While adapting your business to better serve and retain your employees, here are three questions to keep in mind and review your business on in 2022. Photo via Getty Images

Many businesses tend to focus solely on tangible metrics during annual reporting, such as revenue, new year budgets and customer satisfaction. What is often overlooked are internal aspects of the business (unless it is a problem), measuring and scoring yourself on employee engagement and happiness.

As you start 2022, we challenge businesses to ask themselves important questions on how they are measuring their businesses, internally. We all know that over the past 20 months, we have witnessed businesses rapidly evolving to make significant changes within their organizations to meet employees' changing demands and expectations. How are they working? Many of these new business practices, such as hybrid work, will benefit employees of all generations and boost employee engagement, but is it what your employees want and need to succeed?

While adapting your business to better serve and retain your employees, here are three questions to keep in mind and review your business on in 2022.

Am I providing a space for my employees to thrive?

The COVID-19 pandemic was a formative experience that caused many, especially the new Gen Z employees, to push their employers outside of their comfort zones and have them truly reassess the need to go back to a traditional office environment. It’s important to keep in mind that many in the Gen Z demographic kickstarted their careers from a “work from home” environment while so many of us were rapidly shifting and getting used to a completely new way of working, they were entering their new norm.

As the conversations of in-office versus work-from-home arise, remember that one size does not fit all. When having these conversations, keep an open mind and be sure to actively listen. Allowing your employees to work remotely may be worrisome, but there’s evidence that some employees do thrive in this environment.

According to statistics gathered by Airtasker, remote employees worked 1.4 more days on average than those working in the office each month. These days were also more productive as remote workers reported only 27 workday minutes lost to distractions while office workers reported 37 workday minutes lost to distractions. Without a need for commuting, employees also increase their productivity by being able to start their workdays immediately.

Talk to your employees who prefer in-office about the changes you can make to improve their quality of life at work, such as new office equipment or benefits in the office like catered lunch or dry cleaning pickup/drop-off. Consider setting new policies that allow for more breaks throughout the day such as a 2-hour window with no meetings or Zoom calls or team walks. According to the Wellbeing Thesis, breaks have been proven to increase employees’ productivity. For example, relaxation breaks can help reduce stress while social breaks help boost camaraderie in a team. Understand what your team needs and most importantly, be flexible when employees who mainly work in-office want to take their work home for the day, and vice versa.

We have decided to offer our distributed employees around the country the option to work from home or from a co-working space, if they are more productive out of the house. We also have a rotating schedule of travel to Houston to spend time with the CEO in our headquarters to get some valuable face-to-face time with the team.

Regardless of the path a business wants to take in terms of work environment, remote work is a growing demand among Gen Z. This may be a scary idea for some employers, but through Ampersand’s rigorous curriculum, we are training the newest generation of professionals how to be productive and effective employees wherever they work. With courses ranging from “how to send a calendar invite” to “how to talk to your manager about a missed deadline,” Gen Z professionals will be prepared to take the world by storm after completing Ampersand’s curriculum. Additionally, Ampersand’s coaches work one-on-one with each young professional to make sure they fully understand and practice each skill, which means that they will have more than enough practice by the time they join your team.

​Am I actively contributing to their growth?

As a leader in your organization, your goal should always be to help cultivate your employees’ skills and transition them into the best version of themselves. Gen Z grew up in a society where the importance of self-improvement and emotional well-being is increasing. They openly receive feedback and advocate for their needs, which can help encourage other generations in the office to do the same.

Determining how to help your team grow individually and fulfill the needs of the company within their role can easily be evaluated during regularly scheduled check-ins. At these check-ins, leaders need to encourage candid, honest conversations with each employee to gain a better understanding of each employee’s individual goals and needs. Carefully listen to the feedback each employee gives and create an action plan catered to that individual. When employees feel that their company cares about them as individuals, in addition to the company goals, they are more motivated to achieve success in their roles.

At Ampersand, we teach young professionals how to have these conversations in a productive way, take the feedback they receive and implement it in their day-to-day growth. While Gen Z may be more upfront about their needs, taking the time to understand what each employee hopes to achieve in their role and career will build stronger ties with each person in the company, regardless of their generation.

Am I giving them space to share their ideas?

Gen Z is energizing all employees to advocate for work-life balance while introducing new tools and tactics that can modernize business practices. For example, newer employees are often seen setting boundaries for themselves and advocating for transparent communication from their employers. While this can seem jarring to some managers who don’t know how to handle the candidness, it can be refreshing to see and something we can all learn from - as long as they still respect their teams and deliver upon the expectations in the role. As Gen Z introduces new ideas to their team, leaders should encourage other generations on the team to listen and research the proposed new opportunities. The fresh new ideas may even prompt employees of other generations to share their wealth of knowledge with Gen Z to create a more collaborative work environment.

As we kickoff 2022, we encourage you to really consider how you are retaining and attracting your talent, especially Gen Z. It is up to each individual employer to look inside themselves as to why The Great Resignation is happening and consider these important questions, and be open to evolving and being mindful to provide a space (in person or not!) where employees can thrive, grow and share their ideas. The conscious effort and consideration will lead to an increase in company success and employee satisfaction, across generations.

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Allie Danziger is the co-founder and CEO of Houston-based Ampersand Professionals.

Research from a former Rice University professor linked the size of CEO signatures to ego. CEOs with big egos entered into more risky, unreliable deals. Pexels

Rice research reveals that narcissistic CEOs sabotage their firms

Houston Voices

You've just been named CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Your ego fills the room. The laws of gravity don't apply to you.

And naturally, you want to make an impact. So you pour money into mergers and acquisitions, and when you're not trying to acquire another firm, you guide company resources into research and development. You're a genius, and the world will soon be clinging to your every new product.

The only problem: your company will likely underperform. Research by former Rice Business visiting professor Sean Wang (now at Cox School of Business as SMU), along with Nicholas Seybert of the University of Maryland and Charles Ham of Washington University at St. Louis, reveals the high costs of an out of control CEO ego.

The researchers' first challenge was establishing who could legitimately be called a narcissist. What does the term mean, exactly? While there are varying definitions, Wang's team focused on narcissism as a basic personality trait rather than a mental illness. As a personality trait, narcissism is associated with entitlement, vanity, authority, and a sense of superiority.

To spot narcissists, the team took a novel approach: they examined their research subjects' signatures. Signature size turns out to be a handy measure for egos, because it doesn't require participants to answer direct questions about their personalities — and because participants are unlikely to know that ego can affect something as simple as a signature.

Just having a big ego, though, does not a narcissist make. To validate a link between a person's signature and narcissism, the researchers asked 53 graduate business students to provide their signatures by signing a document, and then to take a personality survey that measured narcissism. The findings documented that indeed there was a strong correlation between signature size and narcissism.

Next, the researchers obtained data from prior psychology research on employee perceptions of 32 technology-firm CEOs. Of the 24 CEOS for whom the researchers also had signature samples, they found a significant correlation between narcissism and signature size.

Armed with these findings, Wang and his colleagues were able to extrapolate the narcissistic traits of thousands of CEOs whose signatures were readily available on proxy statements and other corporate documents. The researchers ultimately studied 741 CEOs from 411 firms during the period between 1992 and 2015, corresponding to 6,361 firm-year observations with a median of eight fiscal years per CEO.

They found a pronounced behavior pattern. Firms led by narcissistic CEOs invested more in high-exposure areas such as research and development and mergers and acquisitions, but shied away from routine capital expenditures for day-to-day productivity. This trend was even more pronounced during periods of financial slack, suggesting that narcissistic CEOs prefer an aggressive management style whenever possible. Financial productivity delivered by these narcissistic CEOs in terms of profitability was lower than their less egotistic counterparts.

The research has multiple implications. Narcissistic leaders, past research shows, are prone to make bad decisions — in part because they are bad listeners. As a result, they often dominate the decision process without incorporating feedback or ideas from others. Ironically, they mistakenly perceive this behavior as a signal of competence and strong leadership.

To counter these bad habits, the researchers say, during periods of financial sluggishness investors and corporate boards should combat excessive narcissist-led investment by pushing for higher dividend payouts. Given that narcissistic CEOs overinvest in R&D, investors also need to closely monitor whether such investments represent real innovation or just vanity. Finally, boards of directors should be aware that narcissistic leaders tend to command higher salaries — and consider whether their CEO falls into this category, and is essentially getting higher pay for inferior performance.

In short, to really be as boss as they see themselves, narcissistic corporate leaders need to recognize their tendencies and rigorously check their egos. Boards, meanwhile, should closely monitor their CEO's priorities in directing firm resources. It could be the writing on the wall.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom.

Sean Wang is a former visiting assistant professor of accounting at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University. He is now an assistant professor at Cox School of Business at SMU.

This Houston business expert has tips on managing change — whatever it is you might be changing. Pexels

Expert answers 5 common questions about change management

Cha-cha-changes

The times they are a changin' and with that comes managing everything from introducing new technology to hiring new senior-level leaders with innovation on the mind. Whether your company is introducing the former, the latter, or a combination of the two, there might be a few questions you have surrounding change management.

1. What is the definition of change management? Isn't it just about communications and training?
Change management is a process by which you engage the workforce in involvement in the change as well as identify where the resistance is, reduce it, and increase the ownership and buy in of the change process with support of the leadership. Communications and training are enablers of change.

2. What has been the biggest challenge companies face in implementing the management of change? How do successful companies overcome this issue?
Resistance to change always shows up whenever you ask people to do something they have not done before. Organizations that think ahead will deploy a short readiness for change survey and run a few focus groups to identify where potential resistance is. Quite often two issues usually rise to the top: "What is in it for me to go along with the change?" and "What will not change?"

Both of these issues require good communications before any change effort is begun. Several companies have set up hotlines to address rumors and also ran town hall meetings, email blasts, electronic bulletin boards, and newsletters with frequently asked questions, before any major change work in is undertaken.

Once the effort is underway it also makes sense to make random call to employees to gage how well the workforce is aware of the change and understanding its impacts.

Being proactive with your communications is key to ascertain the effectiveness of on-going communications, clarity of key messages, frequency of communications, and getting feedback if the right people are communicating at the right time to the right audience.

3. What do companies report to be the biggest failure in applying a change management process, what are the lessons learned from that experience?
Failure of Leaders, managers, and sponsors to go through training first in order for them to be role models for supporting the change. When they failed to do this, the workforce do not believe the leaders and management team are committed to the change. The lesson learned from this is to not only train leaders and managers first, but also have them kick-off training sessions and also teach some aspect of it.

4. What role does stewardship and governance play in a successful change process?
What we are really talking about is sponsorship for change. Sponsorship must exist at various levels of the organization. These are stewards who champion the change process even when progress runs into road blocks. And you must provide sponsors with tools to identify change issues and provide them with change intervention techniques to address whatever comes up; turning problems into opportunities, how to be an active listener, how to ask open-ended questions, etc.

Sponsors also need to report biweekly how they see the change is progressing as listening posts to the organization, and how to process the information from the workforce to ensure that everyone see's first hand that communications and feedback is a positive part of the effort.

5. How do organizations successfully measure change?
It's important to use some form of a balanced scorecard that uses data from survey's and focus groups. Metrics for calibrating, awareness, understanding, buy in, engagement and involvement, as well support are important stages of change that require tracking. These metrics need to be established early on and tracked monthly throughout the change journey. If you can't measure it, you probably cannot change it.

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Mark Hordes is principal at Houston-based Mark Hordes Management Consultants LLC, an organizational consulting advisory.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.