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Mini-cast 84: Empathy and Employees

Governor Doug Burgum (R-ND) spoke recently about the importance of empathy during the pandemic as well as advice on how businesses should and should not proceed.

Governor Doug Burgum's comments are quoted from the North Dakota Department of Health's May 22nd 2020 press conference, which are published in the public domain.


Mini-cast 84 Transcript

Announcer: 00:03 Welcome to The ESOP Mini-cast, a great way to wrap up the week.

Bret Keisling: 00:13 Hello, my friends. Thank you for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership.

Bret Keisling: 00:23 On May 22nd, 2020, Governor Doug Burgum, the Republican governor of North Dakota, held a press conference where he spoke passionately and movingly about the importance of empathy as we all deal with the ongoing effects of the pandemic and its almost complete disruption of how many of us are used to living our lives. I'm going to play several clips from his news conference that illustrate not just the empathy he spoke about, but shows that Governor Burgum has a pretty serious understanding of the challenges facing businesses moving forward, and it should be no surprise that Governor Burgum understands business. If you know that in 1984 he became president of Great Plains Software, which in 2001 was sold to Microsoft for $1.1 Billion. His vast knowledge of business undoubtedly informs the approach he's taking during the pandemic.

Bret Keisling: 01:19 Let's start with empathy. Here's Governor Burgum's comments from his press conference.

Gov. Burgum: 01:26 In our state, there's no requirements regarding wearing masks, but the, and we're all in this together and there's only one battle we're fighting and that that's the battle of the virus. I would really love to see in North Dakota that we could just skip this thing that other parts of the nation are going through where they're creating a divide. Either it's ideological or political or something around a mask versus no mask. This is a I would say, senseless dividing line and I would ask people to try to dial up your empathy and your understanding. If someone is wearing a mask they're not doing it to represent what political party they're in or what candidates they support. They might be doing it because they've got a five year old child who's, who's been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life who are, who are currently have COVID and are fighting. And so again, I would just love to see our state as part of being North Dakota smart also be North Dakota kind, North Dakota empathetic, North Dakota understanding to do this thing. Because if somebody wants to wear a mask there should be no mass shaming, you should look at them and say, that person's wearing a mask because for them, there's additional risk in their life. This is not a disease that is, that spreads risk equally. If you're young and if you're healthy and you've had no underlying health conditions, you may feel, as a lot of young people do, that you're invulnerable to this. But there are many people, 20% of the population of our state of North Dakota have a real reason to fear that catching this could lead to serious illness, long term health effects, or even death. And so again, I ask people to respect that.

Bret Keisling: 03:22 I found Governor Burgum's comments both powerful and refreshing. In 1972, Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine was a leading Democratic candidate for president. His candidacy was derailed when it was thought he had cried a bit while answering a question during an outdoor press conference. It did not matter that what were seen as tears may well have been snowflakes that landed on his face as he answered questions. He was deemed too emotional and dare I say not manly enough to be a candidate for president and that incident really derailed his candidacy at that time. Fast forward to today and we have a governor who's rightly been celebrated for showing humanity during these very difficult times. I think it's powerful. I think it's refreshing and I'm grateful that Governor Burgum was willing to let his humanity show. Much of the media attention on the press conference has been focused almost exclusively on the clip I just played for you. But as I listened to the entire press conference, he had really solid advice for businesses and also gave some historical context. Here's what he said about how bull riders and hockey players took steps in the past to protect themselves from needless harm.

Gov. Burgum: 04:44 Used to be 50, 60 years ago, professional hockey players didn't wear helmets. Now they all do. And even in the last five years, there are some old bull riders that are still wearing their cowboy hat but you see any young bull rider on the tour that is coming out of college, they're all wearing flak jackets and they're all wearing helmets. And they do that for a good reason because they know that there's safety involved in that and they're making a personal choice, it doesn't make them less of a bull rider and they don't win any less money if they're wearing a helmet than if they're wearing a cowboy hat. But the other thing about this is people that might wear helmets for hockey or bikes or for bull riding and they don't wear them to bed. I mean, there's a time to wear a helmet at time to not, there's time to wear a mask and a time to not. So if somebody wants to get out for the first time and go to a crowded restaurant and they're going to wear a mask when they're coming and going as part of that thing we should welcome them and support them. And in businesses that want to provide mass for their customers, again, you will be reaching a segment of the population that may feel comfortable going there. But let's again if we in North Dakota can avoid the mask/ no mask divide let's just focus on understanding what each individual might be going through.

Bret Keisling: 05:53 We all hear and see things through our own prisms and my prism happens to be employee ownership. So what I take from his comments are that the bull riders and the hockey players took steps as individuals to protect themselves, to keep themselves safe. These are the same kind of steps that businesses need to be taking now on behalf of their employees to keep them safe. I'm going to play one more clip for you and I want to give you a bit of context. Until May 22nd the Governor's executive orders regarding business openings and closing included civil and or criminal enforcement provisions. After May 22nd the recommendations and guidelines are still in place, but the Governor has removed enforcement provisions. Now they truly are guidelines and recommendations. Here's how he addressed what steps businesses should and should not take in light of the removal of enforcement provisions.

Gov. Burgum: 06:54 One might take this interpretation as, is that hey, we've no, there's no longer enforceability to these. It's just strictly guidelines and proclamations and so we're gonna, we're gonna let her rip as they say, and it's Memorial Day weekend and let's let's party on. It's clear that even as we loosen up these and move from legal requirements to just simply recommendations or guidelines for those businesses that had, that had previously during the middle of this pandemic been closed by executive order, that both the local health officer and the state of health officer, between those two, they've got clear legal authority about requesting quarantines. The state health officer still has clear legal authority to close businesses that represent health risks to the public. And so again if somebody decides they want to let it rip and there's a large breakout that's traced back to those to that either facility whether it's a business or a place where customers go there still is the ability and we will to protect public safety, take actions as needed to make sure that we're ensuring public health.

Gov. Burgum: 08:08 So again this is up to each business to make the smart decisions about how they restore their customer and consumer confidence and they take actions that allow them not only to reopen but to stay open operating a safe and healthy business.

Bret Keisling: 08:23 The governor, once again, hit the nail on the head. It isn't enough for businesses to reopen. They need to be able to stay open and sustain themselves. And the key to that is consumer confidence. For me, it comes down to the employees. Remember, if you're not keeping your employees safe, you're putting all of your stakeholders, customers, vendors, suppliers, et cetera, at risk as well. Don't do that.

Bret Keisling: 08:52 Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope come back next Tuesday for our primary EO/ESOP podcast. You can find all of our almost 200 episodes at I'd appreciate it if you'd subscribe or follow our podcast wherever you get your podcasts, and if you'd like to give us a little bit of extra support, we do appreciate retweets and sharing of posts when we announce new episodes. This episode has been brought to you by the concept of empathy! Take care of yourself and take care of those around you. We're all in this together and that's how we're going to get through it, together. This is Bret Keisling. Be well.

Bitsy McCann:09:38 We'd love to hear from you! To contact us, find us on Facebook at KEISOP, LLC and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. To reach Bret, with one "T", email, on LinkedIn at Bret Keisling, and most actively on Twitter at @EO_Bret. Again, that's one "T". This podcast has been produced by The KEISOP Group, technical assistance provided by Third Circle, Inc. and BitsyPlus Design. Original music composed by Max Keisling, archival podcast material edited and produced by Brian Keisling, and I'm Bitsy McCann.

Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.

A note on the transcript: This transcript was produced by Temi, an automated transcription service. While it has been reviewed by The ESOP Podcast, we can not guarantee the accuracy of the transcription. Please refer to the original audio when citing sources.


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