We invited Ian Shea to the podcast in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. Ian is the Founder and CEO of I M Human, an organization that works with companies advising on how to think through the variety of creative ways to culturally support the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being needs of their employees and implements initiatives that are relevant for them.
Ian shares his Life MomentTM, such as going to different countries for a youth exchange program, finally getting accepted at Cornell after several rejections, going to investment banking, coming out of restructuring twice, and eventually going to business school.
Ian then founded a company, Maestro Market, but that business did not work out through a series of twists and turns. And it was a traumatic and very stressful experience for him. However, that particular Life MomentTM started Ian’s journey to launching I M Human. Ian shares how he shifted a potentially disastrous moment into one of tremendous growth in this episode.
Passionate about entrepreneurship ever since he was young
Ever since I was little, I always had started small companies, nothing major. But I was just interested in seeing what I could create on my own. And I enjoyed that. I enjoyed that Rubik’s cube. Instead of getting “normal jobs” like a camp counselor, I would be doing other things.
On having different executive positions to gain knowledge about running a business
My original goal was to learn the plumbing, if you will, of the business. Or, if you think of your little learnings as a clock, I was able to go around the whole clock, get some proficiency. I had some great guidance along the way. I had some great mentors. And all along the way, mentors would drop me into particular positions because they said, if you want to go where you say you want to go, these are all valuable skill sets. You don’t have to be an expert in all these areas. But you need to know just enough. So, when you’re eventually managing or running a company, you have better preview on the holistic elements of the company.
On building I M Human, a “non-traditional’ business
It took many years for me to get my own voice in it to understand, and ultimately, to get confidence that, after a traditional background that I had business-wise, that I could actually be just as successful and “non-traditional.” What looks very traditional now was not 10 years ago. You’re trying to build a business around emotional and wellbeing was not something that was mainstream nor is talking about mental health as it relates to business. None of that was in the dialogue. And so, the benefits of that was that really forced me to come up with my own words, because if you were to read an article and you have an idea similar to that, that validates you and you can take snippets of that to make you sound better. But if there’s nothing of that there, you really have to hone in. And I had a lot of support in that “hone in”. I had support from my family, my friends. I’ll never forget this, I was building this, I didn’t have any clue what I was doing, but I knew inside where I was going.
And so, people would say, “How are you doing? What are you doing?” I couldn’t really articulate it in a confident way, which doesn’t make your loved ones feel that confident in what you’re doing. But they still supported me throughout.
What is I M Human
We are a trusted advisor for organizations that are at a point where they want to grow their culture to be more supportive of the mental, emotional, and spiritual being their employees. And what that entails is it really boils down to culture transformation and culture growth.
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00] Sean: Welcome to the OneHaas Alumni Podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li. And today, we’re joined by Ian Shea. Ian is a Berkeley Columbia Executive MBA. Ian is a BCEMBA class of 2008. And he is currently the Founder and CEO of I M Human. Welcome to the podcast, Ian.
[00:25] Ian: Thank you so much, Sean. Excited to be here.
[00:27] Sean: We’re really excited to have you on because it is Mental Health Awareness Month. And first off, we’d love to hear about your origin story.
[00:35] Ian: So, I was born 1973 in Rye, New York. I’m the eldest of five, grew up going to Catholic school, then I went to our local public school, which is Rye High School. And from there, I got a scholarship with the Rotary that was a youth exchange program at the time. Rotary would give scholarships to people interested in going abroad. And how I got introduced to that was through a dear friend who was a fellow Eagle Scout with growing up. He was a year ahead of me. And he got a scholarship to go to Sweden. Then, the way the Rotary worked at that time is, if you showed an interest in wanting to go abroad, you would apply. And if you got accepted, they could send you pretty much anywhere. You didn’t really have a choice.
Each year, they would feature seven different countries. And so, my year, I think it was Russia, it was Denmark. There were some South American countries. And the lottery for me was to Denmark. So, for me, that was definitely a formative experience. I was there for a whole year. And most seniors, you’re applying to college. And applying to college, I really didn’t get into too many colleges. Got rejected from a fair amount. And I always had my sight set on Cornell. I applied to Cornell and I didn’t get in, somewhat of an interesting story in that. Went to Denmark, having really not been accepted at any college. But didn’t matter because I was excited about that experience. And I probably wrote Cornell, no joke, 15, 20, maybe 30 postcards, just filling them in on my experience and how it was going and how I still remained extremely interested in going the upcoming year. And I kept getting rejections—deferrals rejections, I’m not sure exactly what they were.
But I’ll never forget this. With the Rotary, you have to go for a whole year. It was a 365-day commitment. Couldn’t leave, so to say. You could, but they didn’t encourage that. And towards the end of my year there was June. I was going home in July. We had a going away party because I was in the equivalent of senior year over there. And they had both a senior year graduation party, as well as an Ian going away party. Called my mom and dad just to check in how things were going, when they were going to pick me up at the airport. And they said, “We’ve got a little letter here. Do you want us to open it up?” And I said, “Yeah, open up.” Little letters or not, that’s not a good sign. And I remember just looking out over the backyard and there were tons of kegs, and the parties were all set up. So, in my head, I was just like, “We’ll deal with that later. I’ve got a good party [inaudible 00:02:50].” And it turns out, they said, “Congratulations, you’re accepted class of ’96.” And it was, not only was my formative years, a real start to becoming who I am today, both Denmark and Cornell, as well.
[03:05] Sean: What did you study at Cornell?
[03:06] Ian: Cornell, I studied economics and French. And the reason for the French piece was, when I was over in Denmark, Denmark, it’s a beautiful language but I didn’t find it as elegant as French. I was like, French would be really interesting to learn. So, minored in French and majored in econ.
[03:22] Sean: What did you do with econ afterwards?
[03:24] Ian: Ever since I was little, I always had started small companies, nothing major. But I was just interested in seeing what I could create on my own. And I enjoyed that. I enjoyed that Rubik’s cube. Instead of getting “normal jobs” like a camp counselor, I would be doing other things. And when I went through college, one of my thoughts was it would be great to start my own business at time X in the future. And so, econ, at that point, was just a logical business framework, at least in my mind, to prepare me. And then, upon graduation, I had a lot of friends going into investment banking. And so, from my perspective, investment banking was a good fundamental skill set, just to understand the flows of equity and debt into a business, how you analyze business, just getting an understanding of the businesses, if you will.
And so, upon graduation, I went into investment banking, did work with Prudential Securities, doing a lot of IPO and secondary work in the tech world. This was out of Manhattan, as I was starting to get exposure to the West Coast. And then I did two years in M&A and restructuring, just to get a little bit more of a quant background because I knew, once I left banking, it was probably going to be it for me. So, I wanted to get this much skills as I could.
And then, from banking, what happened was I was analyzing companies and taking a look at companies and understanding the metrics. But I really didn’t know actually how do you take a company and grow it 10% year over year, or how do you reduce op-ex, like gross margin, what does that mean? And so, from banking, you wanted to go into a company to understand the plumbing, actually, all the analytics that I was doing, what did that mean, practically speaking? So, I went from New York in investment banking to San Francisco, and I worked in ReplayTV. And I was at ReplayTV which, at the time, was a competitor of TiVo. It was one of the Silicon Valley darlings, if you will, of 2000, very well-funded. We had filed to go public. And then, some may know, the crash, which occurred in the spring of 2000, the tech market just carpet-fell. It was ripped out from underneath it. And for me, because I was in banking, I actually didn’t get laid off because a lot of that skill set was put right to work from a restructuring perspective, because I was pretty much the only one internally who knew that.
[05:34] Sean: You were there for quite a while.
[05:35] Ian: I was there for eight years. And at that time, it felt like being a dinosaur because a lot of people just went from company to company every two years. But for me, ReplayTV, we went through a restructuring. I was able to shepherd that with my boss at the time. And then, we got bought by a publicly traded company. And I was able to take on the same role at that publicly traded company. And then the publicly traded company, which was interesting at the time, we were graphics chips manufacturer. The company was called Sonic Blue and Sonic Blue was in the transition of going from a graphics chips manufacturer into what was loosely defined as a digital home entertainment company. And the first piece they bought of that strategy was ReplayTV. They also had Rio, which at the time was an MP3 player.
[06:22] Sean: Yeah, I remember Rio.
[06:23] Ian: It was the predecessor of what we may know as Apple’s product. And there were a whole bunch of other products. So, they were transitioning. They make that transition over graphics chips into, we call it, digital media. And they had quite an arsenal of cash with which to do that. But what happened was, as they were making the transition from chips into digital media, there was a revenue called gap until the new business took off.
And the asset that they had was in a Taiwanese semiconductor company. That asset at the time was worth a billion. So, the public markets were fine with that transition because it was well-funded. But as cyclical as the chips industry is, we started to go… the market started go into a downslide. And so, that billion went to 700 million, went to 500 million, went to 300 million. And then, as it went down to 200 million, a lot of the covenants kicked in. And I was, again, able to use my corp-dev hat, and we went through a whole nother restructuring, went into bankruptcy. I ran the bankruptcy. And we came out and got bought by a private equity shop. And I was eventually promoted to running ReplayTV out of that and sold it to DirecTV.
So, back to my original goal, was to learn the plumbing, if you will, of the business. Or, if you think of your little learnings as a clock, I was able to go around the whole clock, get some proficiency. I had some great guidance along the way. I had some great mentors. And all along the way, mentors would drop me into particular positions because they said, if you want to go where you say you want to go, this is all valuable skill sets. You don’t have to be an expert in all these areas. But you need to know just enough. So, when you’re eventually managing or running a company, you have better preview on the holistic elements of the company.
[08:02] Sean: That’s amazing. I have to ask, after getting such a wealth of experience, what drove you to get an MBA?
[08:09] Ian: That was a great question. The MBA, there was a period in ReplayTV that had plateaued off. This was after the restructuring. And before I got promoted to running it, I’m selling it. And I was in a, what I will call, just a more quiet zone for my own growth, for my own development, such that I wanted to go look for something else. But I didn’t want to just stay idle. And I always had my eye on MBA, but I knew I was never going to go back for two years because I appreciated all the learnings I was getting on the job. And at that time, I remember Berkeley and Columbia, I believe started the program, or they had started the program few years before I started this thought process. And I said, this could be a good opportunity to augment some of the slower period, if you will, while I was working.
So, what drew me to it was an opportunity to augment… have a different experience. And coming from the East Coast, the Columbia degree was a real draw, marrying both Columbia and Berkeley, because these are two of my favorite hubs or my favorite places in the world, both the West Coast and the East Coast. So, it was a real good fit. And it proved out to be that. But that was the vision going into it. It matches with a lot of my elements.
[09:25] Sean: And it seems like you ended up going into entrepreneurship entirely after business school. Were you thinking about entrepreneurship before going to MBA?
[09:33] Ian: Yeah, 100%. I was thinking about entrepreneurship, but I also was somewhat petrified by it, because I had a lot of friends who had similar tracks to me and then came up with these ideas and went off and they were off to the races. And so, this whole notion of an idea just create a lot of stress. I was like, where is this idea going to come from? So, I’m set on the wanting to go on the entrepreneurship route, but this whole idea piece caused a lot stress.
And so, how the idea came about was through, I guess, a variety of pathways. At Haas, for sure, what Haas really enabled me to appreciate were some of the more emotional sides of leadership and running a business. Coming out of banking, coming out of restructuring, coming out that path, I didn’t have a lot of that exposure, if you will. And as I went through my business career, one of the things I noticed was lacking was there was no room for emotions, there’s no room for emotions around a dialogue, or around owning them, or around talking to them, or around making the connection between an emotion and a business decision, or emotions and success. There was none of that.
And so, I started to get the inklings that this could be a business. And when I was in Haas, I took Steve Blank’s course. And I eventually TA’d for him three years after. He was an absolute phenomenal teacher and mentor. And it really inspired me, because in his class, all he did was bring in founders and have them talk and tell their story. And there was not a story that I heard that wasn’t like, “That’s what I want to do.”
And so, upon graduation, I sold ReplayTV to DirecTV, got an opportunity to work at DirecTV as well as the private equity shop that had owned us. And it was that I’ve felt that, “This is the time. If there’s ever a time for me to start something, that would be now.” And I started what was—the predecessor to this was Maestro Market, which is an expert network. Then, at the time, that was an idea of this notion of latent assets. If you think of Airbnb, they take advantage of a latent asset, which are your rooms, right?
[11:29] Sean: Right.
[11:30] Ian: Excess inventory. I was thinking that experts have latent assets, which is their time. You could read a New York Times report. I’d love to talk to that author. You could read a book on parenting. My wife and I would love to talk to that individual. There’s all sorts of examples. I’m about to go on a trip, World War II trips, throughout Europe. Wouldn’t it be great to have a professor who could talk to us about them?
And so, we’d lined up deals with all the major publishers in New York or in the world to get that supply, if you will. We were building out the demand. And we had to pick a vertical. And the vertical that I wanted to pick at that time was in and around spirituality. But basically, I didn’t have the words for what I’m doing today. So, I would use words like “spirituality.” Maybe, “self-help,” I was probably using that word back then. But I didn’t have—A, I didn’t have a confidence nor did I have a vocabulary in standing for the direction that I wanted to take the business in. And through a series of twists and turns, that business did not work out. And that, for me, was very traumatic, very stressful. And at that point in time, it was another juncture, which was, you had this idea around emotions and business and spirituality and all sorts of things, but what does that mean business-wise? One Friday, I realized that I was no longer going to… I was let go effectively of Maestro Market. And that was, again, traumatic. And so, on Monday, I had to let people go.
And that was the start of the journey, if you will, for what this new company would be, I M Human. And I’d built out I M Human initially. And it took many years for me to get my own voice in it to understand, and ultimately, to get confidence that, after a traditional background that I had business-wise, that I could actually be just as successful and “non-traditional.” What looks very traditional now was not 10 years ago. You’re trying to build a business around emotional and wellbeing was not something that was mainstream nor is talking about mental health as it relates to business. None of that was in the dialogue. And so, the benefits of that was that really forced me to come up with my own word, because if you were to read an article and you have an idea similar to that, that validates you and you can take snippets of that to make you sound better. But if there’s nothing of that there, you really have to hone in. And I had a lot of support in that hone in. I had support from my family, my friends. I’ll never forget this, I was building this, I didn’t have any clue what I was doing, but I knew inside where I was going.
And so, people would say, “How are you doing? What are you doing?” I couldn’t really articulate it in a confident way, which doesn’t make your loved ones feel that confident in what you’re doing. But they still supported me throughout. I had a great advisor. She helped me through it, really, in terms of getting my voice, getting the name, and how to articulate it. And it was originally built off as a product in a traditional Silicon Valley way. I wanted to go down building a product. And I started knocking on doors for companies. Ultimately, what they were saying was, “We have all these products in and around emotional wellbeing or mental health, or we get inundated. But we need someone like you who can actually help us, help navigate this, and help us expand our culture in a direction that supports the mental health, emotional wellbeing, spiritual being of our place.”
And I think the reason they asked me that was because I had the business background. So, I understood the language of business. I understood the flows of day-to-day business with deep understanding, passion, and what I’ll call layman’s expertise around mental, emotional, and spiritual being. And the reason I underscore “layman’s” is because, what I realized is… or what became apparent, and I had a lot of insecurities around this at the beginning, as much now, was that they weren’t looking for a therapist or a PhD to come in, because that can be a little off-putting, initially. You almost want to be someone who’s a little bit more neutral, which helps create some safety. It’s like, “Oh, that person’s just like me. They’re not coming in with any agenda. They’re truly just coming in to help us navigate this path.”
And then I could backfill it with that expertise, like a PhD or a therapist, or there’s thousands of people that we plug in, companies, because we’ve already created the comfort and the trust. Think of yourself when you’re going through an emotional experience, that’s a vulnerable time. And it’s hard to talk about it. And it can be hard to motion it through. That just gets compounded when you think of an organization like a company, with all of the other structures that are in place that have to be unwound for this.
[16:02] Sean: That sounds amazing. I think, for our listeners, if you don’t mind sharing a little bit more about I M Human and what it is that you guys do with organizations.
[16:12] Ian: So, what we are, and we’re positioning ourselves as a trusted advisor for organizations that are at a point where they want to grow their culture to be more supportive of the mental, emotional, and spiritual being their employees. And what that entails is it really boils down to culture transformation and culture growth. And it’s different for each company. So, we work with law firms. We work with the NYPD. We work with schools, supporting teachers. We work with LinkedIn, supporting their executives. So, in each instance, they’re very different because those are different environments. But what we found that the elements that make these projects successful is that it usually boils down to having leadership support—like senior leadership support—and also, an appreciation that it’s a journey. So, in other words, it’s not linear. It’s not, say, we’re going to do A, B, C, and then things are magically going to change. It can be multi-year projects with all instances they have been, for most of the companies that have brought us on, we’re still working with. Our listeners, the way you want to think about it is most organizations have legal guidance, they have a legal partner, they have a tax guidance, tax partner. And increasingly, they’re going to have what I’ll call human sustainability or human capital partners to help guide them on the growth of their business.
So, if you think about some of our project pre-COVID, all of a sudden, COVID happened. And so, what does that support look like? What does a culture need to look like? Now, we’re coming out of COVID and return to work, and there’s still not a lot of clarity around what that’s going to look like. But all the while, how do you make your employees feel heard, feel supported, feel valued through that? And so, that’s what we provide guidance on.
And ultimately, there’s an internal element to it, meaning making sure the culture is supportive. And then there’s an external element to it because there’s a lot of companies that are pioneers in their fields. So, for example, one of our clients is O’Melveny & Myers, which is top global law firms, have done a tremendous job internally terms of building their culture, which we help them do. And now, they’re at a point where they could serve as a beacon of hope, if you will. It’s, wow, if we can do this in the legal industry and we can do it to the extent that we have, so can others. So, we’re starting to help them message that and take that out to serve as a resource for other people.
[18:37] Sean: It seems like it’s really stage-agnostic as to what stage of business is in, because it sounds like you consult with organizations that are very mature and potentially startups as well, I presume. When do organizations realize they need to do this, typically?
[18:54] Ian: That’s a great question. There’s different drivers in different industries, like the NYPD, for example. What was driving that at the time when we got brought in was the increasing rates of officers taking their lives. So, the driver in that industry was an awareness that there were mental health and emotional being burdens that were leading to very negative outcomes. So, that was the impetus there. In the legal industry, the American Bar Association came out with a report that said, in the legal industry, the rates of substance abuse and self-harm were far higher than in other industries. So, they went on to create the ABA Well-Being Pledge, which a lot of law firms signed onto, which demonstrated their commitment to the wellbeing of their employees. But once they signed on, what does that look like? Actually, how do we actually make that happen?
So, those are two examples of industry drivers, if you will. There are other companies, that’s more part of their DNA. I would argue LinkedIn fits into that bucket where they’re very mature, nothing necessarily industry-driving, if you will, nothing from a severity perspective. It was just part of their culture. So, when we started working with them, they were farther along on the maturity scale, if you will, from what they were doing from an emotional wellbeing perspective. And they just wanted to take it to the next level.
And so, usually, what that looks is most companies, to your point, is stage-agnostic. But there’s usually a fairly similar flow, so to say. You start these projects off from wherever that company is at with their own programming. And it usually starts off more getting junior buy-in. Then, you start to go up towards the senior leadership level to get their engagement and buy-in. And that’s usually the flow that we’ve found. And usually, it’s the senior leadership that’s the last to demonstrate the engagement in this.
And just to delineate, just to provide more clarity, so a lot of companies will say, “We have a great EAP—that’s an employee assistance program—that we offer to our employees.” And an EAP comprises… it has things like medical, things like dental, things like access to mental health care benefits. Maybe, it has access to mental health apps, etc. But the EAP, in and of itself, is not going to increase Sean’s sense of belonging in his company. It’s not going to increase Sean’s sense of support and nurturance. That’s just a technology, or that’s just an offering. And there’s a reason that the engagement rates on EAPs is between 3 and 5%.
So, if you think about a company of 100 people, on average, three to five people are using the EAP. You have another 95 that walked through your door every day. And what can you be doing for them? Things you can be doing for them are just making them feel like some of the emotional things that may be taxing them, others are as well, i.e., you and I could be caring for elderly parents across the country. It’s creating a lot of stress on us. We may be in a situation where we have a loved one who’s going through an addiction period that’s causing stress in our lives. We may be in a situation where we’ve had a health scare. Or we may be in a situation where we’re in a relationship issue. All these things impact how we engage with our work, how we engage with each other, how we engage from a creative perspective, from an innovative perspective.
And so, there’s all this unlocked potential that, just with some tweaks of the dial… this is when I was working as an executive in companies. I was like, “Wow, if we can just turn a couple of these dials, it’s going to have a far greater impact than if I were to give raises, give more time-off, give more promotions.” That can only go so far. And I innately knew that as a leader of a company. And so, that’s ultimately why I got into this work. So, what we do is we help unlock that feeling of… and we’ve had this happen so many times where, through our work, managers will change their behavior. Just the way collaboration occurs will shift. Just the way idea generation and the expression of vulnerability changes, to the point where people will say, “I have a lot more… feel a lot more loyalty for that organization, feel a lot more like a lot of the work we do helps them with their own personal growth, their own emotional growth.” And we’ve had people come up saying, “A lot of the work that you did, i.e., the company, did help me better engage with my family at home, helped us have conversations that were waiting to be happened. And I never thought that the company would have supported me through that. Now, my loyalty for you is that much higher.” And you didn’t give a raise.
And it’s not that hard to understand. It’s like, well, if we spend over three quarters of our time at the office, that doesn’t mean our emotional, what we call our Life MomentTM, it doesn’t mean our life moments have lightened up or diminished. Somehow, a company can play a role in supporting people through their own life moment. And what we find is that, generally, life moments are human. We’re all human. So, if I went through a situation where I was caring for an elder, and maybe now I’m beyond that, you are now going through it, I already have some wisdom within the company that I can probably help you. And then, all of a sudden, Sean, you’re like, “Wow, Ian, through the work that the organization is doing, creating all these different communities, creating all these different opportunities for support and help, I developed a relationship with Ian, my colleague, not through work, but through more of a personal situation. I may go to bat for him, or I may put a little extra time in.” We literally had this happen where people say 9:00 to 5:00 jobs. Now, they stay until 5:15 because that extra 15 minutes, it’s “I want to give it back” type of thing.
[24:39] Sean: One of the interesting things that I noticed is, as a podcast host, I have to build trust with the guests. And how I do that is just by being a good listener, by listening very intently. I’m curious, how do you think about trust in your work?
[24:53] Ian: It’s interesting that you said listening. I think listening is a very underrated leadership skill set. It’s an underrated skill set, in general. And one of the things that we found, especially in organizations, is that there’s a bit of a fear that when someone were to share something, that there’s a need to solve it or to fix it, and maybe it’s not the organization’s role to be doing that. Or, how far do we go in this support? When, more often than not, the listening, most people just want to be heard. So, more often than not, Ian will share what he is going through to Sean who’s his colleague or friend or leader. Think about the amount of times you’ve had a discussion with a friend. Who do you generally lean to? Someone who listens the most. And the listening creates the comfort, creates the trust.
And so, within organizations, what we’re finding is, more often than not, to the extent we together can create those spaces where there’s just listening occurs. Nobody listens nowadays. It’s like, where you can create that listening. That allows people to get it off their chest and/or to share it in a way—and we were talking about this—in a way that’s cathartic, maybe in a way that they have not done before. And usually, once that’s done, it’s about 80% of the way solved, so to say. It’s 80% of the way there. And listening is actually not that hard. And you will find, more often than not, that it was the real solution that someone was looking for, is just to be heard.
[26:16] Sean: Typically, it sounded like, depending on the organization you work with, different levels of people need buy-in. Who typically brings you into the organization? I’m just curious. How do you get introduced to an organization that needs help? And if you also don’t mind sharing, what’s some initial work that you do? Just to get a better idea for people.
[26:36] Ian: So, usually, who brings us in is a sponsor. And in a perfect world, that sponsor is the CEO. But that’s not often the case. That could be, maybe, GM of a particular division. It could be, maybe, let’s just say, it’s an engineering department, and a senior engineer understands that his or her team of 100 struggling. It’s usually someone with a reasonable amount of power and an understanding that there’s either burnout in the team or the team is just not as performing as well as it could be, and/or they’re seeing a competitor to this. It’s “Wow, this is something we want to do.”
So, the two things that we need to get going is some level of leadership, seniority. It doesn’t have to be CEO. It could be a division. It could be a manager. It could be an office leader. As well as just an appreciation for the benefits that pursuing a culture exercise around trying to support in place more mentally, emotionally, and spiritually would be a worthwhile endeavor. That’s usually the starting point.
And then, from there, how it starts is we generally like to start off in a pilot mode, so to say, because these are massive projects, and it’s not something where we just step in and all of a sudden every employee has been reached. We usually try and get a sense of, okay, within the organization, which group are the culture leaders, or who do other groups want to be like? Who do they take their cues from? And it could just be 15 to 20 people. So, we’ll generally start with doing. Our first part is just to start to increase awareness and appreciation within the company from employees as to, why should I even be attending this? Why does this matter? And why is my company doing this? Because there’s going to be skepticism. There’s going to be a little bit of resistance. So, we’re just trying to get the first pilot group from, what I’ll call resistance phase, into a more of a curiosity phase.
[28:27] Sean: Tell me a little bit more.
[28:28] Ian: So, that’s the first phase. We call that awareness building. And then, there’s trust. There can be a level of distrust with respect to the organization’s sincerity behind these programs. Is it just a checkbox, or are they really behind this? So, the next phase is we’re really trying to bolster trust. And we’re the company’s advocate, neutral advocate, albeit, but an advocate. And then, from there, we want to get to a place of a bit of vulnerability, meaning, let’s start to create spaces where we can’t really start to restructure the culture unless we know in what direction or what’s needed. So, we start to create spaces where people can share their life moments. What are they going through? And those life moments don’t have to be severe. It could just be, “I’m in a rut in my career right now, and I don’t know where to go,” or, “I’m having second thoughts about a particular decision I made,” to something a little bit bigger, “My daughter is in addiction,” or, “My daughter is causing a lot of self-harm, and that’s weighing on me.”
So, what we do is we start to build an emotional map for the organization. So, if you can imagine walking into an organization—your organization—where there was a digital screen that had all the different life moments that people were going through, and we’ve done this, people automatically start to feel more okay with the life moment that they’re going through, because countless times, I’ll go through a life moment and I’ll be like, “I’m the only one. There’s something wrong with me for feeling bummed out about this,” or, “Why am I getting this anxiety?” Or, “Why is my head like just running on a hamster wheel when I woke up in the morning?” And generally, just knowing that there’s other people, it creates relatability. And from a neuroscience perspective, relatability starts to calm the mind down.
And to the extent we can do that within companies where, “Okay, there’s a lot of my colleagues,” and we don’t even have to attach names to it, “a lot of my colleagues are going through that as well. So, this is a human environment. And actually, a lot of those colleagues are leaders. And those leaders are going through, wow, the same thing that I’m going through.” So, that’s the first stage. And then, we’ll start to boil down what are the more, what I’ll call, tangible, maybe more significant, maybe more relevant life moments, and start to design support around that. And that support could be shining a much brighter light on that EAP that I talked about earlier. It’s, “Oh, wait a minute. We have stuff in the EAP? I didn’t even know we had an EAP.” Great. And it’s more targeted, so you’re starting to get better leverage out of those dollars you spent.
We start to create community. So, within companies, you have what’s known as Employee Resource Groups, ERGs. So, you want to think of those as it could be a veterans group. It could be an LGBTQ group. It could be all sorts of different groups.
The next iteration that we create are the Life MomentTM groups. So, those are the emotional groups, i.e., back to caring for an elderly parent or, maybe, a widow group or, maybe, parents of children who are struggling with X, Y, Z. That’s a whole new source of community that probably also have resources on their own. So, we start to create the structure and the framework for them to self-aggregate and start to support one another. And then that’s the base layer.
And then we start to expand those programs out, where we’re really starting to track, what’s the benefit of these programs? How is this impacting our P&L? How is this impacting engagement? How is it impacting health care costs claims? Where this whole market is going is that the SEC and other reporting markets or regulatory agencies, like in Europe, in Asia, they’re starting to develop metrics with which publicly traded companies are going to report against, so much like, as a company report against your organization’s commitment to the environment, the environmental sustainability. In the not too distant future, companies will be reporting against their commitment to human sustainability.
And that’s back to the ABA Pledge that I mentioned earlier. So, the ABA Pledge was put in for all legal entities to sign on if they see fit. That’s a beginning of what I will call a regulatory standard. But then, once that’s done, then what? And really, what’s happening now is with the demographics of employees changing—in organizations right now, millennials make up the majority of the workforce. And that’s going to start to shift with the younger generation. The younger generation is expecting this. So, they’re expecting these environments to have those types of support mechanisms in place, because they’re coming out of environments, like college environments, where that was already the case. They don’t want to get into environments where they almost have to relitigate and start to pound the table and say, “We need this. We want this. How come you don’t know this?” And so, we hope to be, for many of our listeners, if you’re CEOs or leaders out there, if you’re thinking about exploring, “how can I grow my culture in this way,” we would love to be a resource for that.
[33:19] Sean: That’s amazing. Especially at Haas, we talk a lot about ESG (environmental, social, and governance) and how some of these new metrics or new markers for companies to measure themselves against. I think we’ve definitely talked about mental health on this podcast before, but I think it was the first time talking to someone who was actually working on something that’s so beyond offering a resource but actually creating frameworks around how to make this successful in a company.
[33:47] Ian: Yeah, exactly. It’s not just a resource. Resources are quite valuable. But the thing about resource is, A, you have to know the resource exists. You have to be in a situation where you actually need the resource. And you have to know how to engage with it. Versus, what can we do every time an individual engages with the company? How does that person feel? So, that’s beyond a resource. And for me, personally, everyone goes through their own journey on this. And a company is no different. And so, for me, the journey was there was just an appreciation that I take care of myself physically as best I can, trying to take care of myself nutritionally as best I can, and mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve not always been in a place where I am acknowledged, let alone set aside time for that care. And it took me a real long time to realize as, fundamentally, I guess, as a human being, that I have physical needs, nutritional needs. I have mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing needs. And they’re all really of equal importance. How you engage with care differs by day, but the realities are they’re all of equal importance. And it’s the same thing from a company’s perspective.
So, that took Ian years to, not only appreciate, but also change Ian’s lifestyle to incorporate. That’s not like an overnighter, if you will. And so, a lot of companies have great physical support with respect to medical, dental, vision, etc. They’ve got great nutritional support because there was a time, if you think back in the ’90s when I was working on Wall Street, if I had a salad on my desk, people legitimately would’ve thought I was not feeling well, because back then we were eating pastas, we were eating burgers, we’re eating Rubin’s. And if I had said there was going to be three salad stores per block in Manhattan, people would have just glaze over. There’s not a chance. And we all know what happened with the nutritional craze. And companies adopted that, bringing in higher quality food options.
But that took decades. And we’re now at a point where the mental, emotional, and spiritual piece, back to what we said earlier, they’re all of equal importance. They all need equal care. Now, companies are now starting to get that. We’re in 2022. But to actually bring that in, meaning, not just have an app that nobody engages in or yoga—that’s important, but that’s not really what we’re talking about—that’s just going to take a lot of time to the point where, as the CEO, he or she is talking, or the board of directors is talking or your leaders are talking. There is something in the language that articulate that support. And that’s really the empathy, which there’s a tremendous amount of literature on right now. It’s in the caring. Really, it’s in the culture.
So, I think, when people, especially for our listeners, just recognizing that wherever you are in your company’s maturity is a great spot. And then it’s just an appetite to grow it and expand it. And COVID catapulted that, to a certain extent. Because before, it wasn’t on people’s radar, for sure. And even the first six months of COVID, it wasn’t on people’s radar. Budgets were getting completely chopped, which they needed to. And then they realized the one piece we can’t… If we don’t support our employees through this, we will not be a business. And so, that was a huge catalyst.
[36:57] Sean: And one more thing I want to add is that, I think the earlier organizations can start doing this work, the better. And to share personally, something I’ve buried for a long time was just fatherhood. I became a father at the beginning of the pandemic. My son was born January of 2020. And this was something that I just brushed under the rug and said, I can still operate like I’m not a dad, or, I can still try to be this leader or this entrepreneur that doesn’t need to really attend to my child because he’s still an infant. And problems will compound like that. I wish I had a fatherhood group to talk to, or just a parenthood group to talk to or relate with, because if I brushed that under the rug, then something else might pop up later. And I had a health concern. Now, I have two things that need to deal with. And then if a parent gets sick, now I have three things. And there’s just so many things that build up. And after a while, you don’t even realize it, but you’re just buried under mental exhaustion.
[37:53] Ian: Mental exhaustion. And most of this is psychosomatic, in the sense that that generally can lead to physical elements. So, that mental stress doesn’t just stay there in one kind of quadrant, if you will. It’ll start to impact. When you can feel stress in your body, you just get tight. Or, you get tense. And that’s a physical manifestation of something that’s emotional. And if that is ongoing, that will lodge itself in the body in varying forms. And to your point, companies can do this early on. One of the things we’ve been starting to do as well is we’re starting to open up dialogues with investors, VCs and people who are writing big checks to companies. And this is like how do you support the asset through that?
And so, you’re already, with CVCs, start to build out those competencies, much like a VC would build out competencies to, “We can really help you hire the best people. We can help you with all sorts of different contract negotiations. We’ve got team on staff to do that. We’ve got BD team. If you’re trying to get into a new market segment, we can really help you get into that segment.” I think it’s only another logical competency for VCs to say, “We’ve got an ability to help you grow your culture in a way that serves right for you guys. We’re not here to tell you which way that is. We’re just here to, at least, help you appreciate and trust,” that could be beneficial.
[39:16] Sean: That’s really exciting to hear that you’re doing this. I just want to share, for anyone listening, please, go check out the website. It’s I-M-Human.com. And there’s one statement on here. You have a bunch of statement about life moments. And one of them is “I’m living my ideal life, and I’ve never been more stressed out.” And that really stuck out to me. And it just made me giggle a little bit.
[39:44] Ian: In that creation, I was trying to figure out, how am I going to engage with mental health or emotional wellbeing? In other words, you could prescriptively say, “I know it makes sense to meditate. And I know it makes sense to take time out.” But that’s not going to be necessarily the avenue with which I’m going to do that. If I’m stressed out day in and day out because I’m living my ideal life and I’m not feeling good, that’s a life moment that I’m going to try. I’ll probably want to be more inclined to take care of myself. And/or, “I wake up every morning and my head is absolutely spinning because of X.” That would be the impetus, if you will, to start to support yourself.
So, Life MomentTM is something that’s relatable. It’s something that is almost irrefutable. We all have life moments. And there’s nothing wrong with that. And so, we think of that gateway in, that path in to supporting. That’s the route we create.
[40:36] Sean: What’s ahead for I M Human and what you’re doing, Ian? Where are you at with your growth?
[40:40] Ian: Right now, we’re at a point where we’re expanding our client base. So, if there are Haasies and/or non-Haasies who are listening who would like to explore what working with us could look like and some of the benefits, please feel free to reach out. Sean shared earlier, but email is firstname.lastname@example.org. We are also in the point, or at the point, of building out our team. And so, we’re looking for content managers. We’re looking for project managers. We’re also looking for client relationship managers. And/or if this is something that you’re interested in and you don’t fall into those particular buckets, that’s okay. Feel free to reach out.
And I also do a tremendous amount of speaking, both for-profit and not-for-profit, because one of the things I enjoy doing is just sharing my story with the hopes of sparking some curiosity in the audience. And there’s two types of curiosity we spark. There’s one from a business perspective, but also, one just from a consumer perspective. We’re not selling anything from a consumer perspective, but I get a lot of people reaching out to me who are on their own journeys that I can serve as a support system, even just the words. And that is what I found. If I’ve had to be honest with you, when I was at Haas, there were a lot of words that I heard from people speaking that was very inspirational for me, very directional forming for me. And so, if there are opportunities out there that I can support you or meet those needs from a speaking perspective, please feel free to reach out.
And then, lastly, what I found is I do a tremendous amount of research and reading and writing on this space. And I’ve started to put together a newsletter, with the primary purpose of increasing curiosity, appreciation, awareness around this space. And the newsletter, it’s usually an aggregation of five things that I was drawn to. It could be podcasts. It could be quotes. It could be articles. It could be events that I attended. And I distill it in my own voice and give little call-outs of what I was drawn to. And that’s been rewarding, too, because I think it’s helped people expand their appreciation of this space.
[42:40] Sean: So, Ian, I’m an avid reader. One of the things I love to ask our guests is, are there any books that you recommend for our listeners?
[42:47] Ian: Yeah, there’s one in particular. So, I appreciated the opportunity to do this podcast. And what it was is an opportunity to share in long form my story. And a dear friend who’s really supportive of me throughout my journey wrote a book called “Win at Losing.” His name is Sam Weinman, a childhood friend. And he has a chapter on me in it. And that process, kind of similar to this process, was really rewarding in the sense that there was a series of interviews that we had together where I just shared my story. And the whole theme of the book is, how do you win at losing? And I had done a tremendous amount of losing, seemingly losing, going into I M Human success. And it was so rewarding and an honor to be featured in his book and something I’ll never forget. So, I would recommend “Win at Losing” by Sam Weinman.
[43:42] Sean: That’s amazing. Thank you again for all you do, Ian. And it was a real pleasure having you on the podcast today.
[43:48] Ian: Sean, this is delightful. I appreciate it. I appreciate all that you do, too. And thank you to the Berkeley and Haas community for being a major part of my journey. So, thank you.
[43:57] Outro: Thanks again for tuning in to this episode of the OneHaas Podcast. Enjoyed our show today? Please remember to hit that Subscribe or Follow button on your favorite podcast player. We’d also really appreciate you giving us a five-star rating and review.
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