Miva – Tackling COVID-19 Vaccination As An Executive With Rick Wilson
We discuss policies encouraging or even mandating COVID vaccinations, and discuss how it is leadership’s job to create a safe and healthy work environment. Timely, especially as more people are returning to the office. Their policy will require COVID vaccination to work in the office, as well as for attending any in-person events.
Tune in and let us know what you think.
Listening time: 30 minutes
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Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have Rick on from Miva. And we’re gonna be actually talking about a really, really interesting and topical conversation that’s going on right now tackling COVID vaccinations as an executive. So, Rick, would you do us a favor and introduce yourself, and Miva?
Sure. Hi, everybody. My name is Rick Wilson. I am the CEO of Miva, we’re an e-commerce software platform based here, primarily located in San Diego with offices in Tampa as well, and our workforces in 20 different states or the United States.
Oh, that’s fantastic. So let’s start with some of the basics because I know you’re passionate about this. What role does a CEO, an executive play in encouraging employee vaccinations? And why? Like what’s what, you know, we’ll get with the should, but what do you think the role? What do you believe the role is right now?
Look, I think the answer to that question is I think it’s a nuanced answer. I mean, any complex question that is nuanced, you know, do I think someone should get the shingles vaccine? That’s up to them, it’s probably, you know, probably beneficial from what I’ve heard about having shingles. But, you know, if you have shingles and you go into the office, you’re not going to give someone else in the office shingles.
Where COVID is so wildly transmissible via the air, that in our case, and by our case, in the executive case, for people who happen to meet in offices, I think the role became very clear. You know, I might have felt differently before the pandemic, but where I sit today, as long as there are proper methods to hear people’s, you know, reasonings for different choices, or if they can work from home, freedom to make different choices under different circumstances, I think the strong encouragement of saying, hey, if we’re going to interact in person, this is a mandatory requirement for that behavior.
Right. It’s just, it’s what we learned through the pandemic. It’s like, well, we need some rules, some guide rails of what we should be able to do and shouldn’t be able to do. And, you know, we’ll put all the politics and the way that things got politicized aside for a moment, just look at the business side of things. Again, we’re still in a pandemic, technically.
The world is likely to be in this pandemic. You know, if vaccinations are the cure here, the world is likely to be in a pandemic for another two years. That’s right. So the US is, in some ways, analogous to World War Two, the US is coming out of this less devastated after a year of devastation, we’re ultimately coming out right now looking to be less devastated than the rest of the world. And so it’s going to be an interesting couple of years.
I think so too, I think now, in fact, I think the, with the rigor and vigor and enthusiasm that we put vaccinations, on top of the priority list, you know, since the election, let’s just say, I think we need to continue that, you know, not just for ourselves, but now let’s go tackle South America. Let’s go tackle India, let’s go tackle other places again. You know, and I know, there’s always gonna be some people that just don’t want to be vaccinated, no matter what it is. Doesn’t matter. You know, when it’s polio, they just don’t want to be vaccinated. And I respect that. But as the executive to your point, if it’s something that’s highly transmissible, and we’re choosing to get together, the rules are different.
100%. I mean, polio is actually a great example, because it’s probably the most similar example or tuberculosis at some level, right? If polio was running rampant in America right now, the only way you could have a functional in-person workforce would be to require vaccinations. Otherwise, otherwise, you’re gonna have people you know, getting paralyzed and in an iron lung. I mean, you can’t function without a healthy workforce and fundamentally without healthy customers, you can’t function. Right so yeah, yeah, there’s personal liberties on it, and certainly, throughout my life, I’ve tended that way. Without being political. But you know, it’s just like there’s a reason I can’t walk into McDonald’s without bottoms and underwear. Right? You can’t just go in here totally naked.
This is the foundation of our beautiful country, is community interest, and personal interest.
Absolutely. If I want to sit around and eat a hamburger naked, I need to do it at home.
Yeah, you can do that. And no one will judge you, because it’s your home. It’s you, you choose to do something at your home. But, again, going into an office with another 200 employees, you know, It’s not just not appropriate, you know. No, you should have the common sense to not do it. Why? I mean, I know you have a lot of different passions, but why are you so passionate about this topic?
You know, at the end of the day, you have to get into like, what, why do you want to be CEO, right? or Why do you want to be an executive? Doesn’t have to be a CEO, but why do you want to lead a company? And, you know, essentially, okay, you need to make a living. But you know, most people don’t become CEOs to pay the mortgage, right? In theory, have gotten at least to that phase.
And so it starts with creating a workplace that people want to work at, right, like, pre-pandemic, when we most of us were going to the office, most of the time, studies would often show that you’re in the office with your co-workers more than you are with your family. Right? So if that’s true, which it has been historically, for many of us, then what does that say? What kind of workplace would you want to build? So the CEO, my answer has always been that workplace but not suck, right? Yeah, it’s got to be a place you want to go. Because if you’re going there and you’re miserable all day, then something’s not working. You’re not paying someone not to be miserable, temporarily. But that’s not, that’s not the life you’re looking to build for yourself.
And for others, I don’t want to do something that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. And then you can extrapolate that from enjoying your workday, and to health, right, like, I want to go to a place that I feel healthier, and happier and safer coming out of. And so that’s one of the reasons I became passionate about this. You know, I think like many of us, the thought exercise of what you would have done in a pandemic until we all went through a pandemic, right. Kind of interesting. You know, there’s probably a lot of Ph.D. thesis’ is out there and oh, yeah, public health about it.
Most of us couldn’t have conceived it. And going through it now, what was wildly important, was making sure my staff was safe. And then we have a weekly all-hands meeting, obviously, switched to zoom during the pandemic, and just encouraging them to stay healthy, stay safe. Here’s, here’s the news that we’re seeing. here’s, here’s what we believe to be as objective a truth as you can find. Right.
And I think considering the percentage of people who are had said to had COVID around the country, compared to the percentage of our employees who had COVID, I think our staff was pretty resilient. We didn’t have the same percentage infection rate, we saw society-wide. And, and I don’t think I’m not gonna take credit for that. But I think encouraging people to stay safe, stay sane, was the cornerstone of this becoming a topic we cared about.
It’s, it’s interesting to what we learned, you know, from March 13th forward, is, you know, it’ll be a really interesting case study as to how we take those learnings going forward. You know, it seems like the that are calls drip of empathy, we talk more about mental health, we talk about, again, being healthy. And, you know, taking time for yourself, we talked about that stuff more like we talked about it before, the pandemic, but now, now it like everything drips of it. And I just hope that, you know, once some of this passes, that we don’t lose that.
I totally agree. We, last June as we had fully settled into work from home, and actually about the same time that we announced that we’re going to stay remote first, and we’re going to have office spaces we will go into, etc. But we decided everyone is starting to get burnt out, at least within our ranks. So we ordered a mental health day, so to speak, and said, Hey, everyone, whatever the day was, is mid-June, we’re all just taking this Friday off. And I think those kinds of things you need to look at. As a leader, you need to look at your staff. And there are times you just need to look at everyone be like, you know what, we all need a day off.
Yeah. Sometimes they will sometimes people I was one of the interesting studies of unlimited PTO back in the day, is that people felt guilty for taking PTO.
So that’s a whole other podcast we could do. We switched to unlimited PTO about a year ago. I had resisted it for years. Because I was worried they would have the opposite impact on your recruiting standpoint. You needed it. Oh, yeah. You can have it but you need to encourage people to use it.
You’ve got to encourage people, you’ve got to, again, people need that encouragement and permission. Consent they need that someone they need the leadership to then say no, no, seriously.
It’s like this stuff. You hear about Slack these days. If the CEO is on slack at midnight on Sunday, peppering me with questions. Yeah. What do you think is gonna happen?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, that used to be kind of a badge of honor. Back in the day, like, okay, you know, I remember VCs emailing startups and founders on Saturday mornings just to see how fast they respond. And I’m like, yeah, that’s, that’s actually not what we want.
Yeah, no, it’s not. It’s not okay. Now, if one of my employees emails me on a Saturday morning, I reply, because I’m assuming, hey, if they took the time to email, yeah. But if I have something I need to ask, and I can wait till Monday morning. I’m going to wait. Because I want to be respectful of their space and their time.
I’ve, I’ve, I’ve learned that to myself that now I schedule those. So I’ll have the thought, and then I’ll go
It’s just a relational awareness of who we are, what our role is.
That’s right. Right. Yeah, it’s too easy to put it in a schedule, too. It’s too easy to calendar it and say this email goes. You know, Monday morning at 10. Done, I just need somebody to give me an answer on that. So let’s, let’s talk a little bit about policies that you’ve implemented for your own employees at Miva. What if, you know, what steps have you taken both on the encouragement side? But maybe, you know, as it relates back to getting vaccinated and helping people understand the importance of vaccinations? What have y’all done policy-wise?
So from an actual HR policy standpoint, even though we have unlimited PTO, we went ahead and made an official policy that you can, you know, you can schedule your vaccination first and second dose. If you’re feeling ill after either one, immediately take PTO, there will not be an issue. Right. So be sure of that. We also, you know, went to so that was probably the main actual corporate policy, the encouragement came from me, which wasn’t a formal policy, right.
That was meetings, oftentimes getting updates with, you know, the latest CDC guidance or Dr. Fauci guidance, and then, and then interpreting it right. And I don’t mean interpreting scientifically, I just mean, hey, here, here’s what was said, here’s what we think that means. Certainly, the recent change in mask mandates was a worthwhile thing to interpret, right, which is, take it literally, if you’re fully vaccinated, go for it.
If you’re uncomfortable, or not fully vaccinated, don’t assume you got a free pass, right? So there’s a little bit of adding a layer of reality to it all. And then the next thing we’re working on actively as we speak, we have our first employee. Well, this whole time with our two formal offices, we’ve had, out of 130 ish employees, we’ve had about six people in the office between Tampa and San Diego, who never really went to work remote for various personal reasons. We’re just now reopening the offices to more people. So a lot of the policy is around that.
And so that policy will require vaccination to go to the office, require vaccination for in-person events. You know, and for everyone who’s currently on staff, we don’t have any roles that require you to do either in-person events or the office. So if someone has some adamant reason or health reason not to be vaccinated, they can still do their job. They just can’t do it, as we discussed earlier in the present right office.
But it’s interesting, I live in Texas, and last night, I was going into Get us out at this place. And you know, our state is wheels off and so the governor, the Governor’s a lunatic and I’m wearing a mask, I’m fully vaxxed, I was vaccinated in January, so fully vaccinated and also have the shingles vaccine too. But anyhow. So I’m walking in and this, this guy comes towards me. He’s close enough to where it’s kind of uncomfortable. He goes, you know, you don’t have to wear a mask. And I looked at him said, and you know, without pause, I looked down I said, Yeah, but I’m about to rob the place.
Which was actually a fantastic response.
And he stopped in his tracks. He goes, You know what? That was the best comeback ever. We might not agree. But I appreciate that. I say, Well, good, man. Well, that’s, that’s, you know, we can disagree on things. But we know we
You were in Texas, had you been in Florida that might have gotten physical.
Oh, no, that would have definitely gotten physical. Fists would have been thrown. But uh, I want to actually kind of take and again, this doesn’t necessarily need to be Miva related. But I’ve seen articles on incentivizing you know, like, we can incentivize all kinds of behavior. Right. So that’s what total rewards is all about. Have you? Have you seen anything with some of your peers about either incentivizing or rewarding people for vaccination or the opposite? Penalizing for people for folks that choose not to?
Yeah, it’s interesting. So we, I don’t know that there’s any objective data yet on how this is going to work out. Certainly, some bigger companies are going to be doing experiments and they’ll someday publish those results. We talked about doing an incentive program. So hey, go get vaccinated and either be entered into a raffle to win, say 500 bucks, or get vaccinated, we’ll send you a $20 Amazon gift card or something like that, right. And the initial decision amongst, I was actually pretty for it.
My senior management team said, Hey, we’re not sure that’s going to move the needle. We believe that the vast majority of our staff want to be vaccinated, we believe the handful who don’t likely aren’t going to care about $20 to Amazon. And then from a penalty standpoint, the penalties are we do a fair amount of cultural things, right? Whether right, San Diego going to a Padres game, in Tampa, the Tampa office, having a Casino Night or going on a boat, or you know what.
We try to do a fair amount of fun things like going back to what I said in the beginning, you want to make sure you have a workplace that’s enjoyable. And the only punishment we’ve contemplated right now is that you can’t do those things unless you get vaccinated.
And so let me ask you a question about, like, Basecamp, and they, and just you read all the same stuff that I probably read, they want to take politics out of the workplace, and, and, you know, I can see the pros and cons and all that stuff. But because vaccination, not just this, not just this, not just COVID vaccination, just vaccinations in general, can be politicized. How have you kind of thought about having conversations with both internally, but you know, with your peers and other executives, but also with employees?
That, you know, again, you’re you don’t know you don’t want to get into a full debate about, you know, this politics or that politics. But you want to talk about policy and what you’re trying to achieve? How have you? How are you kind of straddling that line? And that’s really what I’m trying to get at is okay. It isn’t political, well, shouldn’t be political. However, it has become political. And so how do you straddle that? And I say, straddle, that’s not the right word. But how do you walk that fine line?
How do you walk that line? I mean, that’s a fantastic question. In fact, I have a podcast and I’m not here to promote that. But I have a podcast, I actually did one on the Basecamp hubbub a few weeks ago. And so my thinking is this, so I kind of break it down a few different ways. Let’s start with the vaccine question. Right? So things that shouldn’t be political. Public health, right? If suddenly, let’s let’s use something that’s not as supercharged right now, as vaccines, let’s say smoking.
If my employees said they started demanding to smoke indoors at the office, I would be like, no. This isn’t a political discussion, you’re not going to make me smell bad and potentially give me lung cancer, because you think it’s your right, you’re just not. And so. So I believe you start as a leader, and you try to deescalate what shouldn’t be political, right? There are certain people you can’t talk to just like your mask guy in Texas. But what I would try to do there is look, as the leader, you get to set the tone, you get to set some of the boundaries, right? So hey, this is, to me, this is a non-political issue. And here, this is how this is being handled. Right.
Now, when it comes to the bigger issue, the Basecamp stuff, I used to be of the mindset. And this has evolved a lot partially because of the pandemic, partially because of other stuff, the social justice stuff, etc. that came about during the pandemic, that I used to be of the mindset that, hey, corporate leaders should really avoid all politics. Because the, you know, the theory was pretty simple. Half of your customers believe the opposite of whatever the thing is.
Right. Right. At least.
Yeah, why alienate them? But, but I do think it really comes down to should I, should I publicly have an opinion on the tax rate as an employee as a CEO? Probably not. Right? Like that is truly political, that is politics. Should I have a public opinion on the process of getting your passport? Probably not. Right? Like, in those cases? There’s no, I’m not adding to the civil discourse by taking a stance that should be held by a bureaucrat or a political scientist. Should I be able to take a stance on public health? Yeah, to me, that seems obvious.
Should I be able to take a stance on like, police brutality? Yeah, that shouldn’t be political to me. Right. So I’ve come to a place where there’s certain stances that seems so self-evident, that you should just take them because it’s the right thing to do for humans. And, but most of it is not about picking fights. It’s about setting a framework for a conversation, right? Hey, here, within, we’re here together to do this job. And here’s the framework by which we look at it.
The Basecamp thing. I followed Basecamp for years, and we were a customer of Basecamp for a long time until we didn’t leave because of politics we left because they got rid of a feature we need. But you know, they, that one’s a little different. There was clearly for you to lose a third of your staff over something like that. There was clearly something else bubbling up. And this was just an excuse for that to explode.
Yeah, I get the same sense. I had some folks on the inside on the TA and HR side and this, this had been a long time coming. You know, it’s just,
It had to have been. I mean, the other angle on that without turning this a whole podcast about Basecamp is, those kinds of changes, hey, our focus should be our products, not external things. Okay, I’ll give you that. I know if I walked into the office every day and all that we were talking about politics, I would, I would be like, Hey, guys, you know, we have an e-commerce platform to work on.
Yeah, turns out we have a job that we have to do. Customers.
Yeah, we have a job. But if I said that, and suddenly a third of my staff said, well, screw you, I quit. Then that implies something else is going on?
Yeah. Yeah, there’s some deeper, deeper things going on there. So you’ve you came to an enlightenment. And, you know, again, we’re all on these different journeys, right? So you came to this enlightenment, and, again, kind of framed up things that you should take a stance on and things that and it looks like the greater good like something like police brutality, if you don’t take a stance on it, you know, what, you’re almost complicit, you know, in a way, right? Public Health, kind of the same type of thing. If you don’t take a stance, you’re just basically saying, well, we hope it all works out.
But where do you, where do you tend to get inspiration from other executives, like, you know, enlightenment doesn’t, it didn’t come out of nowhere. It generally comes from you read a book you’re talking to, you know, a bunch of gals and guys about things, you know, some of your internet work, like, Where do you get some of your wisdom and enlightenment from these days?
You know, I appreciate the compliment of enlightenment, I’m not sure I’m gonna claim to be enlightened. But the, I think it goes with people, he says, one, I’m a big believer in reading, right. And I try to read I’m kind of a voracious reader, whether it’s articles on the internet or books. And the other thing is, is, you know, there’s, there’s an old parable about, seek first to understand and then to be understood. And I think that that probably is the first step in, for lack of a better term leadership enlightenment, right? If, if an employee, let’s say I was Jason Fried, the CEO of Basecamp. If an employee is going to quit over my change in slack rules, as opposed to digging in, I probably should stop and be like, wow, I must have missed the boat on this, right, like what really happened.
And if you can get your head around that, which is just empathy, right, it’s being human. If you can get your head around that, then you can work from there. And then if you tie it back to vaccination and public health, like I don’t know about you, but I knew in Luckily, no one like in my immediate family, but you know, my best friend from childhood had three family members die of COVID, all elderly people. There was a tipping point last year, last fall, where I think a lot of people in America finally knew someone who had passed.
And once that happened, if you can’t stop and empathize with what those people went through, then you’re gonna have a hard time having a true north as a leader. And so you know, look, it’s not my job to talk about what McDonald’s should pay you to work at McDonald’s. But certainly, if I’m working 40 hours a week, and I’m only bringing home 200 bucks, it’s probably hard to make a living, right. And so you start getting through those things. And I don’t have a public opinion on what minimum wage earnings should be. But I do have a public opinion you start with empathy, you start on understanding the person’s journey. And from there, applying that to what you read, what you experienced yourself, if you can really personalize your own experience, then then you have the ability to come up with solutions that can both serve the needs of your business.
McDonald’s, of course, can’t pay 30 bucks an hour to work there. They’d have to go out of business, because none of us are paying the premium that would cost for a cruddy McDonald’s hamburger. But you have to start with understanding the needs of the request truly. And then trying to match that with the needs of the thing as a leader you’re solving for. The needs I’m solving for, as a leader are making sure my clients can use your product, making sure our clients have a compelling reason to be our clients, that kind of thing.
How do you know? How do you know you’re doing the right thing?
Um, I don’t know.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry—You broke up on me? I can’t—Hello, you—Hello, hello? No, I’m just kidding.
That’s a tough question. You know, I mean, right? You know, that that hubris can come in there if you think if you’re so certain you’re doing the right thing. So I don’t know that I have a totally like algorithmic answer that, you know, you solicit feedback from employees, you know, a good example would be this. If, if you want to know if I’m a good person, don’t ask me, ask my spouse. Right. So I think the same kind of feedback comes in here, right? Like if you want to if I’m a good employer don’t ask me, go ask my employees. And you take that and solicit that kind of feedback, and you true up your North based on that.
I think you’re right. I think that’s, you’re open to feedback. I think that’s where leaders can go awry. In terms of they either stop listing or stop caring, to gather that feedback can be wrong, and be vulnerable. I can’t remember who said it. The first thing we asked from somebody is for vulnerability and the last thing we give people is vulnerability. But it’s, as a leader, you’ve got to be vulnerable at the same time when you’re making policies to.
That’s a weird conundrum. Cuz that’s exactly correct. And then the other problem is if you take if all you do is take feedback, and then you’re essentially regurgitating by committee, yeah, you’re not much of a leader.
No, no, no, no, in fact, you’re a mirror. Right? Which, which is great. If all that advice was great. But but but, you know, the, the ability for a leader to then filter through that feedback and go? Hmm, No, Hmm, yes. etc. But I think, you know, that’s, that’s this is where getting that employee feedback, you know, having your finger on the pulse of employees, and just making sure that Yeah, you know, what, we’re not straying too far from our mission. And we’re also doing the right thing. We know we’re doing the right thing. And so I think that’s helpful as well.
I think tying this all into an HR perspective, sorry to step in.
No, no, you’re good. You’re good.
You know, for a long time I’ve been running Miva now for, Miva has been around for 22 years. And I’ve been involved with Miva pretty much the whole time, but I’ve been running it as an owner, CEO for 14, I think 14 or 15. And, and what happened for us is I knew I wanted a culture that mattered. And it was probably six or seven years ago, that our now vice president of HR was relatively new, she was our Director of HR back then. And it was obvious to me that she was much better at systematizing, the culture stuff. I knew what I liked, but I wasn’t necessarily personally taking the time to seed it and make it happen.
So I worked with her and said, Hey, this is my vision, I want this and I gave her carte blanche to create it. And granted, her and I worked together all the time. Called her, had a zoom earlier with her today. So we work together all the time. But I really gave her a mental blank check to, hey, here’s the corporate culture I want to build let’s build it. And then therefore she’s out soliciting feedback in a safe way, you know, exit interviews are, are very important. If you can get good information. But if no one trusts you to give you good information, you’re not getting the feedback.
That’s right. That’s right. two last questions, but both of them are relatively quick. One is, do you have a goal? Do you have like a percentage of the word like, do you have y’all talked internally about 80%? You know, 92%? Like, I’m just picking random numbers, but just do you have a goal that you’re trying to walk towards with vaccinations and your employee base?
No, we haven’t. I mean, I personally, would love to see 100%. I know we’re not going to get there. But we haven’t set that goal. But that’s an interesting idea. I, I would guess, I think our staff will get in the 90 percentile, I don’t know where, you know, I can only off the top my head, think of two or three employees out of our 130, who are probably never going to do it. So I’d like to do that. But we have not set a corporate goal around that. But that’s an interesting idea.
That’s that old axiom, measure what matters or whatever that became, remember the quote, again, measure? Exactly. So the last question, as we go out is, what about remote employees? It’s not just for Miva. But for other companies and other executives that listen. Remote employees that are gonna be remote employees, so somebody that’s in Wyoming that’ll just never go to Tampa or San Diego, etc. What’s kind of the philosophy there?
So philosophy there is less mandatory for sure. Right? If you’re never going to see another co-worker, then it switches into the personal part of public health, right? Hey, I don’t want you to get sick. And if you happen to get sick, and even if you happen to get sick and be okay, I don’t want you to get your family sick, or your parents sick, or your immunocompromised cousin sick.
So you switch from the heavier hand of, hey, we’re doing this thing, and this is a requirement. To it really would encourage you to think about this. You know, I think this is what with the pandemic ultimately exposed, you know, 99% of people who got COVID, maybe nine and a half percent of people got COVID survived. And most survived without long-term complications, although that’s certainly a real problem. But it can be very hard to see the daisy chain from there to your friend’s great aunt who died because you got it.
And so it switches to a more personal conversation of, you know, public health is really a group thing, right? And there is no person who’s an island, so I can’t mandate it. Well I mean I guess technically I could try, but I’m not going to try. In this case, I’m just going to appeal to their humanity and say, you know, you really should do this.
Yeah, you should do this for yourself. And the public. And of course, we’ll encourage you. Again, I love how you, you incorporate it Hey, listen, if you have to get two shots and you have some reactions to either, you know, that’s just a part of the bit, you know, that’s okay like to be expected and take off a couple of days, and your body will heal and you’ll be fine.
But I really, you know, our next podcast is definitely going to be on PTO. Yeah, we’re gonna tackle that head-on. But Rick, I absolutely appreciate your time today. And I also just appreciate your take on the topic and, and really kind of tackling this head-on. So thank you so much.
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for having me. This has been enjoyable.
Awesome. And then for those listening, thank you for listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.