From time to time we have professors, students, staff, alumni, or friends who are not regular contributors, but want to share something with the community. Be sure to look at the bottom of the post to see the author.
Dora Greenwall, BSBA ’23, was inspired by Sadie Kurzban, the founder of 305 Fitness, and wrote this for the Olin Blog.
Sadie Kurzban created a company by envisioning a world she wants to live in, not the one she sees now. Every decision she makes is authentic and reflects her own moral values. And, that starting point animates and makes real her vision. There is a way to build a successful business on your own terms.
The takeaway from my interview is that Kurzban approaches her business with true leadership and a consistent sense of justice. Her advice for women in business follows that vision.
“We never do anything great when we are chasing after other people’s identity,” Kurzban said. Throughout entire conversation, I saw a woman who believes in herself and in her business as an extension of that personality.
She did not wait for somebody to help her create 305; nor for the network she needed to create this business. She says that there is no right time to start a business. It is always the wrong time—but do it anyway.
I asked how she had the courage to continue when things weren’t going the way they were supposed to. I wanted to know how she continued to believe in herself.
Kurzban flipped this question on its head: “The other question is: What does it benefit us to not trust ourselves or believe in ourselves?” She taught me that to make it in business there is no option but to believe in yourself.
Sadie and I then went on to speak about COVID-19. She explained that she shut her locations down early because it was the right thing to do. She wanted other boutique firms to follow suit.
She behaved ethically—as you would expect. She spoke about how most businesses look toward other businesses to see what steps to take. She wanted to set the correct example.
It seems that most of Sadie’s actions show direct care toward people rather than money. She told me money is not everything.
“I started the business not to make the maximum amount of money, but because I cared about people’s health, I wanted to inspire people,” she said.
This is what she does everyday day and in every dance class. She created a community in a time where even close connections feel distant. She lives her life empowering others to embrace who they are and celebrate our differences.
Kurzban taught me that it is OK to dance like nobody’s watching, and, more than this, celebrate the dance. Celebrate being able to think differently, look differently, and most of all believe in yourself always. There is no reason not to!
WashU alumni Noah Offenkrantz (LA ’20) and Ben Green (BSBA ’20), pictured above, recently launched Find Your Farmer, an online marketplace allowing consumers to order fresh produce, meats and cheese from local farmers.
While at Wash U, the CEO of our organization, Noah Offenkrantz, took several courses that analyzed the industrial agricultural system. Noah’s experience with the agricultural system transcended the classroom.
During an internship experience at a local STL nonprofit, Noah learned about issues of food access while managing a community garden. During his tenure abroad in India, Noah worked on a farm while studying the impact of the Green Revolution on a small, rural village. These experiences bolstered a notion that was introduced by his teachers and furthered by his observations of the world.
This notion, the one that inspired FYF, goes like this: our agricultural system is broken. Grocery stores are stocked with artificially colored, synthetically ripened vegetables that travel thousands of miles and touch countless hands before ending up on crowded shelves. We have no idea where this food comes from or how it was raised but we add it to our cart because it’s cheaper. Cheaper in nutrients and cheaper in taste. The answer to these problems is simple. Find your farmer. Find out who they are and what they grow. We wanted to give people an easy outlet to do just that.
We plan to start off in St. Louis to understand how the market works and what people want out of a service like ours, and then move into other cities throughout the United States, employing the lessons we learn along the way.
Our team consists of five Washington University students and one Washington University professor (our mentor). At WashU, Noah was in the College of Arts & Sciences and studied Global Health and Environment, while Ben was in the Olin Business School and studied Finance and Accounting. The rest of our team members are Anish Naik, who studied Computer Science; Spencer Stewart, who studied Political Science; Francis Serrano, who studied biology and Peter Boumgarden, who has experience in strategic management and serves as the director of the Center for Experiential Learning.
Our company has taken Olin’s pillars of excellence into great consideration. We are a values-based company that strives to foster community, protect the planet and promote the health and wellbeing of our clients. Our pro-social mission—to create a world where every person knows their farmer by name and story—is an extension of the Olin philosophy. As we learned at Wash U, every company has an ethical obligation to the planet and society. FYF intends to consider this obligation at every stop along our journey. And this isn’t the only Olin teaching that we apply in our business philosophy.
FYF is a data-driven company.
We use data to show people how their purchases can impact themselves and the world around them. In addition, we leverage experimental testing to develop and adapt an ideal user experience.
FYF is globally oriented.
We analyze best practices from many different services and offer a variety of features to ensure that our service meets the demands of our target population.
FYF is experiential.
We strive to offer people a better idea of our farmers’ practices and motivations by providing videos and interviews that provoke customer engagement. In addition, we are committed to developing strong, personal relationships with our partnering farms.
FYF is entrepreneurial.
We studied trends and took advantage of a perceived opportunity. For example, we noticed that COVID has pushed more and more people to shop online. The disease also demonstrated to farmers the vulnerability of wholesale revenue streams.
Our goal is to leverage the lessons that we learned through our academic studies to create a service that supports local farmers, builds farmer-consumer relationships, provides individuals with healthier, tastier food products and cuts down on carbon emissions. Every order made through our platform serves to further these goals.
Olin’s Julia Deems, a lecturer in communications, wrote this blog post.
In light of the national conversation on race and diversity, you may wonder how to take the conversation into the workplace. Here are some questions to ask:
Are you showing respect to employees?
It’s no surprise that employees want to be respected. But research by Kristie Rogers (Harvard Business Review, 2018) shows employees want both earned respect and owed respect.
Earned respect is when an employee completes a task and we tell them, “You did a great job!” Owed respect is treating others in a way that demonstrates we value them as human beings.
According to Rogers, owed respect is “signaled by civility and an atmosphere suggesting that every member of the group is inherently valuable.” Without owed respect, managers may micromanage (showing a lack of trust) or treat employees as interchangeable (“TJ’s not here? Well, someone else on the team can do it.”).
Celebrate employees for their differences and their contributions to the team as well as their success in accomplishing key metrics. Ask yourself: “Am I showing respect to employees both as workers and as individuals?”
Are you having learning conversations with your direct reports?
One is about facts (what happened), another is about emotions (how each party feels) and a third is about identity (what this says about who we are).
In such conversations, aim to tease out contributions to the problem (from both sides), listen to how others feel and acknowledge your own feelings, and reflect on how your perception of self may make it harder to hear some messages. For instance, if we see ourselves as good managers, and that’s part of our identity, it may be difficult to listen to how employees see us as contributing to problems or how we’ve made others feel. Recognize when your ego wants to respond, but don’t act on it; just listen to others.
Learning conversations ask that we acknowledge our emotional response, hit pause on trying to persuade others how they should feel, and focus not on blame but instead on doing better in the future. These conversations start from a place of curiosity (How can we do better as a team?), demonstrate that you value and respect how employees see critical issues, and recognize that direct reports can play a key role in helping create a more inclusive environment. Ask your team: “How can we do better?” I highly recommend “Difficult Conversations.”
Are you building a diverse team?
It may seem that having team members with similar backgrounds makes it easier for the team to come together into a coherent unit. Studies have shown, however, that more diverse teams outperform less diverse teams across financial and other performance measures.
A 2015 study by McKinsey & Company entitled “Delivering through Diversity” demonstrates the point across hundreds of companies. Diversity, they argue, can be thought of in terms of ethnicity, but also gender, LGBTQ+ identity, age/generation and international experience.
To achieve results, go beyond word-of-mouth referrals. Place ads on new sites, actively recruit diverse candidates and identify your criteria in advance. Then ask questions consistently of all candidates. Make diverse hiring a priority. Ask yourself this: “Does our workforce reflect our community?”
These recommendations require that you be intentional. They will require some investment on your part. But this intentionality and investment will have an enormous payoff. You will create a stronger, more inclusive and diverse workplace built on trust, shared understanding and shared goals.
Lexi Jackson, BSBA ’20, was the student speaker at her virtual graduation recognition ceremony on May 15. She plans to serve her new St. Louis community as a Lead for America fellow, working to promote environmental justice and economic development in the city’s frontline communities. Today she writes for the Olin Blog about why she made a four-year pledge in support of merit-based scholarships.
I was sitting on a crowded school bus in April 2016 when I received the call. Trying to tune out the background noise, I answered the call from an unknown number with a hesitant greeting. I could have never anticipated the response waiting on the other end.
“Congratulations, Lexi! You have been named a Class of 2020 Dean Scholar, underwritten by Jerry and Judy Kent, for the Olin Business School!”
These words carried with them a full-tuition scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis and membership in a cohort of top scholars from around the country.
Growing up in the small town of Nixa, Missouri, I could have never imagined that I would join the ranks of business scholars who had held internships in high school that would be coveted by any college student. My high school did not offer a robust business curriculum and very few members of my graduating class went on to pursue a four-year professional degree of any kind.
After my father suffered a severe car accident that rendered him disabled and unable to work, I knew my family could not finance an education at a private university. All things considered, the odds were not in my favor to become a Dean Scholar at the Olin Business School…and then Judy and Jerry Kent entered the picture.
The Kent Family has generously established the Judy and Jerry Kent Scholarship Fund, which underwrites scholarships for a cohort of BSBA students each year. As Missouri natives, I related to the Kents’ journeys of working their way through college and their careers to make a difference for so many others.
They saw a potential in me that not even I was able to uncover. Through their generosity and support, I attended one of the most prestigious universities in the world and graduated from a top-ranked business school.
I am especially grateful for the opportunity to have put a name and face to those that made my education possible. Through the Scholars in Business program, I was able to connect with the Kents every year, write to them every semester, and learn from them every day.
The value of my university education is priceless. It has opened doors that would have never been possible for me otherwise.
I am inspired by the Kents’ generosity and am forever grateful for my Olin education. As I enter the professional world as an alumna, I pledge to make the same commitment to future scholars of the Olin Business School. While my initial donation was meager, I plan to substantiate my pledge as I progress through my career.
If I could one day provide the same opportunity to another student that the Kents provided to me, it would be the greatest honor of my life.
I encourage the Class of 2020 to take up a similar charge. We are graduating in the midst of one of the most uncertain and destabilizing moments in time. While our class will forever be immortalized in history, it is up to us to immortalize our legacy. Contributing to the future of our institution and its scholars is one of the most meaningful ways to do just that.
Thank you, Judy and Jerry Kent, for giving me the gift of education. I have cherished every moment of my time at Olin Business School and will carry its lessons with me throughout my life and career. Through contributions to the Scholars in Business program, I hope to make the same opportunity possible for other students for years to come.
Ben Dalton, MBA ’20, is an 11-year US Army veteran and lives with his wife and two children in Ballwin, Missouri. He taught leadership psychology at the US Military Academy.
In the rush to separate because of the COVID-19 pandemic, teams were not prepared to be apart for this long. Co-workers are immersed in their home life more than ever before and have to act like a team at home rather than the touch-and-go points through calls, Zooms meetings, emails, etc.
With the new normal that has lasted more than a few weeks (and as long as two months for some), your work team has established new norms and practices that are either universally accepted or adequate for now until the business and team get back to steady state. When the moment arrives to return to a new normalcy, old norms and new norms must be reconciled. The time to plan team reintegration is now.
I lay out five topics to think about as teams reintegrate. Those areas of focus include: maintaining digital systems, setting clear expectations, planning gatherings for smaller teams, providing mental and physical support, and updating work-from-home plans and policies.
I first heard the term “reintegration” when I was preparing for return from my first deployment.
I was told I would be spending the first 10 days in Colorado Springs, Colorado, upon returning from Iraq—a scheduled plan 4,000-plus soldiers would also follow. The plan involved some time off, some classes to talk about the rules back at home, couples’ classes for those with significant others and medical screening.
The Army protected its human capital by investing in opportunities to transition from deployment to home-state operations. Rather than soldiers paying for their own therapy or classes upon return, the Army spent money to build this reintegration plan and provide additional resources to soldiers (behavioral health clinical support and new equipment).
Similarly, the return to school during a normal year when students return from winter break or summer vacation can create similar problems. When I was a student teacher in college, my first-graders hated coming in from recess. But there was a plan to redirect their attention.
Reintegrating a team into a new normal allows you to protect your human capital. How much focus each of these five topics requires depends on how a team operated or practiced their team norms.
Maintain digital systems
My neighbors are spread across a few industries. They have set up workspace in their homes in order to get work done now—with a few kids running around. Not everyone is coming back to the office on the same day. Teams using digital platforms or conference call numbers should continue to do so for some time. Adding the Zoom link or the conference number, even when just one team member is not yet back in the office, will allay any fear of being the odd person out.
A Gartner survey sampling CFOs found that more than 70% intend to have some employees permanently work from home post COVID-19. Individuals who stay remote will look for assurance that they are still fully integrated with the team.
Set clear expectations
Employees have been dealing with many different scenarios in their remote workplaces. The team leader will be responsible for ensuring the team gets back to producing at pre-COVID-19 levels.
Setting clear expectations early and often will open up the conversation.
One approach: Take stock of where the team member is starting. Ask about their remote setting. What detracted from or enhanced their focus and work effort? Then, adjust and align their priorities with team goals.
A few of these conversations may need to happen due to changing strategy or operations within the overall company. This is also a good time to align a teammate’s roles and responsibilities with the company and the team. Do they make sense? Is the teammate doing a different job than they were hired for? To set them up for success, make changes now, while a teammate is in transition. I advocate matching roles and responsibilities to what the teammate is actually doing, not returning to the original roles and responsibilities.
Plan gatherings for smaller teams
As teams come back together, they will want to celebrate. After my deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, my unit always threw a big party a few weeks after everyone returned to celebrate being home—among other things. Given the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and limitations on groups of more than 10, a big party may not be possible.
Regardless, most are looking forward to seeing someone other than their family. The plan can be simple. Be sure to include team members only, get input on the details from the team, communicate the plan to outside groups and incorporate time for people to share (if they want). Host this gathering near or at work to get the group back to a team again.
Imagine seven or eight people coming back from a six-week “vacation.” To get the team involved in the gathering, ask where they ate or wished they had while they were at home. If a team supports others within the organization, communicate to stakeholders when no one will be available.
It is important for all team members to join and not have one person stuck at an on-call station.
A teammate may want to share some of the things that occurred that didn’t make it to a Zoom happy hour or email chain. While these opportunities should not be forced, make sure all teammates have the ability to share if they want to. Just remember all teammates might not return to work at the physical office, ensure the timing of the event allows for all teammates to join in the gathering.
Provide mental/physical support
Students at Washington University in St. Louis receive weekly emails with the resources for mental, physical or emotional well-being. Many of these resources existed before the global pandemic, some are new, and all are accessible wherever a student resides. Some individuals will not be severely affected by COVID-19. Others may be devasted by the loss of family members. This range may continue as individuals return to a common workplace. Team leaders should keep the individual reaction in mind when planning for resources.
Leaders might allow some to work from home more frequently to slowly transition back into the office. If a teammate needs more time because they are uncomfortable with the situation they are in, work a plan to ensure the teammate can get their work done and feel supported. Restate the available resources—not just through email—to ensure people who need help will see it.
Update work-from-home policies
In the Army, after an event is completed, troops conduct an after-action review to determine what went well and what can be improved. Chances are teams and businesses are updating as they go and establishing new rules over time. If work-from-home becomes necessary again, a plan could already be established based on this experience. It may be time to update policies that did not work for remote work or to allow more of employees to work remotely.
As the team leader, solicit feedback from the team or one-on-one: What good came out of the team? What needed improvement? Focus on team improvement, not individuals. Assign teams to design fixes or solutions to the problems and report back. Share best practices with the organization and senior leadership. Publish policy updates to ensure teammates are on the same page.
While these are some ways to start thinking about team reintegration, a team leader should know their team best and decide how to prepare for the comeback.