Executive Director of Leadership Oakland, Tom Sommer, interviews Susan Morgan Bailey, LO board member, entrepreneur and culture & wellbeing expert.

Tom:

Susan Morgan Bailey is the Vice President of Culture and Wellbeing Practice Leader for Marsh and McLennan Agency here in Michigan.  Susan, has a very long history of wellness and extensive practice in corporate culture change. 

Start off by talking a little bit about your journey of how you became part of this culture and wellbeing practice, as well as share a little bit about yourself personally and professionally.

Susan:

I started out as a middle school educator many moons ago and did that for a few years until I went slightly crazy, as many people can understand now that they're homeschooling their children. After a period of therapy and reflection, I made that decision to go back to grad school and pivot.

I had an undergrad in Science and Health and decided health was going to be my focus.  I started working in public health, then worked in corporate wellness when I returned to Michigan 18-ish years ago. In the beginning, I was working onsite with companies, one-on-one coaching and providing guidance around strategies to help the organization take care of their people.

That evolved into a more consultative role with a national wellness vendor where I was working with large employers. I was getting to know how companies think in a whole new way compared to being boots on the ground working one-on-one with folks. Then about four years ago after many air and hotel miles were earned, I decided I needed to be home more often and I started working with Marsh and McLennan Agency.  I consult and support our efforts to help our clients design strategies to help their employees thrive.

Tom:

That's an amazing trajectory. As I was listening to you talk, I was thinking about what it must have been like 18 years ago and how the space for corporate culture and wellness  has changed. Moving from one visit with the HR person when you were onboarding to now paying close attention to the culture of organizations, the success of organizations, wellness of its employees and how companies can thrive with these kind of platforms. Please tell me a little bit about what you've seen over the years and how it's evolved?

Susan:

In the beginning...If you go way, way back, (think early 1900s) there was wellness in companies, but it was more social in nature. It was clubs and bowling leagues and softball teams, and it was about being connected and social.

That evolved over time.  Henry Ford was one of the first to figure out on a large scale...that we can mass produce things and be very efficient. Then he and other employers started thinking about, what should we do to help our people not break down as they do the same jobs over and over again. And that was when physical fitness that really gained attention in organizations.

Companies from IBM to Ford to Chrysler, GM…large organizations, were all thinking, “How do we help our people be physically well?” Onsite fitness centers were all the rage. It was a fitness focused strategy. That gained more momentum when HMOs came along and things shifted in the healthcare space. Employers again started to think about physical wellness but it was more in a way of “How do I keep my costs down?” They would look at their healthcare claims and think, wow, our people are costing a lot. And the logical solution at the time was “if my employees are well and reduce their weight and take care of their diabetes or avoid diabetes altogether, then that'll save us money”. That thinking sort of worked and sort of continues to work now. I say that because, in the last 10 years especially, organizations have realized that physical health and wellbeing is influenced not just by personal choices but also by the environment individuals are surrounded by each day. I went from being a wellness practitioner to, more recently, focusing on an expanded view of wellbeing and really thinking about human health in a more holistic way. That's the short story of the evolution of our field, over the last hundred years.

Tom:

Thank you for tying the various pieces of health and wellness evolution to the work environment. It is relevant to today. Everybody is realizing in the last six to seven weeks, their work environment has been dramatically altered and not just from their physical space but all of the environmental factors that come with it.

I know that for my own family, I was on Zoom upstairs, my kids were on Zoom on the first floor and my wife was on Zoom in the basement. That's a different environment.  It must be incredibly important to start considering these impacts, even in the short term.  So, share with me a little bit about what you're experiencing today and what you're seeing.

Susan:

It's fascinating. Before the pandemic happened and we entered into, what some of us are calling a forced experiment to work from home, there was resistance to allowing team members to work from home. There were organizations who were stuck in a mode of thinking their folks could not be productive at home. Too many stories out there about people, taking advantage of the system and so on.

And now here we are. We've had a significant portion of workforce that's been forced to work from home.. And it's been a big opportunity to learn about what's possible, what works, what doesn't work. From a culture perspective, it has shined a light on how important leadership is. Over the last few weeks, I have spent a lot of time teaching others how to communicate with their employees, how to message and how to lead through chaos. This work from home thing is about just more than physical space disruption. It's a disruption in leading and engaging and everything work. It's been fascinating to observe.

Tom:

You talked about, how people are dealing with communication; how leaders are involved with their employees, supporting employees... What are some of the resources that people have? I mean, as this all happened very quickly, I'm sure people are adjusting to digital technology to a certain degree. But where do we go to learn these things? I'm sure you have clients calling you nonstop trying to figure some of this stuff out.

Susan:

Yeah. What's fascinating about this is we've never done this before. Here we are, we've got a virus that's acting in many ways unlike any other virus we've seen. Examples of leadership, opportunities, improvements, bad examples, good examples abound, but I think the biggest thing that I have encouraged is, both emphasizing grace with yourself and grace with your team members, because we're all figuring this out.

For those employers who don't know where to go because they don't have someone like me, the best recommendations are to go to the CDC website, the OSHA website or NIOSHA, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Those government agencies are updating their tools and resources every day around guidance on how to create a safe. Those are great for the basics.

Tom:

Well, let's transition to a resource that you've created and people can hear all the things that you're able to use from your breadth of experience and current clients and past clients, The Growth Collective podcast. And I know you have a very specific group of individuals who are on the podcast in this series of discussions around resiliency. Why don't you tell me a little bit about kind of the impetus of starting that and then why the resiliency series right now?

Susan:

We started the podcast a few months ago and the idea for the podcast really came to be obvious, over the last four years. I can talk about supporting the employee and the wellbeing of team members all day long, but if the environment that surrounds those individuals is not conducive to that, an organization is going to have a real hard time truly supporting employee wellbeing. If you want to raise healthy fish and you put them in a fish tank that is dirty and gross, they're not going to make it.

The podcast was started because I was hearing from folks, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, but my leader," or, "My leader...my CEO, he/she doesn't get it." Behind the scenes, shareholder returns have been driving business focus since 1957 when Milton Friedman helped define the purpose of a business was to produce value for shareholders.

And back in August 2019, I got super fired up because that was when the Business Roundtable proposed, " The purpose of a business is to provide value for the stakeholders. And that includes the employees and the communities in which you work." So we started the podcast to interview leaders who've done it. Who are proving that you can look at the triple bottom line, people, planet and prosperity. And if you focus on all three, it actually works...you can be successful long-term and deliver to shareholders too

Then we got a couple of episodes in and COVID hit. I didn't want to continue talking about utopia when we were certainly not looking at a utopian situation. So we decided to pivot and focus on individual resilience. The podcast is about business resilience. How do I stay in business long-term by taking care of my people? We pivoted to narrow the focus. How do I take care of my people-what is going on with them and what matters to them.

We've got 16 episodes out that are specifically a part of the individual resiliency series. We’re building a toolbox for individuals and leaders focused on what is important to support human thriving, right now.

Tom:

I was able to listen to one of those episodes today, which is really great. I was able to access mine on Apple or iTunes podcast but you can find this anywhere?

Susan:

You can find it on your favorite podcast player including Spotify, SoundCloud or this website.- http://thegrowthcollective.libsyn.com/

Tom:

And are you feeling that this, the individual resiliency, will continue for a long period of time? Do you think this will kind of balance out where you'll see business resilience and personal resilience as we start to step out of this situation? Are you seeing a lot of traction around that?

Susan:

Yeah. It's funny because I thought about it a week ago. I could do an episode a day on individual resilience. And frankly, if I did that, I wouldn't be the only one, there's 700,000+podcasts available in the world.

There aren't a lot focused on business resilience through employees though. So I think we're going to do this for a while. It will always be a part of the discussion and soon we are going to pivot back to the broader focus. We've got some really great episodes in the queue including Rich Sheridan from Menlo Innovations and author Zach Mercurio speaking on the power of purpose at work

Tom:

I know that I've been trying to share that with people in conversations. We're doing one thing today, but as leaders, we need to be thinking about what will things look like six months, 12 months, 18 months from now? How we give confidence to our employees, how do we support them? How do we give them a sense of support that gives them the energy to want to come back and engage differently than they have in the last 12 months. But certainly it's going to be an important part of the formula for success for businesses moving forward, without a doubt.

Susan:

Yeah. I agree.

Tom:

I'm adding this on the fly, but I know there's one other adventure that you have that I am a big personal fan, The Do Love brand. Tell me a little bit about that. I can tell you, quite honestly, that my daughter trades off two different shirts every week at this point and she only wears them. That's it, I can't get her out of them. Literally this is not an endorsement. I'm just saying I can't get her out of them.

Susan:

It's funny because I have heard that a lot from people. I wanted to make sure it was shirt people would want to wear.

The Do Love brand, came out of a bumper sticker that I saw. My human behavior brain kicked in and immediately started deconstructing it. The bumper sticker said, "Resist hate." I get it. I get where the bumper sticker was going. I've seen signs and I understand and agree. Hate is not a helpful emotion. That said from a brain science perspective, what happens when you read resist and you read hate is, they're both negative words. If you sit there for a minute, let the words sink you remember what you're supposed to be hating and it doesn't feel good.

I sat there at a light looking at the bumper sticker and wondered, what should that bumper sticker say? What was the intention? I flipped it around and I realized it should say, "Do love." I thought, well certainly there's a bumper sticker that says do love and lo and behold I couldn't find one.  I had a logo developed and developed the brand concept. My beautiful friend Rita Patel has this brilliant idea, which was...what if it could be a brand that gave back? What if the point of it was to do exactly as the name implies?

And that's what we've done. We partner with organizations or causes to raise awareness and attention of love in action because that's what Do Love is all about. Oneof our Leadership Oakland favorites, Community Housing Network, was my first partner. I learned so much through that partnership and raised nearly $500 for Community Housing Network through our fundraiser.

Tom:

Well, I love the message. I love the fact that bumper stickers do matter

Thank you for doing this, this is wonderful and I look forward to getting a chance to share some of this. And I know we wanted to talk about kind of you and your pathway and your journey and then the growth collective and the resiliency series. And I think it went very well. So thank you so much.