Are you interested in learning strategies that will help you and your workforce prepare for a rapidly changing future of work? In this episode of The Staffing Show, Ira Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions, talks about starting his professional career as a dentist and eventually starting his own HR consulting firm. Wolfe shares tips and advice for preparing to work and lead in the “world of never normal” where an adaptable mindset is key to adjusting to ever-present change.
David Folwell: Hello everyone, and thank you for joining us for another episode of The Staffing Show. Today, I am super excited to be joined by Ira Wolfe, who’s the president of Success Performance Solutions. Ira is a millennial trapped in a Baby Boomer body, and one of the top 100 HR Influencers for 2021.
He’s the president of Poised for the Future Company, founder of Success Performance Solutions, a TEDx speaker, top-five Global Thought Leader on Future of Work on HR Thinkers360, and host of Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization podcast, selected as one of the top 70 business podcasts to listen to in 2022. Ira’s a frequent presenter at SHRM and at business conferences and guest on over 50 podcasts each year.
Thank you so much for joining us, Ira. Super excited to have you here. Why don’t you tell us just a little bit about how you got into HR and staffing and recruiting?
Ira Wolfe: Hey, thanks, David, thanks for allowing me to be here. Yeah, purely by accident. I didn’t even know if I knew what HR was for the first few decades of my life. My first career, which is always surprising when people hear this, is I was a dentist. So I practiced for 18 years. If you listened to my TED Talk, which was “Make Change Work for You,” which I did in 2016, I talked about that a bit. And I said I loved everything about dentistry, but dentistry. And I’m sticking to that story.
I’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit. I loved starting the business. I loved growing the business. I loved working with the people. I liked not only influencing the patients, but also creating a team. I recognized for many, many years, although….So, I started, I eventually had a partner, but I would always describe the business as, “We,” and people would just say, “Well, oh, how many partners do you have?” And I’d go, “No, it’s just me, but I couldn’t do it without my team.”
So, indirectly, I guess that was what HR is about, especially if you put the H back in HR and talk about humans in there. That was my goal. That’s what I did.
When I sold the business, I was in my 40s. As I said, I loved everything about it. Started a new business. I was going to consult just with healthcare and quickly realized I enjoyed the leadership side. I don’t coach and consult a lot on team building, but I really liked the assessment side. So I built that around there.
And obviously when you talk about pre-screening people, pre-employment, leadership, testing, helping people get on the right path, it just led into HR, sort of fell into it, which seems to be the case for a lot of people in HR.
Folwell: I do think I have yet to have anybody say, “When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a recruiter.” I don’t think that’s…or, “I wanted to be in HR.” It hasn’t been the answer yet on that, but it’s always interesting to hear the path.
So going from dentistry to kind of HR consulting and your role with the Success Performance Solutions, what was that transition like? What steps did you take to kind of make that leap?
Wolfe: It was sort of abrupt. I mean, it’s a topic we talk about a lot now. I just got to the point where I was burnt out, but I owned my own business, so it was a matter of I couldn’t just change jobs or apply somewhere else. That wasn’t in my nature. But I decided to make the move. I was actually almost 45 years old. My daughter had just graduated college. There was just some milestones in there and was like, “Okay, some of my responsibilities changed, lightened up, and I’m going to do what I always talked about doing was establishing a consulting company.”
What’s interesting is everybody else, not everybody, but many, many people, and especially 26 years ago, it was like, “What are you going to do? I mean, you know how to drill and fill..because they used to say about dentists, “Drill, fill, and bill,” that’s what I knew how to do.
And reality is I said I had a small business or I had a marketing business that just happened to be in dentistry. What I did was, again, I built a team, I built a business. We had a lot of processes and systems in place there, but I loved the diagnostics. I mean, I loved the critical thinking. I loved solving difficult problems. I loved the people relationships. I loved marketing. I liked the customer care.
Those are all transferable skills. And 25 years ago, nobody was talking about transferrable skills. It’s like, “What’s your degree? What’s your job? What’s your title? What are you going to grow up to be?” And so I grew up, I was going to be, get a biology degree. And then I was going to go to dental school, and I was going to be a dentist.
And most people, including up to this day, this is what we talk about with adaptability and change, up to this day, people still, their identity is still tied to a job title or educational degree. And, to me, it didn’t matter. They were just things that I learned along the way, and if I continued using them, I’d continue using them. And if I couldn’t, it was just an experience, and I pushed them aside.
But I learned how to manage people. I learned how to lead. I learned how to deliver customer care. I learned how to hire. Certainly, I’ve learned a lot more since that time being focused on it, but those were all transferable skills and having good problem solving skills and being able to relate with other people. I had a friend that told me, he said, “No matter what you do, you’ll be successful because it’s not what you know, it’s how you do it.”
Folwell: I love that. And with that, so tell me a little bit about Success Performance Solutions and what you guys do as a business.
Wolfe: Yeah, and that’s always evolving as well. When I started it, the first year, my title was Busi Practice. It was B-U-S-I Practice. And the logical transition was to work with healthcare professionals or mostly any professionals because it’s not only dentists, but physicians, attorneys, engineers, architects, accountants. They’re not very good business people. I mean, they had a degree, and they went into that profession.
So Busi Practice was B-U-S-I, it was business in practice, putting business in practice. Quickly realized that I didn’t want to work with dentists anymore. And again, things have changed over 25 years. It’s crazy that it’s been that long.
But at the time, I mean, even dentists advertising was a stretch. I mean, it had just been approved. And, in fact, in the ’80s, just a few years prior to that, it was even illegal to advertise. I mean, you couldn’t-
Folwell: Really? I didn’t know that.
Wolfe: You could only put like your name… Yeah, you can put your name. You couldn’t have a flashy ad, you couldn’t have the back cover of, when they had them, yellow pages. Websites didn’t exist. So it was very, very limited what you can do. You hung out a shingle, and then you promoted yourself. So I was good at marketing and getting involved in the community. That was an important part of it.
So when I started Success Performance Solutions, that was the original part. I was going to consult and talk to professionals and small business owners how to grow their business, the part that they didn’t like doing.
It quickly evolved, and as we started the show, as how did I get into HR? Because I really, really liked the assessment side. I like the diagnostic. I liked helping people solve problems. And I had always used assessments. So I used like DiSC was probably the first assessment I did. But people might be familiar with DiSC or Myers–Briggs. I was introduced to a couple other tools and really created my business around it.
So after the first year or two, Success Performance Solutions really evolved into a pre-employment and leadership assessment company. That allowed me the opportunity to work across many different industries, many different people, align myself with coaches and consultants who their expertise was not testing or assessment, where they had one, it was a one trick pony. “Oh, we just got certified in DiSC.” Okay, so every problem in the world, if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Wolfe: From the very beginning, even with DiSC, I realized that it’s not the end all and be all. It’s a really, really good tool. I still love it. In fact, just yesterday, I did a huge training with companies, which I don’t often do, but it happened to be a good opportunity, and I did it.
But ultimately, it was Success Performance Solutions, if you go up to our website, you’re going to see seven, eight, nine different types of assessments that we use. Everything from skill testing, can they type and do data entry? Do they have leadership competencies? Do they have the right personality, job fit, motivators?
And then, currently, what we’re really, really focused on because of the time and the need is something called the Adaptability Quotient. And many of the listeners might be familiar with emotional intelligence or Emotional Quotient. We’ve taken it another step further, and we’re talking about Adaptability Quotient. It’s not just about relationships, but are you change ready? How are people going to be okay living in what I call the “world of never normal”?
Folwell: That’s really great, and actually I’ve read a lot about how adaptability is the most important skill for business owners in the last few years and has repeatedly shown to be one of the key components for continued success. Just out of curiosity, I’ve also looked at I’ve just recently started going down the positivity quotient. Are you familiar with that as well?
Wolfe: I’m not, but Adaptability Quotient is a lot about that because one of the things that we measure is hope.
Folwell: Yep. Okay.
Wolfe: Because it’s not that it’s good or bad because there are people that aren’t always positive and upbeat. And oftentimes, it’s like, “Well, we’re just pragmatists. We’re realists.” And that’s okay. I mean, sometimes we need to be. We just can’t hope everything’s going to just change. We can’t hope we’re going back to normal. We’re not going back to normal. We can have a deep conversation about that.
Folwell: Yeah, yeah.
Wolfe: It’s like standing in the ocean. And I remember this, because I actually stood in the ocean. I remember standing in the ocean in Atlantic City, New Jersey, watching some ship in the distance go by. And all of a sudden, I turned around and ran back to my parents who weren’t there, not because they left, but because I drifted underneath because I was standing still.
And little did I know, 60 years later, I was going to be talking about that. But reality is that’s what we are living in this world of, if we stand still, or we’re not moving in the same direction as the ground underneath us, things are going to move by.
So the positivity quotient certainly aligns with this. Ultimately, adaptability is not just the skill of, “Okay, how can we change better?” If you’re more comfortable changing then…well, hopefully, you’re more hopeful because you see a better outlook. It’s not this fear of everything rushing toward you. You see the light at the end of the tunnel, or whatever metaphor we want to use. But ultimately, it’s about wellbeing and it’s about our emotional health.
And, again, if you have all that, then you’re going to be more positive. So however you get there…now, we certainly have a preference, the Adaptability Quotient, but there’s a lot of ways to get there.
Folwell: I love this, the concept of the Adaptability Quotient. That’s really cool. And so, when you’re working with companies, are you working with…is it really any enterprise staffing firms, et cetera? And you’re going in and are you helping with their internal hiring or are you doing it with more of their process for recruiting and sourcing from a staffing perspective?
Wolfe: No, in fact, for staffing firms that are listening to this, organizations, or anybody, private company that’s looking how to do it better, yeah, I’d love to work with more staffing organizations. Currently, I do, but it’s primarily on the testing side that we provide the skill testing, typing, data entry, Microsoft Word type things.
We have some that are using some of our personality assessments, job fit assessments. I work with recruiters on that. Although my book says Recruiting in the Age of Googlization, I’m not a recruiter and I’m not a staffer. I mean, it was about recruitment marketing. It was about that approach.
So I’m happy to work with organizations in that way, but mostly what we’re working with is not on what your expertise is of sourcing and helping companies find employees and setting employees and managing that process. My end is how do you keep up with the change? How are companies changing? That’s what they’re struggling with.
Or, beyond that, if you hire someone, even if they have the technical skills, do they have the ability to adjust, to flex? They’re going to be introduced into a new culture. They’re going to be working with a new manager. They’re going to have to change their routines.
Everything we do, especially with this Great Resignation that we’re experiencing, changing a job is stressful, and it’s new, and we’re going to have to change our routines, and people aren’t very good at changing our routines. So the adaptability quotient is a way that maybe working with staffing firms, they can help make sure the person’s the right person, that they understand who they are.
But staffing is undergoing a huge transformation, a huge disruption. We just worked with, not in staffing, but we worked with a medical group and we worked with a bank. And part of it was are their people change ready? They had ambitious goals. The CEOs, the senior leadership, not only the CEOs, but the senior leadership had very aggressive, ambitious goals, in both the bank and the medical group.
Were the people aligned? Could the people keep up? Was leadership creating an environment that supported the change? Because people need help. I mean, they need to feel safe. If they’re going to try something new, and they don’t get it right the first time, they got to know that they’re not going to get fired or terminated or penalized for that. So do you have the right culture in place that allows that adaptability? And then, it doesn’t fall 100% on the management, but people have to have that ability also to adapt.
So yeah, I’d love the opportunity to work with staffing, but also, whether they’re companies that are thinking about growing, they have a positive mindset, they got a great plan, but maybe not all the people are on board.
Folwell: Yeah. Well, what’s interesting is one of my favorite authors, Yuval Harari, wrote the 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. And I think when they asked him, “What is the most important skill in this century?” I think it was adaptability. He’s like, “Whatever career you are in, you are going to need to learn how to change. With the pace of change, with technology, the digital transformation, you are going to need this.” So I think you’re seconding what I’ve heard from one of my favorite authors, for sure. That’s great.
Wolfe: Yeah. Well, not only that, and this certainly wasn’t planned, I mean, you just mentioned him, and I use this on all my presentations, the final quote is from him. I’m going to bastardize this a great degree. I quote it a little bit differently. I say that the lines between science fiction and reality blur. And he says something to the effect that if you think that the science fiction we’re seeing is just a mirage, you’re wrong.
Folwell: Yeah. No, that’s great. That’s great.
Wolfe: I apologize again for really messing that up, but you get the message.
Folwell: I think it’s on track and fits, aligns with what we’re talking about quite well. So the other thing that…and, I mean, this goes back to adaptability, one of the things I know you’re an expert in is kind of what’s going on with the Great Resignation and understanding why people – I think it’s up to somewhere like 70% of people – are planning to quit their job at some point in the next year.
Folwell: I mean, the stats on it are astounding. Every company I talk to is dealing with it in some way, shape, or another. What are your thoughts around that, and what do you think the drivers are for that?
Wolfe: There’s a lot there to unpack. So one thing just about the adaptability, and every time you’ve mentioned it, I forget to interject it. McKinsey did a really fantastic study. They do a lot of good studies, but they did one over the past year. I think it came out in the summer. And they talked about something they call DELTAs, which is “dimensions of essential talent”. What are we going to need in the future?
And, of course, the things that we teach and train and educate people on and what a lot of companies measure on, basically have the lowest correlation with future success. Digital literacy happens to be one of them, which and you say, “Well, that’s really odd.”
Folwell: That changes so fast, right?
Wolfe: It changes fast, and you need people to be digitally literate, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to be successful in the job. Adaptability by far was the number one skill that had a correlation with future employability.
The second was dealing with uncertainty, which is what we’re talking about. So, again, we need to have these shifts, but it’s not just one isolated person who had some skin in the game that said that adaptability is going to be really important, whether it’s Deloitte, McKinsey, BCG—Boston Consulting Group.
The World Economic Forum ranked adaptability as the number-one skill that universally we’re going to need. So you can go down a long list, and everybody keeps coming up with the same solution or the same recommendation of where we need to focus, get more people comfortable with it. With that, I forgot what your question was.
Folwell: Oh, just, I mean, digging into the why are so many people leaving?
Wolfe: Oh, yeah, why….
Folwell: Yeah, the underlying, what are your thoughts on the Great Resignation?
Wolfe: Well, I wrote a book, and it’s not that I was right or that I wanted to be right, but 22 years ago I was presenting, I started to think about…we were in a similar situation where we didn’t have resignations as much, or at least they didn’t recognize it as that, but there were massive labor shortages. We couldn’t find people. It was the dot-com boom right before the bust.
And everybody was blaming, at that point, Gen X. It was like, “Oh, the Gen X is lazy.” And then it became the millennials just a few years later. And now, it’s Gen Z is that’s the problem.
But there were a whole bunch of events that were happening all the way from participation rates to women entering the workplace to education to caregiving and childcare. I mean, things that we in 2020 sort of hit the fan. As the subtitle of my book says, “When the Shift Hits Your Plan.” And it was a shift that hit everybody’s plan.
So The Perfect Labor Storm sort of said, “Hey, we’re going to have a significant shortage in 20 years.” McKinsey said, “We’re going to have a significant labor shortage in 20 years.” And the pandemic didn’t cause it, but it pulled the curtain back. It was a series of events that we’re experiencing now that if you ask somebody, “What is it? What’s causing young people not to want to work or older people? What happened to all the workers?” Which is another way to phrase that, where has everybody gone? And it was just whittling away at multiple things.
So just a few things your listeners may not be aware of. The participation rate for men, meaning the number of working-age men who actually held a job has been declining for 70 years. In 1950, four out of five men worked. In fact, it was 82% of working-age men, prime-age, working-age men, held a job. Today, it’s 62%.
Folwell: That’s wild.
Wolfe: So…they go, “Well, what happened to them?” Well, it’s a gradual thing. And part of it happened to be education because more women started to go to college and less men went to college. So it used to be that about 10% of college graduates, not in my lifetime, but right before that, but like in the 1950s, that nine out of 10 college students happened to be men.
In fact, you couldn’t even go to an Ivy League School. You couldn’t go to a military academy. You couldn’t go to some of the best schools because they were male. They were men. And that’s where you got your education. Over those 70 years, now women make up 60% of all the college graduates.
So over time is the less blue-collar, manual labor jobs that you needed more than a high school education and a trade to get a good job. There was a major shift, and women came into the workplace and men exited.
The other parts are little things that’s just whittling away in little amounts. So there’s a million males incarcerated. They can’t work, or they can, but they’re not, or at least they’re not working in the jobs that you want them to work in.
Another one is two million – and this just came out through a couple studies – out of the three million frontline jobs that are open, two million of them used to be filled with immigrants.
Wolfe: And we have zero immigration, so now you took two million people out of the workforce that used to work, and we won’t get into a whole debate whether good or bad, those jobs were filled, but now they’re not, and they were never filled. It’s not that people, U.S. citizens who could work, we took those jobs away. As many people said, “We can’t fill them if we don’t have the immigrants.” And so, that’s another two million.
There’s like 880,000 men who are addicted to opioids. They’re out of the workplace. And now, some of those are in jail, so some of those overlap. But you keep seeing, okay, a million here, a million there.
And then, last year we lost a million and a half Baby Boomers. In fact, we lost two million Baby Boomers. We lost a million and a half who just retired, just said, “I’ve had enough. I’m out of here.” And another 500,000 in one form or another, either were disabled or died with COVID. So we took out two million Baby Boomers in the last year. So just in what? Two or three minutes, I railed off where five million workers went.
Folwell: That’s wild.
Wolfe: That’s why we don’t have any workers. The reality is all those were on the fringes, and they were just little pieces that happened over the last number of years. But we have a high rate of jobs. We have a lot of job openings. We have the mismatch in education. That’s the perfect labor storm. It’s all these effects that are converging on there.
So it absolutely was no surprise. What was the surprise is that the pandemic happened. Obviously, I don’t know if you listen to Bill Gates, I guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Wolfe: We knew something was going to happen to that effect.
Folwell: Something sometimes.
Wolfe: Yeah, but 2020 rolled around, and it just ripped the Band-Aid off. I mean, we’ve been talking about shortages with chips and logistics and problems with transportation and supply chain issues. And all of a sudden, when you have this crisis and you lose five million people or close to 10 million people out of the workforce for one reason or another, there’s just no way to get everything done that we wanted to get done to sustain the life that we had.
And then, the economy grew. I mean, despite there’s a lot of people that are in sad shape and we need to fix that, but the market was good. The economy’s growing. Reports just came out recently, over 6.6% growth, though it’s probably going to slow.
But the economists, I have a podcast as well, and we interview a lot of people. And at the end of the year, we always interview a couple economists, and every one of them said, “It’s going to slow, but we’re going to still grow.” Well, if you’re still growing, it means that you may have fewer job openings, but they don’t go away, companies are so far behind the eight ball with job openings.
And then when you go back to toxic cultures, the pandemic and being at home, changing our lifestyles, people would talk about the Great Evaluation, the Great Reflection, the Great Reshuffle. I mean, it has a name for it, and people just said, “I’m not going to commute five days a week anymore. I’m not going to work for a crappy boss anymore. I found some other options.”
I think going somewhat around your question is the Great Resignation, partly it’s a change in attitude from people. Part of it’s a shift, a generational shift, that generational shift finally happened. The Boomers are finally are getting out of the way for one reason or another and Gen Z and the millennials now make up, which is 40-ish and under, now make up well more than half the working population. In fact, it’s about 60% now.
So we had all these shifts going on, but the one thing that certainly has changed for everybody is this desire for…flexibility is a broad word, but to have a life, to have a life. And people just got fed up, and they’re not going to take toxic bosses, toxic cultures, and low wages, unless you have to. Apparently, not everybody has to do that.
Folwell: You don’t have to right now.
Wolfe: Yeah. And I don’t think that’s going away. I think companies are going to be forced to do that. There’s certainly always going to be companies that are at the bottom 10%. There’s going to be people that are willing to accept those jobs because they don’t want to change and they don’t want to flex and they don’t want to learn anything new and whatever.
But as a whole, of companies, certainly the people that are probably listening to this podcast and listening to you, the people that are at least want to improve…they’re good people. They want to take care of their families. They want to learn. They may not be with you for the rest of your life, but they’re good people and they want to work hard when they’re with you and learn new things.
You’re not going to have any chance of finding those if you just keep doing things the old way. Those days, they should have been gone a long time ago, but they’re going to definitely change now.
Folwell: You’ve got me thinking about some stats that I pulled for this conversation a little bit differently. I was looking at Fast Company, so in the last few days they had an article about the top reasons why people are leaving their job. Number one was no appreciation. Number two, bad supervisor. Number three was no freedom of expression.
What’s interesting is I actually now thinking about that in terms of adaptability, I also could see how that could be an underlying cause for…it’s like, “All right, well, you’re not… I just made all of these changes, and you’re not appreciating me more than you did before, even though I just changed all these things.” And I think so many things are changing in the workforce right now.
So with all of those stats, all of that information you just shared, do you think there’s an end to the labor shortage? Do you think there’s a route? Is this the foreseeable future from where you sit?
Wolfe: Well, there was two questions in there. One, is there an end to the labor shortage? And there’s a simple answer – no. Not in my lifetime anyway, but certainly not anything that’s coming up pretty quickly. Companies just need to be better at it. I mean, there’s certainly going to be automation that’s going to supplant some of this.
But just as if you look at probably one of the most automated companies in the world, which is Amazon, I mean, they literally bought the robot company.
Wolfe: I mean, years ago they bought Kiva. Here was the up and coming robot company, Amazon says, “Oh, we’re going to buy you, and we’re going to do this.” So you look at an Amazon warehouse, and it’s like, well, everything’s done by robots, except you’re hiring hundreds of thousands of people. Now they’re paying them $20 to $30 an hour to start. So how does that come back?
Well, you still need people. It’s still not 100% automated. But you need people to build the robots, you need people to maintain the robots, and you need people to repair the robots. But those aren’t the jobs that we used to have. You can’t take the server from the little cafe that just closed down, the barista, and put them in robotics. It’s just not going to work.
Now, some you could. Some are working both jobs part-time. You can’t put them in ICU. You can’t put them in an emergency room where we need jobs. So we have all these skills. We have a shifting economy. It’s growing. It’s getting much more complex.
I talk about the three laws, I call them the “Three Immutable Laws of our Future”. One is that we’re living in a world that’s going to move faster than we ever expected, and it’s going to become really, really difficult to catch up.
The second one is that we’ve shifted from a complicated world to a complex world, and nothing will ever feel as simple as it used to be. Now, my grandparents used to say that. My parents used to say that. And now, I’m of that age as a grandparent that I can be saying that, but it’s true. I mean, nothing will ever be as simple as it used to be and complicated.
And this is huge when it comes to HR, and we’re staffing for businesses. Businesses would talk about they follow best practices. Everybody wants to know what are the best practices? We’re going to have the best practices. Well, best practices work only in a simple world. If I do A, B happens.
So for the last, most of my adult life or the last 30 years, while we talk about best practices, they were just good practices because they needed to change. They were good because they helped us follow. But complicated is if something doesn’t work, they talk about like building a rocket ship seems complex, but it’s not, because it’s a series of parts. And if something doesn’t work, you take out that part, and you replace it, if you know what the process is. So there are good practices.
Living in a complex world requires that we have emerging practices, and that’s scary because people want to know, well, we’re not pioneers. We’re just a small business. We’re just in staffing. We’re in a rural area. We’re not the leaders. Whatever anybody promotes and has out there is a practice that worked for them that day, that month, that last quarter, but it’s always got to be tweaked. So we’re going to live in a world of emerging practices, good practices, but the important word, the key word of that is emerging.
Which leads to the third rule, so first is life is going to change faster than we ever expected, and we’re living on that exponential curve. Second is life will never be as simple as it was yesterday, or it’ll be more complex than it ever was. And the third is we’re addicted to certainty.
There’s so much written, there’s a Harvard Business Review article that came out maybe in August or September. And it says our brains weren’t hired for this much uncertainty. And it went back and over time we had this thing about normal. We like stability. What do they call it? We are uncertainty adverse, so I think was the term they used. We like the routine. We like the routine.
We like knowing that, hey, even though we hated our job, we know that we got up, we took this path. We stopped at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee on the way. We got there. There were familiar people. We knew where our desk was. We liked that routine, and all of a sudden that was completely upended.
And our brains, just over history, had nothing to do with work, it just had to do with everything that we were focused on this normal period. And normal, for a lot of people, maybe it was decades, maybe it was just years, and that’s shrinking. We are almost moving, and I know we’ve got listeners here, so I’m trying to create a visual for them, in the past, you had a past and you had the present, and the present could be days, weeks, months, or years. We fell into that routine.
And then, we had a future, which we dreamed about. And then, in our grandparents’ time and prior times before that, they were really distinct times. I mean, people could have a routine for 30 years, for 40 years.
Folwell: Same job for 30, 40 years.
Wolfe: Go to the same jobs, live in the same house. My father-in-law unfortunately passed away this year. He lived in the same house since 1950. So I talk to people, and they beat me out. “My parents lived in the same house for 100 years,” or the kids moved into that house, so the house was still in place. Those memories were still in place.
The challenge we have is now that present day, which is what we would say is our normal, that present day almost doesn’t exist. We almost live in a world where we move from the past to an emerging future. It’s like today is like the first day of what our future’s going to be, and tomorrow is going to be the first day of what our future’s going to be. It’s a moving timeline.
And we’re used to having past, present, and future. When the present shrinks of a consistency or a norm, somewhat of a serene period, you just move from the past to the future. And that’s terrifying for people. I have that in my description on LinkedIn, I’m fascinated and terrified by change. And fortunately, I’m fascinated. Most people are just terrified by it.
Which goes back to what you talked about earlier about hope, about the positive part is that despite the fact that there are things that just terrify the crap out of me, I don’t like the politics, I don’t like the direction that things are moving. I think that we have some real ethical issues, whether it’s climate change or leadership or women, people of color. I mean, in HR, there’s a whole, so many issues that we need to resolve, and we need to get our head straight.
But I don’t wake up in the morning completely depressed and overwhelmed. I get up and I’m anxious to get to my job and I check things out and I start writing and I start thinking about things. And here I am as an older Baby Boomer, and I’ve got three projects on the table. My friends think I’m crazy.
I’m probably the exception, but I have so many people that I know that retired in the last two years, retired at the end of the last year and said, “No, I’ve had enough. We’re going to just do our thing.” And here I am with like three projects that I’ve made pretty significant investments in for the future. It’s not to stay alive. I mean, I can stop right now, and retire, and I’d have a comfortable life. I’m still investing in it.
So how does that happen? What’s my makeup? And I guess I’m trying to figure out my own self to figure out how do I think that way, and how can I get other people to see that way? And there’s a lot of study on positivity, and I’m not a big positivity guy. I mean, I know about it. I understand it, but it’s not that I said, “Oh, that really resonates, and I’m going to get into it.”
It just happens that when I talk about it, someone like you says, “Hey, does this fit into your world?” And I go, “Yeah, it does,” but I didn’t come from that background. I just was doing it. And now I’m trying to figure out why? Why aren’t I terrified? Why aren’t I like every grouchy, old guy that’s complaining about how miserable the world is and how young people are screwing it up? When actually it’s us, it’s the Baby Boomers that screwed it up.
Folwell: Well, all of what you just said resonates with me in a very meaningful way. And as you were talking about it, talking about the need for certainty, the fact that we’re focused on, we’re always thinking about the future, with the anxiety side of things, how do you recommend getting through that? What advice do you have for our listeners to shift so that they are either accepting of it or being more present in the moment?
Wolfe: It’s a great question, and it’s emerging.
Folwell: Right. If you got a simple answer to that, I would’ve been blown away.
Wolfe: Yeah, I don’t know if it’s a simple answer, but it’s a blueprint. There’s a framework. And I was introduced to a group from the UK just a few years ago, and they were doing a lot of research on this. And at the time was, “That’s really interesting. That would be good.” And then the pandemic hit, and then all these things sort of fell into place.
But they did research, and they were looking at the future, and they were trying to think of how do you make people ready for the future, change-ready? How do you get them comfortable with it?
What they identified were these 15 dimensions, which makes up this Adaptability Quotient. But the framework, the model is just fascinating. So they looked at it and said, “Well, there’s five personal abilities that we need to develop to become better.” And you’ve heard a lot about these, and two of them are grit and resilience.
pAnd people say, “Well, if you have more grit, then you can do it. Just keep your head down, just keep plowing ahead. You’ll get through it. We’ve lived through this before. It’s tough.” And endurance and perseverance is good. I mean, we need to keep our head down, and we need to work hard. We’re still going to have to do that. And then, we’re going to get knocked down, and therefore we need resilience. We need to bounce back, and we need to bounce back quickly. And people rely on those two.
The problem with that is, the one thing they found in the study, was that the more grit you have, the lower is another dimension, and the other dimension is unlearning. And what is unlearning is the ability to let go and stop doing what’s not working anymore. It’s saying, “Well, I did this for 20 years,” or, “I’ve done this for 30 years, and look where it got me,” and then go, “Yeah, but it’s not going to get you to the next 10 years. It’s not going to get you to the next year.”
And so you have grit and resilience, and then the additional dimensions happen to be unlearning. In order to have unlearning, you have to be willing to learn new things. You need to be able to have an open mind. You’re going to make some mistakes. We’re not going to be perfect, which means we need a growth mindset. So growth mindset is the fourth personal dimension.
And then mental flexibility, and this is huge because it’s dealing with cognitive dissonance, but it’s also dealing with misinformation. As I said, turn on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News simultaneously, and your head will explode, except if you actually do it, and you have mental flexibility, it’s like, can I draw, not the differences, but similarities? What are they saying? And maybe it’s an opposite viewpoint and you don’t like it, but maybe there’s some truth in that.
So to be able to pull back and look at all this information that’s going on there, and especially the misinformation, and be able to figure out which is which, and also then to aggregate it all is mental flexibility. That’s a difficult one. I mean, I’m not going to go into that because that, to me, may turn out to be the most important, but it’s going to be the most challenging for people to deal with.
But grit and resilience, how can you help people? The nice thing about, not the nice thing, but the important thing, about the abilities is they truly are our abilities. You can teach people how to become more gritty, to become more resilient, to have a growth mindset, how to unlearn. And you can really teach people how to have a greater mental flexibility.
Now, with that said, that’s how we can help individuals, but in order for that to happen and why many companies are losing the people, why they have this Great Resignation, is they may have these people who are ready to change, and they probably are ready to change because they’re quitting their jobs and they’re ready to change. So the test is do these people have some adaptability?
How well they’re going to do in their future, we don’t know. But they have that gumption, they have that initiative to say, “Hey, I’m hopeful that the next job that I take in a different place is going to be better than the one I had.”
For companies to stem that flow, to keep the people that they want to keep, they need to create an environment that helps. And one of the measures is company support. And I can tell you, from the surveys that we’ve done within companies…and definition of company support, a real simple definition is, “Do the employees feel that management has their back?” And I can tell you the answer is not really.
It’s not really to absolutely no. We don’t feel that. I’ve seen scores, on a percentile basis, I mean, I’ve seen companies with 25%, 30%, 40%, 60%, or 70% of the company doesn’t feel that you have your back, which also goes in line with what Gallup has been telling us for 30 years, 70% of the workers are disengaged.
I mean, this isn’t new. So we’re just spinning the words and saying, “Okay, it comes from company support.” Again, the pandemic just pulled the curtain back. So you have company support, you have team support, which is how do they feel working with the team? If something happens, will my team members support me? Will they help me out? Will they cover for me in a legal way, you know?
Folwell: Yeah, yeah.
Wolfe: Will they be there? Now, fortunately, that’s higher in most places, depending on the departments or that may have to do with the manager as well. But company support’s super critical. Team support is important, but it’s not as in bad shape as company support.
Then we look at emotional health as another dimension, where is everybody’s head? Do they feel okay, or what’s their wellbeing like? It’s a pulse check. And as you can imagine, a lot of people are on shaky ground there. We look at the work environment and work environments, this is really important of how do you get people to change? Have we created a psychologically safe space?
Do they feel it’s okay to say, “I’m struggling” or, “I have an idea”, “I don’t agree with that”? What happens if they do that? Are there policies and processes in place to be able to do that? And then, how well they’re actually responding is the emotional health.
And then, the fifth one looks at the job stress or work stress, how stressful is their job? Now, every job has some stress in there. So we’re not trying to take it down to zero, where that’s not an ideal. Actually, ideal is somewhere like in 40 or 50, but there’s enough stress because that’s healthy stimulation.
One of the companies that I just worked with had three or four people, it was only a team of 10… It was three or four were like in the 90s. Two of them were 98% on the stress scale. The 50 is okay, but 98 is completely and utterly overwhelmed and ready to crash.
And while, now, interesting to know the people who had 98 also had high grit, so they’re not quitters. The problem with somebody who’s high grit and working in a 98% stressful job, eventually has medical problems, health problems, or completely burns out.
So kind of where can we get go with this? Companies need to look…real quickly, I mean, this is like a 20-minute survey, what do people think about your environment? Is it supportive of them to help change? If they’re struggling, they could be struggling, but at least they feel that there’s support and they’re going to stay with you. If they don’t feel there’s support, “Well, I’m going to go find some place else where I think there’s going to be support.”
But we also need to help the individuals, and that’s what the McKinseys and the World Economic Forum and the Deloittes are talking about. That’s the reskilling and upskilling. That’s when Yuval Noah Harari says, “Adaptability…. ” By the way, Daniel Goleman, who most people will recognize from Emotional Intelligence, over the last 20 years, he’s identified the adaptability competence as the number-one competence for career satisfaction, life satisfaction, and career success.
Wolfe: So it all comes back to adaptability as how do you…if you can help people become more successful. And going back to the old Industrial Age, going back 40 or 50 years, is that well, we don’t want to help people become more successful because then they’ll quit. If you stick with us for two or three years, then yeah, then we’ll talk about maybe we can help you, or we’re going to train you. And now, it’s how do we train people to be more comfortable, so they stay because they value that relationship?
They may not stay for a lifetime, but they’re going to value that of what you’re doing for them because if you can help them adapt to the changes at work, those are transferable skills that they can take home, and they can adapt their new, their personal style, their lifestyle. They can help their children. They can help their spouses. They can help their aging parents. Whatever it is, is they have the ability to deal with personal skills.
So that’s the direction it needs to go. And that’s why I’m hopeful, and that’s why I also know there’s millions of people that are struggling. And fortunately, there are some leaders that recognize the need that that’s the path, and we hope to work with them.
People that think it’s going back to normal, we’re going to get back to the way it was, and these labor shortages, I’ve lived through multiple times, and they’re going to go away, you’re living a pipe dream. It’s just not going to happen.
Folwell: Yeah, there’s a lot of insight there. And one area, I’ve been thinking about adaptability. You and I talked previously about the whole concept of the growth mindset. How does the growth mindset…I know you’re doing some work on, I think I called it a course incorrectly. I don’t remember. Tell me about how the growth mindset can help with that, and what are some of the things that you’re doing to help people in this front?
Wolfe: Right. So it’s not a course in the sense that you sit through a bunch of classes and we’ll sit through some webinars or some classes, and then at the end of that, it’s like, you get a certificate, and it’s like, “Oh, I got a growth mindset.” It’s a mindset that’s going to change.
This is about coaching. I’m a strong believer, especially over the years, I wasn’t this way in the past, but it’s about micro-learning. What are those moments in time? How do you reinforce somebody rather than sitting them down for three hours or six hours, and then at the end of the day, and go, “Okay, now practice these every day. Create your journal and do that,” And they’re off, and then it gets buried as soon as they get back to work.
So we, based on those five dimensions, and we selected growth mindset to do it first. We’re going to have a 30…it’s going to take 30 days. It’s going to be once a month. But essentially 20 messages, 20 days during the week, people will be contacted either by email or text. And each day there will be either an exercise or a video or an article, something to just get them to think about growth mindset.
Again, we’re taking the old metaphor, the old story was how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you fix adaptability? It’s going to be one bite at a time. So we chose growth mindset because that seems to be an impetus, a catalyst for a couple of these other things. If you improve growth mindset, then you’re probably going to be a little freer to unlearn. Hopefully, that improves your resilience.
So one thing leads to the other, and we can kind of cover multiple ones, but we’re going to do this growth mindset. It’s going to be a 30-day subscription. It’s all going to be online. We’re going to have some things that you can get support through that. We may do some webinars involved around that.
But it could be a completely hands-off approach that a company can say, “Hey, this is our focus. We want to help our managers, and we want to help our employees develop this growth mindset. That’s on the initiative.” That was actually, in the bank we used, that was their initiative for the year was growth mindset.
And then, they can get subscriptions. And for over a month, they’re going to get 20 different messages and exercises and reminders and some journals, some accountability, and some feedback. We’re going to be building into that. And then we’re going to build it out for resilience, and we’re going to build it out for unlearning and grit. And then probably the final one we’ll tackle is mental flexibility.
Then we’re going to flip it, and we’re also going to go to the side of, for leaders, what can they do to improve company support? What can they do to improve the emotional health of their employees? But we just started with the growth mindset. We’re actually going to be beta testing it the next few weeks, and then hopefully in March or April, we’re going to invite the first cohorts into there.
Folwell: I absolutely love all of that. If you need beta testers, sign me up, so that’s very cool.
Wolfe: We do. I’m going to put you down. I’m going to do it. We’re doing it probably in the next week or so. I’d love to have the feedback.
Folwell: Right in my alley. Yeah, I love this stuff.
Wolfe: That’s great.
Folwell: Yeah. Well, with that, I know we’re kind of rounding the corner on time. So I’m going to jump into the last section of questions here. So a little bit more personal questions. What advice do you wish you were given before entering your profession? And you could go, I guess on this one with your dentistry or your second phase of your profession.
Wolfe: Well, it certainly fits into this conversation. It’s okay to, I won’t say to quit, it’s okay to change. I stuck with dentistry much longer than I should have. Now, I will tell you that it was very, very successful. I had a comfortable lifestyle doing it, and I was good at it, and I learned a lot. But I was afraid of making that change. What will people think? I made that investment. It’s a sink cost thing.
I wish somebody told me that they support it rather than, “Why are you quitting? What are you going to do?” I wished I had surrounded myself with some people…and sometimes you can’t choose your relatives and be able do that. But I wish I had listened to some people that go, “It’s okay. You can do it.”
And again, I had a good friend that said, “No matter whatever you do, you’ll be okay.” And I was like, “Yeah, I know that.” But I still, I invested all this time and money and effort and people think of me as a dentist. What am I going to call myself if I leave? So that’s the one piece of advice that I wish I had gotten probably 30 or 40 years ago.
Folwell: Awesome. In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Wolfe: Adaptability. There’s no question. I’ve learned so much from doing this. I mean, it’s changed my perspective, very much so. And it gave me a framework, and not that I’ve changed my attitude because I was always hopeful and I knew the entrepreneur spirit. When everybody else was retiring, I was still figuring out how to grow and learn.
And I got my master’s degree, and I think I was 58 when I got my master’s degree, when I finished. People said, “Why are you doing that? You already have a doctor, and you got a bachelor’s. You’re successful. Why would you need that?” And I enjoyed that experience. And then now it allows me to actually teach a master’s program in school.
But yeah, but I didn’t have a framework, I was just doing it. I was just sort of winging at life. And this says, “Okay, here’s what I need to personally be able to work on. And then, how can I…if I’m going to mentor other people and I want to share that message rather than just saying, “I don’t know how I got here. I just did,” it gave me a model to actually help other people and mentor and coach them to get there.
Folwell: Awesome. And what is the book or books you’ve given most as a gift and why?
Wolfe: Well, I’ve given most of mine, most books are Recruiting in the Age of Googlization.
Folwell: I could see it in your background. I was like this is a layup.
Wolfe: So Recruiting in the Age, and prior to that, it was Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization and The Perfect Labor Storm. The one I recommended most recently is The Adaptation Advantage. There’s actually two of them that I’ve literally given away, or at least recommend to everybody, is The Adaptation Advantage. It’s really an excellent book.
And we were talking a little bit about that because there’s actually a chapter or two in there that talks about how we destroy our kids because as soon as they’re…I got a three-year-old grandson running around upstairs, and somebody’s going to be, “Well, what do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s like how are they going to….
And then you have to stick with it. That’s what happened to me in fifth grade. Somebody, my teacher said, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” And it got around, I was a “W”, I’m at the end of the alphabet, so everybody gave these things. And I said, “I’m going to be a dentist.” And it was like then I was too stubborn to change that.
Or the first thing you do when you go to a party, what do you ask somebody? “What do you do?” And they give you their job title. It’s so paralyzing, and it’s so confining. So The Adaptation Advantage is well beyond that. But those two chapters, or that chapter that’s focused on that, is really, really valuable for everybody.
The other book, again, there’s so many, I’ve got piles of them here. The other one that I highly recommend is The Disruption Mindset. And it’s by Charlene Li, L-I, is her last name. It’s about the difference between disruptive and disruption. And there’s a difference.
And we keep talking about transformation and what does that look like? But she, again, she talks about different types of leaders, different mindsets, so we all talk about the same…it’s nothing new. We just talk about it in different ways, and whose story resonates the most. So I applaud them, I mean, they frame it in a slightly different way than I do. But I’ve learned so much from those two books.
The other book that I always found interesting, and this is old, which is Blue Ocean Strategy or Blue Ocean Today.
Folwell: That’s a great one.
Wolfe: Yeah. And again, I was using that in my class just to get people to stop swimming in the red ocean, so we have to lower our prices or do something creative. And it’s like, “Why don’t you just swim where everybody’s not swimming?”
Folwell: Change it up.
Folwell: I love it. That’s great.
Wolfe: Those are two or three, they sit at the top of my pile.
Folwell: Awesome. And then last question I’ve got for you is what is an unusual habit or absurd thing that you love?
Wolfe: Oh, that’s an interesting one. Weird habit, I don’t know. My wife says I’m always weird. I guess the one that seems to surprise people, I don’t think it’s weird, I’ll work out at the end of the day. It’s the end. It forces me, if I don’t do it, I’m not going to exercise. But we’ll eat dinner at 9:00, 10:00, 10:30 at night. Now, we stay up until 1:00.
Folwell: You’re a night owl.
Wolfe: I mean, people say, “You shouldn’t eat so late and go to bed.” The reality is we have a lot of friends that eat dinner at 6:00, and they go to bed at 8:00 or 8:30, 9:00. So we’re on a 10:00 dinner, I guess that’s European, 10:00 dinner, and we go to bed at 12:00 or 1:00. We don’t think it’s weird. People find that weird.
Folwell: I’ve been on that schedule for many moments in my life. So with that, any closing comments for the audience?
Wolfe: Again, I think there’s so much opportunity out there, and it’s going to be troubling. We have to become comfortable being uncomfortable, which is, I guess, my message. And I appreciate the opportunity to be here and to share how we might do that or how people might do that.
But again, there’s so much opportunity out there. It’s kind of exciting. Hopefully, I’m around to see a lot of the things that we thought were…we didn’t see the Jetsons. We haven’t had the flying cars yet, but if Elon Musk keeps up, we’ve….
Folwell: We’re close.
Wolfe: Yeah, we’re close. But there’s so many good things about it. And I guess one of my pieces of advice, and we didn’t talk about this, was if you roll the clock back just five years or let’s say 10 to be safe, and this pandemic happened in 2012, that how we complain about technology, we complain about Zoom. We complain about all the fatigue. Where would we have been without all this technology, and including the vaccine. We’re not going to get into a debate about the vaccines or not, but basically we created a vaccine in just a few months because of technology, because of sciences.
So if we want cures for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and cancer and better education and more better life work balance or integration, whatever you want to call it, technology can help us get there. But we also have to be more human on the way.
Folwell: Great insights, great conversation with you today, Ira. I really, really appreciate you joining us, and thank you so much.
Wolfe: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.