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Exit Interview by Patrick Donegan – Newsletter #55

By: Patrick Donegan

For some time, I’ve been looking for one “source” that curates modern takes on HR Tech, perspectives from the people who build it, and its impact on enterprise — something that’s tailor-made by professionals for decision-makers.

I never found it — so I decided to build it.

Every week, I’ll be sharing fresh insights on tech platforms, design, data, and the future of work — straight to your inbox.

My Thoughts

We’re already approaching the end of January, which means that most people are only days away from abandoning their New Year’s resolutions. There are a plethora of studies indicating that at least half of all resolutions are discarded by February. In fact, fitness app Strava went so far as to name January 19th “Quitter’s Day” after analyzing nearly 100 million data points from people logging workout habits through their platform.  😬 😅 

But there is one resolution I personally urge you to stick to: better people management strategies. It’s important — although it’s not always easy. If you happen to have that goal in mind, but are unsure of where to start, my most recent Forbes article about the benefits of leveraging people data is a great place to start. 😁

Market Moves

This month, water brand Liquid Death 💧 ☠️ has acquired $75 million in Series C funding, led by startup studio Science. The company, whose mission is to help you “murder your thirst” with their tallboy cans of crisp alpine water, was recently valued at $525 million. 💰 Liquid Death’s branding isn’t just strong — it’s figuratively and literally aggressive. The blood (Tony Hawk’s blood, to be specific), sweat, and tears their organic growth strategy has undoubtedly required is paying off to the tune of $45 million in profit last year, an extreme jump from $3 million in 2019. Liquid Death co-founder and CEO, Mike Cessario, has said that the latest funding round will go towards development of their new line of flavored waters, which already have names: Berry It Alive, Severed Lime, and Mango Chainsaw. 🍇 🍓 🍈

Liquid Death is far from alone when it comes to unusual names. Here are a few of my other favorites from the list of some 900 US companies currently in Unicorn status. 🦄  If you want to make a game out of it, try and guess the industry just by the name.

  • Cockroach Labs 
  • GOAT
  • Kraken (Special shoutout to one of the funding firms, Bnk To The Future)
  • Weee!
  • GupShup
  • Dremio
  • Groq
  • WHOOP
  • Thrasio
  • SambaNova Systems

Why would anyone name their company something that looks like a string of refrigerator magnet letters? 🙃 Igor Naming Agency, the brains behind Las Vegas resort Aria and several of the aforementioned Unicorn startups, has an incredibly comprehensive yet digestible explanation you can read here.

Tech Innovation at Work

In last week’s edition of Exit Interview, we discussed Microsoft’s relationship with Metaverse-as-a-Service provider Touchcast. This week, though, it was announced that Microsoft is making plans to acquire video game company Activision Blizzard 🏔️ 🎮 for a whopping $70 billion. The name Activision Blizzard may be unfamiliar, but the company is behind many of the games we know, love, and are somewhat addicted to, including Candy Crush 🍬 and Call of Duty. Microsoft has made it clear that this acquisition plan is their way of going all-in on the metaverse, which they believe will be led by the gaming industry. 🖥️

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve endured countless confusing and disjointed processes for getting tested, getting vaccinated, and then verifying our vaccination and testing records for various social activities.  Two years down the road, it looks like an alternative to the 4×4” piece of CDC-approved card stock is finally emerging. 🙌 🙌  The SMART Health Card has been steadily gaining support with both state governments and private companies, putting it at the forefront of contenders for a national, digital vaccine card. The consumer-facing app is built on an open-source computer code, a framework that enables simple adoption and scalable growth. After establishing a profile, using the SMART Health Card is as easy as scanning a QR code, a delivery method that also keeps personal information secure. At a time when more and more people are obtaining fake vaccination cards, 😷 adopting a foolproof digital vaccination system is a pressing issue for businesses and governments alike.

PHOTO: HARTFORD HEALTHCARE

The Changing Workplace

Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, has released his annual letter to CEOs for 2022. His open letters, which he’s now been penning for a decade, are revered as a sort of “State of the Union” for his firm’s portfolio companies, and have proven to be incredibly influential across the business world as a whole. Here’s the short version of each topic Fink addressed: 🙇

  • A new world of work: 🌎 the old relationship between employees and employers is completely gone, and that’s a good thing. “Workers demanding more from their employers is an essential feature of effective capitalism,” Fink writes, adding that said demands drive talent and innovation. He also highlights the need for organizations to address the racial and gender inequities within their workplace cultures. And he warns that companies who don’t adjust to this new reality “do so at their own peril.”
  • New sources of capital fueling market disruption: Banks 🏦  were once the sole gatekeeper of capital, but today’s market offers much more diverse options for startups to obtain funding. As a result, innovation is at an all-time high and small businesses have the resources to compete with established market leaders. Still, Fink warns, “…access to capital is not a right. It is a privilege. And the duty to attract that capital in a responsible and sustainable way lies with you.” ☝️ 
  • Capitalism and sustainability: perhaps the hottest take is Fink’s position on sustainability and stakeholder capitalism. He writes, “Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not ‘woke.’ It is capitalism,” Put plainly: the future of business hinges on ensuring we have a planet to exist on, so businesses must find ways to become sustainable. 🌎 😬  Fink predicts the next few years will be defined by a dramatic shift towards decarbonization goals in both established businesses and startups, as well as calling on the government to “provide clear pathways and pathways and a consistent taxonomy for sustainability policy, regulation, and disclosure across markets.”
  • Empowering clients with choice on ESG votes: in his final section, Fink advocates for more voting rights for investors, stating that Black Rock now has a proxy vote system for their portfolio companies. 📥 This final section wound up being a lead-in to an announcement that Black Rock is launching a Center for Stakeholder Capitalism, which will serve as a forum and database for stakeholders and shareholders.

You can read Larry Fink’s 2022 letter to CEOs here.

PHOTO: WORKERS WORLD

Starbucks store in Cheektowaga, NY has become the second ever to unionize. It looks like the floodgates have opened, with 17 additional stores across the country having filed to hold elections (the results of which I’ll be eagerly awaiting). As you might imagine, Starbucks has been actively combating this unionization effort for months, currently engaged in all-out text campaigns that will undoubtedly face accusations of anti-union activities. Back in September, reports surfaced of a top executive sweeping the floor at one of the pro-union Buffalo locations — presumably in a bid to humanize the top brass to workers, most of whom are fed up with the unruly customers and stressful work environments they’ve endured for almost two years now. In fact, the first ever Starbucks strike, which began when the company refused to close a store facing significant understaffing due to a COVID exposure, ended last week. I stand with Starbucks Workers United and their fight for a better, safer workplace. You should, too. ✊

Finally, I want to present this incredible piece from the New York Times. It elegantly captures what lies at the heart of the Great Resignation: jerks, be they your boss or your colleagues. Pay special attention to the part where they talk about one organization that has a formal “no assholes” rule. 😳 I’m thinking of adopting it myself!

All About Data

WorkHuman has released their 2022 Human Workplace Index  💼 📊 👱 to help companies plan for the dramatic changes in workplace expectations coming this year. Here are the highlights:

Returning to Work: 41% of employees are expecting they will work on-site five days a week. Unexpectedly, positive sentiments are very high:

  • 69% are feeling excited to meet their co-workers
  • 77% believe they will feel more connected to their colleagues
  • 75% think they will feel more connected to their managers this year

Those are high hopes — how can you avoid letting your team down?  Here’s what surveyed employees said would increase feelings of connection:

  • 36% want more mandated events (meetings, townhalls, etc.).
  • 28% want more in-person activities (hello, company happy hour).
  • 37% want more regular check-ins with their managers.
  • 32% want more recognition for their work.

New Years resolutions: When asked what workers are going to do differently in 2022, these were the top responses:

  • 55% are going to voice their opinion more often.
  • 23% are going to voice their opinion less often.
  • 34% are going to be more compassionate towards their leaders.
  • 38% are going to be more compassionate towards their colleagues.
  • 39% are going to try establishing better connections with their teams.
  • 24% are going to ask for more time off.

Oh, and if you have any resolutions, you better get on them. 56% of employees said they wouldn’t wait more than 60 days for employers to make changes before considering leaving. ⏱️ ⌛

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Patrick Donegan

Chief Strategy Officer

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