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-based health tech startup is revolutionizing patient selection for clinical trials

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On many occasions in her early career, Dr. Arti Bhosale, co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health, found herself frustrated with having to manually sift through thousands of digital files.

The documents, each containing the medical records of a patient seeking advanced treatment through a clinical trial, were always there to review — and there were always more to read.

Despite the tediousness of prescreening, which could take years, the idea of missing a patient and not giving them the opportunity to go through a potentially life-altering trial is what kept her going. The one she didn’t read could have slipped through the cracks and potentially not given someone care they needed.

“Those stories have stayed with me,” she says. “That’s why we developed Sieve.”

When standard health care is not an option, advances in medical treatment could be offered through clinical trials. But matching patients to those trials is one of the longest standing problems in the health care industry. Now with the use of new technology as of 2018, the solution to the bottleneck may be a new automated approach.

“Across the globe, more than 30 percent of clinical trials shut down as a result of not enrolling enough patients,” says Bhosale. “The remaining 80 percent never end up reaching their target enrollment and are shut down by the FDA.”

In 2020, Bhosale and her team developed Sieve Health, an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials and increase access to clinical trials.

Sieve’s main goal is to reduce the administrative burden involved in matching enrollments, which in turn will accelerate the trial execution. They provide the matching for physicians, study sponsors and research sites to enhance operations for faster enrollment of the trials.

The technology mimics but automates the traditional enrollment process — reading medical notes and reviewing in the same way a human would.

“I would have loved to use something like this when I was on the front lines,” Bhosale says, who worked in clinical research for over 12 years. “Can you imagine going through 10,000 records manually? Some of the bigger hospitals have upwards of 100,000 records and you still have to manually review those charts to make sure that the patient is eligible for the trial. That process is called prescreening. It is painful.”

Because physicians wear many hats and have many clinical efforts on their plates, research tends to fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Finding 10-20 patients can take the research team on average 15-20 months to find those people — five of which end up unenrolling, she says.

“We have designed the platform so that the magic can happen in the background, and it allows the physician and research team to get a jumpstart,” she says.” They don’t have to worry about reviewing 10,000 records — they know what their efforts are going to be and will ensure that the entire database has been scanned.”

With Sieve, the team was able to help some commercial pilot programs have a curated data pool for their trials – cutting the administrative burden and time spent searching to less than a week.

Sieve is in early-stage start up mode and the commercial platform has been rolled out. Currently, the team is conducting commercial projects with different research sites and hospitals.

“Our focus now is seeing how many providers we can connect into this,” she says. “There’s a bigger pool out there who want to participate in research but don’t know where to start. That’s where Sieve is stepping in and enabling them to do this — partnering with those and other groups in the ecosystem to bring trials to wherever the physicians and the patients are.”

Arti Bhosale is the co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health. Photo courtesy of Sieve

Houston nonprofit unveils new and improved bayou cleaning vessel

litter free

For over 20 years, a nonprofit organization has hired people to clean 14 miles of bayou in Houston. And with a newly updated innovative boat, keeping Buffalo Bayou clean just got a lot more efficient.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership unveils its newest version of the Bayou-Vac this week, and it's expected to be fully operational this month. BBP Board Member Mike Garver designed both the initial model of the custom-designed and fabricated boat as well as the 2022 version. BBP's Clean & Green team — using Garver's boat — has removed around 2,000 cubic yards of trash annually, which is the equivalent of about 167 commercial dump trucks. The new and improved version is expected to make an even bigger impact.

“The Bayou-Vac is a game changer for our program,” says BBP field operations manager, Robby Robinson, in a news release. “Once up and running, we foresee being able to gain an entire workday worth of time for every offload, making us twice as efficient at clearing trash from the bayou.”

Keeping the bayou clean is important, since the water — and whatever trash its carrying — runs off into Galveston Bay, and ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. The improvements made to the Bayou-Vac include removable dumpsters that can be easily swapped out, slid off, and attached to a dump truck. The older model included workers having to manually handle trash and debris and a secondary, land-based vacuum used to suck out the trash from onboard.

Additionally, the Bayou-Vac now has a moveable, hydraulic arm attached to the bow of the vessel that can support the weight of the 16-foot vacuum hose. Again, this task was something done manually on the previous model of the Bayou-Vac.

“BBP deeply appreciates the ingenuity of our board member Mike Garver and the generosity of Sis and Hasty Johnson and the Kinder Foundation, the funders of the new Bayou-Vac,” BBP President Anne Olson says in the release. “We also thank the Harris County Flood Control District and Port Houston for their longtime support of BBP’s Clean & Green Program.”