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Apr 19, 2022
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40. Attorney, CHRO, Keynote Speaker

40. Attorney, CHRO, Keynote Speaker

On this episode, Jeff and his guest explore the tension many leaders feel between trying to protect their organizations from legal trouble, and creating cultures of humanity, openness, and compassion. Jeff’s guest is Deborah Moroz, who is a Licensed Attorney and is Chief Human Resources Officer at Health-Ade Kombucha. Deb is a Keynote Speaker and is active on several Boards including Carver Skateboards, and Helpr.

Jeff and Deb talk about companies that are either not well protected legally, or have cultures that are prone to employee litigation, despite being protected. Deb shares what it looks like to create a culture that embodies the “owner’s mentality,” so even though you have legal protections, you don’t usually need them. They discuss how to implement a "speak-up" culture and the resulting benefits. Deb shares the benefits of active listening and also provides a list of "minimum standard" legal protections that all organizations must have.


Intro: Duration: (01:57)

Opening music jingle & sound effects

Jeff Hunt:

I'm Jeff Hunt, and this is Human Capital produced by GoalSpan. My day job is, of course, CEO of GoalSpan, but one of my passions is hosting this podcast where we get to uncover the deeply human aspect of work. In this episode, we're going to explore the tension that many leaders feel between trying to protect their organizations from legal trouble and creating cultures of humanity, openness, and compassion.

History is unfortunately filled with examples of lawsuits where companies were either not well protected legally or had cultures that were more prone to employ litigation despite being protected. When these two are combined, it's actually a recipe for disaster. So today we're going to talk about creating cultures that embody the owner's mentality if you will.

So, even though you have legal protections, you really don't need them. My guest on the show today is Deborah Moroz and she is a highly qualified person to help us explore this complicated topic. Deb is a licensed attorney, but she's also the chief human resources officer at Health-Ade Kombucha. Deb is a keynote speaker and she is active on several boards, including Carver Skateboards and Helper.

Welcome, Deb! You know, I'd be in trouble if I were working at health aid because I love their kombucha and I'd be wired all the time. Do you like to drink a lot of healthy kombuchas?

Deborah Moroz:

I do I do, you know, I've learned a lot about gut health while working at health aid and the incredible impact of the gut house on our physical and mental wellbeing.

So having prebiotics and probiotics on tap has been a really wonderful benefit of working at health aid.

Topic 1. Who or what inspired you in your career? (01:58)

Jeff Hunt:

Well, I really appreciate you coming to the show. I know you're busy and we're going to jump in, but before we get into this topic, can you just give me the thumbnail of your career journey and maybe share who inspired you along the way?

Deborah Moroz:

Yeah, you bet. I am a recovering employment attorney. I have been at this for a few decades, shall we say? And I actually started off selling HR services for a Fortune 500 company and became interested in employment law. At that time, the FMLA and the ADA were heating up and I was being asked questions by clients about these emerging areas of law that I couldn't answer.

So, and then at the same time, we had a sexual harassment investigation take place in our office and the HR person, at my former employer was so professional in the way she handled the matter. She walked that fine line of wanting to conduct a thorough and prompt and objective investigation and also protect the women in the office and the employee of the company.

So I wasn't really actively involved in that suit, but I was asked to be a witness through an interview and I was like, I need to learn how that woman did what she just did. And at the time there were not many labor and employment law schools in the country. I applied to Chicago Kent, got in, and loved every second of it. Since graduating from law school, I've kind of had three different types of roles.

You know, first as an attorney, also as in-house counsel and an HR executive, and then I've also had a couple runs at being an entrepreneur and starting and selling two businesses.

Topic 2. Culture and legal protections; can they work together? (04:08)

Jeff Hunt:

Wow. That's a great snapshot. And it sounds like it gave you such broad experience, which has sort of brought you to the present.

And maybe you can help connect the dots. So, you have culture on one side and compliance or legal protection, legal compliance on the other, but they are often not thought of in the same realm, but there is a connection. So connect the dots for us.

Deborah Moroz:

Yeah. So, the way I think about this is to imagine if you were working at a company and you were paid differently than your male counterparts, so that's a compliance issue, right?

That's going to certainly affect culture. I was reading yesterday about a case I think it was in the sixth circuit. Where an employee was receiving in his locker, grotesquely racist notes. That's a compliance issue. That's also a cultural issue. So, I think of culture as the umbrella, and under culture are things like vision, mission, and values are what I call VMV.

There's what I call DEIB, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belongingness. There's obviously compliance as a part of the culture. There's learning and development. There's the type of communication culture that's in the organization. Is it a candid transparent speak-up culture?

What's the cadence of responding to emails? Wow, do meetings run? So, very broad kind of concept around communication. And then also the extent to which benefits, comp, and career path thing are a part of the employee experience. Is it 75th percentile? Is it the 25th percentile? Those kinds of things are going to impact culture.

So that's a long way of saying culture to me is very broad and compliance is an element toward creating an ideal culture.

Topic 3. Why do people sue companies? How do companies avoid being sued? (06:31)

Jeff Hunt:

I see. So the aspects you just mentioned seem to touch almost every area of the business or organization. And what was coming to mind for me was that if you're doing those things well, if you are communicating transparently, and you have empathy and you have the proper equitable compensation structure.

And you have a culture of belonging. Then all of these things are going to create more of a community of trust if you will. And this was what I was trying to tee up in the intro about this owner's mentality concept because even if I'm far removed from the ownership of the organization if I believe the owners actually have my best interest at heart, aren't I less likely to be confrontational about legal potential things where I could sue the company?

And secondly, Deb, I'd love your response on this. Isn't it also true? I'm going to be more likely to be a person that's going to protect the organization myself? So, if I see somebody doing something, that's going to put the company at risk, I'm going to speak up or those truisms?

Deborah Moroz:

Absolutely. You know, I think, for the most part, people sue, when they feel disrespected, employees quit their job when they think that the manager specifically, but also the company doesn't care about them.

How do we demonstrate care first and foremost? It's by making sure that for example, non-exempt employees have rest periods and annual breaks per the law. Demonstrating care shows up with things like not how was your weekend, but I want to take the next hour to talk about you. How are you growing here? What's getting in the way of your success?

What is a career path look like? How can I be in service to your development? What podcasts are you listening to? What books are you reading? Who is your mentor? What networking are you doing? Are there conferences you've been attending? That to me how we demonstrate care.

We also demonstrate care by actively listening to employees. It's simple things like not interrupting them or being the smartest person in the room, even though, you know, you might be a vice president and you've got the playbook. Letting people shine, giving them credit when things go well, taking responsibility if things don't go well, not blaming.

Those are ways in which employers and managers demonstrate care paying fairly, also nowadays more important than ever offering a flexible work situation. No, I talked to an employee the other day and she's like let me call you back I'm on my way to yoga class. And it was like noon. I'm like, oh, awesome.

Have a great class. I'll catch you on the flip side. Right? She is. And then she's like, by the way, one of the many reasons I love working here is because I can do this. That flexibility demonstrates care. People are less likely to Sue if they care about the employer and you're right, Jeff, they're more likely to speak up and say, I'm observing behavior or a practice that is misaligned with the values we've agreed.

Define who we are during day-to-day and also during stressful times. And if an employer has the back of an employee, they're going to have the back of the employer and speak up. I am a huge fan of creating a speak-up culture. Some people think it's controversial and it's not easy to do because we're taught as young children, like, keep your head down.

Or you getting your neck chopped off, but the reality is the people on the line, the people on the street, the people in the office, they're a lot more connected to the day-to-day of what's actually happening than the C-suite. And if they can speak up comfortably and safely, we are going to be much more likely to see problems and challenges that we might not otherwise have noticed.

And they're going to feel valued and respected and also grow. So, absolutely the answer is yes and yes.

Topic 4. Strategies to create a speak-up culture (11:26)

Jeff Hunt:

What are some strategies to create a speak-up culture?

Deborah Moroz:

Yeah. So the first thing is to define what it means for each organization. We have to have buy-in from the board and the CEO along with the entire executive team, or it will not work.

So, once we define, say, we say for us, speaking up means raising your hand in a meeting when you might feel scared or embarrassed. It means calling out a manager or a boss, or even the CEO, if something is askew and it means exercising my voice when I have something that I need to say, or if I have a question.

Okay. So let's just pretend, that's what we're defining for now as speak up. Then we have to roll this out and we can roll it out by transparently shining a bright light on our current state. So, for example, by saying right now, we probably don't have an ideal speak-up culture because I've noticed that when I ask tough questions in meetings, there's like stone-cold silence.

Or when we have a town hall, I'm not getting tough questions, or I've noticed that there's some chatter behind the scenes about certain people, and instead, there should be peer-to-peer crystal conversations. So that's our current state. And then we lay out the vision for speaking up. What we envisioned for Speak-Up is ABC what do you guys think?

What are we missing? What else should we be doing? So, we get buy-in and then we map out how to get from current to ideal. So, what we're going to start doing is during meetings we're going to acknowledge people who speak up. We're going to do training on how to create a safe space for people by gracefully accepting feedback.

We're going to do training on how to have crucial conversations, right? So kind of building in some infrastructure around that way out like a roadmap to get from that current to ideal, it definitely takes time. It's a process to build a speak-up culture. It doesn't happen overnight, but I think also publicly acknowledging it as a value and then rewarding people is critical.

But the key is that leadership embrace it and create a safe space, by saying things like. Oh, my gosh that must have been, was that hard to tell me that? I'm so grateful for that feedback, you were brave enough to share that with me, and now I'm going to be a better professional for it.

So thank you so much. What else? Tell me more. And then zip it.

Jeff Hunt:

Yes, exactly. I love those examples and I'm just reflecting on how what you're describing for organizations to do is this intentional and proactive inventory of their own culture. And it's not different from what they do really well for their employees.

So with an employee, obviously you're identifying the role that they're in and what their strengths are, what their growth opportunities are, and their goals. You're wanting to establish those. And you're really talking about flipping that and doing that for the organization where we are taking inventory on our culture.

Do we have a speak-up culture? Are we able to actually speak openly and freely in a psychologically safe environment that promotes this type of behavior in the discussion? Is that correct?

Deborah Moroz:

Yeah. I love where you're going with that, because to the extent we can have measurable goals around something like speak-up culture, we're going to be better off because some of this is hard to ascertain whether we have.

And authentically comfortable speak-up culture. Part of it is like, you know it when you see it. But I'm a big believer in measuring and tracking goals intangible things like culture, leadership acumen, managerial intelligence, speak up those kinds of things. It just takes a little bit more work to figure out how to measure it, but it's all measurable.

Jeff Hunt:

Yeah. And you can do that with surveys, right? It seems like the key takeaway here is also that if you do measure it and you do run the surveys, do something with the data. If we're not doing well, share with the employees, what the initiatives are going to be to improve that situation.

Deborah Moroz:

If we're going to measure, for example, whether we have a speak-up culture by asking questions. Such as our peers sharing feedback with each other, say, say, there's that one question out of 10 questions we might ask annually. I really think that survey results like that should be shared across the company.

If you take a survey and don't find out what the survey results are. I'm not inclined to take the survey again. I want to know what the results are!

Jeff Hunt:

It seems like it could actually have a counter effect on morale. So if I take the time to give my survey results, but then I see that the company is not, or the organization's not doing anything with those results, then I'm going to be very frustrated.

Deborah Moroz:

That's the worst possible thing an employer can do when it comes to attempting to build an ideal culture. Part of what I used to do is culture assessment. That would include deep, deep, deep dive HR audits and then engagement surveys, which have to be tight and statistically valid, and really well thought out.

But that's like black and white and then stakeholder interview. Where people are sharing one-on-one in a safe, confidential space is the color black and white. And that will give you a good sense of the along with looking at things like turnover, unwanted turnover, and employee complaints that have come in and questions from town halls or whatever.

They'll start to give you a good sense of the current state of engagement and culture. If we assess that and don't share on it or worse, don't do anything. There goes to the trust. We're done, it's over. So, I've had clients in the past was, they were like, steadfast, we know it's so bad.

We're bleeding out here. We're not going to share the results. And I wouldn't take the work because it's just not going to work. This idea comes from war tribunals. There's a sociological advantage to airing out the dirty laundry, putting a spotlight, putting it in the light of day. So we can theoretically more together, acknowledge what happened, and then unite on a collective vision for moving forward.

If you skip that step it won't work.

Jeff Hunt:

And it reminds me of the old book by Jim Collins Good to great. Where he really goes into confronting the brutal facts. It seems to me, Deb, that organizations and leaders that do that really well, immediately gain more trust and respect from their people.

Deborah Moroz:

A hundred percent. Yeah. Shove it under the rug leaders are of yesteryear today's leaders. I was just reading something this morning so that candidates know are demanding DEIB stats. How many women are in leadership ranks prove to me that you have pay equity, that's new, that's today. That's what's happening.

Jeff Hunt:

And really you and I are both on different boards. And I think from a board perspective and a governance capacity, one of the important factors of change, if you will, is to make sure that we're holding these organizations accountable for making sure their ranks are properly diversified in every way.

Deborah Moroz:

Yeah I mean, we could do a whole other podcast on that. It is one of the great opportunities for leadership today. It is to create both genders as well as ethnic diversity, but also neurological possibilities, diversity and religious and sexual orientation, and all of the protected classes. Yeah.

Topic 5. Advice to begin to protect your company (20:35)

Jeff Hunt:

Do you have any advice for leaders that really don't know where to begin to protect themselves cause something can still happen that puts the organization at risk, even though they may have a very favorable culture?

Deborah Moroz:

Totally. And that's the newer nuance to all of this over the last 10 years that I would say I've seen evolve is, there are unfortunately what I call like professional plaintiffs and people who perhaps used to do like a slip and fall on a grocery store and they will come into a workplace.

And basically lie about what's happening regardless of how much care an employer or manager demonstrates. They're going to set you up for a lawsuit. And then they're also what I call unprofessional plaintiffs. So there are people who might also falsify the truth, but do so in a really sloppy way.

Cause they don't know what they're doing. It's obviously a little bit easier to deal with the unprofessional plaintiffs for the professional plaintiffs, or people who are just going to sue, regardless of having a strong culture, which does happen the most important thing employers can do, especially in a fast-growth environment where it's like the wild west and everybody's wearing different hats.

And it's whack-a-mole. And we're not necessarily buttoned up in every possible way first and foremost, making sure that there's, workers' comp for all employees, which sounds silly, but I actually discovered this, before they're like, oh wait, we don't. We don't have any worker's comp in Tennessee, I'm making that up, but you know, that state requires their own policy, that ours doesn't cover.

So workers' comp makes sure that health insurance has provided to all employees within the appropriate amount of time because if an employee gets hit by a bus and we forgot to offer them health insurance in time, the employer could be liable, it's a big-ticket liability. Things like handbooks back in the day, as an HR consultant, I used to draft handbooks.

Now I'm just like, have your attorney do it because every comma, every little thing in a handbook, an offer letter is so important. The holy grail of HR is the implement will doctrine. Right? And I imagine that there's a four-legged stool. So the right language has to be in the offer letters in the handbook ideally in a job description.

And then the fourth leg of the stool is ongoing. Sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and those training need to be consistent and done every single year. I'm not a fan of video training because most of them are like snoozers. So I love live training when we can do it. Wage and hour. Things are absolutely 911 critical, especially in California, but also all over the country.

So that means making sure non-exempt or hourly employees are never working off the clock, that you're paying to the minute and not rounding, that rest periods and meal breaks are being taken and that some Bulletproof wage, an hour, things like time to the station is being done.

So they confirm, yes, those are the hours I worked yesterday. So investigating claims that come up right away in a prompt, thorough, and objective manner, not punishing or retaliating against people who speak up. Those are some of the very initial things that come to mind. When you ask what should the kind of 911 focus legally should be.

Jeff Hunt:

Yeah, extremely helpful. I was also thinking that so many examples of these lawsuits come from decisions that have been made by the employer that is just not necessarily common sense. Like there was a Supreme court case around this plastics company I'm not sure whether you're familiar with it or not, but basically, the employee's complaint was that.

The time clocks were far away from the area where he had to put on his safety gear. And so he was needing to put on safety gear and then travel for ways to the time clock, which in principle, some people might say, well, that's such a trivial issue. You're coming to work, but it's really not. And demonstrating to the employee that you're going to pay them to get equipped properly for safety on their job, communicates that you actually care for the employee, right?

Deborah Moroz:

Yeah, the wage and hour stuff, punching in and out getting paid for every minute. You know, that's what I was saying like working off the clock, there was a Starbucks case, the same thing, and it's basically like the employee would punch out and then walk out the door and lock the door.

Because he or she was the last person and that act of locking the door was unpaid, and so it resulted in liability for Starbucks. So, it's like the diminishments punch is a way that's described and it's those little things employers are like, oh, it's no big deal. I don't know. It is a big deal. It's a huge deal.

Jeff Hunt:

Yeah. Well, and Deb, before we shift into some lightning round questions, I am, I'm reflecting on one thing that you said earlier that seems to be pervasive on the cultural side. That could be so helpful. And it's really that people mostly just want to be listened to and heard isn't that correct?

Deborah Moroz:

A hundred percent. Yeah. We all human beings want to be seen, valued, appreciated, and heard when I do leadership development, coaching, and or workshops. The very first topic we cover is active listening, turning the mind off like, oh, when am I going to have for lunch? Why my emails are piling up? Who just texted me?

Gifting present moment to that individual. People feel it when they're being heard and listened to. So I couldn't agree more.

Topic 6. Lighting round questions (27:23)

Jeff Hunt:

And that changes culture a hundred percent on a recent episode. The expression of listening to understand, instead of listening to reply was what came to mind for me. Yeah, exactly. Anyway, let's shift into some lightning-round questions. What are you most grateful for?

Deborah Moroz:

Yeah, my family, the thing I wanted most in life was to be a mom. I have two beautiful, amazing children. And so I would say my family, my mom, my brother, and my sister.

Jeff Hunt:

How lucky you are, what is the most difficult leadership lesson you've learned over your career?

Deborah Moroz:

I quite started businesses that I did not take quickly enough from the wild west to having an infrastructure. Systems, policies, procedures, practices, tools, resources, and that infrastructure is what hold together. Sustainable growth. I'm a more big picture, visionary, future thinking strategic.

So I understood the value of those things kind of but didn't put enough resources into building out that infrastructure. I would say that was a very painful lesson. I had to learn twice.

Jeff Hunt:

That's a great piece of advice. Who is one person you would interview if you could living or not?

Deborah Moroz:

You know, I'm hesitant to say, it cause I don't want to sound political, but the truth is it might be Barack Obama.

I just admire his leadership style very much. I'm from Illinois. And he was a Congressperson and he was well-known for doing his homework before sessions and that doesn't always happen in Congress, but he would read just like book after book, after, you know, I admire that very much and I'm kind of obsessed with leadership. I would interview and ask him everything I could about leadership.

Jeff Hunt:

What's your top book recommendation?

Deborah Moroz:

Anything having to do with the intersectionality of meditation and neuroscience, that's really where my reading has been as of late. I think it's very interesting to put together practices that are thousands of years old with what we're learning today around neuroscience.

I know how I feel when I meditate regularly, but it's super cool to learn about the brain science behind what's happening there.

Jeff Hunt:

And there's so much great advice and counsel on how meditation helps us to be more present. And if we can extend that into our workday, we're going to be much more effective and we're going to be better at our jobs. We're going to be better colleagues are going to be better managers, leaders, employees.

Deborah Moroz:

I talk a lot about what I call PSA Professional Self-Actualization getting into a state of flow is for me calming and peaceful. And I have, I would just say higher brain functionality. When I'm not multitasking or thinking about the future or the past when we're here right now today, or when I'm here right now, today, I'm a more effective businessperson and I'm a servant leader and colleague.

But it's a practice. It's a practice for sure.

Jeff Hunt: What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

Deborah Moroz:

Kill the ego. I think ego kills business. It gets in the way of progress, it's what causes war and dysfunction and toxicity, and it's, what's killing our environment. And I think when we all realize that we're all connected, we're gonna just jump in stratospheres as a civilization.

Jeff Hunt:

Build the ego. I love that. What's the most important takeaway to leave our listeners with today.

Deborah Moroz:

You know, I think it was Peter Drucker who said culture eats strategy for lunch. Culture is both strategic and tactical. This strategy around it is defined literally down to like one or two sentences, what is your company's culture?

And then honestly assessing the current state envisioning an ideal future state and then mapping out how to get from current to ideal.

Jeff Hunt:

I love that, that thanks so much for spending time with me and bringing all this wisdom to the show today.

Deborah Moroz:

My pleasure Jeff, thank you so much.


Closing music jingle/sound effects

Jeff Hunt:

Thanks for listening to the show this week. We release new episodes every other Tuesday. Let me know what you thought of this episode by emailing humancapitalgoalspan.com. Human capital is produced by GoalSpan. Subscribe, wherever you get your podcasts. And please share this podcast with your colleagues, team, or friends. Thanks for being human kind.

Human Capital — 40. Attorney, CHRO, Keynote Speaker
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