As a part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Zani.
Mike Zani is CEO of The Predictive Index (PI), the talent optimization leader. Prior to The Predictive Index, Mike was CEO of ShapeUp, a social SaaS wellness platform that was sold to Virgin Pulse in 2014. Previously, Mike served as president of LEDCO, a manufacturer of rugged computer peripherals, where he led its acquisition and eventual sale to Havis, an industry leader in police radio consoles. It was at LEDCO where Mike, a customer of The Predictive Index, developed his passion for the company’s vital management tools. Mike is a co-founder and partner of Phoenix Strategy Investments, a private investment fund that acquired LEDCO in 2004, ShapeUp in 2009 and The Predictive Index in 2014. He also worked as a strategic consultant at the marketing firm Digitas. An avid sailor, Mike began his career in marketing and sales with Vanguard Sailboats and was a coach for the 1996 U.S. Olympic Sailing Team. He holds a B.S. from Brown University and an MBA from Harvard.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thanks for having me!
A few years after college I found my love for sailing. I worked for people who had the latest and fastest boats and quickly figured out they would do anything to win. I found myself wondering if they were working toward a goal or simply betting on today. I learned they were for winning today — at all costs.
What they didn’t appreciate was that a winning team is all about people. Many business executives have the same blind spot. They count and measure all sorts of things — but don’t do the same when it comes to their people. I started out with that limited point of view as a coach and, later, as an entrepreneur. But 13 years ago, my business partner, Daniel Muzquiz, and I came across a powerful suite of workplace assessments. It fundamentally changed our ideas about managing people, and that is when we started making data-driven decisions using science.
Then in 2014, Daniel and I bought the company that pioneered the assessments we’d found so valuable. Our company, The Predictive Index (PI), develops tools to measure and optimize a workforce. Now, from our expanding base outside Boston, we not only use the science to run our own operations — we also create best practices and teach the framework for talent optimization. We run what amounts to a laboratory — dedicated to decoding what it takes to create winning employees and winning teams.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
This might not necessarily be funny, but it’s an incredibly valuable lesson nonetheless.
I had just read Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, which shares ideas related to providing negative feedback and how it is important to be direct and clear. I took this advice and used it in a business meeting where I was unfortunately severing a relationship. I tried to execute the conversation based on the book’s advice but after the meeting ended, my business partner looked at me and said, “That was brutal, never do that again.” Through this meeting, I realized I would rather make a mistake while still treating someone like a human than be a person who lacks humanity. Luckily, since then I have been able to reconnect with that person and we now have a great line of open communication
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I have been obsessed with Blinkist. It’s an app that shares “blinks,” which are essentially condensed books. I have been listening to these summaries of books that are really thoughtfully put together. I’ve consumed around 25 books in the last two weeks and it has helped me identify which books I want to fully read. It is perfect for the impatient leader who has a long reading list.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
“Better work. Better world.” It was our vision when we started and it is still our vision now. The idea that we have this tool and system that helps you understand yourself and others better but we’re trying to make better workplaces. People spend too much time at work. If we can send people home more energized by their job, they will be better people and happier in general. It really resonates with people.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
I would rather win with and through a team than by myself. If you build great teams, life gets better and better. And, you should always be looking for someone to replace your current job. Keep elevating someone to do your job and always be looking to groom the new CEO. By doing this, you are allowing yourself to grow alongside your employees and your business.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I will say, most parents hate the idea of video games because they rot the minds of their kids and before this all happened, I felt the same way. What I have come to realize is video games are socially networked these days, and it allows for kids to connect with one another, even if it is not face to face. Just the other day I heard my kids laughing and giggling with their friends while playing video games and it made me really happy to know they were still able to connect with their friends. Even though these kids can’t see each other I’m glad they’re having social interaction and making time to get together.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
There has been an increase in the amount of anxiety and fear people are facing. The difference between today and the last recession is now, people are fearing getting sick and dying while also worrying about being laid off or isolated. I think a lot of people have anxiety about what is going to happen to their business.
At The Predictive Index, we have tried to be very transparent with our people about the state of our company. We hold a virtual town hall every week where employees have the opportunity to ask questions to the senior staff. It has created an open culture and allowed us to be transparent and straightforward with all questions and answers. We have also worked hard to create an open dialogue with our people. These open dialogues have not only helped our employees, but have also helped my team and I understand the questions or concerns our people might have about returning to the office.
Looking ahead, as we plan for the office to reopen, we have told our people that if they don’t feel comfortable coming back, to let us know and we will work out an arrangement. On the other hand ,if an employee needs to come back, due to an unsafe home situation, we want to support them to make their life easier
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
We try to make sure dinner time is not just a regurgitation of everyone’s view of the news that day. We try to talk about other interesting issues or play games to keep our mind off of what is going on in the world. My wife and I have also tried to introduce our kids to new things like baking or bike riding, and these are things my kids have started to love and do many times a week.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I think there will certainly be an opportunity when looking at how people recruit and hire. Prior to the pandemic, companies were hiring whoever they could get. A lot of companies were loosening their standards and hiring people that weren’t an ideal fit for the role, or did not fit into their culture. Now, due to the unfortunate circumstances of companies having to do major layoffs, there are unemployed people with a lot of talent who will be more thankful and loyal for a job because they’re being given an opportunity when they need it most.
I also think there will be an opportunity for acquisition. Companies who remain aggressive during this time, and who have the financial capabilities to do so, will be able to buy competitors and technology that wasn’t previously available. People always say, “buy assets low, sell high,” and now is the time to buy assets low. Lastly, this is a great time to be an entrepreneur. Those who are willing to put their time and effort into something creative might be able to take advantage of being self employed.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I think we will have to determine if many social interactions are safe and appropriate to partake in over the coming months. Physical contact is a really important part of our everyday lives; such as shaking hands or giving a colleague a pat on the back. If those interactions are gone, we will have to figure out some new social indicators. From a business standpoint, PI went through a reduction in force (RIF), but we were still able to maintain trust from our employees. Across industries, I think trust is something that has quickly been eroded and without trust, some industries will see that they lose loyalty from their people at a very fast pace.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
The Predictive Index is focusing on product development right now. We are pivoting from a sell to serve business model and placing more of an emphasis on how we can make our product better and more impactful. That way when the time comes, we are ready for a rebound as it is presented to us. We are hoping that once companies are financially able , they will want to invest in their talent strategy. Once companies start hiring again, they will need help sorting through applications, and that is where PI comes in. Our technology has the power to help companies identify gaps in their organization, and determine who would be the best behavioral and cultural fit for the position. We are also planning what we want our company to look like in the future. There may be business units that we need to play a different role in the Post-Covid economy than they did in the past.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Businesses need to make sure they are taking care of their people. We need to make sure that employers are more involved in reenforcing that their people are taking time for themselves first. Everyone is dealing with this differently and it is important to be mindful of that.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Where storms will show your mastery.” This quote is from a prayer Sir Francis Drake delivered to his crew as they were embarking on a voyage to sail around the world. In this prayer, Drake talks about sailing farther from shore where the storms will show your mastery. We actually included it in our latest resilience series around COVID-19. It is the same meaning as when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.
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