A few work vignettes

Since we need distractions to take our minds off the negative news of the day, please consider the following work vignettes. They are all true, but the names have been changed to mask identities.

– The new state president of a company was a smoker, but the headquarters had just instituted a no smoking policy indoors. The HR director swears the new president called him one day, as all he heard was a lighter clicking and a sighed exhale of cigarette smoke.

– Before thinking too ill of this state president, he did have two funny introductions. He was smoking outside, when a female worker said she had not seen him before. He eventually mentioned he was the new president, to which the woman replied “And, I am the Queen of England.”

– While being taken around to the local offices, someone mentioned he resembled an office manager named Bob. Making remarks at Bob’s office to the staff, the president said “People say I resemble Bob, but that cannot be, as Bob is uglier than a pair of old bowling shoes.”

– A colleague and I once were in a meeting with the senior leadership of a company going through some comparative data on compensation. The CEO (who I had worked with for years) could not believe they paid relatively poorly on long term incentive pay and would not let it go. To get the meeting to move on, I took a chance and said, “Tom, no matter how you measure it, you are sucking hind teat on long term incentives.” When he said “I don’t think anyone has ever said that to me,” the CFO said “Well, he’s got a lot of data to back it up.”

– The sidebar to the story is my colleague was telling the story to others in front of me. He said, “Here I am trying to be all serious and Keith is over there talking about farm animals.”

– My friend Marie ran a very successful Health and Wellness program for our employees. During October (which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month), she was promoting our mobile mammogram program (which had helped eleven women learn they had an issue in and could get care). I was telling this story in front of her to a senior executive and referenced “Breast Awareness Month.” Not batting an eye, she corrected me, that would be “Breast CANCER Awareness Month.” Oops. We still laugh about that today.

– One of the better consultants (and mentors) I ever worked with had the misfortune of meeting with a heavy set client, who proceeded to have chest pains during the meeting. The EMTs were called in to help. It turned out to be a needed wake-up call for this man, so he improved his health afterwards. Yet, as teammates tend to do, we never let our colleague forget this episode. He was a perfectionist, so he was consistently making us redo work if he did not like a proposed solution’s results. So, we started feigning chest pains (in the manner of Redd Foxx’s character on Sanford & Son) when he was too demanding on the team.

– Yet, this consultant taught me many things, one of which is to celebrate good meetings or trips. So, as we returned home from meetings up I-85, we would stop at a Dairy Queen and get a Heath bar Blizzard (Exit #70) to celebrate. Unfortunately, the DQ was torn down a few years back. Yet, I love Heath bars to this day and will crumble them on ice cream.

So, the key takeaways are have fun when you can and don’t forget to celebrate little victories. Heath bars and ice cream are optional.

Would you work for this kind of person?

I have noted before that the most ardent of folks would not work for the kind of person who they hold in high esteem. Let’s entertain a few questions.

Would you work for the kind of person….

who takes credit for anything good that happened in the business, even if it was the result of a team effort?

who would do the same, even if it was due to circumstances outside his control?

who would blame other people or entities for failures, even if the boss had a heavy hand in causing such failure?

who would do the same, even if the failure was outside his control?

who is so short of attention span, efforts to brief him have to include pictures?

who is so mercurial and blows up at people, that staff walks on egg shells around him?

who tends to change decisions based on who got to him last?

who routinely calls people losers, idiots, stupid, et al who dare ask him tough questions?

who berates people who study an issue when their more learned conclusions run counter to a narrative, even if he decided it on a whim?

who does not respect relationships and views every partner through a win/ lose binary lens?

who can be easily swayed when buttered up, especially when he does not know the history or context?

who does not appreciate or take the time to strategize and plan execution of changes, nor communicate them very well?

who makes staff chase their tail to prove an inane comment he made is less inane?

who pits people against each other to promote adversarial behavior?

And, who has a very hard time with the truth?

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author and reporter Bob Woodward helped capture the answers to these questions in his book “Fear” after 750 hours of interviews with White House staff. The title “Fear” is based on an interview Trump gave that said he manages by fear. He bullies people into acquiescing to his whims.

The answer to the above questions is not for very long. It should be noted no other White House has had this much turnover and this many open positions. We are at more risk than ever before because of such and further because those who remain are less experienced than those who departed.

Commercial electric vehicle company opens microfactory near Charlotte in Rock Hill, SC

Per WCNC, a television news station in Charlotte, a report called “Electric vehicle microfactory promises to bring 240 jobs to Rock Hill” was aired. Rock Hill is part of the Charlotte Metro area just across the border in South Carolina. Here are the salient points per a MSN write-up of the piece:

Arrival, a company that produces electric vehicles around the world, announced Tuesday its plans to build a ‘microfactory’ in York County. The factory is part of a $46 million investment in the region and is Arrival’s first American microfactory. The company expects to bring 240 new jobs to the Rock Hill area. 

Arrival, which was found in London in 2015, creates zero-emission vehicles for commercial transportation. The South Carolina facility will utilize a new cell-based assembly method to produce vehicles, rather than the traditional assembly line. This will give Arrival the flexibility to produce any vehicle in its portfolio at the factory, according to a press release from the company.”

This is just more evidence of where future growth will occur. It is good to see our area embracing new technologies to make zero emission vehicles. The train (or in this case, the bus) toward renewable energy has left the station. Communities that are embracing this will see more growth and better cost models going forward, as well as help the environment.

This is is not an outlier story. Solar energy jobs have averaged annual double digit growth and dwarf coal energy jobs. Wind energy is also growing in the US, especially in the plain states with Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma combined getting more than 1/3 of their electricity from wind energy. And, Tesla has branched into electric delivery trucks on top of their cars.

These news stories should be more widely communicated to show the path forward is being taken by states, cities and companies.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/autos/news/electric-vehicle-microfactory-promises-to-bring-240-jobs-to-rock-hill/ar-BB19ZdCG?ocid=msedgdhp

Go-away pay

Seeing the latest executive, this one with a last name of Falwell, walk away with “go-away” pay totaling $10 million, it reminds me of a broken recording playing the same song over and over again. Mr. Falwell left his leadership position because he embarrassed the reputation of Liberty University with his sexual activities with his wife and another. Could he have survived if the university was not a Christian founded one or his name was anything but Falwell? We will never know.

What further troubles many is Falwell was not fired for “cause” under his employment contract. He was let go with a severance payment. My educated guess is the Board of the university did not want to risk a law suit and fire him over cause. There are a few viable reasons for this conclusion. The directors may have their own employment contracts with their employers and do not want to go on record identifying what they think “cause” is. Another reason is money. The university may spend in legal fees and damaging publicity what they spend to make Falwell go away. It is easier to pay someone to go away. Plus, they have worked with him, so he earned some goodwill with the Board.

Yet, this is not new. It has happened since the invention of executive employment contracts. It is reported, Roger Ailes, the creator and president of Fox News, got $37 million in go-away pay after being credibly accused of multiple cases of sexual misconduct. Further, like other entertainment companies, it is reported Ailes tolerated an old-boys club where other “talents” also were accused of sexual misconduct. It is reported a famous “talent” was also paid go-away money, eg. Ailes could have been charged with “cause,” but refer to the reasons above as to why he was not. I would add a fourth for him as the Board wanted to honor his creation of this news/ entertainment network.

Sadly, it does not stop with sexual misconduct. CEOs can wreck a company’s reputation or financials and still walk away with go-away pay. I know of more than a few situations where this has occurred. And, the severance is usually a 1 to 2.99 times multiple of pay. The reason for the decimals is severance pay above 3 x compensation causes some tax issues. So, companies do what they can to keep the amount below that threshold.

Executive severance pay is a key feature of employment contracts. Most often it is deployed in merger situations where companies sell themselves and the leadership of the selling company walks away with golden parachutes. Having worked in consulting and in large companies, I can assure you that the executive ranks of a selling company spends too much time talking about severance at the expense of making the transition work. What is less an issue is these executives stopped trying to make their old company work and realized it was easier to sell and jump out of the plane with that golden parachute.

The further down the totem pole finds average workers who just get let go if they do wrong. Or, the severance pay may be only a few weeks of pay. So, having a contract means you can usually walk away with money when you make yourself expendable. Only when right-sizings, downsizings or RIFs (Reductions in Force) occur, do the lower paid folks walk away with a little more.

The nonpartisan Concord Coalition on the absent relief package

The Concord Coalition is a nonpartisan group that researches and educates on the US deficit and debt problems. The following was in my inbox from that group and it speaks for itself.

“The following is written from the perspective of Concord Coalition Policy Director, Tori Gorman.

Avid readers of The Lookout will notice that my missive today is unlike any of my previous entries. If you are accustomed to the colorful charts and technical policy analyses that usually accompany my posts, my sincerest apologies. Those features will return, but today’s post is from the heart.

Last week I fully anticipated that I would be spending my waking hours prior to publication of this newsletter buried in legislative text, frantically distilling the latest coronavirus relief package from Congress for our readers. Instead, I find myself staring at an empty desk while federal officials jet home for their sacrosanct August recess. Why? Because despite over 160,000 Americans dead from COVID-19, a record-setting decline in economic activity, over 31 million people collecting some form of unemployment, and millions of children unable to return to school, lawmakers refused to compromise.

Unconscionable.

Each side has expressed support for another pandemic relief bill and each side has tendered their initial offer. The House-passed HEROES Act would spend another $3.4 trillion whereas the Senate Republican package of proposals would spend closer to $1.2 trillion. Clearly there is plenty of playing field in between to reach agreement.

On what planet is an acceptable outcome ZERO?

To add insult, on August 8, President Trump announced with great flourish a series of toothless executive memoranda from the ballroom of his eponymous Bedminster golf club – actions that will have virtually no effect except to make any further negotiations more difficult: A payroll tax proposal that neither side in Congress supports, a pseudo-unemployment insurance scheme virtually no state can navigate nor afford, an eviction ‘moratorium’ that isn’t, and student loan action that could have been, and should have been, more robust.

At some point in our political history ‘compromise’ became a dirty word. Somewhere it became acceptable in an election year for Congress to punt the people’s work until the November results were known. In today’s environment, however, where twin crises are leaving a trail of death and destruction, it is imperative that lawmakers rise above the low expectations they champion, return to Washington, and do the work they were elected to do.

Americans deserve no less.”

What the president has fashioned with executive orders is beyond his authority. Congress has the purse strings given to them by the Constitution. What the president has proposed is unworkable in parts and unwieldy in others. But, again we are not an autocracy and Congress needs to do its job.

What I also find interesting is the president’s executive order did not include a price tag on debt impact. I have done some back of the envelope calculations and it is likely nearer the $1.2 trillion GOP figure, if it is not extended, but we just do not know. I also feel that cutting FICA taxes will be harmful to Social Security and Medicare, at a time when they need more funding not less.

Yet, what no one has done is calculate what we need to do, including all three parties, the Senate, the House and White House. The House at least passed a bill on May 15, but the Senate could not bring themselves to debate and vote until the bewitching hour. Frankly, that is poor leadership by Senator Mitch McConnell and the president. Crisis planning is often not the best of planning.

You would think our so-called leaders could take the time to do some homework. But, what do I know?

Brief letter to Senators and Congress people (sent Saturday morning)

I posted the following on the my two Senators (and select others) and Congressman’s websites.

I am disappointed that Congress has failed to reach a decision to help people. As with any communication problem, it is the fault of at least two parties, so the president’s attempt to blame only the Democrats is just more posturing than fact. Please find a way to make a deal. Americans are hurting and the president does not have the authority to do what is needed.

I am big believer we must deal with the debt, but the hypocrisy of the Freedom Caucus and others astounds me. They had no trouble in voting for a $1.5 trillion tax bill when it helped the wealthy and businesses at a time when we should have been reducing debt with a pretty good economy. So, we wasted that debt cost to make a pretty good economy a little better for a little while. Now, we need to help people.

Is the Democrat request to high? Likely. Is the GOP insistence of helping employers escape liability an insensitive move? Likely. A payroll FICA tax cut is not the answer as it won’t be as accretive to the economy as extended unemployment benefits. People with jobs will save more of the money and pay down debt, but those without income will spend it.

I beseech you to get back to work and do your job. It needs to be done in the right way and not left to a perception-focused and autocratic bent president. We cannot give any president more power than they have, but especially this one.

Please feel free to adapt and use, now that the president has made an executive order doing things he does not have the authority to do.

Some very stupid questions

It is disappointing the US Congress cannot come to an agreement to help people in these difficult times. Republicans and Democrats are to blame, in spite of the president’s modus operandi to blame only the Democrats. It takes at least two parties to have a communication problem.

In this case, three parties as the White House is not on the same page with its own Republican legislators. And, one of its negotiators, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, has had a career of blowing up legislation when in Congress. Let’s hope this is worked out this weekend, as the last person to try to make changes, because he is limited legally and facts are secondary, is the president.

So, with this in mind, let me ask some very stupid questions on this and other issues.

– One of the sticking points is giving companies liability protections from employees who are forced to work in unsafe conditions and exposed to COVID-19. Since many who have gotten the virus work in jobs where they do not have choices and must come to work even when sick, how does this help people other than the employers?

– The president wants to have a FICA tax payroll cut, a large one. Since you must have a job to pay FICA taxes, how does this help the unemployed folks? A corollary question is how do you know people working will spend the extra cash and not save it and pay down debt? If they do this, it will be less accretive to the economy, than giving money to those without income.

– The pandemic is now reaching into more rural areas and states that had not as much exposure. Right now, South Dakota has an influx of 250,000 motorcyclists for an annual event, who are mask less and not socially distancing, as South Dakota has not had such requirements. How will this not impact South Dakota folks and the attendees in a negative way? If 10% need to be checked and 10% who are tested have COVID-19, that means 2,500 of these bikers may have it. Even if it is less, this virus does not spread arithmetically, it is exponential.

– The US intelligence folks note they have evidence that Russia, China and Iran are trying to influence the election, Russia being the most active since it has been doing it effectively since 2014. Russia again is helping Trump, as they see him as the best weapon to disrupt America’s power and influence. China wants Biden, as they are tired of dealing with such an unpredictable person. China’s ascendency has been enabled by Trump with his retrenchment from global agreements and tariffs, yet China would rather deal with a rational person than the mercurial and perception-focused Trump. With this confirmation, why has this president and Congress not done even more to assure the elections are protected? This lack of interest and urgency, which includes the reluctant Mitch McConnell, dates back two years or more.

– Several states have relied only on mail-in voting and about thirty-five states have used it to more than a minimal extent. The president again is stating fraud risk for something that works well and, as per usual, offers no proof. Why is the president so against mail-in voting when even Republican legislators support it? The answer is the same as above, if he loses, he wants to have reasons to claim fraud and sue. Quite simply, the president’s ego does not handle losing very well.

– Finally, we have 160,000 plus COVID-19 deaths and the president behind the curtain keeps telling us everything is going well. When asked in an interview last week about the 1,000 deaths per day, he said “it is what it is.” Why does he not treat this pandemic with a seriousness of purpose – wearing a mask routinely, requiring the wearing of masks, condemning people who are critical of people trying to help, requiring social distancing, and supporting decisions on how states and communities reopen?

I have many more stupid questions. But, let me pick up on the president’s quote, which I have never liked when used by anyone – “it is what it is.” How can reasonable people not use this same quote to try understand why the Trump presidency is replete with chaos, incompetence, lying, bullying and corruption? I guess “it is what it is.”

Let’s keep our eye on the ball

Let’s keep our eye on the ball. Yes, we need to find smart ways to improve commerce and get more people working, but 157,000 plus Americans have died from COVID-19 and that number is growing.

I read this morning that Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is encouraging folks to wear masks, socially distance, avoid large groups and wash your hands to save lives, is getting death threats. Really? A man trying to save lives is getting death threats?

A real leader would not let this happen. A leader would be straightforward and truthful from the outset. When the US president started lying about the pandemic in January, he set in motion more lying by him and his sycophants. So, steps that could have been taken earlier, were not.

If he had been truthful from the outset, more people would take this pandemic seriously. Fauci would not be getting death threats and, if he did, a leader would tell people to stop that BS. And, BS is actually kind to describe people who threaten the life of anyone, much less someone trying to help others.

A real leader would tell us to keep our eye on the ball. He would not have to be reminded to keep his eye on the ball.

People are dying, mr. president.

Is this what a president for the common man does?

Many of the Trump base have no idea they are voting against their economic interests. This advertised populist, common man president, fails to let folks know the following:

– in his first two hours of being president, he repealed a regulation that would have reduced homeowners insurance premiums for securing mortgages with the less than 20% down, that was scheduled to go in effect February 1, 2017. This would have helped about one million low income homeowners.

– he has hobbled the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was very successful, but banks and credit card companies did not like it. The CFPB penalized these companies for fraudulent and aggressive lending practices, with 95% of the fines going to cheated consumers. In short, the CFPB helps folks who are targeted.

– he eliminated a new requirement that said all investment advisors have to be fiduciaries, meaning they must put your interests ahead of their own. This was done to help investment advisors, paid by the transaction, to encourage sales that may not be in your best interests.

– he passed a tax bill that favored the elites and businesses, under the guise of helping everyone. To keep the bill down to costing only $1.5 trillion in debt, he had to have some pay higher taxes – a sneaky requirement noted that state and local tax deductions were capped at $10,000, so if you owned a house and lived in a state where income tax occurred, your tax bill may increase. Note, folks who do not itemize deductions, tended to come out ahead with the change.

– he failed to tell people (actually lying about the impact routinely) the tariffs would be paid for by consumers when importers passed along the cost. He has routinely lied saying China will pay the tariffs, but that simply is not true. Each time he said this, economists would rebut his lie.

– he also lied about an ACA change he made that increased premiums for people, saying it would only impact insurer profits. In essence, he ceased the subsidy to insurers to repay them for paying deductibles, copays, etc. for members making less than 2 1/2 times the poverty rate. Insurers honored their written commitment (Trump did not) and subsidies went up to pay for the resulting increase in premiums. BCBS of North Carolina said premiums the next year were going to increase by 0%, but with the Trump change, they went up by over 6%. The CBO said the increase in subsidies increased the deficit by $10 billion per annum and unsubsidized folk saw premium increases.

– he has advocated a COVID-19 relief bill which will prevent employees from suing employers for endangering them with COVID-19 exposure.

– finally, environmental deregulation hurts those in poverty more, as they have fewer choices as to where to live.

There is more. With his attacks on the ACA, with a pending lawsuit that would harm it, more of Trump’s base will be harmed. Plus, with his misinformation and mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are being harmed and dying. Of all that I mentioned, his callousness and negligence in COVID-19 handling is the most prominent failure that impacts people.

So, in turn for getting protection over gun rights and attacks on abortion access, the president has largely screwed over his base and they have no idea he has.

Planning and more planning to reopen schools (then plan some more)

Listening to a well-rounded discussion on NPR on going back to school makes one realize the need to plan. Buses, class sizes, cleaning, masking, outside vs. inside schooling, etc. All with a back drop of limited budgets. If this is the path forward, we should not be planning today, what should have been done months ago. The continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic should not have been a surprise with the caution-to-the-wind re-openings fueled by the president and some impatient governors. So, planning ahead should have started before the past few weeks.

NPR also played several vignettes from interviews with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. She led off several comments with “As everyone knows…” Actually that is a false introduction, as everyone does not know. It is a ploy to make the listener cede her point. Here are a few things to consider, which are not being so considered, in this binary discussion of to re-open or not.

– Schools include teachers, administrators, staff, bus drivers, etc. who are not children. Some are even in their fifties. They will be at risk as will be the folks they come in contact with.

– Kids may be less susceptible to dying, but they can still get COVID-19 and can become carriers. They have parents and grandparents and come in contact with other adults and children as will these folks.

– Kids can be harmed by COVID-19. A rising senior who had COVID-19 says walking to the bathroom even now that she has recovered leaves her out of breath. So, she is frightened by coping with walking the halls of the school. She could not even read her own story on a local NPR show, as she did not have the wind capacity, so a reporter read her narrative.

I know parents and kids want to go back to school. We all want our economy back to normal. But, we let misinformation create false hope. Misinformation has and still gives people a false sense of security. Masks, social distancing, hand-cleaning, less hand-to-face contact, etc. are keys regardless of the path we choose. What we lose sight of is the exponential risk of contact.

So, we need to plan for all variables. We need to allow for the safest path forward. That may be delay for some. That may be online schooling for others. That may include small class sizes with outdoor learning. Whatever it is, the path will not be a normal one for quite some time. And, if any politician tells you differently, then they are not shooting straight with you. So, we must look out for each other. Is that too much to ask?