Week 214 in Detroit. Last week I wrote about how change can happen and what the difference is between immediate change — policy change — and larger, cultural changes. Though I’m still stunned at how difficult it can be for people, generally, to embrace change, it was a worthwhile topic to consider this week. I am participating in a leadership development course that includes a 360 degree evaluation of my strengths and weaknesses. By 360 degree, I’m referring to the fact that participants in the evaluation included my senior leaders, my direct reports, my former leaders, my former direct reports, my peers, and anyone else I wanted to invite (including my wife).
Over the course of 2 months, participants could take the evaluation. I received the results this week. I really enjoyed the process. My biggest concern (professionally) has always been that I have a distorted view of myself compared to how others view me. I think we’ll all agree it’s impossible to know exactly how others view you, but the candid (anonymous) feedback is extremely helpful in alignment.
The reason I bring this up is my willingness to embrace change.
Not just openness in the face of new information but an actual desire to seek out data, opinions and people that challenge my view. I used to think of it as curiosity. It might be stronger than that. I actually look for ways to fuel change. (For better or worse, I suppose)
One other theme that I always try to bring to the Saturday Cup of Joe is a willingness to consider a variety of perspectives. I like when I post a thought or an article and you, the reader, cannot figure out if it’s an endorsement of the idea or not. I think that’s healthy. It also might be crazy (or annoying) to you. I’m not sure.
As you’ve experienced many times, I also post thoughts or comments that I feel compelled to write.
I hope that throughout recent weeks but throughout our entire relationship, you’ve embraced that about me and approached each week with an open mind. Thank you, as always, for reading and responding. (And thank you Brian and Rob for the weekend-long email chains, debates and Zoom calls that sometimes result!). Looking forward to everyone’s thoughts. Let me know what you like, what you don’t and what you’d like to see more of.
One topic that was not available for last week’s Saturday Cup of Joe was an article in the Sunday Business section of The New York Times. The article “Corporate America has failed Black America” raised some critical questions about the sincerity and authenticity of corporate responses to the murder of George Floyd. Specifically, the two questions that caught my attention were — are brands simply joining “the movement” because it is good for business? and why aren’t there more black executives, Board members and leaders of America’s companies?
This hit home as I had recently referenced the fact that I saw a #BlackLivesMatter commercial on Discovery Channel and that Amazon.com published a #BlackLivesMatter banner on the homepage just before reading the article. In my perspective as a white man, I saw those two instances as “signs” that big business was paying attention. Not saying I went so far as to call it a good sign, but definitely mentioned it to more than one person.
The reality is that actions speak louder than words. How Amazon treats it’s people and specifically people of color is more meaningful than a homepage banner. Obviously. But I almost fell into the false sense of “security” that there was progress among America’s largest companies. It’s easy to change a banner. It’s hard to follow through on recruiting and hiring policy reviews, compensation evaluations and equitable outcomes for customers and team members alike.
I’m thankful that I was not lulled into thinking anyone is paying attention. They are paying attention in the marketing department. It’s a start. The goal is to move the needle in the Board room and in the Capitol and in the White House.
At the same time, it reminds me that we have the power to be the change we want to see. The almighty dollar is the voice of the people. We can be intentional with our influence. (That’s why everyone’s always try to influence us.) Brands, like politicians, will follow wherever the consumer (or voter) are going.
It’s easy to forget.
The Black community in a majority-white society have not had a voice or the power to influence the change we’re now talking about. Centuries waiting for white America to ally with minority communities. This is why so much of the protest and response to police brutality and societal equality is focused on white people. It is white America that has to speak up, to act, to spend and to vote accordingly to the change we all want to see. Only together will we all actually get the political, economic and social justice that every Black, indigenous, person of color and woman get in our society, our system.
Consider how you feel about that?
It’s easy to brush off as the comments of an emotional dreamer who takes to writing wild ideas on Friday nights as a way to stay connected to his friends, family, colleagues and fellow innovators.
But when we do that, we risk rushing back to what we think is “safety” but what is really a myth.
I bring it up because I’ve been spending time this week thinking about rhetorical style. When I first joined Quicken Loans, if someone misspoke, someone else would say “words matter.” I’ll give you an example. As an external hire, it took a minute for me to get used to saying leader instead of boss or team instead of department or team member instead of employee. But words matter. The words reflect the company’s culture toward it’s team members, it’s leaders and the interactions between the two. The culture must be reflect in everything, especially the language, to actually motivate behavior.
One thing I found confounding this week was the phrase “defund the police.”
What did you think when you first heard that?
When I first heard it, my thought was not “abolish the police.” Very quickly, however, those two became conflated. In some cases, those sharing the hashtag or promoting the chant did, in fact, intend to abolish the police. Many did not. And so, here we are.
Where I found it thought-provoking was that it many ways it became a barometer of where you stand on the issue. If you were looking for a reason to discount the protestors, this became the reason. If not, the benefit of the doubt crept in.
Of course, if you read the Saturday Cup of Joe regularly, you know that I love the benefit of the doubt. Big fan! Big beautiful, benefit of the doubt.
My reasoning has always been the same — it is really hard to be a person in the world. Just a person going about our day trying to have a life is much more complex than we are willing to admit. Some people say it a different way, do not attribute to malice what might be lack of information. In it’s simplest form, it’s the Snickers commercial. You get angry when you get hungry. You get grumpy when you get hungry. You get annoying when you’ve been quarantined for 90 days.
My thought process has always been not to introduce more pain or suffering into a situation that has enough. Give people the benefit of the doubt, meet others in the moment and truly connect with people to understand more about them and share in their experience.
Given that perspective, I am unable to shake the double standard I see from the President. I’m talking purely from a rhetorical perspective, too, by the way. Leaving actually policies aside, I just want to focus on why I found myself so unreasonably annoyed this week. I wonder if you agree.
I mentioned earlier that the phrase “defund the police” was a trending topic this week. My interpretation of the political debate over “defund the police” was that the Right took it literally and the Left used it as a rallying point about how to get municipal leaders and police unions fired up.
What I found frustrating is the ability for President Trump to demand we take the Left’s position literally when he asks not to be taken literally, all the time. When he makes an outlandish demand that may or may not materialize, we’re asked to consider it good negotiating, immaculate negotiating. When it ultimately does not materialize, we’re told it was to make a point, not to be taken literally. Whether it’s building a wall on the Southern border or “good people on both sides” or “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” over and over again we’re told not to take the tweets literally. Yet, when anyone else, (literally) anyone else, says something about the President or his policies, we’re told to take it literally.
What if it’s a negotiating position? Is it still good negotiating when someone else does it? What if it’s just to be heard, to make a point?
Whatever happen to simply asking “what if”?
Perhaps it’s a minor thing, but like I said, words matter.
For more information on what 8 policies any police department could implement tomorrow that are data-driven and proven to lower risk of use of deadly force, please visit 8cantwait.org. Just in case you were worried, these are not defunding but practical changes that protect both sides.
ESG: Another subject I spent some time digging into this week was ESG investment. ESG stands for Environmental, Social and Governance. Broadly, this refers to investments that promote good as well as a return. Based on research conducted by Harvard Professor George Serafeim, companies that invest in social good, including environmental and inequality issues, perform better overall than companies that do not promote or prioritizes these investments. The key to why these companies outperform the competition is not only that ESG investments have intrinsic value but because strong ESG practices are built on disciplined leadership and clear metrics.
An ESG strategy must be direct and relevant to the company’s core mission communicated consistently form the Board of Directors throughout the organization. Understanding the purpose and using specific, robust data analytics to measure what matters are strengths that translate to all aspects of the company.
A key distinction is that ESG investment is not philanthropy. When you think of ESG as part of your organization’s “core mission,” it is not a real estate company volunteering on a Habitat for Humanity project. This is structured and sustainable investment that actually has purpose while returning competitive value you’d expect from any investment. An example would be a manufacturing company investing in a zero-carbon supply chain or manufacturing process that is eco-friendly, lowers cost of production and makes the staff more efficient as well. The equipment investment is likely to cost more than the “non-ESG” alternative equipment, but the point is that taking the longer view and expanding the definition of value more than justifies the additional, upfront cost.
It is my belief that increasingly consumers and investors, alike, will be seeking out intentional investments that align with an ESG mission. Does your company consider ESG investment? How would that work in your industry?
Cost of retrofitting: One area of risk as we emerge from COVID-19 quarantine to assess what “re-entry” looks like and who will be hardest hit is commercial real estate. If the jokes early in quarantine were about babies and divorce, the comments recently have been “glad I don’t own an office building.”
My team spent some time recently discussing the idea of retrofitting. We’re a product innovation team, so our goal was talking about financing structures and not the actual, physical retrofitting, but there is no question both may be hot topics in the next 12 months.
The two areas I spent the most time thinking about were co-ops and malls. Suburban malls have been at risk long before COVID-19 restrictions shut them down. Online shopping and town centers have been drawing people away from shopping malls for years already. My friend Grace Ford Kennedy and I met discussing the repurposing of abandoned or bankrupt shopping malls. Grace saw these as centralized, government service centers. If the property was likely to default on financing and taxes anyway, might as well have the municipality take over and create a convenient place for family, social and justice services. Many malls already exist where transportation including buses operate and not having to make a series of appoints in separate buildings would dramatically reduce the stress on those seeking assistance.
Her idea was far more meaningful to society. Mine was around housing. We’re always talking about how little supply exists for first-time or affordable housing. We’ve been under-building new homes for 12 years. Instead of building new homes, why not create housing units where the space, convenience and opportunity already exists? Technology for spaces like casinos, town centers and hotels can transform the interior and common areas. Parking and access to transportation will never be an issue. In fact, the “wings” of the mall can serve different communities. The old Macy’s corridor could be converted to units that are quiet after 9 PM. The old JC Penny corridor could be pet-friendly. In the center, the community could share a coffee shop, astro turf dog park and post office.
The second area of innovation could be the co-op. Isolated to major cities like New York City, co-ops have many undesirable aspects such as tenant management. One strong trait of co-ops is shared equity in a property. If commercial buildings, including high-rise office buildings, were able to be retrofitted for residential units, the sheer number of units coming to market could be dramatic. This has the potential to make homeownership more affordable. Leveraging the shared asset concepts, co-investment could create units that are obtainable, affordable and appreciate with the city. A new take on co-ops with better ownership terms. We just need to solve for better management options.
Current rabbithole: Private islands. That’s it. Just a real estate website for buying or renting islands. Who’s in?
Quote: Amor Fati — Treating each and every moment — no matter how challenging — as something to be embraced, not avoided. To not only be okay with it, but love it and be better for it. So that like oxygen to a fire, obstacles and adversity become fuel for your potential.
Bonus content: This weird but seemingly well-researched video on Switzerland. How they stayed neutral, the lengths they were willing to go to remain neutral and what it meant to negotiate with the Nazis, as a result. Also the country has bunkers galore.
Continue to answer well,