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Former NFL Athlete Turned CEO Offers Leadership And Work-Life Balance Solutions That Help Teams Thrive

Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Helping Today’s Workforce Thrive”

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During the past months of the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been thousands of articles published about the new challenges employees are facing regarding work-life balance and juggling all that has been added to their plates. And many of us have directly experienced the physical and emotional toll it is taking.

As a career and leadership coach, I’m speaking virtually every day with clients and course members who are struggling to get everything done that needs to be accomplished, including keeping: 1) their families afloat, 2) their children’s remote schooling on track, 3) their financial situation stable, 4) their elderly parents’ care effective, and 5) their own jobs secure. 

Unfortunately, many of the strategies and recommendations we hear from corporate leaders are just too little too late and too superficial, unable to make a real difference in supporting professionals’ emotional and physical well-being during these unprecedented times.

To learn more about what leaders and managers can do differently to effectively increase employees’ work-life balance and wellness, I caught up with Mike Morini, former NFL athlete and current CEO of WorkForce Software which was recently named as a top (rated #15) work-life balance organization in Comparably’s List of Top 100 Companies for Work-Life Balance.

Morini is a 30+ year software veteran experienced in scaling enterprise software companies. He has helped shape and guide multiple fast-growth companies in the cloud arena including holding previous CEO, President and COO positions at SAP, Aria Systems, OutlookSoft, InterWorld, and Verbind.

WorkForce Software is a leading global provider of cloud-based workforce management solutions with a solution that adapts organizations’ needs, aimed to deliver breakthrough employee experiences no matter how unique the organizations’ pay rules, labor regulations, schedules, and employee self-service needs are.

Here’s what Morini shares:

Kathy Caprino: Mike, you came from a career in the NFL and then led several companies before stepping into the role of CEO at WorkForce Software. What are the most valuable leadership lessons you’ve learned from those experiences?

Mike Morini: Some of the most important lessons I’ve gleaned from my NFL career and my corporate roles include:

Teamwork

Competitive sports teach you that you have to rely on a team to win. You can’t do it on your own. In business, you don’t always manage the resources you need to work with to be successful. You need to demonstrate leadership qualities and lead by example so people will want to follow you and support you in your work.

Preparedness

Athletes run plays over and over until they get them right and you need to be just as prepared in business. Did you do your homework before the customer meeting?  Did you do at least one dry run of your proposal or demo? Did you assemble and analyze all the facts to back up your recommendations before you presented them to your boss? I am always prepared before I walk into any customer meeting or board meeting and I expect the same from my team.

Flexibility and agility

Things are always changing. In football, you can run a play many different ways depending on how your opponent reacts. You need to have that same flexibility in business. Be prepared for all possible scenarios and ready to pivot as needed. Don’t get stuck because you are convinced you have the right approach or you have already invested a lot of time. 

Key lessons from failure

No matter how well prepared you are and how well you execute, you still might lose. Take the time to review mistakes and understand what went wrong. You will always learn more from your failures than your wins.

Caprino: A company is only as strong as its people but finding strong talent can be a challenge. What are the qualities you look for most in candidates for new roles or promotions?

Morini: The #1 thing I look for is a self-starter. Candidates need to demonstrate initiative, but they also need to be team players. You have to be willing to collaborate and work with a team to get things done.

There is one question I ask in every interview, “Do you hate losing more than you love winning or do you love winning more than you hate losing”?

I believe that someone who hates losing more than they love winning will work harder to make sure they don’t lose. They don’t take winning for granted, they know what it takes to win, and they are more likely to learn from their losses. 

I also believe in celebrating success, and it is one of the core values I prioritize at WorkForce Software. We don’t want to be so wrapped up in trying not to lose that we don’t celebrate our wins. 

Caprino: A strong corporate culture has become a priority for many employees and leaders alike. What are the steps that you suggest leaders take to build a strong, positive culture? Conversely, how can employees help foster a great work environment?

Morini: Transparency is the most important thing a leader can do to foster a good corporate culture; communicate openly and frequently. People need to know what is going on in the business—the good, the bad, and the ugly—so they know that you are all in it together. 

When employees don’t know what is happening or why decisions are being made, you can lose their trust. If your team doesn’t trust you, they won’t do their best work, and everyone loses. But with transparency comes accountability. When everyone knows what you are doing, you have to follow through and make it happen.

Leaders also need to lead with empathy, especially now that our work and personal lives are more blended than ever. What is going on in employees’ lives greatly impacts their work. Leaders should give people flexibility to manage all of the new responsibilities and stressors that 2020 created. When your team knows you are encouraging them to take time to re-charge, they will be loyal and work harder for you.

Also, it’s important to take full advantage of video calls. You can really see what is going on with people when you are meeting face-to-face, and since we can’t meet in person, video is the next best thing. Meeting face-to-face helps build that trust and transparency with my team. We are a causal company, so if someone shows up in a hoodie and hat after a workout, that works for me.

Overall, my advice for employees is the same. Stay engaged. Communicate and be transparent with your manager and with your team. Don’t disappear. If your manager has put trust in you, show them that you deserve their trust. If you are not happy about something, speak up. Let your manager know and get it out on the table and talk about it. If you let things fester or complain without trying to resolve the issue, things won’t get better. Sometimes companies are doing the best they can for their employees, but everything still isn’t perfect. Focus on the positive and your experience will be much better.

Caprino: What are the most valuable lessons you have learned from your key mentors, and how are you passing those on to the other people you work with?

Morini: My football coach Fred Dunlap was one of my first mentors. He clearly communicated what he expected from the team and if someone put in the work, he gave them the opportunity to succeed. 

Larry McTavish, whom I worked for about 20 years ago, was another strong mentor. He was the first boss who ever told me to slow down and took the time to give me feedback. I had good instincts and was a strong sales guy, but I was emotional, moved quickly, and didn’t always have data to back up my decisions. We were about to make some big pivots in the business and Larry could see that my style was not going to keep working. He took the time to sit with me and guided me on where I needed to improve. 

Both of those mentors taught me that transparency and clear expectations are critical leadership skills. I also learned from Larry that it’s important to make data-driven decisions. People who work for me know where they stand. When I like what you are doing, you know it and when I don’t like what you’re doing, you know it. If you set clear expectations as a leader, it is easier to explain exactly why things are or are not working. 

Caprino: With remote work, everyone is facing new and different challenges as they balance their professional responsibilities with family and other obligations. As a CEO, how are you leading WorkForce Software to support its team during these challenging times?

Morini: People are juggling a lot right now and the lines between work and personal life are getting blurred. We know how hard this can be on everyone’s mental health. Some people are juggling childcare and home schooling and others are working more than they should because they aren’t able to go out and socialize. 

Some of the key strategies we’ve implemented to support our employees include:

Unlimited vacation

At WorkForce, we encourage people to take the time off they need, as long as they are still accountable to get their jobs done. It’s sometimes hard to remember to take time off when you can’t leave your home, but everyone needs to re-charge so they can do their best work.

Flex time to take care of families

We realize that people might have to adjust their schedules to take care of their families, and we encourage them to take the time they need to put their families first. We ask people to make sure they aren’t abandoning a critical customer situation and are getting their jobs done, but they can make it work on their time. I bring this up at every company meeting and make sure all leaders are sending the same message.

Story-time program for families

This summer, we implemented a weekly story-time program, where an executive reads a story to our employees’ families (remotely) to give them a break in their day. It was a huge hit and our employees appreciated the personal connection with our leadership team.

Charity partnerships that infuse excitement and meaning

We later expanded the program to include one of our charity partners Merging Vets and Players (MVP). This involved bringing in professional athletes from the MVP program to read some stories as surprise guests, which made the story time even more special.

WorkForce really wanted to show our hardworking team the support they deserve and empathize with the situation many are facing.

Fitness reimbursement for equipment and gym memberships

As a former athlete, working out is still a big part of my life and it’s important for everyone to stay healthy to help manage their stress. We have a fitness reimbursement program that has been used primarily for gym memberships. We expanded the program to include at home fitness equipment this year so employees could keep up their fitness routines at home.

We are so proud of being rated #15 on Comparably’s list of Top 100 Companies for Work-Balance, because it shows that our investment in benefits like unlimited time off, fitness reimbursements, and the flexibility and trust we have built into our culture are appreciated by our employees and help them achieve their work-life balance.

For more information, visi www.workforcesoftware.com.

Kathy Caprino is a career and executive coach, speaker, and author of The Most Powerful You. She helps professionals build their best careers through her Career & Leadership Breakthrough programs and Finding Brave podcast. 

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