EMERGE Everywhere

Michael C. Bush: Building a 3D Workplace

For most of us, work takes up eight or more hours every weekday. Our jobs are more than just a source of income; they are often a central part of our identity and our lives. That’s why employers must see people in 3D to fully understand the need to enhance worker financial health and integrate it throughout their organizations. In this episode, Jennifer explores the importance of a supportive workplace – whether on-site or remote – with Michael Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work®.

Thursday, September 24, 2020


Michael C. Bush

Michael C. Bush

Michael C. Bush is CEO of Great Place to Work, the people analytics firm that produces the annual Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list, the World’s Best Workplaces list, the 100 Best Workplaces for Women list, the Best Workplaces for Diversity list, and dozens of other global workplace rankings.

Driven by a love of business and an unwavering commitment to fair and equitable treatment, Michael joined Great Place to Work as CEO in 2015, bringing 30 years of experience leading and growing organizations. Michael became a member of the Board of Directors at Workday, Inc. in April 2020.

Read Michael’s powerful new blog, “All Lives Don’t Matter,” and check out more episodes of EMERGE Everywhere.

Episode Transcript

Jennifer Tescher:
Welcome to Emerge Everywhere. I’m Jennifer Tescher, journalist turned financial health champion. As founder and CEO of the Financial Health Network, I’ve spent my career breaking down silos by engaging with innovators across industries. And now I’m sharing those conversations with you.
Meet the forward-thinking leaders challenging the status quo and unleashing creative new ways of improving financial health by seeing their customers, employees, and communities in 3D. My guest today has spent his career unlocking the potential in companies and people.
With a series of successful turnarounds under his belt, Michael Bush was brought into Great Place to Work in 2015 to organize the company for sale. But as a leader and a builder, he saw the possibilities of a platform that could both improve companies’ bottom lines and address workplace inequities.
Michael’s gone on to shape Great Place to Work into a force for inclusion and belonging, influencing employers around the globe. Welcome to Emerge Everywhere, Michael.

Michael Bush:
Happy to be here, Jennifer. Thank you.

Jennifer Tescher:
Excellent. No, I’m so glad to see you again on video and to talk with you. It’s been fun preparing for this conversation because while we’ve gotten to know each other a little bit in the past, I don’t think I appreciated that really much of your career prior to Great Place to Work was turning around private equity-backed businesses, which in some people’s minds means cutting costs and cutting jobs.
That’s the opposite of you and your persona. You’re a builder, you’re a grower. So tell us a little bit more about your path to this point. Where did that desire to build and rebuild companies come from and how did that lead you to a Great Place to Work?

Michael Bush:
Yeah, it’s a crazy path and a crazy story. And just the perfect example of how you don’t know what’s going to happen in your future. But it’s been a very fortunate journey for me, from my point of view. But in terms of the private equity journey, the way that I got into turning companies around was I had a consulting business that got bought.
I was running that company and then it got bought by a publicly traded company and then we did well. And so I learned something that one of my professors told me in business school that the best way to have a friend for life is to make them a lot of money. And so that’s actually what happened. And so people did well. And then people who did well invested in private equity.
And so then when they run into trouble, they knew who I was. They’d, “Hey Mike, can you come help with this?” And it was one of those after another, so totally accidental. But when they asked me to come and help, they knew who I was, which meant what I was going to do was come and try and find a way to make this business work and to make it go in a positive way.
If they wanted somebody just to slash it, I wasn’t really the person for that. There were other people who could do that. But I always knew that when a business isn’t doing well, for the most part, it’s the leader. So, that that person somehow has lost their way. So when I would come in, I would be replacing that person. And not, I came in and replaced them.
I actually replaced them. So I would take the CEO role. And then what you find is you unlock those people and you unlock those people and then they just take off. And in every case, except one, the thing went forward and continued to grow and go forward. It doesn’t mean you have to cut costs.
And then in one case I actually had to wind the thing down. So being people first was my secret. Usually, people would say, “Well, how do you turn a company around?” And you talk about the finances and things like that, but that really wasn’t the way. It was through unlocking the people.

Jennifer Tescher:
Got it. So if I remember correctly, Great Place to Work is another one of those stories where you were brought in to help prepare the company for sale. Am I right?

Michael Bush:
That’s exactly right. I was brought in to prepare it and then to sell it, to find a buyer.

Jennifer Tescher:
And what happened?

Michael Bush:
I bought it. Through a crazy series of circumstances, I got involved to turn it around. Immediately I had this attraction to it, even though I didn’t really understand it. Because when you’re packaging something, you’re not really getting to understand it real well. You’re finding a way to present it for the highest value possible. But something happened along the way, which was very weird.
Every so often I would be like, “Wow, this is interesting.” And then I’d suppress it because you can’t let that get in the way of what you’re doing. But lucky for me, we found a buyer, got a term sheet signed. My wife and I actually went to Hawaii to celebrate. And then the deal fell apart because the founder didn’t like the people when he met him.
He was actually mission-driven, just wasn’t really good at the business because the business was technically bankrupt. And so I said, “What are you doing?” He goes, “I’m not going to sell it to them. They’re just going to wreck the business. They’re only about the money. You should buy it.” And I was like, “Oh.” And so I called a partner of mine and we bought it two weeks later.

Jennifer Tescher:
Wow. So when you got there and then you really got under the hood, what did you find? Clearly, there was something of value there that attracted you, but clearly there was something that wasn’t quite working.

Michael Bush:
Yeah. So what I found was that the business decisions were really poor business decisions. It was one of those amazing situations, which I had seen before of a great brand and a great idea, but people who didn’t make good business decisions. So I knew that opportunity was there.
And the other thing I found is that I didn’t know much about the business, but once I got into it, I was like, “Okay, they do these lists of great companies to work for.” And I looked at the list and I go, “I know people there and they’d say that place sucks.” And so then that made me lean into the data more.
And as I leaned into the data, I saw, clearly you could be a great place to work for many, but not a great place to work for all. And so that got my curiosity going and I started looking at the ones and twos on the Likert scale. You could be at a company that had 50,000 employees, but yet 10,000 people really be having a terrible time.
So once I saw that, and my whole life’s work has been about equality and equity and improving situations for people who have been locked out of things. Since that’s been my hidden agenda in my whole career, I was like, “Wow. I got brand and I got great data.” Not that you could do everything with that, but you should be able to do something with that. So that’s the thing that was building within me. And then the universe enabled me to pull it together.

Jennifer Tescher:
So you mentioned the data, you inherited a tremendous amount of data when you bought the company. The company has surveyed millions of employees over almost three decades. So what have you learned about what makes for a great workplace?

Michael Bush:
Yeah, so what I learned is by looking at that data, which was enormous, at that time there was 100 million employees in the database in 2015, and then you could cut and dice that data up particularly the last 15 years were Great Place to Work was starting to capture demographics. So you could look at the differences.
So doing that was a gold mine because I found that I could say something that I always believed, but I had facts to back it up. So it just brings credibility to the conversation that I had longed for. So that was number one. And then the other thing is it enabled me to do things like explore just these things that I thought were true around difference in experience between men and women, the different experience between night shift workers and day shift workers.
Because I had run companies where I saw this weird way people were treated depending on what shift they worked on. Part-time and full-time, different races, ethnicity, and so on. So once I got to take a look at that, I said, “Okay, the thing about this is as I would do this work, and I would look at the data and see the difference in experience, it spoke for itself.
“It spoke for itself.” And so I started having these experiences where I’d be with a CEO and their team sharing the data, and then I’d put up the difference in work experience between men and women. And they were shocked. They were absolutely shocked. They would just look at it. I learned that the best thing to do was put the slide up and don’t say a word.
Let the data speak for itself. Just let that hang. And they look at it and nine times out of 10, the leader would go, “Is this true?” To the team. And all men would be like, “I don’t think it’s true. This data’s bad.” And then the women would be like, “It’s true. It’s true.”
So that experience and that just really built a sense of hope and optimism in me that you could say this leader is this or that, but when you put the data up there, you can’t deny it. You’re looking in the mirror and you see exactly what it is. And then that led us to change our work from great place to work to great place to work for all.
It became clear to me in that moment. I remember the moment I’m like, “This is it. It’s about great place to work for all.” And then we had to get to work on the algorithms to try and make sure we were measuring and defining what was a great place to work for all.

Jennifer Tescher:
So we’ll come back to that in just a minute because I think that’s really important. I think a lot of people – when they think about what makes people happy at work – they think about things like pay or benefits, but your data suggests that that’s really not what’s motivating people. Can you say a little bit more about that?

Michael Bush:
Yeah. It’s absolutely not what’s motivating people. When it gets to that point, things aren’t good. Just like Maslow said, if things aren’t really good. What people want is all people, regardless if you’re in Bogota, Columbia, Toronto, Canada, San Francisco, California, it doesn’t really matter. You want to be respected by the person that you work for.
This connection between a person and their supervisor or manager or their view of management is really, really important. And people want to be led by somebody who they feel is going to speak to them in an honest, transparent way. We call it credibility and fairness. The most important of all is fairness. So for each one of those, we ask about seven questions to try and find out what’s going on.
Because respect is, does a person care for me as a person? Do promotions go to those who deserve them? Is pay fair? Do I get asked for my ideas and thoughts about how to improve things for my coworkers or my customers? And so on, it’s through a series of questions that people define whether they’re being respected or not. It’s not about being courteous.
It’s about through actions and engagement and experience that these things are determined. Do I have an equal chance to get recognized and rewarded just like everyone else? That’s fairness. So we ask questions that enable … We don’t say, “Does your manager respect you?” The last thing you do is ask the question directly.
You ask it indirectly to get a chance for the experience and you ask them using the Likert scale so you’re getting the consistency. When we ask the question, the person thinks back over a period of time before delivering that. We also know that what matters to working people is 70% of the work experience comes from the respect, credibility, and fairness of the person they work for.
So leadership defines 70% of the work experience. The other is, do you like the actual work you do? And do you like the people that you do it with? So do you enjoy the people that you work with? Do you care about the people that you work with? And do they care about you as a person?
And the sense of camaraderie that we’re working together in a way that we’re achieving some purpose that’s far greater than just financial performance. So it’s really putting those seven things together that define whether a place is a great place to work. And as you know, when you say, “How’s the pay here?” “Well, I think the pay is okay, but these other things make it a great place to work.”
And then when you see something happen with that pay question, you could actually look and see that these other things have deteriorated to make that one more important. So the money matters, but these other things matter actually more.

Jennifer Tescher:
Yeah, that’s really interesting. One of the reasons why I really wanted to have you on the show is because your approach and the data says it is the importance of really seeing workers as three-dimensional human beings, right? In all of their complexity. And that’s a lot about what this show is about.
So talk a little bit about how important that is relative to these key attributes you just described of a great workplace. And how do you coach and advise companies on how to actually put that kind of 3D thinking into action?

Michael Bush:
Yeah. That’s the connection between you and I, that’s how we connected because you are addressing a very important part of a person’s life if you see him in 3D. If you see them in 2D, you don’t care about their financial wellness. You don’t care about their financial health.
You care about other things, their basic benefit plan, but you don’t realize that has to be a core part of it because it’s really important. And if you care about a person, you have to care about that. You can’t look at us right now with COVID-19 going on and not know that a person’s worried about their physical health in a way they haven’t been before.
That a person’s mental health has deteriorated. So we’ve done the survey, it’s continuing to deteriorate. And then when you’ve got physical health getting wobbly and mental health getting wobbly, guess what? Money matters more. Not from a Maslow point of view, it’s just real. It’s tangible. And so when things are wobbly, give me something to hold on to.
Money does that. And then you throw in financial uncertainty about the future, which is what people are certainly dealing with now, you’ve got a crazy situation. And you can’t say you care about them if you aren’t talking with them and helping them with all of those things.
So you actually want to make sure they get the information that they need. A lot of the work that you do around new technologies, put everybody with a smartphone getting a way to know where they stand, getting advice and help to support. Instead of trying to find the data in this busy complex world, find ways for the data to get to them.
And really, every conversation you and I have had has been about that. It’s about people who don’t have the data and information. Everybody else can take care of themselves, but every conversation we’ve had has been solely about that. So what we encourage managers and leaders in companies to do is to see a person in 3D.
And you should always be talking to them about yes, their performance, about developing them, about coaching them, about training them, giving them the resources to be successful. But after you do that, “Hey, how are things going for you financially? And is there information that we can link you up with to help you? Because we care about that.
We know that you can thrive here as an employee, but if you’re not building as a person for yourself and your family going forward you’re not going to have a good experience here because things are too out of whack in other areas of your life. And we want all of you to do great.”
Because if all of you does great, not only has to feel good. We have the data to show that companies that treat their employees in this way, which we call really great companies and have benefits and plans and approaches to support them in 3D, they financially outperformed those that don’t.
The stock market performance is three to one better than the S&P 500, Russell 2000 to 3000 from companies who have this view of their people and use technology to make sure that each person is cared for in all aspects of their lives.

Jennifer Tescher:
Yeah. One of the leaders that you and I know in common is Margaret Keane, the CEO of Synchrony Bank. And I had the opportunity to interview her for Emerge digitally a few months ago. And we were talking a lot about the impact of COVID and the working from home, the quarantining on call center employees, which is a clear trend for anyone who runs call centers.
And Margaret is already really committed to not only seeing her workforce in all of their humanity but actually providing them resources to help them be more successful in life. She was telling stories about people who were literally challenged in terms of having someplace effective to live and work from. Or having the technology to be able to continue to do the customer call and customer care work that they were doing.
I’m curious now, as a result of COVID in particular in this time, do you think that that is changing minds among other employers who might not have seen the world like Margaret did? Are you seeing more employers step up and appreciate that they might have more of a responsibility for the broader financial health of their teammates?

Michael Bush:
Absolutely. There are some employers who just don’t get it, they didn’t get it before COVID and they don’t get it now. But there are some who I’d say were open to there’s probably a different relationship we could have with the people that work for us, who have now jumped on the bandwagon and have now figured it out.
So you have remarkable for all leaders like Margaret Keane, who sets the standard. She’s tough to beat in that regard because it’s who she was beforehand. That due to COVID-19, their company has moved forward about a decade, because things they were thinking about, they have now been doing for a few months.
And they’re fast and they’re agile and they’re thinking of the person. So first, okay, we got to shut down these call centers. So let’s set up hotels for people. Let’s get a hotel, move our people in there. That’s weird. Now that we understand COVID, so now we got to take that down and we got to move to something else.
But all those decisions were made with their people in mind. All of them it’s like, let’s put our people first, find a way. Their health. Okay, the mental part, they did things around economics and money. So they thought about the whole person. And we’ve seen a lot of companies do that. Unfortunately not all companies.
But companies that have really done well like Synchrony, they’ve got pressure now due to the medium-sized business market crumbling and the small business market crumbling, but the large part of their portfolio has done well and not skipped a beat because they have a purpose that they feel like they’ve got to take care of all their stakeholders.
And they understand at the foundation is their people. At the foundation is their people. And so they spend a lot of time and energy there and are getting rewarded for it.

Jennifer Tescher:
I wonder how enduring, if at all, you think this shift will be. I’m thinking, for example, of some of the employers who expanded benefits like paid sick leave during COVID like, “Why should I have to choose between my health or my kid’s health and my job.” But some of them have already pulled it back as we know.
So are you hopeful that … And it’s not just about benefits of course. But are you hopeful that this shift in mindset will hold or do you feel like we have short memories in this world and once danger has passed, it’ll be back to normal?

Michael Bush:
I see the world right now as two types of leaders. Purpose-driven leaders are transforming their organizations during this time and they are not going backwards. They actually see their purpose in a more powerful way now. Two things have done that, the virus of COVID eight months old and the virus of racism, 401 years old. The two things together have done that.
They’re now like, “Wow. We have a role to play in total, in the world and in society. And it’s clear for me now than ever.” So for them, there’s no looking back. They’ve broken the rearview mirror. They’re going forward. Leaders who have made adjustments just to get through COVID are probably going to snap back. That’s why they’re taking benefits back now.
So it wasn’t due to purpose. It was due to economic necessity and a spreadsheet told them that we can do this for this period of time, and then we can work our way back and recapture that margin, with that short term quarterly mindset. For those, I don’t really have a lot of hope there.
But for the purpose-driven leaders, they’re on their way. Absolutely on their way. And obviously, I believe that’s better for their business. Certainly better for the people and better for the world. But I see people moving into one of two camps now in that regard.

Jennifer Tescher:
I’m glad you raised purpose. Purpose is a big buzzword these days. I am an optimist like you, and I want to believe that it’s true and business is certainly rethinking its relationship to society. And frankly, it’s confronting a younger workforce that wants to have a job with societal impact.
The two word change that you made several years ago to your company’s mission statement, for all, which you just described a few moments ago and the way you’ve actually operationalized it, I think is one of the best examples I’ve seen of the power of purpose in action. This doesn’t just hang on the digital mission statement on zoom, it’s how you’re running the company.
You’ve actually changed the way your product works. Tell us a little bit more about how you got there and then talk a little bit about the underlying methodology behind the list and being a great place to work. I know you had to make some changes. So talk to us a little bit about that part of your journey.

Michael Bush:
Yeah. I’ll start with purpose. I talk a lot about the caterpillar and the butterfly because I think that purpose chooses the caterpillar. So it thinks early in its life its role is just to eat leaves. That’s it. That’s it because that’s all it does. And so it’s fulfilling its purpose. And then, wow, something happens and it does a completely different thing. It actually transforms. It doesn’t change.
It actually transforms everything about itself. All its organs are rewired. Its brain has no recollection of being a caterpillar when it becomes a butterfly. That’s the power purpose. And so I think that’s where it starts. And so for me personally, definitely my purpose was chosen for me from a very, very young age.
Probably 11 or 12 years old I became attracted to business as a force for good, and I always saw the things the exact same way. I was always trying to find a way to do both. So I was definitely chosen to do that and I’m just trying to be a butterfly now.

Jennifer Tescher:
And before you go on, though, I want to ask you about that. Where does that come from as an 11 or 12-year-old? Is that from a relative, in experience growing up? Where does that come from for you?

Michael Bush:
Yeah. The way it seems like for me, my father was a carpenter and ran his own business. So for a variety of reasons, mainly he wasn’t the person who said, “I want to do that.” He couldn’t get hired. So he was one of those entrepreneurs who had to do it out of necessity to take care of his family and did so. And yet passed on a lot of lessons along the way.
That was a time where he’d get a bank loan and he’d get the money, deploy the money and then immediately get the loan called unless he paid some kickbacks to the bankers. So his experience with the financial system made me a skeptic until today. I’m still a skeptic. But it helped shape me around the entrepreneurism.
The other thing is because we did a lot of work with him, that was my work was supporting him in construction. I actually was like, “This isn’t what I want to do.” And so I would see Ward Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver and I didn’t know what he did because I knew no one who did that, went to work clean and came home clean? I didn’t know anyone.
So I’m like, “I don’t know what that is, but I like that.” And so those two things happened. And then as a result, somehow, like when my father would be reading the sports page, I’d read the business page. So I can’t explain that at all. Except he discarded it and I would pick it up and I would read it. I was attracted to it. So this is definitely purpose chose me.
There was nothing else. And so it came together in a very magical way. And so it’s always been something that I can’t really explain. I can look back now and see it happening. And so for Great Place to Work, it became a place where I could actually do it. I felt like I was chosen to do it. I was chosen to do Great Place to Work and to come in and to get to work.
And so yes, we had to look at what for all meant, which is we had to create a whole new set of algorithms that didn’t exist in our business and test them along the way to make sure that we were going to get it right. That we could actually say, “This is a great place to work for all.” Which meant demographic comparisons of the work experience.
It meant we had to change the weighting from an old way of great place to work for many to be a place that it was the consistency of work experience. So you could have a place that was a phenomenal great place to work for many that because there was another place that had a lower score, but yet men, women, people of color, part-time, full time, were having semi spades, that one is right tire.

Jennifer Tescher:
So now you’re weighting and measuring the delta between groups and weighting it as heavily if not more than the average success on any measure, am I saying that right?

Michael Bush:
That’s right. The most important score is the consistency, the gap analysis. So places with smaller gaps are going to be higher on our list. Places that have a large gap, as you compare one demographic group to another are going to fall down our list, or actually not be on our list. And we call this measurement, this series of algorithms, maximizing human potential.
That’s what we do. I call it gap analysis and things like that, it wasn’t working real well. But we like this one, an organization should be maximizing the human potential of everyone. And so if one group is having an inferior experience, you’re not getting the most out of them.
You’re paying them, you’re heating them, you’re cooling them, you’re training them, you’re doing all these things, you should be getting the most out of them like you do in every other area of your business. So that became most important. And then below that is leadership effectiveness.
Innovation is lower than maximize human potential, but obviously important. Financial performance and whether or not the values of the company, which we know what a great place to work for all believes in are actually being experienced. All built on top of the foundation of what Great Place to Work did for 30 years, which is measure trust.
So we’ve just put four more elements on top of that foundation, because without trust the data’s clear, there is no inclusion, there’s no equity, there is no belonging, there’s no happiness. All the things that people are looking for, it’s all on that foundation of trust. But that algorithmic change, which took us about three years of the mathematics, testing and it’s not perfect.
Let’s alter this. Mathematics, testing, and each year with our list, we cranked it more and more, and we actually have one more crank to go. We’re feeling pretty good right now, but we have to crank representation. So that’ll be the newest set of algorithms that we’ll be adding in. And then we’ll truly be able to say we can effectively measure a great place to work for all.

Jennifer Tescher:
Right. Well, I love the newest add you’re going to make. And it’s obviously so of the moment. Although, wish it wasn’t of the moment, wish it was of the moment 60 years ago or 100 years ago. But you and I have talked in the past about how in many ways your day job is a Trojan horse for addressing broader workplace inequities, racial and otherwise. In a way you were a little ahead of your time.
You’ve been at this now for a few years before the latest awakening that some of us in this country are having, and now those inequities are front and center on the minds of CEOs. What are you hearing from leaders on this topic? Are people more appreciative or interested in the fact that you’ve shifted your algorithms now?
Do they get it in a way that maybe they didn’t before? Are they more interested in engaging with you? And does any of what you’re hearing and seeing make you hopeful for the future as it relates to shrinking the gaps?

Michael Bush:
Yeah. There are some leaders like a Margaret who three years ago was like, “I love this for all.” Okay. So there’s some people who immediately got it. They’re like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I love that. And so tell me about that.” So there are those leaders who immediately, bang.
There are also some leaders running some of the best brands in the world who, when I added that, we lost them. We lost them. The seals were like, “We’re not doing that.” Once I explained that maximizing human potential, they were like, “We’re not doing that.” So both things happen.
I thought I had wrecked the company. For sure thought I had wrecked the company because we lost some really big brands, companies that everyone knows. And when I told them what we were going to do, they go, “We’re not doing that anymore.” And they took all the business away globally.
So I remember I called my wife and said, “I think I just wrecked the company.” Luckily it worked out. Now, we’re the bell of the ball. So people are calling. Even people I’ve done business with for years are now like, “Can you tell me more about this for all?” So it’s definitely a thing now. I think this is good.
Do I think it’s going to last? It depends on whether the leader is purpose-driven or not. And you can see and usually tell somebody doing things that are performative, that look good. And it’s not hard to figure it out for me, to know the difference between whether I’m talking to a purpose-driven leader or whether I’m talking to a leader who’s just performing right now and I’m making donations right now because they look good.
And what’s the difference? It’s when you talk to the leader and what are they saying about their top team and what are they saying about their board of directors? If they’re saying nothing, I’m pretty sure it’s performative and this wave will hit the beach and they’ll move on to other things.
If they’re seriously looking at that and talking about that and talking about how in a couple of years theirs is going to be different and they’re not saying we’re going to have it different by January 1st, because no one can do that. Then you know you’re talking to a practical person who is transforming and who has seen that they have you know a role here and they can do something about it.
That lets me know I’m talking to somebody who has transformed, is purpose-driven and I’m pretty sure that this company’s Margaret serious about it. Just serious about it, all over it, going to happen. We’d bet everything that it’s going to happen because she’s actually transformed, she’s a butterfly now.
And I believe that getting a cohort of companies that are basically saying, “Look, we got to make changes here, where people can see themselves at all levels of the company. We have to do some work. We have to find a way of educating all of our people on how it got to be this way.”
We have to look squarely at that. That’s the learning part. And leaders who aren’t reading, they haven’t read White Fragility and aren’t interested in it, they haven’t read How to Be An Antiracist, I don’t know how they’re going to create the new solution. How are they going to innovate without this deep understanding and a willingness to question their own view of racism?
With the virus in early March, the only people who should wear masks were people who had symptoms, remember? That was the fact. That’s what we knew. That was the best thinking from the scientists leading the world. Two weeks later, people said, “You know what? Maybe you should wear a mask no matter what. No matter what.”
And then we know what we know now, but that’s a case where learning modified our behavior. I wasn’t wearing a mask in early March. I was wearing one by the third week of March. I had enough information to say, “I don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong, but I’m playing with this mask right now.”
It’s just like, “I don’t believe in heaven or hell, but I think just in case there is a hell, I’m going to modify my behavior.” So there is information and learning that we do that modifies our behavior. Clearly, for racism that needs to happen. Everything we know only works against us at this point.
And to me, leaders who are reading, studying, having conversations and dialogue are the ones who are really looking to transform. Leaders who are saying, “We don’t talk about that here. We don’t bring up these subjects at work.” They will be the same as they are today five or 10 years from now.

Jennifer Tescher:
Once you told me that when you start working with a company that the first findings that you’ll bring to the CEO are about maybe the different outcomes between men and women. And then maybe if they can handle that, maybe the next year, you’ll bring them the results that are really about people who are differently abled in the workplace.
And then if they seem like they’re with it, then you can bring up more uncomfortable or challenging differences like racial and ethnic differences. Is it fair to say that this is an environment in which you don’t need to wait anymore?

Michael Bush:
Jennifer, your mind is amazing because you just talked about how I jumped of the Trojan horse. That’s exactly right. I put the women out first and I work my way, at the end it’s race. Because if you bring race out first, that horse is going back out of the castle walls. So that’s been my experience and consistently my experience all around the world.
But now I can go right there. I can go right there, right now. And then it’s fascinating because I will go right there right now and say, “Look, look at this data.” And then they will go, because they look at it and they go, “Michael, how come? I understand, but why black now? What about the rest of the employees? This is the thing.”
And then I go, “Hey, but let’s look at the data. Okay? Because I’ve got data all over the place. But let’s just look at U.S. data for now. Let’s rank by race, the work experience of employees from the 2,000 companies we surveyed last year. Guess who’s at the bottom. Black women.
Guess who’s above that. Black men. So the data says this is the place to start. You know why? Because let’s look at the mathematics of the work that we do. If you can improve the experience for that group, your score overall improves. This is simple. This isn’t if everyone succeeds, we all succeed.
Forget about the moral position and the mountain top speech, since that clearly doesn’t work for you. Let’s just look at mathematics. You go get this group and improve them by three points on the promotions, go to those who deserve them. Do I have equal chance for recognition?
Do I feel like the company cares for me as a person and I can be myself here? You just improve those, the score for the whole company goes up. That’s why I’m talking black now. Yep, I might have a little more energy because of Jacob Blake and because of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor.
You’re right, I might get a little hyped up because of that. But I can just go to these mathematics that were true before that. Okay? I got 30 years of this data showing where you should focus. And if you can improve, it’s just going to be great for your business.”
Again, the data is the thing that now I can go there first and usually get some reaction, which is negative because no one likes to see that they’re running a company where black employees in 2020 are having the worst experience. But most leaders are. Most leaders are. And I’m not going to say it’s their fault because, do they have something to do about changing it?
For sure. Is it their fault? No. That just means you don’t understand institutional and systemic racism and you need to read about those things. So once you get yourself schooled up, you’ll know let’s depersonalize it. It’s not a statement about you, but if you don’t do anything about it, from my point of view, yeah, that’s a statement about you.

Jennifer Tescher:
So it sounds like, as in most things in your life, you are putting your money where your mouth is. You have created a bold goal to create great workplaces for all by 2030. Now, financial health network is about financial health for all. We haven’t put a date on it yet.
So what led you to set a timeline, a time goal for yourself? And what’s going to need to happen to get us there? We’ve got a decade to go now, what’s going to make that happen?

Michael Bush:
Yep. And I love the for all that you’ve added there. So it’s awesome.

Jennifer Tescher:
It’s all because of you. I’m totally copying you.

Michael Bush:
Thank you. I love it. I absolutely love it because it’s the only way we’re going to make it happen. In 2016, I came up with the 2030. And two reactions, one is, there are … It’s funny, depending on the age of the person, they will say to me, “It’ll never happen by 2030.” And then you say it to a 30-year-old and they go “2030, are you kidding me?”
So two different points of view on reality and life’s experiences. But I felt like 2030 was within reach and that we could use data, information, behavior, again, more and more data to show the financial improvement that comes from this way of working.
And I thought the world was changing too, that people were realizing that we’re going to have to rely on government less and business is going to have to be a force for good. And I thought that too, that acknowledgment was going to ignite some change. Now, what’s happened really since George Floyd’s murder is that, and because of what happened as a result in organizations, I now have a 12.31.2023, 12.31.2023.
I’ve got now a plan for organizations that want to look different, feel different and be different top to bottom by 12.31.2023. So that goal, that’s out there. I’ve got a blog coming out shortly, like in an hour or two laying this out. Because I want to define for companies, good companies, 2030 works. I get it.
Institutional, big change, global, complicated. And then there’s better companies and then the best companies. I’m saying the best companies can make the change by 12.31.2023, the good companies can look at their board right now, which I can Google and see that they’ve got a problem and decide to do something about the problem.
And the fastest way to do it if you really want to resolve it is add two seats to the board. That’s the fastest way to do it. The hauling and all of that, if you got nine, add two to get 11. So you can keep your odd number feature that you need, add some seats.
Because people are already thinking about adding seats for public health, for example. Hey, maybe we need somebody on our board around public health issues. That’s a business need, so now we’re contemplating adding a chair. I’m saying this is a business need. Society needs this.
There’s a way to do it. And then the same for the C team, which already has people on it, like cybersecurity that weren’t there five years ago. But business conditions changed. We needed to add a seat to the table. They didn’t get rid of strategy. They added a seat to the table.
So this is what I’m recommending to companies. This is the only way you’re going to get there fast. And it’s a way for you to get this talent your business needs and to get this different perspective that your business needs. And to address this and get the ball rolling, I am recommending a focus on black right now for all the reasons that I’m mentioning and that the talent is clearly available.
And then you have to involve everyone though. It’s still about great place to work for all, everybody needs to be included. And everybody has to have trust enough to know, while we’ve made this much progress in terms of women, this much progress, a tiny bit, but it has trickled through organizations and we’ve shown that the organizations change for the better by making this much progress.
It also gives me a sense of hope we can make this much progress around black employees and then keep it moving, keep it moving to groups that are underrepresented. We can get them all around the table. And yes, this gives me hope. This gives me hope.

Jennifer Tescher:
You’ve heard it here first, 2023. You want to be a really amazing company and a great place to work? You’ve got a little under two and a half years to go folks. We will make sure to put a link to Michael’s forthcoming blog on the website where you can listen to this podcast. Michael, thank you so much for joining us on Emerge Everywhere.

Michael Bush:
Jennifer, thank you for having me and thanks for what you’re doing and together we’re going to make something happen. We’re going to fly as butterflies together.

Jennifer Tescher:
I’d hope so. I hope so. This has been Emerge Everywhere, a financial health network production. I’m Jennifer Tescher, and I’d love to hear your ideas for future guests and your reactions to the show. You can connect with me on Twitter @jentescher. If you liked this episode, please review the show and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. To learn more about the work and research we do, please visit emerge.finhealthnetwork.org. See you next time.