Reboot Forward

Matthew Rosenfield - HR Leader takes aim at change through the pandemic

July 30, 2020 Episode 13
Reboot Forward
Matthew Rosenfield - HR Leader takes aim at change through the pandemic
Reboot Forward
Matthew Rosenfield - HR Leader takes aim at change through the pandemic
Jul 30, 2020 Episode 13

Matthew Rosenfield is an HR Leader and social entrepreneur recognized for establishing deep client relationships based on trust, business insight, and HR expertise. Matthew has held a variety of HR roles at IBM working from his home office in Amherst, New Hampshire.  Whether he's working professionally, coaching soccer, or focused on his family - he views himself as a community builder.  Along those lines, Matthew's "labor of love," Lake Life Brand, is a lifestyle apparel brand built around a thriving community of people making memories on the lake and committed to preserving those natural resources.

Show Notes Transcript

Matthew Rosenfield is an HR Leader and social entrepreneur recognized for establishing deep client relationships based on trust, business insight, and HR expertise. Matthew has held a variety of HR roles at IBM working from his home office in Amherst, New Hampshire.  Whether he's working professionally, coaching soccer, or focused on his family - he views himself as a community builder.  Along those lines, Matthew's "labor of love," Lake Life Brand, is a lifestyle apparel brand built around a thriving community of people making memories on the lake and committed to preserving those natural resources.

Hi there, I'm BARRY FORWARD and welcome to the Reboot Forward Podcast.

This is the podcast where we take a deep dive into the wonderful world of change, reinvention, transformation, and just plain doing something different, in particular, how it impacts the people who go through that change what they've learned from their journey through change and ultimately, what is allowed them to reboot forward.

My guest today on the podcast is Matthew Rosenfield. Matthew is an HR leader and social entrepreneur, who for the past 15 years has held a variety of roles HR roles at IBM. Matthew has been working from home recently and has spent much of the Pandemic safely ensconced with his family at their Lake cottage getaway on Lake Kanasatka in New Hampshire. 

He's back home now and has had a whole lot of time to think about change, his career, and what this massive event called COVID-19, the Coronavirus has meant to life, business and his mission to build community, whether it be in his professional life, coaching soccer, or working on his labor of love his Lake Life Brand. I caught up with Matthew at his home office in Amherst, New Hampshire.  

So let's start off with just a quick exploration into the word change because I like to start there, get people talking to me about what that means to them. So what does the word change, the whole idea of change and transformation mean to you?

You know, it's funny, it's it seems like a simple question. And yet, it's it's kind of a hard answer, because for me, everything that's changed, change happens. Every day you wake up, whether it's personally or professionally. When I think about change and the role I played professionally, you know, I'm an agent of change. That is maybe more specific. But I think of transition. And you know, I was listening to your your, one of your previous podcasts with Ali Froggatt ( and talking about fear driving change or a reaction to change.  

I think that's a legitimate concern. transition is hard. And as you know, for me, especially, you know, I see myself as a champion of change, both personally and professionally, whether it's driving innovation and change in an organization that is implementing a new performance assessment process or using analytics to make fast fact based decisions. That all comes with adoption of something that is new. When you're when you're building a business case. To build a new venture or just to try something new at work or for work. You are coming up with the rationale. What am I doing, why am I doing it and what needs to change? 

Right now in, you know, late July 2020 it's hard to close your eyes and think of a world without change, whether it's its racial and justice conversations and institutional racism, discussion, whether it is COVID, remote learning for our children, moving from, you know, school to summer and back again, or as you and I were talking about earlier, coming back from a weekend or a vacation and getting out of that work slumber as you mentioned, all of that has changed and you know, you emotionally both consciously and subconsciously have to get yourself ready and work through the move from one place to another.

Is it that we're reluctant to change? Do we not want to change?

I think that's a good question. The reality is, you know, inertia happens, even those of us who are excited about a change, who have done inventories and, you know, personal inventories and view themselves as movers and shakers of change, it takes energy to move that, you know, to move that thing, whatever it is. And so if you look at it, as you know, from an inertia standpoint, it's easier to sit where you are as a rock on a hill. It's harder to push the rock up the hill, and it's, you know, it's hard to slow down when the hill the rock is rolling down the hill. And I think that's a reasonable example, that is concrete to think about change because it takes a lot to move anything. And, and there, you know, there are lots of things to consider. Once it starts rolling. You're not always in control of it. 

We use the term you know, Changing the wheels on the bus? Well, it's one of those, you know, perhaps overused statements when we're working in a fast paced environment, trying to do everything at once. And that's hard because you have to prioritize both internally. And, literally, when you're when you're juggling a variety of things, it's hard to get moving and some people are stuck. It's easier for some folks to pivot and be resilient and fail fast, etc. and then move to a different thing. And it's, you know, especially in current state of affairs in the world, it's easy to get stuck or overwhelmed.

But haven't we been forced into that change? Has it paralyzed some people and some organizations.

If you're asking explicitly about about COVID, I think that you get a little bit of both, you know, I can't help but think, as I internalize this, maybe the world we're in right now, we've got business contingency plans, and we have disaster recovery plans for all sorts of things. But the world overall, was relatively unprepared for, you know, for 911, for COVID, for lots of things, and shouldn't we have already known better.  I think that that, yes, companies, societies, and people sometimes get forced into change, and some are better equipped than others to deal with it.

In your world, you've been, you've been a student of transformation, change shifting helping organizations do this for years. What have you seen through this period? What do you see as the kind of the things that have allowed some organizations to really succeed? Do you have any examples where you've seen that during this time period?

Sure. I've been an employee of IBM for a long time. I've spent the last 10 plus years as an HR person building deep relationships with clients and coworkers across the world. I build relationships based on primarily trust and genuine interaction. And so for me, at IBM I was already working from home, and was already positioned such that I had been doing this successfully for 10 years, it was easier for my function at least, to continue to work from home. I've already been doing it. Whereas doing it from home even for somebody who was poised to, to function in a new environment, from a business standpoint, I wasn't ready or I hadn't experienced in working from home successfully while I was, you know, facilitating remote learning for my kids, and constantly being in a different frame of mind and distracted from the things at hand during my workday, because there were other things going on in the world that had me frazzled and disjointed. Even for me in an environment that was ready to pivot because we had explored remote working before. It was hard enough so you can imagine an environment where everybody is in the office all day. 

Time. And you know, even some that didn't necessarily need it. My brother works for a company that does amount of, call it retail entertainment work. And they require, or prefer from a cultural standpoint, to have people in the office. And so when this hit, they continue to want certain people in the office for a longer period of time. They sent people on furlough to some extent with with a small group of people still working remotely, and then they're bringing people back into the office. Faster than then we would at IBM, for example, we will not rush people back in they don't need to come in. 

Think about Fidelity Investments in my region. They are not rushing people back into the office and I do believe that that will change, that this this period of time will change the way Schools are run and businesses operate in many positive ways. I don't know if, but you asked about success and perhaps an example, I think the reality is as an individual or an organization, when change happens, we try to quickly prioritize what is important. The success of a change, whether it is voluntary or involuntary comes from understanding where you're heading and sharing information as transparently as you can. And that's something that I, you know, I'm trying to do with our own family as the kids want to know, when things will go back to normal and I don't have good answers. So I can only help them manage the way they're feeling about it. And I'll find how they could grow in the space and offer help where they where they may need it and it may not be for me. And that's it. The same thing we do in a business.

One of the ways you describe yourself is as a community builder, and I'm, I'm fascinated by this whole idea of right now, what does community mean? Is it connection? Is it, bridging some sort of link between us and others? What is that, that makes community and, and just in relation to what you've just been talking about, because everything's been thrown out the window in terms of how we do that, how we connect with others. So as you move forward, as you think about building a community, what has changed? What do we have to do differently? Where is this all going?

Well, you know, I wish I had a crystal ball. I look at myself as someone who's cautiously optimistic, you know, so on some some places I shed a more jaded view, just for purposes of being a devil's advocate that I think generally, I hope for the better and hope for the future faster. And maybe that's some of why I continue to get involved in change early on, because I want to understand what's happening, both for myself and for the organization and help facilitate it. You know, that doesn't stop at the ends of a, an organization or an employer. You know, the idea that I look at myself as a community builder, is actually comes out of conversations about you know, what is my personal brand? Yes, I've been consulting in HR, kind of blending both social work and business from an education standpoint, but also, the people process and technology. I look at everything as a consulting engagement and maybe my expertise is in working with people around that,

Community is such a key part of what we do, how we bring each other together, how we get together, how we connect with others. And now that we've kind of been through a journey of, I don't know displacement on that we've we've we're connecting with others differently, how are we going to be building community differently, whether it's at work, whether it's as an organization, or at your hobby/passion Lake Life Brands?

Thanks for that entree.  I think that from from a lifestyle, apparel business standpoint, in this labor of love that I've that I'm a part of, and that I'm working to build, life on the lake is an escape.

Being able to get away from all of the things that cause noise in your life and to escape and build memories that are made on the water so to speak is where this this You know, labor of love comes from it really started as building a community on the side of people who had similar interests. And then realizing that it wasn't just a new hampshire thing, it wasn't just a my Lake thing. But that people all over the world share a love both for the water and for their particular water environment. And then that was palpable, if you will, the you know, so getting a getting a sense of who that community is, and, and where they are, how they thrive was was what Lake life brand was built on. You know, this is this is a hobby of mine. I know that I'm helping to structure but that part of community I think, is actually an escape from all of the craziness that goes on in the world. So so it's actually busier up in the Lakes region in New Hampshire and all over the all over the world because people are flocking to places that they can be outside and potentially be together, and that comes with its own baggage of, can we handle the, you know, the population coming through? And do we have the Health Resources if people get sick in in the C 19 timeframe. So so although it's an escape it doesn't entirely remove one from from the reality of how things have changed. If I think about the soccer club that I help to, to build and support and manage, you know, early on we were talking about, if we don't have a memorial day tournament, what are we going to do about it? Well, you know, that's a big part of why we can keep our costs down to the community because we use some of the money that we made during that major holiday weekend and put that into the community such that we don't have to charge as much as some of the the area or regional clubs clubs do, and still can provide enough access to to the community that they can thrive in our space. And if we can't practice and we can't prepare, and we can't have a tournament, that's going to have long term implications for our, our soccer community, but also for the the regional, broader community because of it. So  I mentioned the soccer in particular, because we had to think about what are we going to do to engage with our community, we're not going to have a tournament, we don't have a season. We can't be in person coaching and engaging with people. So how do we get the kids and the families and the coaches to still be involved with one another and to and to continue to thrive? And so, you know, as a board of directors for the soccer club, and as a coach we came up with or as coaches we came up with, you know, the idea that we'll we'll do, you know, share it, share your favorite drills or, you know, so coach Matt sent out a first list that said, Here's for every day of this week, here's something you can do. And for the club, it was engaging people who we normally just see at the practice field, or at the game, or at a specific event, we had to engage with them more quickly in a social, you know, social platform standpoint, and then and then a new website format and in ways that perhaps, will last for a longer time in snippets of engaging both in real time and not in real time that we weren't doing before because we had been face to face.

It occurs to me as you're just talking through that, that there's this human need to get together to to be a you know, in a community, so to speak, and we got a little bit of a shake up there as to how that was going to come together. So you're sitting here, out at the lake, and it kind of I want to say homeostasis. It just happens, right? You go there, you were removed because you're at the cabin or a cottage, and everything seems normal. And we longed for that. However, as we reach out into our networks, if you will, our community things are a little different. And we have to figure out ways because we need that it's a human need. Do you see that human need kind of rising for you? And in all the kind of connections that you have?

Oh, my gosh, you know, everybody's different. You know, I am definitely a people person. You know, I thrive on the interaction, although I've done it remotely for years and years and I continue to thrive on remote interaction. There's nothing that replaces laying eyes on one another in person. The hardest part about that for me is I like I'm a toucher. I like to hug my friends, I like to communicate with a hand on the shoulder or you know, a strong handshake. That's just it's part of who I am and for the huggers in the world, I've really feel for other huggers because I am and I've gone from being that outward, glad hander, if you will, in the community, to not really being comfortable seeing anybody at all, because it's easier when you disappear and you're by yourself to draw those boundaries. 

But when you're in person with others, everybody's making different decisions and you can only really vouch for the things that you and your family are doing. It's hard. And you know, my folks came to see us up at the lake. Over the 4th of July weekend, my father's birthday and my birthday were that were over that same period of time. I hadn't seen or touched them. You know, really long time and it was hard, you know, they got there, I had a mask on, they had a mask on. And I hugged them knowing that that was some risk there. But I couldn't handle it anymore. I needed my mom and dad, I needed to feel their arms around me. And it even after that, I still was riddled with anxiety about it. But, you know, I want my parents to live for a long time. I want my family to be healthy. I want my mother in law to be healthy. And I don't want to be the reason that that I compromise any of that. So for me, being away from people is easier because I don't have to make those choices. But the reality is we all have to make them every day. Because somewhere we're going to engage with somebody and we really don't know. yet. 

To what extent that that interaction is is really causing the risk yet we're getting more information but You know, my father previously was positive for covid. And he was very lucky. And we are very lucky. You know, he had a mild case, it was basically over by the time he tested, and my mother, despite being in the same room with him all the time, you know, never got any symptoms or are had a concern of being impacted personally. But that's all that's me is all about me. And the reality is we're very lucky for a lot of reasons. And as a broader community, there are people suffering much more significantly, whether it is because of their age, or their income, or their race or the country they live in. That I you know, it's more important than me from a societal standpoint, but these problems are my problems, and it's how I'm internalizing them. I'm having a really hard time. Maybe that's not the right word ay ay ay knowledge. That my little microcosm is about me and my family. And that clearly is important. But there are lots of other people who are not as well suited or prepared to, to manage through this change. And so when you think about things like going back to school, you know, there are kids who school used to be the one place they could get away from a life that was not so great, or people whose children eat because they're in the education system of education. And that was their safe space. And when you go to remote learning, they may not even have a computer or internet and they're worried about where they're going to eat or, or where they're going to sleep. And I don't have that problem. And I think it's important to acknowledge that you know, coming from a place of privilege, this reality is different for me than it is for other people.

I'm gonna call it hyper vigilance, if you will. Now, I mean, you have a personal case coupled, with your parents and your dad. Well, we'll say, managing to move through COVID and come out of it on the other side. So that hyper vigilance. 

I'm getting to a question here. I recently was talking to a young person who has been working in a job that she absolutely loved. And you know, she was managing it was a she was product manager for a certain piece of software that she was working on big team. However, when COVID hit and she Now was working 100% remotely, things changed. She now had to reevaluate her whole job, what it is whether she was even interested in continuing to do it. She is still doing it, still working through it, but it's all remote. Part of it, is the people part, but she wants to be careful. She's vigilant, she's wanting to take care of people. So how do you think that is impacting how individuals and companies are moving through this change?

You know, and I think we've talked about it, the reality is everybody's going to have to reevaluate what's important to them, both from an employment standpoint, from a business and profit standpoint, and from a personal standpoint, I had a another friend of mine basically say, you know, refocus, right? You've got to decide, what is it that's important to you, and from an individual standpoint, and think about what is important and how important is an individual decision that's a little bit easier. But from a holistic standpoint, I think a lot of us will be evaluating what is most important to me. And therefore, what personal decisions do I make, and I do believe that at the end of the day, so to speak, some companies will shine because of how they handled this difficult time and others will stand out for not so much the same reasons. You know, whether it's, it's the flexibility and support of dealing with, with the benefits available to employees, or requiring people who in theory could have been in the office or not in the office to go in the office because that's the way I want it, or that's the way we're used to it. The companies that pivoted and the companies that showed humanity during this period of time I think will continue to thrive. I also think there will be new models for doing things it may not be this fall when the kids go back to school or there may not be a quickly a new you know focus on on higher education and how that is done.  

I do think there is a trend we're going to see continuing and and sometimes that that force change is where innovation happens. And maybe that's exactly what you know I'm hopeful that that's exactly what will happen here new forms of new either innovation within existing institutions or new institutions and and certainly new ways of prioritizing what's important. Is it really necessary for us to be in the office is there a way to for us to limit exposure and only have meetings of X number of people or in certain facilities are the physical structures of our office space, safe for everybody? You know, you think about two year olds in Japan wearing masks because that's what they're used to. And we can't get our kindergarteners or our 12 year olds to wear them because they're not used to it. That's, that's a tough change. But the reality is, if it's COVID, or something else, there is always the potential that something changes our world. And we have to figure out how to adapt. And those of us who are able, will either slow the spread of a disease or come up with a new way of doing things. And those of us who are unwilling or unable will either need people like you and I to help push through some of those changes or stand in the way of things that that that truly need to happen or won't benefit from it because of a willingness or an unwillingness to, to adapt.

As you're talking there. It just occurs to me that the there's a parallel universe track going on here. There's the corporate changes reality, and then there's personal and one of the things that prior to COVID, we there was a big movement to call machine learning artificial intelligence, particularly around human capital and how we were managing workforces, etc. And I'm just wondering, how do you think the COVID era has impacted that, whether we're still a bridge between what companies want and how they want to maximize human people, and what people just as you just talked about, are trying to do with their lives.

I've always looked at technology, loosely speaking, broadly speaking, and even machine learning and AI as a facilitator so that people can do even better, more more important things. That doesn't mean there isn't pain and suffering in the process, but, you know, we need to give people the skills that are necessary to succeed in the future. We need to be thoughtful About how we build those skills. And so from a workforce standpoint, you know, the requirements of work are changing. The fact that college degree previously was a requirement for certain jobs is not really relevant if people have the aptitude and the capability to learn, and we can give people skills that they didn't previously have, I think, think the world is better with technology, you know, broadly, broadly speaking, but with that comes with responsibility for how you manage it and who has access to it so that the opportunity is available for the broader population, not just for those who are well off.

As an HR executive, you've probably wrestled with this whole topic of emotional intelligence. And, you know, we're talking about mental health really being impacted. I'm wondering where you see individually, especially leaders emotional intelligence having to rise or being impacted through this period.

Yeah. How can it not, you know, this this period of time is certainly not going to change specific leaders into new kinds of people but we're all as leaders being challenged to reconsider and to innovate ways that we approach everyday everyday problems and, and and societal problems. So as a, as a business leader, those who continue to thrive will have not only the the ability to adapt, but to lead through times of uncertainty that are that are unique and continue to change over the period of time. So whatever that impetus, you know, we're all good at something, and, and not all good at everything. And so whether it is individual leadership growth and, and upskilling on their own, or continuing to surround ourselves with people who fill in the gaps of what we bring to the table. You know, the ability to engage with with individuals as part of a community or as part of an organization and work with them within that content construct continues to increasingly require a higher level of of engagement and empathy, frankly, that I think, in the corporate world is is sometimes lacking. 

We, you know, I started off by saying, I'm a social work guy, and I'm a business guy, and I've always kind of been on a journey to blend those two things. When I when I did my master's degrees in those in those two disciplines. It was because I continued to see a need both from having parents who grew up, you know, as therapists and and not necessarily business people or having engaged with businesses that were focused primarily or solely on the bottom line, and lacking some of that empathy and people or societal focus brings me to, you know, back to the conversation around what's important to me. And and I think that's a choice we make every time we we walk out the door to go to work, or when we spend the weekend helping somebody who is is terminally ill and realizing that you this work is about as human as, as it gets, because it takes a real special person to work in hospice, for example. And everything else is stripped away. It's about how you treat people. And that comes back to emotional intelligence. 

When you look back at your journey through your career or life, was there an event that stands out that propelled you into change.  Do you have one that you could share with us?

You know, I feel like I'm in one now. The reality is there is so much change going on in the world. That you know, the example I used is from hospice comes from a weekend of spending time with a neighbor who was terminally ill and I you know, that that is about as raw, and, you know, a concern or an experience I could have at the moment. Amidst all of this turmoil. The only thing in that moment, as I was helping out this weekend was trying to make this gentleman comfortable work, you know, being in proximity to his family and understanding that what they We're going through and just trying to be human. And so as I think about what kinds of roles I would like to continue, professionally, whether I build my my Lake life community and my soccer community, that balance in life is really on the forefront of, you know, what do I do when I grow up, so to speak, I don't know if that's, you know, another 50 years from now or never, but when I mature, or as I continue to mature  as a professional and as a parent, I'm considering where, you know, where does that go? Where am I contributing? And where to what kind of impact Am I having on a daily and on a global basis?

When you are looking at your kids, the young people in your world or anybody who's just beginning their career journey, the lessons learned through COVID what skills attributes Would you like to say you know, recommend to them that They kind of explore work on how to handle change.

So smart question not when I hadn't really considered. I'll go back to empathy for the starting point. My my daughter is about as as feeling and empathetic as it gets. And at some point in preschool, for example, they said you can't teach empathy. She is so in tune with the way other people are feeling that sometimes it's distracting. I'll use that term lightly. Now she's, you know, she's working towards 13.  And, you know, we could all use a little more of that understanding and perspective of others, before we start thinking about ourselves, or in addition to thinking about ourselves, So when I'm thinking about people coming into the workforce, we often as young adults, as you know, experienced professionals, we often are considering, what do I bring to the table and what can I do for you and you do For me, but it's in a it's primarily a matter of personal interest in the response to myself. And I think youth coming out, are in a position where there are more things that are unclear and unsure. And bringing both a sense of self, awareness of self, as well as a value of other people goes a long way.

Well, thanks again for taking a few minutes. So just to talk about this, this whole transformation that we're going through and thanks again, Matt. 

Thank you, Matthew Rosenfield, thank you so much. Yes, in the middle of all this craziness going on around us. We are all pausing to think about this wonderful life of ours, and where it's going to take us now and into the future. Thanks again to you for listening to the Reboot Forward Podcast. If you have something you are working on through this period of change. would like to move yourself forward, perhaps out of a little COVID rut and would like some help through it. I'd love to connect. drop me a line send me an email to [email protected] that's [email protected] Until next time, let's Reboot Forward