When I started the Marketing Minds series, I reached out to people that I knew who inspire me, hoping that through their words and wisdom I could engage with a wider audience. So, you can imagine my delight when Mike Berland got in in touch and wanted to be part of the lockdown series. CEO and Founder of Decode-M, Mike is based in the US. He is an internationally recognised strategic advisor and communications consultant and an expert in how people think and behave as consumers, voters and decision-makers. It was a pleasure to catch up with him about how Coronavirus has affected him, his business and those around him.
1. Where do you work and what do you do?
I am the founder and CEO of Decode_M, a NYC based research and analytics company. We focus on decoding data into momentum.
2. What’s your career path been like and how did you end up where you are?
I’ve known since high school that I wanted to be a king maker, not a king. I’ve always been fascinated by politics. I’ve spent most of my career trying to predict which political candidates will go the distance, which products will surge in the marketplace, and which ideas will capture the public imagination. In short, what do people want, why do they want it, and will they still want it tomorrow?
I’m an ex-pollster turned CEO. I was the CEO of Edelman Berland and president of Penn, Schoen & Berland. I worked for more than 25 years as a strategic advisor and communications consultant and now I am the CEO and founder of Decode_M.
3. Where are you spending lock and how do you manage your day?
I am currently quarantined in Waccabuc, New York with my wife, 25 year old son and his English Bull Dog puppy named Bo (named after Boris Johnson but that is a different conversation). I’ve actually developed a pretty good routine. I start my morning by doing some yoga, stretching or weight training. Then I have breakfast with my son and play with Bo.
I then start my work day around 9:30 am with our all hands company staff meeting. Each day we have a theme: Monday is a weekly update, Tuesday is a mental health or take stock day where we share self-care tips and practices we’ve found help with mental health during this trying time. Wednesdays are reserved for our deep thinking sessions, Thursday is marketing updates and Fridays are lunch. The Friday team lunches are really special because each Friday, a team member writes about any topic and sends it to the entire team in our “Weekly Round Up”. We then spend lunch further discussing the topic that was introduced in the Weekly Round Up.
I’ve set these team meetings up so that we can all start the day together as a team. Our weekly status update sets the tone of how to look forward to the week. As a team, we have transitioned pretty well into our “virtual office”, but starting the day together helps us get synced up.
4. What are the biggest adjustments you’ve had to make in terms of you work, managing your teams/ clients?
There have actually been quite a few major adjustments within our office. I think the biggest challenge has been adjusting to the new need for stricter personal/work boundaries and being even more respectful of everyone’s time. You’d think that everything would become more relaxed, but actually we’ve had to become a little more formal in the way we interact with each other on the team. It’s interesting, you have to be even more on top of everything – like preparedness, accountability, and longer hours. Things that used to seem small for internal interactions like being late to Zoom meetings is just not as accepted anymore because we know that people are all trying to get through their day and new schedule at home.
It’s all kind of counter-intuitive, because you would think things would lighten up being remote, but we have adjusted to keep our productivity high by increasing our formality. People have lower tolerance for their time being wasted, so you have to be ready. We used to have casual catch ups or casual brainstorm sessions, but now everything has to be scheduled and that comes with a lot of responsibility. Our collaborations have become far more structured and formal, but they have also become more productive.
Before quarantine, we had just moved into a beautiful new space laid out to create open communication and maximum collaboration. Now we’re in the least possible collaborative environment, and we’ve had to adjust. I mean, there are obviously more distractions like dogs barking, significant others coming into frame accidentally, and there is definitely more empathy, but everyone is working much harder. I am not sure that is a good thing. When you’re remote, you’re always on and this makes setting boundaries between work and play even harder. We’ve been working with our team since the very beginning to make sure everyone knows how to properly work from home and not get burnt out. But it has definitely been a huge adjustment that we are continuing to figure out each day!
For our clients, we have been trying to get them to think in a future state because the current state is just so overwhelming. For momentum, we are always trying to think 18-24 months in advance anyways, so we are trying to get our clients in a more momentum mindset.
5. How has your business been affected by and reacted to the crisis?
The last real week of in-person work was actually the week we launched our book on March 10th. We were right in the middle of launching our new IP – the MFactor and our new book, Maximum Momentum: How to get it, How to keep it… we had planned for a 6 month launch and then we had to completely switch gears and go with our clients into crisis mode and helping them through all the changes from COVID-19.
We were able to release the book and have our momentum party. It was really the last big party in New York City. Everyone came because we all kind of knew it was going to be the last large gathering in NY and everyone could sense that. It was the probably last time there would be that many people in one room casually passing around horderves.
I think everyone felt a sense of comfort coming because Dr. Oz was there – he was up on stage with me speaking about the momentum of COVID-19. It was also the last big in person interview for him and everyone else. Thankfully, not a single person got sick and we can fondly remember our night of momentum as a big pre quarantine blow out.
6. Do you expect that your company will return to BAU post lock down or do you think there will be some changes? If so what?
I don’t think the idea of business as usual exists anymore… I mean, we were never a “business as usual” company. We operate in a way where we’re always evolving and thinking 18-24 months out into the future. Post lockdown, we’re going to be just as future minded, which is exciting.
To start, we aren’t coming back until Labor Day at the earliest. As a company, we have always been flexible, adaptable and empathetic. We’ve always been tolerant of working from home, but now we appreciate it even more. This has also made us more appreciative of collaboration and specifically in person collaboration. I think we are going to value physically working in the office together much more and really appreciate the moments we can spend together.
7. Have you been impressed or put off by any particular brands in how they have responded to the crisis?
I’ve been really impressed with Estee Lauder Company… I admire how much they’ve been doing their staff and the entire country.
To start, they got their employees to a safe working situation very quickly. They are typically a company that relies on working in the office and I was impressed by how quickly they got their employees out and working from home.
With that, they announced the creation of the ELC Cares Employee Relief Fund (ELC Cares Fund). The fund is dedicated to supporting ELC employees worldwide facing financial hardships due to COVID-19.
They’ve also done a number of active COVID-19 related initiatives.
8. What has been the hardest part and the best parts about lockdown?
The hardest part has been continuing to be motivational and inspirational. It’s much harder to lead in this environment. People are working and getting their jobs done, but I am concerned that they are not professionally getting the mentoring they would if we were all together in the office.
The best part of lockdown has actually been In my personal life. I don’t have to travel and really get to spend time with my family. Spending time with son before he goes to graduate school has been unbelievable. He’s 25 and about to go off to business school so spending all this time with him is incredible. I’ve also been able to “keep in touch” more of my friends, which is great. In New York City, I was always on the run. Now I’m able to really create a routine at home. It has made me more appreciative of being in the moment. I’ve always been the guy who’s thinking about what’s next. But when you’re in the same place day in and day out, you start to think about the little things. I’ve had more dinners with my wife than I ever have before. I’ve become a dog person. I never ever thought a dog would be a part of my life. I didn’t think there was space or interest for one, but getting to know my son’s dog has really changed my perspective.
9. How do you find inspiration/ what gets you out of bed each day?
That daily 9:30 am call gets me up and going. It’s really designed to get us all out of bed. You have to be prepared and ready to go. When I find myself lacking momentum to be a good leader, I think about my team. Showing them leadership and love inspires me to be the best boss I can be.
10. There has been talk of massive changes to how we live our lives and how we work due to the lessons learnt from the Coronavirus – do you think this is true?
Absolutely. The number one lesson is that before Coronavirus, we were all a little cavalier and sloppy with our health and sanitary practices. This pandemic is forcing us to tighten up on hygienic standards, how we interact with people and being more conscious and conscientious.
11. What one thing do you hope will continue post lock down?
I hope that we stay deliberate and appreciative after all of this. I hope we think through our actions a little more and become less impulsive as a nation. Impulsive with people’s time or actions. We have not been thinking through what our actions will be and the effect it will have on others. This will make us be more introspective and thoughtful on social media, at the office, with people’s time and with health. I hope that this has a social impact and we care more about other people.
12. Have you learnt anything about yourself during lock down that you didn’t know before?
Well, I’ve learned that I like dogs!
Also, I always thought that momentum was literal motion. Now I realize it has many dimensions. And a shark always has to swim to stay in motion. Maybe it is not as literally true for humans. We can be in motion in so many different ways.