can be easy to obsess over your mistakes. But we’re all human. Learn from it and remember it for your next opportunity.

“You are your biggest advocate!” I’m guilty of being shy about my accomplishments. But as you start out, don’t be afraid to talk up your hard work. You never know where it will take you!

“Don’t be scared!” As someone who is on the more timid side, I have hesitated to pursue opportunities out of fear. I’ve learned to not be the obstacle in my own success.

“Put your name in the hat!” My high school counselor actually did tell me this one, and it’s never done me wrong.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am really passionate about media literacy! I’m the go-to person for my family and friends when it comes to breaking down the news, debunking fake stories and also phishing out scams online. I think as we become more reliant on social media for information, we should focus on getting everyone up to speed on being savvy online.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m on all social media as @EricDurann and you can keep up on my work on TikTok by following @YahooNews!

Thank you so much for your time you spent on this. We greatly appreciate it, and wish you continued success!


Yahoo News’ Eric Duran On 5 Steps We Can Take To Win Back Trust In Journalism was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Sharon Angel Is Helping To Change Our World

I wish someone told me that life is not a bed of roses — Growing up with everything a girl could need made adult life much harder to…

Sharel Omer of Affogata On 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business

An Interview With Ken Babcock

Our mission is to land and expand — land on a certain team in a company and show the value Affogata can bring to the entire organization and from there expand (upsells) through other teams in the organization.

Startups usually start with a small cohort of close colleagues. But what happens when you add a bunch of new people into this close cohort? How do you maintain the company culture? In addition, what is needed to successfully scale a business to increase market share or to increase offerings? How can a small startup grow successfully to a midsize and then large company? To address these questions, we are talking to successful business leaders who can share stories and insights from their experiences about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”. As a part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Sharel Omer, CEO & Co-Founder of Affogata.

Sharel Omer is the CEO & Co-Founder of Affogata, a leading AI-Driven User Insights Analysis Platform that enables brands to be truly customer-obsessed by bringing their customers’ voice to the right teams in the organization. Previously, Sharel was CEO & Co-Founder of Communit360, a social media management and intelligence platform, which helped thousands of marketers and small businesses increase their ROI from their social media activities. Sharel holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from The Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yafo, and a Degree in Engineering in Computer Science from SELA.

Affogata, a user insights analysis platform used by companies such as Wix, Etoro and Playtika, specializes in putting the customer first by collecting qualitative data. Affogata was founded with the mission of enabling organizations to analyze their customers’ feedback and brand sentiment and turn this important data into actionable insights. The platform gathers real-time data from across the open web, as well as internal sources, enabling clients to take a proactive approach to planning business roadmaps and reacting to customer feedback.

Thank you for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

I have been working in the tech industry for almost 20 years, working a variety of roles mainly in entrepreneurial start-ups. My journey with Affogata began at Community360, a social media management and intelligence platform for small businesses that helps them increase their ROI from social media activities. We started Affogata in 2019, creating a more specialized , wider-reaching platform that better served the needs of major clients at Community360. I have a passion for building personal connections and relationships between brands and consumers, and I am dedicated to bringing the consumer voice to brands and organizations.

You’ve had a remarkable career journey. Can you highlight a key decision in your career that helped you get to where you are today?

The decision is to not give up. As long as you are passionate about what you do, I believe that things eventually will change for the better and always decide to surround yourself with great people.

What’s the most impactful initiative you’ve led that you’re particularly proud of?

Definitely it was the pivot we decided to do from our older startup, prior to affogata. It was all about understanding that in order to create a new reality and an evolved vision, you need to make tough choices.

Sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you’ve made and the lesson you took away from it?

We make mistakes all the time, so you have to keep your vision and lighthouse clear. Always make sure that even if you deviate from it, return to your vision.

Some of the mistakes we made were in targeting the wrong personas or customers, understanding our true value, and also in some pricing matters. However, all those mistakes led to several lessons that have helped us grow a lot in the last year.

How has mentorship played a role in your career, whether receiving mentorship or offering it to others?

I’ve been lucky to partner with amazing people and learn from them. I also learned a lot from major international founders, in such companies as Wix, wToro, Fiverr, Ironsource etc. And last but not least, I gained knowledge and wisdom from our investors that keep us pushing us and advising us all the time.

Developing your leadership style takes time and practice. Who do you model your leadership style after? What are some key character traits you try to emulate?

To me it is always about being as honest and transparent as possible. It is also about knowing how to prioritize and focus on the right things at every turn of our journey.

Surrounding yourself with people that are better than you is also key. So is bringing passion for your visions, products and sales. And all of these points are inspired by the great companies and colleagues I have mentioned above.

Thank you for sharing that with us. Let’s talk about scaling a business from a small startup to a midsize and then large company. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. GROW THE TEAM.

In order to improve our platform and service, our team has increased from 8 to 50 employees in two years. Scaling up the team means a better product and a continuously improved customer service.

2. UNDERSTAND THE MARKET AND THE INDUSTRY.

Understanding the market and the industry of the company is essential in order to find your business’s place within it, and in order to disrupt the industry. This also means understanding and anticipating consumer needs in this industry: What’s missing? What’s needed? What will the future look like?

3. MAKE YOURSELF KNOWN.

Affogata attends relevant conferences and events to increase awareness of our product and team. We also put a lot of emphasis on content creation and on our organic social media accounts and make sure we spread the word about Affogata to the right people.

4. STAY ALERT FOR OPPORTUNITIES.

By constantly talking to our investors, advisors, managers and employees, we make sure to stay alert for opportunities. Simultaneously, we also try to create opportunities on our own. Here are three examples.

Affogata was chosen with eight other Israeli startups to participate in A Deloitte special program intended to help Israeli hi-tech companies to better penetrate the American market and expand our business there.

Affogata has created a series of professional podcasts, discussing customer feedback from the customer viewpoint (It is reps from our own customers who have been interviewed in these podcasts, discussing their own experiences in handling customer feedback).

Finally, we created special industry and use cases reports to showcase how our platform massively transformed brands and services, by observing how companies used our platform for improvement.

5. HAVE CLEAR GOALS.

Our mission is to land and expand — land on a certain team in a company and show the value Affogata can bring to the entire organization and from there expand (upsells) through other teams in the organization.

In the gaming world, this means signing up with a specific game product team, and once they are happy with our platform, they recommend it to other game product teams within the same organizations.

Also, our ability to provide different teams with their own specific customer data needs, carried us from starting with one company team (product), and via their satisfaction from our offering and recommendations to their management, to upsell our product to other teams (CS, Marketing, etc).

Can you share a few of the mistakes that companies make when they try to scale a business? What would you suggest to address those errors?

Always read and stay on top of your company’s feedback. In the content creation world you often hear people saying “never read the comments”, well, if you don’t, you’re putting yourself at a major disadvantage. Listen to everything, analyze everything and use this feedback to help you understand your customers’ wants and needs and make business-decisions driven by useful data that will help you scale.

Scaling includes bringing new people into the organization. How can a company preserve its company culture and ethos when new people are brought in?

Our team has increased from 8 to 50 employees in just two years, as we try to improve our platform and service. Scaling up a business so dramatically means understanding that company structure and culture will change. Pushing against that and trying to prevent change is detrimental to businesses and to company culture also. A business must be clear on its values and goals in order to preserve company culture and ethos when growing, making sure that you are hiring people in the right positions who hold those same values.

In addition, maintaining close relations with the new employees, from their onboarding and through the weekly company updates, as well as by sharing an open and transparent company’s culture, brings them closer to our values and goals.

In the company’s update meetings, as well as in team meetings, I make sure to always remind everyone what our vision and goals are, thus making sure we never lose focus on who and what we are. I keep describing our journey in similar fashion to a ship, which takes a long cruise in stormy waters, but through the team effort manages to reach its destination.

True to our promise and goals, we listened to our customers and have made constant improvements on our platform. For example, we integrated with Discord and Vanilla Forums in 2021 and we are working on integrating with Steam in 2022 to make sure we provide the ultimate platform for the gaming industry.

In my work, I focus on helping companies to simplify the process of creating documentation of their workflow, so I am particularly passionate about this question. Many times, a key aspect of scaling your business is scaling your team’s knowledge and internal procedures. What tools or techniques have helped your teams be successful at scaling internally?

We combine a platform guideline text (it is a sort of our platform bible) that team members can refer to with constant internal team discussions regarding workflow, procedures and areas that need improvements. Then we have cross-org meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page.

I must point out that a lot of intel comes from our customers, via their feedback on all platform and service matters. We consider their feedback with the highest regards, and in fact, they help us make our product and service much better.

What software or tools do you recommend to help onboard new hires?

We onboard our new hires in a variety of ways. We introduce them to our platform via videos, content presentations and team sessions. Then we move to OJT (on job training) which includes adding them to customer or prospects’ meetings. We then assign them to supervised tasks, take their feedback and give them ours.

Because of your role, you are a person of significant influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your ideas can trigger.

Helping entrepreneurs build their next big thing, and fulfill their vision to make the world a better place.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow our work online through our blog: https://www.affogata.com/blog, or by following us on social media: https://www.linkedin.com/company/affogata/ and here: https://twitter.com/AffogataTeam

This was truly meaningful! Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise!

About the interviewer. Ken Babcock is the CEO and Co-Founder of Tango. Prior to his mission of celebrating how work is executed, Ken spent over 4 years at Uber riding the rollercoaster of a generational company. After gaining hands-on experience with entrepreneurship at Atomic VC, Ken went on to HBS. It was at HBS that Ken met his Co-Founders, Dan Giovacchini and Brian Shultz and they founded Tango.


Sharel Omer of Affogata On 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Andy Stinnes Of Cloud Apps Capital Partners On 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your…

Andy Stinnes Of Cloud Apps Capital Partners On 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business

An Interview With Ken Babcock

Have deep domain knowledge. Be clear on what you bring to the table. Don’t start a company in an industry if you don’t know that industry inside and out. I see very smart people who target a legitimate industry and business problem, but one they don’t really know enough about. That rarely ends well as they aren’t credible in front of customers, can’t describe the problem in a way that’s compelling to industry insiders. As a result, they struggle to scale and make mistakes and can’t anticipate the obstacles that come their way.

Startups usually start with a small cohort of close colleagues. But what happens when you add a bunch of new people into this close cohort? How do you maintain the company culture? In addition, what is needed to successfully scale a business to increase market share or to increase offerings? How can a small startup grow successfully to a midsize and then large company? To address these questions, we are talking to successful business leaders who can share stories and insights from their experiences about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”. As a part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Andy Stinnes.

As General Partner at Cloud Apps Capital Partners, Andy develops investment strategies, sourcing and leading new investments, and serving on the board of directors of portfolio companies. He is an expert in business software, business networks, enterprise-class product strategy and go-to-market. Andy is a creative mentor to entrepreneurs and uses his large network of cloud and customer executives to validate opportunities and help chart the exciting course from difficult problems to category-leading companies.

Thank you for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

I’m a first-generation German American. My background is in mechanical and industrial engineering. I’ve built and ran teams on both sides of the Atlantic. I got into software early on in my career, focused on things like factory planning software and how to get the most output out of a factory. I was in sales first but soon discovered I had a knack for translating broad market needs into business-to-business applications. I grew that ability into product leadership roles at several cloud companies which allowed me to build deep domain knowledge and a large network in the cloud space. Ultimately, that led to a career in the cloud software industry, first as a successful operating executive and now as a venture investor.

You’ve had a remarkable career journey. Can you highlight a key decision in your career that helped you get to where you are today?

A key decision was to move into venture capital. At the time, I had various opportunities to continue my operating career as chief product officer or even CEO of smaller startups. I was also toying with the idea of starting my own company. But I realized I was most passionate about taking all the things I’d learnt over the years and applying them on a broader base to scale myself if you will. Rather than being nose to the grindstone dealing with one business problem or one domain, I wanted to do that for more than one company and more than one category. I wanted to multiply myself, and that’s exactly what being an early stage-focused VC allows you to do. I love that at Cloud Apps Capital Partners, all the partners can bring their experience as operators to our early-stage portfolio companies.

What’s the most impactful initiative you’ve led that you’re particularly proud of?

I’m especially proud of my contribution to the success of GT Nexus, where I served as head product executive for a decade, building the company’s industry-leading product from the ground up. When I started, we had almost no revenue, and we grew it to over $150 million at the time of exit. I built amazing teams globally and ran the entire European operation in addition to my product responsibilities. We signed on such marquee customers in supply chain as P&G, Pfizer, Adidas, HP, and Caterpillar and building those relationships and ensuring their success as the leading product executive was a tremendous opportunity — and an honor. Being able to help build a public-scale company from scratch was an incredible education. It gave me a deep understanding of organization building, of scaling a business, and of anticipating and managing the surprises that await around every corner. It’s an experience which is extremely useful for the role I have today as an investor and board member of similar companies.

Sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you’ve made and the lesson you took away from it?

Absolutely: fail fast and learn. I remember once I made a rash decision to take a new job which at the time seemed great. But it was more driven by my unhappiness of where I was at the time and my desire for change. It was a situation where I was running away from something, rather than running toward the right thing. I spent less than two years at that company, and ultimately it wasn’t successful. But I learned a lot about analyzing opportunities better, my leadership style and where my limits were. And I also met some incredible people during that time who continue to have an impact on my career today. In fact, we even invested in two of those people who are part of current portfolio.

How has mentorship played a role in your career, whether receiving mentorship or offering it to others?

I had great mentors along the way. But I use the word “mentor” broadly. Some of those mentors were my bosses and others were just my peers and friends, and even people who worked for me. I call them mentors because I learned something from all of them, often unbeknownst to them. I believe you can learn from many people if you keep an open mind, and you are humble enough to question yourself. As I grew in my career, I found myself more and more often being the mentor, formally and informally. And if you look at what I do today, I am basically mentoring the founders and C-level executives in the portfolio companies I work with. And that’s very rewarding.

Developing your leadership style takes time and practice. Who do you model your leadership style after? What are some key character traits you try to emulate?

I don’t have one or two names I model myself after. I believe you must figure out your own style based on who you really are. There is lots you can learn and observe for others, so I’ve picked up many style elements from those around me — people who were above, below and to the side of me. But, at the end of the day, you must stay true to yourself and not try to be someone else. Otherwise, you are playing a role and that just isn’t authentic enough to truly lead. The traits that are most important to me are integrity, humility, and drive. I find most professionals really get inspired by people who make things happen and are always pushing forward.

Thank you for sharing that with us. Let’s talk about scaling a business from a small startup to a midsize and then large company. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”? Please give a story or example for each.

1: Be very clear about who you are selling to. Startups live or die based on how well they serve a particular job title, whether it’s Head of Engineering, VP of Sales, Plant Manager in Manufacturing, Chief Compliance Officer — the list goes on. In every meeting we take, we ask the entrepreneur: what buyer title are you selling to and building your business around? We find that businesses that start with a product idea and then look for customers often struggle to scale their business beyond that initial product. But if you are very clear on who your buyer is, it is much easier to build strong relationships, listen, and find layer upon layer of additional value propositions and adjacent product opportunities over time. That’s how you scale more predictably.

2: Have deep domain knowledge. Be clear on what you bring to the table. Don’t start a company in an industry if you don’t know that industry inside and out. I see very smart people who target a legitimate industry and business problem, but one they don’t really know enough about. That rarely ends well as they aren’t credible in front of customers, can’t describe the problem in a way that’s compelling to industry insiders. As a result, they struggle to scale and make mistakes and can’t anticipate the obstacles that come their way.

3: Pick your early customers wisely. It’s so important to know who your early customers are, if and how well they represent the larger market, and how willing they are to work with you and be early adopters. All those things will have an outsized impact on your success and on what kind of company you end up building. If your first customer happens to be a massive brand name, then your whole company will be very different than if you start with a handful of smaller customers and grow from there.

4: Build a professional sales team. Many companies struggle with transitioning from founder-led selling to building a professional sales team. Some founding teams are never able to make that jump. You need to be very deliberate about making the transition and it takes discipline to make it happen. You might end up becoming frustrated with the sales team because they just don’t “get it” like you do. At first, that may be true. But you need to think long term and understand that these are professional salespeople. Don’t get frustrated with them. Get frustrated with yourself for not developing your product in a way that a professional organization can sell it. You can’t scale your business unless you get that transition right.

5: Have a great circle of advisors. Every entrepreneur has limitations. Nobody knows it all. That’s why it’s so important to have a great circle of advisors around you. When you start running into problems, you need to have people on speed dial who you can turn to for trusted advice. That’s also why it’s important to pick investors with real operating experience, who themselves have been company leaders and who can provide that kind of insight and advice needed to solve problems and accelerate growth.

Can you share a few of the mistakes that companies make when they try to scale a business? What would you suggest to address those errors?

A mistake many founders make is not thinking through how they will fund the business at every stage — from the very beginning to the point it reaches escape velocity. Often, entrepreneurs view each funding round in isolation. They think about the Seed round they need right now, but not about the Series A, B, C rounds they’ll raise over the next few years and how each build on the prior. You need to think of funding as a continuum and understand that fundraising is a marathon, not a sprint, and how decisions on terms in the current can become massive obstacles in future rounds. You need to pace yourself properly and think about your trajectory from start to finish.

Scaling includes bringing new people into the organization. How can a company preserve its company culture and ethos when new people are brought in?

I’ve been a believer that culture is extremely important and that it needs to come from the leadership team. What’s interesting, however, is how explicit you should be around promoting your culture. Many companies have posters on the wall trumpeting their values, like “put the customer first” and “always be honest”. This is all well and good. But in some cases, the actual “lived” culture of the company is something very different. Those slogans sound good, but does the company truly live up to them? I’d rather invest in a company that has great values and never talks about them, than a company that never stops talking about their culture, but whose lived culture is terrible. The key to preserving your company culture is not just talking the talk but walking the walk every day, particularly when no one is watching.

In my work, I focus on helping companies to simplify the process of creating documentation of their workflow, so I am particularly passionate about this question. Many times, a key aspect of scaling your business is scaling your team’s knowledge and internal procedures. What tools or techniques have helped your teams be successful at scaling internally?

I couldn’t agree with you more. Many high growth companies pay short shrift to managing knowledge internally. That’s a mistake. It leads to a world of tribal knowledge. When you start scaling the business, only the old-timers have that knowledge, but new employees don’t. And that’s when things can go off the rails. Startups need to get creative in how they capture and share knowledge. When I was at GT Nexus, I championed something called GT Nexus University. It was an enterprise social platform that encouraged employees to post short instructional videos, whether it was how a particular product worked, how to sign up for HR benefits, or how a given customer was configured. Anything and everything was captured in these short videos. We called them “knowledge nuggets” and we built a culture around encouraging every employee to submit nuggets and managers to build them into training curriculums for each role. This program was instrumental in scaling the business to nearly a thousand employees globally. When new people came on board, they were blown away by how quickly they could learn everything they needed to do their job.

What software or tools do you recommend to help onboard new hires?

There are a lot of great tools for that nowadays. But I am still a big believer in video. One of my favorite knowledge-sharing tools is Biteable, a simple platform that empowers companies — from startups to Fortune 500 companies — to engage and educate their internal audience with video. It is sort of like PowerPoint for video and contains all the footage, animations, and templates you need to create great professional videos very easily and quickly. We like it so much we even invested in Biteable.

Because of your role, you are a person of significant influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your ideas can trigger.

I care a lot about the environment. So, my movement is to stop the production and sale of single-use water bottles. Worldwide, the plastic recycling rate is well less than 10%. Much of the plastic we put in our blue recycling bins never gets recycled. All too often, these plastic water bottles get shipped overseas and then burned or buried or tossed in the ocean. It’s a huge tragedy and almost entirely avoidable. So, please, stop buying single-use water bottles. Get yourself a nice Hydro Flask and drink tap water, which in much of the developed world is of higher quality than what you get in bottles. You might not know this fact: if a water source is not of high enough quality for your local municipal water company, very often the big CPG companies will swoop in and buy that source to bottle the water and sell it to us!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andystinnes/

This was truly meaningful! Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise!

Appreciate it.

About the interviewer. Ken Babcock is the CEO and Co-Founder of Tango. Prior to his mission of celebrating how work is executed, Ken spent over 4 years at Uber riding the rollercoaster of a generational company. After gaining hands-on experience with entrepreneurship at Atomic VC, Ken went on to HBS. It was at HBS that Ken met his Co-Founders, Dan Giovacchini and Brian Shultz and they founded Tango.


Andy Stinnes Of Cloud Apps Capital Partners On 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Working Well: Anastasia Apostol Of New Apprenticeship On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That…

Working Well: Anastasia Apostol Of New Apprenticeship On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Mentorship Programs. Another trend that’s taking flight are formalized mentorship programs. This serves both social wellness and professional development goals because it enables strong networking and ease of transfer of knowledge. From a bench perspective, this will also help people identify potential homegrown talent within the organization.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Anastasia Apostol.

Anastasia Apostol is the VP of Operations with New Apprenticeship. She has spent over a decade in EdTech, focused on supporting work that transforms lives through learning and education. Her passion though has always been with developing people, building high performing teams, and contributing to a “people first” culture within her organization.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

For me, it was the birth of my son. I didn’t have much balance between work and life prior to that; I mostly prioritized work and wanting to make sure everything was done well. I always encouraged my team to maintain that balance because I knew if they didn’t, they would eventually resent the work — but I didn’t adopt the same attitude. However, when my son was born, I realized the importance of being more present for all aspects of my life and that I should be a model for this attitude to the rest of my team.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

Wellness is ensuring there’s a healthy appreciation and encouragement for proper maintenance and care for one’s — social, mental, physical, spiritual and intellectual needs. Here at NEW, we do our best to make sure our team knows we expect 100% at work, but also to give everyone the flexibility to design their workday around their life priorities. Everyone on our team works hard and meets their objectives / deadlines. As long as we continue to perform, we trust our team to get the work done whenever they need to get it done. In terms of how we measure wellness, we don’t have anything official but we make it a point to temp-check our team’s sentiments every week. Our HR platform also sends a monthly survey out to understand how our team members are feeling about their work, so we can identify red flags and institute improvements where possible.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

We’re a missional company that feels passionately about the contributions we make towards transforming people’s lives, so we’re all intrinsically motivated to perform and give this our best work. As a team, I would consider our productivity to be pretty high; with that said, for me the impact of a well workforce is the fact that despite our high productivity, we all continue to come into the work week, day in and day out, with an attitude to perform. We can only continue our pace if our workforce feels well on all fronts — mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, socially. So as much as possible, it’s important to me as a leader that we encourage the team to do what they need to do to take care of themselves, and in turn, the work is taken care of by the team.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

As an organization, I think the leadership team has to decide whether or not they believe people are their greatest asset. If an organization agrees that people are their greatest asset, then the next step is to invest into that asset, and these wellness programs are one great investment that a leadership team can make into their people. An organization thrives when people are motivated to give their best, not obligated to get the work done; if people feel refreshed, renewed, cared for, supported — they are more likely to be in the “motivated” bucket than the “obligated” bucket and that could be the difference between being good vs great.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

I believe being remote-first and letting the candidates know that we put a high premium on providing them with the flexibility they need to maintain a healthy work/life balance is a very attractive proposition for incoming hires. We also try to incorporate more team-oriented initiatives like fitness competitions and professional development sessions to help everyone stay inspired and engaged.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

  • Mental Wellness: We have professional coaches in the organization who conduct sessions to help us increase our understanding of mental wellness and professionalism.
  • Emotional Wellness
  • Social Wellness: We are planning to revive quarterly meetings where the whole organization gets to come together, see each other and spend time together (especially in this remote world!).
  • Physical Wellness: We have a fitness competition that we’ll be running once per quarter to help team members stay motivated to stay fit.
  • Financial Wellness

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

I think if we were to amp up the prizes for the health fitness competitions, more people would participate and we could really have a higher impact on helping everyone stay healthy. Also if we can expand the coaching program so we can have a monthly session to help us increase our professional capabilities — or even better, have executive coaches for our manager team, we would see a massive increase in productivity and support.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

We have our professional development sessions to help keep our team engaged and to teach them skill sets that we’ve learned along the way. I think if we can keep these initiatives going, our teams will feel encouraged because they’ll get to apply these strategies and continue to experience growth.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

I would focus on starting today and just making a difference in your immediate environment first. It’s okay if the ideas you have are implemented just within your team; test it out, learn from it, and improve what you can impact. If it works at that level, then start to pitch it to your management team. At this point, you have anecdotal data — if not quantitative data — to share with them that ideally will help spur the idea onto a larger audience.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

  1. Mental Health Programs. I think more and more organizations will start to provide mental health programs as a wellness perk for employees. Options like free counseling services, discounts for counseling apps (e.g. Betterhelp, Talkspace, etc.), or investing in in-house support to help employees have an outlet when they’re feeling burnt out or overwhelmed will make for a great investment in the future workplace. It will also help people manage their stressors, which will lead to an overall increase in productivity — or at least sustained productivity in the long run.
  2. Fitness Programs. This is already an investment that most companies are making in the form of discounts for gym memberships or having gyms within the building to help people have access to fitness during the workday, but I can see this perk expanding. For instance, maybe providing people with standing desks to encourage standing throughout the day. Or having more competitions to encourage people to stay fit throughout the workday. Or even more, maybe providing virtual fitness sessions to help people stay fit virtually could be other ways to encourage fitness programs.
  3. Social Apps within the Org. With everything being remote nowadays, I can see companies investing more in social programs to help encourage relating with one another remotely. New apps have come out that randomly pair people within the intranet to help them all get to know each other, and network within the organization.
  4. Mentorship Programs. Another trend that’s taking flight are formalized mentorship programs. This serves both social wellness and professional development goals because it enables strong networking and ease of transfer of knowledge. From a bench perspective, this will also help people identify potential homegrown talent within the organization.
  5. Early Dismissal / 4-Day Work Week. Another trend that’s starting to gain traction is early dismissal on Fridays or a straight 4-day work week. This one is pretty self-explanatory, in that it’s giving more time back to people so they can do more with life and feel refreshed when they come back into work. It also encourages a healthy work/life balance.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

Honestly, it’s just the fact that more and more corporations care now about their employees’ overall wellness and are making it a focus to make sure people have a healthier work/life balance. I remember a time not so long ago when the perks Google provided were seen as incredible because of how much they cared about their people. Today, more and more companies are rivaling the perks that Google provides and more leaders see these perks as ways to edge out their competition when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. I hope the trends above continue and that at least one or two of these perks become as staple as providing health insurance.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

Check me out on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/aapostol1211/

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success A Success From Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Working Well: Anastasia Apostol Of New Apprenticeship On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Working Well: Tammeron Karaim of Inner Lights Alchemy On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That…

Working Well: Tammeron Karaim of Inner Lights Alchemy On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Teach and incorporate more about holistic health and wellness concepts as a daily health practice in the workplace by using the data from each staff member’s unique birth chart.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tammeron Karaim.

Tammeron is an award-winning business woman, author, shamanic storyteller, who loves empowering women to flourish and step into living a more fulfilling legacy to embrace pure joy. As a spiritual alchemist, astrologer, former radio host and star of the upcoming, “BURNING KARMA: Healing Our Core Mother Wounds COLLECTIVELY” podcast, she has guided hundred of thousands listeners for over 13 years to connect to their SOUL’S VOICE and own their TRUTH.

Two decades ago, she overcame deep depression and suicidal ideation to embrace her spiritual awakening, transforming from her own story from victim to victor.

She has a passion for encouraging women to gather together, especially around a roaring campfire, under the Full Moon.

Tammeron is a genuine foodie, loves volunteering, hiking, sharing her “secret” recipes of holistic remedies, and nature photography.

https://medium.com/media/fb206635ab93eb9707dd316fd5c4af33/href

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

Over 8 years ago back in 2014, I woke up one morning feeling super frustrated as I was getting ready to go to work in my brick-and-mortar retail business. I was a recently divorced, single mother and I had a vision of owning a health and wellness new age school, but I did not have a laid-out plan formulated. I was living in an apartment on top of my retail store area and my two boys were still in high school. Later that morning, I was preparing an organic vegan smoothie for a customer and I just told myself that I was tired of pushing my finger on the blender and not getting paid for the value of my knowledge.

I was running a retail organic take-out bar to bring customers in through the door, but my greatest passion was talking to customers one on one and helping them understand the core issue of their physical health problems. They hadn’t been taught to look at their emotional well-being. I had recently been certified as a Bach Flower Essence Practitioner and I knew I had powerful knowledge that needed to be shared with others. But my certification was outside of the box, at that time.

I decided I was ready to put my building up for sale and I was determined to figure out a way to take my knowledge and transform my business concept into an online business model.

I wanted to live a more balanced and fulfilling lifestyle where I could work from home part-time and still create time in my daily schedule to look after my health and emotional well-being.

I was a workaholic with no time for a healthy personal relationship. I was willing to take my own medicine and implement a healthier lifestyle.

My boys were living on campus at university and college so I took the risk and moved up to my rustic cabin in the woods in Northern, ON that was about 20 hours away by car. I set an intention with a personal goal to revamp my business within one year.

However, the universe had other plans for me. It took me 6 years and way much longer than expected, but I never gave up.

I realized I had a huge vision that needed me to learn other skillsets before I was ready to launch and promote myself. But this time around, I had a real plan and it needed a team of people.

I had to start by asking for support and help from my two boys who blossomed into beautiful young men and then my next step was to call in expert volunteers.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

I love this question because I have lived through the extreme ups and downs of emotional well-being. Over twenty years ago, I was severely depressed and feeling suicidal. I used safe and natural holistic remedies to alleviate my negative feelings and bounce back into stronger more positive emotional health. This is the reason why I became a certified practitioner due to the incredible results that I experienced in my life.

I believe that at the core of every person we all want to experience happiness in success in our lives. But what I learned about myself was determining my definition of success. Once I was able to have an honest conversation through a sacred journaling practice, I realized that my business model was not defined by how much money I was making or how many clients I was able to serve. It was honestly about becoming a healthy role model for my boys who are part of the millennial generation. My intuition told me that if I can create a business model that allows me to work more effectively from my own home without any distractions, then I can move the needle faster than having to waste time driving to a location, fighting traffic, dealing with the ups and downs of nasty weather conditions, etc.

My online business model measures wellness by whether or not I am living up to being a woman in business while I am living a balanced lifestyle that allows time for me to prepare healthy meals from home, adequate time for meditation and reflection, daily exercise and time spent outdoors. I cannot serve anyone else unless I have been able to serve myself first. It is not only an act of love and kindness towards myself but to everyone, I come in contact with every single day.

I spend half of the week working on my own entrepreneurial business bringing in new volunteers on a semi-annual basis. I spend a couple of days in my business as gatherer of information using my private detective skills to help understand the vibe in their business and appearing to work for someone else. I also have carved out time to volunteer in my local community, even if it is just 3–4 hours. The amount of time is minimum but a collaborative effort amongst more people volunteering is helping to make a difference and a significant impact.

A balanced life is happy life! The core essence is all about how we spend our time while here on the planet. Spend more time doing what you love!

Your time matters.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

I believe that everyone has unique talents and also weaknesses. One of my strong points as a leader in my business adventures is using my intuition and getting to know the members of my team so that I can honour the traits in their personalities. Taking time to treat each person the same way can create excellent conditions for the entire team with an opportunity to blossom.

If team members are given projects to work on while focused on their area of expertise, then any task can be completed more effectively. Plus, I also believe that if anyone has a unique talent, they are also capable of passing on their knowledge to someone else. This was a tactic that I used when I volunteered in my local community many years ago as the first female ‘Akela” Scout Leader.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

The leaders have to embrace the courage to be the model and begin to implement new health and wellness practices. They must be willing to take their own medicine so that they create a sense of equality along with other members of the team. If they are uncomfortable with this idea, I would suggest outsourcing certified experts who can guide everyone.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

I ask for permission to review their astrological birth chart so that I can look for their potential strengths and weaknesses in their personality. As a certified astrologer and Health Coach, I am highly qualified to unveil information that gives me insight into how I can support them to blossom while working with me and my team. I also begin by asking for initial positions as a volunteer for 1–3 months before I am willing to offer them a paid position based on commission. I want to see if they are able to tap into what I see as their own potential and if they have the passion to follow through with allowing me to be their guide as a leader. If the position ends even during this initial period, at least the volunteers walk away with powerful knowledge to help them manifest a new job position that is aligned with their heart.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

Teach and incorporate more about holistic health and wellness concepts as a daily health practice in the workplace by using the data from each staff member’s unique birth chart.

Mental Wellness-Learn the importance of connecting with your intellectual mind and how you logically work with information. This is a key signature placement of the planet Mercury.

Emotional Wellness-Learn the importance of how to use holistic remedies such as Bach Flower Essences, High-Grade Essential Oils and Herbs to re-balance any negative emotions that could be triggered by daily life. Some examples would be the death of a family member, friend or co-worker. Everyone processes emotional trauma differently and will also respond according to their timeframe. No two people are alike and so they will need to be treated differently so that they can heal and feel supported within the workplace. This is a key signature placement of the Moon that can offer how each person processes their emotions.

Social Wellness-Teach how to reach out for help and ask for what you need from your leaders and co-workers. Understand the hierarchy within the organization and who can reach out in confidence if needed. Always make time to volunteer or support others; even if it is only for a small amount of time. Usually, most people intuitively know what they need but they may just need a sounding board to give themselves a voice without feeling ashamed. Problems are normal and finding solutions can bring a whole team together. We are currently in the energy of the ‘Age of Aquarius’ which represents community, humanitarianism, empathy and compassion. I predict more people are seeking to be treated as equals as we move forward in this next generation.

Physical Wellness-Encourage staff members to take a healthy break for at least 30 minutes. Go outside for a brisk walk every day for at least 20 minutes (except under extreme weather conditions)

Financial Wellness-Learn money management skills and remember to continue to educate yourself in new ways. There are many free educational tutorials available at your fingertips. Social media can be a blessing for free education, if used properly.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

I would suggest purchasing a personalized digital alchemy guidebook for each potential employee! It includes specific information that uncovers unique signatures about your blended personality that are uncovered from your astrological birth chart. We are all more than just our Sun Sign and this additional information can help anyone feel validated for their unique personality. Plus, upgrade to the use the pre-designed daily/monthly templates to help your employees live a healthier lifestyle so that each person can follow along using specific holistic remedies that are geared for their own well-being. They can work slowly by integrating one new concept at a time each month. By the end of one whole calendar year, your workplace might be a much happier and a more functional place to work.

There is a huge opportunity to incorporate a 4 day work week @ 4 hours a day. Employees might work better in less time with a huge incentive to also have more time for loved ones, families and their friends.

A win-win scenario!

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

Educate your team to learn more ways to manage every day life plus emotional stress triggered by unexpected challenges by using holistic remedies rather than choosing unhealthy addictive behaviour patterns that are commercialized through mainstream media.

Offer weekly group support so that they can begin to implement a new lifestyle that is very different from their parent’s generation. Keep the focus on asking for what you need to be referred to as a superpower and not a something to feel ashamed of. We all have the same needs and desires to live a happy and fulfilled life.

Example tv picture

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

It is answered in the video below:

https://youtu.be/TWGRnlzBIqg

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

Astrology is an ancient science that is being recognized more and more to help people embrace their uniqueness and abilities. At the same time safe and natural solutions are on the rise all around the world. Many people want change to happen. Once the information is gathered, anyone can begin to implement small steps to learn how to live a healthier life and create a new lifestyle model for this next generation. Allow this generation learn from our past mistakes and give them permission to be different.

Why would we want to repeat a pattern of 40 hour work week and only have 2 weeks of each year for vacation. This is an old work model that needs to be replaced. We have tools to work smarter, not harder. The world is now in a different level of consciousness and many people are recognizing that we are multidimensional beings and we can adapt by making decisions and living more from our heart and creating a level of inner peace on the planet, This is the core of our massive spiritual awakening that we are currently alive in. The easiest way to move forward is to accept and surrender into our new reality and use a daily spiritual practice as our guidance system. We are going experience so much more LOVE and happiness than ever before.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

Feel free to follow me on Linkedin or Instagram to connect to the daily astrological energies and follow my intuitive wisdom and guidance. I post ‘a Daily Owl Note’ that is co-ordinated to the energy of the planets that represent each day of the week in a message to spend at least 22 minutes a day that is very focused.

Plus I curate a weekly video on my YouTube channel: Inner Lights Alchemy TV to help you understand the emotional story that is being played out in the astrological sky and some fantastic tips and holistic remedies to implement in your daily lifestyle.

This is the ‘Age of Aquarius’ and my motto to share is your time here on the planet matters!

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success A Success From Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Working Well: Tammeron Karaim of Inner Lights Alchemy On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Working Well: Dr Tricia Groff On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental,

Working Well: Dr. Tricia Groff On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Flexible work hours. People have always wanted flexibility, but COVID-19 challenged long-held assumptions about productivity. In some cases, specific work hours will remain a necessity, such as in manufacturing or production environments, but even then, employers will try to give more flexibility to attract and retain talent.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Tricia Groff.

Dr. Tricia Groff is an executive advisor and executive coach who works with high achievers and their organizations. She is also a licensed psychologist who brings 20 years of behind-the-scenes conversations to her recommendations for workplace wellness and profitability. She is the author of Relational Genius: The High Achiever’s Guide to Soft-Skill Confidence in Leadership and Life.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

When I was in my 20s, my organization closed and all employees were eligible for unemployment. I had started working at 16, and it was the first time in my adult life that I didn’t have to start running hard as soon as my feet hit the floor. I learned that I only wanted to be in environments where I could be human first. On the surface, it wasn’t a big change; I simply made sure that I had 20 minutes to relax with coffee so that I could thoughtfully start my day instead of rushing headlong into it. I recognized that while I want to be excellent, I don’t want to live my life as a machine. The change became foundational in helping me to stay positive and focused for those I serve.

Since that time, I’ve worked with many leaders who have had adrenal burn-out, irritable bowel syndrome and other stress-associated physical symptoms from the cumulative inflammation of a nonstop workstyle. I specialize in high achievers, a specific personality style of people who are driven toward excellence, regardless of their role. When leaders or employees have this drive, it’s easy to assume a mind-over-matter and catch-up-on-sleep-later mentality. They tend to be good at problem-solving everything, and so there is a natural tendency to assume they can outsmart their physical constraints as well. I’ve learned, and try to share, that paying attention to our wellness makes us more effective, not less.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

Wellness has too many facets to be integrated into a single metric that would yield adequate reliability. It is better to measure people’s self-report about how they feel about starting their workday, whether they have the support of their supervisors, and a rating of their team dynamic. These questions are usually linked to cultural surveys, but they drill down into the one most important aspect of mental health — the presence of supportive human relationships. Social support is strongly associated with decreased depression and increased resilience in the face of other stressors. The absence of supportive relationships at work will increase stress and reduce the effectiveness of any other wellness efforts.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

If we operationally define well-being as low stress, social connectivity, and having a purpose at work, then we have a more focused workforce. Stress is associated with distractibility, short-term memory problems and emotional reactivity that can adversely affect relationships with colleagues. A well workforce helps us develop teams in which people are aligned and moving together as a unit. This cohesion increases the efficiency and the productive brainstorming that drives a company forward. Employee hours can be spent building the company rather than problem-solving relationships or engaging in busywork that looks productive but doesn’t change the bottom line.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

First, when wellness is viewed as “at the cost of business,” it signals a lack of understanding and feedback about the mediating variables that connect wellness and profit. Spend time connecting the dots to show that wellness is more than a “feel good” initiative or flavor of the month endeavor. For example, showing some research on the connection between health and missed work time can make a case for health-supporting initiatives.

More importantly, and much more nuanced, is recognizing the indirect ROI on profit. For example, when companies actively work to gain feedback from employees and implement that feedback, it sends a strong message that they value the employees. This in turn generates loyalty and reduces turnover. Thus, the significance of say, a gym membership, isn’t simply about health but rather the fact that the company took the time and effort to make the arrangement. What looks like a wellness initiative becomes a talent retention plan.

Ask employees directly what is helpful to them. The mistake that many employers make, is that, with great intentions, they enact initiatives without finding out what their employees really want. They may read great articles and see an idea to implement. The problem is that they don’t really know if it’s the right initiative for their people, company, and culture. Then, when expenses are high, it’s easier to justify cutting the program. On the other hand, if they implement changes based on employee feed-back, it’s easier for them to feel that they are doing something that is appreciated and makes a difference versus wondering if they are throwing money at the wind.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, when employees make positive comments about the wellness initiatives, ask them if you can share the feedback with senior leaders, or better yet, ask them if they can send an email or have a quick chat directly with the decision-maker. Much to my delight and chagrin, I’ve learned that the most logical and data-driven people are still moved by personal stories and emotion in the face of contradictory data. If even 3 people shared positive impact directly with the financial decision-makers in an organization, there is a strong likelihood that at budget time, the conversation will shift to “we can’t cut that program; it’s important to our people.”

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

The companies I advise are discussing flexible hours and unlimited PTO in interviews. I work with highly driven, Type A clientele, who are seeking top level talent. The go-getter employees don’t mind working hard; they just want to know that they can prioritize family if someone is sick. The conversation isn’t simply about specific benefits but more of helping employees understand that the culture is attentive to people’s personal wellness and family priorities.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

The specific initiative that I’m watching is unlimited PTO. It’s very important that companies be transparent in performance expectations apart from expectations of work time. For example, unlimited PTO sounds great, and it may help both employees and HR reduce paperwork. However, if a company is offering unlimited PTO with the expectation of employees doing whatever it takes to get the job done, the overall culture is still very demanding and driven. Sometimes wellness perks are offered to get people in the door, but if the reality of the culture doesn’t confirm the initial promises, people feel misled and doubt the integrity of the leaders.

Similarly, unlimited PTO can breed resentment among colleagues if some people are taking a lot of time off and leaving their co-workers to compensate for the unaddressed workload.

I’m not suggesting that we go back to old ways of accrual, but rather, to be straightforward about the offerings and limitations of all wellness programs. People need to feel that they know where they stand, and the honesty, even when it sounds bad, will outweigh the value of any individual program.

Apart from and more important than specific programs, the #1 initiative that can radically improve mental wellness is a philosophy and behavior of leaders leading by example on two variables:

Their relationship with their own colleagues and

Their own health behaviors.

  1. Senior Leadership Relational Dynamics. The stress, toxicity or health of an organizations starts at the top and flows down. When executives are fighting with each other, their teams feel the stress. People say to me, “Dr. Tricia, it’s like our parents are fighting and all of the meetings are weird and uncomfortable.” When I did counseling, the number 1 career complaint was a strained work environment. When I did career coaching and helped senior leaders quit their jobs, the #1 reason was chaos and distrust in the executive team. If leaders can do the uncomfortable work of creating and maintaining highly communicative and positive relationships, it sets a culture of psychological safety that flows down to the teams. When executive teams thrive and address root causes of stress, employees can optimize wellness programs. Without healthy interpersonal dynamics at the top of an organization, investing into wellness initiatives is like putting expensive decoration on a cardboard cake.
  2. Senior leaders’ own behaviors. This is the most common statement on worklife balance that I’ve heard from both lower-level employees and more senior leaders. “My boss tells me that is fine to stop working at X time, but s/he is on email all night. I’m worried that if I draw better work boundaries that it is going to hurt my chances of a promotion.” Leaders set the tone for an organization with their own health choices. Humans are social creatures, and good (or bad) habits are catching. I texted one of my CEOs and told him to bring sneakers, and that I was going to show up on campus. When I dragged him out for a walk, he said “are we really going to do this?” My response was, “you’ve been inside, at your computer, in back-to-back meetings all day, right? Yes, we are going to do this.” A few weeks later, I noticed that he was taking a walk while on a meeting. It sets the tone for others to do the same. Simple things like prioritizing a drink or bathroom or walking break shows employees that the organization values wellness. It makes employees feel comfortable prioritizing their own wellness without fear of penalty.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas to improve employee wellness?

In terms of specific programming, here are some low-cost options that can make a big impact.

  • Mental Wellness: Short workshops on stress, depression and anxiety not only offers information but sends a message that it is okay for people to talk about these concerns. Often the biggest stress created on mental health, is not the mental health issue itself, but rather the feeling that it is shameful and that one needs to keep it a secret.
  • Emotional Wellness: Teach all senior leaders to say, “thank you’ and “You did X well. I really appreciate it.” This single strategy is the cheapest and most underutilized strategy that affects not only wellness, but also employee happiness, productivity and retention.
  • Social Wellness: Simple ways to facilitate community without adding burden: Add 1 hr of fun time into an all-day agenda, hold happy hours (if voted by the team — some teams hate them); well-placed break rooms and communal gathering places with great furniture to enhance spontaneous connections.
  • Physical Wellness: Slightly shortened meetings to promote stretching time and bathroom breaks. If people are traveling, ensure that it is easy for them to access water and whatever type of nutritious food they eat at home.
  • Financial Wellness: Are there items they are personally funding that helps the business? If so, providing reimbursement gains loyalty that goes far beyond a dollar amount. One of the companies I work with reimburses a low-cost item, and they have been flabbergasted by the response in it attracting potential employees. It has nothing to do with finances but shows a level of awareness and caring that is attention-grabbing.

Also, do employees like the pay and bonus schedules or would they prefer an altered arrangement that could be easily integrated without adding undue burden to HR?

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

Work Well cultures will only truly work when they are modeled from the top. I give leaders permission for self-care. This may mean closing their laptops at a specific time. It may mean holding boundaries on their schedules so they can prioritize time for the strategy that grows their company and decreases their own stress instead of always being available for everyone else.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

Stop meetings 5 minutes earlier. It can be surprisingly difficult to do, but it gives everyone a chance to stretch or take a bathroom break before the next meeting. This tiny change is one, that if carried through the culture, shows how one can work in high-demand and time-constrained settings while still maintaining attention to human needs.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

  1. The remote-working debate. Both employers and employees are still experimenting to see what blend of in-person versus remote work is best. While there have been many articles written from all sides, we need time to see what maximizes wellness, relational cohesion and productivity for each industry and culture.
  2. Flexible work hours. People have always wanted flexibility, but COVID-19 challenged long-held assumptions about productivity. In some cases, specific work hours will remain a necessity, such as in manufacturing or production environments, but even then, employers will try to give more flexibility to attract and retain talent.
  3. Gen Z’s impact on conscious capitalism. The idea that people should separate work from personal values was on its way out before COVID-19 and it became a dinosaur in the face of children and pets entering video screens. Gen Z admires what is real, and what is congruent. They will demand work that aligns with their values and worldview.
  4. The format of off-site programming. With more remote work, 1 or 2-day yearly team-building events will not provide enough contact to build cohesion. Workplaces will be assessing easy and short off-site activities that help maximize in-person connection.
  5. Salary transparency. Will Gen Z’s desire for transparency change the traditional methods of salary negotiations? How will employers handle salary inequity, especially that which results from the higher incentives to attract talent during the employee shortage?

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

The intersection of Gen Z, COVID-19, and the Talent Shortage/Great Resignation — Workplace wellness and worklife integration have been problems for a long time. Historically though, employees felt forced into a choice between their own health and providing for their families. I am wildly excited about Gen Z, to see highly motivated young people who want to work hard AND maintain a sense of purpose and happiness in their lives. COVID-19 broke many assumptions about the ideas of traditional work, and the current talent shortage forces companies to compete on more than salary. Because of the current power shift to the employee, Gen Z (and others) have the power to demand healthier cultures.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

www.drtriciagroff.com

linkedin.com/in/dr-tricia-groff-phd-2781b866

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success A Success From Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Working Well: Dr Tricia Groff On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Pavel Stepanov Of Virtudesk On 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business

An Interview With Ken Babcock

One of the top mistakes I’ve seen companies make starting out is not hiring the right people. Again, candidates may be qualified on paper, but it’s oftentimes the mistake that companies don’t assess whether or not they are a good fit for the company. You can have the perfect candidate on paper, but they will not be successful in your company if they don’t hold the same values, have certain essential soft skills, and don’t feel tied to the mission of your company.

Startups usually start with a small cohort of close colleagues. But what happens when you add a bunch of new people into this close cohort? How do you maintain the company culture? In addition, what is needed to successfully scale a business to increase market share or to increase offerings? How can a small startup grow successfully to a midsize and then large company? To address these questions, we are talking to successful business leaders who can share stories and insights from their experiences about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”. As a part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Pavel Stepanov.

Pavel Stepanov has become a renowned business owner in the outsourcing and virtual assistant industry. In 2016, he founded Virtudesk, a virtual assistant company that focuses on supplying business owners who want to scale their businesses with highly-trained virtual assistants from the Philippines. He has turned Virtudesk into an Inc. 5000 company, and is also the founder of Tymbl Technologies.

Thank you for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

Let me start from the very beginning. I was born in Siberia. In Ulan-Ude, Russia. I decided to emigrate to the United States in 1997 to look for better opportunities and pursue my dreams of achieving financial freedom. After I came to the States, I planned on going to a four-year college, but I wasn’t quite sure what to study. I initially picked journalism, but switched to law when I realized journalism wasn’t for me. While I was in Law school, I took some real estate classes and was fascinated with the concept of property ownership and the opportunities it could unlock. After graduating from law school and passing the bar exam, I discovered that real estate was more in tune with my entrepreneurial mode and DNA. So, I became a real estate broker.

For three years, I practiced real estate at a 100% commission brokerage. At the time, I was working 12–16 hour days with no real break. I was doing everything from marketing, scheduling appointments, outbound calling, meeting with clients, going to showings, and more. After spending so much time working in my business, I finally decided to hire my first virtual assistant. My virtual assistant would be responsible for doing outbound calling and setting up appointments for me. I decided to hire a VA from the Philippines through a VA company because I had heard about the benefits of outsourcing.

The results were dramatic. I could barely keep up, because she was setting so many appointments for me. After hiring her, I spent a lot of my time just simply going to these appointments. My sales that year tripled! No joke. I started to realize the value of virtual assistants, the power of delegating, and the cost savings this unique business model enabled me.

After those three years, I started my own brokerage, Nexus Realty, in 2015. As I brought on more brokers, I realized they had the same problem too — time. Just like I did. I discovered they needed virtual assistants as much as I did, and they started asking me about it. That’s when the idea of Virtudesk came on. I realized most of the agents around me desperately needed help, so I started Virtudesk to assist Nexus, and saw how I could expand past my brokerage due to this common pain point that all agents and entrepreneurs face.

A couple of years after starting Virtudesk, I started building a new product, called Tymbl. This autodialer was designed to automate outbound calling for real estate agents, sales agents, and other business owners in need. I designed this platform so I could help agents keep track of all of their leads, create campaigns around their lead status, and bulk analyze the calling metrics. It is still in its start-up phase, but it has helped Virtudesk and other agents so much already!

Now, that it has been six years since I started Virtudesk, I’m proud to say that we have grown tremendously. Just last year, we made the Inc. 5000 for achieving 454% growth in a 3-year period. This has enabled us to win many other recognitions, including growth awards from the Titan Business Awards, Stevie Business Awards, and Growjo. We have big plans for the future. We don’t plan on stopping our growth. The best is yet to come.

You’ve had a remarkable career journey. Can you highlight a key decision in your career that helped you get to where you are today?

That’s an easy answer. One of the key decisions I’ve made is hiring my first virtual assistant back when I had my own real estate business. Because it taught me some valuable lessons. It made me realize that you can’t do everything yourself if you want to grow and scale your business.

Definitely, you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.

Hiring my first virtual assistant taught me the necessity and the power of delegating properly and hiring the right people for the right roles. This particular lesson and skill only improved when I had to grow Virtudesk, and started to build teams.

It’s also not just about hiring the right people, but where to hire them from. Outsourcing to the Philippines showed me a cost-effective way to delegate business tasks, and scale my business faster than what I could do with 100% local hires. Because of the lower cost of living in the Philippines and the high value of the USD to the Filipino peso, it allowed me to pay a lower wage for the same work done. Plus, I wasn’t paying for the infrastructure of an office building and equipment. The virtual assistants were supplying that equipment themselves. These savings allowed me to re-invest it back into the business to grow it.

I’ve also learned that you have to consult other people who are experts in their fields or specialties and who are more skilled than you. They will help you and act as your consultants to move your company forward in the right direction. They will also take responsibility for all of those time-consuming tasks you were trying to do yourself.

Deciding to hire my first virtual assistant, who is now the Director of Operations at Virtudesk today, got me to where I am. I could never take that experience back. It taught me the fundamental model of scaling a successful business.

What’s the most impactful initiative you’ve led that you’re particularly proud of?

I would have to say Virtudesk. When I hired my first virtual assistant, it really taught me about the power and importance of delegation. It gave me the strategy I needed to unlock unlimited growth and revenue potential in my own business.

To be able to share that with others through Virtudesk has been amazing. The growth and scale we have achieved is something I’m really proud of because this business model is something I’m really passionate about. I’m proud and very happy about how we have helped our clients scale their businesses as well. To know that my team and I have helped make that happen for them is great.

Sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you’ve made and the lesson you took away from it?

Especially in the beginning of Virtudesk, I was too fast to hire and slow to fire. I onboarded people quickly, because I needed help, but didn’t take the proper time to truly evaluate their skills, their intentions for the company, and their background.

I didn’t take the time to determine whether or not they would be a good fit for the job or with the company. I believe this is paramount to a successful working relationship and the employee’s success as well. You can hire 100 qualified people, but if they don’t think similarly to you on where to take the business or they don’t get along with the teams already on staff, then progress can be slowed. Less will get done to benefit the company overall and in the long term.

Even firing slowly was a problem I had to overcome. Hiring someone can be scary, as you are taking the leap to trust them with part of your company. That’s why in the beginning it was hard for me to fire, as you do invest and put faith in them that they’ll do well. When you let someone go, you’re letting them and yourself down. At least that’s how it felt in the beginning.

I would say this is still something I struggle with even today, but I’ve gotten a lot better and I’ve learned a lot from making these mistakes. You learn what questions to ask candidates. You learn to be more selective and careful about who your hire — even if you’re spending time interviewing a lot of candidates.

I always go with my gut too. If I get a good feeling about them in the interview, I never regret hiring them.

How has mentorship played a role in your career, whether receiving mentorship or offering it to others?

I’ve never really had a mentor figure in my life, especially on a professional level. When I moved to the United States, I didn’t know anyone. I was kind of alone to figure it out on my own. Of course, there were people who helped me by giving me advice, especially in my first few years living in the United States. I would ask questions about how to find a job and get scholarships. Throughout my life, I would find people I could ask questions too.. However, overall, much of the business stuff I just figured out.

If anyone was a mentor to me during my life, it’s been my mom. She’s very supportive, but she has also instilled internal accountability into me. She has had a big impact on my life and how I make decisions.

In terms of giving mentorship to others, I definitely don’t seek it out. However, I’m always there for my family, friends, and employees when they need me. And I definitely see my employees like family. They can ask me anything. I love spending time with them, and giving them my advice.

Developing your leadership style takes time and practice. Who do you model your leadership style after? What are some key character traits you try to emulate?

I guess I would try to emulate some traits from Gary Vaynerchuk, especially when it comes to kindness. I’m a huge fan of his. I even met him once. He’s a good leader, and has a lot of great advice when it comes to building businesses and managing others.

I also want to give my employees the autonomy and feeling that they can implement any idea that makes sense or flies with me. There shouldn’t be a lot of barriers to implementing ideas if it makes sense to implement. I have the mindset of just doing it. Don’t overanalyze, because it will waste time. Making mistakes trumps inaction. When you sit on an idea analyzing how to execute it perfectly, your competitors start getting ahead of you.

You have to rely on your employees as consultants to give you ideas to move the company forward.

Thank you for sharing that with us. Let’s talk about scaling a business from a small startup to a midsize and then large company. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”? Please give a story or example for each.

#1 Hire a virtual executive admin

If you’re a start-up or solopreneur, then start scaling by starting small. Just hire one virtual assistant, who will be your executive admin. Again, I recommend hiring a virtual assistant over an in-house person, because it’s going to help you conserve costs while you’re still in the start-up phase.

This will allow you to save money that you can put into other channels and initiatives. Your first virtual assistant will be assigned all of your task overflow, or assigned the tasks you don’t want to do, aren’t good at, or don’t have time for. They’re going to be pretty busy. They will act as your go-to person for everything in the business.

Your executive admin will run the day-to-day operations of your business and act as your Director of Operations. They will set the tone for your business and allow you to focus on the 20% of the work that produces 80% of the results.

#2 Hire for your second and third roles

Once you’ve had your executive admin on board for a while, and you and your executive admin start feeling overwhelmed again, it’s time to start looking at a second and third hire. You’ll want to start looking for a second hire when both you and your executive admin are getting overwhelmed with tasks again, and don’t have the bandwidth to complete all the tasks needed or work on new initiatives.

Your second hire should be someone that can take care of that task overflow. However, I recommend hiring someone that is specialized in some kind of work. Usually, I recommend hiring a marketing virtual assistant after hiring an executive admin, so you can have a designated person for all marketing activities, and then any overflow from the business.

However, you don’t necessarily have to start with marketing. You can start with prospecting or customer service. Just identify what areas of the business need the most help and attention.

As your company experiences greater brand awareness and you start to increase the number of leads you are generating, you will need to make a third hire. You can hire an Inside Sales Agent (ISA) in order to reach out to your growing contact database. They will manage a lot of your company’s outbound efforts. Or, you can hire a video editor to edit all of the content that you produce. Again, it just really depends on the needs of your business. Hire someone who can address a gap in your business.

#3 Designate in-house staff to manage teams or departments of virtual assistants

As you start to grow your business, and you move from start-up to midsize company, first, congratulate yourself. You did a good job, and you made it this far.

Next, focus on how you will scale your employee base and structure. I recommend mapping out organizational charts for different departments or functions within your company. When you create those org charts, map out the chain of command, the specific roles you would hire for, and the main responsibilities of each role. This will act as a roadmap for you as you build your teams gradually with more people.

Then, once you have this roadmap, you can continue hiring, but in a more informed manner. For all department and/or team leads, I recommend designating in-house staff. For every role under department heads or team leads, hire virtual assistants. This will give you the perfect blend of employee background, diversity, and perspective to give your business an edge in moving forward and making decisions that grow it.

Plus, by hiring virtual assistants for most of the roles in your org charts, you will be able to scale your savings as you grow. This gives you the real power in being able to scale your company faster, because you’re conserving the cost that is usually a company’s biggest expense — payroll.

The department heads who are in-house staff will report to you. They will report on how their departments are doing, what decisions and ideas they want to implement to grow the company, and how their virtual assistants are performing.

#4 Hire a virtual call center for scaling customer interaction

Now, you may be entering the stage of a large company. Congratulate yourself again, this isn’t easy.

You can continue growing large teams and departments with a mixture of in-house staff and virtual assistants. I recommend you do this. But you should also look at how you can scale customer interaction and lead generation. Hiring a virtual call center from the Philippines managed by an in-house department head will allow you to do just this.

Start by hiring 5–10 virtual assistants to act as your call center agents. Set your business number with a VOIP, so all your inbound calls come in through this VOIP, and straight to your virtual assistants abroad. You won’t need your virtual assistants to go to a physical location, they will be in their homes. But, their functionalities will be the same, and collectively they will act as a call center.

Not only will they be able to take your inbound calls 24/7, but they will be able to answer inbound website inquiries, text messages, emails, and more. They can manage your chatbots and even send outbound emails and make outbound calls.

#5 Overall, focus expenses on virtual assistants and technology

Overall, you should focus on your strategy of scaling virtual assistants and technology. Again, virtual assistants will allow you to scale your cost savings so you can scale your operations. Integrating as much technology into your business will allow you to automate and increase the efficiency of your workflows and systems. This is big.

In my advice above, I focus a lot on hiring virtual assistants to conserve costs, but focusing your systems on automation and technology integration will help you with this too. Combined, your company will be unstoppable.

Focus on getting a robust CRM that has a ton of integration capabilities with other apps and platforms. This will set up the foundation for automation. Make sure you have a company database that centralizes all of your company data and information.

If you want to go above and beyond, and you have the resources, build out your systems internally. Build your own CRM, company database, and other software you use, instead of buying the ones in the market. This is what we do at Virtudesk. We’ve built our own CRM, time tracker, and VOIP system so we have more control and creative flexibility with the features these systems offer, and how our employees use these platforms.

Can you share a few of the mistakes that companies make when they try to scale a business? What would you suggest to address those errors?

One of the top mistakes I’ve seen companies make starting out is not hiring the right people. Again, candidates may be qualified on paper, but it’s oftentimes the mistake that companies don’t assess whether or not they are a good fit for the company. You can have the perfect candidate on paper, but they will not be successful in your company if they don’t hold the same values, have certain essential soft skills, and don’t feel tied to the mission of your company.

When you’re hiring, you also want to make sure that people always have the best interest of your company in mind. In my experience, I’ve learned that when you hire people who don’t think similarly to you, it can be harder to take on new projects together. I believe this is very important in the early stages of a company. You have to bring on hard-working people who have a vision for your company as well.

Another mistake I see companies making in the start-up phase when they are trying to scale is that they will allocate money towards unnecessary places. For example, can you afford to cater lunches weekly or daily for your employees as a start-up? Probably not. You may want to give your employees a sense of good culture, but there are more effective and cheaper ways of doing that.

I also see companies spending a lot of money on physical infrastructure like office buildings, office equipment, office supplies, and more. That’s why I’m such a big fan of virtual assistants. In today’s age, you don’t need to be in a physical location every day, especially when you’re just starting out. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can get a lot done from home — more than we ever thought. Take advantage of that, especially when you’re small. Even large companies can conserve a lot of costs by requiring employees to work from home.

Scaling includes bringing new people into the organization. How can a company preserve its company culture and ethos when new people are brought in?

It starts with having strong company values, and knowing what those are. Pick 3–5 core values your company stands for. These values should inform everything everyone does in your company.

Keep these core values, explanations of these values, and what acting them out looks like in a physical document. Keep this internally, and bring it out every time you hire a new person. I even recommend discussing these values with people during the interview process. That’s because, if they don’t resonate with them, they can leave before they accidentally get hired. Because, again, you want to find and hire people who align with your company’s core values and mission.

Then, it’s all a matter of communicating those values regularly to your employees and holding them accountable too. That’s because, if your current employees aren’t consistent in enacting those values and reflecting their behavior and decisions on these values, it’s going to be impossible to integrate new employees into this culture — and essentially sustain the culture itself.

In my work, I focus on helping companies to simplify the process of creating documentation of their workflow, so I am particularly passionate about this question. Many times, a key aspect of scaling your business is scaling your team’s knowledge and internal procedures. What tools or techniques have helped your teams be successful at scaling internally?

I try my best to give my employees the tools and strategies they need to scale internally, as that helps everyone in the organization. I start by encouraging the creation of checklists and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). This helps new hires and current employees understand the standardized processes we have for everything in the company. The checklists help individual employees know exactly what they are responsible for, and what their daily and weekly tasks are.

We create and house a lot of training documents and videos. This way, if a current employee needs a refresher on how to do something, or we’re training a new employee, it’s more efficient.

We also do corporate training for departments on a need basis. If department heads express a need for corporate training to improve operations, workflow, or team skills, then we get someone in-house or outside to facilitate that training. For some departments upon request, we also offer online training courses for the skills that a department is needed or expected to know. This gives our employees more tools and knowledge to come up with and implement new ideas.

Besides that, we also have our in-house online academy, Virtudesk Academy, for all the virtual assistants we employ. This is managed and facilitated by our training department, and provides further opportunity for our employees to learn new skills as needed.

If you want to give your employees the autonomy to scale internally, then you should reduce the barriers to hiring new people, especially for department heads. That’s what I do at Virtudesk. If a department head wants to hire more people to their department, they should come to me with an expressed need for help, and the ability to show me an outline of the job title and description. Once they demonstrated that help is needed, 9/10 I let them start the hiring process. I want to make it easy for the company leaders to grow their teams as they need. Depending on their need, new hires can be in-house or virtual assistants. I also have the same mentality regarding new technology our department heads express we need.

What software or tools do you recommend to help onboard new hires?

Right off the bat, I recommend using a project management tool, at least one communication tool, and a cloud storage platform to help get your employees onboarded to the company. At Virtudesk, different departments use different methods for tracking projects. Our marketing department uses a project management tool, Clickup. Whereas our operations department uses our in-house time tracker. As a whole company, we mostly use Skype and Zoom for our all communication, as you can text, call, and host virtual meetings.

We also onboard our new employees to our shared drive and company databases and CRM, so they are equipped with the knowledge of how to navigate the company internally. I recommend doing the same.

We don’t do this at Virtudesk, but I know of many companies that have special onboarding software for HR and training. Softwares like intelliHR, Sapling, and Eddy can help give guided onboarding to new employees that save HR time, and automates the process. It can be very helpful and increase your efficiency. There’s even training software, like Lessonly, where companies can build e-lessons for new employees to go through on their own.

Because of your role, you are a person of significant influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your ideas can trigger.

I feel like I’m kind of already doing that with Virtudesk. Although it’s not a non-profit organization that’s saving millions of lives every year, I still feel like Virtudesk is helping and impacting a lot of people. Ever since I hired my first virtual assistant, I’ve been passionate about scaling businesses with virtual assistants and sharing that good news with other entrepreneurs. It’s exciting to help them out and see them experience growth as I did.

It’s encouraging to see how this business model has allowed businesses to not only survive but thrive.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me on my social media accounts and visit my company website to learn more about me and virtual assistants. I also encourage you to follow my LinkedIn newsletter. You can learn more about me this way, and how I’ve leveraged virtual assistants, technology, and outsourcing to scale my business. Plus, you can get my thoughts on what’s happening in the industry.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/pavelgstepanov/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/pavelStepanov77

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thepavelstepanov/

LinkedIn Newsletter: https://www.linkedin.com/newsletters/6928489178179518464/

Website: https://www.myvirtudesk.com/

My company’s social media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/virtudesk

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/virtudesk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/virtudeskcom

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/13385012

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/Virtudesk2021/_created/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/VirtudeskVirtualAssistants

TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@virtudesk?lang=en

This was truly meaningful! Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise!

About the interviewer. Ken Babcock is the CEO and Co-Founder of Tango. Prior to his mission of celebrating how work is executed, Ken spent over 4 years at Uber riding the rollercoaster of a generational company. After gaining hands-on experience with entrepreneurship at Atomic VC, Ken went on to HBS. It was at HBS that Ken met his Co-Founders, Dan Giovacchini and Brian Shultz and they founded Tango.


Pavel Stepanov Of Virtudesk On 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Author Jodie Jackson On How We Can Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And More Tolerant…

Author Jodie Jackson On How We Can Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And More Tolerant Place

It is easy to feel distant from the person whom you are commenting on. It is easy to be negative and it is easy to feel entitled to be so because of our outrage, offense or dislike we feel towards someone or something they have said. But words are powerful — even from a stranger. Not only this but they are an invitation for others to comment and if it starts trending, people can become buried under the weight of this negativity. I think a good question to ask before you post is ”what am I trying to achieve?”. If the answer is ever to shame someone, embarrass them or hurt them, it is probably best avoided.

As a part of my interview series about the things we can each do to make social media and the internet a kinder and more tolerant place, I had the pleasure to interview Jodie Jackson.

Jodie Jackson is on a mission to change the media; her recent book “You Are What You Read” is an invitation to become a part of this movement.

Jodie Jackson is a news consumer-turned-author, who has spent the last decade researching the psychological impact of the news. Through her work, she has shown that the excessive negativity in the news creates a distorted and harmful picture of the world. Jodie believes that we need a better balance in the news and shows why we must widen the media lens to include stories of solutions, progress and development in order to improve our psychological & sociological wellbeing, the news industry and, ultimately, the world.

Jodie holds a Master’s in Positive Psychology and is a partner at The Constructive Journalism Project. Her widely cited research has led to speaking engagements at universities, organisations and media conferences around the world.

Jodie’s journey to author of You Are What You Read began in 2011, when she decided she could not bear to hear another depressing news story.

“I would switch radio stations as soon as I heard the beeps introducing the news bulletin. They sounded to me like alarm bells, warning me that something awful was coming.”

Some saw this decision not to listen to the news and see the world in all of its ugly existence as naïve, weak or extreme.

“This reaction that others had towards me made me feel that I must be damaged in some way, that there was something in me that was not strong enough or brave enough to see the world in all of its ugly existence”.

But Jodie did not — and still doesn’t — see the world as simply ugly.

“My experience of the world is that it is a remarkable and complex place, filled with adventure, imagination and kindness as well as cruelty, suffering, and injustice. I could understand that the world had its flaws but I did not and could not agree with the picture that I was being given by reading the news. I came to realise it was not me but the news industry that was damaged”.

It was at this point, that Jodie asked “How could I remain informed on what’s going on in the world without being totally overwhelmed and depressed by it?”

It was this question that led to Jodie’s increasing involvement in the Constructive Journalism movement.

Over the past ten years Jodie has contributed to that movement in various ways, including: running a website collating solutions-focused journalism; organising events and crowdfunding campaigns; writing for established and emerging platforms; speaking on panels with leading thinkers, academics and journalists; conducting her own widely-referenced research into the effects of the news bias on consumers; and now writing You Are What You Read.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

In 2011, I got to the point where I could no longer bear to hear another news story. The reason that I got to that point was because I found it so negative. I became so disheartened about the state of the world and so disappointed in humanity. Although I had had enough of the news, I still wanted to remain informed but in a different way; I started searching for stories of people, groups and organisations who were attempting to solve some of the biggest problems and challenges that we face; I was inspired by the solutions being implemented to creatively tackle these problems that we are so well informed on. This helped me feel more connected to the news and, more importantly, more connected to society and my potential within it. I have since spent the last decade researching the psychological impact of the negativity bias on our mental health, the health of our democracy and society, as well as investigating the effects of solutions journalism as an antidote to the helpless, hateful and hopeless effects of this negativity bias.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I have recently published my book, “You Are What You Read: why changing your media diet can change the world”. This book helps us understand how our current twenty-four-hour news cycle is produced, who decides what stories are selected, why the news is mostly negative, and what effect this has on us as individuals and as a society. Combining the latest research from psychology, sociology, and the media, she builds a powerful case for including solutions into our news narrative as an antidote to the effects of the negativity bias. This timely book is not a call for us to ignore the negative; rather, it asks us to not ignore the positive. It asks us to change the way we consume the news and shows us how, through our choices, we have the power to improve our media diet, our mental health and just possibly the world.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Have you ever been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media? Can you share with our readers what that experience felt like?

Yes. After speaking at a conference about the power of solutions journalism — someone took it upon themselves to continually and fairly aggressively attack my talk and me. They painted me to be naïve and extreme. Neither of which I consider myself to be. And if this gentleman had taken the time to read my work, he would not consider it either. However, the caricature he painted of me online was hurtful and embarrassing. I had lost control of the narrative; my work and identity felt misrepresented and it is upsetting when someone is being so harsh. There is the temptation to engage to try and resolve but I did not, fortunately others (whom I did not know) jumped to my defense online and this meant more to me than my own words would have.

What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?

I reminded myself of all of the nice things people whom I respect and whose opinions I value have said regarding my work and my character. It is important to remember to value different voices differently. Even if a voice shouts loudly, it does not always deserve your attention. I also did not look at it again. The best way to shake it off is to not remind yourself of it.

Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?

No — I am careful to think before I type. I am also a passionate advocate for constructive conversation — this isn’t to say that you can’t be critical but being harsh or mean is rarely constructive.

When one reads the comments on Youtube or Instagram, or the trending topics on Twitter, a great percentage of them are critical, harsh, and hurtful. The people writing the comments may feel like they are simply tapping buttons on a keyboard, but to the one on the receiving end of the comment, it is very different. This may be intuitive, but I feel that it will be instructive to spell it out. Can you help illustrate to our readers what the recipient of a public online critique might be feeling?

It is easy to feel distant from the person whom you are commenting on. It is easy to be negative and it is easy to feel entitled to be so because of our outrage, offense or dislike we feel towards someone or something they have said. But words are powerful — even from a stranger. Not only this but they are an invitation for others to comment and if it starts trending, people can become buried under the weight of this negativity. I think a good question to ask before you post is ”what am I trying to achieve?”. If the answer is ever to shame someone, embarrass them or hurt them, it is probably best avoided.

Do you think a verbal online attack feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?

It is difficult to compare but verbal arguments in real life are usually more private, more easily resolved and one is able to distance themselves from them while still socialising with others in “real life”. Online attacks can be worse as they are so public, they are difficult to resolve as it becomes mob mentality and there are too many people to cope with and they are impossible to disconnect from without distancing yourself from your whole social network.

What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?

IT can lead to lower self-esteem, increased anxiety, increased likelihood of depression, isolation and self loathing. Shame is not a constructive human emotion. It is the feeling of guilt pushed to its extreme. Guilt is a constructive human emotion that enables us to be active in seeking change or self-improvement but shame is a fairly immobilizing emotion that makes us passive and unresponsive. We become paralyzed by the pain of this experience.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!


Author Jodie Jackson On How We Can Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And More Tolerant… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Victoria Staten of Famolare: Five Strategies Our Company Is Using To Tackle Climate Change & Become…

Victoria Staten of Famolare: Five Strategies Our Company Is Using To Tackle Climate Change & Become More Sustainable

I’m a leader and a doer with high expectations for myself and others. Sometimes, at the start of a project, my energy and drive can be offsetting, but over time as people jump on board, they realize that they are on a train going to a good place.

As part of our series about how companies are becoming more sustainable, we had the pleasure of interviewing Victoria Staten.

A fashion industry veteran, the former Group Vice President of Kenneth Cole started her company to bring the iconic Seventies fashion brand, Famolare, back to life. She’s always had a passion for popular lifestyle elements rooted in the ‘70’s, namely ecology, health food, civil rights, female empowerment, and of course fashion rooted in rock-n-roll and freedom of expression. She’s the kind of woman who drives her Thunderbird with the top down.

https://medium.com/media/285040b35c5c186e9e7686d8b134669e/href

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After many years at the helm of some big fashion houses and businesses, I wanted to execute my vision of a different kind of fashion company with a unique reverse engineered business model focused on how things should work in the future rather than how we’ve always done things in the past. I’ve always loved Famolare and the special DNA focused on sustainability and female empowerment.

What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?

Our mission is to build products and operate our business as sustainably as possible, to provide products that inspire women to make waves in their community and to spread good vibes in everything we do.

Many, if not most, stylish “non-sneaker” shoes are uncomfortable. Our authentic seventies styled shoes also are a healthy aid to human movement. Feet weren’t designed to walk on city streets. Our soles serve as a mediator between feet and pavement. As we walk different parts of our feet absorb shock and move us forward. Our shoes naturalize that movement. The first wave absorbs shock to the heel and ankle, the second wave absorbs shock to the arch, the third wave rolls you forward and the fourth pushes you off. Walking on Famolare waves is better for our bodies, and therefore better for our mindset.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

We’re focused on three areas; waste reduction, low-carbon footprint, and cradle to cradle materials and production.

In our unique business model, we design uppers that fit on one of our four soles, and use the same leathers and buckles across the entire collection. We store these components at the factory and when they are about to be used up, we buy more and keep the cycle moving. This model reduces a lot of waste compared to typical footwear production.

We purchase our components from makers located within a few miles in the same city as our two factories, and the finished product is only trucked about 900 miles to our warehouse, located in the center of the country. These efforts keep our carbon footprint to a bare minimum for footwear production and sales through our website www.famolare.com.

Virtually all of our products are either made from recycled materials (packaging, padding), can be recycled, (sole, buckles, packaging) or are biodegradable (vegetable tanned leather, insoles) and many consider Famolares as prime upcycle candidates due to the high-quality materials and craftsmanship, not to mention timeless heritage design that has inspired women for decades to pass on their shoes as heirlooms to their daughters.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

Reducing waste, saves the environment and increases the bottom line.

Fashion trends no longer change drastically season to season, so there is no need to ditch the old and in with new.

Buying more than you need just to meet factory MOQ’s creates enormous waste. We produce in factories with MOQ’s that work for our business, so we only need to buy what we know we can sell within our planned time frame. Every extra item that a business purchases beyond that will likely be sold at reduced prices, which is a significant drain on profit margins. Therefore, a business will make MORE money from their purchasing and production strategies (focusing on reducing waste and selling at full retail) than going the typical route.

If a company sold 1000 units for future delivery and based on a like item from the season before, they think they will sell 250 more units during the selling season. Therefore, their total need for the planned sales timeline is 1250 units. The total cost at $15 per unit is $18,750 and the selling price $30 per unit for a planned sales of $37,500, for a profit of $18,750.

However, if the factory has MOQ’s of 2000 units, this purchase example will result in a purchase cost of $30,000 and 750 unsold units/net position. Let’s assume that 1250 units will be sold at full price as planned, generating $37,500 in full price sales. We can also assume that of the remaining 750 units, 10% will be sold at 30% off (75 units sold for $21 per unit, totaling $1,500) another 25% will be sold at 50% off (188 units sold for $15 per unit, totaling $2,820) and the balance 487 units will be sold at 75% off/$7.50 per unit, totaling $3,653. Therefore, in the second scenario, the total sales generated off the $30,000 purchase order would be $37,500 + $1,500 + $2,820 + $3,653 = $45,473, the profit only $15,473, not to mention the money spent on the higher purchase order being out of commission depleting your cash flow.

Waste chews at the bottom line like rust on a classic car. If you want your business to run forever, eliminate waste.

The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion, what is something parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement?

Parents can teach their children to care about the environment through leading by example and by creating traditions that they will remember once they become adults.

My father taught me to “leave the world better than we found it” and he led by example nearly everywhere we went, whether it was grocery store parking lot where he’d pick up the trash blown by the wind, or when he made us clean up the woods around us after a weekend camping. I passed on that same value and philosophy to my daughters and started a tradition. We were one of the few families who showed up each year for “clean the roads” trash pick-up day. I also got my kids involved from time to time picking up trash on public beaches, lakes, and streets outside of our neighborhood, and even recently in neighborhoods across the city of Chicago. I believe that trash is a sign of lack of self-respect that manifests into lack of respect for others (crime) and the environment. When neighborhoods are clean, nature has room to take hold, people feel better about themselves, where they live, and treat others with respect. Cleaning up our neighborhoods, especially in blighted areas, is the first step toward a systemic shift to climate caring citizens, an appreciation of nature, and a deeper understanding of how we relate to our entire planet.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started”?

  1. How long the runway would be without V.C. funding.
  2. How important it is to have a partner with opposite skill sets committed to the business.
  3. How everything with the startup will take longer than you are accustomed to when you had the power of a big company and team to aid in the execution.
  4. The importance of prioritizing different marketing strategies because you can’t do everything well at once.
  5. Don’t count on suppliers who aren’t emotionally and financially invested in moving forward toward building a bigger business.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Glen and Simran. Glen signed up to be my partner on Zerotie, another footwear innovation, and Famolare the first day I met him. I had just started the business a few months prior, and he agreed to fund the business for the first year. That funding enabled us to build the foundation we needed to develop and launch the new products and create the initial marketing assets. He continues to be a great sounding board, partner, and dear friend.

Simran Kathruia jumped in running Iconic Fashion Brands, the business responsible for the website www.famolare.com and our entire direct-to-consumer approach. Her knowledge, strategies, and effort has made a tremendous difference. She is a beautiful soul and in addition to a perfect marketing partner, I found a best friend.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I touched on that earlier and it centers on ensuring we sustain Mother Earth as we know it today. I believe that when people feel more connected to the earth, animals, and nature, they are better citizens, kinder to those around them, and have more self-respect. Respect for others begins with self-respect. I’ve learned through a couple of studies that high crime areas usually are mostly void of nature. My movement would be to clean up the trash in blighted areas, with help from members of the community, (I’ve done some of this already) and then convince politicians to create incentives and put pressure on owners of empty land to be responsible for cleaning up their land and doing something productive with their vacant properties. Put them on a timeline and give them a deadline, and if they don’t make it, then the land takes on a different status. It could be “leased” to a non-profit for use as a public garden, tree growers and sellers could donate trees for tax incentives or free advertising. With my business acumen skills combined with a strong desire to always find the win-win, I know that me and my friend Shamica, who lives in the neighborhood we need to douse with Mother Earth’s love and natural elements, could dramatically improve the community, reduce crime, raise standards of behavior, feed the impoverished with their self-grown food, brighten the community and help people to become more connected to those around them and our planet.

What are some of your favorite life lesson quotes?

“Where there is a will, there is a way.”

“Do it right the first time, or don’t do it all.”

“We are only limited by our capacity to see

what no one else thinks exist,

and our personal beliefs that guide our actions”

“My dream is that

In my lifetime

Most leaders will be women,

Peace will prevail across the world,

Climate change will be healthy,

Inclusion will be normal,

Equality will be expected,

And love will reign supreme.

Instead of marching for a cause,

We will all be dancing

In our Famolares”

Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

I’m a leader and a doer with high expectations for myself and others. Sometimes, at the start of a project, my energy and drive can be offsetting, but over time as people jump on board, they realize that they are on a train going to a good place.

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

Readers can continue following our work online by visiting our website www.famolare.com or by following Famolare on social media.

This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


Victoria Staten of Famolare: Five Strategies Our Company Is Using To Tackle Climate Change & Become… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why and How Hilary Kearney Of Girl Next Door Honey Is…

Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why and How Hilary Kearney Of Girl Next Door Honey Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Martita Mestey

… Empower them. Kids aren’t really in control, but the truth is they have the power to influence their parents, friends and community. If a swarm of bees lands in their backyard, they can tell their parents not to exterminate them.

As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hilary Kearney.

Hilary Kearney is the author of two books: QueenSpotting and The Little Book of Bees. Her business, Girl Next Door Honey, offers educational opportunities to hundreds of new beekeepers each year. She teaches beekeeping, rescues wild bee colonies and manages around 60 hives in her hometown of San Diego, California.

Hilary has collaborated with Comvita, the global leader in Manuka Honey, for the second year of its bee rescue program, partnering with beekeepers and rescuers to relocate hives set to be terminated, and saving 10 million bees in honor of World Bee Day on May 20, 2022. Comvita will work with independent beekeepers across the U.S. to provide the resources they desperately need to safely remove and relocate hives, placing them in areas where they can thrive, saving bees and ultimately benefiting bee populations.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in San Diego, California. I spent a lot of time at the beach and I was pretty obsessed with tide pools. I loved art, old movies, punk music and anything nature related. I had a huge stack of National Geographics and I used them as inspiration for my drawings.

Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?

My husband and I met at college. I was studying art and he was studying environmental science. He had a bucket list taped to his bedroom wall and it had all these random things on it, “ride my bike across the country, become a firefighter, get bees…” For some reason the bees just jumped out at me. I bought him a beekeeping book, but I read it and it just sucked me in and ended up snowballing into a business.

Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?

For me, honey bees have been a kind of “gateway bug” that opened my eyes to the plight of other insects and the greater environmental challenges that impact them and all of us. I think it’s really helpful to connect young people to these kinds of ambassador animals. If we can get them to love bees, for example, then we can teach them about how climate change, habitat loss, and pesticides are specifically hurting these bees. It makes it easier to understand and it makes them passionate about finding solutions.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

My company, Girl Next Door Honey, integrates bees into the local San Diego ecosystem through a network of backyard hives instead of lumping them together on some distant apiary. The bees live as they naturally would and their benefits reach more people. Our goal is to raise San Diego’s bee population throughout the city and at the same time spread awareness among the community, providing the education and tools one needs to create their own backyard hives to serve bee populations.

Additionally, I’m working with Manuka honey brand Comvita for the second year in a row to help facilitate its bee rescue program with the commitment to save 10 million bees this season by rescuing and relocating beehives set to be terminated and placing them in areas where they can thrive. I’m one of several beekeepers across the U.S. that Comvita has partnered with to provide grants to perform beehive rescues to save double the bees the company pledged to rescue last year through its program.

Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?

  • Plant flowering trees: It’s best to find trees that are native to your area. That way, they will benefit a greater number of species and help preserve the local biodiversity. Trees provide millions of flowers once they are mature, plus, they help mitigate climate change and reduce air pollution.
  • Let your garden be a little messy: Many bees depend on flowering weeds in spring. There’s a movement called “No Mow May” where people are letting things bloom on their lawns for the bees!
  • Stop using pesticides: Often when a plant have pests it’s a sign of a bigger problem such as poor soil nutrition. A pesticide will not solve this problem, so, instead of reaching for a pesticide try fertilizing first.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth-led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion, what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

1) Get them to love an ambassador animal, like bees, and find a way to connect that animal to larger issues. When an extreme weather incident happens, for example, you can focus on how that might hurt the bees. I often bring up the California drought as an example. When we don’t get enough rain, we don’t have enough flowers for the bees.

2) Give them something tangible they can do at home to help. One of the cool things about bees is that even the smallest change to your backyard can make a difference. A flowering tree will provide millions of flowers for years to come and combat climate change at the same time.

3) Empower them. Kids aren’t really in control, but the truth is they have the power to influence their parents, friends and community. If a swarm of bees lands in their backyard, they can tell their parents not to exterminate them.

4) Make it fun! I love using my creativity to teach people. For example, I created an educational trivia game called “Pollinator Popcorn” that teaches people about the amazing diversity of pollinators on earth and the environmental challenges they face.

5) Engage them with an experience. I love getting people suited up and taking them into my beehives. I hold monthly tours where I educate people about bees while opening hives with them. Having an immersive experience can really make them feel connected to these kinds of issues and inspire them to take action.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

I think people really want to see more sustainable business practices and are willing to pay for it. When businesses make the effort to create real initiatives that make a difference, I think consumers respond by choosing them over competitors who aren’t making those same efforts.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I first got into beekeeping, I was living with my dad. He really helped support my interest and he never discouraged me from pursuing it. Other people thought I was nuts for wanting to get bees, but when I said, “Hey dad, can I put bees in your backyard and will you build me a beehive?” he didn’t bat an eye! He built me a hive out of scrap wood and even came with me for my very first bee rescue.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I really believe that planting flowering trees is the best way to help bees. I’d love to inspire people to find native pollinator trees and plant them.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

I like the idea of everything happening for a reason. When things go wrong, I try to find the lesson in it. When I was in my early 20’s I was running my beekeeping business, but only on weekends because I was stuck in an office job I hated. I did not think I could have success beekeeping full time, so I was applying for other jobs, but nothing was panning out. Then, an educational position at the San Diego Zoo came up. It was my dream job. I made it to the top 3 candidates out of 1,000 applicants. I thought I finally found my path, but I did not get the position. I was devastated, but I looked at my situation and decided maybe the reason I couldn’t get my dream job was because I already had it right in front of me. Within a month I quit my office job and was pursuing my own business full-time.

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?

You can find me on Instagram @girlnextdoorhoney

This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why and How Hilary Kearney Of Girl Next Door Honey Is… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Aleksandr Litreev of Sentinel and SOLAR Labs: “5 Things I wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A…

Aleksandr Litreev of Sentinel and SOLAR Labs: “5 Things I wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO”

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Don’t forget to take breaks and recharge. This one is super simple, but can be hard for me, as the work is always calling. I have to remember that I’m best when I’m taking care of myself.

As a part of our series about 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aleksandr Litreev.

Aleksandr Litreev is Founder and CEO of SOLAR Labs, the world’s leading developer of dVPN technology. The SOLAR Labs mission is to promote free speech, truth, and human rights globally, by empowering all people to have uncensored, untraceable, blockchain-enabled access to the internet via its decentralized applications and consumer hardware products, built exclusively at this time for the Cosmos blockchain ecosystem.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

It started back in 2017, when I started my activity fighting for human rights in Russia. My good friend and I developed a simple & useful service that helped tens of thousands detainees from protest rallies all over Russia. We called it “Red Button.” It was sort of an “Uber for a lawyer.” If you get detained, you just tap one button, and a lawyer goes to the police station where you are being kept to help you.

Since then, many things have changed. In 2018 the fight for freedom moved largely to the Internet, and we started to heavily resist against mass surveillance and censorship in Russia. Back then, I founded Vee Security — my very first VPN company. We were providing services that helped millions of people from places like Russia and Iran access Telegram Messenger freely (governments of these countries didn’t like it much back in time, so they were blocking it).

About a year ago, the fight went to the next level. Russian authorities arrested me in Russia and made up out of thin air several criminal cases against me. Luckily, I fled away to Europe. The Russian regime then started its aggressive crackdown on VPN services, and I realized that it’s time for blockchain — a technology that no government can censor. I thought about how there’s no single government capable of stopping Bitcoin, and imagined: What if we put the same technology as a foundation for a VPN service? That is exactly what we did with my new company SOLAR Labs. We’ve taken Sentinel blockchain as a foundation for our apps, and we made the world’s first truly decentralized VPN service, which cannot be blocked by any government.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Oh yeah. When we were developing a SOLAR dVPN application, Russian state-owned propagandist media RT made an article about us. They told people that ex-teammate of Alexey Navalny is developing a new VPN service which cannot be blocked by the Russian government. They just made up half of the text from nothing- but the most important thing this action they took admitted was that above all else, they’re scared to death of the power of this technology, since it is uncontrollable for them. Furthermore, and secondly, it truly threatens Putin’s regime because it gives Russian people a real, transparent view of what is happening. Many people don’t realize that most Russians in-country have very little idea about the true nature of global events, due to the insane amount of propaganda they’re fed daily by the State.

When the war in Ukraine started and the Russian army invaded Ukraine, the work we do became much more important than ever before. We understood that we need to make a breakthrough through a thick wall of lies & propaganda and let people know that their government is killing innocent people of neighboring countries. This was the moment we realized we were doing something more than a little bit important. We truly are driving change in people’s lives and helping them taste freedom, truth- reality.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Yep. “People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” That is something Steve Jobs said back in 1984 and became my motto for life. My team is not afraid to experiment, to try something new. Back in 2018 people were looking at me like I was crazy — building another VPN service on the market that was already hot and fulfilled by such giants as NordVPN and ExpressVPN sounded like an idea of a person who lost touch of reality.

And now we see where we are with it. And so do they. Our competitors are stuck with old-school technologies that have never changed much since 2000’s and now they’re drowning after being blocked by China, Russia and many others. Our blockchain-based VPN is getting to these markets in which the old players simply cannot compete, period.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m grateful to my mother, a lot. She made me who I am. In addition to her, I’m also extremely grateful to my first business partners, Artem Tamoian, and Ilya Andreev, who took this adventure with me 4 years ago and helped me to develop our very first apps. We made a hell of a lot of mistakes, but mistakes are good lessons, unless you make them twice. After two times, make the mistake again, and it becomes a choice.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting-edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, sure. So we all know about existing VPN services. Both apps and servers are provided by a single legal entity. It creates a single point of failure — nobody knows who they are. Are they truly committed to No Logs Policy or are they secretly selling your data to 3rd parties and authorities? Moreover, it’s much easier for governments to do censorship — they’ll just ban everything from that legal entity and that’s it.

Our technology is different. The “D” in “dVPN” stands for “decentralization.” Our servers, which act as gateways to the internet are managed by community. Hundreds, thousands of servers. Each of them owned by different people, different organizations. That makes a huge decentralized network and censors don’t have a single entity to go after.

How do you think this might change the world?

As our technology is made two protect two ideas: freedom of speech and privacy. I believe that we can help accelerate a shirt towards democracy in such countries that have problems with getting their due to tyranny. The more people can access truth, the healthier the community, both locally and globally!

As for privacy, we believe that it is an essential human right and we saw from Edward Snowden’s leaks that governments don’t think the same. Therefore, we’re here to protect it.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Of course. Any technology can be used for good and for bad. We can treat our dVPN technology as a weapon. Obviously, it can be used by criminals, terrorists and other malicious actors, because let’s be honest: You cannot forbid criminals to possess weapons, because they simply do not respect the law. By prohibiting weapons you’ll just revoke self-defense tools from law-abiding people, but criminals will get it anyway. Same with dVPN. We made it for good — no sense to regulate or restrict it somehow, bad guys will find hundreds of other ways anyway.

It’s also important to note that at least as of now, the use case for our technology is far greater for “good guys” (normal civilians seeking freedom, not bothering anyone), than us seeing tons of examples of bad actors using our tech to do harm. No, sadly, it is closed government institutions of the world that are supposed to represent truth, love, openness and support for their people- THESE are the bad actors We the People currently need protection from. Mindboggling, but true.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

1. Do not solve non-existing problems, solve real ones. When we just started, our first apps were fulfilled with different features that we were developing for a while. As we found out, no one was using most of them, people were interested in the main feature only. If we knew it before we wouldn’t spend time solving problems that no one has.

2. Develop for yourself, deliver to everyone. The best way to create something people would use is to create something that you would use yourself. Understanding of this simple truth came to me several months after we launched our very first app. To be honest, I’m very ashamed of this one- it was ugly, and I did not use it myself. After I spent a week playing with it we re-developed it from scratch, so I would love it. If you won’t use something you made, why would anyone?

3. Do not promise, just do. Oh, damn, so many times in our early beginning we announced features and apps that we never released on time. It affected user experience a lot and we learned a lesson from it. Way better to announce something when it’s done. That way you always hit customer expectations.

4. “If they’re shooting at you, you’re doing something right.” I don’t mean literally, with bullets. And yes, I realize this is the name of a song title. But here’s the thing, when the work you do is a threat to the status quo, forces of darkness will come at you from all corners. This is something I learned very early on, but I’m putting it here because it’s good advice for others looking to make a global impact with their life’s work. It’s going to get hot the closer you get to truly doing something meaningful. Stay the course!

5. Don’t forget to take breaks and recharge. This one is super simple, but can be hard for me, as the work is always calling. I have to remember that I’m best when I’m taking care of myself.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

twitter.com/solarlabs_team

https://t.me/solarlabs
twitter.com/alexlitreev

This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!


Aleksandr Litreev of Sentinel and SOLAR Labs: “5 Things I wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jason Miller Of the Strategic Advisor Board On 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your…

Jason Miller Of the Strategic Advisor Board On 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business

An Interview With Ken Babcock

Keep everything simple: Complication in any business development plan or strategy leads to overload and overload leads to failure. If a third grader can understand what you do and how you do it, then it’s a win. I often see companies create complex applications that solve a lot of problems, but they can’t explain how it works in an effective way. If the market doesn’t understand it, they won’t buy it!

Startups usually start with a small cohort of close colleagues. But what happens when you add a bunch of new people into this close cohort? How do you maintain the company culture? In addition, what is needed to successfully scale a business to increase market share or to increase offerings? How can a small startup grow successfully to a midsize and then large company? To address these questions, we are talking to successful business leaders who can share stories and insights from their experiences about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”. As a part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jason Miller.

Jason Miller is the CEO of the Strategic Advisor Board which focuses on smart businesses growth in a changing environment. They focus on the customer and help their clients execute strategies as fast as possible. He is also the Founder and Chairman of Reliable Staff Solutions, a staffing agency that provides full-time and part-time staffing to companies that need remote work. Jason is a bestselling published author in the business world to include 3 international bestsellers and his 7 published books have been featured at Barnes and Noble, stores worldwide and are also available on Amazon. Jason donates all his book sales to “Homes for Heroes” of which donations have played a part in building multiple homes for Wounded Warriors.

Thank you for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

The Journey for the Strategic Advisor Board started 5 years ago. I had recently retired from the military and wanted to get into consulting businesses. Building Strategic Business Models was a huge strength of mine as I had operated many companies while serving in the military.

Back then it was just me working with companies and helping them grow and scale. I knew that I would eventually need to surround myself with experts in many fields at some point. So, the birth of SAB or the Strategic Advisor Board happened. The team is amazing with the skill-sets to help any company Grow, Scale, and Win!

The Journey of standing up the Strategic Advisor Board was one of my most challenging projects to date. I had to find all the right people that had the knowledge and skill-sets to become a part of such a powerful machine. It took me over 8 months to find the talent that is currently on the Strategic Advisor Board team today. That careful selection process is what now sets us apart as a “Premier” Results Based “Rapid Revenue” creating team for any company wanting to grow and scale. Not just grow and scale, but to grow and scale fast!

You’ve had a remarkable career journey. Can you highlight a key decision in your career that helped you get to where you are today?

One of the most key decisions I have had to make was actually pivoting out of being a Solo strategist into a model where I had equal shareholders that had their own superpowers to support the greater scale of the company. I had to literally interview hundreds of CEOs to find the right faces to put in the seats on the bus. The key “Choices” were critical as I had to align a successful balance between each 10 directors that would make the most sense for client success.

What’s the most impactful initiative you’ve led that you’re particularly proud of?

Without question, my most impactful initiatives have been our take a Veteran Off the Street Program and also our book launches that support heroes in need. Those are the things that are most impactful and they leave a massive footprint behind. I have always leveraged my companies to do a massive amount of good in the veteran community and will continue to do so.

Sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you’ve made and the lesson you took away from it?

Business in general is never a smooth road. If it were, everyone would be doing it. We have gone through our moments like any other company. The Pandemic obviously had many impacts on every company in the marketplace. What I will say is this, having the power of “Team” is what helped us level up which in turn contributed to helping the companies we worked with level up as well.

Owning and running a company will always have its challenges. When people are involved, there is always room for failure. But failure is part of the learning experience and it only makes us better in the end. When you have a high-powered team like the Strategic Advisor Board there is only room for upward momentum. Being a CEO or business owner can be a very lonely place to be. I have found that being the Founder/CEO of the Strategic Advisor Board is the exact opposite as we truly are the power of 10! One of the biggest mistakes I made in the past is choosing the wrong team. I put all the wrong people in the wrong seats and in the end I learned to slow down, take the time to put the work in and find the right people the first time.

How has mentorship played a role in your career, whether receiving mentorship or offering it to others?

Mentorship is key to success in life and business because they are very inter tangled. Your business plan should in turn support your total life plan. I have mentored thousands and thousands of minds over the course of 25 years. It’s critical both ways to mentor and be mentored as a lifelong learner yourself. If you want to become a 9 figure earner then you seek someone who has already accomplished that in their lifetime. I always say, seek knowledge through the power of mentorship and find the right person that makes sense for you.

Developing your leadership style takes time and practice. Who do you model your leadership style after? What are some key character traits you try to emulate?

Hands down my father and for many reasons. We didn’t always agree on things but he has always been there to mentor and guide me. He was an entrepreneur himself his entire life and also a Vietnam Veteran and my inspiration to serve to retire myself. He instilled things like Honor, duty, respect, selflessness into me as a young man and gave me an ethical playbook that I have lived with my entire life. I try not to emulate anyone, as my father always told me growing up, never emulate another, forge your own path and figure out who you are and what impact you want to make in this world.

Thank you for sharing that with us. Let’s talk about scaling a business from a small startup to a midsize and then large company. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”? Please give a story or example for each.

As the Founder and CEO of the Strategic Advisor Board, I am often asked this very question by new CEOs and established CEOs alike. Success can be measured in many ways, such as the efficacy of your overall strategy, strategic approaches, pivots, micro pivots, strategic implementation, or just time in business. It’s a challenge to narrow success down into a few words, but one of my golden rules is to just keep it simple. This has always worked for me, so let’s start with that.

  1. Keep everything simple: Complication in any business development plan or strategy leads to overload and overload leads to failure. If a third grader can understand what you do and how you do it, then it’s a win. I often see companies create complex applications that solve a lot of problems, but they can’t explain how it works in an effective way. If the market doesn’t understand it, they won’t buy it!
  2. Stop talking about how great you are: At the end of the day, the consumer doesn’t care about your company. They have come to you for a service or product. Focus on the customer and explain the WIFM (What’s in it for me) to them and credit your customers for your successes. Stop focusing on the ME, ME, ME strategy. Get engaged with crediting your customer for all your wins. It’s intoxicating to see your customers support your brand, and it will drive you harder and faster.
  3. Surround yourself with the right people: We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Know yours as the CEO and settle into your strategic role. DO NOT take on things that don’t fit into your superpower and delegate those down immediately. Focus on putting the right faces in the right seats on the bus to get things done. Staffing is super important and getting that right will support cross-functional team success in your company.
  4. Nail down your processes sooner than later: Know your processes from acquisition all the way to asking for referrals and everything in between. An efficient and effective set of processes that support the entire customer journey is super important. If you are continuously “guessing” at this process, it will lead to bottlenecks and tons of lost revenue every single year. A/B split test multiple pipelines and work the bugs out of the one that works most effectively for your model.
  5. Document and leading from the front: This is critical for the success of any company. Documentation of every staff position and title is extremely important. It’s what allows you to hold all personnel accountable for the positions they hold. Counsel, guide, or mentor — you will miss the mark from time to time. Lead with integrity and always lead from the front. Document your own position as the CEO so your C-Suite knows what to expect from you daily and the superpowers you bring to the table.

There are many factors that lead to the success of a CEO. I have only lightly brushed on a few that have helped me stay focused and keep the company growing through each phase of the business life cycle. In my mind, one of the major areas that makes all the difference is having a team like the Strategic Advisor Board on your side guiding you through the rough waters will increase your success many times over.

It’s important to guide your company along as the CEO. Look for the pathways to pivot where needed to support the next growth phase of your company and become the powerhouse that you first envisioned when you opened the doors.

Along with the five tips above, look at your process from end to end and see if you have a process for the following:

Acquisition: Do you have multiple processes to acquire new clients?

Sales: Do you have a successful sales process that feeds your machine?

Onboarding: Do you have a successful process for smooth onboarding of new customers?

Support: Do you have a customer support team that is on top of customer issues and concerns?

Communication: How do you effectively communicate with your customers when they need you?

Fulfillment: Are your fulfillment processes rock solid and can you deliver on time every time?

Referral Program: Do you have a way to reward people for being your biggest cheerleaders?

Most of all, are your own internal processes and procedures in place to support these simple steps? We often forget to do that bit of house cleaning every quarter to ensure we are still on track as we grow our business.

Operations shift and change; make sure you continue to put the right strategy in place to support the “Growth” (People and Process) and the “Scale” (Monetary) sides of the business in sequence. Hold yourself accountable as the business owner and remember always, when you know better, you do better. Doing a ton of good in the world will always be the best practice for reaching success in your company.

Can you share a few of the mistakes that companies make when they try to scale a business? What would you suggest to address those errors?

There are way too many to name them in any order for sure. Two common ones are “Growth” vs “Scale”. Many companies either overgrow in staff and under scale in cash flow which affects every area of the business. Or vice versa where it can have a drastic impact on the fulfillment process due to lack of proper staffing. The answer to fixing this is unfortunately very complicated but as a general rule of thumb try to keep your company balanced. If you balance the workload properly and keep your company as lean as possible in every aspect it can reduce the chance of imbalance drastically.

Scaling includes bringing new people into the organization. How can a company preserve its company culture and ethos when new people are brought in?

In my mind it’s very simple. We treat others as we want to be treated. Culture an environment of trust and harmony that is top driven from the c-suite all the way down to the lowest managers and staff. Your managers and senior leaders will take on your form of leadership in most cases so be careful not to enculture a leadership position that does not approach everything the same. Be firm, fair and consistent in all you do and live the values you preach to your staff and leadership.

In my work, I focus on helping companies to simplify the process of creating documentation of their workflow, so I am particularly passionate about this question. Many times, a key aspect of scaling your business is scaling your team’s knowledge and internal procedures. What tools or techniques have helped your teams be successful at scaling internally?

There are a lot of them. This is an area that I could talk about all day. We continue to educate our workforce with training that matters and grows their ability to serve in higher positions of responsibility. Process development and documentation is the key element to being able to scale a company period. Taking those key elements and creating digital pipelines will not only reduce complication but give your staff the ability to grow the process for you. I also believe in keeping the processes extremely simple. This allows your process to grow and micro-pivot with your company and the staff very quickly. When all these parts come together it allows a smooth transition from one lifecycle to the next in business.

What software or tools do you recommend to help onboard new hires?

We have a very hands on approach to onboarding. We keep our process very personalized to make the new onboard feel like they are a part of the family right from the start. Everything is done with a hands on manual approach to maintain the personal contact and ability to stay connected through the process. This cultivates trust and respect immediately as they don’t feel like another “Hire” that day. They feel like they are an instant part of the team.

Because of your role, you are a person of significant influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your ideas can trigger.

I spend a lot of time with young people showing them that there is more to life than disconnected communication through devices. I feel the biggest aspect of improvement we can have as humanity is to just do a digital detox once a day. Stop what you are doing and just have a cup of copy with another human at a table without an electronic in your hand. The social impact on that small thing alone is far greater than one may think.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

This was truly meaningful! Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise!

About the interviewer. Ken Babcock is the CEO and Co-Founder of Tango. Prior to his mission of celebrating how work is executed, Ken spent over 4 years at Uber riding the rollercoaster of a generational company. After gaining hands-on experience with entrepreneurship at Atomic VC, Ken went on to HBS. It was at HBS that Ken met his Co-Founders, Dan Giovacchini and Brian Shultz and they founded Tango.


Jason Miller Of the Strategic Advisor Board On 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Lucas Seyhun Of The Farm SoHo On 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business

An Interview With Ken Babcock

Budget your time. If you’re in the early stages of your business and have limited financial resources, know that you’ll be handling a lot of different tasks all at once. You’re gonna be the salesperson, HR, cashier, and social media manager all at once.

Startups usually start with a small cohort of close colleagues. But what happens when you add a bunch of new people into this close cohort? How do you maintain the company culture? In addition, what is needed to successfully scale a business to increase market share or to increase offerings? How can a small startup grow successfully to a midsize and then large company? To address these questions, we are talking to successful business leaders who can share stories and insights from their experiences about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”. As a part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lucas Seyhun.

Lucas Seyhun created TheFarmSoHo, the first coworking space in NYC, back in 2014. Since then, he’s helped countless startup businesses and entrepreneurs, freelancers, tech innovators, and thought leaders to easily scale their businesses. Today, the company has evolved to offer more than just 24/7 coworking facilities, also providing private office spaces and a range of popular event venues.

Thank you for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

I was born in Istanbul. I spent most of my childhood living in a city similar to New York. One area of my life that helped me mature was the way I was brought up by my parents. They gave me the freedom to solve different problems on my own, which helped me become the mechanic and troubleshooter of my businesses, especially in the early days.

At this point, every ‘problem’ that I face no longer feels like a problem; I see it as a way for me to grow and learn more by gathering knowledge and information, and using challenges as building blocks to be a successful entrepreneur.

You’ve had a remarkable career journey. Can you highlight a key decision in your career that helped you get to where you are today?

Self-awareness is key. When I became more self-aware, I could better understand the difference between working and building a business for the sake of money or doing it because I enjoy helping others.

Every time I wake up and go to work, I know I’ve made the right decision even if this journey of helping others was never easy. My business started slowly. But eventually, everything works out if it comes from a passion. When you do that you’re not driven by all the different forms of fear — fear of failure, fear of not fitting in, fear of making the wrong decisions. Those are some of the decisions that can reflect badly on you as a leader. To be a leader that everyone respects and appreciates, you really need to lead from your heart and mind with the courage to do so sometimes through trial and error.

What’s the most impactful initiative you’ve led that you’re particularly proud of?

It’s hard to pinpoint one particular initiative because I’ve always been proud of everything that I’ve been able to accomplish. But if I had to really choose, it would be TheFarmSoHo. In fact, I’m so proud of it that I’ve even had the logo tattooed on my arm. Now, how many entrepreneurs and CEOs do you see out there putting a company logo on their arm and saying that it doesn’t have a special place in their hearts?

Sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you’ve made and the lesson you took away from it?

This one can also be hard to pinpoint because even to this day, I’ll be the first to admit that I still make mistakes. Just a recent example was when I interviewed someone who I already knew was a bit nervous and probably not the right fit for the position they applied for. Instead of showing empathy, I made this candidate more nervous by asking technical questions that only a few people could even answer, when I should’ve looked for ways to find his/her true value and add him/her to the team.

One of my business partners that recommended that person actually gave me feedback based on the applicant’s perspective. I took it to heart and vowed never to make that same mistake again.

How has mentorship played a role in your career, whether receiving mentorship or offering it to others?

I’ve had a lot of people mentor me over the years, but it wasn’t one of those traditional mentor-mentee relationships. Some of my mentors were people from my family, a business partner, or a yelling customer. I wish I could’ve had one of those structured relationships, especially when I was younger. But from the culture where I was raised, there wasn’t much of a platform where you can pick and choose a particular mentor. It was more of a “Good to see you again! Can you tell me who you are and what it is you do again?” type of relationship.

Developing your leadership style takes time and practice. Who do you model your leadership style after? What are some key character traits you try to emulate?

You’re right. Developing into a great leader can’t happen overnight and I’m still learning. I’ve only provided mentorship to people I meet every day by leading by example and training them to be a better version of themselves… Show them better ways of communicating, or a better way of thinking through teaching principles like mind over matter, always following your dreams, and using every challenge as a learning opportunity.

I would remember when the COVID pandemic started that we had so much downtime. I told my employees that this is the time when they should focus on cultivating their dreams instead of worrying about what the next day will bring.

Thank you for sharing that with us. Let’s talk about scaling a business from a small startup to a midsize and then large company. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”? Please give a story or example for each.

The first and most important thing to remember when scaling your business is to really understand who your customers are. If you have products or services and have no idea who they’re intended for, you can’t market your product right.

Number 2 is, solve customers’ needs better than anyone else can. With so many alternatives to every business, standing out from the crowd can be a challenge — even more so if you’re just starting out.

Number 3, be an expert in marketing. Even if you have the best product in the world, if nobody hears about it, your business will go nowhere.

Number 4, budget your time. If you’re in the early stages of your business and have limited financial resources, know that you’ll be handling a lot of different tasks all at once. You’re gonna be the salesperson, HR, cashier, and social media manager all at once.

Finally, number 5, be truthful to yourself and others because the truth always prevails.

Can you share a few of the mistakes that companies make when they try to scale a business? What would you suggest to address those errors?

Timing is very important when scaling your business. All your departments have to be fully optimized and have great leaders. We can take building a skyscraper for example. The foundation at the bottom needs to be so well laid out that you can support the entire skyscraper. If you fail to exert time in building the foundation, your business, or in this example, the skyscraper, won’t be sustainable.

Scaling includes bringing new people into the organization. How can a company preserve its company culture and ethos when new people are brought in?

Each department has its leaders and believes in his/her principles. The biggest thing to remember is that we encourage our employees to do what they love only. You can put it this way; if you take a writer and put him/her in a sales position or vice-versa, neither one is going to be very happy in their role.

In my work, I focus on helping companies to simplify the process of creating documentation of their workflow, so I am particularly passionate about this question. Many times, a key aspect of scaling your business is scaling your team’s knowledge and internal procedures. What tools or techniques have helped your teams be successful at scaling internally?

Documentation and manuals are important, but what I’ve come to realize is that no manual is a better teacher than human interaction.

For the tools, I’ve personally used Basecamp. This has been very useful, especially when it comes to human-to-human interface training. Basecamp helped our new staff get a clearer picture of what we’re trying to achieve because as we already know, people learn in different ways. Some like to learn through visuals, some learn better through texts, while others learn better when someone is speaking in front of them.

What software or tools do you recommend to help onboard new hires?

I would personally recommend using Monday and Airtable. But thetool I most highly recommend is that you hire as many tech-savvy project managers as possible. With everything digitized, having people who know how to work their way through the latest technology will help improve your company’s overall efficiency. If they want to use a certain tool, then so be it. Everyone uses multiple tools anyway.

What I would like to do in the future is to get into Clickup. But that’s a different story, probably for one of your future interview series.

Because of your role, you are a person of significant influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your ideas can trigger.

The lifestyle I’m a big supporter of is the rise of digital nomads. It’s people working in a borderless world and not feeling trapped by being stuck in an office. People can make revenue or cover their cost of living by doing what they love most, using a digital device they’re more connected with.

We’re even flirting with a new concept, especially for older digital nomads. We understand this lifestyle is relatively new to them. I want to bridge the gap and help them feel accepted in this type of work set up to really help them find their true passion.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can check out The Farm SoHo on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and our official website.

This was truly meaningful! Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise!

About the interviewer. Ken Babcock is the CEO and Co-Founder of Tango. Prior to his mission of celebrating how work is executed, Ken spent over 4 years at Uber riding the rollercoaster of a generational company. After gaining hands-on experience with entrepreneurship at Atomic VC, Ken went on to HBS. It was at HBS that Ken met his Co-Founders, Dan Giovacchini and Brian Shultz and they founded Tango.


Lucas Seyhun Of The Farm SoHo On 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Working Well: Diane Egbers Of Leadership Excelleration On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That…

Working Well: Diane Egbers Of Leadership Excelleration On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

When you have active advocates on your team who are providing a consistent feedback loop, this can help you quickly determine whether or not people are actually using the benefits you’re putting into place. Have you offered a concierge program, or a sports club membership, or a daycare benefit? Your wellness champions can give you the inside scoop on what’s working and what’s not, so you can adjust your programming accordingly.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Diane Egbers, Founder and President of Leadership Excelleration (LE) Consulting, a national leadership development firm based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Diane is an inspirational and dynamic executive coach, management consultant and facilitator who leverages the latest research and proven strategies to challenge leaders to reach their full potential. For the past 25 years, she has been engaging with Fortune 500 clients, major healthcare systems and government entities, while guiding her consulting team to offer transformative leadership development, organizational assessments and support for high performing teams. She is also author of The Ascending Leader, and founder and board chair of the teen suicide prevention non-profit, Grant Us Hope.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

About 12 years ago, I was your typical driven executive and quite the perfectionist. I was not only burning the candle at both ends, but right in the middle. I then had an unexpected health issue emerge that forced me to take a step back and really think about what was most important to me…to really reflect on the kind of mom I was to my kids, the importance of legacy and longevity, and I began to understand that this life is a marathon not a sprint. That difficult season really helped me to implement real wellness principles, balance and integration into my life.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

Because our organization provides wellness courses for our clients, it’s essential that we set the standard from the inside out. We want to model what we recommend to our clients, so our approach is centered around best practices. Our definition of wellness takes the whole person into account, including the social, physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of each individual’s unique wellness. We measure wellness by determining how integrated wellness initiatives are in workplace cultures.

Many studies have proven that isolation leads to anxiety and depression in our culture. The millennial generation is reported to have a higher rate of isolation than any generation before. The paradox of social media is that is has functions under the guise and promise to provide more connection and, in reality, it does the opposite. The distinction and evidence we’re experiencing in our culture now is that people are experiencing less intimacy, less togetherness, less in-person relationships than ever. This separateness and false sense of connection can lead to isolation, depression, anxiety, and more.

In Erica Dhawan’s book, Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance, she notes a New York Times article citing that 43 percent of working Americans spend at least some time working remotely, a percentage that skyrocketed during the Covid-19 pandemic. She also notes another study reporting that 25 percent of respondents said they socialize more frequently online than in person.

Dhawan also says that in most of today’s workplaces, there is more physical distance, fewer face-to-face interactions and that we have become more indifferent towards the needs and emotions of our colleagues. She says this digital disconnect leads us to misinterpret, overlook, or ignore signals and cues from employees, leading to new waves of organizational disfunction. She also says that the loss of nonverbal body language cues is among the most overlooked reasons why employees feel so disengaged from others.

Our wellness was already at stake before Covid. With the addition of the two years of extreme isolation, most of us have become further disconnected from relationships and a sense of community. The opportunity for workplaces now is that there is a tremendous desire for Millennials and Gen Z to rebuild and pave paths that facilitate new meaningful connections. This is why a focus on workplace wellness is so important and must be nurtured in organizations.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

Every employee wants to be valued. They want to know they are making a difference. When an individual knows their employer cares about them not just for the work they do, but for who they are as a person, this creates a loyalty dynamic and personal connection. To walk the talk of this philosophy in daily workplace interactions is really the foundation of high productivity, high performance, and the key to achieving big organizational goals, together.

This kind of unified success is only possible when employees have fully dedicated their purpose, passion and commitment to an organization. It’s easy to tally labor hours on a clock. But when we have captured the heartfelt passions of our team members because they each feel cared about valued, that’s when they’ll commit themselves to go the extra mile to really help your organization achieve a high performing culture.

To quantify the impact of a well workforce, leadership continuity is key. Every time a leader leaves an organization, it takes three to five years to recover that vital knowledge that that leader carries with them, and team performance is significantly impacted. With great leadership continuity, high performing cultures are possible. And with high performance, then comes team alignment, empowerment, collaboration, innovation and productivity.

It’s all possible. But it all goes back to focusing on our leaders. First to sustain their commitment to create continuous cultural environments where leaders choose not only to stay but are encouraged to forge a career path for themselves. If leaders are content, see future opportunities, and are engaged, then there exists the potential to create high performing teams. Leader engagement is the essential foundation for team engagement.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

Wellness strategies are only as good as they are representative of employees’ needs and reflective of their interests. I consistently see disconnects between what organizations seek to provide and the real needs of their employees.

It’s vital to really listen and seek to understand the unique needs of your leadership and teams. You may be surprised to find that some wellness solutions your team is seeking do not require a significant financial investment. There are many solutions that simply require the development of partnerships or providing resources, at little to no cost.

For example, exercise and physical activity are key to overall well-being. Partner with a local gym or fitness studio and request that they offer a discounted rate to your employees in exchange for promotion. Offering enhanced mental health resources is another example. Negotiate some mental health sessions into your existing employee assistance programs if that’s what your community needs.

Or perhaps schedule flexibility is most important to your population. Then ask yourself, how do you foster flexibility as your teams navigate raising families and working? Offering daycare options or partnering with daycare centers is an excellent and practical solution. Even just offering a discount could do wonders in making your team feel seen and their family needs noticed.

Consider offering a concierge service. Everybody has a ‘honey do’ list they can’t get to and everyone struggles to get errands done… from grooming the dog, to servicing the car, to buying a gift, or scheduling that orthodontist appointment, we’re all struggling with balance. There are many concierge service options available that you could offer as a perk or even just at a discounted rate.

Really it comes down to understanding and elevating the nuances of your employees’ wellness needs. It’s crucially important to provide wellness resources to prove to your employees that you value work life integration. The key is listening to your employees and actively responding to what they need.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

Wellness is the new talent trend. Organizational brands must incorporate wellness into their identities in order to attract today’s top talent. Smart recruits are first going to check out your website and review your banded values when determining whether or not you are a cultural fit for their lifestyle and value system. Millennials specifically desire to work for a place that values them as a whole person and is making a difference in the community.

Does your company practice and offer employee wellness benefits? Top recruits want to know not only if yours is a culture they can see themselves professionally thriving in, but one that values their personal wellness as well. Making sure your brand accurately and thoroughly reflects your wellness benefits is key to top talent recruitment and hiring.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

We are seeing and suggesting a variety of initiatives to our clients that are unique to their needs which include everything from changing their flextime policies to offering fitness benefits and more. Listening to your leaders and employees is the first step when determining what areas of wellness to focus on.

  • Mental Wellness: Ask yourself, how do we help an employee struggling with anxiety or depression, especially since COVID? There are many resources and community opportunities that offer free mental health evaluations, counseling sessions and support groups that you can source and provide for your team.
  • Emotional Wellness: After these many months of isolation, community is key for emotional wellness. Invite introspection and connection through something like a book club, if your staff is open to that. Or perhaps a wine tasting or happy hour is more your team’s style. The key is to create connection opportunities that reflect the interests of your team that foster connection, emotional wellness and even spiritual growth.
  • Social Wellness: Building community by encouraging people to socialize, offering outings and providing interest-based social events are very important inside organizations. Some team members may be interested a sport such as a corporate softball or sand volleyball team, while others may prefer something more intimate and low key. Get creative and personalize social opportunities that invite team engagement.
  • Physical Wellness: Is there a partnership opportunity available at a fitness facility nearby that you could leverage? Are there discounts or access to activities that can help people get moving and focus on their physical health? Think fitness and sports club memberships, boutique fitness studios, gyms and more.
  • Financial Wellness: Consider offering self-study financial wellness programs or free financial planner consultations for your teams. Many employee assistance programs offer financial planning services and financial support. Adapt your programming to the unique needs of your team and their lifestyles.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

Listening carefully to the unique stressors and pain points of your team are critical. You must not only address the symptoms are, but really dig deep to uncover the root cause causes of stress for your team in order to develop effective solutions.

Identifying ‘wellness champions’ can greatly assist with encouraging team participation in new programs. Chose a few people on your team who you know are interested in wellness and consider designating them to provide ongoing feedback to you throughout program implementation. Having these wellness program advocates actively collecting objective feedback will help you hone in what’s working and what’s not, how leaders and employees are receiving the program, and whether or not it’s meeting their needs. Then, making program adjustments based on this feedback will help your brand to align on which wellness practices and services make the most sense to sustain your current team and also recruit future talent.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

We’re incorporating wellness practices and a deep understanding of what working well means into the mindsets and skill sets of our teams based on our coaching and leadership facilitation programs. All of our programs begin with a wellness focus and on high performing culture development. Wellness is not only the foundation for all of our leadership programs, but our onboarding programs as well. The first six months to a year in a new role as a leader can be very stressful. So wellness is incorporated into all of our leadership offerings now.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

The first step is really to survey your leaders and employees, specifically as subgroups, then publicly commit to the top three strategies you identify based upon those survey results. Declaring and committing to what’s reasonable and possible for your company to implement within the next six months and developing a phased approach if necessary.

Keep in mind that developing community partnerships and offering discounts is often not much of a cost at all. But it does take a concerted effort to reach out and facilitate partnerships with providers that may need additional business. Remember to offer your corporate promotion as a mutually beneficial opportunity, and you may be surprised how responsive and low to no cost some of these wellness benefits may be.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

  1. Define what wellness uniquely means in your organization.

How companies define wellness is vitally important. We recently had a client who loved the social, physical, psychological and spiritual components of our wellness program and wanted to replicate it in their organization. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Wellness programs must be personalized and accommodating to meet the needs of your specific team, and reflective of what is most valuable to them.

2. Focus on workplace wellness as a recruitment differentiator.

Company engagement and retention efforts will thrive or suffer based upon how effective their wellness program is. Those that are excelling at this are retaining and attracting key talent because they are innately focused on and in tune with the needs of their employee population.

3. Incorporate wellness as a corporate brand element.

This is something that takes time, but it’s also very effective. Wrapping wellness initiatives into your overall corporate brand messaging and value system means that your programs are not only perks and benefits, but they mean that you are paying attention, and that you care for your employees as individuals. High potential recruits are not only drawn to high performing cultures, but they’re drawn to a place where they’re going to be valued, cared about, and where they know they can make a difference.

4. Survey employees to understand team wellness needs.

Wellness solutions are going to be different for every team, but the trend we’re seeing, and one that works, is really adjusting to listen and accommodate what your employees need. Understanding what employees’ biggest stressors are where they also have the least wellbeing.

One of our clients just partnered with a local daycare center and they’re offering their employees a 25% discount. The leadership understood that the number one issue with their working moms was a concern about affordable daycare. This facility is located within a mile of their business. They also had cameras installed, so all of their employees can see what their kids are doing at any moment in time. This is a great example of really listening and responding to the unique needs of your team.

5. Utilize wellness champions to spearhead progress and provide feedback.

When you have active advocates on your team who are providing a consistent feedback loop, this can help you quickly determine whether or not people are actually using the benefits you’re putting into place. Have you offered a concierge program, or a sports club membership, or a daycare benefit? Your wellness champions can give you the inside scoop on what’s working and what’s not, so you can adjust your programming accordingly.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

I find so much hope in our work communities today. The workplace is superseding other forms of community in our world. Our culture and the ways people connect are vastly different than even just 10 years ago, and the workplace is a crucial part of connection in our lives today. Organizations that promote that sense of belonging and connection are the ones that are going to be the most attractive to top talent in the future.

When we think about wellbeing, isolation is not part of that equation. True wellness includes being part of something greater than ourselves and being part of a community. There is so much opportunity now for organizations to step up and develop leadership communities, employee communities, learning communities, and more. People want to commune because we have an innate need and desire to connect and relate with others. To belong.

So if we want to promote workplace wellness, then nurturing communities and organizations is key. I am seeing so much of this already, and I am optimistic that even more corporations are going to realign their focus toward workplace wellness integration, resulting in a healthier workforce overall.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

Please feel free to connect with me personally on Linkedin, check out our website at LEI-consulting.com and follow Leadership Excelleration on Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter as well.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Working Well: Diane Egbers Of Leadership Excelleration On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author David Rey Is Helping To Change Our World

Be prepared to defend yourself from detractors — I achieved a promotion just 5 months into my career as a Loss Prevention Manager. This did not sit well with the more tenured Managers in the department. As a result, my credibility and work ethic was tested by some of my peers. Due to my tendency to avoid confrontation, much of their criticism went unchallenged. In hindsight, I regret not sticking up for myself more. “The man who has anticipated the coming of troubles, takes away their power when they arrive.” — Seneca

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Rey.

David Rey is a graduate of the University of Tampa with a Bachelor of Science in Criminology and has spent seventeen years overseeing the security operations at several internationally renowned flagship retail locations in New York City, including Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Bloomingdale’s, and Brooks Brothers. It is however, from his tenure at Macy’s Herald Square, that he has decided to chronicle his experiences in a memoir. By running the security operations in “One of the World’s Largest Stores,” David Rey has experienced a realm of Professional Shoplifting and Organized Crime, most of which the general public knows little about.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Growing up in Queens, New York during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was challenging as New York City’s crime surge was taking place. My father was a New York City Transit Police Officer during the 1980’s and was assigned to patrol the subways, which at that time, was considered one of the most dangerous places in the city. The danger of policing in the New York City Transit System was clearly evident, as my father eventually had to retire due to an on-the-job injury as a result of an incident on the subway. As unfortunate as this was, my father’s passion for police work fascinated me. Though it was a dangerous job, the thrill of protecting the community from criminal wrongdoing seemed exciting. It was from this experience that I knew I was destined for a career in crime prevention.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

Bo Dietl’s autobiography, The Bo Dietl Story, was a book that was always on display in the library of our living room when I was younger. This book was a personal favorite of my father’s and seemed to satisfy his passion for law enforcement, especially long after he retired. This autobiography of an exceptional police officer who put himself in harm’s way and made the most out of his career was already an all too familiar story in my household. In this story, a detective is working on a case that he eventually gets taken off of but still continues the investigation due to his passion for the job and desire to find the perpetrators. Similar to my father, his passion for law enforcement never waned, even after his retirement. The story further influenced my career aspirations.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I mentioned in my memoir about the struggles I had during the early stages of my role as a Loss Prevention Manager at Macy’s Herald Square. I was given the responsibility of managing our Undercover Store Detectives. These are individuals who come to the store dressed in plainclothes and pose as shoppers. They blend in with the crowd with the purpose of catching shoplifters in the act. I had never done a job like this before nor had I ever worked in an environment where this kind of work existed but I was tasked with managing these individuals. How do you manage people who are doing a job you’ve never done before? Well I certainly learned how to the hard way. I made the mistake of trying to lead by example and catch shoplifters myself. With no prior training or experience, I failed miserably and my novice attempts were as clear as day to my direct reports. Licking my wounds, I decided I would leave the shoplifting apprehensions to my staff while I focused on more effective leadership tactics such as identifying and rewarding high performers.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

Most people associate organized crime with mobsters, the mafia or drug cartels. Very little is known or reported about the underworld of Organized Retail Crime. A world that breeds certain dangers within some of the most intimidating yet remarkable retail landscapes. With Organized Retail Crime emerging in the news as of recently, it was important for me to share this rarely seen world with the general public. When journalists do cover these stories, they tend to interview law enforcement officials for comment. While law enforcement does work hard to combat professional shoplifters, they are not the first line of defense. Loss Prevention and Asset Protection professionals within major retail locations, especially flagship locations, are the ones in the trenches, confronting and apprehending members of Organized Retail Crime. From using their own children and/or recruiting children on the street to their clever use of burglary tools that helps them facilitate these thefts, it is my hope that this memoir serves as an introductory piece that puts Organized Retail Crime in the public spotlight.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

In my memoir, I share the very heartbreaking story of a shoplifter that was apprehended in Victoria’s Secret flagship store across the street from Macy’s Herald Square. This case was well documented and reported throughout national and local news because the shoplifter was found to be in possession of a dead fetus when loss prevention professionals were searching her bags after the apprehension. Later it was found that this shoplifter had intentionally killed her newborn baby and had intended to bury it somewhere but decided to shoplift at Victoria’s Secret first. It was also determined that this was not the first time this individual had killed a newborn baby of hers. As difficult as it can be to hear a story like this, it does put into perspective how dangerous the people we apprehend for shoplifting can be at times. It also helps make the point of how important the profession of Loss Prevention is. It should give peace of mind to everyone that besides the police, there are other subgroups of individuals such as the men and women of the Loss Prevention profession, who help ensure their safety and quality of life.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

In the very first pages of my memoir, I touch on this topic. In the past, when discussing my profession and the world of Organized Retail Crime with people I just met, I started to take notice of the genuine fascination and intrigue people had. The big epiphany finally came to me when I was talking to a personal trainer at my gym about my line of work, to which he responded, “Dude, that’s fascinating. I don’t think I ever met anyone who does what you do.” At that point I thought to myself, “Why am I not sharing this rarely observed world with the rest of the general public?” Thus, this sudden realization served as the driving force behind my initial efforts to create a memoir about my career combatting Organized Retail Crime.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

My memoir was released last month, so the opportunity to inspire and impact others has just begun. While I had stated that my goal is to bring Organized Retail Crime into the public spotlight, it is also my hope that the brave men and women who are dangerously tasked with protecting the employees, customers and assets of retail establishments everywhere, gain well deserved recognition from this literary work. Successfully investigating and apprehending professional shoplifters is certainly not for everyone. It is not a lucrative career choice, the work-life balance is not ideal (especially during the holiday season) and depending on which retail location you are working out of, the job could be very dangerous. Yet there are many who do this job and do it exceptionally well. May my memoir bring much earned respect to those who excel in this line of work.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Questions such as these tend to get me on my political soapbox. As I wrote this memoir, it was important for me to be mindful of any rhetoric that may make the book come across to the reader as being politically charged. While we have enough talking heads on primetime news networks serving as political agitators every night, I wanted to ensure I didn’t continue the trend. Looking at the problem in the best possible fair and balanced lens I can, the three issues that are in need of some serious adjustment as it relates to Organized Retail Crime are rehabilitation, bail reform and police funding.

Many shoplifters we apprehended were repeat offenders. One reason for this is because the criminal justice system in New York does a very poor job of rehabilitating criminals. So if the justice system doesn’t help reform criminals then I guess they just incarcerate them, right? No Sir! Due to bail reform laws, professional shoplifters are quickly released back into the general public to alleviate jail overcrowding. With no plan to rehabilitate criminals and no plan to incarcerate them, many shoplifters continue their illegal activity without consequence. Adding insult to injury, the disbandment of the anti-crime unit of the NYPD as a result of the police defunding movement has retail establishments feeling the effects of lawlessness brought on by limited police resources. Genuine and proven rehabilitation programs, the abolishment of bail reform and the refunding of the NYPD would help make a serious dent in the armor of the Organized Retail Crime industry.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I feel many of us have seen that image on the internet of the “boss versus leader” comparison. The top half of the image is labeled “boss” and shows a person sitting on top of pillars that are being tugged by what seems to be his/her workers. The person is pointing his/her arms as to direct the workers on which direction to tug him/her. The bottom half of the image is labeled “leader” and shows the same person but this time in the front of the line, tugging the pillars along with his/her workers. For me, this image defines what leadership is better than words can. It takes minimal effort to bark orders and lead by authority. This approach falls in line with the idea that the higher up you get, the less you should have to work. This approach usually results in direct report disengagement and high turnover. Leading by example is the best way for a manager to show how he/she measures success. This usually leads to better morale throughout the workplace.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Be prepared to defend yourself from detractors — I achieved a promotion just 5 months into my career as a Loss Prevention Manager. This did not sit well with the more tenured Managers in the department. As a result, my credibility and work ethic was tested by some of my peers. Due to my tendency to avoid confrontation, much of their criticism went unchallenged. In hindsight, I regret not sticking up for myself more. “The man who has anticipated the coming of troubles, takes away their power when they arrive.” — Seneca
  2. Work-Life Balance is not a thing — in retail, working nights, weekends and holidays is a must. At Macy’s Herald Square, the world’s largest store, those holidays also include Thanksgiving. Due to the Thanksgiving Day Parade, there was no chance of seeing your family on this holiday. Add to the fact that the store is also open 24 hours the entire week before Christmas and you might as well just send your friends and family a postcard during the holiday season.
  3. Make sure you’re in shape. Physical fitness is a must — I emphasized in my book, the dangers that come with apprehending members of Organized Retail Crime and for good reason. Physical altercations with shoplifters was almost a daily occurrence. I would come home many nights, take off my shirt and be astonished at what I saw in the mirror. Deep bruising, cuts and swelling all over my chest, shoulders, arms, etc. Having the ability to physically defend yourself as well as having the stamina and endurance to handle all the running involved in responding to calls is critical in this line of work.
  4. Don’t be sensitive to all that you bear witness to — Seeing professional shoplifters use young children as props for their crimes, seeing people use their own kids to help facilitate their thefts, the violence that would lead to serious injury to our staff, all were common occurrences but tough to all take in if you are not ready for it. I was certainly very green to this underworld when I first started but by the time my tenure at Macy’s Herald Square was over, I was desensitized by the sheer violence and deviant behavior associated with professional shoplifting.
  5. Success is all about the numbers — in retail, sometimes your success is measured by qualitative factors and sometimes it is measured by quantitative factors. At Macy’s Herald Square, your success is almost solely based on quantitative metrics. It is completely numbers driven, how your results look on paper will determine your success. There was a lot of pressure to maintain those numbers. It was a “what have you done for me lately” approach. No matter how good your numbers look one week, they better look just as good or even better the following week. As former NBA Head Coach Phil Jackson once said, “you’re only a success at the moment you perform a successful act. You have to do it again.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

This question resonates with me because I am a big quote buff. So much so that each chapter of my memoir begins with a quote that sets the tone for the plot. One quote that is not in my book but is a quote that I live by is attributed to Milton Berle. “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

Throughout my career, I aspired to achieve advancement within each organization I managed for. I strived to ensure my success was measurable enough to merit promotions and social mobility but as hard as I worked, sometimes nothing I did seemed good enough. Due to corporate politics, egos, recessions and other obstacles, opportunity didn’t knock as much as I expected it to. Many people in this situation tend to stay the course hoping it will eventually change, getting bitter and disgruntled along the way. Others overcome this hurdle by “building a door.” Creating my own opportunities by writing a memoir and not depending on an organization to determine my success, was one of the best doors I ever built.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would most certainly want to have a private meal with Judge Judy. Her reputation for being a Judge with an attitude overshadows the fascinating person that she is. She is an immensely intelligent and confident person. Her astute wit and dominance she displays in the courtroom is second to none. I always aspired to have the confidence and cleverness she projects. I also must admit to using some of her clever lines when addressing people at work. For those who have only seen the mean-talking side of her during one her shows, I urge you to look up a motivational interview of her whether it be on YouTube or Instagram or whatever platform may have it. There you will see someone who has it all figured out. A gifted expert who can move you to chasing your dream,s regardless of what age you are.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidrey819/ where I share the latest strategies and trends in the effort to fight Organized Retail Crime. Larceny on 34th Street — The Podcast will be up and running in the next couple of months, so be sure to listen to that. As Organized Retail Crime continues to emerge in the news, lots of information I share in my podcast and on social media will be relevant to the existing state of affairs. I look forward to sharing this rarely seen world with all of you. I hope you enjoy hearing about it as much as I love telling the story.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author David Rey Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Roxanne Lawson & Kymberlie Quong-Charles of Youth Rise Texas: 5 Things You Need To Know To…

Roxanne Lawson & Kymberlie Quong-Charles of Youth Rise Texas: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit Organization

Bring in people that challenge you. Create a board, and if you are a movement-building organization, a base that has a connection to the different functions of the organization from the very beginning, and includes people that will push you and ask the question “how is this going to work?” That goes for staff too. Hire people who ask the tough questions that will make you a better leader and your organization will also benefit from it.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Roxanne Lawson and Kymberlie Quong Charles, Co-Executive Directors of Youth Rise Texas.

Roxanne Lawson and Kymberlie Quong-Charles are the Co-Executive Directors of Youth Rise Texas, a nonprofit based in Austin,Texas that is dedicated to creating the conditions for youth of color to rise from systems of oppression, heal from past traumas of parental incarceration and deportation, and become leaders in their communities that affect positive change. Both Lawson and Quong-Charles have more than two decades of experience working in community organizing, social justice, policy work, lobbying, and youth empowerment. Together, they helped Youth Rise Texas implement its Co-Executive Director leadership model in 2021, demonstrating the strength of shared power to the youth it serves, and setting a standard for collaboration throughout the organization.

Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

Kymberlie Quong-Charles: My mother immigrated from China to the U.S. as a child. I remember growing up in Augusta, Maine, where she was very involved in organizing resources to ensure that Asians in Maine were visible and respected, including engaging with lawmakers. From a young age, I was always involved in grassroots organizing and advocating for social justice. After 9/11 happened, I gravitated towards the anti-war movement. The rights and identities of Muslim, Arab and other students of color on my college campus were being threatened, so I got involved in a student movement against the war. When I graduated, I was living and working in Philadelphia at the American Friends Service Committee. That’s where I met Roxanne Lawson who, years later, became my Co-Executive Director at Youth Rise Texas. My social justice and movement-organizing skills were sharpened during those years, and I still have lifelong friends from those experiences. I moved to Texas in 2006 to attend grad school and began working on state-level public policy issues and state budget advocacy, including around the Texas criminal justice system. As part of that work, I coordinated national campaigns to end private prison contracts. During my time in leadership, we successfully closed a private prison in Texas, and it happened to be a women’s prison where many of the cases we lifted up as justification for its closure involved parents with children on the outside who needed them.

Roxanne Lawson: I was raised on the east coast of the United States by Black parents who grew up in a segregated South. Their experiences growing up under state repression rooted our family in the beloved community working together for social upliftment and Civil Rights. As a young person, I stuffed pamphlets, learning how to have an impact on my world, and learning how to advocate for groups of people who were marginalized or oppressed by the U.S. government. I began community organizing in high school and became politicized in earnest while attending Howard University, a historically Black college in Washington D.C. Prior to 9/11 I organized around economic justice and after 9/11, my gut instinct was to join the anti-war movement. I started with an organization called Black Voices for Peace and got my first paid organizing job planning the A20 Mobilization to Stop the War(s) in 2002. That protest was youth-led and mobilized over 75,000 people from all 50 states, to raise their voices against the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia and to hold elected officials accountable. From there I worked for the American Friends Service Committee, where I met Kymberlie, and was one of the founders of “United for Peace & Justice” — a coalition of more than 1,300 international and U.S.-based organizations opposed to the U.S. government’s policy of permanent warfare and empire-building.

In the mid-2000s I returned to my work on economic justice and ran the Life Over Debt campaign of the American Friends Service Committee, campaigned for energy alternatives at Friends of the Earth, and at TransAfrica Forum, all rooted in creating a just foreign policy regarding the African Continent. Throughout all of this I worked with youth in the U.S. and across the African Continent, finally moving to New Orleans where my work involved supporting homeless youth and grassroots organizing with young people impacted by the first all-charter school district in the country. Supporting and empowering youth has been at the heart of what I have always done; my anti-war work was rooted in the millions of Black and Brown youth who would be on the front lines of U.S. wars, debt cancellation and energy alternatives were rooted in climate justice and control over community resources for future generations. Which is why when Kymberlie shared her vision of what Youth Rise Texas wanted to do and become, I was excited to jump on board.

Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start or join your nonprofit?

KQC: I had worked within the movement to reform the U.S. incarceration system, and I was compelled by Youth Rise Texas’ focus on youth impacted by parental removal, incarceration, detention and deportation. I was excited to utilize my skills to build systems for developing values-aligned policies to support the growth of an organization that sought to build power with these young people.

RL: I was drawn to Youth Rise Texas because I wanted to continue to put young people at the center of social movement work. To focus on how we develop leaders — not just for a political campaign, but to really develop as humans who are compassionate and accountable to each other and their communities. I wanted to support children of people who had been incarcerated, deported or detained and I saw this as a way that I could help root out inequities.

Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?

KQC: We believe that healing is a right and is crucial for young people of color who have experienced the trauma of parental removal or incarceration. Our work at Youth Rise Texas is not just leadership development to help young people get jobs. We’re also working to ensure that those young people know how to heal themselves, their families and their communities, so there’s a ripple effect across marginalized and oppressed communities.

RL: I think one of the ways that we make a social impact is by being an intervention in people’s lives. We help young people make meaning of their life stories and reduce some of the trauma and shame that may come from having a parent deported or incarcerated. We normalize it. Millions of young people in our country have a parent who has been incarcerated, deported or detained, or a loved one who is undocumented in the United States. Some of the people we work with aren’t U.S. citizens. They’re Dreamers, they’re migrants from Asia and Africa, they weren’t born here, but they were raised here. Part of their families have been criminalized for living on the other side of an arbitrary line on a map or for overstaying a visa. We work to provide context to their lives and help them understand why this is happening and why certain people are criminalized. We help them restore their dignity.

Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?

KQC: Yes, there’s one Youth Rise Texas program participant who was 15 years old when she first came to us. She’s been living in the United States while half of her family has been living outside of the U.S. for her entire life. She met a lot of other young people who had similar personal stories that she could relate to during our first summer program and has stayed involved. She has been on our staff now for two years. She’s a powerhouse! She has even expressed aspirations to be one of the Co-Executive Directors one day and has contributed to a lot of the institution building we have been doing. She really exemplifies what our hope is for the young people who come through our program.

RL: I couldn’t agree more. We were an intervention in her life at a time when her mental and physical health were suffering from the trauma of parental removal. Because she was undocumented, she couldn’t visit her parent for the five years they were held in ICE holds here in the United States. She hasn’t seen that parent since she was eight years old. She had to step up and help co-parent her family at a very young age. Through working with us, she’s been able to build a successful career without completing a college education. Youth Rise Texas and our community is full of people like her and being together and being seen normalizes the reality, but not the trauma of her situation.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Decriminalize immigration: Migration and migratory patterns are a natural part of our evolutionary history. We take it for granted that birds are going to migrate, and that seasons are going to change, and yet we police people’s ability to migrate — even to their ancestral lands.

Stop Policing Schools: Growing up in an age where police weren’t present in schools gave a different view of school as being a part of a community, and not just a place where people wanted to control us. We need to address our society’s fascination with policing Black and Brown bodies. We need to work to support and empower teachers to resolve conflict rather than creating a society where everything becomes a call to the police. We can change those systems. Young people can provide more training for teachers and aids, and conduct that training with both teachers and parents present so that they can help inform what type of education spaces exist in our communities.

Consider the Impact on Youth: There needs to be an awareness of the impact that incarceration, detention and deportation has on young people in our country. When adults are incarcerated, detained or deported, in many ways so are their children. But there are no specific interventions for these children on the part of these agencies that took their parents away from them. No interventions exist to provide support, or to ensure that these children are reunited with their families. That’s a huge part of our research and our work at Youth Rise Texas.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

KQC: The leadership that I work hard to practice in my own life is to share power and to understand my own positionality, regardless of if I’ve been assigned leadership or I’ve earned the leadership. I try to be consultative and collaborative, while also being bold and decisive. Leaders also have to take into account how their decisions will impact others.

RL: Leadership, especially for nonprofits, is about accountability and responsibility. You have to know who you are accountable to, who you serve and what they need. I believe our Co-Executive Director model represents good leadership because it models power sharing, as well as vulnerability and community. Being Co-Executive Directors means that there’s always going to be someone there who will interrogate every decision you make, both in public and in private. That’s a wonderful thing. We’re saying that we literally believe two heads are better than one. We have two people with different experiences and different values coming together to collaborate on how we serve our community, how we serve our staff, and how we influence larger movements together. Those differences make us stronger. We can also do so much more because there’s two of us. We can be in different meetings and bring our vantage point from different experiences to the table in different ways.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a nonprofit”. Please share a story or example for each.

Call in the Consultants: Creating a nonprofit as a singular person is a huge task. I believe that in order to do it well, so that you can grow and meet your mission, you should be paying for consultancies and finding other organizations that are in the business of supporting nonprofits at their startup stage.

Create infrastructure that supports your vision. You need to invest as much in the back-of-house as you’re investing in the vision and the goals of your organization. Having a strong infrastructure that supports your goal and your mission is as critical as having a strong mission in the first place. Devoting time to build this infrastructure brings your non-profit closer to your values and your vision.

Bring in people that challenge you. Create a board, and if you are a movement-building organization, a base that has a connection to the different functions of the organization from the very beginning, and includes people that will push you and ask the question “how is this going to work?” That goes for staff too. Hire people who ask the tough questions that will make you a better leader and your organization will also benefit from it.

Make Tomorrow Possible: One thing to think about is “what can we do today to make what we want tomorrow more possible?” It’s important to think about things like that when starting an organization. If your end goal for example, like us, is to end parental removal, then what conditions do we need to create now to do that? It doesn’t happen overnight, but you have to keep your eye on the goal at all times. We also need to not see our issues as mountains that will be here forever. We need to regularly assess how we’re serving our mission, and if we’re getting closer to achieving those goals.

Have a Plan, Not Just an Idea: We often come to nonprofits because we have good hearts and want to make things better for people. But without good systems for human resources, fundraising and operations, it’s just good feelings and we can sometimes actually do harm trying to do the good that we want to do. It’s important to ensure a vision for infrastructure that allows your budget to be a moral document and not just numbers on a page. Your vision should align with operations that bring you closer to the world that you’re trying to build so people can see that change. Make sure your vision represents what you want power to look like, how power is shaped, and who gets to have power. Discussions about who is in power and what that power gets for the people in this country is at the heart of every conversation we have at Youth Rise Texas.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your nonprofit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

KQC: I would love for Diane Guerrero — she was on Orange is the New Black — to see this and take an interest in our work at Youth Rise Texas. She has her own story of being impacted by parental removal. I would love for her to see this article because I think our work would really speak to her child-self.

RL: It’s hard to pick. I would talk to any women of color leaders that have a vision for their community and are using that to run a nonprofit. If I could talk to people who are no longer here, I’d talk to Audre Lorde or Ida B. Wells. Folks who have devoted their lives to trying to make the world a better place for their communities, even if doing so came at a great cost to themselves.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?

KQC: I have the same one that I always share. Don Miguel Ruiz, author and spiritual teacher said, “We’re all living in our own dream of reality.” What that means to me is that we all carry things with us because of our own personal life journeys — our families, our cultures, our ancestors, and the way we dream. Everything that we carry shows up in our interactions. We will never know all about what people have been through, or where they come from. We should aim to be the best version of ourselves and understand that others are showing up as the best version of themselves too.

RL: The poet, essayist and activist June Jordan said, “We are the ones that we’ve been waiting for.” I think it’s super relevant and important for our young people today to know. They’re the ones that they’ve been waiting for. No one else is going to fix the system for them, but youth can fix systems of oppression with our support and help.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can learn more about our program work and everything ongoing at Youth Rise Texas by visiting YouthRiseTX.org, or by following us on Twitter (@YouthRiseTX), Instagram (youthrisetx) and Facebook (@YouthRiseTx)

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.


Roxanne Lawson & Kymberlie Quong-Charles of Youth Rise Texas: 5 Things You Need To Know To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds Of The Jewish Center For Justice: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully

Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds Of The Jewish Center For Justice: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit Organization

Doors are open to everyone who wants to get involved. We provide various opportunities to do so, from working with like-minded coalition partners, to real-time advocacy like phone calls and letter writing, to posting impassioned videos with action items on our social media pages. This inclusive and accessible approach has allowed us, a small organization with mostly part-time staff and volunteer lay leaders, to make a significant difference in our communities and enact social change through public policy.”

As a part of my interview series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit Organization,” I had the pleasure of speaking with Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds.

Rabbi Simonds is the Founding Executive Director of the Jewish Center for Justice (JCJ), a distinguished social justice, education, and leadership development platform that empowers current and future leaders to build a more compassionate and just society. JCJ advocates for legislation on issues such as racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and climate action from a Jewish perspective.

An experienced faith leader, activist, and coalition builder, Rabbi Simonds holds a Bachelor’s in Religious Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a Master’s and Rabbinical Ordination from Hebrew Union College of Los Angeles.

Rabbi Simonds’ work focuses on advocating for positive social change at the local, state, and national level, and working with future leaders in their own journey to inspire change.

Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

I grew up in Southern California and attended UC Santa Barbara. As a young student, I was actively involved in Judaism and social justice. I deepened my involvement post college as I spent a few years in Washington, D.C. working in public policy for the Jewish community. That experience solidified my desire to pursue rabbinical school and further my connection to Judaism.

I became ordained as a rabbi upon graduation from Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, and had the incredible opportunity to become a congregational rabbi. This experience, along with my involvement in several Jewish social justice organizations, inspired me to pursue justice from a Jewish communal standpoint. Years later, I launched the Jewish Center for Justice with a team of lay leaders from across the Jewish spectrum.

Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start or join your non nonprofit?

Throughout my years working in the Jewish community, I have developed a strong connection with amazing lay leaders — individuals recognized by their peers as leaders within their congregations. In 2017, myself, along with several lay leaders who were deeply involved within the larger organized Jewish justice community, recognized that something was missing in our space. At the time, we saw that 60 to 70 percent of American Jews were not involved in any sort of justice or activism work.

Our objective was to create an organization that could speak to those individuals who were under-engaged, or not engaged at all. Whether they were too busy to get involved or didn’t know how to, we wanted to provide them the platform to connect with their Judaism and with justice opportunities at the local, state, and national level, and do so in a way that would be accessible and meaningful to them.

This is the backstory for why we created the Jewish Center for Justice. We wanted to reach the unaffiliated and under-affiliated. We wanted to connect with the modern-day busy schedule. And we wanted to be nimble and flexible so we could focus on hot-button issues at any given moment.

Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?

JCJ is an ever-evolving platform for anyone who wants to be involved in our justice work. So if you have a voice, opinion, and a desire for activism, there’s a place for you at the table. At most advocacy and nonprofit organizations, young people may be able to intern and participate in the work, but for the most part they’re still low on the totem pole in terms of having influence and power. Our mission is to dismantle the hierarchy that is prevalent within so many organizations, and provide everyone with an opportunity to raise their voice and make a difference.

Our fellowship programs start in 8th grade, and our opportunities extend to all age groups and families. In other words, our doors are open to everyone who wants to get involved. We provide various opportunities to do so, from working with like-minded coalition partners, to real-time advocacy like phone calls and letter writing, to posting impassioned videos with action items on our growing social media pages.

This inclusive and accessible approach has allowed us, a small organization with mostly part-time staff and volunteer lay leaders, to make a significant difference in our communities and enact social change through public policy. For example, as one of the only faith communities in the California Work and Family Coalition — a statewide alliance of community groups, unions, non-profits, and individuals dedicated to helping parents, caregivers, and families thrive — our summer legislative fellows made calls to elected officials, wrote action alerts, and used our state-wide network to advocate for a paid sick leave bill. After the legislation passed, JCJ had the privilege to join the governor in the virtual bill signing ceremony.

Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?

I can share how a connection with JCJ helped many high school and college fellows find their voices and passions. From accessing advocacy opportunities and influential change-makers to meeting with public officials in Washington and Sacramento, our fellows have gained a clearer vision for their future in the social justice space and the chance to pass actual legislation. Students often come to us with little direction, and within a few years find themselves working in congressional offices, and even the White House. I am proud of JCJ and the way we’ve been able to provide these paths and opportunities for students and families.

One incredible transformation that comes to mind centers around a family within the JCJ community. For years, the mom joined us at marches and events, and was active on our social media. When the pandemic hit, and many summer internship opportunities for students came to a halt, her teenage daughter joined a JCJ fellowship. It was here that she discovered her voice and her passion for activism, and deepened her involvement with JCJ’s justice work. Her family joined her on this journey as dinner table conversations became more focused on justice, activism, and the future.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Overall, communities can create more opportunities that are open and inviting to everyday people, not just the leaders in that area. They can also connect with top representatives from neighboring communities to keep lines of communication open, encourage learning among leaders, and find shared values.

As a society, we should agree on a set of acceptable norms — from reliable news outlets and sources of information to ways in which we treat one another with basic dignity. We have sadly entered a moment in which hate crimes are rising, and overt racism, antisemitism, and bigtory are commonplace in political discourse. All of us, individually and collectively, need to pursue societal solutions where kindness, decency, acceptance, and tolerance are embraced without caveat.

When it comes to politicians, I see this as a broader exploration — what can people in power do to create change? For instance, private corporations and companies that employ large numbers of people have the capacity to create lasting change within the justice sphere. This starts with ensuring employees have equal pay, fair healthcare, safe working conditions, and true diversity, inclusion, and equity programs, and extends to not conducting business in states that pass laws which harm vulnerable populations.

The clearest thing that politicians can do is to look across the aisle for opportunities to create bipartisan consensus. When I started working in DC in the early 2000s, there truly was a sense of bipartisanship cooperation. At that time, political leaders actively looked to team up with those who held a different set of viewpoints. In fact, I was taught that a bill without bipartisan co-sponsorship was dead on arrival. Essentially, if you drafted a piece of legislation and wanted your colleagues to take a bill seriously, you had to have bipartisan support from an individual on the other side.

Today, this notion is completely broken, and bipartisan cooperation is virtually non-existent. But it can be fixed. Politicians must go to their local governments, state capitol buildings, and Washington, DC with an earnest desire to find solutions with their ideological counterparts. Purity tests, no matter which side they come from, typically have bad outcomes, and so they must be willing to compromise.

Unfortunately, our current systems and institutions — from politics to social media to the Internet — don’t value this kind of work as much anymore. It has become strikingly apparent that partisanship leads to more website hits, likes, and fundraising dollars. The more extreme something is, the more likely it is to go viral and create financial incentives. On the flip side, the bipartisanship that actually makes this country a better place isn’t sexy, and doesn’t get the necessary funding or viral imprint. So, we have to re-incentivize bipartisanship, and that must start with the politicians themselves.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I define a leader — and leadership by association — as someone who takes action because it’s the right thing to do, not because it is popular. Leadership is about making hard decisions and having a clear understanding of how these decisions would better society. An addendum to that is a willingness to build consensus, even if it means angering one’s base.

One of my favorite quotes within the canon of Jewish tradition is from Pirkei Avot, a text that is about 2,000 years old. It asks “who is wise?” and it answers “someone who learns from others.” To me, that is leadership and wisdom. The wise one is not the person everyone goes to for answers, but the person who says very little and listens a lot. That is how a Jewish way of learning and leading can guide us all.

As an organization with the express mission to empower the next generation of communal leaders, I cannot wait for these young people to put me out of a job. I am beyond inspired by how they think, listen, accept, and embrace the core principles of diversity, humanity, and equity. So much of what makes JCJ a successful organization is that we listen to the next generation. In many ways, they really are the policy and brain trust of our community because we understand that the policies that we create today will be implemented and experienced tomorrow.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a non-profit”? Please share a story or example for each.

First, be mission critical. Know what it is you say ‘yes’ to, and be confident as to when to say ‘no.’ During the first year of JCJ, our mentality was to say yes to everything in order to make people happy in the moment. However, this caused us to water down our work and dilute our message. As a result, we were not living up to our mission and were missing opportunities to engage individuals in justice work.

Second, assemble a solid team of lay leaders who are there to be a sounding board, act as a system of checks and balances, and serve as ambassadors for the organization. Before JCJ launched, we wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just a few of us who desired to start something unique. We quickly realized that there was a wealth of lay leaders who wanted to help us evaluate budgets, implement systems, and create bylaws.

Third, be comfortable with fundraising. Your principal job as the leader of a nonprofit — particularly if you’re a founding member — is to fund the project. You have to be okay with asking people to donate year after year. Fundraising wasn’t as natural to me when we first started. So much of what I learned about fundraising, and how I became comfortable with it, came from two of my mentors and angel funders. They shared a lot of their experiences as entrepreneurs and taught me about the importance of believing in your project. Your love and belief in your organization or project has to translate into your fundraising. So be secure and confident in what you’re doing, and ensure that comes out in your pitches.

Fourth, be patient because there will be difficult days. If you truly believe in your overall mission, you cannot allow those difficult days to put you in a dark spiral. For example, there will be instances when you’ll think you knocked a fundraising pitch out of the park, but you actually struck out. While it may seem like a setback, it will enable you to reevaluate if you’re doing the right thing. If you believe what you’re doing is good, you have to learn from those moments and know that there will be good days ahead.

Fifth, assemble a talented staff. Listen to them and let them be creative. Give them opportunities and allow them to lead. No one goes into nonprofit work to become wealthy, so it’s important to understand that in all likelihood your staff is not getting paid as much as they’re worth. Whatever you can do to make the work environment and workload fun, meaningful, and exciting, do it.

Once you have a solid team, it’s crucial that you all learn from one another and discover new ways to work as a group. This is something that I’ve had to learn along the way myself. It’s easy to get caught in old ways, and I’ll admit that I was resistant to implementing new platforms because it wasn’t how I learned. But I trusted my staff and once I got the hang of it, it made my work ten times easier.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non profit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’ve long admired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for several reasons. He is an amazing leader and dedicated social justice activist who speaks out on issues such as racial injustice, islamophobia, and antisemitism, even if it’s not the popular thing to say. As a long-time Los Angeles resident and Lakers fan, I’ve always been amazed by his passion and abilities on the court as well.

To me, Kareem is just one example of many generational leaders who stepped up and used their faith and their commitment to justice to fight for real and lasting change. The generations who came before us have witnessed an assault on democracy and on progressive values, but I want them to know that we are holding the banner high and are continuing the work they started long ago. I want them to know that their work has not been in vain and that we are expanding on the justice they fought for.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?

There is a famous quote attributed to St. Ignatius, but which many people have claimed, which is “Pray as though everything depended on God; act as though everything depended on you.” I think this is a great lens through which to look at JCJ. We have a deep spiritual connection with this work. We’re guided by tradition, religion, and the belief that there is something great out there. And yet, we act every day knowing that God created humanity and entrusted us with the opportunity to be God’s partners here on earth. This is something that informs how I lead.

How can our readers follow you online?

The Jewish Center for Justice is on most major social media platforms. We are @Jewishcenterforjustice on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. On Twitter, people can follow us at @JewishCJustice. We also have an amazing website where readers can learn more about our work, or even sign up to engage in our work. The beauty of JCJ is that individuals can make a significant impact from wherever they are in the country.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.


Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds Of The Jewish Center For Justice: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Working Well: Amit Patel Of Mythos Group On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support &…

Working Well: Amit Patel Of Mythos Group On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Reimagined Employee Benefits — Now is the time to reimagine the standard corporate benefits package. Like it or not, our world has changed and what worked before COVID-19 will simply not work in a post-pandemic world. Workers are facing new and different challenges and they have new and different priorities. The benefits that employers use to attract and retain talent need to reflect this new reality. The organizations who embrace these reimagined benefits are the ones who are likely to have a competitive advantage in the talent marketplace for years to come.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Amit Patel.

Amit Patel is the Founder and Managing Director of Mythos Group, a boutique management consulting firm that specializes in Strategy, Digital, HR and Organizational Transformations, Leadership and Executive Coaching and Talent Management. Amit has broad-based expertise in building and leading strategic global transformations resulting in cost savings, enhanced organizational efficiency, and improved productivity. Amit has extensive experience helping clients reinvent themselves to take on new challenges and has enjoyed working with Fortune 500 organizations, start-ups and public institutions.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

Early on in my career, I had an opportunity to work with a global telecom client. As a solutions architect, I participated in numerous business strategy workshops that were focused on introducing new and innovative customer-centric products and services. Working closely with the client, I gained in-depth insights into their pain points, and it inspired me to find forward-thinking solutions that were holistic and transformative. I was hooked. This exposure and experience made me realize that my true passions were strategic planning and transformational change. So, I furthered my graduate studies in these disciplines at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and subsequently opened my own consulting firm.

The personal connection that comes from strategy and transformations, whether they be digital, HR or organizational, is deeply gratifying and validating for me. Any type of change is an emotional journey, and I found that I excelled in guiding clients through those transformational experiences in a positive and pragmatic way. This is the moment when the saying, “live to work instead of work to live,” finally resonated with me. I had found my calling, so-to-speak, and I left solution architecting to devote my life to facilitating strategic transformations. To this day, I still find my consulting work to be profoundly purposeful and meaningful.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

Like many things in business, I think it’s beneficial to be pragmatic about wellness. At Mythos Group, we know that employee wellness is directly related to the overall health and success of our business. We also know that wellness goes beyond physical health. Last year, Gallup published an article that explored what they found to be the five elements of well-being that characterize a thriving life: Career, Social, Financial, Physical and Community. If a person doesn’t exhibit all five types of well-being, then they’re not actually thriving.

To tie that back into business, Gallup compared people who exhibited all five types of well-being to those who were only physically well. They found that those who only reported physical well-being missed 68% more work each year for health-related problems, were three times more likely to file for worker’s comp, were five times more likely to look for new jobs within the next year and were two times more likely to actually change jobs. That has profound implications for talent management for any organization, ours included.

At Mythos Group, we define wellness in holistic terms, but I think wellness in general means the ability to balance personal, professional and social responsibilities and to successfully handle the pressure and stress that these responsibilities can cause. As business leaders, we need to prioritize our employees’ work requirements in a way that won’t add undue professional pressure and stress. In turn, we measure the wellness of our employees by the holistic health of our business, and we counsel our clients to do the same in their organizations.

Pragmatically speaking, investing in employee wellness can produce measurable return on investment (ROI) in terms of reduced costs and increased profits, but it can also produce substantial value on investment (VOI) as well. VOI may include benefits such as higher employee morale, higher employee job satisfaction and better employee engagement. These are all just as important to an organization’s bottom line, but they’re not as easily calculated as dollars and cents.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

As I mentioned in my previous response, there are certain things you can measure and there are certain things that are abstract when it comes to the benefits of employee wellness. But both are important when it comes to correlating and quantifying the impact of a well workforce. According to the Gallup article I mentioned earlier, about 85% of companies have some sort of employee wellness program. Burnalong, a company that helps implement employee wellness programs published an ebook about this very subject that I found to be instructive.

While putting a number to your ROI is pretty straightforward, assigning metrics to your company’s VOI can be tricky. Burnalong’s guide suggests assigning quantifiable numbers to things like higher customer satisfaction ratings, increased productivity, lower turnover, fewer workplace injuries, lower levels of shrinkage, fewer missed workdays and fewer product defects in addition to increased profitability and lower healthcare claims costs.

I want to emphasize that frequent, open and honest communications with your employees are key. At present, workers are being very vocal about what they want out of their jobs in order to attain a better work-life balance. This honest feedback is a great gift to business leaders if we choose to accept it. Any company can implement a wellness program, but if their workers are experiencing stress and burnout from not feeling validated or from being denied a flexible work arrangement or opportunities to progress within the company, then a plug and play wellness program is not going to help as much as structural changes to the business and the corporate culture would.

The leadership at Mythos Group practices what we preach when it comes to communication, and we counsel our clients to always communicate with their workers first in order to create a comprehensive inventory of all the factors affecting employee wellness. Once that’s done, it’s easier to see what initiatives can be assigned key performance indicators (KPIs), what factors must be given a more qualitative analysis and what organizational strategies can be implemented to improve a company’s overall corporate culture.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

If business leaders aren’t motivated by the positive outcomes and potential ROI from implementing wellness programs, they might be motivated by the negative consequences that can come from ignoring employee wellness. During the months of April through August in 2021, almost 20 million people quit their jobs according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The Great Resignation, as it is now known, was fueled by several factors spurred on by COVID-19. Of the four factors that Anthony Klotz, who coined the phrase The Great Resignation, gave for the phenomenon — a backlog of resignations, worker burnout, pandemic epiphanies and the desire to work remotely — three are related to employee wellness.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is a syndrome resulting from workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. A study done by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2021 showed that 79% of employees experienced work-related stress in the month before the survey, and nearly 3 in 5 (or 60% of) employees reported negative impacts of work-related stress. The Harvard Business Review found that workplace stress cost the U.S. economy more than $500 billion dollars each year and 550 million missed workdays. And that was in 2019 before the pandemic started!

An article that appeared in Forbes cited a Gallup poll that described how disengaged workers (workers who are “unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to coworkers”) have a 37% higher rate of absenteeism, an 18% lower rate of productivity and a 15% lower rate of profitability. They translated those percentages into dollars and found that the costs to the company for a disengaged worker can be up to 34% of their yearly salary. That would be $3,400 for every $10,000 that they’re paid.

In addition to these numbers, research done by the American Psychological Association (APA) has found that companies without systems in place to support the well-being of their employees face a higher rate of turnover, lower productivity and higher healthcare costs. As business leaders, we’re always engaging in cost-benefit analyses. With the costs of ignoring worker well-being this high, the question of, “How can we afford a workplace wellness program?” easily gets reframed as a question of, “How can we afford not to implement a workplace wellness program?”

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank well-being as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

That’s a great article, and I couldn’t agree more. No matter the size or industry, at the heart of every company are its employees — its workforce. Employee well-being directly contributes to the success or failure of an organization, so I think it’s of the utmost importance to keep this in mind during the hiring process. When we bring people on at Mythos Group, we look for likeminded individuals who share our core philosophies and principles. We look for those who will thrive in our work culture.

That being said, it’s important to have a thriving workplace culture in place. In their 2021 Global Culture Report, the O.C. Tanner Institute defined a “thriving” workplace culture as one that possesses six essential elements: purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, well-being and leadership. The report goes on to show that employees who were members of “non-thriving” workplace cultures were 81% more likely to experience Covid-19-related burnout. Employees in “thriving” workplace cultures were only 13% more likely to experience Covid-19-related burnout.

It’s important to evaluate your corporate culture in these terms before you begin recruiting new talent. Part of that is having leaders that are all philosophically aligned and who are all committed to having an inclusive, happy and healthy environment as well as a shared vision. At Mythos Group, we partner with our clients to identify areas where there is an opportunity for improvement, and then we collaborate to implement strategic change. If a wellness program makes sense in this context, then we’ll work with senior leadership to find the right wellness program to address their specific challenges.

We’ve all heard of the four-day workweek, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on-demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

  • Mental Wellness: I’ve written a lot about mental wellness this year. COVID-19 has had profoundly negative effects on people’s mental health. Research shows that around 20% of adults have experienced some type of mental illness in their lifetime. Mental health isn’t an isolated issue, and unsurprisingly, it is closely tied to physical health problems such as diabetes and heart disease, sleep issues, and addiction or substance abuse disorders. Those physical problems inevitably decrease employee output as well as increase sick days. We’re still waiting to know what the true mental health costs of the pandemic will be, but we already know that they will be greater than at any other time in recent memory.

When working with a client, we suggest two main ways to improve the mental health of their workforce. The first is to make sure they provide access to mental health treatment. Over half of adults with mental illness don’t ever receive treatment, and 11% of people with mental illness can’t afford treatment because they are uninsured. As an employer, you should seriously consider adding mental health treatment to your benefits if you haven’t done so already. It’s imperative that your employees can get treatment for mental health issues when they arise.

As I’ve already mentioned, the other strategy that we preach, inside Mythos Group and outside to our clients, is communication. We must maintain a transparent and ongoing conversation about mental health. Business leaders need to be open about this topic and get the conversation started within their own spheres of influence. As leaders, you can strive to model healthy behaviors like having a work-life balance, understanding the importance of holistic health, and normalizing the need for getting help through therapy or counseling. Remember, you set the precedent for your employees. When your workers see you walk the talk, they will be more likely to follow in your footsteps and do the same.

  • Emotional Wellness: Emotional wellness is really tied into all of these other forms of wellness. If a person is suffering in any of these five areas, it will lead to emotional distress. One of the newer ways I’ve seen of ensuring an employee’s emotional well-being comes from research done by the Limeade Institute. They show that “experience activators” are mindsets that greatly influence the well-being of the individual. According to the Limeade Institute, experience activators, “generate energy and expand our capacity to improve overall experiences and quality of life.”

When they studied over 500,000 employees in 2019, they found that people with high levels of experience activators have lower levels of stress as well as higher levels of engagement and productivity. Different experience activators play roles of different sizes in an employee’s overall well-being, but the eight that they find necessary for positive outcomes are self-efficacy, optimism, resilience, openness, gratitude, purpose, mindfulness and emotion regulation.

This can be a useful starting point to assessing your employees’ emotional states, and it can be instructive when implementing employee assistance programs (EAPs) or wellness programs. If you’re seeing trends in your workers that show they are lacking in purpose, that can mean that your organization’s failing to adequately adhere to a meaningful mission statement. If you’re seeing trends that show a lack of mindfulness, then leading mindfulness workshops or giving all employees access to free mindfulness apps might be beneficial.

  • Social Wellness: It’s been cited often that people will spend an average of 90,000 hours of their life at work. That roughly equals about one third of a person’s overall lifetime. Therefore, the workplace environment is extremely important for a person’s social wellness. This is another area where it’s important to analyze your corporate culture to make sure that there aren’t instances of racism, unequal pay, toxic office politics, the inability to progress inside the organization or having inflexible policies or office hours.

In addition to an organization’s workplace culture, an employer must make sure that their employees are maintaining a good work-life balance. This means that employees at all levels are able to have enough flexibility to take care of children or elderly family members, to attend classes or take advantage of other forms of continuing education, to have adequate vacation and sick days, and finally, to maintain friends and attend social functions outside of workplace friendships and events.

I really like the idea of flexible work schedules and four-day work weeks, but I think one of the most important steps employers can take is simply to give their workers space to be off the clock. That means having well-defined boundaries in terms of when managers are allowed to email, text or call their team members. Once these boundaries are in place, they must be enforced, and business leaders at all levels must lead by example. In the past 10 years, smartphones have become ubiquitous, allowing employers to have easy access to their employees 24/7, but I think this is unhealthy and unprofitable as it often leads to fatigue, stress and overall job dissatisfaction.

  • Physical Wellness: Physical wellness is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. You may offer discounted gym memberships to your employees, but if they have physical limitations that make exercising difficult or if they have childcare or senior care responsibilities outside of the office, they may not have time to spend an hour a day at the gym.

With that in mind, I like to suggest healthy initiatives that can be utilized easily by all employees. For example, many offices have a snack closet or a vending machine that’s loaded with cookies, candy, chips and sodas. If this is what’s available at your office, this is what your employees are going to eat. Simply switching out junk foods for easily accessible fruits, vegetables and other healthy snacks can make a huge difference in the physical health of your employees.

Holding meetings outdoors where employees can get some fresh air and sunlight can also have positive impacts on physical health. The sun is a major source of vitamin D, which is necessary for healthy immune function and regulating calcium absorption. Spending time outdoors can also function as a mood booster, which helps emotional and mental wellness as well.

  • Financial Wellness: Financial wellness ultimately comes from a person’s ability to pay for food and shelter, with income left over for saving and discretionary spending. This comes from making a living wage. Therefore, it’s incumbent on businesses to pay their employees a competitive rate. That’s step one. Step two would be to offer your employees a savings or retirement program, like a 401K, and then give them the information they need to educate themselves on the benefits of the different savings programs offered.

This may not seem innovative, but most employers don’t choose to take these very basic steps. However, financial stress and insecurity can lead to poor productivity, absenteeism and high employee attrition, both of which will cost your business and affect your bottom line. A survey done by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that 38% of workers say that they have less than a thousand dollars in their savings at any given time. This is far less than most families need in order to deal with emergency expenses like car repairs or medical bills.

We’ve seen EAPs rise in popularity over the last few years, and I often counsel our clients to not only have these EAPs in place, but to also communicate clearly and often the ways in which their employees can take advantage of these programs. Having a safety net in place for your workers if they stumble upon hard times increases the overall well-being of employees and serves as a valuable tool for talent acquisition and retention. These programs can offer the individualized counseling that people need to manage their finances successfully in a discrete and meaningful way.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of employee wellness in a post-COVID-19 world. The well-being of any organization’s workforce will be the most important factor in whether that organization succeeds or fails. And, the biggest change that needs to be made to support employee well-being is to change our wellness policies to be proactive and holistic rather than reactive and additive.

The saying, “Your health is your wealth,” is true of companies as well as individuals. To their credit, the Millennials and Gen Zers are embracing this philosophy at greater rates than Gen Xers and Boomers. According to a study done by LifeWorks, young adults, aged 20 to 29 are nearly twice as likely as those over 60 to say that they prioritize their mental health. In addition, half of millennials and 75% of Gen Zers cite mental health as a reason to leave a job.

These younger generations are the future of business and they’re demanding that their employers take their mental health and overall wellness into consideration. Any organization that moves forward without comprehensive and holistic wellness programs in place does so at their own peril. Ignoring employee wellness will significantly affect employee retention and talent acquisition in the coming years, and those companies that can establish themselves as a pro-wellness employer will effectively win the war for talent.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

At Mythos Group, we are fortunate to have a leadership team that is fully aligned in supporting wellness initiatives. As consultants, we have the benefit of decades of experience seeing what works and what doesn’t for organizations. And, while every business in every industry is different, there is one thing that remains constant — no matter who you are or what you do, your most important assets are your employees. Always!

Employing education and implementing new policies to reskill workers is appropriate when necessary. However, I’m a firm believer that the best way to teach someone is to lead by example. In this case, what that means is that the senior management in an organization needs to show their subordinates what wellness looks like. Corporate cultures are often established from the top down. Once a culture of wellness has been established in the C-suite, then it’s easier to hire likeminded directors and managers who will be a good fit for a well workplace.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

To piggyback off my last answer, I think the one step that everyone can take is to lead by example. Wellness is a very personal journey, and it starts with the individual. And while we advise our clients that those in senior leadership roles need to serve as good examples, the fact of the matter is that when each person models wellness to their co-workers, bosses and subordinates, it creates a ripple effect.

I think there’s a shared responsibility when it comes to having a well workplace culture. Individuals need to commit to being well in order for the team and organization as a whole to function as a well workplace. You can look at it like a ballroom dance. You may have the dance floor and the music, but you still need two partners who know the steps. And, much like two dance partners, the individuals and the organization as a whole need to communicate with each other as they move along.

A holistic wellness program is one that is intertwined betwixt and between every individual on every team in every department, from the bottom up and the top down. It may sound like an insurmountable task, but just like a virus, wellness is contagious. Engaging in open and honest communication as well as exhibiting empathy and compassion will empower employers and employees to not only commit to wellness, but to also exemplify wellness.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

There are so many new innovations going on in the field of workplace wellness. It’s a really exciting time to be doing this kind of work. Even though new ways to ensure a well workforce are popping up every day, these are the five that, in my experience, are gaining the most traction. Some of these initiatives have been on the table for a while, but the coronavirus pandemic has given their adoption greater immediacy, and we are likely to see their broad implementation soon.

  1. Financial Wellness — The U.S. is currently experiencing record inflation, record gas prices and record housing costs. At the start of 2022, 64% of the U.S. population was living paycheck to paycheck according to a recent report done by LendingClub. Even 48% of those who earned six figures said that they’re living paycheck to paycheck. The financial wellness of the average American is in a truly perilous place.

Just last month, a new survey was released that showed that 51% of employees are more stressed about their finances than they were a year ago. These employees reported that they spent around 25% of their workweek dealing with financial issues — that’s one quarter of the time they spend working! The study also found that 86% of employees say that their financial stress impacts their productivity, 84% reported that it affected their job satisfaction and 80% said they it was having a negative impact on their mental and physical health.

So, what can companies do to bolster their workforce’s financial wellness? Employers need to understand the financial burdens that their workforce is bearing and implement targeted solutions aimed at lifting those burdens. Employers need to not only offer comprehensive benefits that include savings options like 401K plans, pension funds, stock options, and health and emergency savings funds, they need to educate their workers about the benefits of saving, budgeting, investing and keeping cash on hand for emergencies.

When I was a managing director at a Silicon Valley start-up, we were incredibly proactive at ensuring the financial health of our team members. To that end, we created a culture of equity and inclusiveness where everyone had a share of the success of the company. We issued stocks to every single hire, and we offered them the opportunity to buy more stock through Employee Stock Purchase Plans (ESPPs). We also contributed an equal match up to 6% to their 401K plans. And last but definitely not least, we paid top salary to employees at all levels. This gave us an edge over our competition when it came to attracting and retaining the best talent.

Taking proactive steps to ensure the financial health and wellness of your employees will pay dividends in the long run by reducing turnover, having less missed workdays, lowering healthcare costs, exhibiting higher employee morale, seeing higher company loyalty, enjoying increased productivity and experiencing an overall healthier and happier corporate culture. Not to mention, employees will be able to stop focusing on their short-term financial insecurity in order to focus on their long-term financial stability.

2. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) Initiatives — Ted Colbert, an executive at Boeing, is famously quoted as saying, “The best workforce is a diverse workforce.” This statement couldn’t be any truer. Diversity has the ability to make any workforce more dynamic, more creative and more innovative. I have seen firsthand how people from different cultural, geographical and generational backgrounds can work together to solve problems in a way that a one-dimensional workforce cannot.

In my career, I have found that it is consistently the groups with the most diversity that perform the best. I’ve had the opportunity to work with many international clients and because we’re working with global teams, they were often diverse by default. What I found over and over again was that when you get different perspectives involved in strategizing and problem-solving, you end up with better business outcomes, easier implementation and more innovative solutions.

As a naturalized American citizen, I know firsthand how beneficial DEIB efforts can be for the wellness of the employee as well as the wellness of the organization. In order to have a thriving work culture, employees need to feel valued for their unique ideas and contributions. And they need to feel like they belong. Microaggressions, bullying, racism, inequitable pay structures and lack of mobility within the company cause marginalized groups a great deal of stress and mental fatigue. This has been called the “emotional tax” of being a minority in the workforce, and it can lead to worse health outcomes and higher instances of mental illnesses.

We are at an incredibly exciting place in time where we have the most diverse workforce in history. Not only do we have every race, gender, religion, culture and background represented, but we also have five generations of people working together at the same time. Investing in DEIB initiatives now, can make a huge difference in the wellness of each of these individuals and the wellness of an organization as a whole.

3. Flexible and Hybrid Work Models — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, who would have thought that over the course of several weeks, the majority of the global workforce could and would go online? When we look back at the past two and a half years, this change may be the most profound shift that occurred, and it may prove to be the change that stays around the longest after the pandemic is truly over. As it turns out, many of those who were forced to work from home during the pandemic found that they enjoyed that flexibility. According to a Future Forum Pulse survey, remote workers feel two times better about their work-life balance and 2.4 times better about their work-related stress. This is especially true for working mothers, people of color and other marginalized employees.

In reality, working from home 100% of the time isn’t possible or even desirable for 100% of employees at 100% of companies. To address the need and want to go back to the office, companies are coming up with some really innovative hybrid work models where employees work from home part of the time and work from an office part of the time. At Mythos Group, we were working four days in the office and one day remote before the pandemic began, so we were already experiencing the benefits of a hybrid work model, and we continue to lead by example for our employees and our clients.

One of the types of flexibility that employees currently need the most is caregiving and family-focused flexibility. Part of attaining a work-life balance is having enough time to spend with your family. The skyrocketing costs of childcare and eldercare also leave many workers, especially women, acting as caregivers for family members in addition to their full-time jobs. With almost a million deaths from COVID-19, we’re also seeing family members struggle to make and pay for funeral arrangements. Employers must be cognizant of these extra familial obligations, and they must give their workers the flexibility to take care of them in a way that doesn’t cause undue stress.

When it comes to offering flexibility and hybrid work models to your employees, it’s important to really listen to what your workers are telling you and support them where you can. If your employees are working primarily at home, offer them home office allowances to offset the costs of increased use of personal technology and home utilities. Check in with them to make sure they’re staying active. It may seem like working from home would allow more time for workers to be active, but we’ve found the opposite to be true. Workers tend to be more sedentary when they work from home.

As a final note, if you truly need for your employees to work from your offices instead of from home, and you’re experiencing pushback, take the time to find out why. You may find that your employees feel like they get more done at home because there aren’t as many distractions. If that’s the case, designing your offices with designated quiet workspaces or meeting-free time blocks might be helpful. Employees are vocalizing what they want from their employers, so it’s important for their employers to listen.

4. A Four-Day Workweek — This has been in the ether for years, but for the first time, it’s gaining serious traction in the U.S. and I, for one, think it’s about time. The 40-hour workweek has been the standard practice in the U.S. since the 1920s when Henry Ford found that his workers performed best when they worked at or around 40 hours a week. Today, there is no official full-time workweek, but the Fair Labor and Standards Act does require overtime to be paid to nonexempt employees who work in excess of 40 hours. However, in the wake of the pandemic, more and more employees are voicing their desire for the move from five days to four days in order to have more flexibility and a better work-life balance.

A survey done in September of 2021 found that out of 1,000 workers, 95.4% wanted a four-day workweek, 90% believed that the five-day workweek was outdated, 97% felt that they’d be more productive working four days a week and 98% believed that their mental health would improve if they only worked four days a week. Additionally, the survey found that in order to get a four-day workweek, 38% would give up unlimited paid time off, 43% would give up free company-provided healthcare, 58% would give up an eight-hour day by working two more hours per day during a four-day week and 74% would give up their current job to have a job that only worked four days a week.

Now whether you agree with those surveyed or not, it’s obvious that a four-day workweek is in heavy demand. And it’s not just in the U.S. Belgium is the latest country to experiment with a four-day workweek. They just introduced a reform package that would give employees the power to request a six-month trial of a shorter workweek from their employer. Funded by the Scottish National party, Scotland also trialed a four-day workweek where workers would have their hours reduced by 20% but would receive the same pay. Spain has announced a similar program. In Japan, Microsoft trialed a program called the “Work-Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer” where they gave the company’s 32,000 employees the option to choose from a variety of flexible work styles, including a shorter workweek. The results of the program showed that the Microsoft workers who took part were happier and 40% more productive.

In April of 2022, California introduced AB 2932, a bill that would change the definition of a workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours for companies with more than 500 employees. The bill would also require that employees be paid overtime if they work longer than four full days a week. All-in-all, the legislation would equal a 10% increase in pay for those who were affected. In the absence of legislation, many private companies have already conducted their own four-day workweek trials. Basecamp, Kickstarter, Panasonic and thredUP are just a handful of well-known companies that are offering or planning to offer their employees a shortened workweek.

As I mentioned above, I think that it’s important to listen to what employees are saying that they need right now in order to stay mentally, physically and emotionally well. Anecdotal evidence points to a shortened workweek having benefits such as increased productivity, a reduced carbon footprint and reduced operating costs and expenses. I’m counseling our clients to run a test program with a limited number of employees and analyze the results. There’s a very real possibility that it could be a win-win for everyone involved.

5. Reimagined Employee Benefits — Now is the time to reimagine the standard corporate benefits package. Like it or not, our world has changed and what worked before COVID-19 will simply not work in a post-pandemic world. Workers are facing new and different challenges and they have new and different priorities. The benefits that employers use to attract and retain talent need to reflect this new reality. The organizations who embrace these reimagined benefits are the ones who are likely to have a competitive advantage in the talent marketplace for years to come.

One of the ways in which benefits need to evolve is in the area of paid time off (PTO). More PTO has always been high on employees’ wish lists, but many employers have considered it to be a frivolous request. We’re now starting to realize that the reasons workers need more time off are anything but frivolous. Take sick days for example. Before the pandemic, many workers would power through a cold or the flu, coming into work and exposing their officemates because they didn’t want to waste their precious PTO. In the age of COVID-19 and with the threat of emerging variants and new pandemics, coming to work sick is a huge liability for an organization.

In addition to more sick days, workers desperately need more family leave to take care of new babies, sick children, ailing parents and deceased relatives. Maternity, paternity and family leave needs to not only be acceptable, but it also needs to be encouraged. One of the five main types of wellness we mentioned earlier is social wellness and a large part of a person’s social wellness is familial wellness. I have seen, throughout my career, that organizations that had policies in place to support and include a worker’s family had higher employee engagement, satisfaction and loyalty.

Healthcare benefits have always been appreciated by office employees, but it’s time to expand them to include part-time and blue-collar workers as well. Healthcare inequality was laid bare by COVID-19. Marginalized, low-income and rural communities had much worse health outcomes during the pandemic. The single best way to protect these workers and to improve healthcare equity is by providing the whole of the workforce with access to affordable healthcare.

In addition, these standard healthcare benefits need to be expanded to include coverage for mental health, preventative medicine and telehealth. Mental health benefits could include corporate counselors, corporate help lines, mindfulness apps and holistic mental wellness programs that encourage self-care, exercise and healthy eating. Telehealth solutions can be used to foster wellness by delivering useful and timely health education and information, fostering better clinician-patient relationships and making it easier for people to seek out medical care when they need it by attending virtual visits.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

My greatest optimism about employee well-being in the future comes from the fact that speaking out about things like wellness and mental health are no longer taboo. The toll that COVID-19 has taken on our overall health and well-being is undeniable. I believe that the focus on wellness that we’re seeing now will continue to grow in the wake of the pandemic, and I think that we should appreciate that focus for the silver lining that it is.

Now, more than ever, people want a good work-life balance with flexible schedules and enough compensation to thrive instead of just survive. In some vocations, it’s been acceptable to work 60 hours a week at multiple jobs for minimum wage. That is no longer acceptable because as a society we’ve come to understand that it is not sustainable. It’s unhealthy for the workers and it’s unhealthy for their employers. Moving forward, I believe we will see this validated again and again. The companies that make the shift to a holistically well workforce will be the companies that will continue to grow and prosper in a post-pandemic economy.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

I invite your readers to go online to the Mythos Group website to learn more about me and the services my firm provides. On our Insights page, you’ll find a wealth of information, including articles, white papers, e-books, interviews, presentations and webinars, or check out our blog posts for timely discussions on what’s happening in the business world. You can also connect with me directly on LinkedIn.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.

Thank you! It was my pleasure as always.

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Working Well: Amit Patel Of Mythos Group On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support &… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Working Well: Jeanne Stevens Of Soul City Church On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That…

Working Well: Jeanne Stevens Of Soul City Church On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

… Workspace Reimbursement Stipend. Working from home is not as luxurious for some as it is for others. This benefit was implemented during the height of COVID to help employees experience wellness in their at-home work environment. Each new employee is given a stipend to be able to purchase things that will promote wellness in their remote work environment that they might not otherwise have been able to pay for.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jeanne Stevens.

Jeanne Stevens is the founding and co-lead pastor of Soul City Church in Chicago, one of America’s fastest growing urban churches. A sought-after speaker, leader, and writer, Jeanne’s passion is to help people wake up to their purpose as they pursue a life of wholehearted freedom. She lives in Chicago with her husband, Jarrett, and their two children. Jeanne recently released her first book called WHAT’S HERE NOW? How to stop rehashing the past and rehearsing the future and start receiving the present.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

I have the unique and beautiful opportunity of being one of the founding lead pastors of a non-denominational church in the heart of the West Loop of Chicago. My husband and I started the church in our living room with a dream and a handful of people. Over the past decade, we have grown to well over 3000 people who are part of our community. The name Soul City Church was a very intentional choice. We wanted to become a community of people that would help people transform at a soul level, hopefully leaving the city and the world a better place. We recognize that many of the wellness shifts taking place are so helpful in creating better practices of mental, emotional, relational, physical, and relational health. Still, if a person’s soul is not transformed, those changes don’t fully transform the person’s life. Four years into navigating through the hustle of a start-up, forging through the growing pains of a fast-growing organization, parenting two young kids, navigating through the everyday pressures of life, and experiencing some significant loss began to take a toll on my life. My own soul felt dry and weary. I could not bounce back with just some subtle shifts and tweaks to my sleep, diet, or exercise. I was on the doorstep of burnout and needed to make more profound changes in my soul. Through intentional, conscious leadership work, I realized that I was very rarely present and in the moment. I was either rehashing the past or rehearsing the future in my mind and heart. So I began a journey of learning how to receive the gift of the present moment.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

One of the things we always say to our new team members is that we want the mission of our organization to work in their own lives. We don’t just want them to work on the mission of our church; we want the mission to work in them. We always remind them that we all have a first day and a last day. Our hope and prayer is that they can say, “I am a healthier and more whole person by the time they come to the last day.” For that to happen, we long to care for our team through ongoing financial, emotional, physical, relational, and spiritual benefits that support their continuing growth and transformation.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

Healthy and whole people are more aware of what is going on inside of them, and they’re able to pay attention to what they most need to practice wellness regularly. When a team member knows their work culture is in support of them taking personal responsibility for their health and development, they are then able to invest their energy into their work and collaborate with others to solve problems, bring fresh ideas and create a meaningful and enjoyable work environment. I believe strongly that the organization and the employee need to see themselves as partners in creating wellness. When both equally contribute to creating a culture of health, everyone wins.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

While organizations must create robust wellness opportunities for their team, we have to hire people committed to their own wellness journey. It has been said that the most expensive positions you hire are the ones you have to rehire. There are reports that the cost of a bad hire is 30% of the employee’s wages for the first year. If you take an employee with a yearly pay of $80,000, the expense to the employer would be as high as $24,000. This might not seem like a lot to a business, but if you are a small business and have a small budget, this amounts to a lot of wasted money that can hurt your bottom line.

The wrong hire is not just a resource issue. When managers have to spend a disproportionate amount of time supervising poorly performing employees, it drains energy and time from good managers, decreasing their desire to contribute in meaningful ways to the organization.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank well-being as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

Flex/development days. Soul City employees are given one per quarter to use for rest, rejuvenation, or developing their overall well being (personal, professional, spiritual) in one way or another (it is up to the employee to determine what form of rest or development will be most helpful for them). This promotes autonomy and ownership in the well-being of the employee.

Health & Wellness benefits. Each employee receives a yearly stipend for health and well-being. This money can be used for counseling, spiritual direction, gym memberships, therapeutic massage, etc. This benefit applies to any type of health: physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual.

Excellent medical, vision, and dental benefits. It would be remiss of us to promote the holistic health of the employee without contributing to their ability to care for themselves and their families. Soul City covers 80% of the plan costs for medical, vision, and dental for both employees and their dependents. This generous contribution comes out of a desire for each person who works at Soul City to be able to attend to their physical and mental well-being. These plan costs significantly increase the value of each total compensation package, which is discussed with every potential employee throughout the hiring process.

Workspace Reimbursement Stipend. Working from home is not as luxurious for some as it is for others. This benefit was implemented during the height of COVID to help employees experience wellness in their at-home work environment. Each new employee is given a stipend to be able to purchase things that will promote wellness in their remote work environment that they might not otherwise have been able to pay for.

Each of the things listed above are key talking points and discussed/promoted with candidates during multiple stages of the interview process. Particularly, during our group interview process, each candidate has a chance to hear about these things firsthand from a panel of current employees who speak about their personal experiences within our Soul City work and wellness culture.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on-demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

  • Mental Wellness: Health & Wellness reimbursement to be used towards counseling. We have staff (through Soul City’s House of Hope) dedicated to vetting and recommending counseling based on their specific specialties and the staff members’ specific mental health needs. We are discovering that people want to pursue their mental health; they often don’t know where to start. Providing them laid out options that they don’t have to begin researching on their own and the financial means to get the process started (anecdotally) yields higher numbers of staff pursuing mental wellness.
  • Emotional Wellness: Development days for when staff needs to recharge. Flexibility to work from home several days a week. Sick days can be used for mental health. Recently implemented DEIJA work. Creating an accessible, emotionally and psychologically safe workspace for every employee across every protected classification is a significant investment in the overall wellness of each individual. Employees spend so much time in the workplace (minimum 8 hours a day on average). Ensuring that the workspace is safe and employees feel comfortable expressing their experiences and needs is a considerable step towards emotional wellness. We are learning that flexibility and openness in the workplace are two highly valued traits. Employees are more productive and more loyal to an organization when they feel that there is a willingness to meet their needs (flexibility) and a desire for their voice actually to be heard (openness).
  • Social Wellness: Soul City staff participates in annual staff retreats (ex: getting away together as a team to promote unity and team-building). Regular outings are planned, such as trips together to local establishments (ex: Mario’s Italian Ice, Escape Games, Ax Throwing, the Dawson) that create opportunities for staff to experience social wellness amongst one another. Soul City also creates intentional opportunities (ex: staff holiday parties, costume contests, staff chili cookoff) for employees to bring their families/significant others. These events promote our belief that the person does not just do vocational ministry on staff- it is a felt, family experience that deserves space and recognition. We’re discovering that a culture that can “play hard together” has a higher capacity to “work hard together.” The sense of community, connectedness, and responsibility to one another has great potential to yield higher accountability in daily work.
  • Physical Wellness: We give two additional weeks of vacation for a Christmas Break and a Summer Break. Those weeks are a gift to staff to allow them to rest. Rest and rejuvenation is key to physical wellness, and these two additional “free” weeks off for staff promote a rhythm of rest and retreat that allows the team to pause and check-in with their physical well-being. We have discovered that intentional cycles of rest help yield employees’ best efforts.
  • Financial Wellness: Soul City offers employees access to financial planners and investment experts who assist with budgeting, investment advice, and general inquiries around financial wellness. Discovering that employees (more often than not) want to be good stewards of their incomes but sometimes need help in that direction. In addition to take-home pay, Soul City automatically contributes 4% of each employee’s annual salary into their 403B account.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

I think all workplaces would do well to benefit from Soul City’s example in the following ways:

  • Quality health, vision, dental insurance. It is one thing for an employer to say that they care about their employees’ well-being. It’s another to make a significant financial contribution through an 80% plan cost-share with the employees to receive the care they need without fear or feelings of scarcity. It is also worth noting that Soul City made this a priority even when still in the “start-up” phase, which is not common in start-up culture, particularly in the not-for-profit sector.
  • Acceptance, promotion, and provision for counseling and mental health care. Soul City creates a culture in which leadership (from the top down) speaks openly about going to counseling and the benefits of tending to mental health. Soul City “puts its money where its mouth is” by providing a financial stipend to help people offset the cost of counseling. The quality health insurance coverage they provide goes a long way towards offsetting the cost of therapy and counseling.
  • DEIJA work. Rather than just hiring someone to lead a one-off workshop, doing a deep, systematic dive into the work of diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and accessibility (in a way that promotes honesty and creates space for everyone to be heard) is a crucial step in supporting the emotional wellness of every employee in the workplace.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

Additional training opportunities for managers. Soul City invests in managers/leaders in the organization through bi-weekly meetings to discuss important topics and receive the necessary training to enhance their leadership skills, thus equipping them to promote healthy wellness cultures with their direct reports. Soul City also encourages each manager to write line items in their budget for professional development opportunities. Managers are encouraged to intentionally use their professional development opportunities (conferences, workshops, certifications, etc.) to dive deeper and learn more about promoting overall wellness within their specific departments/teams.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

One small step: TALKING about wellness. I am convinced that Soul City has so many opportunities to promote staff wellness because the topic is constantly top of mind. It is at the forefront of the conversation.

Creating a culture where leadership and employees talk about the value of rest, check-in around mental health, have regular conversations about the work of DEIJA, and verbally value overall well-being may seem simple, but even starting the discussion is a significant step in the direction of implementation.

Mr. Rodgers once said: Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.”

The work of “getting well” directly reflects what it means to be human. Starting the conversation, and keeping it going, makes the work of wellness seem more manageable (and arguably even more possible) in the workplace.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

1. Creating the Health & Wellness Benefits This helps destigmatize mental health and has led to a more significant percentage of our employees pursuing counseling. Our HR Manager was not attending counseling when she started working at Soul City. Through regular 1:1 meetings, her manager was able to discern this was something she would enjoy/benefit from. Soul City increased the amount of her health and wellness stipend for that year, and she’s remained in counseling for two years and openly speaks about how it has changed/benefited her mental wellness.

2. Social wellness Soul City has experienced greater wellness in our team’s social dynamics/unity following opportunities for “play” together as a team. Example: Our staff took a retreat to the Oaks Center in California. Staff from different teams (from Executive Leadership on down) had numerous opportunities to interact and intentionally get to know one another outside of just their titles and job descriptions.

3. DEIJA Work This is something we have just begun a deep dive into as a team. We are hopeful and very curious to follow this trend and see how it might create more openness, care, and inclusion in the workplace (emotional wellness.)

4. INCREASED PTO We have recently increased the amount of PTO that staff gets after being at Soul City for two years or more. We provide sabbaticals for full-time pastors who have been with the organization for seven or more years. We award any staff member after 5 years on staff up to 5,000 dollars invested in them towards a life plan or other in-person intensive experience. We are interested to track this trend and seeing if there is any correlation between the implementation of this increase and people’s longevity with the organization.

5. PHYSICAL WELLNESS CHALLENGE We would like to implement some type of physical wellness program or challenge for the staff and would be curious to see if this correlates with reportedly higher levels of emotional health/workplace satisfaction.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

I am encouraged and hopeful that people want to be healthy and whole and they feel a new freedom to talk about it with others. For so many years there was so much shame associated with mental, emotional, and relational wellness, I am so grateful that the conversation is shifting and people are being encouraged to take responsibility for their health in supportive and holistic ways.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

You can find Jeanne Stevens on her website Jeannestevens.com, and if you are interested in her church, you can look up Soulcitychurch.com.

Jeanne can be found on Instagram and Facebook at @Jeannestevens

Jeanne recently released her first book called WHAT’S HERE NOW? How to stop rehashing the past and rehearsing the future and start receiving the present.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Working Well: Jeanne Stevens Of Soul City Church On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Music Stars Making A Social Impact: How & Why Sophia Saffarian Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

I want people to listen to my music and be able to find solace in knowing that they might not be alone in their particular situation, whether that be relationship struggles, self-worth, anxiety or even more positive feelings. There’s something beautiful about being able to relate to others going through what you’re going through and experiencing similar emotions. It’s my way of embracing acceptance and honesty in being true to who you are and how you process things. Sometimes the world can be cruel and you can feel alone in your thoughts, but being able to turn to music has enabled me to feel heard in my times of need and to be that voice for others who may not find it so easy to speak out or have someone who understands them on a personal level is what drives me.

As a part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sophia Saffarian.

Emerging from London, rising artist Sophia Saffarian began her journey with music at an early age. From initially being classically trained, having a short spell in musical theatre, to developing a passion for gospel and most recently experiencing the pop industry as part of a girl-group, Sophia has developed a wide appreciation for all genres and the industry as a whole.

Through the years of finding an outlet in writing, creating and performing, Sophia has shaped a voice and sound of her own that identify who she is as both a person and artist.

Embodying lyrical content that stems from personal experiences surrounding topics of relationships and internal battles, she invites fans into the depths of her mind.

https://www.youtube.com/c/SophiaSaffarian

Thank you so much for joining us on this interview series. Can you share with us the backstory that led you to this career path?

Music has played a key part in my life for as long as I can remember. I never thought it would end up being my career purely due to the fact that the industry is so over-saturated and difficult to navigate. I joined Stage Coach at a very young age and performed at the Albert Hall when I was 10. I trained classically and learnt to play the piano, joining every choir and taking part in every competition I could. I used to post covers on SoundCloud, one of which had nearly half a million plays, which at the time was a lot and I remember being so excited by that. At the age of 15, I joined Birmingham Community Gospel Choir, the only under-18 there. Here, I met a producer who I began working with and over the next 3 or 4 years, began to write my own music. I then went on to complete my GCSEs and A-Levels in order to go to university to become a Veterinarian, this gave me a secure ‘back up’ option, also a career which I knew I would have enjoyed. Whilst I was at uni, I secured a weekly residence performing at the Sky Bar at Resorts World in Birmingham. I would travel up from uni every weekend to perform with Reuben, my guitarist and I absolutely loved it. It was at this point that I decided to apply for the XFactor. I was fast-tracked through a couple of the initial audition stages and went straight to the final one before the TV auditions. I was unsuccessful as a solo artist but was provided with the option of auditioning for a girlband through a third-party management company which would then go on to enter into the show. I was successful, along with 3 other amazing girls and that’s when Four of Diamonds was created. We reached the live finals of the XFactor and ended up coming 8th place. We then went on to tour the UK and signed a record deal with Virgin EMI Records. Fast forward 5 years, we achieved over 20 million streams worldwide and collaborated with the likes of Burna Boy, Saweetie, Mr Eazi and supported artists such as Rita Ora, Lionel Ritchie and Ariana Grande up and down the country in some of the UK’s biggest arenas. When the pandemic hit, the girls and I couldn’t perform or get in the studio together and had no choice but to take some time to focus on ourselves and our individual paths. Here I re-discovered my love for song-writing, taught myself how to engineer and got cracking in the studio. It just kind of snow-balled from there really and a year later I have a repertoire of around 60 songs that I love and am finally releasing!

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or takeaway you took out of that story?

Probably meeting the Four of Diamonds girls. We were put together by our management and went through a rigorous audition process where 30 girls were whittled down to just us 4. Within 5 days of being put together, we were performing on national television in front of millions of people. Our journey on the show was far from straight-forward and full of ups and downs but it made us resilient and provided us with an amazing platform and some priceless opportunities. It’s so crazy how we went from being complete strangers to such close friends who lived and worked together, spending every day with each other. I don’t think any of us went into the process thinking we would end up signed, collaborating with some of our favourite artists, let alone as a group. It’s a true blessing. When I look back and see how much we were able to achieve, that’s something I never could’ve imagined or predicted, only hoped for and it’s crazy to think that it happened so quickly and so unexpectedly.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

Don’t over-work yourself. Work smart. And listen to yourself — there’s no point forcing creativity if you’re not feeling creative, you’ll just burn out and feel deflated. When I find myself in this mindset, I try to focus my energy on another aspect of being an artist — maybe the business side of things or networking. There’s always something you can be doing. It’s a gift and a curse haha. Oh and you need to rest. Take that day/week off to re-charge. Have your little things that you do in your spare time to make you feel good and allow you to escape. You can do absolutely anything if you really put your mind to it.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?

My family. I am so lucky to have such a strong relationship with my family and eternally grateful to them for their unconditional love and support. They give the best advice and take a genuine interest in my passion which is all I could ask for. Being an artist is a full-time job, a business, and I see them as my business partners in a way, they play to their strengths when I need them to — my sister has been helping me with my PR and marketing, my parents both have a very good ear for commercial music and great business minds and my brother helps me navigate what’s current and in-demand and how to approach and target the right people to make things happen. Combined, we make the best team.

Also my extended family AKA my friends, a few of which happen to be in music. Zues Sherlock and the V1 music family along with the community at the Qube have provided me with a space I can thrive in creatively whilst encouraging and enabling me to really own my authentic self, both personally and musically.

Finally, I couldn’t not mention Pierre Medor — my mentor and producer. He is the catalyst in me pursuing my solo music career. He believed in me from the get-go, at times when I didn’t know if I could do it and is someone I can utilise as a soundboard who I know will always keep it 110% real with me. He’s someone I’ve looked up to for a long time — working with some of my musical inspirations such as Usher, Alicia Keys, Brandy and India Arie. We actually connected through Zues and his relationship with Tricky Stewart, another absolute legend in the industry. It was so organic and natural and I truly believe that we were meant to cross paths. I’m so grateful for him and his talent.

How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you’re working on right now?Â

My music provides a much-needed emotional outlet for me. Everyone needs to be able to let themselves really feel the things they’re going through and to know that it’s ok to not not always be ok. The most important thing for me is to provide that kind of outlet for my listeners. I want people to listen to my music and be able to find solace in knowing that they might not be alone in their particular situation, whether that be relationship struggles, self-worth, anxiety or even more positive feelings. There’s something beautiful about being able to relate to others going through what you’re going through and experiencing similar emotions. It’s my way of embracing acceptance and honesty in being true to who you are and how you process things. Sometimes the world can be cruel and you can feel alone in your thoughts, but being able to turn to music has enabled me to feel heard in my times of need and to be that voice for others who may not find it so easy to speak out or have someone who understands them on a personal level is what drives me.

The project I’m currently working on focuses on the emotional peaks and troughs a 20-somewhat young woman of my generation might face. There’s a song for everyone in there… self-empowerment, self-doubt, relationship struggles, new and exciting love, reflection and everything in between. You’ll find songs you can dance to, cry to, sing along to and songs you can just listen to and hopefully enjoy for what they are and what they mean to you.

I plan on using my platform to promote individuality and normalising being open and accepting of our differences. A no-judgment zone.

Can you share with us a story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?

Growing up in this generation has its own challenges. A world that is driven by social media and a constant pressure to look perfect and like you always have your shit together, is a world that is ridden with mental health struggles and is not actually realistic. My career so far has led me into industries that don’t have much patience or room for uniqueness and ‘out-of-the-box’ characters, despite how they might come across. We want creatives to be creative but not too eccentric… we want people to be expressive but not too outspoken … you’re told to ‘be yourself’ but not quite completely or you’re considered ‘weird’. It’s like you have to follow a kind of formula for success and that’s what I don’t agree with. I stand by the fact that if you are really true to yourself and embrace your uniqueness and differences that the majority might not initially approve of or understand, you can really make a difference. You can be that person that a younger you can look up to or that person that an older you might wish they had in their younger years. Some of the most influential artists of our generations and those before us have been the most weird, wacky and wonderful characters who don’t follow a formula, who don’t try to emulate the success of others. Embracing those things that people may have bullied you for in school or that you may not have felt comfortable in your life could be the answer to you breaking out.

In my case, I was always made fun of when I was younger for having moles on my face. Fast forward to now, I am embraced in the modelling industry for it. My moles are what make my face unique to me, make me recognisable and I love that I was made this way. Sometimes people don’t know what to think of something different/something they aren’t used to seeing and that’s ok. You being confident in yourself and showing the world you’re not afraid of peoples’ opinions will open doors of opportunity and more importantly, allow you to love yourself in the most healthy way.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

There have been a couple of examples of young girls who follow me who have reached out to express their personal struggles with body image or appearance. I’ve seen them blossom and come in to their own over the course of time and whether that’s partly due to my input or not, knowing that I’ve been a part of that journey in whatever capacity is massively rewarding. This is especially meaningful to me and I take it really seriously that someone would feel comfortable enough to open up to me, someone they don’t necessarily know on a deep level, about their inner-most thoughts. I will stay behind at shows and take time to get to know the people who are the reason why I am able to do what I do and love. I always try my hardest to provide a space for my followers and supporters to be themselves and be honest with themselves about how they feel and how they want to feel so I will always listen share my own experiences where necessary, both in conversation and through my music, in the hopes that it might allow them to feel heard and encourage them to share, in turn helping others in the same boat.

Being able to talk to someone you don’t have to see every day can sometimes be the best option. Someone who you know faces social media pressures and understands what it’s like to have people judge them based on how they look or how they think they act. My experiences so far allow me to be that person for others and that makes it all worth it.

Are there three things or are there things that individuals, society, or the government can do to support you in this effort?

  1. Providing equal opportunities for people of all gender orientation, ethnicity, race, shape and size — allowing people to believe that they can get to where they want to be without having to fit a criteria or change any aspect of themselves.
  2. Championing and creating more positive press coverage for those companies and charities that listen, provide a voice for those who choose to speak out and don’t categorise people based on their struggles. We need less stigma around mental health still — it’s better than it was but we’re not there yet. There doesn’t need to be one Mental Health Awareness Day, week or month for us to be aware of every day struggles. And not everyone needs to be categorised or labelled for feeling down or anxious. People just need to be heard and accepted without the worry of being made to feel like they’re not ‘normal’. Making therapy more easily accessible and more imminent in the time of need could make a massive difference here, which is definitely much easier said than done.
  3. Re-inventing the music industry and its practises, starting at the top. Some of the standard measures are so out-dated and don’t fit with our ever-changing societal needs. Older generations might not be able to fully appreciate and understand the hurdles we face growing up now and that’s not their fault. It just feels like we’re outgrowing the way things are being run and I personally think there needs to be a serious shift to allow artists to be fully appreciated for their work without being exploited by the old industry ways, based on very different methods of marketing and profiting from music and all areas surrounding it, sometimes unintentionally at the artists’ expense. Work that they pour their hearts and souls into that the world relies on every day to uplift them, create memories with and in many cases, benefit from financially, too.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started”?

Nothing is ever what it seems — the industry is not all glitz and glamour and even when you sign a major record deal, it is far from easy to get to where you want to be. It often looks like people are living the high life/rich and famous etc. but social media is good at showing the best parts of any lifestyle. For the majority, it’s not the kind of industry you can make good money in quickly, it’s oversaturated and for most people takes a long time before any financial benefit is seen. Think outside the box, build yourself as a brand and don’t expect anything to just happen overnight.

Be prepared for the rollercoaster of emotions — no one can prepare you for the peaks and troughs. That’s exactly what they are… the ‘ups’ are exhilarating and momentous, but there are ‘downs’ where you feel de-motivated and uninspired. Having a strong support system and unwavering belief in yourself and your ability will help you stay consistent and sane throughout these.

Be careful which advice you choose to let determine your important decisions — there is no book on how to be successful in this industry, there are no rules. The same way there is no cheat code or formula that you can apply in order to get to where you want to be. A lot of people think they know the recipe for success but everyone’s path is different. Everyone is effectively “winging it” and that’s because music is subjective. Trust your gut — take advice from experienced individuals that understand the current popular culture and understand YOU. Opinions can get you down so easily, so it’s important to evaluate which ones will be truly beneficial to you and your circumstances.

It’s not going to be easy — people did tell me this when I started but everyone has that little part of them that thinks it might be different for them. It’s not a straight path to success. There will be negative comments and people telling you that you’re not good enough but don’t let it get you down. An example I always think of… John Legend got rejected time and time again before he became who he is now and many of the biggest artists we know have similar stories of rejection before they reached the position they’re in now. It’s super rare for an artist to just blow up overnight and once you start to break through, it’s all eyes on you and a lot of pressure. Who is really ever prepared for that? But one thing I always say is, nothing worth having comes easy and if you truly are passionate enough about what it is you’re doing, it will always be worth it. Being an artist is hard but the rewards are so worth it.

Enjoy the journey, not just the destination — one of my closest friends always used to say this and I never fully understood what he meant until I did. If you’re constantly waiting to get to your destination, for the next big thrill, you will miss some priceless moments along the way. It’s so important to appreciate every step of your journey, they’re what shape you into the well-rounded person you will grow to be. Some of my best memories so far are not the big achievements, but moments along the journey to achieving them. I think it’s so important to live in the present moment and be grateful for the little things that make you happy, the things that you think might not be as significant because they shape you, teach you and help you grow. They prepare you for the next big thing.

You’re a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

One thing I stand by is trusting your intuition and uplifting those who are unique and different. There’s something special about owning your individuality which I think can be difficult in an era when social media and superficiality is so prevalent. I believe we should embrace our differences and celebrate diversity far more than we do. If we can champion those that do, I believe that the world would be able to take advantage of those hidden gems that often go unnoticed or underappreciated and ultimately reduce feelings of inadequacy or self-worth due to circumstance or background. To achieve equality through acceptance of who people truly are deep down is the ultimate goal.

Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote? And can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

Don’t shape yourself/your career moves based on what others think of you — do what makes YOU happy. Sometimes this means caring a little less about outside opinions when it comes to certain things. I’ve always been a bit of a people pleaser, always wanted people to like me but you get to a stage where you realise that the people you really want around you are those who just accept and believe in you for who you really are, without you having to try. People will respect you for that, too. You can’t please everyone and what’s the point in trying to do so at the expense of your own happiness/peace of mind? When I fully realised and accepted this, I started to come into my own and embrace my authentic self and feel happier than I ever have. That’s the real win in life, being truly and completely happy. That won’t happen if you’re constantly worrying about what others think of you. It’s super hard in this age of social media, especially in a career when you’re vulnerable and knowingly opening yourself up to the world but it can be done and you can set boundaries for yourself. I’m still working on it, but it feels good. And that’s just it, doing what feels right to you. Your gut is your best friend.

We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.Â

Alicia Keys HANDS DOWN. She is my Superwoman (if you know you know) — an absolute inspiration to me. My mum used to play her music to me when I was so tiny and her ‘Songs in A Minor’ was the first sheet music I ever owned (well Mum owned but I claimed). I remember finding under the piano in my mum’s little wooden basket. I love everything Alicia stands for as an individual as well as her talent and relatability as an artist. She’s the kind of person you’d want to be friends with and I love that about her — down to earth and real.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!


Music Stars Making A Social Impact: How & Why Sophia Saffarian Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Deanna Singh of Flying Elephant Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

My hope is that because of the actions we encourage here, organizations will be able to foster the kinds of workplaces that truly let everyone thrive so that we can literally change the world.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Deanna Singh.

Deanna Singh is the Founder and Chief Change Agent of Flying Elephant, an umbrella organization for four social enterprises with a mission to shift power to marginalized communities. Deanna is described as a trailblazer and dynamic speaker who is at the forefront of social change. She is an award-winning author, educator, business leader, and social justice champion who speaks to over 50,000 people annually, giving audiences the tools and courage to imagine, activate, and impact the world as agents of change.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was very fortunate to be the firstborn of an amazing couple. My mother is an African American woman and my father is Sikh. They married after knowing one another for just three months and have been married for over 40 years now! On paper, their union did not make sense. They grew up in very different places; my mother in Milwaukee’s projects and my father in a small village in Punjab, India. They also ate different food, had different religions, and didn’t even speak the same language! But they were able to still find a way to build a family together. I often say that my parents built this amazing bridge to one another, and as a child, I was able to run across that bridge freely, jump on it, and test its strength!

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

When I was a little girl, I loved to read. I would hide in my closet at night with a flashlight just so that I could read some more. I was a voracious reader and still am.

But even though I was reading all of the time, I felt invisible most of the time between all of the pages because I never saw a little girl of color in any of my books. That is until I was an eighth-grader and read Roll of Thunder and Let the Circle be Unbroken by Mildred Taylor. When I read those books, I couldn’t put them down. I would check them out again and again until finally, my librarian told me to just keep them. I still have the books on my bookshelf decades later.

Stories are important and powerful. Seeing someone in the pages of a book who looks like you, dresses like you, talks like you, eats the same food as you, or has the same passions as you can help create deeper connections, provide feelings of belonging, and can even be life-changing. I loved those books so much that I would sleep with them in my bed. There was a time when I could recite whole passages of the books with no prompts.

You would think that the world of literature has changed in the past few decades, but the truth is, it hasn’t changed much. Children of color are still woefully underrepresented in children’s literature. It is what prompted me to start writing children’s books. I wanted to be a part of changing the narrative.

I wanted to be a part of the solution.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?

There was a time when I was recruiting middle schoolers. I was doing all of the traditional things, such as putting out ads and hanging up flyers. But I was not seeing major shifts in applicants. Then one day, when I was looking out my office window, I saw the ice cream truck coming through the neighborhood. Children and their parents came out and started running after it to get the truck to stop. It was an aha moment for me! Instead of waiting for the students to find me, I need to create something that would be appealing to them. So, I literally rented an ice cream truck and drove it around for a summer handing out free ice cream (and a flyer). Not only were we able to recruit more children, but I also got a chance to meet so many amazing people! I learned that the way we “always” do things isn’t necessarily the only or even the best way to do things.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

In my work as a diversity, equity, and inclusion practitioner, I have had the chance to work closely with small non-profits and Fortune 100 companies. One of the common themes I witness every day is that people want to create more inclusive workplaces, but they don’t know what that means on a practical level. They don’t know what they would do differently. Actions Speak Louder helps people turn their aspirations around inclusion into action! I believe that all of the world’s solutions already exist; we just have not created the kinds of environments where those who hold the solutions are able to show up fully. My hope is that because of the actions we encourage here, organizations will be able to foster the kinds of workplaces that truly let everyone thrive so that we can literally change the world.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

All of the stories shared in the book are interesting. Or at least I hope so! I think the one that I open the book with is incredibly important. I share a story of how my great-great-grandfather was lynched, essentially for being too entrepreneurial. This story serves as a basis for readers to see how exclusionary practices were intentionally woven into the business world in the past and therefore, we will need to be intentional about ridding ourselves of those practices.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

I was asked to make an investment in an organization. After a lot of due diligence, I choose to not only make the investment but to give more than a million dollars above and beyond what they asked for. The last step in the process was to get board approval from the investee organization. I shared the final deck with my counterpart at the other organization for feedback before I presented it to her board. She said, “This is the best work that this board has ever seen. This is our future.”

I asked if there was anything else I needed to do for the meeting.

“Deanna, you need to bring a white man with you.”

She went on to explain, “If you want them to hear you and you want them to vote with you, you have to bring a white man with you. There will be over 20 old white men there, and they need to see someone who will make them comfortable.”

I went home deflated and told my husband what happened. He was making dinner and had his phone out — I thought it was to follow a recipe. He said, “It’s kind of like that other time…” and reminded me of another time in my career when I was implicitly told the same thing. Which reminded me of yet another time, and another time. We went back and forth like this for about 45 minutes. And then he walked over to me and handed me his phone. He was not looking at a recipe at all. He had documented the incidents we had just been recalling in a list.

There were 27 of them.

That is when I realized that I wanted to write this book. I wanted to change the trajectory of workplace culture so that other people would not experience all of the exclusionary things I have — and still do — in my career.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I have the opportunity to see this every day. People are always reaching out to say that in sharing my stories and strategies around inclusion they are able to more clearly see themselves and how they can play a part in changing workplace culture. One of my favorite stories was when a CEO of a company called me, completely distraught. He had put a lot of effort into recruiting for more senior-level women in his office, and he had succeeded. However, he was starting to see a high turnover and he didn’t want to lose all of the talented people they had brought in. He said he had no idea why the women were leaving.

I asked him to do a simple thing. I challenged him to make tick marks on his notepad for one week every time a woman was talked over during a meeting, every time someone took a woman’s idea and elevated it as their own, and every time a woman was asked to do the “chores” in a meeting. He did not last even 24 hours before calling me back. He did not even say hi when I picked up the phone. Instead, he proclaimed, “Why would women work here, this is awful!” That simple little test helped him see what was happening around him all of the time. It was so powerful to see how much perspective can change when we are intentional about looking through a new lens.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

YES! We love the work that social justice leaders are doing to create more equity. We believe that they are the ones leading the charge on how we address policies and laws that directly impact marginalized communities. Their main audiences are the community and politicians. We distinguish our work by talking about how we focus on the workplace. There is, of course, significant overlap, but how we help people understand the distinction is by saying that diversity, equity, and inclusion focuses on what happens in the cubicle next to us, while social justice leaders are focusing on what is happening outside of the building. We could not do our work successfully without both of those facets working towards change together. If we do not change things from both within and outside of institutions, it will not be sustainable.

How do you define “leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I think that true leaders are grounded in their purpose and service to others. I define purpose as what are you uniquely positioned to do in the world. I wrote a leadership book, Purposeful Hustle, that further explains why I think that this is so critical for every leader to have clarity on. I define my purpose as shifting power to marginalized communities. It is how I make both small and big decisions about where to show up. It is what motivates me when I am tired or after a big failure. It is also the way I measure the impact I am having on the world.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1. You don’t have to wait for permission to live in your purpose. I thought that it was irresponsible to follow my passions. Passion is often characterized as a luxury but I have come to learn that it is a necessity. I have learned that it is actually irresponsible not to. Because when you live in your purpose, you give other people the room to do that too! You become a model and that is an amazing ripple to start.

2. Don’t take yourself so seriously. There is always going to be something urgent that comes up. There will always be another thing that is demanding your attention. You have to learn how to move fluidly. Be a river, not a dam.

3. Let failure be your market differentiator. Everyone fails, but not everyone does it well. Those who do it well-meaning they share their failures with others, learn and grow from them, and use them to propel them closer to their goals rather than get stuck — they are the real changemakers.

4. Find your crew. Being a leader can be very lonely, so be intentional about finding your crew and spending time with them. They will be the ones who help you stay grounded and provide you with a safe haven when you need it most. One of the things I often say to calm myself down when I am trying something new or scary is well, even if this fails, my husband, kids, and crew will still love me. And that always works to give me the confidence I need to take that big leap!

5. Don’t waste too much time thinking about how things currently are. Instead, focus on how things could be. That is where you get to create and be innovative. It is also what will be required if we are going to make a substantive impact!

Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson” quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My mother used to always tell me to carry a little party around. She stressed to me that I needed to be able to find joy inside of myself and not rely on external factors. That has always stuck with me. Even on the hardest days, I always try to recenter around joy. I often say that joy is my operating system — it is where all of my circuits originate from! I think that has allowed me to move into heavy spaces and make them lighter. It has given people the confidence to confide in me and it has just made things way more fun!

Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would really love to meet Michelle Obama. I feel like we have a lot in common. Like her, I am a mother to two children, a former attorney, and someone who believes strongly in creating a more inclusive world. When I read her book, I felt seen in a way that reminded me of reading those Mildred Taylor books when I was a child. I have so many questions about how she is able to do what she does and with so much grace.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I am most active on LinkedIn. I would also love for readers to sign up for our weekly newsletter at www.upliftingimpact.com.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About The Interviewer: Growing up in Canada, Edward Sylvan was an unlikely candidate to make a mark on the high-powered film industry based in Hollywood. But as CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc, (SEGI) Sylvan is among a select group of less than ten Black executives who have founded, own, and control a publicly traded company. Now, deeply involved in the movie business, he is providing opportunities for people of color.

In 2020, he was appointed president of the Monaco International Film Festival, and was encouraged to take the festival in a new digital direction.

Raised in Toronto, he attended York University where he studied Economics and Political Science, then went to work in finance on Bay Street, (the city’s equivalent of Wall Street). After years of handling equities trading, film tax credits, options trading and mergers and acquisitions for the film, mining and technology industries, in 2008 he decided to reorient his career fully towards the entertainment business.

With the aim of helping Los Angeles filmmakers of color who were struggling to understand how to raise capital, Sylvan wanted to provide them with ways to finance their creative endeavors.

At Sycamore Entertainment he specializes in print and advertising financing, marketing, acquisition and worldwide distribution of quality feature-length motion pictures, and is concerned with acquiring, producing and promoting films about equality, diversity and other thought-provoking subject matter which will also include nonviolent storytelling.

Also in 2020, Sylvan launched SEGI TV, a free OTT streaming network built on the pillars of equality, sustainability and community which is scheduled to reach 100 million U.S household televisions and 200 million mobile devices across Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Samsung Smart TV and others.

As Executive Producer he currently has several projects in production including The Trials of Eroy Brown, a story about the prison system and how it operated in Texas, based on the best-selling book, as well as a documentary called The Making of Roll Bounce, about the 2005 coming of age film which starred rapper Bow Wow and portrays roller skating culture in 1970’s Chicago.

He sits on the Board of Directors of Uplay Canada, (United Public Leadership Academy for Youth), which prepares youth to be citizen leaders and provides opportunities for Canadian high school basketball players to advance to Division 1 schools as well as the NBA.

A former competitive go-kart racer with Checkered Flag Racing Ltd, he also enjoys traveling to exotic locales. Sylvan resides in Vancouver and has two adult daughters.

Sylvan has been featured in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times and has been seen on Fox Business News, CBS and NBC. Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc is headquartered in Seattle, with offices in Los Angeles and Vancouver.


Social Impact Authors: How & Why Deanna Singh of Flying Elephant Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Sarah Barnard Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Martita Mestey

Be selfless. Sharing unique skills, whether through mentoring or donating your time and services, can foster a sense of community and purpose. While there is a time and place for business, extending personal gifts into other areas of your life can lead to a more fulfilling and enriching work experience.

As a part of my series about ”individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Barnard.

Sarah Barnard, WELL AP + LEED AP, is a leading designer of personalized, sustainable spaces that support mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. An advocate for consciousness, inclusivity and compassion in the creative process, Sarah’s work has been recognized by Architectural Digest, Elle Décor, Vogue, HGTV, and many other publications. In 2017 Sarah was recognized as a “Ones to Watch” Scholar by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in several historic homes throughout Los Angeles, which inspired a sense of care and respect for building and design from a young age. Since my childhood, I have loved spending my time outdoors and felt closely connected to Southern California’sCalifornia’s unique natural diversity. My exposure to historic homes, combined with an appreciation of nature, ignited my passion for preservation, environmental responsibility, and wellness-focused design. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to incorporate my passions for environmental health into my professional practice as an interior designer and have pursued a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credential in 2007 and became a WELL Accredited Professional in 2017.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

The mass production of furnishings and goods has led to efficient and inexpensive production, unfortunately often at the cost of environmental and human health and wellbeing. It’s our goal to draw attention to the desire and the market for thoughtfully and sustainably produced products by creating eco-friendly home goods that foster a connection to nature. We hope that home furnishings and decor made with sustainable and no or low VOC materials can become the rule, not the exception. By introducing options that speak to our studio’s love of nature, we are making conscious options publicly available that speak to a need for beauty and wellbeing in the home.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

Growing up, one thing I always looked forward to was visiting my grandparents in Joshua Tree. While I recognized something magical about their home, it wasn’t until I was older that I appreciated how successfully integrated their home was into the desert landscape. It seemed to be as adapted to the environment as the roadrunners and Joshua trees. The house was designed to naturally regulate temperature through the levels of the home, with a decorative rock garden all working symbiotically with the environment. Experiencing a home that embraced its surroundings at such an early age heavily inspired my work and drive to create spaces that respected and celebrated nature.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’tdon’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I went on a trip to Pismo Beach to see the Monarch butterflies during their winter stay, photographing the butterflies, sea birds, and surrounding nature. It was such a peaceful and awe-inspiring experience, and I wanted to take a piece of it home with me. I have been creating bespoke furnishings and home goods for clients throughout my work as a designer. After the trip to Pismo, I realized that I wanted to broaden that practice and design nature-inspired home goods that weren’t necessarily client specific. Kale Tree has given me the opportunity to bring nature into more homes than I could through my interior design practice alone.

Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

  • Give yourself time to reflect on your goals and relax your mind. We rarely set aside time to clear the constant noise in our heads, especially when starting a new project. Allowing your mind to rest and wander can provide space for new ideas to spark. Spend time in nature, go for a walk, or simply cozy up in your favorite place in your home to encourage mindful relaxation.
  • Appreciate the learning process. Even in frustrating moments, take a moment to appreciate the opportunity to learn and improve. Many great ideas come out of having to problem solve unexpected challenges.
  • Maintain your hobbies outside of the scope of your project. Allowing yourself time to explore interests outside your project will leave you feeling rejuvenated, inspired, and ready to return to work. I find inspiration for my home design projects while gardening, cooking for my family, and spending time outdoors.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

After being awarded as an ASID scholar, I was among a group of awardees invited to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Meyer May House and experience the location as guests. While I had studied many significant architectural spaces, having the opportunity to experience one so intimately, including enjoying a formal meal in the dining room, I was able to experience firsthand the intricacies of the work of one of the earliest celebrated biophilic designers. That experience has emphasized the importance of incorporating nature in the home, both through views and through materials, whether by using organic materials or natural patterning and prints.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

When I was in art school, I had a teacher pull me aside after a critique to talk about intention. I worked intuitively, and she had implored me to investigate why I was making certain decisions. Asking “why” began to change my art practice and later shaped my design approach. By determining why I am selecting specific colors and materials, I can ensure that every decision is backed with intent. The intent is crucial visually and for greater conceptual underpinnings and goals with my designs. Why is this solution the most supportive one for my client? How is this product an environmentally responsible selection? Intuition is an essential part of art-making, but learning to understand and back those decisions has made my work feel whole, intentional, and supportive of my sustainable work practices.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

Candace Wheeler was a designer of textiles and interiors and is often credited as the “mother” of interior design. An early feminist leader, Wheeler paved the way for creative women to pursue art and design as a career rather than a hobby in an era where women were not encouraged to seek independence. Wheeler became one of the first women to produce designs for American manufacturers and created multiple successful lines of biophilic textiles. In 1833, she formed her women-led design firm, Associated Artists, empowering women to become established professional designers.

Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

There is often a disconnect between our built and natural environments. Conscious home design can improve mental wellbeing by nurturing a stronger connection to nature while maintaining an awareness of environmental health.

1) Issues as large as climate change and its impact can feel daunting to approach as an individual. However, the accumulative effect of many individuals can be vast. Making an effort to repair, repurpose, or up-cycle is a significant first step in conscious redesign. When it is time to part with something, consider donating or recycling. Selecting organic and eco-conscious home materials helps with the environmental impact of the life cycle of home goods while sending a message to the industry that there is a demand for these products. Being vocal about a desire for sustainable materials and practices can make a difference in the availability of these items and the decisions of existing and new businesses.

2) There is a tendency to consider humans as other from nature instead of a part of it. Making a shift in thinking of ourselves as an active part of our natural environment can help alter our decisions, actions, and purchases in a way that may positively impact surrounding nature. When building or remodeling, considering the surrounding ecosystem and making decisions conscious of birds, bees, and wild growth can lead to healthy coexistence. Our homes are often within the homes of many other living creatures. Planting or providing habitat in our gardens or even putting out a bowl of water can make a difference in preserving local wildlife.

3. While we are seeing a demand from many of our clients for natural and eco-friendly materials, it can still be challenging to find ethically sourced raw materials. It’s important for consumers to make their voices and preferences heard to increase the availability of these materials for growing demand. For our industry, in particular, there is a limited supply of certified organic linens, a material we’d love to see more readily available.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

I believe there is a significant desire for sustainable, vegan options across all industries. One company that has succeeded by doing this is Rothy’s, with their innovative approach to sustainable and vegan fashion with products made from recycled single-use plastic water bottles, ocean plastic, and algae-based foam. Rothy’s is an excellent example of a company that can maintain huge success while staying true to its mission. Rothy’s was recently valued at $1 billion, reflecting the shifting preferences towards sustainable and vegan options.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1) Honor the need for restoration. We tend to throw ourselves into our projects, neglecting self-care and rest. Taking a step back, engaging senses, appreciating the present moment, and enjoying stillness can curb the experience of burnout. Setting aside daily time for something fulfilling that creates a sense of calm and joy is as vital as any to-do list item.

2) Find your “why.” Understanding the big picture behind your goals and intentions can help keep you motivated throughout the day-to-day minutia. My “why” is moving towards a more sustainable and well future. Returning to this as a focus has shaped my career and continued passion for design.

3) Nourish your social connections. Humans are social by nature, and social relationships can promote mood-boosting effects that offer support and confidence. While it’s easy to get caught up in work and deprioritize time with friends and family, that time is crucial for staying grounded and creating balance.

4) Focus on the process rather than the outcome. Many of us struggle to remove ourselves from self-criticism, which can damage our sense of worth. Maintaining a gentle, growth-minded approach to work encourages curiosity over criticism. We are only human, and mistakes are inevitable; embracing them as an opportunity for reflection and change leads to a healthy and forward-moving work practice.

5) Be selfless. Sharing unique skills, whether through mentoring or donating your time and services, can foster a sense of community and purpose. While there is a time and place for business, extending personal gifts into other areas of your life can lead to a more fulfilling and enriching work experience.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Recently, we have seen admirable efforts from young people protesting against racial and environmental injustices. There is a lot to be learned from observing the messages coming from our youth. I hope older generations embrace the younger’s sense of urgency to improve environmental health for the future.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Rachel Carson is a marine biologist who helped raise awareness of harmful pesticides. She once said, “In nature, nothing exists alone.” This short quote holds a powerful meaning and resonates strongly with the ethos of my design practice, which focuses on a cosmopolitical approach to wellness-focused and nature-inspired design. By recognizing the impact of our decisions and making choices that support all living things, we can improve our wellbeing and the environment. Taking a broader perspective of human participation within our local ecosystem is critical for my design practice and future environmental healing.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’ve always admired Meryl Streep’s advocacy work regarding safer, healthier farming practices. She has been involved in environmental activism since the 1980s and created “Mothers and Others” to advocate for more healthful farming standards for produce and educate consumers. She has since used her celebrity status to raise awareness towards safer and sustainable growing practices. I believe that these same standards for food should apply across all industries, and we should be pushing for more naturally produced items for our homes. I’d be interested in learning more bout her work as an activist and discussing these ideas further!

How can our readers follow you online?

You can visit Kale Tree at www.kaletree.com or follow us on Instagram at @kaletreeshop. My interior design work can be found at www.sarahbarnard.com

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Sarah Barnard Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Working Well: Megan Swan On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental…

Working Well: Megan Swan On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Wellness Spaces within the office are a massive trend with mixed results. Wellness spaces or Integrated Wellness Offices are designed with our optimal wellness in mind, something Google has been doing for years but it is becoming more common place.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Megan Swan.

Megan Swan is the Founder of Megan Swan Wellness, a Strategic Wellness Advisor + Consultant helping powerful businesses prioritize employee wellness to increase their impact (and income) through her Sustainable Integrated Wellness Approach. Her expertise is boosting employee productivity and success by implementing micro shifts that are custom and approachable within employee lifestyles and company culture. She has 10 years of integrative wellness experience as a certified IIN Health Coach, Plant-Based Chef, Yoga Teacher and Educator.

At 30 she sold everything to embark on her own “Eat, Pray, Love” journey and now at 43 finds herself still on her first stop where she fell in love with one of her English students. She and her husband have two beautiful boys and two adorable dogs. They love to travel and explore the lesser known beaches of Mexico.

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Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

Yes, well first off thank you for the opportunity to share my story. My catalyst to change my perspective on what kind of work situation I wanted to seek out happened over a dozen years ago when I decided to embark on my own round the world journey to ‘find myself’. After many years working in the non-for-profit industry in Toronto I was very disillusioned about how much impact my work was actually having on individuals — it didn’t feel tangible. I had recently taken my certification to become a yoga teacher, which I thought I would use as a side gig or hobby, not my main career. However, after working so closely physically with people and actually feeling the difference in their energy after a single yoga class, I knew then that there were other ways to have an impact and I wanted to explore them. My journey started with a plan to teach English and yoga in Mexico, but long story short I never did get to my planned second stop in Bali. Thirteen years later I am still here in Chiapas, Mexico expanding the ways in which I have a positive impact on people through private coaching.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

I am thrilled to see that these trends are becoming normalized, because it is required quite frankly in order to make the modern expectations on productivity and information overload sustainable.

At Megan Swan Wellness (MSW) we utilize a 6 Pillars of Optimal Wellness framework that works to support four types of wellness: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Within this framework we strive to make wellness a way of life and not a checkmark on your to do list. We instill a Sustainable Integrated Wellness Approach to ensure that our clients integrate the exact wellness tools that serve them at a given moment so they don’t feel overwhelmed trying to do it all, all the time. There is no one-size-fits-all wellness and therefore we teach clients how to identify which tools work best for them, and at which intensity depending on their season of life, lifestyle and bio individual situation.

We measure optimal wellness in terms of the client’s level of energy, confidence, alignment with their true values and ability to make empowered decisions in order to ensure they are living well in all senses.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

Quite simply a well workforce has sustainable energy, productivity, creativity, and motivation precisely because they are given permission to put their own optimal wellness as a priority in their daily routine.

These organizations understand that an investment in the optimal wellness of their workforce is an investment in the company. Given the high cost of onboarding, offboarding and losses with sick leave it just makes more economic sense to empower your workforce to take massive action in protecting their personal wellbeing.

It is a long-term strategy to be sure, but it is solving the problem at the root instead of putting a topical band-aid solution on it. We need to shift our perspective on what is sustainable, because we can now clearly see that the current system is not. It’s the old ”give a man a fish or teach a man to fish” analogy. We need to be taught how to make wellness a way of life, not just another task on the to do list. We can drown ourselves in anti-anxiety meds while downing coffee to stay on task, or we can insert time in the work day for mandatory walks outside, limits on email accessibility and meditation rooms at the office or sessions before the zoom call starts. It’s about micro shifts that are not overwhelming and therefore easily integrated into our lifestyle and company culture.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

I see this all the time speaking with big corporations that think they have their wellness card sussed, yet see very little improvement in terms of retention rates, productivity, and sick leave. The problem in my opinion is that they are trying to solve the “wellness problem” with topical band-aid solutions such as access to an app, or online platform, but not actually changing company policies that affect or protect an individual’s ability to make real changes that protect their well-being. What we really need to do is teach through personal experience how valuable it is to make micro shifts that make a massive impact in the long run so that wellness becomes a way of life, gradually over time. It is not a quick fix, but it is a real sustainable one.

For example, it is one thing to give the entire company access to a meditation app or even these new mental health ‘on demand’ therapy session platforms and say “see, we support mental health”, vs. taking 2 minutes at the beginning of every meeting to meditate as a group or making it mandatory to have a private wellness coaching session once a quarter. One approach is superficial with minimal impact or real results, and the other approach is actually implementing a shift in company wellness culture to make it normal to take a mindful pause or have a coach genuinely check in with your overall well being.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

I would argue that all systems in business need to have wellness infused in them, but especially the recruitment and onboarding process because it is the company’s first opportunity to demonstrate that they truly value employee well-being. I would recommend including an in depth questionnaire for all hires that dives deep into their current state of well-being and level of awareness as to what helps them thrive. From there offering support right off the bat to help them seek optimal wellness from where they are and make it a part of the onboarding journey. This questionnaire should inquire about optimal work environments, deep work focus needs, optimal workflow hours or, times of day, number of days a week, etc. and really allow the employee to dream a bit in terms of what would really help them shine at work so they could walk the talk about living and working well.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

I am working with corporations to design industry specific workshops that guide their employees and leadership teams to infuse more wellness into the culture both bottom up and top down across all company culture and structures. Here are a few ideas for each category of wellness, although I would add that there is a lot of overlap, optimal social wellness is essential to optimal mental wellness for example. Here we go:

  • Mental Wellness: Strategic Meditation Moments throughout the workday, as a team, in meetings, at our desks, in the breakroom — normalizing guided meditations or breathwork as part of the daily culture. It is all about the power of the pause and our ability to support our bodies in calming the nervous system down, decompressing and being present with the task at hand.
  • Emotional Wellness: Teaching employees important embodiment tools in order to help process strong emotions and complete the stress cycle. This might include a pillow room designed for employees to scream, punch, kick or rage on pillows in order to allow their nervous system to balance the fight or flight response.
  • Social Wellness: The pandemic showed us how important the seemingly insignificant face-to-face check-ins or hellos are important to our humanity and social wellness. We are seeing that doing workshops for smaller groups or teams is a highly effective way to teach multiple ways in which to feel more connected with ourselves and the group in a short amount of time. Quality over quantity is key. Female leadership Wellness Circles, Art Workshops that Spark Joy, Creativity and Connection or a Yoga and Plant-based Cheese Board Series.
  • Physical Wellness: Giving employees the option to work and take meetings standing, cycling on a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill is a great shift in the energy people bring to the table. Rebounders are also a great way to get a quick shift in our energy, bouncing for 5 minutes in the morning completely reinvigorates all physical wellness. Having policies that honor our sleep cycles and teaching employees the value of a bedtime routine is also a highly effective way to improve overall physical wellness.
  • Financial Wellness: Tools and practices that teach employees how to adopt an abundant mindset helps them feel more at ease and incontrol of their financial situation, combined with expert advice on how to best create personal wealth in the long run, investment basics and importance of multiple income streams.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

Definitely. Investing in optimal wellness for all employees will result in:

Increased employee productivity, energy, motivation and creativity when it comes to problem solving.

Increased employee loyalty to the company and to the work when they see that the initiatives of the company to infuse wellness into all systems is real and not just ‘wellness washing’.

Increased employee retention rates which would result in a decrease of costs around onboarding, offboarding, recruiting and training.

The entire company will run more smoothly when everyone’s optimal wellness is at the forefront of company culture granting employees clear permission to do their part from a bottom up perspective and management clearly following through and modeling this wellness company culture from the top down.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

We offer highly targeted Leadership Seminars such as — How to Infuse Essential Optimal Wellness Strategies into the Company Culture to Protect Employees from Burnout, which teaches:

  • Optimal Wellness Awareness for Partial or Fully Remote Teams: 6 Pillars of Wellness to Consider.
  • Best Practices to Give Full Permission of Use of the Unlimited Time Off Policy.
  • Wellness Events that Really Benefit Employee Mental and Physical Wellness.
  • Normalizing Digital Wellness, Mindful Stress Management Practices and Employee Right to Work/Life Balance.

These seminars result in Clear Dialogue and Common Ground Across Company Culture around Optimal Wellness.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

I would say just giving each other space and grace to carve out our own wellness journey. We all learn and implement things at different rates. From my perspective, making it competitive tends to leave a lot of people out of the process. It should be more about authentically celebrating each other and the company as a whole for micro shifts that are gained such as meditating once a week together or making socializing at a morning juice bar just as attractive as going out for drinks after work.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

1 . Wellness Apps An introductory starting point for many big companies wellness tech is huge, but it is essential to track how many employees are actually using them and to what degree.

Fitness apps are a great way to encourage everyone to get more active.

On Demand Mental Health Coaching could be a lifeline for some, but it is unclear to what degree having multiple coaches or therapists listen is having a potent effect.

Healthy Recipe Apps with meal plans and grocery delivery integration. Making it as easy as possible for people to eat well is an essential support tool to overall wellness.

All encompassing wellness apps that do all the above and more!

Again I caution that this is a very topical solution to a very deep rooted issue to resolve.

2. Retreats are not necessarily a new trend but now companies are more open to sponsoring the whole event, and not just running conferences that are more the typical golf, steak and drinks with little real time to rest. There are so many retreats that actually teach and infuse wellness principles into the entire experience from start to finish. Changing our environment is extremely invigorating and when this is coupled with real opportunities to rest, sleep, connect with nature, nourish our bodies with healthy food and connect with each other deeply it is life changing. Retreat trends to watch are:

  1. Breathwork Retreats.
  2. Spiritual Retreats such as Reiki, Human Design or Meditation.
  3. Journaling & Expressive Writing Retreats.
  4. Silent Retreats.
  5. Sacred Sexuality Retreats for Female Leaders.

3. Wellness Spaces within the office are a massive trend with mixed results. Wellness spaces or Integrated Wellness Offices are designed with our optimal wellness in mind, something Google has been doing for years but it is becoming more common place. Some newer trends include:

  1. Spaces or policies around bringing your pet to work to support emotional wellness.
  2. Meditation, zen, yoga, mantra, affirmations and prayer rooms to provide safe spaces for a mindful moment.
  3. Fresh juice bars to elevate employee energy, mood and immunity.
  4. Outdoor work spaces, nap or chill spaces, sound baths, body work, energy healing, or in house spa.

It is twice as powerful if the employee has a company spending account to find their own wellness services coupled with some of these services being offered right at the office.

4. Digital Wellness Policies is a big one. Books such as Stolen Focus by Johann Hari and Deep Work by Cal Newport have illustrated how we have to take back and practice our ability to focus our attention and focus it on one thing at a time if we hope to ever create truly novel or accomplish deep work. We as a society and therefore corporations are battling the drain that comes with the information overload and constant interruptions of modern technology and smartphones. Digital Wellness Policies that are working are:

  1. Strict business hours around work emails.
  2. Honoring employee focus hours: no meetings, no messaging, no interruptions.
  3. Getting smart and streamlining data entry to ensure employees only have to enter data points in one place to ensure it shows up across all company trackers.
  4. Teaching employees to take micro breaks from their screens, turn off their phones before bed and not turn them on until after their morning routine.

5. Radical Flexibility: many corporations were forced to make radical flexibility work in order to retain employees who were homeschooling or other care activities during the pandemic. The up tick is they saw it was possible and that giving more freedom and in turn asking for more responsibility from its employees to be honest with reporting their hours was extremely successful. This trend is especially relevant for women who are oftentimes still juggling the majority of the household management duties. Allowing for more personal freedom to work in the hours that are convenient to their family’s schedule and from home has been life changing.

  1. Employees being allowed to block their availability on a week by week, month by month or quarterly cycle with no negative impact on their career.
  2. Creating systems around respecting everyone’s digital boundaries and work cycles.
  3. Removing all stigmas around setting clear digital and workflow boundaries.

When company culture authentically shifts to place trust back into the hands of the employee to allow them to control the structure of their workday to a greater extent we will really see an improvement in retention rates and overall reported employee satisfaction.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

My greatest source of optimism is the wellness revolution that is happening now and working its way into corporate structures across the board. The pandemic was a wake up call. We were already on the path towards questioning how sustainable and desirable corporate hustle culture is but now so many more companies are on board to make the shift to truly integrate a wellness-forward company culture. Where company and workforce wellness are one in the same. Wellness becomes a way of life, not a checkmark on your to do list.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

Yes, please reach out to my via my website: www.meganswanwellness.com

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.

Thanks again for the opportunity to share my thoughts.

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Working Well: Megan Swan On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Working Well: Robert Feeney Of Ringorang On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support &…

Working Well: Robert Feeney Of Ringorang On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Companies constantly change, and that will never change. Create and manage a culture of change in such a way that people don’t fool themselves into thinking that the destination is the end of change. Change readiness is going to define the most successful companies and teams going forward. This trend is coming on fast, and I think it’s past due.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Feeney.

Ringorang’s Chief Vision Officer Robert Feeney spent his early career in entertainment, developing a story format that merged mobile tech with reality TV and sponsorships from game and toy companies. Now known as Ringorang, this software solution combines principles from advertising, modern technology and the learning sciences to deliver habit formation in the workplace. Robert holds six technology patents and recently moved his Silicon Valley-based business to Wichita, Kansas.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

On a road trip from California to Arizona, I passed a billboard advertising a diner. When I first saw it, I thought, “Well, that sounds nice, but I’m not hungry. I don’t need to stop.” The second time, I was hungry, but I was also only an hour away from my destination, so I didn’t stop. On the return trip, when I saw that billboard, I was both hungry and far enough away from my destination that I wanted to stop and have a bite to eat.

Pretty common experience, right? For me it was an “Aha!” moment. I connected an advertising principle, known as frequency, with the moment in time I needed to consume something, and I took an action that I wouldn’t have taken if it weren’t for that frequency.

Acting on information is a moment-by-moment phenomenon. We make thousands of micro-decisions daily on what to engage with and how. This is especially true in our workday where information comes at us at an accelerated pace, growing in volume and stretching the limits of our bandwidth, which increases our anxiety.

That ever-increasing flow of information — communications, day-to-day tasks, health, home life, work life — it overwhelms you, makes you feel like you’re on a runaway train. It’s the cause of most of our breakdowns at work. We don’t know where that train is heading, and we don’t know if it’s ever going to get under control.

This presents an opportunity. As leaders, we can uplevel the way we deliver all that information by respecting what our employees are going through and supporting them by making that flow of information manageable. Not just cracking the whip.

The transformation I’m referring to, the opportunity here, is automation. It enables us to engage with critical information in the moment of need.

Automation could be artificial intelligence. Or it could be multiple billboards capturing the attention of traffic. I don’t need a bite to eat at a diner all the time, but when I do, I should be able to access it. Applying this to the working world, we can increase our bandwidth and reduce our overwhelm by accessing information only when it’s relevant.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

Wellness is empowerment. Our mission is to empower people to make the changes they need to achieve goals — and not just in the workplace.

Process is a key ingredient for wellness, and it’s underrated. A lot is made of the power of problem solving, critical thinking, creativity — and rightly so — but not at the sacrifice of process. A problem solver can waste a lot of time and resources creatively fixing a problem. Why is it a waste? Because there may be an automated process available already. Get the process in that person’s hands, so they can put their creativity into higher value activities. Get them unstuck from doing lower value activities. Doing this empowers a person to grow and to end each day feeling supported and accomplished.

“Wellness” is not a process, but processes prevent wellness failures. Processes have your back when wellness breaks down — like when you feel overwhelmed. That leads to anxiety, which leads to emotional, mental and physical health challenges because of work. Process helps. Most commonly, we have processes for taking a day off or a vacation or extended parental leave or remote workdays. Less common, at Ringorang, we have processes that ensure our team members don’t go home feeling unsupported. They know there are processes available to help them succeed as well as support from team members to create processes that don’t yet exist. That’s something to rely on.

We also use our Ringorang software for team members to develop habits — attitude, skill and knowledge habits. These amount to developing a default process of their own. A person can rely on habits when they must make heat-of-the-moment decisions. It’s like automation that’s natural to the brain. Our software delivers the reinforcements needed to develop those habits throughout the workday, in the form of light nudges of information. Another form of automation.

That’s how we contribute to wellness, and how we measure it. Measuring wellness in the workplace has been frequently associated with biometric screenings, health insurance reductions, getting everyone a flu shot — all great metrics. All great things. We measure wellness in performance, which may sound funny, but we’ve discovered that a well workforce is empowered — and an empowered workforce performs.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

In my experience, a lot of things employers do in the workplace to promote wellness are for decompression. Assigning a calm room. Meditation moments. Pizza parties. The foosball phenomenon. As delightful as those things are, they’re just mitigating symptoms. They don’t correlate with the problem at all.

For example, if you have a headache, you might take some Tylenol to relieve your pain — but if you have a headache because you’re dehydrated, Tylenol isn’t going to hydrate you.

Throughout my career, and through primary research in developing Ringorang, my team and I are going after a rarely addressed problem in workforce wellness. I call it “survival mode.”

Historically, when a new employee comes into a company, they get a firehose of information through onboarding that is propped up as a way of supporting them. Both the employee and the employer know that the information will not be retained. The brain isn’t designed to work like that. So, the employee is set up to fail, but the employer checks the box and covers their rear. Where does that leave the employee? Knowing they’re going to lose. It’s just a matter of time. So, the employee quickly tries to figure out how to survive in the workplace.

That is the context for every new employee. When they fail, they get punished. If that punishment is termination, they go into their next cycle of work thinking, “I’m going to be better at surviving this job.” With each new role, they’re getting further and further away from being an empowered, productive contributor to the success of the business. They get cynical. They feel alone.

A surviving employee is not productive. A surviving employee is not profitable. A surviving employee is not well. Empowered employees are.

We interrupt that cycle at the start by giving employees what they need in the flow of the work. In my experience, it is not pizza.

When they need a wrench, we give them the wrench. We don’t expect them to remember where to find it months after they forgot their onboarding training. We don’t punish or shame them for not retaining that information. Instead, we give employees what they need when they need it. If they don’t know where to look, then there’s something missing in the process, and we take responsibility for filling that gap. We support them. When they fail, they witness how we shore up the process, so it doesn’t happen again. They feel empowered and stay productive. That profits the employer and the employee.

We say that Ringorang is five to 10 years away from being able to show macro-quantification of what this means to industry. In the micro, our software has been used to transform sales teams by lifting the lower performing associates to the level of their higher performing peers. We have rescued a failing program in a company that couldn’t get the enrollment it needed from its employees by trading the firehose for nudges in the flow of work. We appear at the moment of need for people who are in the trenches fighting for their wellness, to empower them in the heat of the moment to make a different decision.

We have never thrown a pizza party. Our employees go home each day free of anxiety about surviving another day at the office.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

If there is a 4X return on health and productivity in the workplace, shine a light on that. Find the studies. Get the data. That World Health Organization study? What about it is like your organization? What situations can you connect to their data? Make a business case based on that, and then launch initiatives in your company to develop your own data — and then share it with others.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

I find “hiring” to be a cultural phenomenon itself. The popular assumption is you arrange your life around work. What if we arranged work to complement our lives?

Think about it: when you interview for a job, don’t you try to paint the best picture of yourself? You want the employer to hire you, so you hope they’ll accept whatever picture you paint. Once you’re hired, you go into survival mode and hope you don’t mess up. Most employers are fine with that because it creates a sense of power and obedience in the hierarchy.

We don’t do that. We dig into the realities of an applicant’s bandwidth, both in and out of the workplace, so we can support the employees coming into our workforce. A supported employee supports the business.

It’s easy for leaders to ignore all the other aspects of an applicant’s life, such as caretaking — whether that’s for parents or children — and health. It’s easy for leaders to dismiss those other aspects as subordinate to work, which is just not the case.

For example, if an employee needs to leave at 2 p.m. every day to pick up their child from school and take them to daycare for the remainder of the day, that employee must figure out how to fit work around an aspect of their life. An aspect that, honestly, takes precedence. Maybe instead of taking a lunch break and eating lunch, this is what this employee is doing. Now they’re not getting a lunch break, and that’s not healthy either.

Understanding an applicant’s needs at the outset is critical to the success of that person being an empowered employee for your business. We ask, “How can we support you in whatever situation you have that you need to address every day?” This way, the applicant doesn’t have to paint a fictional picture of workability that causes problems down the road.

If you’re doing a good job at supporting your employees in and out of the workplace, they’re going to do a great job supporting your business.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

We moved our business to Wichita, Kansas, from Silicon Valley in California, where great tech companies are innovating these workplace wellness programs. Sleep pods at Google, for example. My company offers unlimited PTO and flexibility of hours and location. It’s good, but those programs don’t get to the source of the problem.

My philosophy is that there is one thing that enables employees to be well at work: when the company empowers its people to do what they’ve set out to do in the flow of their workday.

Give employees the responsibility, authority, clarity and tools to succeed. Moment by moment. Daily.

A four-day work week, in my opinion, isn’t necessary. I do a six-day work week. Is it because I’m special or more committed? No. We have student employees who work four days a week because of classes. Are they less committed? Again, no.

When I task an employee, I make sure I grant them the authority to complete that task. I make sure they have the tools to complete it according to expectations. I provide clarity on those expectations. I remove barriers for them. I pair them with others for support. I remind them of why the task is important and how it supports the bigger picture of what we’re all up to.

Think about how empowering and clear that is? Then, think about how often you’ve experienced the opposite -– where you don’t have clarity, you don’t have the authority or tools that are a match for the expectation. Leaders and managers don’t always get this right when tasking an employee– I certainly don’t. So, you have to have an active conversation with your employees, welcoming feedback, shifting where necessary, investing where necessary, day to day, so that employees know you’ve got their back.

That’s what promotes wellness.

Companies that don’t actively support their employees in the flow of the workday see breakdowns in wellness, and no amount of PTO and pizza parties will fix those breakdowns.

As a company, we can’t make an employee be “well,” but we can give them every opportunity throughout the flow of a workday by keeping responsibility, authority, clarity and tools in daily conversation.

  • Mental Wellness: When an employee feels overwhelmed — the runaway train — stop, clarify priorities, assess your tools, get feedback.
  • Emotional Wellness: When an employee is not communicating effectively, there is probably an emotional struggle there. Keep your antennae up for this. Sometimes it just takes a quick call or a hallway conversation to reveal where you can support.
  • Social Wellness: Largely, how a person is in the workplace is how they are everywhere. Watch where interactions break down, where people withhold their opinions, or where they dominate others. As a leader, you can share your observations with your people about their behavior and make it safe for them to share theirs. Even about you! Don’t let toxic behavior persist. It kills the trust of your people.
  • Physical Wellness: We have a fluid office structure that allows employees to sit or stand while working. If something is needed — lumbar support, preferred lighting, what have you — we order it. We have access to our building’s gym. These are tools. People have differing physical needs to remain present and productive, and we make those available. For example, they should be able to take a walk without worrying about it being a “working walk.”
  • Financial Wellness: We focus on helping our employees see the path ahead. Not just, “Here’s what you’re getting paid, and here are the benefits and perks.” Instead, we work with our employees to build their path forward in the company. That’s clarity. We give them the responsibility and authority to progress down that path and even shape it. The conversation is ongoing and is welcomed as a normal conversation at any time, not just at a scheduled review.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

It usually comes down to communication. Our culture is to have communication be in the daily flow. I mean communicating needs and intentions and shifts and, most importantly, the path to our mutual future. This is how we avoid survival mode and go home every day with a sense of accomplishment.

For example, I was sitting with an employee and saw they were discouraged. At first, I couldn’t quite get at the source of what was discouraging — no employee wants their CEO to see them discouraged, so they tried to mask it. I had an “in the flow” conversation with them, giving space to vent, and they revealed that they felt a growing pressure of responsibility. I realized I had failed to show them the path. Right away, we worked to paint it together. The employee lightened up; the weight lifted. Now, there was a clearly visible path forward and their responsibilities felt workable.

If leadership can get culturally great at having the conversation about the path forward to success, they’re going to have a massive positive impact on the mental wellbeing of their employees.

We’ve also talked about supporting employees within the flow of their workday, and I want to highlight that it is their workday. Sometimes, their workday needs to look different from everyone else’s workday. If they need to work from home or take a day off or sleep in because we spent the prior evening at a business development event, then they can. We offer absolute flexibility in location and time of day or days or weeks. Why? Because life doesn’t happen around work. Work happens during life.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

The only way to make a change successful, such as reskilling leadership to adopt new workplace culture, is to create a “thing” around which the change can form. It cannot be just an idea. However well-intentioned an idea is, without a “thing,” you’re just blowing smoke.

One thing we have is process, and I mean more than simple step-by-step processes. We create documents, plans, workflows and utilize various software products, and we remind each other to use them the same way, over and over. When one of my leaders tells me about a conversation they just had with an employee, you’ll often hear me ask them, “Where does that conversation fit in our process?” We make real-time adjustments to our processes that way. I’ve found this empowers leaders to trust the processes, and it makes them feel confident in reminding everyone else to use them as well.

Another thing we have is our product, Ringorang. The benefit it offers is creating continuous behavior change at pace with continuous process improvement. It does this by keeping a flow of interactions between the company and its employees in minute-long increments throughout the workday — providing reminders, tools and the “why” of the work.

The most important thing we have is conversation, which doesn’t sound like a thing. However, when you repeat and apply a conversation to different situations, it becomes reliable. Pretty soon, after having that conversation repeatedly and reliably, the employee takes it on and takes it to their employees. Fostering a culture of continuous feedback gives our leaders the confidence to unearth hidden frustrations among employees, to look for where that employee needs clarity, authority or tools.

The “thing” you apply in your company must deliver change repeatedly and reliability because change is constant. Change readiness is a state of mind, a state of culture, and it feels good — as long as the path ahead is clear for everyone. As the CEO, I get very vocal about strengthening each “thing” we establish in our culture. Together, daily, we fix where it’s not working and celebrate where it does.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

If you don’t have a process or system in place right now to empower your employees to be successful, start there — and feel safe to start small. One of the greatest questions you can ask your employees is: “How can I help?” Now, if your employees balk at the idea of trying to figure out how you can help, sit and listen and offer repeatedly and reliably. When they answer, follow through. You work out how to provide the support your employees have asked for, which might then turn into your “thing.” You must ask, though, before you know what mechanisms of support need to be put in place.

Leaders support, so one small step is to try asking that question over and over.

What are your “Top 5 Trends to Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

  1. Support in the Flow of Work .

When your employee needs a wrench, give them the wrench. Micro-engagement throughout the day within the flow of work, supporting employees to perform, to succeed and to be well. When I was helping a Fortune 500 company develop cybersecurity awareness in its people, this issue came up. Cybersecurity can be anxiety-inducing — most of us don’t know what we can do to stay clear of smart hackers. Multiple employees in that Fortune 500 said that they changed how they reacted to phishing scams and had confidence in their reactions. This change occurred not from a classroom or e-learning, but from minute-long reminders delivered repeatedly in the flow of work.

2: Performance Enablement .

Wellness programs include training, which is not proven. What I mean is they have not proven that the wellness program measurably improved the company’s performance. If you’re not improving the company’s performance, then why is the company going to invest in wellness? We’re at the crest of a wave that will result in companies measuring performance as a way of measuring the effectiveness of all programs. Traditional training doesn’t get measured against performance, which is a problem we’re helping to solve. We all want our people to be well, but we need to see it impact the bottom line for our shareholders. We want our people to do the right thing, but the right thing needs to align with the company’s shareholder-invested purpose. The trend coming is a reverse-engineering of performance into measurable processes and human habits. I predict habits related to wellness will prove to be measurably impactful on performance everywhere.

3: Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality.

Virtual and augmented reality technologies allow people to be hands on when they’re hands off. VR/AR gets people familiar with a system without even using it yet. Familiarity leads to confidence. Confidence relieves anxiety and increases proactivity. A wise consultant told me: “You can’t help people change what they do until you change what they see.” VR/AR enables us to change what people see. People see details about a system through detailed overlay screens. They see scenarios played out in virtual conversations with different endings based on choices made. In the next decade, I predict 60% of training will be transformed into in-the-flow-of-work nudges, and the other 40% will be mostly VR/AR.

4: Upleveling the Dynamics of “Team”.

Being part of a powerful team does a world of good for one’s mental health. You feel you belong. You feel able and productive. The “team” trend I see is a middle ground between two very different workplace structures: 1) working in a hierarchical structure or 2) in a flat organization. These systems have their pros and cons, but they both neglect the dynamics of the team. In a powerful team, each member knows their responsibilities, authorities and tools, and they have clarity on their team’s (and their own) path forward. Upleveling the team as a productive unit is going to have a huge impact on how people work and work well together.

Not long ago I asked two leaders and a staff member in my company to team up on a short-term project. I gave them the responsibility, clarity and tools they needed, but that short-term project became a long-term project because they did not think they had the authority to make a thousand micro-decisions needed to complete it. They thought they had to keep coming back to check in with me. The team wasn’t a team at all. It was more like three people all talking over things and doing things but not feeling empowered to deliver without the daily engagement of a leader outside that team. Terribly inefficient. Empowering the team unit to be great makes the whole system work.

5: An organizational culture of change.

Companies constantly change, and that will never change. Create and manage a culture of change in such a way that people don’t fool themselves into thinking that the destination is the end of change. Change readiness is going to define the most successful companies and teams going forward. This trend is coming on fast, and I think it’s past due.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

Getting to the root of the problem — with wellness, with work, with whatever — and solving it beyond treating the symptoms of it. We have a good shot at doing this, and my company has taken this on — not just because we believe in it, but also because we know it works.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

Please connect with me on LinkedIn at Robert Feeney (https://www.linkedin.com/in/rofeeney/).

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Working Well: Robert Feeney Of Ringorang On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support &… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Working Well: Dr Lindsey Godwin Of Champlain College On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That…

Working Well: Dr Lindsey Godwin Of Champlain College On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Organizations have slowly realized that it is important to tend to the whole person when supporting their employees (as evidenced by the multidimensional conceptualizations of wellbeing that include supporting individuals mentally, physically, and financially). A natural extension of whole person wellbeing is family wellbeing. While not many organizations yet extend wellness support to employees’ families, I think this is a shift that is on the horizon.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Lindsey Godwin.

Lindsey Godwin, Ph.D. is a sought-after international speaker, consultant, and facilitator, who has taught & facilitated over 10,000 people around the world. She holds a Master of Science in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution George Mason University, and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, where she studied with the founding thought leaders in Appreciative Inquiry. She currently holds the Robert P. Stiller Endowed Chair of Management in the Stiller School of Business at Champlain College (Vermont, USA), where she also serves as the Academic Director of the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and the lead faculty for the MS in Leadership and MS in Organization Development & Human Relations programs.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

Three years ago, I was enjoying one the best job perks in academia: the sabbatical. By definition, the word sabbatical comes from the Greek word sabbatikos, meaning “a rest or break from work.” However, over the course of my sabbatical, I realized that a sabbatical is not actually about a “break” from work, but rather an invitation to think about work differently. It is about doing different work and learning to work differently.

During my sabbatical, one of the most formative experiences that inspired me to change my relationship with work came in the form of an abstract art class that I gifted myself. Having fallen into the mental rut that things in my life (personally and professionally) needed to “look a certain way,” I was eager to tap into my inner artist, free myself from the constraint of realism and explore what emerged when I just enjoyed playing with colors and shapes.

Following my sabbatical, I was asked to deliver a presentation to my colleagues when I returned to campus on what I did over my “break.” Titled “All I needed to know on sabbatical, I learned in abstract art class,” I shared the following 10 lessons I gained by getting in touch with my inner abstract artist (these continue to inspire me to be a better colleague, professor, and person in my post-sabbatical reality):

1. Good news/Bad news: There are no rules!

2. It is not always about adding something; sometimes you need to subtract something.

3. You know how much surprise you can handle, so respect that.

4. More is not always more. Resist the urge to replicate something you really like all over the place.

5. If you are scared of something, perhaps try it.

6. Get something down so you have something to react to.

7. You won’t love everything you do, but you will learn from it to inform your next work.

8. Your tools are full of endless potential. It is up to you to see it and use them accordingly.

9. We work in community so we can learn from and influence each other.

10. Get in touch with how you are feeling in the moment. If you don’t, you will be an obstacle for what is wanting to emerge.

Over the course of my semester-long sabbatical, in which I spent time writing, presenting at conferences, collaborating on new projects, painting, and simply taking time to think and reflect, I decided that a sabbatical is not a timeline, but a state of mind. I realized that I can constantly think about doing different work and working differently. Like an abstract artist, I always have the freedom to change the paint colors I am using to create myself and my work.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

While slightly different, at Champlain College, we look to measure wellbeing. Inspired by the book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements by Tom Rath and Jim Harter, which includes leading research done by Gallup, Champlain College defines wellbeing as “the combination and interaction between our love of what we do each day, the vibrancy of our physical health, the security of our finances, the quality of our relationships and the pride we take in what we have contributed to our communities.”

Drawing upon the findings from the book’s study that identified the core elements that shape individuals’ wellbeing across 150 countries, Champlain aims specifically to support their faculty and staff across five domains — career, physical, financial, social and community — and has published a resource guide to support these initiatives While the impact of each domain is measured differently, the college tracks participation rates in the variety of programs offered in each domain.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

I have been fortunate over the past few years to collaborate with the Wellbeing Lab, a globally renowned team that works to translate the latest wellbeing science into practical, easy-to-use tools and everyday actions for organizations. As their research repeatedly shows, organizations that consistently invest in supporting employee wellbeing find that not only do the employees thrive, but the organization does as well.

Using the Wellbeing Lab Workplace Survey, developed by Dr. Peggy Kern from the University of Melbourne, they have been able to quantify and explore the factors that support and undermine workplace wellbeing. The survey is a variant of The PERMAH Wellbeing Survey and draws upon Dr. Martin Seligman’s (a thought leader in the field of positive psychology) classic six-dimensional framework for wellbeing that measures Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishment and Health. As scores on these dimensions rise, so too do other measures such as organizational productivity and profitability rise.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

My quick advice would be for them to ask themselves, “How long do I want to be in business?” Yes, there is a real cost to supporting employee wellness, but the costs of not making those investments end up getting paid eventually — with compounding interest.

Organizations that invest in their employee wellbeing receive the benefit of improved recruitment and retention of top talent, increased employee engagement, accelerated innovation, and better decision-making, which all translate into positive bottom-line impacts over time. Organizations who do not invest in their employees’ wellbeing may indeed save a few dollars today, but over the long run they will find themselves increasingly outperformed at every metric by those organizations who have invested in employee wellbeing.

As a starting point, I would encourage organizations to shift from thinking about wellness as a series of programs to the creation of a culture. Start by asking, “How can we create a culture that supports the mental, emotional, and financial wellbeing of our employees?” The answer to that question is not always the implementation of a program that costs a bunch of money, but simply a reimagining of how the workplace operates.

The truth is that many things that can support wellbeing. Creating norms around demonstrating gratitude for others or celebrating successes do not cost a dime but pay back dividends in their impact across the organization!

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

Many of the organizations I work with are increasingly emphasizing wellness programs as part of their overall recruitment package for new employees. My own organization, Champlain College, highlights a variety of offerings to support employees’ career, physical, financial, social and community wellbeing. Some of benefits include free access to the campus fitness center, as well as discounted memberships to professional gyms, access to telehealth services, and educational benefits for faculty, staff and their dependent children including tuition benefits, on-campus workshops, manager training and continuing education classes.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

Through my work collaborating and consulting with a variety of organizations, I gain the benefit of having an eagle-eye view to observe initiatives happening across different industries. It is interesting to watch how things that were once considered innovative like flexible or remote work have now become almost routine, expected benefits. As a result, organizations are seeking new ways to stand out from the crowd regarding wellbeing. Some of the exciting things I see taking root today include:

  • Mental Wellness: One organization I know of recently implemented No Meeting Wednesdays to decrease disruptions and create more time for reflection and focused work. As a result, teams have reported being more productive, less stressed, and more energized. Similarly, another organization launched an end of day, out of office email policy to help reinforce the norm that emails were not expected to be sent or responded to outside of regular business hours.
  • Emotional Wellness: An organization where I have worked gave all employees a premium subscription to Headspace, an online platform that offers science-backed meditation and mindfulness tools. Employees benefited from access to tools that supported their wellbeing and from a company culture that normalized the notion that investing in one’s wellbeing was important.
  • Social Wellness: An organization I consult with has long held regular days of service where employees work together on a volunteer project in their local community. The benefits are not only a sense of pride and connection to the local community but strengthened bonds with each other as they roll up their sleeves together to accomplish something of meaning.
  • Physical Wellness: One leader I know began implementing “walkie talkies,” weekly check-ins with their direct reports done over a walk outside. This introduced some appreciated physical movement in an otherwise sedentary day of sitting at a desk, and the conversations evolved to be more authentic and impactful when done over a walk.
  • Financial Wellness: My own organization offers a program that provides up to $300 per year to focus on individual health and wellbeing efforts. This program supports employees being able to choose their own approach to wellbeing and engage in activities they otherwise might not be able to afford on their own.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

Are you interested in any of the following: saving money through reduced healthcare costs, increasing productivity, decreasing absenteeism, improving recruitment and retention, boosting morale, or simply doing the right thing by your employees? If so, the good news is that there is overwhelming evidence to support that investments in improving employee wellbeing are something that you will benefit from investing in. In fact, there is perhaps no other investment that touches across so many critical outcomes in an organization!

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

I am excited to see that organizations are increasingly investing in education and training for leaders to support their own wellbeing learning, both on how they can be healthier and how they can create cultures of wellbeing for others. From attending professional conferences and workshops to completing certificate programs, I have noticed that more organizations are investing in professional development for leaders to be able to support a “work well” culture.

I personally have been thrilled to be a part of redesigning our own graduate certificate in Positive Organization Development program at Champlain College that includes an entire course entitled, “Creating Cultures of Wellbeing.” The course is designed to provide participants with the science behind wellbeing, and the practical tools and approaches for empowering organizations to cultivate an enduring culture of wellbeing.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

A small step that is often skipped (but when done creates tremendous, positive ripples and a strong foundation for creating cultures of wellbeing) is: ask employees what they want and need to support their wellbeing.

It is so simple yet is often a neglected step in many organizations who jump (with good intention) right into implementing new initiatives without ever pausing to involve the employees in the design of those programs. My colleagues have a saying, “Don’t do anything about me without me.” This holds true when it comes to designing wellbeing initiatives in organizations. Rather than assuming that a leader, or even a small team, knows what is best to support employees’ wellbeing and investing time and money into initiatives that may or may not be impactful, start by asking employees a simple question: “What would best support your wellbeing?” You might be surprised by the answer!

The bonus to asking is not only do you discover what will truly matter most to people, but the simple act of asking immediately elevates wellbeing by engaging and including employees, making them to feel valued and heard.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

1: Increased Mirror Flourishing Initiatives.

An exciting finding emerging from the field of positive psychology is that wellbeing does not just happen from the inside out; it can also happen from the outside in. The concept of mirror flourishing was defined by my colleagues David Cooperrider and Ron Fry to refer to the, “consonant flourishing or growing together that happens naturally and reciprocally to us when we actively engage in or witness the acts that help nature flourish, others flourish, or the world as a whole to flourish.” In other words, when individuals focus their energy on doing good for others in the broader social context, improving the world beyond themselves and the walls of their individual organization, they, in turn, activate mechanisms that support their individual wellbeing and flourishing.

We know that current events, including the global pandemic, equity issues, natural disasters, racial injustice, and economic insecurity have exponentially contributed to the heightened pressures, anxiety, and stress of all. By encouraging employees to do good out in the world — from giving time off to engage in volunteering to launching company-wide community engagement initiatives — organizations can not only help employees increase their own wellbeing, but they can also help to address many of the root causes of the mental and physical stress that wellbeing education is designed to help bolster against.

I anticipate we will see an increase in organizations turning their attention to how they can support solutions to the pressing global issues we face as a society and making it a strategic priority to engage employees in work that benefits the greater good. Because in return, employees and organizations will thrive when they channel their energies toward making the world a better place.

2: Extending Wellness Programs to the Entire Family.

Organizations have slowly realized that it is important to tend to the whole person when supporting their employees (as evidenced by the multidimensional conceptualizations of wellbeing that include supporting individuals mentally, physically, and financially). A natural extension of whole person wellbeing is family wellbeing. While not many organizations yet extend wellness support to employees’ families, I think this is a shift that is on the horizon.

There has long been evidence that when an individual has a healthy home life, they are happier and healthier and, by extension, more engaged and productive at work. COVID-19 only served to exacerbate challenges families face in terms of juggling daycare, school, and caretaking for elderly parents. As organizations seek to support their employees’ wellbeing in the future, they are going to increasingly need to offer broader family supports as well. This might take the form of more support finding daycare (including possible onsite daycare), increased flex time, or allowing family members access to wellbeing programs offered through the organization.

3: Reimagined Workdays.

The concept of flextime is nothing new, but a trend we will see more of in the future is organizational-wide cultures that reconceptualize the work week to help prevent burnout. The idea of the four-day work week may catch on more fully in some organizations, and for those organizations who maintain a more traditional calendar, we will see an increase in setting clear work hours and limits and boundaries on communication outside those times.

Healthy organizations will be those who respect that employees need a separation from work. (Especially for those individuals who are working remotely with their home space and office space one in the same.) Beyond simply suggesting these things, organizations could create policies limiting after-hour work communications, capping the number of hours per week worked, and offering incentives to ensure that employees are regularly taking time off to recharge.

4: Reimagined Workplaces.

With the increased utilization of remote and hybrid work, organizations should ask, “How does the office become a tool to best support the needs of my workforce?” One trend that I suspect will increase is the rise of activity-based working (ABW). As the Academy to Innovate HR notes, ABW “evolves around the idea of giving people the possibility to do their work tasks in a setting that is fully optimized to do that specific activity. Examples of such a setting are silent zones, collaboration zones, learning zones, social zones, etc. ABW is about connecting work activities with an environment that supports or even improves those tasks.”

Rather than having individual offices, with ABW, the office space becomes a multifaceted array of different types of spaces that can be used as needed to support the work to be done — from collaborative team brainstorming to individual work to rest and rejuvenation spaces. This evolution of physical space gives further flexibility to a workforce that is demanding choice in where and how they work. It will not only be a perk that helps in recruiting but will positively impact both employee wellbeing and productivity.

5: Measuring Leaders’ Success Differently.

Recently, in a meeting with a leader at an organization I consult with, the leader shared that they had the flu but were continuing to work remotely despite their ill health. While historically such behavior has been celebrated as commitment to work, in the future we will not see this behavior celebrated or even allowed at work. Increasingly, organizational leaders will be held accountable for being a model of wellbeing for others. From limiting their own out-of-office communications to taking personal time off, from speaking and sharing more fully their own mental health journey to inviting employees to share their own wellbeing needs, leaders will be expected to and measured by their ability to create cultures where everyone thrives.

Wellbeing will not just be championed by designated wellbeing coaches or live within a particular office — leaders at every level will become champions and role models for engaging in wellbeing in its many forms.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

My greatest source of optimism is that discussions about workplace wellness have moved out of the shadows and into the light of everyday conversations. From the boardroom to the mailroom, the topic of wellbeing is one that is being placed front and center in the world of work today.

While we do not always agree on what it should look like, there is little doubt anymore that we should in fact be taking action to support employees’ wellbeing. There is a crescendo of evidence that should convince even the most skeptical that the ROI on wellbeing is worth the investment.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

A great place to connect with me is on LinkedIn where I often share resources and research on topics related to creating healthier workplaces (https://www.linkedin.com/in/drlindseygodwin/) and through the Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain College (https://www.champlain.edu/appreciativeinquiry) where I serve as the Academic Director.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Working Well: Dr Lindsey Godwin Of Champlain College On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Working Well: Gregg Makuch Of PTO Exchange On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support &…

Working Well: Gregg Makuch Of PTO Exchange On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Implement a company sharing network to socialize wellbeing best practices — Creating an environment that destigmatizes mental health and supports wellness is crucial. An easy way to implement this is including a Slack channel where employees can share something about their personal wellbeing that is important to them or something new they have learned about wellbeing that could be of use to others (ie. tips such as useful apps, books read or classes taken). Also, at quarterly meetings, making this initiative a priority where employees (and the leadership team) can speak about their wellness journey openly.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Gregg Makuch.

Gregg Makuch (“may-kish”) is a results-oriented marketing executive with 20+ years of experience creating and implementing successful growth strategies. His experience ranges from startups to global, billion-dollar organizations. Gregg is the CMO at PTO Exchange, the first platform that allows employees to self-direct the value of their unused paid time off (PTO) for other needs and causes. He’s responsible for getting the word out and educating HR and business leaders on how PTO Exchange benefits both employees and employers.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

Like most of us, I’ve had ups and downs in my career. I’ve been blessed to have worked with amazing people and mentors at great organizations like Deloitte, Kraft, and Price Waterhouse. I also have had my share of downs, and this cycle seemed to get more intense as I moved into the tech sector and specifically smaller, early stage companies. After probably staying too long at one of these which had its share of cultural issues and challenges, I’ve learned that I’ll never do that again. I now am thrilled to get up every day and be part of a value-driven company and terrific team, building something truly innovative that we think can help millions of people. Our mission is powerful but we also value the “whole employee” — our professional talents but also the need to balance family, health, faith, and community as well.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

We define it along wellness “pillars” — physical wellbeing, financial wellbeing, mental/emotional wellbeing, and social wellbeing. Physical wellbeing relates to our bodies — fitness, exercise, health care, etc. Financial wellbeing relates to fair compensation, retirement planning, paid leave and other benefits. Mental and emotional wellbeing refer to our emotional state and health. Social wellbeing refers to charitable giving, volunteering, and community engagement.

We support each of these pillars within our organization with flexible benefits and support, including the ability to exchange some of our unused PTO for these purposes.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

We believe that employee wellness along these dimensions correlate with higher levels of productivity and profitability. Some of it is self-evident — physically healthy employees show up to work and have fewer sick days than unhealthy employees. More work and hence productivity occurs when sick days are reduced.

Mental and emotional wellbeing are just as important, even though it may be more difficult to observe. Many employees power through difficulties, but we know their productivity is compromised when they are not getting the help they need.

Social wellbeing from our point of view, is a sign of a healthy workplace culture. It’s important that we allow employees the time and resources to give back to the communities in which we live.

We just completed some really illustrative research on these issues. It revealed that 4 out of 5 employees would donate vacation hours to a coworker in the case of an emergency. This research also suggested that employees would have stronger feelings of loyalty with flexible benefits such as PTO conversion. A more loyal workforce is directly related to higher productivity, lower recruiting and training costs, and higher profitability.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

My advice would be to just start — somewhere. A journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step. Start with a pilot in one location or department, for example. This could be investing in a fitness center on-site. Or simply offer a modest LPA (Life Planning Account) that employees can use based on their priorities. An LPA is a lump-sum cash benefit that employees can use in pre-approved expense categories, like physical wellbeing (fitness centers, athletic equipment, personal training, etc.) or emotional wellbeing (meditation, counseling, yoga, etc).

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

We prominently feature these values and convertible benefits during our recruiting process. We feel this sets us apart in a competitive job market.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

We feature both LPA options and PTO Exchange — the ability to convert unused vacation based on each employee’s personal needs and priorities.

  • Mental Wellness: Our LPA supports counseling services and support. With PTO Exchange, employees can also convert some of their paid leave into discounted travel so they can better afford to get away and decompress from work.
  • Emotional Wellness: Our LPA supports yoga, meditation, and like services and apps.
  • Social Wellness: PTO Exchange allows employees to convert a portion of their unused PTO and contribute to over 1.7M nonprofits. We also provide time for volunteering.
  • Physical Wellness: Our LPA supports membership fees to fitness centers and can also be used for athletic gear and attire. Further, with PTO Exchange, we can convert some unused vacation directly into Health Savings Accounts.
  • Financial Wellness: With PTO Exchange, employees can convert unused PTO into retirement accounts, pay down student debt, establish an emergency fund, or simply cash some of it out for other priorities.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

We are big believers that one-size-fits-all benefits are not nearly as valuable as flexible benefits. Most firms have a multi-generational workforce, with up to five different generations. The priorities of Millennials skew toward reducing student debt or traveling. For Baby Boomers, it leans toward contributing more to their retirement funds. For Gen X’ers, they’re more interested in putting money into their kids’ college funds.

So, my advice is to try to provide as much flexibility as possible within the overall benefit budget.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

We support career development and learning.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

Offer a convertible benefits solution like PTO Exchange! By offering employees a choice and flexibility to control the value of their PTO, is a step in the right direction.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

  1. Convertible benefits option — America’s workforce is losing billions worth of accrued PTO. By offering a way to convert benefits that support employees’ individualized needs and different transitions in life (retirement accounts, student loan repayments, charitable donations, and more), will promote wellness all around. This type of offering supports the changing workforce and ultimately supports employees in more ways than one.
  2. Mental Health Days will become a staple — Employee burnout is an ongoing issue and The Great Resignation is a prime example of this. A recent TalentLMS and BambooHR survey found that a whopping 82% of employed Gen Z employees want mental health days.
  3. Hybrid and remote work promote wellness and are here to stay — The pandemic forced employers to implement a WFH policy and it has proven to be an office model that works and supports employee wellness. An Ergotron survey of 1,000 full-time workers found that 56% of employees said their mental health, work-life balance and physical activity — all improved as a result of their hybrid work environment. And 88% said the flexibility to work from home or the office has increased their job satisfaction. Just recently, the CEO of Airbnb, solidified a permanence of the remote-work era with new policies. We’re going to see many companies follow suit.
  4. Instill an open and supportive company culture around mental health — Employers will be proactive about making employees feel safe and comfortable discussing mental health at work to cultivate a company culture of empathy and wellbeing. According to Corporate Wellness Magazine, the number of employees who said they discussed their mental health in the workplace over the past year nearly doubled, from 23 percent in 2020 to 43 percent in 2021. Far more people now report a higher comfort level around bringing up their own mental health challenges with managers and peers.
  5. Implement a company sharing network to socialize wellbeing best practices — Creating an environment that destigmatizes mental health and supports wellness is crucial. An easy way to implement this is including a Slack channel where employees can share something about their personal wellbeing that is important to them or something new they have learned about wellbeing that could be of use to others (ie. tips such as useful apps, books read or classes taken). Also, at quarterly meetings, making this initiative a priority where employees (and the leadership team) can speak about their wellness journey openly.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

More and more leaders and organizations — SHRM, World at Work, etc — are starting to see wellness as a serious HR theme and approach to drive employee engagement and ultimately enhance productivity. Also, the fact that we’re having this conversation in your publication is incredibly encouraging to heighten awareness!

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

Please connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter (@greggmaykish) or via email at gregg@ptoexchange.com.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Working Well: Gregg Makuch Of PTO Exchange On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support &… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Sports Stars Making a Social Impact: Why And How Soccer Pro Taylor Otto Is Helping To Change Our…

Sports Stars Making a Social Impact: Why And How Soccer Pro Taylor Otto Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

… The relationships you build with people are more important than anything. Obviously, we want to be successful and be the best in our respective sports but we only have that for so long and the people you meet and relationships you build are for a lifetime.

As a part of our series about sports stars who are making a social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Taylor Otto.

Taylor Otto is an American professional soccer player who plays as a midfielder for National Women’s Soccer League club, Racing Louisville. In 2021, Taylor was selected as the first pick of the second round (11th overall) of the NWSL Draft by Racing Louisville, and made her debut for the side later that year. Taylor is passionate about supporting the local Louisville community and is excited to partner with Quest to make a donation to nonprofit, Dare To Care, to help support their mission to lead their community in feeding the hungry and conquering the cycle of need.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to your career path in professional sports?

My parents got me involved in a lot of sports at a young age. I started playing soccer when I was 4 and fell in love with it immediately. I played basketball as well but ended up having to choose between the two going into high school if I wanted to pursue an athletic scholarship. I chose soccer and committed to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill not long after. I played there for 5 years after redshirting my freshman year and was then drafted 11th overall in the 2021 NWSL draft.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What were the lessons or takeaways that you took out of that story?

The funniest/most interesting thing that occurred throughout my career is that I actually only visited one school in my recruitment process. I got injured and was unable to travel to visit the school I had planned to that weekend and ended up going to visit UNC instead. I committed that night, and when I look back on it, that probably wasn’t the smartest idea, but it ended up working out really well. A lesson I took away from this was to take risks and just go for it!

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

The advice I would give to a young person who wants to emulate my success is to work hard and be confident in the player/person you are! The one thing you can control is your work ethic so continuously put the time in to perfect all different aspects of your game, which can also lead to great self-confidence on the field.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?

I don’t have a specific story but Anson Dorrance had a huge impact on my life both on and off the field. He cultivated an environment at UNC that pushed players daily and that really helped me form a strong mindset going forward.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about what it is like being a professional sports player?

Being a professional athlete is a privilege and in my opinion one of the best jobs you can have because you get to wake up and do what you love everyday. With that being said, I think a myth that fans or non-athletes generally have is that it’s easy to perform at a high level consistently. There are many mental and physical challenges that professional athletes face that can often include a large amount of criticism. A lot of the time as a professional athlete, you correlate your success on the field with your worth as a person and I don’t think I realized how mentally tough you have to be until I was actually put in the environment.

Ok super. Let’s now move to the main part of our discussion. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?

My success in the field has given me the opportunity to help the community around me and for that, I am very grateful. This year I donated $25,000 on behalf of Quest to Dare to Care, a local food bank in Louisville. I am extremely grateful that my partnership with Quest provided me the opportunity to help start my journey in making a difference in the community.

What methods are you using to most effectively share your cause with the world?

One of the most effective ways for me to share my cause with the world has been through social media. I post to the platform to inform people about what is going on in the community and how they can help!

Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?

I chose to work with Dare to Care because it is an important part of the Louisville community, and has close ties to our soccer club. During my rookie year, we had the opportunity to see and help with all the “behind the scenes” work that Dare to Care does to make sure that the people of their community are fed and taken care of. Those experiences really made me want to help in any way that I could and Quest gave me an incredible opportunity to help support Dare to Care.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

Through the generous donation that Quest so kindly provided, thousands of meals were able to be distributed to the people in the local Louisville community.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. It’s okay to fail. I think failure is often always seen as a bad thing but with failure can come a lot of learning and growth and ultimately lead to a lot of success later on down the road.
  2. The relationships you build with people are more important than anything. Obviously, we want to be successful and be the best in our respective sports but we only have that for so long and the people you meet and relationships you build are for a lifetime.
  3. Confidence is a good thing. I think a lot of times especially for females any form of confidence can be seen as cocky. But being confident in yourself and the work you’ve put in can really make a difference.
  4. It’s okay to be different. Everyone is unique in their own way and I think that is what is so special. Everyone can bring something different to the table on the field but also in life.
  5. Don’t take anything for granted. Being a professional athlete isn’t going to last forever so enjoy all the ups and downs of your journey.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to find a way to help people live a happy and successful life whether that be through equal opportunity or providing shelter and food.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

One of my favorite quotes is ”People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I love this because you can have absolutely everything and all the money in the world, but what is it worth if it’s just you? If you have a platform and the ability to help the people around you and show them you care, the differences you can make are unlimited.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Lebron James because I have always looked up to him. He is one of the greatest of all time in his sport while also using his platform to help millions of people in a variety of different ways and I greatly admire that.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can follow me on Instagram at @tay30otto as well as on Twitter at @tbro303. They can also follow the amazing work that Quest is doing on Instagram at @QuestNutrition.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!


Sports Stars Making a Social Impact: Why And How Soccer Pro Taylor Otto Is Helping To Change Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Author Declan Finn On How To Create Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories

An Interview With Ian Benke

Know what your story is: I know it’s a general rule. I’m not even saying you should have an outline. I’m only saying you should know what the tone is, and what the endpoint is. It will probably help to have some plot point to connect like dots.

Science Fiction and Fantasy are hugely popular genres. What does it take for a writer today, to write compelling and successful Science Fiction and Fantasy stories? Authority Magazine started a new series called “How To Write Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories”. In this series we are talking to anyone who is a Science Fiction or Fantasy author, or an authority or expert on how to write compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Declan Finn.

Declan Finn is the author of thirty published novels, the bulk of which are science fiction and fantasy. Having been a New York native all of his life, his friends insist that he should be a Southerner at heart. He is a three time Dragon Award finalist, and is shooting for a fourth time in 2022.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a story about what first drew you to writing over other forms of storytelling?

I started with writing Fan Fiction. I didn’t even know there was a term for it back then. I was going to write one lousy short story. 15 months and 4000 pages later, I had a space opera that had very little to do with the original product. After that, writing became compulsive. If I take too long without writing, I get headaches.

You are a successful author. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Trait one: See above for being compulsive.

Trait two: I take this seriously enough to run it like a job, from 9–5 every day. I roll out of bed and into my office, and start typing.

Trait three: I’m too stubborn to give up. I don’t think there’s a story for that.

Can you tell us a bit about the interesting or exciting projects you are working on or wish to create? What are your goals for these projects?

Let’s see, what am I not working on?

One project I’m on is wrapping my my Saint Tommy NYPD series. It’s Urban Fantasy / horror centered on a cop who has the miraculous abilities of a Saint — smelling evil, bilocation, et al. He has this bad habit of attracting demons, and they would all like to mount his head on their wall.

I hope to republish my Love at First Bite quartet through Three Ravens Press. It’s my version of vampires, where I explain them with microbiology and Thomist metaphysics, and create vampire biographies with my history degree. Why yes, I am a huge nerd with a bottomless well of normally useless facts.

After Love at First Bite comes back, I have a sequel series that I’m working on right now called Honeymoon from Hell. It’s in the same universe, but the characters wanted more room to grow. And heck, I spent four books getting my lead heroes together, I want to have the payoff of a wedding. If they survive that long.

I’m also working on the continuation of my space opera, White Ops…. basically, space Templars.

My goals for the projects are all the same: sell books, entertain the readers, make money.

Wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define sci-fi or fantasy? How is it different from speculative fiction?

Speculative fiction: techno-thrillers, with plots that could happen today, or at least in the next give years.

Sci-fi relies on technology we don’t have to stretch what can be done during the story.

Fantasy requires magic… which could be considered science fiction with different mechanics.

It seems that despite countless changes in media and communication technologies, novels and written fiction always survive, and as the rate of change increases with technology, written sci-fi becomes more popular. Why do you think that is?

We’re living in a science fiction future. Try to think back to the year 2000. Were smartphones even something we could fathom back then? Computer tablets, Google glasses, smart watches were literally science fiction until recently.

Right now, science fiction is showing us what’s next. Don’t believe me, ask Elon Musk why he’s got an Iron Man statue outside of Tesla’s headquarters.

In your opinion, what are the benefits to reading sci-fi, and how do they compare to watching sci-fi on film and television?

You can always do more with sci-fi in a book than in filmed media. Books can explain technology better. Books can give you cultural or personal backstories. Books can allow the plot to breathe in ways that are restrained by the time frame of a tv show or film. And, as with any genre, books can tell you what the character is thinking without needing them to talk to themselves.

What authors and artists, dead or alive, inspired you to write?

J. Michael Straczynski, Timothy Zahn, David Weber and John Ringo inspired my science fiction. My urban fantasy / horror was inspired by the creator of urban fantasy, Fred Saberhagen, and his Dracula series.

If you could ask your favourite Science Fiction and Fantasy author a question, what would it be?

I’d ask Timothy Zahn for his perfect casting for his book series.

We’d like to learn more about your writing. How would you describe yourself as an author? Can you please share a specific passage that you think exemplifies your style? Based on your own experience and success, what are the “Five Things You Need To Write Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories?” If you can, please share a story or example for each.

1) Coherent world building: You don’t need to be Tolkien, with historical details for every rock and branch, but you need to know the basics of the world. You can make the details up as you go along, but you need to remember the details so you don’t contradict yourself.

For my Saint Tommy NYPD series, I have a cheat sheet. I’m using the rules for demons set down by the Catholic church. From one point of view, I’m still writing fan fiction… all of the rules are already laid out for me, I just have to operate by them. Since this is secret history (meaning that these monsters are in our world), I just need to make certain nothing contradicts reality.

2) If you have aliens or sapient fantasy creatures, you have to have an idea of their culture — again, not Lord of the Rings level detail, but they need to have a distinct feel. If you have no non-humans in your world, but you should focus on human cultures and perhaps history.

For example, I’m a historian. When I was creating my aliens, the Renar, I stole the medieval cultural layout to create a caste system: knights, peasants, religious and merchants. Their religion is based on Aristotle’s philosophy. As a cultural imperative, everyone is armed, with weapons commensurate to their station… I stole “everyone is armed” from Switzerland.

3) Know what your story is: I know it’s a general rule. I’m not even saying you should have an outline. I’m only saying you should know what the tone is, and what the endpoint is. It will probably help to have some plot point to connect like dots.

For example, my current project is Honeymoon from Hell. I knew where I was going. I was going to have a wedding… so I needed elements going into a wedding, like invites and the wedding party. I was going to have a zombie attack, so I needed a necromancer for a villain. Unfortunately, since these characters refused to fit into an outline, the plot spiraled, requiring elements from two different short stories, which provided the story with several elements that I needed to finish the plot. Sometimes, it all fits.

4) Don’t worry about “realism.” Most books that think they’re “real” come off just being … miserable. They remove beauty and make a fetish out of ugly. You’re writing a story with aliens, or the far future, or werewolves. They’re the focus of the story. You can have poverty — the poor you will always have with you, because poverty is relative — but if you’re going to focus on constant misery, why are you writing the book?

Do I need to point out novels that have done this? Books that endlessly focus on endless snow and endless death? Plots that run on character death to the point of lunacy? I have one series that is a dystopia, The Last Survivors. There are the poor, the rich, the middle class, and people who are just trying to survive from time to time.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Entertainment, Business, VC funding, and Sports read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Well, I did see Elon Musk complaining that science had gone ou of science fiction lately. I wonder if he’d want to produce his own TV show or film. I have the books to base off of.

As Jim Butcher once said, the best part of the (failed SyFy channel) Dresden Files TV show was that he gained a million new readers.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I’m a writer, so I need the widest possible audience, hence I am on every platform, whether I like it or not. Twitter, Facebook, Parler, Gettr, Gab, blogger (declanFinn.com), Substack, MeWe. I’m still trying to figure out how BitChute works, so that’s not the best method to contact me. I’m certain I’m missing something, but darned if I can remember what.

I recommend just following me on Substack or the blog. Social media is to watch me rant, be cranky, or share bizarre jokes and / or memes.

Thank you for these excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent. We wish you continued success.

About The Interviewer: Ian Benke is a multi-talented artist with a passion for written storytelling and static visual art — anything that can be printed on a page. Inspired by Mega Man, John Steinbeck, and commercials, I.B.’s science fiction writing and art explore the growing bond between technology and culture, imagining where it will lead and the people it will shape. He is the author of Future Fables and Strange Stories, the upcoming It’s Dangerous to Go Alone trilogy, and contributes to Pulp Kings. The CEO and Co-Founder of Stray Books, and an origami enthusiast, Ian is an advocate of independent, collaborative, and Canadian art. https://ibwordsandart.ca


Author Declan Finn On How To Create Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Working Well: Nena Dimovska Of Semos Cloud On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support &…

Working Well: Nena Dimovska Of Semos Cloud On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Financial wellness pertains to a person’s relationship with money, and it essentially has a lot to do with a feeling of safety. People need a way to future-proof their existence by having enough access to resources that allow them to live the lifestyle they want. A healthy relationship with money, and financial literacy, gives people a feeling of stability.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Nena Dimovska.

Nena Dimovska, Head of People success at Semos Cloud, is committed to reimagining people experience with HR technology. A PhD Candidate in Organizational Science and Leadership, she is exploring the exciting world of rewards & recognition, as an effective instrument in improving people experience in the digital workplace.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life. Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

I’d start by saying that employee wellness and well-being are essential in Semos Cloud. So, they are not just ‘things we talk about during the Covid pandemic.’ We see wellness as an aspect of well-being, entailing several aspects of the human life experience; physical, mental, social, and financial health.

There’s a fine line between addressing employees’ psychological well-being and respecting their privacy. The window of opportunity to encourage their overall well-being lies in reviewing the company’s value structure, establishing a culture of caring for employees, and communicating these values clearly.

We believe that as an employer, we offer our employees a chance to strike the optimal work-life balance, as a prerequisite to all forms of well-being. We are aware of the importance of what well-being means to the company’s success, and thus take measures to preemptively block risks such as burnout, where our general approach is ‘prevent’ rather than ‘cure’.

One way we provide our employees with an optimal work environment is by allowing huge flexibility in the way work is conducted. Flexible, remote, or hybrid work models are available, depending on what best suits their current needs and the needs of their families. Some of our employees take care of aging parents, and some have children, but what is certain is that the flexibility we offer and the trust we have built with them allows for healthier workplace culture.

Those who choose to work remotely find a better work-life balance in reduced commute time, which leaves more time to do other things they love. We encourage our people to be their best selves by being themselves. We value authenticity, and our employees know it well.

Pulse surveys help us measure different areas of our people’s well-being. Everyone provides self-assessments on various aspects of wellness that are important to them. The information we gather from surveys provides insight into employees’ thoughts and attitudes about what is going on in the workplace. These surveys change per need and circumstances. Even our people’s engagement with the surveys is indicative of their overall engagement. For surveys to be effective, it is crucial to tailor the questions to get meaningful data that inform further actions towards working well.

One thing to look out for with surveys is that it’s important what you ask and how the questions are structured. For example, as HR professionals, we should understand the company culture and reflect it in the questions asked. Let’s suppose the company’s value system centers around growth and advancement. In that case, one thing to ask people is what kind of professional development opportunities we can offer to support their growth goals. Some questions can be formed based on the demographic information, as people in different life stages define wellness differently.

We also reward certain types of behavior. Our Rewards and Recognition system is an excellent way to highlight healthy activities. We encourage our people to support each other by acknowledging effort and adhering to company values and goals.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

We know that when employees feel well, their engagement rates spike, directly influencing the company’s bottom line. Highly engaged employees show 17% higher productivity and 21% higher profitability for organizations (https://www.gallup.com/workplace/238085/state-american-workplace-report-2017.aspx ).

Further on, investing in employee wellness plans and strategies impacts employee engagement. According to SHRM’s Mental Health Research from 2021 (https://www.workplacementalhealth.shrm.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Mental-Health-in-America-A-2022-Workplace-Report.pdf?utm_source=all&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=foundation_shrm~comms_general~mental_health_report&utm_content=mental-health-resources), 58% of workers believe mental health benefits are more important than higher pay or salary. Engaged employees are more motivated, and they spend their time at work better, they are motivated to think about their jobs creatively, and are more likely to recommend a workplace to other people, thus lowering the cost of hiring new employees and increasing the quality of the talent pool.

Our line of work requires us to understand how the workforce impacts organizations’ productivity/profitability and offer guidance to other organizations, which wish to keep their employees healthy, engaged, and thriving. The attrition rate at our company is extremely low. I believe there are many reasons behind this, the major one being we’ve heavily invested in our company culture and continuously work on nurturing/improving it.

Within our organization, we use all the tools at our disposal to ensure that we know how our employees think and feel, that everyone is aligned to company goals and values, and that everyone is cherished and appreciated for their contribution and efforts. We nurture our company culture with the tools and knowledge we facilitate to other companies. We are lucky to have intelligent EX and rewards and recognition software, such as JobPts, Nurture, or SurveyRocks (https://semoscloud.com/product/jobpts/) at our disposal and run our well-being projects with ease and minimum people power.

Our communication with clients reveals that those who put well-being first, can turn their workforce into ambassadors and engage their employees more efficiently. We have witnessed how organizations with low engagement rates struggle with productivity. The culprit is not paying close attention to how people feel within and outside the workplace. For example, companies offer mental health services without really understanding employees’ needs and preparedness to utilize those services. Let’s say your workforce is more traditional, and those same health services are still taboo? Some would be surprised to realize to what extent mental health is (sadly) still taboo in some cultures/regions. If you are an enterprise and your workforce is dispersed worldwide, you must “know your audience” and what they are (not) ready to utilize since uninformed actions often backfire.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

The first step is for companies to realize that they need to take action to support the well-being of their workforce, and once they do, it’s about planning a good strategy. No good strategy comes without informed decisions, so making data-driven decisions is my number 1 advice.

The old saying goes that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’, and similarly if the action is uninformed, it might backfire. Pulse surveys, self-assessments, regular check-ins with managers, communication above all, and knowing your employees’ heartbeat can help draft an excellent strategy that impacts your people’s well-being. If, for example, you decide to spend a lot on a well-being program and offer free counseling but do not change the way work is done in your company or your company culture, it won’t do the trick. You are only superficially repairing the damage you are doing and not significantly impacting the employees’ well-being.

Companies need to review their work processes and culture to understand if they might want to improve them. A good and honest review could identify the ways of error and reveal the path to correction. Companies might unknowingly contribute to employee burnout with some practices, such as sending late emails, lacking appreciation or feedback, and not being flexible enough. All these factors contribute to company culture.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

We take care to offer a seamless and cozy recruiting process to our potential new hires. From the first point of contact with our company, let’s say the job ad, potential new talents immediately have a comfortable experience. We design inclusive job ads that genuinely portray the job, inspire and encourage rather than deter talents. For example, the use of gendered wording in job ads sadly still exists and promotes gender inequality.

(https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fa0022530). While many see this as a diversity issue alone, we know inclusivity is a staple of workforce well-being; therefore, we take care not to deter potential talents.

Aside from the clear and gender-neutral job ads, we take care to communicate our values, expectations, and timelines clearly from the start. Our people-first attitude is reflected in how we hire new candidates. Our hiring process is quite efficient, and we are very transparent about it. We share all the steps and requirements on our website for everyone to see, so we manage expectations. If a candidate does not meet our requirements, we tell them during the interview, we don’t let them wait for weeks to receive an answer. We don’t make candidates go through any more loops than necessary. We communicate on time and keep a friendly and relaxed attitude. Job seeking is stressful enough, so we do our best to make people feel at ease by practicing a relaxed form of interviews. If there is a more complex assignment a new potential hire should do, we compensate them for it, ensuring their contribution and time feel valued from the start, regardless of the outcome of the process. Later on in the hiring process, we offer various attractive wellness programs as perks and benefits before a candidate chooses to work for us.

Last but not the least, we are searching for A+ talents who contribute to our value system and who will take our mission further. People who contribute to wellness culture and who have strong ideas and personal practices are an excellent cultural fit for us.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

  • Mental Wellness:

To ensure our employees’ mental wellness, we offer digital support and community-based opportunities. Digital communication tools are intertwined into our daily lives, and we like to explore the opportunity to effectively use them for mental wellness interventions. We provide digital support via telephone or apps. That way, constraints such as time or ‘feeling ashamed to go to therapy’ are mitigated. Community-based opportunities such as activities in which employees of all seniority come together for meals or nights out provide a chance to get to know each other and enjoy each other’s company outside the workplace. The result of these practices is an increased connection, building empathy and mental wellness of our people.

  • Emotional Wellness:

Talking is the first step. Then comes acknowledging the importance of emotional well-being, trying to de-stress people, organizing mindfulness workshops, supporting yoga and other activities, and encouraging rest/breaks during the workday. Also, as an initiative, I’d mention offering consultation sessions with counselors/ psychologists/doctors. We’re considering doing “no meetings Fridays” to help our people have an entire workday for focus time, declutter activities, and prepare for a relaxed weekend.

  • Social Wellness:

Social wellness is mostly about maintaining healthy relationships with other people, and for most people, it requires deliberate effort. We’ve taken steps to develop tools that might help build healthy relationships. For example, to boost communication practices between our people and help them nourish their interpersonal relationships both in the workplace and outside, we’ve defined a set of golden rules to live by. In a way, we teach our people to build/sustain healthier relationships by following clear guidelines such as ‘assume that the other party has a positive intent, ‘kindness always matters’, ‘respect the environment’, etc. The extra benefit is that people can easily transfer these practices to their personal lives, ultimately influencing their overall well-being. Also, as a company, we proactively try to encourage our people to nurture healthy social well-being by engaging in hobbies, sticking to healthy routines, participating in volunteering programs that are meaningful to them, trying to find new social connections/meet colleagues they don’t usually work with, emphasize the importance of limiting their daily ‘screen time’, etc.

  • Physical Wellness:

Semos Cloud encourages physical wellness by subsidizing exercise programs that fit people’s needs. We offer a plethora of options such as pilates, gym memberships, yoga, meditation and mindfulness classes, swimming, tennis classes, football, and much more. Additionally, we offer flexible working hours so employees can fit these workouts into their work schedules.

We also organize company-wide physical health initiatives, in which our people engage in various activities that promote a healthier work-life balance that enforces teamwork and recognition.

Further on, when designing our new office spaces, we ensured there are plenty of bike parking spaces and showers — so people can bike to work, take a shower, stop by for a healthy snack in the kitchen and start work fully energized. Additionally, we’re working on implementing a program for subsidizing bikes soon. It not only promotes physical wellness, but also supports our sustainability objectives.

  • Financial Wellness:

I think this area is still a novelty for many companies, and we’re still exploring ways to support our people. We are developing a program to help our people get accurate knowledge of their finances and maximize their likelihood of having a healthy relationship with money and a stable financial future. We understand that our people might have personal finance concerns, and one of the challenges is they are sometimes reluctant to share these private concerns in the workspace. We want to design an appropriate program that will offer online/live counseling and workshops that address some of the most critical aspects of financial wellness, such as budgeting, credits/loans, savings, goal-setting, crisis management, etc. Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning that we offer a total rewards package that includes fair and stimulating financial compensation for their work. We are compensating local rates based on the market cost and trying to be competitive based on location, seniority, experience, and contribution. We are transparent with our compensation principles. People are encouraged to contribute to our “comp calculator”, which is being adjusted based on survey data and feedback from recruitment candidates and employees.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

We advise our customers to tackle the issue of unhappy and disengaged employees on several fronts. Surveys are essential for knowing what is going on with our employees and predicting which employees show signs of disengagement and, consequently, attrition. Surveys only work when the data gathered is analyzed and implemented as actionable plans. Agility is our core value, and by being agile, we can respond to challenges before they become unmanageable. Our people’s needs are our starting point, and we try to respond to what they need so they can be happy.

Another concrete way companies can influence their employees’ well-being is by ensuring that communication is transparent and effective. Are your communication messages reaching out to all your employees equally, regardless of where they work? What about the ‘deskless employees’ or those with limited access to technology? How are you ensuring they receive the same care and support as anyone else? It’s important to ask yourself these questions, although it might be challenging to come to an answer. It’s equally important for everyone to feel included and not discriminated against. A sound, internal communication system ensures everyone receives company messages and stays informed and well-aligned.

We also put great emphasis on accommodating the various needs of our employees. Different people or even different groups of people have specific needs. As an employer, we are responsible for responding to those particular needs. For example, we do not offer the same benefits to a fresh graduate and someone nearing retirement. While it is OK, it’s not enough to have a general benefits package. Companies nowadays should have the know-how to design systems and practices that offer meaningful benefits to everyone.

In our company culture, not taking vacations is frowned upon. It’s not heroic not to take a vacation and be exhausted. So in a way, we “force” people to utilize their vacation days because we know it’s something that one needs to be happy and fully productive.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

All our employees are familiar with the golden rules we’ve established for behavior both within and outside the company and are expected to live by those rules. For example, we assume positive intent, celebrate each other’s success, and choose kindness, inclusion, health, and the environment as rules to live by. We nourish empathy as a value in our culture and accommodate our leadership practices based on our people’s needs.

In The Future of Jobs Report 2020, the WEF predicts seismic changes (85 million jobs being redundant by 2025 and 97 million new roles emerging), greatly affecting the leadership roles. (https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs-report-2020). As a company that wants to thrive and remain competitive, we must foster a culture of continuous development. So we dedicate a lot of effort to understanding what skills and competencies our people, including leaders, will need in the future.

We understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to professional growth, so we try to offer various suitable options for our people’s career paths. For example, we leverage advanced technology and consider AI and digital opportunities. Still, we also provide internal coaching and external education for leaders that helps generate a new generation of leaders. A fundamental principle we live by is that our (somewhat loose) hierarchical structure allows any employee to freely reach out to their superior(s) for feedback.

While it’s challenging to follow all trends in the learning and development domain, we try to keep up with the latest trends and offers. For example, we understand that degrees are not enough, especially for our leaders. That’s why LinkedIn’s latest learning report shows that 59% of HR professionals make learning programs a top priority. Korn Ferry’s Work trends 2022 report shows that 69% of the most admired companies put learning, agility, and curiosity as a priority in recruitment. IBM’s CHRO recently said that 50% of their US jobs are open to anyone with the right skills or willingness to learn them (https://emeritus.org/blog/these-are-the-top-5-skills-youll-need-in-2022-to-advance-your-career/) So our response to these challenges is enforcing a continuous learning culture.

Our leaders are aware of what is considered acceptable and healthy leadership. When our employees struggle with something, first, we try to build an environment where they can share what they are experiencing without fear of being judged or discriminated against. We provide all the help they need so they can sort out their issues and feel well. This entails not being too strict with sick days and being genuinely and honestly understandable when you know they have a sick kid, their kid’s birthday, or something official to do. We offer empathy and huge flexibility, and our employees value it a lot.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

Let’s remember we are all people with specific needs, wants, desires, aspirations, and challenges. In the midst of deadlines, sales to close, projects to finish, etc., we often forget that kindness is the greatest gift we can give each other. A friendly word goes a long way.

Appreciating one another for our unique strengths builds strong relationships and agile teams.

The world is full of conflict, and it takes strength to be gentle and understanding, but it is within our power and responsibility to give that to one another. The true strength lies in supporting one another, working together, acknowledging our differences, and having patience for our individual challenges. Starting from ourselves, how can we be more kind? We need to understand that only by working together can we make a significant impact.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

  1. Wellbeing as a Serious Societal Topic.

Well-being, as opposed to ill-being, wouldn’t have been as talked about as it is now if humanity hadn’t experienced a significant threat to our well-being and instances of increased ill-being scattered all over the Globe. The Pandemic is only one instance that impacted us all simultaneously. But we are also continuously struggling with: anxiety, stress, burnout, depression, climate change, wars, poverty, starvation, and obesity, just to name a few.

The first time the topic of well-being was discussed on a global scale was in the aftermath of the 2nd World War — when the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP, 1965) was founded. Only then did people start seriously talking about well-being globally. Today, there are many approaches and resources to reach a state of well-being, and yet, it seems like in the workplace, it’s a topic that is not getting enough attention. Luckily, we are witnessing how that is about to change.

2. Prevention, Tracking Stress Levels and Nurturing Stress-Resilient Mindset.

Some cultures still view mental health as a taboo, and it’s terrific that it is slowly changing. The first step toward preventing and minimizing stress is being aware of stressors. In Semos Cloud, we openly communicate about and validate events that cause stress and try to educate our people on mental hygiene. We train leaders to talk about stress and help them recognize it in their teams. A prerequisite for stress-resilience at the workplace is a strong company culture that nourishes open communication and empathy.

Also, the past decade saw a rise in the popularity of health-related wearables. Believe it or not — the first wearable were glasses — invented in the 13th century. The wearable tech we use today, like smartwatches, smart jewelry, fitness trackers, ECG Monitors, etc., track the user’s health data. Step counts congratulate us on our goals, and we can share our achievements on social media for everyone to see. Being a tech company makes us entirely dependent on our superb products (we use everything we create). We rely on them not only for recognition, but also for wellness goals (setting, achieving, competing), communication, feedback, etc. If your company uses a rewards and recognition technology like JobPts, these wellness goals/achievements can be shared with everyone in the company on a social wall, be celebrated, awarded, and perhaps even motivate someone else. These gadgets and accompanying apps will continue to be on the rise in the upcoming future.

3. Leading a more Eco-Friendly Lifestyle / Building Sustainable Life Habits.

Our end goal is to embed everyday life habits aligned with the UN’s sustainable development goals (https://bit.ly/3M4fjDB). For example, to motivate people to donate things they don’t use and do not excessively purchase items (minimize consumerism), reduce food waste (in our office, we do not throw food, when we compensate meals, we order daily depending on the number of people in the office). We’ve also encouraged our people to take part in shelter kitchens for the homeless in their hometowns. Hence, we raise awareness about a large number of undernourished homeless people. We support vaccination and promote good health and well-being with plenty of projects. We have made annual doctor’s check-ins compulsory. We stand for quality education and thus support professional development initiatives. One of our most significant CSR projects will be to teach digital skills to homeless children.

Moreover, we passionately fight for gender equality and empower women in all teams and leadership roles. We try to reduce inequalities and always support the marginalized and disadvantaged groups, from recruitment to promotion and development of talents, partners, clients, etc. We save water, use only energy-efficient appliances and recycle paper, plastic, and aluminum. As a team, we stand for responsible consumption. Climate change makes us aware that there is no well-being without the planet’s well-being. So one other large SCR project we are planning has to do with planting trees, but I won’t disclose more since it’s still in development. By acting as a responsible employer, we are learning by doing. We hope that what our people experience in the workplace will be an extended practice in their private lives. Such responsible life habits have the potential to make the world a better place and boost feelings of optimism, confidence, and happiness, ultimately encouraging others to repeat the same behavior and contributing to a more positive community.

4. Personalized and Digital Wellbeing Solutions.

The Pandemic brought certain matters to light when it comes to mental health. Before the Pandemic, mental health was talked about, but not nearly as much as now. Being in lockdown and working remotely upended the work-life balance in so many ways. The most crucial and least talked about consequence that happened is that it forced people to be with themselves. No longer being able to talk things out with friends and family, being at home forced them to face their mental states. The response came quickly, in the shape of various AI therapy and mindfulness apps that allow users to access support, keeping it private and straightforward.

Another major breakthrough we’re seeing is that well-being initiatives have become an essential part of benefits packages. What’s more, we’re seeing a digital-first approach to employee benefits take hold. Digital-first benefits solutions allow employers to scale their efforts and make well-being support accessible to everyone, whenever and wherever needed.

5. Financial Wellness.

Financial wellness pertains to a person’s relationship with money, and it essentially has a lot to do with a feeling of safety. People need a way to future-proof their existence by having enough access to resources that allow them to live the lifestyle they want. A healthy relationship with money, and financial literacy, gives people a feeling of stability.

People who are overwhelmed with financial demands, loans, mortgages, and other expenses are not doing well, which significantly impacts their ability to work and live well. 16% of US suicides occur in response to a financial problem. (https://www.aspeninstitute.org/blog-posts/hidden-costs-of-consumer-debt/). Moreover, health insurance in the US is costly. Someone getting ill in a family can significantly impact the whole family’s well-being.

Financial literacy courses and initiatives are one way to help relieve the stress and worry people experience when it comes to their economic well-being and teach them to handle their finances better.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

Companies have started looking at employee wellness, understanding there is no company success without people’s success. A study from London Business School suggests companies with high levels of well-being outperform the stock market by 2–3% a year. (https://www.investorsinpeople.com/knowledge/the-power-of-wellbeing-how-investing-in-staff-delivers-dividends/). Also, diversity incentives give me great hope about reaching a more inclusive work climate. Millennials and Gen Z being more health conscious than the generations before them is another source of optimism. Gen Z is also more likely to report mental health concerns, so this is a positive move toward removing the stigma from disturbances to mental health.

(https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/01/gen-z#:~:text=More%20than%20nine%20in%2010,enough%20to%20manage%20their%20stress) .

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

I’d be pleased to connect with all HR enthusiasts via LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/nena-dimovska/ or email Nena.Dimovska@SemosCloud.com.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Working Well: Nena Dimovska Of Semos Cloud On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support &… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Working Well: Stacy Fritz Of FIT2order On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support &…

Working Well: Stacy Fritz Of FIT2order On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Healthy employees are more productive AND cost less money. More importantly, I believe creating a health positive work culture where employers and employees are in alignment with well-being can and will save lives.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Stacy Fritz, President and CEO of FIT2order.

Stacy Fritz believes that companies grow and thrive when employees are well AND building healthy teams is a leadership opportunity to not only save money, but more importantly, to save lives.

She has spent the last 30 years in the health and wellness industry inspiring individuals, families, teams, and organizations to invest in their health by using nutrition, movement and stress management tools to support a busy lifestyle.

Stacy is the President and CEO of FIT2order (www.fit2order.com), a women-owned corporate wellness company based in Towson, MD. She has served on the Board of Advisors for the non-profit organization, Believe Big and continues her work as a patient advocate for those on the cancer journey.

https://medium.com/media/9fe1986e15aefb2dbc8635da4259d27a/href

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

Health and well-being have been a large part of my life for most of my life, but I didn’t truly understand the impact of daily lifestyle decisions until about 6 years ago. in the spring of 2016, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Less than 6 months later, my dad needed emergency triple bypass surgery. Just as my parents began to heal, my only sibling, my brother Brad, was diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal cancer in February of 2018, at 46 years old.

In a short 18 months, my parents and my brother would be faced with life changing illnesses. It was determined that all 3 diagnoses were not genetic in origin.

My brother died October 21, 2020, at 49 years old, a diagnosis typically found in men 70+ years old.

This experience shifted and re-focused my efforts on the power of prevention, specifically, the daily behavior and lifestyle choices we make and the control we “mostly” have over our health. Many adults will spend anywhere from 1/3 to ½ of their waking hours at work or doing work related activities. I believe the daily habits we practice at home and at work will either contribute to the prevention of chronic disease or contribute to the chronic disease diagnosis that may be down the road.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

The Oxford Dictionary defines wellness as the state of being healthy or the daily efforts (e.g., exercise, nutrition, mindfulness) towards a sense of well-being. Wellness is the daily habits we create that contribute to the prevention of chronic illnesses and support an overall sense of well-being.

At FIT2order, we use participation rates and anecdotal information to measure our employee engagement programs in conjunction with a company’s annual biometric evaluation and health risk assessment.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

Measuring the effectiveness and success of any wellness program can be challenging, but as we know well, the quickest way to evaluate if something is working is to measure it.

Metric Examples:

  1. Are employees participating?
  2. Is employee feedback positive?
  3. Was there a reduction in health insurance costs?
  4. Are employees satisfied with the wellness program?
  5. Are employees asking for future wellness programs?
  6. Was there a reduction in sick days and absentees?
  7. Would employees recommend the wellness program?

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

Elevating employee health is a global leadership opportunity. I believe employers are in a unique position today to radically influence the health of their workforce where the by product is improving the health of their company. Companies grow and thrive when employees are well. Employers should go to great lengths to intentionally design a culture of well-being that is a part of their company’s identity and strategic plan, tied to their values and mission and has an emphasis on a healthy work lifestyle that is accessible to all employees- wherever they are working.

Beyond the cost savings of a healthy workforce, employers need to understand their corporate responsibility to keep their teams safe because not only is it the right thing to do, but it also focuses on the value of health/well-being and encourages employees to prioritize their health.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

A survey by the National Business Group on Health last year found that more than 78% of employees feel that their employer’s wellbeing programs make the company more attractive for potential recruits and 70% say it is one of the top reasons they stay loyal to their employers.

The future of work is less about where we are working and more about how we are working.

During the recruiting and hiring process, it is important to market your wellness program as a holistic culture of well-being that offers employees the tools that they need to manage their health and offers workplace conditions that ease burden and support health positive choices.

Your recruiting message is “This is just the way we do business. We take of our employees, and then, they can take better care of our clients and customers.”

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

At FIT2order, we assist companies in designing cultures of wellbeing including sedentary tools, virtual workshops/experiences, and employee gifts that can be used anytime, anywhere to support better health at work.

For example, our signature Healthy @WORK Employee Kits provide desk-bound employees with the tools they need to create small, healthy habits while working that will lead to larger lifestyle changes.

Each kit contains a selection of products that can be easily integrated into the workday and that add up to larger lifestyle changes.

Our clients and customers are using the Healthy @WORK Employee Kits for wellness incentives, digital challenge rewards, new hire onboarding, open enrollment, holiday gifts and conference giveaways.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

Healthy employees are more productive AND cost less money. More importantly, I believe creating a health positive work culture where employers and employees are in alignment with well-being can and will save lives.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

We are reskilling leaders to support a “Work Well” culture by facilitating workshops using a methodology called Appreciative Inquiry (A.I.) — an inquiry driven, strengths-based, whole system approach for bringing about positive systemic change through the power of questions. AI is a process for promoting a way to inspire new thinking on how to achieve an organization’s highest potential, in this case, well-being at work.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

Start by asking powerful “well” questions.

Ask your team(s) what they need! Bring their (employee0 voices into the wellness conversation to find out where they are struggling. They will always tell you what you need to do. Your workforce is your most vested stakeholder in your company, remember, they raised their hand to go to work for you. Instead of assuming or guessing, create space for employees to communicate their ideas and express their challenges.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

See Video HERE🡪 https://youtu.be/JznOcAc2yH4

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

First, I think it’s important to recognize the power of our daily choices.

An unhealthy lifestyle is the root cause of most chronic conditions- it’s the lifestyle choices we make daily that are making us sick both at work and at home. The percentage of chronic diseases that are genetic are less than 20%, meaning we mostly have control over our health.

Post pandemic, my optimism lies in the tremendous opportunity we have to take better care of ourselves and each other.

I imagine a future where it’s the norm to practice self-care and daily healthy habits at home and especially at work.

By investing in health positive work cultures, I do think employees will be better able to make the investment in their health.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

Email: stacykf@fit2order.com

FB: https://www.facebook.com/FIT2order

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/stacy-fritz-9a5a8910/

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/fit2order.md/

Website www.fit2order.com

Stacy Fritz is on a mission to elevate employee health and well-being in the workplace by building connected and intentional cultures of well-being. Through research-based strategies, compelling stories and actionable takeaways, Stacy delivers engaging virtual and in-person keynotes, workshops and trainings that will inspire better health and safety in the workplace.

For speaking inquiries, contact Stacy at stacykf@fit2order.com

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Working Well: Stacy Fritz Of FIT2order On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support &… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Working Well: Francesca Elisabetta Owens Of Travel From The Inside Out On How Companies Are…

Working Well: Francesca Elisabetta Owens Of Travel From The Inside Out On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Combine the idea of finding what you love, what you are talented at, and what the world needs. Then overlap them to guide your life and career choices. By doing so, happiness to find your destiny becomes obvious. Then once you have that clarity in vision, a balance to do it calmly, lovingly, and at a pace that can be sustained will become apparent. Your job is no longer a job but is your life’s dream and passion. Google “Ikigai in the workplace” and articles from Forbes, and CEO World, the BBC, The New York Times will show up. Employers are trying to find a better fit for their employee’s happiness and their long-term stability and growth.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Francesca Elisabetta Owens.

Francesca Elisabetta Owens is a Thought Leader. Through her participation in numerous industries, she utilizes her international experiences and perspectives to offer unique guidance to mature women. Francesca inspires women to identify and prepares them with the tools necessary to achieve their goals. She jokingly calls herself the gray-haired wrinkled influencer to women 50+ years of age. She narrates her journey towards realizing the “Il dolce far niente” lifestyle (the sweetness of doing nothing) and teaches others how to achieve it too!

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

I spent 25 years working as a successful investment consultant while serving in public office for over 9 years. I became an award-winning environmental grant writer, a fitness bodybuilder, and a mother of two. At the age of 40, a permanent medical crisis completely transformed my life, not for the best initially. My second pregnancy at the age of 40 irreversibly damaged my heart’s birth defect leaving it undiagnosed for years.

My overactive lifestyle masked the deterioration of my condition and rendered doctors to misdiagnose me for years. At the age of 44, an emergency open-heart surgery occurred followed by mini-strokes and VTACs in the two-subsequence months. In the years that followed these events, I suffered an embolism stroke that semi-blinding my left eye, another cardiac surgery, and complex migraines. Complications continued through the age of 52 until I was correctly diagnosed with Common Variable Immune Deficiency. At this point, I began partaking in 8-hour monthly immunoglobulin intravenous sessions every three weeks in the Italian hospital system.

It seemed as though every time I seemed to get my life on track, another medical crisis knocked me back down. As recent as 2018, I remember laying paralyzed on the floor with seven paramedics surrounding me. They were trying to understand if I had had another stroke. Though my words might have seemed incomprehensible to others, through my slurred speech I attempted to say, “I can’t die. I have too many unfinished things to accomplish”. I kept fighting against what seemed like “a calling” home.

My disabilities constrained me to spend most of my time laying on the couch. I envisioned if I ever escaped this living hell, I dreamed of planning a new and better life if given another chance. One of my dreams was to create a non-profit with the intent of pursuing diversified creative callings. Low and behold I did, and it is called “Bohemiare.org a 501c3”.

A year after that first heart surgery and mini-strokes, I packed up my 6-year-old daughter, myself, and with three suitcases in hand, I moved to an Umbrian hilltop village of Spoleto. I spent my prior disabled year researching where I wanted to live. I knew not one soul living there and I had never seen this village. After arriving, I remained in “clandestina” status, which signifies being an illegal immigrant for two years and so did my daughter for 4 years until the Italian Consulate finally granted a permission to stay. It took quite a few years before my health stabilized but I made a promise to myself that if my health returned, I would live every day as though it was my last, dedicating myself to my passions improving my life and the lives of those around me. Around 2016, Spoleto’s Mayor granted my application for Italian citizenship through heritage blood rights. Antonia and I became official Spoletini, Italian citizens of Spoleto.

Regardless of my health struggles, in the years that followed, I committed to living this life ideology: work is play and play is work. I live the “IL DOLCE FAR NIENTE” lifestyle, “the sweetness of doing nothing” and now teach others how to master the lifestyle as well.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

I define wellness as being a life free of anxiety and depression, which is an increasingly hard task to accomplish given the circumstance of the world today. Nevertheless, negative events, which include emotional and physical challenges, are an inevitable part of life. What is important is to understand, is that struggles are a natural phenomenon of which life is composed, and to learn how to be in harmony with all the negative and positive experiences that you will face. This is the base of Buddhist philosophical thought.

It is important to stay in touch with the entire spectrum of your feelings, accept the curveballs that life throws at you, be able to overcome these difficulties, and appreciate the positive aspects, which surround you. Additionally, one should value time spent relaxing and talking with your friends and family, walking in nature, reading a book, meditating, etc. Life is not merely about work and constantly filling your time with activities. By doing this, it is hard to find harmony and truly be happy in the end.

Many mature women are staying in the workforce longer and even starting new businesses.

With that comes the responsibility of society to be emotional cheerleaders and advisors to guide these transitioning women. Sadly, as more of the workforce becomes increasingly stressed, there is not enough support for these women to efficiently balance work and time to enjoy the beauties of life. As someone who has already walked in their shoes, I can conduct discussions with them that regard embracing grief, loss, difficulty, disappointment, and tribulation. Acknowledging and understanding your feelings, accepting the challenges that present in front of you, and being able to live life to its fullest are all qualities that my business encourages and teaches. I, along with these women are in the third phase of our life and possibly the last phase. We examine what they want to create in this third and final phase.

Being a 60-year-old disabled international living and traveling woman myself, who has the mature wrinkles and white hair to show my age, I tell them, “If you want people to be interested in you, you need to become interesting”, eliminating being invisible.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

Volunteers, volunteers, volunteers… since wages are not within the scope of my nonprofit, honesty, authenticity, presentism, vulnerability, transparency, and encouragement are my recruitment tools along with providing the participants with tools to be able to change and create their happiness. The results are in the productivity of our volunteers and the women we reach out to in our group.

Bohemiare’s 3-month course creates this transformation opportunity to believe in themselves once again, and to no longer be invisible in the world we live in merely because we are older.

As a Travel Curator, my contribution is that of being a guiding influence in helping women take this journey. In my “Travel from the Inside Out — Italy & Europe Group”, I poll the mature female population. I take their attitudinal pulse, read their inner emotions as well as encourage them to be vulnerable. If I am facing a challenge, then I assume someone in my group is too. I start that discussion by polling them and validating the priority or intensity of their struggle. I then try to find a solution. Often the woman will write me in private and then I make a new video addressing these issues for all to benefit from.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

Because of climate change, many people, especially the new generation is faced with uncertainty about their future and with confronting the fact that our world will not last forever. Because of this, people are realizing that there is much more to life than spending most of their time working. Corporations should acknowledge this and try to look at the current situation from a bigger perspective. We only have one life on earth and should spend it doing things we enjoy like spending time with family, enjoying nature and activities, in addition to living responsibly. For these reasons organizations should take into account the needs of their workers and the anxiety, they feel regarding the present and future.

“We are clearly the last generation that can change the course of climate change, but we are also the first generation with its consequences,” said Kristalina Georgieva, the CEO of the World Bank. When confronted with a quote like that above, how can a company not realize change is needed? The Great Resignation as Deloitte calls it, has placed a demand on corporate America to change.

I continue to notice how corporate America is still not treating employees fair. I have noticed this through listening to first-hand experiences of three senior female employees. One is over the edge of burnout and the other is teeter-tottering on a clinical post-partum depression regardless of devoting a majority of her life working for a company. Another female executive is worked to the bones without reasonable support or even quality benefits. The results of these complications were that all three women quit their jobs and have found a replacement.

When I compare the American lifestyle to the Italian way, I notice how the Italian lifestyle has a deeper more sincere approach to the quality of life. Italian society overall is focused on family, friendships, quality time, and not mass consumption. The need for this balance and self-preservation should become obvious to employers.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

I am a firm believer in helping accommodate people’s needs. It is important to dedicate time to ensure that they feel like someone sees them, hears them, and cares. This allows workers to enjoy the creative process of contributing to society, feeling higher self-value and enrichment, while also caring for their well-being and others. No one states my intentions better than Frank Sanborn, the author of The Fred Factor. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from him “When those who know can show, those who learn can grow”, “The only thing better than an acknowledgment is action”, and “You are the spark that sets others on fire when you initiate” and “Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity, just take an opportunity and make it as perfect as you can”

A nonprofit business is a different creator as it is more about volunteers and partners instead of employees. If these programs do not emotionally and individually touch their souls, you will not get your workers.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

In early 2023, the “Travel from The Inside Out” course will be available. It will be offered to a select group of 70 mature females in that year. It is a 3-month online, weekly transformation experience. We start with an opening live group video chat. Then midway we have a group progress check-in chat and a final achieved results revelations group sharing. The end goal is for the participants to confront their fears, hesitations, or lack of action on living their life-long dream of an extended stay in a small village in Italy or Europe. I refer to it as taking your 10-year BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) down to a 3-month trigger point. By the end of the course with the participants’ desire to have a solid transformation, they will have organized their departure, decided on where to travel and stay, working through emotional stumbling blocks that were holding them back, and live “Il Dolce Far Niente”, which means the sweetness of doing nothing. They will embrace this solo trip while also gaining some minimum Italian language skills, embracing art and personal growth exercises.

“We are invisible, because no one sees beyond the wrinkles and grey hair”, with that as the premise, this course assists them in re-find the “inner you” that they lost. The women learn the skills to accept responsibility to become interesting and attract others who will embrace their inner change in a foreign country. It does not take a lot for mature women to make a transformational change. With a bit of guidance and personal effort, these fabulous 50+ women start to re-believe in themselves before life led them astray.

  • Mental Wellness: BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) comes from the 1994 book “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. Our exercises for mental wellness range from written brain dumping exercises, to organizational planners to get out of the country, and defining what type of experience you want. As we work along defining your BHAG, the participants create a vision board and color in mandalas focused on color themes to identify their levels of happiness, joy, calm, anxiety, sadness, and depression.
  • Emotional Wellness: We start with general and customized positive affirmation cards, inspiring quotes, personal growth self-discovery worksheets, fun self-discovery quizzes, and sing-along videos with upbeat Italian songs. The addition of emotionally moving Italian films shows the tribulations and challenges of everyday life. By presenting these women with these films, they can better understand that life is composed of a spectrum of emotions, which are inevitable, and a normal aspect of being human.

Social Wellness: My motto is that if you want others to be interested in you, then you must become interesting! So how does one go about doing that? We teach you to invest in cultural activities and learn interesting facts about Italian culture. As an example, this program includes art instruction videos, journaling tips, lessons on what food to try, and the ever so distinct differences between pasta and sauces. You have directions on how to create a traveling art pouch, which offers the participant a chance to doodle, work through personal growth exercises, and journal in addition to making simple art with watercolor pends as an example. When sitting alone sipping your tiramisu cappuccino and warm cornetto, you can work through thoughts and emotions or even list goals and activities. Over time, people will notice you and become curious about what you are doing. Investing in yourself attracts positive energy around you.

Physical Wellness: Since my followers are ages range 50 through 85, a few lightweight hand weights, a sitting thigh master, and several facial yoga exercises are taught. Just enough to tone our flabby arms for summer sundresses and tone out our thighs to make it up the steep Italian streets. A slight minimization of a facial wrinkle can convert insecurity into confidence and a smile.

Financial Wellness: The women that are interested in my course usually already have a financially stable situation at home and their preoccupation is how to enjoy existence and live life to its fullest. Since financial wellness is not our focus, I prefer to focus on cognitive acuity wellness or brain health wellness. My course teaches basic top phrases in the Italian language that we teach by repetition and memorizing, just enough to show respect to the culture in which you are arriving. Italian idioms are also taught as an insight into understanding how Italians look at life.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

Workplaces could benefit from my program by learning how to give a voice to their employers. Understanding an employer’s concerns is important to ensure that their physical and emotional needs are being met. Rendering an employee’s happiness is not only beneficial to this individual but is also beneficial to aid a company. Studies have shown that if an employer is more content with their work conditions and the generosity of their boss giving them a voice to express their needs, the employer will most likely perform better. This can increase the efficiency of the business and attract many new employers through word-of-mouth.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

Human nature was not meant to be performing like robots for an exaggerated amount of time and under extremely stressful circumstances. When I see someone getting past a reasonable time focusing on a bad thing, I try to work with them in reframing the way they speak about it, converting it into positive action. I have been guilty of the downward spiral that anxiety brings. Therefore, as I work on myself, I encourage others to follow this path.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

I believe the transformation starts from within. I also recognize that rest is crucial in repairing one’s body. If I see myself having a difficult period, I allow myself to rest and re-approach the challenge another day. This can allow the body to efficiently recharge and will render the mind clearer which can aid the creative process.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

“Il Dolce Far Niente” combined with the Ikigai Exercise are improving the work and lives of employees.

Within this global movement of Americans, we are learning from other cultures. The Japanese term Ikigai (pronounced ick-ee-guy) means your reason to get up in the morning. The Italian expression, Il Dolce Far Niente means the sweetness of doing nothing. Americans of my generation were overworked, exhausted, and burnt out, but new international influences are reshaping how the workplace operates.

Combine the idea of finding what you love, what you are talented at, and what the world needs. Then overlap them to guide your life and career choices. By doing so, happiness to find your destiny becomes obvious. Then once you have that clarity in vision, a balance to do it calmly, lovingly, and at a pace that can be sustained will become apparent. Your job is no longer a job but is your life’s dream and passion. Google “Ikigai in the workplace” and articles from Forbes, and CEO World, the BBC, The New York Times will show up. Employers are trying to find a better fit for their employee’s happiness and their long-term stability and growth.

April 1, 2022, Lancet published their findings that “Having Ikigai (vs. not having Ikigai) was associated with a 31% lower risk of developing functional disability and 36% lower risk of developing dementia.” “Ikigai was associated with decreased depressive symptoms and hopelessness as well as higher happiness, life satisfaction, the instrumental activity of daily living, and certain social outcomes.”

Culture is being radically redefined by new social norms in the workplace.

Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a term used for the last three-quarters of this century and Digital Nomads became popular just in the last quarter. Post-COVID and the Great Awakening movement have created personal freedom for traveling while working. Countries all over the world are changing their short-term working residency policies to allow the arrival of new international jetsetters to arrive.

Forty-one countries now have international Digital Nomad Visas and it is sure to grow in time. As working remotely is still occurring post-COVID, working from a foreign country is also on the rise. The need for employers to offer international health insurance is in demand. The long list of countries modifying their criteria for extended digital nomad visas becomes more competitive monthly. Flexible work arrangements, remote or homework location with flexible hours, employee assistance programs, and International medical benefits lead the list of desired benefits. Showers in offices for bicycling employees to massage chairs and hypnotic mediation and mindfulness rooms are all the latest fads but are becoming old compared to the international travel spree.

It is not uncommon to find someone sitting at an international café typing away but not for the traditional reason of writing a book or travel journal, rather they are working for their employer back in the states.

This past summer I had the chance to meet an American working for a national company and was able to execute their job in an Italian hilltop village for just under 3 months to avoid the 90-day visa rule.

Changing the Spectrum: Autism in the Workplace.

Current national statistics show that 1 in 54 children has autism in the U.S. Between the workplace shortages during and post COVID and only about 22% of autistic adults being employed, there is a social need to re-evaluate the extremely brilliant capacities to focus on the ability to work.

One example is Blue Star Recyclers, a 501c3 social enterprise. They currently employ 48 people with autism and other disabilities as they recycle 7,000 tons of electronic waste each year at five sites in Colorado and Illinois.

Bill Morris the founder of Blue Star stated that surprisingly that little to no special accommodations are needed except possibly playing background music; instead, he offers the applicant a “working interview”. Often the applicant cannot share about their about themselves and have no resumes with prior work experience. He allows them to go out on the work floor. They are offered three or four common tasks and try their hand at them, even up to weeklong trials at these tasks. The applicant is allowed to try to sort materials and take them apart on computers. As they move through the 3 to 4 stations, by the end of the week, the applicant chooses where they want to do.

Development disabilities programs often focus on their deficits and no one allows them to find their talents. BlueStar focuses on the assets of the individuals. Bill shared he has zero absenteeism, less than 10% annual turnover, and less than 1 lost-time injury accident per year. His employees are 98.43% task engaged on the clock as compared to the national average of 49%. People with autism can help companies increase profitability while providing a safer and more enjoyable workplace. They have trained about 20 other U.S. recyclers to employ people with disabilities, including in Chile and the United Kingdom.

Personal responsibility… If you want others to be interested in you, you must become interesting.

Older women are trying to reconnect with their lost selves. They have money, their kids are grown, and finding love is not easy. They must explore who they are and who they were before they deprioritized themselves, at work or in the home.

Women are turning to online coaches. Currently, there are 23,000 certified coaches in the USA alone. These professional coaches help women to take calculated risks. Coaches teach women to do things they normally are afraid of but to do it with guidance. For example, these women have many fears about traveling abroad but in reality, these fears whether they are in the US or overseas. The real challenge is that they need guidance on how to get back to the states if an emergency happens, assuming it even happens.

Working with mature women we identify these repetitive worried voices in their minds that masquerade as real issues versus habits of anxiety. When we identify the real issues, then we try to identify a potential plan to prepare for that issue if they are confronted with it. This reduces the frequency of that repetitive worried voice.

Personally, at the end of 2021, I felt I need a re-vamping. I decided to embrace my white grey stripes and allowed the hairdresser to highlight my entire head to match the feel in front. I pulled together my accessories and matched them up with fund new boots and scarves. As the external transformation happened to me I felt the changes emotionally within. The same is true with my group of women; we chat and support each other in defining this lifelong dream of experiencing Il Dolce Far Niente and mustering up the courage to do it.

Top Small Personalized Colleges are touching the lives of the latest and brightest entering the workforce.

American sociologist and anthropologist Ruth Hill Useem (31 May 1915–10 September 2003), in the 1950s, described children who spent part of their developmental years in a foreign culture due to their parents’ working or living abroad. Third Culture Kid (or TCKs) later became repackaged to Global Nomads in 1984 by Norma McCaig, a TCK herself.

A personal example is my 20-year-old daughter, Antonia, having grown up in the historical center hilltop of Spoleto. As a “true Spoletina” from Italy, her college search was not for academics only. Antonia looked for an American College that specialized in the lifestyle she had lived, La Dolce Vita (the sweet life) surrounded by all flavors of gelato, as we often joke. After reviewing over 20 great college scholarship offers in hand, Antonia knew the College of Wooster in Ohio was her choice after interviewing their admission officer.

In her first two years at Wooster, new friends from Slovenia, Hungry, Morocco, Ghana, Ethiopia, Nepal, India Mongolia, Australia, Kuwait, Mexico, Kazakhstan, and an autistic young man from New Yorker to name quite a few. She did not want to waste her first two years with uninteresting required courses. She demanded more from her education than the generations before her.

Anne Ober, director of Counseling Services on the campus of the College of Wooster stated “that what was a crucial time for emotional development in the age of senior high scho