Posts Tagged: Alan Burkhard

What Would Alan Burkhard Do?

July 30th, 2014

Throughout most of my formative years as a leader, I started off my thinking with the basic question, “What would Alan do or say?” Alan Burkhard is my Pop, a serial entrepreneur, a good Father, an activist for the community & any underdog that he comes in contact with, and most importantly, the most unique leader I know.

Alan's PictureFor example, I used to call him every Friday when we worked together and without fail he thought differently than most leaders. For most situations he would not give me the answer I sought. Rather, he would point me back to the information. He would say, “You don’t have enough information to come up with the solution. Go back and get more.”

Recently, the Outside-In® Companies was awarded with a very large contract. We have worked for it for years. As is typical of a comprehensive workforce program, the customer needed help well before we finished implementation! We had a choice stick with our higher retail price for services until we implement or give the volume price and trust that this is the right thing to do.  Do we have more margin now or do we establish a great “wow” moment of trust with a new customer? What would Alan do? Most grab the margin. We gave the volume price and we will trust that the rest will take care of itself!!

So my statement, “What would Alan do or say?” has nothing to do with seeking fatherly approval or anything like that. It is simply a phrase that keeps me sharp and focused on what being an Outside-In® leader is really all about.

Another example of his unique leadership occurred while at a recent baseball game. Alan commented on the recent security changes at the MLB ballparks. Essentially, ballparks are going to be like airports and large office complexes in the sense that game goers will be patted down and go through scanners. All in the name of homeland security. We might mumble and grumble about our loss of rights and civil liberties but we go along with the crowd and think that this is just another precautionary measure. Not Alan. He brings forward the classic Outside-In® leadership principle. We always seem to police and create rules for the handful of wrong doers and then punish everyone else. Security is serious business of course. However, I get his point as he as always applied this to his business.

Stereotypically speaking, leaders create too many rules and over complicate things. We create policies and handbooks galore. Don’t misinterpret me, I believe some structure and system makes sense. Just don’t over do it! Allow good people to follow simple rules and be allowed to operate freely within that loose system. That is why Outside-In® leaders lead with values. Values are there when we are not (which is often). Besides, bad leaders want to be superheroes anyway and are much too quick to dole out answers. That is NOT what staff wants. Staff wants to grow and be challenged in their job.

So for me, “What would Alan say or think?” is my mantra. It keeps me sharp. I am reminded that it is OK to cut against the grain and to be Outside-In® every moment of every day. This is very hard as most of those in the leadership world would rather make a rule than to actually lead or take action!

In Honor of Father’s Day: The Best of Alan Burkhard

June 12th, 2013

So everyone should find a way to do something nice for their Pop this time of year.  My Dad, Alan Burkhard, has whatever he wants that might be considered material or he will just buy it for himself – and besides, he is a real pain to shop for. Everything is too “something”.

My Dad is a many time entrepreneur who works at his craft relentlessly. His credos and philosophies are timeless. They are Outside-In®, a business approach we jointly trademarked and use in running our customer centered businesses. So for Father’s Day, I think I will share some of the “best of” comments and ideas that have made Alan successful:

The Best of Alan Burkhard

1. Try to close the gap between where you are and what your capable of. Start everyday with the goal of maximizing your abilities. Know that few people ever learn to use everything they were given to work with. This is where success, growth, challenge, and bringing your capabilities to life actually happen.

2. Know yourself. Do you have a culture of one? How can you work someplace if you don’t what you stand for? What are your values?  How do this fit into the bigger picture?

3. You have the most control when you give it all away. This applies to parents with kids or leaders with employees. So many times we just sit on a situation. We dictate. We direct. We tell folks what and how to do it. The best way to grow people is to give them say and control. Yes, you can provide them with the tools they need to succeed. Trust and accountability are the ultimate ways to control.

4. Be able to change.  There is nothing more relevant to grasp.  Change is hard to start.  But it gets easier, and oftentimes, the gain and the good comes down the line. But for all of us?  Learning to adapt and take advantage of change is a life skill that will put us ahead of the curve.  All types of organizations need change-makers. Those that do, often get the choice opportunities.  They make things happen for themselves!

5. Making decisions is about having the right information. Remember, getting the right information is the hard part. We want to jump to take action and try things. But really, solving problems and making decisions can be easy – yet, few have the patience. Everyone is too busy to do it right. Many quick decisions seems to be in vogue for leaders. Being busy and taking action is confused with productivity. The basics are in gathering the right information and in learning to interpret it.  Taking action is easy and convenient when you do the other steps well.

6. Let them live life and learn from it.  We all wear many roles in life.  We have to let our kids, our employees, our loved ones live life.  YOU have to let life happen to them.  Get out of the way and let them learn.  We all must take risks.

Josh and HallieNow, for my Father’s Day message to my kids:

Being a Dad is much harder then being President of a company.  At work, my job is to love everyone up or out of the company. At home, well, that is just not so easy. I am “stuck” with you for a few more years anyway in the same house.  After thinking about Father’s Day and all of the cards, special breakfasts, and nice T-shirts I have been given over the years, I decided all I really want is for you to read this and take from it what you can.

1.  You don’t yet know what your capable of. But work at it. There is always a gap here.  Work everyday to close the gap.

2.  Life is fleeting. Be happy right now where you are. Know that whatever you are doing right now is your life. Don’t plan or wish it away.

3.  Life is messy but go for it. I see you both stand on the sidelines so much.  Go to the party. Try out for the team. Make the phone call to go to the beach. Go on the trip.  Go have experiences good and bad.

4.  Find your confidence. I don’t know how to give you both confidence. But I know this. I did not have it at your age. At some point, it was like “turning a switch”. I think I figured out that others are not that confident. Or not that much smarter. Or that much better at whatever it is in question. But this comes with experience I guess. I promise you if you work at it you will be the most confident person in the room for the right reasons- you will have earned it.

5.  Have integrity and find it fast.  When you are alone in the middle of the night are you proud of yourself? Have you been honest with yourself and with the ones that care about you most? Trustworthiness and having integrity, means having a strength of character and making it matter. “Character is how you act when know one is looking.”  Be a character, but have lots of it.  And stand for something!  Personally, I think you have to fail here in order to decide this.  Having integrity starts to feel important and gives you an edge.  The more you do it, the less you ever want to compromise on it.

Even if the words above are geared towards one family generation to the next, I think this advice can apply to all in their personal and professional lives. By reading this, I hope you are inspired to define your personal philosophy. Create your own culture. Establish your values, or revisit them if need be. That is how you will find success (and happiness) in life. No matter how you define them, I believe that the points above will help guide you on your path towards achieving your goals.

Yes, Your Company Is Outside-In, Sir

January 16th, 2013

Yes, Your Tide Is Cold and Dark, SirOutside-In® is our culture and our operating philosophy. Outside-In® is made up of our employees and a work environment that encourages individualism, innovation, and focus on creating a unique customer experience.  We want customers to be happy with great service.  We want employees to be happy with great culture.  And shareholders can be happy with the good profits that ultimately follow. These great employees are hired, recognized, and rewarded against our core values. Our core values guide us where others use policy manuals and mandates. The world is too complex and dynamic and the business world too fluid to not put the information, knowledge, authority and gumption in the hands of all employees equally.

With all this said, I’d like to take some credit for its creation, but I am not its “Founding Father”.  That credit goes to another Burkhard — Alan Burkhard. Over our lifetimes, we have worked together to refine the concept of Outside-In®. The focus of putting the customer first in business thinking. The notion of a culturally led business.  Alan did it first, and this Outside-In® brand, this Outside-In® philosophy can and is used in all kinds of businesses and industries.

Many years ago, I gave Alan the registered trademark as a gift that we share. We went first in using it in business, and the ™ symbol is our proof.  However, our goal was to encourage the world to use Outside-In® as a way of describing customer-oriented behavior and thinking.  This is my personal 10 year goal.  Make Outside-In® a household name.  Look it up.  It is more mainstream in business than you realize…

But this post is about how we think our Outside-In® philosophy gives us an edge in business. It helps us run better waste companies like Independent Disposal. We run better staffing, recruiting, and outplacement firms.  We run great restaurants.  And now we make Outside-In® movies.No one can say that we are not diverse right?  Find a market.  Look for a service gap.  Treat the customer better than they expected.  Create a customer-centered culture.  Focus on and make your company Outside-In®.

Do that enough, and opportunities present themselves.  Do that enough and you want to help people. Have enough success in life and there are opportunities to share what you know in new fields and you get quite a rush and ride along the way. That is where my Dad is in life.  He backed and helped make a independent movie, Yes, Your Tide Is Cold and Dark, Sir, written and directed by local filmmaker and friend, Chris Malinowski. My Dad makes a cameo as a bartender. He taught a group of talented actors, producers, directors, sound, key grips, and a whole lot more about Outside-In® and he got to help a friend fulfill a lifelong goal of getting a script to the big screen. When I spoke with Chris about his experience working with Alan on the project he said,

“Alan, empowered me to run the [film] company and believed in the exuberance of the project. He knew it was a challenging narrative. Producers tend to lean at times on the creative parties and stick their necks into the creative process. Alan didn’t do that. He empowered me completely.”

Empowerment and creative freedom on a movie set? That is the ultimate Outside-In® experience. I am proud.

Ultimately, what matters is that they took the risk. Through that risk, the Outside-In® brand and legend grows.  So, if you are in Delaware and are into independent films, watch the trailer, come to the premier, and most importantly help me celebrate the success of our Outside-In® brand and what can do for any business.  For Yes, Your Tide Is Cold and Dark, Sir trailer, click here. For showtimes and ticket information for this weekend’s premiere, you can visit the film’s Facebook page.

What My Dad Showed Me About the Holidays

December 19th, 2012

My dad is a little infamous for being grumpy around the holidays. The merrier those around him got, the harder and longer he would work. At the time, I didn’t quite understand why he worked Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas, and…quite frankly almost all the days I saw the other dads take off. They might have been teachers or engineers or had what I considered ‘a normal job’.

You see, my dad was building something: a small company. During that time, some years were hard, maybe even lean or awful. Other years were good or maybe even superb years. But each year his company grew a little bit. He was always there looking over things, insisting that the newest employees or the rookie manager got the time off to spend with their family and friends. This is a Burkhardism to this day. I am not perfect with it, but I come back to it always and live by it. So if you need anything this holiday season, I will be around! I am thankful that my dad taught me this.  But this is about another holiday story…

Many years ago when I was a young boy, I went with my father to the local mall to volunteer and ring the bell for the Salvation Army. My father believes in service and encouraged us to give our time to the cause through his Rotary Club. All kinds of people donate money, but those with the least to give seem to give the most!  At some point throughout the day, a small girl walked by with her mother. The girl was visibly upset and crying loudly. You couldn’t help but overhear the entire conversation between the little girl and her mother. The girl had lost all of her Christmas shopping money, a prized twenty dollar bill, and her cries could be heard across the parking lot. This was quite distressing to the mother, who appeared to perhaps not to be in a place to replace it, and so she struggled to calm her daughter as she searched for the lost money amongst the bystanders.

What was so amazing to me, as I looked around was that everyone seemed to be watching all of this unfold, as if it was happening in super slow motion. No one was doing anything but watching. It was really quite moving. Yet, also quite painful. Then, we all watched as my dad walked up behind them, took a twenty dollar bill out of his pocket, crumpled it, and bent down behind the little girl. “Excuse me,” he said tapping her on the shoulder, “Here is your Christmas money!” It appeared as if he had just found and picked up the girl’s twenty dollar bill. The girl’s face lit up and she smiled, her crying subsiding completely. Her mother let out a big sigh of relief, look towards my dad and mouthed a quick “Thank you” before she and her daughter walked quickly into the mall.

If you know my dad today, then you know that that twenty dollar bill is not as important to him now as it was the day he helped that little girl. But what he taught me was that somebody always needs it more than you. What’s more, he taught me the value of giving. Before that moment, I had always thought that charitable actions were something people did because they had to, or because everyone else was doing it. After watching my dad, and his interactions with the girl and her mother, I realized that those who give to others do it simply because its the right thing to do.

From CBI Group, Placers, and Barton Career Advisors, we hope you will have peace, great thoughts, safety, and your health this Holiday Season!

Be Careful Politicking for the Job You Already Have

September 26th, 2012

“Be careful politicking for the job you already have.” -Alan Burkhard

This is a favorite phrase of Burkhard leaders. Politicking for the job you already have is like getting a penalty in football for excess celebration in the end zone.  We all know that players should look like they have been there before – that they have experienced the thrill of making a touchdown; however, if his teammates can see it from the bench than the celebration is just too much. The player’s job is to score the touchdown, not spike the football, jump into the crowd, or do a back flip. At the same time, this type of showmanship is what makes a game exciting – not to mention improve ratings and boost ticket sales. I get it. It comes with the territory.

In our culture, acting like you “have been there before” is expected. We know what to recognize and how to celebrate it.  However, I can assure you it will not be for doing what is expected.  This might seem harsh, and perhaps it is.  However, what all of us really want is to thrive in an accountable environment.  In the event that a weak employee is shown the door, some may applaud and ask the leader, “What took you so long?”.  Some may snicker when a co-worker takes too much (or misplaced) credit for doing what is expected.

The aforementioned scenarios are not uncommon in the workplace, and I am sure as a leader you have experienced variations of these situations within your team. For employees within a team, remember: practice caution when seeking approval or acknowledgment from your leader. Stay cognizant of the big picture – as the old saying goes, “There’s no I in team”. For leaders, the same is applicable when seeking approval from your peers. George Van Valkenburg once said, “Leadership is doing what is right when no one’s watching.”

Still not sure what I mean by politicking for the job you already have? Leaders, think about it like this:

  • Be careful about seeking credit for projects completed and deals won. When a goal is achieved, make sure to give the credit to the team or to others.  Leaders can’t do anything without the belief and efforts of their team.
  • Be cautioned about summarizing what you have done. Seems so innocent right?  Well no, the organization knows what you have achieved.  There is no reason to brag or pitch the results.
  • Focus on thanking those that achieved the results through your people. Focus on where you’re headed and what needs to be done to achieve it.

Promotions, raises, and bonuses don’t come when we do our jobs or meet expectations. They don’t happen when we draw attention to ourselves.  And I can’t throw a yellow flag for too much bragging.  What I can do is point you in the right direction.

Being proud of what you have achieved is more than okay as a leader. However, the focus of your communication needs to be on something completely different.  Act like you have been there before.  Recognize those involved. “Be lavish with the approbation.” is what Dale Carnegie would say.  More importantly, show us what you are going to do, how you are going to get there, and how I can help you achieve something wonderful, or better yet – something completely unexpected!

Full Disclosure

May 23rd, 2012

Guest Blog by Kelly Hocutt, a CBI Group team member

At CBI, we have added four new people to our team in the past few weeks. One of the first things we share with new team members is our Outside-In® culture and we have done so by sharing stories about one tenet each week. This week is Open Book. I first learned about what it meant to be Open Book from Chris’ father, Alan Burkhard.

When I met with Alan to learn about his life as an entrepreneur, I wondered, “What is it that Alan understands about this world that the rest of us are too blind to see? What makes him so successful, so content and so relaxed?” It’s that he has nothing to hide.

“I am fully open and honest with everyone,” he told me. He teams up with people that have the same values as him and commits to full disclosure. He will discuss anything his partners, coworkers or employees want to know. He shares his philosophy with anyone who is interested. It’s simple, common sense but the difference lies in making what you believe, what you actually do. To live and be what you believe. He teaches his philosophy to his employees and the Outside-In® philosophy has been successful in every business he has established or turned around, in seven different industries; Payroll, transfer stations, real estate, trash, horse racing, food service and staffing services… Just like it has worked for his son.

“I don’t care what the product is in my business. Great service is unbeatable because it’s free,” he says with a smile. Letting his customers call all the shots has made Alan Burkhard the successful entrepreneur he is today. “What’s the value to you? That’s the value to me.” The beauty of the Outside-In® philosophy is its minimalism. He teaches it in the classroom, he can diagram it or explain it through one of his many analogies. He could shout it from the mountaintops. But that doesn’t mean people grasp it enough to fully embrace and live it.

Thus, to put his philosophy to work in his companies, Alan leads by example. “My business philosophy is the same as my personal philosophy,” he explained. He teaches people to have their own cultures, to learn and understand themselves. He then encourages them to be who they say they are. Culture is defined by “what we do and how we act. You must live it. Be it.” Everyone has cultural traits that they rank higher than others, whether they know it or not. The big one for Alan are being direct, sharing, and leadership. With a defined culture, Alan empowers people to make decisions.

Alan believes that he and his employees are equally important and he makes sure they know that. “I give full trust in employees. There is no need not to tell them anything.” And that is exactly what those of us at CBI Group have been talking about this week. Our new team members are learning from the veterans what full disclosure, sharing and collaboration are all about. This Outside-In® approach is so simple and so human that it can be confusing. But it’s up to each and every employee to put being Open Book in to action. When one of us passes it along, it’s a beautiful thing to watch the power of full disclosure.

What is your personal culture?

October 12th, 2011

Last week, I heard my father speak to several hundred high school students about the realities of today’s workforce and workplace. Several days later when Steve Jobs passed, I made an interesting connection. Jobs was the world’s ultimate contrarian. In a famous speech at Stanford, he challenged the college graduating class to be careful about spending too many days doing things they don’t like. Spend every day like it is your last, he encouraged them. “Do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. And don’t settle,” said Jobs. There was such a parallel between Job’s speech and my father’s address that I had to share.

My dad’s first key point was that when you are young, you do not know yourself. You’re made up of other peoples’ ideas, thoughts, values and opinions. It is your family values and your friends that make up what you believe in and what you stand for. You begin to figure yourself out in your high school and college years – you don’t learn your personal culture or “culture of one” from the educational system.

Even once we’ve figured out our culture of one, my father believes that few of us know how to truly maximize ourselves. There is always a gap between who we are and what we are capable of. Having awareness of that gap is the first step of maximizing your potential. My father believes it is a leaders job to challenge folks to work on and close their gap.

At CBI Group, closing the gap is a big part of my goal as an employer. I have created an environment where people can both figure out and live their culture of one. I challenge them to define their gap — the gap between what they are capable of and what they are currently producing. This is what culture can be — how leaders can unleash the best in people.

This “Burkhard Theory” is something I have heard my father talk about hundreds of times, for most days of my life, in fact. I have worked on my “culture on one” and I live each day to maximize what I am capable of. I am not smarter, more gifted, blessed or special than anyone else. I just work harder at improving myself and that gives me confidence. This is our contribution. This is what we stand for. And those are my dad’s words. I simply chose to live them.

We can all take a page from Steve Jobs and his life. Hope you enjoyed the talk.

Guest Post: What does it mean to be entrepreneurial?

March 30th, 2011

Chris, the Outside-In Guy: I often talk about what it’s like to be an entrepreneur or offer my advice on entrepreneurial endeavors, but today I’d like to offer another view. Let me introduce Kelly Hocutt, an employee of mine who has always had an interest in entrepreneurship and came to CBI Group because our culture encourages everyone to be entrepreneurial.

I have had the unique opportunity of not only working for Chris at CBI Group, but also working for his father, Alan Burkhard, a serial entrepreneur. Alan has long been a mentor for me and I thank him for fueling my interest in entrepreneurship. At a young age I would bounce my business ideas off him and as I got older, I started to ask questions and request more stories about his work and philosophy. Then one day in 2009, Alan asked if I would be interested in shadowing him for a week to see what the life of an entrepreneur is like.
I was honored, grateful, excited, and most of all, unsure how the experience would unfold. Well, that was a year and a half ago and now I work for Alan’s son Chris. During the time I spent with Alan, I did everything he typically does in a week: went to management meetings at his companies, met with his lawyers, looked at P&L’s, attended lunch meetings, was introduced to his friends and colleagues, volunteered at the hospital, had dinner with his wife… you get the idea.
What I learned that week answered a lot of questions and offered me a clearer path forward, but also “ruined me,” as Chris says. The Burkhard men frequently say that “you can only control your own career when you are your own boss“. So, while what I learned from Alan “ruined” me at the start of my career, I was fortunate to find a place at CBI Group because it offered me a chance to be entrepreneurial, make decisions for myself and be a leader, but also learn about business before jumping in to be my own boss.
I’d like to share a few quotes from Alan Burkhard that were brought to life for me at CBI Group.

    “What’s the value to you? That’s the value to me.”
    “My business philosophy is the same as my personal philosophy.”
    “Culture is defined by what we do and how we act. You must live it. Be it.”
    “It’s all about relationships.”

What I learned is that an entrepreneur’s work is a lifestyle. Work doesn’t start at 9 AM and end at 5 PM. For an entrepreneur, work is life and life is work. “You are your own boss,” is true when taken literally. But what is also important is that when it comes to work, you should be able to be yourself, make your own decisions, challenge and enjoy yourself. That is what I get at CBI Group, the chance to be entrepreneurial, even though “I’m not my own boss.”

The McKinley Edge

October 28th, 2010

I have a dream to climb Mt. McKinley in Alaska – all 20,320 feet of it.  All of my friends and family know it, my mom begs me not to talk about it and my wife laughs a little knowing that I am all talk (for now).  I hike and backpack year-round and take several recreational hiking trips. There is always a peak involved, small east coast peaks that challenge us about as much as a normal day at the office.  To climb McKinley, you have to train ridiculously hard (see the sample workout that I have used) and work up to it by climbing one of the many “fourteeners” (14,000 ft. peaks) in Colorado, then you move on to Mt. Rainier in Washington.  This is standard mountain climbing play book stuff.

In training for such a difficult climb, one must train to the concept of the McKinley Edge – going beyond your training comfort zone.  When faced with a life threatening situation, no matter how tired or exhausted you are, there must be reserves left – a final gear to get you out of danger. The McKinley Edge involves training your body for that extreme or going to maximum heart beyond the point of exhaustion.  Each person has a different stress tolerance or pain threshold.  Everyone’s endurance level is different.  The key thing is you can train your body for extremes and that really got me thinking…

If you can find the McKinley Edge for you body, can you work on it for your business?  Can you find your leadership McKinley Edge?  I think you can.  As a young man while working at Placers I had many different roles and assignments.  As soon as I thought I mastered one office, I got two. When I learned to handle managing managers I got five direct reports.   Never managed the HR function or sales?  I got the exposure and it definitely did not come easy.  I would like to apologize now to those early employees that had to teach me to manage them.  I had the motivation and desire, good mentors and my work ethic was non-stop.  Still I had to get used to the stress and responsibility and grow into it. I had to want to grow into it.

The key was something that my father, Alan Burkhard, theorized and has lived everyday of his life: You can train for stressful situations in business by practice. It involves getting comfortable with change; you have to want to exploit it.  It can not happen to you; you must make it happen.  The McKinley Edge in business is different for all of us.

You can get there by:

  1. Seeking out special projects and additional responsibility at work. Gain an edge.
  2. Make a presentation in front of others.
  3. Start a business – SO MUCH TO LEARN! It is a constant McKinley Edge training session for years to come.
  4. Put yourself in new/uncomfortable business situations.
  5. Work from an entrepreneurial business!

My McKinley Edge at this point?  It never changes.  Every two weeks I have to meet payroll for my company.  This is one thing I will never get used to.  Take a moment and define your McKinley Edge for your role or your business and post your thoughts!  I have learned that most would send me an email in private instead of posting – find your edge and post….

Words from a Serial Entrepreneur

May 21st, 2010

Did you ever stop to think where you got the drive and initiative to start your company? To work for an entrepreneur? I recently had the opportunity to be a part of a Leadership Interview Series in Philadelphia, PA. This was my second time around with Herb Cohen, an angel investor and entrepreneur in his own right, who loves to ask questions of people that run and grow companies. What makes them tick? What prompted the entrepreneurial process?

The catch? I brought my dad, Alan Burkhard for a talk on multiple generations of entrepreneurs.

I had a paper route. When I was 14, I worked in a pizza shop. I worked 80 hours a week as a teenager moving furniture. I had a lot of early influences. The most influential was my Pop. Serial entrepreneur six, seven, eight times over, but who’s counting? As you will notice I was more of a side kick than the main attraction this go round.

The best part of listening to this is I get a constant reinforcement of the foundation of my early leadership education. The hallowed grounds for me. It is about starting a company that competes on culture. That has operating philosophies that focuses on the employee. That focus the business less on the product of the business and more on the customer experience around it. That wins by unleashing the inner talents of average employees, they embrace it and become extraordinarily productive.

I hope you enjoy.

By the way — we were invited back for round 2 soon. Maybe I will get to say a few more words!

Business getting better? Drop me a note. I am hearing from readers that the jobless recovery is starting to create some jobs. What do you see?

CLICK HERE to listen to the webcast.

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