Thursday, June 24, 2021
Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Don't Bribe Them to Come Back--Tell Them to Stick It
If our workplaces are safe--and they seem to be-- then startups have to stop coddling employees who don't want to be part of the team. And we're talking about you, millennials.
Maybe you were building a new business and well on your way to new heights and great things before COVID-19 -- growing like crazy and hiring folks left and right. Now you're faced with the new post-pandemic reality that bringing your people back to the office, or finding suitable replacements, isn't going to be as quick and easy as you thought.
I've got some advice for you: If you want to build a sustainable, long-term and committed workforce, which is the foundation for every successful startup, please don't beg or bribe your people, or any new people, to return to work or join the team.
Startups are hard enough when everyone's fully on board, pulling in the same direction, and excited about the journey. Getting good players isn't difficult; getting them to play well together is the whole ball game. If people are going to be asked to give it their all, then it is important that they share in, and are connected to, the vision - the dream - and shown a credible path to get there together. Dreams don't work unless everyone does.
Half-hearted helpers, people just phoning it in for a paycheck until something better comes along, or lip service sycophants whose actions don't live up to their words are exactly the ones your company doesn't need. You want the ones who are going to work with you, not for you, and most definitely not operating behind your back.
If people are too wonderful in their own minds, too worried about their titles and perks or too woke to get back to the daily grind (because that's what it's almost certainly going to be for a while), forget them. Because regardless of their skills, you and your company will be far better off without them. In the real world, the right attitude and a solid commitment are a lot more important than any particular talent.
The very last thing you want or need at this critical juncture is to bend over backwards and plead with people to return. This is a double-edged sword. The folks who showed up quickly and willingly (or maybe never even left) and were excited to jump right into the battle are going to be very unhappy to see the divas and poseurs eventually waltz in. And those entitled assholes who think they're doing you a big favor to drag themselves back into the office are going to be absolute poison for your company culture, which no new business can afford.
I hear too many people saying (not that I understand what it means) that "millies bring their whole selves to work" and that, somehow, it's on us as makers, managers and leaders to meet and accommodate all of their needs - physical, emotional and psychological. I'm convinced that those happy and perk-filled days of old are pretty much gone, except maybe in the Valley.
Even there, companies like Apple are trying without much success to figure out how to please a bunch of unhappy and deluded employees who resist returning to 1 Infinite Loop. These are people whose ideas of what "work" means now - the concept of showing up, for example, as, when and if they please - are mainly fantasies. This isn't a time when people get to make things up as they go along. You may eventually earn the right to do things "your" own way, but only after you've paid years of dues and heard plenty of "don'ts".
I guess my old-fashioned answer to all these folks is that (a) this isn't camp or checkers - there are tough times ahead; (b) startups are like families in many ways, but we're a team, not a family, and I'm not your mom or dad, so get over it; and (c) it's not really my job to make anyone's life simpler or easier. Easy is getting harder by the day and our focus is on making things better, not necessarily easier.
The tough work today is about trying to build something lasting, meaningful, and important to people besides ourselves and to undertake that challenging task with respect for our employees and our customers; with honesty and integrity; and with a new seriousness of purpose that hopefully this horrific pandemic has instilled in all of us. Working on the right things right now is even more important than simply working hard because, if you're headed in the wrong direction or chasing the wrong rabbits, your diligence, effort, and speed don't matter.
Too many people all across the world have suffered unimaginable pain and loss, millions of friends and loved ones have died, and additional millions are likely to be unemployed for years. We all need some time and a great deal of patience to hear, help and heal those around us, but honestly, I have no patience whatever for the arrogant and privileged prima donnas who seem to feel that the world owes them a living. A living which, as far as I can see, they've done nothing yet to earn or deserve.
Do yourself and your business a big favor. Just do without them.
Sunday, June 20, 2021
Friday, June 18, 2021
Tuesday, June 15, 2021
The Right Way to Raise Prices
this talk about inflation offers ample cover to charge more for your products.
But give careful consideration to your customers and employees before you start
repricing. Then, make your case using these three messages.
Every day we're hearing more noise and concern in the media about rising inflation and the prospect of further dramatic cost-of-living increases across the economy. Whether these changes turn out to be temporary blips (based on pent-up demand, inventory and material shortfalls, and other scarcity factors) or longer term and more permanent structural adjustments is almost irrelevant, interestingly enough. In some ways, much like the last few years as the shares and market caps of tech stocks exploded and folks on the sideline were left in the dust, fear of missing out (FOMO) is once again top of mind for many business builders and owners.
No one really wants to miss the opportunity to get while the gettin's good by not jumping on the price hike bandwagon and goosing their prices -- if they can get away with it. I'm not talking about the crooks and price-gouging a-holes who ripped off people by charging excessive prices for masks and other PPE. I'm also not talking about the greed heads who added COVID-19 add-ons and charged extra for the packaging for carryout food you couldn't eat in their places even if you wanted to during the pandemic.
I'm talking about the tantalizing desire, and even the peer and investor pressure, to raise your prices as things start to return to the new normal. More to the point, what should you be thinking about as you make your own pricing decisions. I'm also trying to separate what you might think of as the morality of price hikes right now when millions of people are still unemployed and struggling financially from the more practical business and economic considerations relating to your own company's needs and financial stability.
It's easy, when the press would have you believe that everyone else is doing it, to feel like the smartest and simplest decision is to simply go along with the crowd. When Chipotle raises prices 4% and blames it on higher employee wage costs, which they claim they are simply passing on to their customers, it's not that hard to convince yourself that you should be taking some similar action.
But, for all kinds of reasons, what's "good" for others (and maybe even smart for some of them given the likely short duration of their particular offerings - such as COVID-19 testing or vaccine administration) doesn't necessarily make sense for you. The last thing you want to do right now is sacrifice years-long customer loyalty and relationships for some modest short-term gains in margin. Customers who think you're taking advantage of them, or the current situation, aren't coming back. People never forget how you make them feel. If anything, now might be the very best time to give your regulars a break on prices to welcome them back.
Don't think for a minute that your customers aren't paying attention to the portions and perks that used to be part of the standard package in the "old" days. Trying to save money and avoid raising your prices thru aggressive portion control and other cutbacks is a great way to lose that precious little thing called trust. Anyone who is stupid enough to think that customers don't catch on to "shrinkflation" deserves to lose their customers' confidence and eventually their business. And, by the way, don't forget that your own employees are also "consumers", and they may not be that pleased to be "shorting" the folks they've served and befriended for years.
Bottom line: if you're going to raise your prices, you're also going to need to have a solid basis, an easy way to demonstrate your rationale, and an effective way to get the message out to all of the stakeholders - customers, employees, regulators, and the media. People don't want to be marketed to; they want to be communicated with. If you do it right, carefully and thoughtfully, you can make everyone part of the effort and partners in the solution. Otherwise, things can blow up in your face pretty quickly.
So, as you make your case inside and outside your business, focus on three main messages:
(1) Our business has always been about value, not price. Price is what you pay, but solid value is what you get. To continue to give you the quality, service and value you deserve, we have to continue to make the necessary (and more costly) investments in raw materials, supplies, resources, and other component parts of our products and services that you have come to expect.
(2) Every business is a people business, and our people are the most essential element in our operations and our success. If we don't treat and compensate them fairly and fully - not because it's a requirement, but because it's the right thing to do - we won't be able to attract, train and retain the high-quality dedicated and committed team that we have built, or be able to deliver the products and services to you that you desire and need.
(3) The proof is always in the pudding. Ask our people if they're pleased to be back, eager to get to work, and have been treated and paid equitably throughout this long and painful journey. There's no better way to see if we're living up to our side of the bargain and taking care of business than to ask the team members who make our business possible every day just how we're doing. We're glad they're back; we're glad you're back, and we're all seeing a little light at the end of this very dark and lengthy tunnel. Tough times don't last; tough people do.
JUN 15, 2021
Friday, June 11, 2021
The War on Excellence
In the 1990s, the Chicago public school system embarked on an experiment in “detracking” reform, wherein it eliminated advanced math courses in high schools. The schools took an honors-for-all approach, making all students, regardless of aptitude or ability, take algebra or higher-level math beginning in ninth grade and eliminating remedial math courses.
The stated goal of detracking was to encourage more students to take challenging math courses and boost the number of graduates who went on to college.
As a 2014 report in EdWeek summarized, the experiment was a failure. All of the students suffered:
In the wake of that policy change, low-achieving students were more likely to fail 9th grade math and, eventually, less likely to graduate from high school. They were no more likely to attend college. In the meantime, higher-achieving students’ test scores declined, in part, the researchers suggested, because struggling and unsupported lower-achieving peers were slowing down the class. The high achievers were also less likely to go on to take advanced math, which may have helped explain why they were also less likely to attend college.
In other words, detracking didn’t help the students it was intended to help and harmed the students who had previously done well with tracking.
Educational policymakers offered many explanations for the failure, including that teachers weren’t properly trained to deal with the mix of students in their classrooms and didn’t receive enough professional development support. When Chicago reintroduced some elements of tracking, however, including advanced classes for high-performing students and more intensive remedial classes for poorly performing students, all students improved.
“People often think that grouping low-achieving students together is detrimental,” Takako Nomi, an assistant professor of education at St. Louis University in Missouri, said at the time. But in fact, even among the lower-performing students, “scores actually improved despite declines in peer ability” in their tracked classes.
And yet, tracking continued to spark controversy. In 2014, Obama’s Department of Education made tracking an explicitly racial issue when its Office for Civil Rights targeted a New Jersey school district’s tracking program, claiming that it had too few black students in its advanced classes. As The Atlantic noted at the time, “The education department and advocates have said tracking perpetuates a modern system of segregation that favors white students and keeps students of color, many of them black, from long-term equal achievement.”
Ultimately, the school district had to enter a resolution agreement with the Department of Education that required them to hire a consultant to “come up with a plan to increase equity.” Other school districts that wanted to keep tracking programs, such as California’s Elk Grove school district, were required to make the students in the advanced program match the racial makeup of the school district.
The Obama administration’s approach rested heavily on many assumptions about race and performance, many of them consistent with Critical Race Theory’s emphasis on equality of outcome. The use of Critical Race Theory as a lens for understanding educational outcomes has only increased since then, both in volume and hyperbole. A typical CRT argument in the journal Educational Considerations recently posited that any racial disparities in advanced classes are evidence of racism. As one academic argued, citing the work of Derrick Bell, tracking is itself a form of segregation akin to the segregation outlawed by Brown v. Board of Education: “Legal decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954) provide an illusion of racial equality, other structures such as tracking remain in place to maintain the entrenchment of racial segregation and inequality.”
All of which should be understood as context for the revivified debates over tracking and advanced classes in public schools. As the New York Post reported this week, a furor erupted among parents when the Lab Middle School in New York announced that it was planning to eliminate its advanced math courses. This comes after New York announced earlier in the year that it planned to eliminate “gifted and talented” tests for entry to public schools in the city, one of the recommendations of Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s School Diversity Advisory Group, which previously called for the dissolution of all tracking for advanced students in New York public schools in the name of “equity.”
In Boston, the School Committee “voted to scrap the traditional admissions exam for a system that allocated seats based on a student’s grades and ZIP code, which members thought would give priority to students in lower-income communities.” When parents objected, school committee member Lorna Rivera texted that she was “sick of Westie whites” who were complaining about the admissions change. “Whatever. They’re delusional,” fellow committee member Alexandra Oliver-Davila texted back. Both were forced to resign. Another committee member, Michael Loconto, also resigned after he was “caught on a hot mic before the meeting mocking the names of Asian parents who signed up to speak.”
None of this evidence of racial animus toward white and Asian students changed the Boston Public Schools system’s approach. A spokesman said the school system will “continue our work with our stakeholders as we dismantle systemic barriers to opportunity and open up access for our students.”
As Noah Smith of Bloomberg noted of the New York City changes, “Killing advanced classes does nothing to improve broad-based math education, or to foster the skills necessary to have a broad, highly competent technical workforce—which is what we need if we’re going to keep our high-tech industries.”
He added, “Simply refusing to teach well-prepared kids advanced math will NOT result in less-well-prepared kids learning math more effectively. Math learning is not some kind of resource in fixed supply.”
He’s right, as decades of evidence demonstrates. Yet equity advocates continue to insist that schools are denying opportunities to kids not based on their ability and willingness to work hard, but because of “structural racism.” This allows them to overlook many inconvenient facts. In the Chicago de-tracking experiment, for example, it wasn’t innate ability that determined student success, but motivation and behavior: The study found that “students misbehaved more” in the remedial level classes and “were more likely to be suspended or receive disciplinary infractions,” which made it more challenging for teachers to teach them.
Are tracking efforts and advanced classes and “gifted and talented” programs in need of reform and improvement? Of course. Schools should constantly reevaluate whether these programs serve their student populations. The question is whether those reforms will be driven by practical realities based on evidence or merely by conformity to ideological demands.
Smith argues that the “excellence vs. equity” approach to the tracking debate misses a larger point: The U.S. needs to improve its STEM education overall, and the way to do that is to focus on fostering habits and motivation among all students interested in these areas of study. Smith is surely correct, but he underestimates how determined CRT-inspired “equity” advocates are to eliminate any mechanisms for measuring ability as a signal of their larger ideological commitment; they aren’t eliminating advanced classes so the U.S. will be more competitive with China in the future.
Making advanced classes and tracking all about race simplifies things. According to the CRT formula, any racial disparity is evidence of racism, hence it must be abolished or reconfigured to suit the desired outcome. This allows equity advocates to avoid the real challenge that the lack of representation by black and Hispanic students in advanced math courses reveals: These students did not receive decent math education and support beginning in elementary school and have fallen behind their peers who did.
That is a failure of our public schools. It should be tackled not by punishing other students down the road but by improving the quality of education for all in the early years. The CRT approach also ignores what will be the likely outcome of abolishing advanced courses: Students with the means to leave will abandon public schools for private schools. Either that or their families will pay for outside tutoring to ensure those students perform at levels beyond their less well-off peers, intensifying rather than alleviating broader inequities.
“Equity” advocates who want to abolish all tracking, all selective public high schools, and all advanced courses in subjects like math aren’t interested in thoughtful reform. They demand revolution. If you believe, as equity advocates do, that acknowledging disparities in ability or interest is a gateway to returning to last century’s malign racial segregation in schools, abolition of such standards is the only path forward—and gutting advanced courses and tracking are viewed as a necessary casualty in that larger war.
Thursday, June 10, 2021
Entrepreneur learned coding at after-school program; now, he’s paying it forward
The Department of Family and Support Services has been granted authority to enter into a $250,000 contract with Adam Wiesniewski’s EX3 Labs to develop a mobile application for a year-old city website, My CHI My Future.
By Fran Spielman Jun 9, 2021, 1:41pm CDT
Adam Wisniewski is shown in a company video discussing the dedication in May 2019 of an immersive learning lab at Daniel Boone Elementary School, 6710 N. Washtenaw Ave. Screenshot
Adam Wisniewski is an African American entrepreneur who learned coding at an after-school program with skills reinforced at a Chicago Public Library.
Now, he will use those skills honed at the Chicago incubator hub known as 1871 to help other young people follow in his footsteps.
The City Council’s Committee on Education and Child Development on Wednesday gave the Department of Family and Support Services the authority to enter into a $250,000 contract with Wisniewski’s EX3 Labs to develop a mobile application for the year-old city website known as My CHI My Future.
The city plans to bankroll $140,000 of the cost to launch and maintain the app. The rest will be raised privately, officials said.
The website was launched in May 2020 during the pandemic-induced switch of Chicago Public Schools to remote learning, which isolated students who crave social connection.
The website’s goal was to connect every young person in Chicago with a “meaningful, out-of-school-time option,” according to Brandie Knazze, acting commissioner of Family and Support Services.
More than 20,000 young people have visited the website to learn more about the 200,000 in-person and virtual opportunities for jobs, recreation and social services.
A survey of young people, and website analytics, “overwhelmingly” show the need for a mobile app to make accessing youth programs “more equitable,” Knazze told aldermen.
“More than 70% of users access the website on a mobile device. More than 90% responded they would be more likely to engage with an app, over a website, to find the information they need,” Knazze said.
“The My CHI My Future mobile app will connect to an existing data source that will allow users to see and search program information, events and opportunities designed for youth by location and content area,” she added.
“The app will include information about jobs and social services, including health and wellness and food access. Youth do not have to have an account to use the app, but those who do have an account will also receive notice of programs, events and opportunities pushed to them based on their location or their interests.”
For Wisniewski, the app will be a labor of love and a chance to pay it forward for the opportunities he enjoyed.
“We’re extremely excited about the mobile app opportunity, in part because I actually learned how to code based on after-school programming and also through the generosity of the hardworking people at public libraries,” Wisniewski, CEO of EX3 Labs, said Wednesday.
South Side Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) asked what would be done to “keep young people safe.”
“We know that a lot of these apps that we create wind up having adults that shouldn’t be on the app,” Taylor said.
“If I get my young child to sign up for it, you need to reassure [parents] that he’s only interacting with other young people or the information that he is using is only for the city and not sold to other folks.”
Knazze told Taylor the new app would not “store any data,” but simply be “pushing information” from the city-controlled website. The city will “control and own” the code developed for the mobile app, she said.
“Additionally, in order to register for the application, it’s for youth 13-and-older. Any youth that is under 13 years old will need to have their parent approval,” Knazze said.
Wisniewski assured Taylor the app won’t have a “communication aspect,” so “there is no social media component and chance for interaction between children and adults … other than the information programs vetted … to make sure that all of the programs listed are safe and child-friendly,” he said.
The data would be “pushed out to end users so they can read and interact with it,” Wisniewski noted.
“Because they will log in, they will actually have a chance to have more of a personalized experience. They’ll get … recommendations based on programs, based on their interest levels, which is something that will be a first for this particular initiative,” he said.
Chairman Michael Scott Jr. (24th) noted there have been “various websites that focused on exactly the same thing over the course of the last three administrations.”
“Inevitably, there will be another administration. ... When that happens, is this easily re-branded?” Scott said.
“Absolutely,” Knazze replied. “We own it. It’s ours.”
Wednesday, June 09, 2021
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