CEO: Pandemic Lessons Learned Help Build ‘New Reality’

Like most business leaders these days, Kevin Schnieders hates talking about the Covid pandemic and the affect it had on business.

For Schnieders, the chief servant leader at EDSI, a workforce development company designed to help businesses train and retain their workforce, it’s all about the lessons learned.

And staffers at EDSI must have learned those lessons well.

Headquartered in Dearborn, Mich., with locations all over the country, including Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, Missouri, New Jersey and New York, Schnieders said EDSI grew some 30% during the pandemic.

“We hate talking about it … at the same time, what we resist persists,” Schnieders said. “We have to face those things that are hard and challenging. I think we’ll be unpacking lessons we learned from the pandemic for another decade.”

For Schnieders, lessons are centered in the arena of “what did you learn?” Initially, he pointed out, everyone just wanted Covid to go away and have life go back to what it was.

What leaders should have been asking, he said, was “what’s the new reality, and how can we leave some things behind that really weren’t serving us that well.”

“If you don’t know and you’re not organizing your work with great processes, you don’t really know how to change things,” Schnieders said. “All of those were tested; we grew by 30% during the pandemic, so we were tested-plus … we knew what we were working from, we had a good foundation.

“You could change, you could have one thing and see its impact,” he added. “If you’re not highly organized and you don’t have those processes, you’re really not able to test it and evaluate what’s working.”

Schnieders sat down to talk about business issues during the most recent episode of “CEO Thought Leadership Series on LinkedIn Live,” the discussion series hosted by the National Association of Business Resources.

Produced in conjunction with the Best and Brightest Companies to Work for and Corp! Magazine, the series is hosted by NABR CEO Jennifer Kluge and features business leaders from around the country.

Jennifer Kluge: Your sweet spot is workforce and skills gaps and developing people for new careers or what’s available in the marketplace. Tell us about your methodology for what you use on skills gap and preparing people for their careers.

Kevin Schnieders: As we design customized training we do it based on a very specific analysis of what you’re looking for. Imagine a position description times 100. You’re really looking at details.

When we prepare people for the work force and the workforce development work that we do at EDSI, that’s really where I’d appeal to employers to say, ‘OK, maybe the fit isn’t perfect, but what are we doing as employers to bring them in and say, we’re hiring for our values, we know we have a person here with great cognitive ability who can learn quickly and ramp up quickly, and then how can we take responsibility for that in a way that allows to hem to find space in the organization.

If you’re having trouble with that fit, maybe expand the lens a little bit and say, ‘how can I build out an apprenticeship program, and how can I do that work internally. There’s all kinds of resources to do that in the communities that you’re in.

Kluge: What are some of your best practices for engagement and retention. What makes you unique?

Schnieders: A couple of years before the pandemic, we started a program I was calling ‘schedule shaping’ that created flexibility. I hired someone who asked, ‘what will the schedule be?’ and I said, ‘well, why don’t you tell me what you need the schedule to be.’

This was 2-3 years before the pandemic. She ended up having a schedule where she dropped her kids off at school, came in until she picked up her kids from school, went home and worked an hour or two from home. That was really helpful to create that flexibility.

Kluge: Transparency is a big issue. CEOs think they’re communicating … surveys show they’re not communicating enough. There’s trust with transparency. How do you make sure (the message) gets all the way through the company?

Schnieders: There’s a lot of different platforms and a lot of techniques. You have to try a lot of different models. Consider the fact there are people who are maybe older who love email, but there are others who don’t want to hear anything from email. They want you to just hit them up on (Microsoft) Teams. You have to use all of those channels to communicate well.

One of my mentors used to say, ‘you have to say it, you have say it, you have to say it …’ and as soon as you get tired of saying it, they start hearing it. That doesn’t mean they’re not intelligent, it just means they only have so much bandwidth for what you have to say. That’s why our values of show up, smile and support are so integral for us. It’s consistent. We don’t come off of that message.

Kluge: You are very involved. your company is, as well, but you personally are. You personally mentor a high school student, you’re the president of the local Rainbow Connection. Why do you do it?

Schnieders: I’ve never done any of this work from a business case, I’ve only done it from the community case. I tend to lose myself in service. It’s what I enjoy and it’s what I’m called to do.

(But) You have to have boundaries. For me, I always said ‘people before profits, and nothing before family.’ That’s my North Star, that’s what helps me stay grounded.

I had a case recently, our youngest daughter was turning 14, and I had a meeting on her birthday. I had this whole plan in my mind where I was going to pick her up early from school, do something fun, then we’d have a family dinner, I’d go to my meeting from 7-8 and then we would do presents.

But I forgot she had volleyball practice; that set it all sideways. Then I remembered, people before profits but nothing before family. I called the board and said, I know I’m the president and I’m chairing the meeting, but I need for my vice president to step up and I’m not going to be present.

They might have kicked me off the board, but I had to be OK with that if they did. I didn’t want my 14-year-old to remember the day I wasn’t there for her birthday. We all make those choices. There’s no time management. Someone told me once there’s only choice management. So I made a choice.

Kluge: Give us a feel for what your company does in the community.

Schnieders: We get an opportunity to help people who are in bad spots. They’re economically disadvantaged, they’re feeling financial insecurities, and we get to help them get prepared for work. And that’s such an incredible opportunity.

We work with well over 100,000 people across the country who are in the same place. They’ve not known financial security … it’s our job to get them into a career where they and their families can feel that financial security. It’s awesome work we get to do for communities that makes a difference.

Kluge: Share some of those ‘oh my gosh’ moments from the pandemic. What wisdom can you share?

Schnieders: The cadence of communication mattered a lot. We met daily at 7:15 for awhile, then we met weekly, then we met monthly and now we’ve cancelled that meeting. You have to know what’s required of you at that time, and step up and meet that call.

It was really hard. The two words we adopted – it has to have a theme – were gratitude and grace. We’re all still working, so let’s have a lot of gratitude for that, because a lot of people aren’t. Let’s give each other the grace to process this experience the way we need to, and give ourselves the grace to know we’re doing the best that we can. We came back to those words every day. It got us through that.