Posts Tagged: Company Culture


The Entrepreneurial Life: That Impossible Priority

October 1st, 2014

ID-100100023Working with small business leaders for a living has both its perks and its perils. What are the toughest business learns for every small business owner or bootstrapped leader? We want to do everything. Fund it all. React to every new idea. Solve every single problem. Serve each and every client. Hire every good talent that comes in the door. Finish every project. Go to every networking meeting. You get the idea. We want to do it all. This is contagious. It builds and snowballs into a doing frenzy.

I was taught to focus on revenue generating activities from 8-5 and to run the company before 8 or after 5. I did that during the early years. Careful to mix the two. This did not prevent me from working until midnight or on Sunday mornings. In fact, in the I would have “meetings” with the foreman of the commercial cleaning crew that went through each night after 9 pm! That foreman would do odds jobs; hang white boards, move desks, and join me at my conference table when I wanted and needed to talk. Fascinating times with incredible experiences. I think you can really only bootstrap once—it takes much energy and stamina.

Over the years, books and consultants have changed my perspective on the do it all and fund everything mentality that came to me naturally.

I now preach limited priorities. Focus, execution, and getting things done is my new philosophy. The hardest things of all is deciding what 3-5 items should be yours to tackle! Every leader I have ever coached says the same thing: I have many more things to do than that! We all do. The point is to choose what part of your business to tackle and understanding how if you fix or adjust that part will impact other parts of the business. It’s like business centrifugal force. Fix one thing, it makes something else move along too. But too much and it will make other parts of the business need future fixing!

How do you chose the part of your business to tackle? Stay tuned for a future blog!

Outside-In® Chronicles: Why Values and Culture Matter More than Rules and Handbooks

September 17th, 2014

DSC_0372-300x199As a leader of a successful recruiting company and the coach of a local high school soccer team, I’ve come to understand that too many organizations attempt to create order and discipline through handbooks and rule books.  Don’t get me wrong – they have a place. However, I believe that too many organizations make rules for the 1 in 100 that take advantage of the system, and then 99 have to suffer because of it. Yet, values are forever. They force a union and ownership amongst employees and leaders just as they do players and coaches. Values are enforceable by an entire organization, and there are a lot more players then coaches! This puts the emphasis on all having say and ownership!  Like the saying goes, “Treat people the way they wish they were treated and they just might live up to that standard!”

So if your not convinced, picture me coaching in a game. Imagine my superstar player who is losing his cool or maybe drawing attention to himself in away that puts him above the team. I can promise you that this happens. I might need to talk to him, but 18 other players will step in remind him of the value that  team comes first at all times! Or perhaps we get behind in the score and some players get down on themselves. I hear over and over again about the value that our soccer program never, ever, ever, ever gives up.

My personal favorite though is “Nothing negative said, nothing negative received”. I think every business, HR firm or not, needs this value. This one is about team or group trust. Too many times we assume that something said was negative, and too many time we hear it as such. We want a positive atmosphere, where we maintain a benefit-of-the-doubt team culture. We want to trust the gap between what we see and hear and what happened!

I hope you enjoy seeing how our values work for the team. By the way, this is my third year with the team and results come slowly (when they are going to stick)! This is the year we win some games! Our philosophy: Our goal is not to win alone, but to build and improve every day in order to play the game perfectly.

Below is a list of values that we hope all players at Elkton High School can embrace. If we can accept and practice these values, we can better our team and the soccer program, but more importantly we can better our lives and better serve others around us.

Elkton Soccer Program Values:

1. We never, ever, ever give up.

2. Nothing negative said, nothing negative received.

3. Our goal is not to win alone, but to play the game perfectly.

4. We will outwork our competition on and off the pitch.

5. We will follow our player agreements.

6. Everyone plays, that is how we get better as a program.

7. Team comes first at all times.

8. We will play with emotion, not show it.

9. We will do everything with intention (practice, training, pregame, off the field).

10. We must be willing to teach and learn.

11. Every player, regardless of their background, brings an important and necessary element to the team.

Outside-In® Summer Reading List

August 27th, 2014

Summer reading is a part of the fabric that defines my free time as well as my summer vacation. The challenge is to decide how to recharge and rejuvenate with that precious time off. Do I really want to read an industry publication or study for that upcoming webinar to keep continuing education credits flowing? It’s not that I don’t like my industry or chosen profession, I just need space and time to decompress. The more space I can create or make more time to think, the more likely I am to find new ideas and thoughts that help with my day-to-day work!

However, sometimes it’s hard to get away without our smart phones tethered to our hand 24/7—we all have to find some compromise, right? The very device that lets you order pizza while on vacation or text the teenagers to find out when they will be home is the same piece of technology that pings every time there is a new email and some work issue that either ruins your vacation mood or requires immediate attention!

I once heard the pile of unread business magazines, articles, books, and white papers on your nightstand or work station referred to as the tower of guilt! I, for one, feel good when I take that pile of work and plow through it. Sometimes I read three or four books at the same time in rotation just to change topics for the sake of staying current. However, this is not the approach I like to take for summertime reading.

So if you’re trying too hard to work and want to recharge while coming back with a new perspective on your business, here are my top three must reads:

ID-1001841481. Anything by Gladwell. Malcom not only sees the world differently, but he does the research to back it up. Try The Tipping PointWhat the Dog Saw, or my all time favorite, The Outliers. If you want to think about your business place in a different way, try escaping to the world that Malcom creates!

2.  How to Win Friends and Influence People. So many smart people know something about their field of study or the technical aspects of their profession yet few invest in their relationships.  No books exists that is more time tested for helping you with tools and tips for great human relations skills!

3.  Zen and the Art of Happiness. Everyone gets down in the dumps from time to time. As Dale Carnegie is for great human relationships this book is for realigning your perspective on your daily life. Things happen to us each and everyday, it is what we do next that matters.

If you have a book that recharges and lifts your energy while helping you reflect and improve your business or your leadership persona please let us know!

Outside-In® Chronicles: Leaders, Admit When You’re Wrong Please!

August 20th, 2014

Originally posted on April 3rd, 2013

Today’s companies operate differently than a decade or two ago. Globalization, technology, cultural and social change, demographic trends and shifts have all impacted the way business is conducted. This structural shift has impacted the worker too. Today’s worker must be focused on knowledge building and embracing change skills to maximize themselves.

ID-100147926However, I think this structural shift has impacted the way leaders need to lead. One of my personal pet peeves is when leaders don’t take the time to admit fault. There is this funny thing called “leadership pride” that keeps our lips shut.  We may act like we did something wrong, we may make amends or attempt to fix a mistake, however, we don’t often vocally admit mistakes enough. When we don’t admit our mistakes, we damage trust on our teams and in our company. Trust is a funny thing. Easy to lose. Hard to get back.  Must be built through your actions and of course, your words.  They better be close to one and the same.

By not admitting mistakes we look fake and disingenuous. Today’s worker must do their job on the edge of their seat and take risks in their job to create some wow (or do something Nth degree in Outside-In® language). But the risk is the key.  If you won’t show vulnerability as a leader and expose yourself how do you expect others to do so?  And if you expect creativity or new thinking from your people, then celebrating mistakes is a requirement.

Making mistakes makes you real.  By making mistakes you are human. By admitting them, you allow others to admit them and creates an open channel for improved communication to blossom. A problem said out loud, is a problem half solved! Openly addressing mistakes you’ve made as a leader allows trust to grow and build between you and your employees. It’s about being Open Book — being honest, vulnerable, and transparent – and living Outside-In® leadership, where accessibility and trust are key components of a strong leader.

We all need a culture of admission, right?

Outside-In® Culture Series: Hiring Strategy

August 6th, 2014

Never stop working on your culture. This is very hard to do when there is other work to be done in leadership. Just look around—every part of your business needs culture work. If you need a way to evaluate this just stand at your office entrance and work backwards. Here is a hint—culture is everywhere. Culture shows up in how you hire, retain, recognize, reward, and even let go of talent! Let’s start at the front door. You need to hire employees to maintain a business. Hiring employees is the perfect place to work on culture! Think about it.

A business and its leaders work very hard to know what skills and experiences are needed for an open position. This is not easy and getting it right takes time. Who has it? Does your job description or profile speak to how someone must behave? What values matter to all of your employees?

ID-100262401A business also works hard to attract quality talent. These are the basics of talent acquisition. Companies hire recruiters internally, outsource to companies like mine, and hire temps. There are many strategies to produce the work that is need to find talent, identify the sources for talent, and to get the work done. However, getting the work done has nothing to do with how your organization presents itself to the marketplace. You know you’re a great place to work and there are unique and extraordinary reasons why someone would want to choose your company over another. If you’re not clear about your culture and your values how can you screen talent and know if they are a fit in your world?

You post on a job board for an opening. Does the posting simply tell about the role or does it culturally sell your company?

During the interview process we ask behavioral questions and leaders screen for technical competence. However, there is a real opportunity to screen for culture. The questions depend on your values (common theme) and how you will frame them. If you’re a small business you probably want to ask questions about working independently or how applicants go about making decisions. If your culture is one of structure and compliance or safety then build your questions accordingly. Companies screen and hire for technical fit, however, our hiring failures often relate to fit on the team or in the work environment! Try hiring someone fiercely independent in a team culture. Good Luck.

Make sure you keep the sofa full. This is a cultural Burkhardism that has been written about and is a whole chapter in books on hiring right! Do you look for talent all of the time? Do you have your next hire sitting on the sofa in your lobby? This is a metaphor of course. Hiring takes time, money, energy, and resources. Committing to these things in a structured, proactive way enables us to hire cultural fits.

When the sofa is not full, we hire fast and we hire wrong. Hiring the wrong person is costly—slow the process down. Consider six or nine months of a person’s salary as the cost of turnover. When we cut corners and just hire to fill a seat we fail and cost the company money!

Finally, consider hiring for culture over technical abilities. This is coming from the Outside-In® Guy who runs an entire company based on values. This could be considered radical and I hope so. Hiring for attitude and behaviors (the real source of culture) is a sure fire way to build talent that fits. Many or most roles can teach the rest.

Need a culture hiring review? Can you afford not to? Can you ever stop working on culture? I say no!

Outside-In® Turns 13!

August 6th, 2014

Thirteen years ago today I started the Outside-In® story in my friend Jim Paoli’s coat closet. I had a laptop, a cell phone (not a smart one), and a folding desk and chair for ambience.  I had my business plan done, my labor of love of 80+ pages. I was so proud—we were going to change the world. This document represented all that was wrong with the HR services world and illustrated how I was going to do it differently. Call it my Jerry Maquire moment. Who’s with me? Well, there were just a few who believed in me and today I would like to thank them all.

Getting a business started is a fascinating experience. I have been fond of saying that it feels generally like full-blown asthma. You simply can’t breathe for months because of the crush of to do’s and the weight of needing to pay the bills and find those all important first customers. Eventually you find a way to get through it.

20140806_115354_resizedWe survived even through the adversity—and we have had plenty. It is going to sound like a joke of some sort with no punch line. Did you hear the one about the small business that survived a fire, a roof collapse, IT theft, and 9/11? Oh yeah that one. This was the day I opened to the world and my first full-time employee, Judi Dorazio joined the fold. We sat and worked as the world changed around us. I simply did not know what else to do. So we sat around for months waiting for the world to heal and for us to be able to start all of those delayed projects.

It was not easy. I am a smooth talking persuader according to Myers-Briggs profile anyway. So getting out and talking to the marketplace was easy for me. Hard work, mind you. But I could do it—and I did. Imagine working every single day for a year including Christmas. OK, I did not work all day, but I worked every day that first year. Think about the book Never Eat Alone- I took that to heart and had a lunch date every single day for almost two years. As you can imagine, this is got expensive. People want to feel your energy, get caught up in your dream, and see how big you’re thinking. Then they pat you on the head and wait to see if you make it before they work with you. Who can blame them?  When your nephew comes to you to sell you insurance when it’s his first week on the job you don’t buy. NO ones does. We all must pay our dues, gain experiences, and become good at what we do.

So here are the thank you’s to the class of 2001!

First and foremost my wife, Kim. If you looked at her Myers-Briggs profile, you would see that generally speaking she is conservative and avoids risks. Yet, she willingly and knowingly has supported my dream, our dream, for the past thirteen years—the good, the bad, and all of the ugly! Kim has been a Bookkeeper, Office Manager, Interior Designer, Foreman, and the one that vacuums and empties trash cans! Kim thank you for your sacrifices and vested interest in what we are building.

Laura Kasper. She worked for me once before the Outside-In® Companies. She worked for Placers 1.0 with my Dad and she worked for free until my business got going. Laura did everything that was not customer facing in the early days of the business. Laura did the business plan, wrote the proposals, bought office supplies, and she even designed most of the early processes & systems for every part of the business. I am proud to say that today she is a friend, a customer, a very successful HR leader, and mom extraordinaire!

Judi Dorazio. Judi and I also worked together at Placers 1.0. She did all of the recruiting and delivery. And customer and account management. And sales. You name it, she did it on the staffing side of the business for many, many years. Without that foundation we would not be where we all today!

Colleen Stratton. The first outsider. No Placers 1.0 here! Smart—whip smart. Colleen anchored our consulting practice. However, she really brought us forward with ideas and relationships.  Colleen is always at her best with complex people problems. Colleen is a friend, a customer, an advisor, and of course, an alumnus!

In all fairness, there are many others Jamie, Linda, Dave, Lisa, Joe, John, Garrick, Kelly, Glenn, Kathy. I feel like Frank Sinatra attempting to accept the award on stage but the ending music starts playing. My time for thank you’s is up!

Most companies don’t make it through year one. Then it is the five year hurdle. We had a cake and ice cream. For year 10, we threw a 25% party because only 1 in 4 makes it ten years. How will be celebrate being 13? With hard work, a simple birthday song, and a whole lot of sincere thank you’s!

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!

An Entrepreneurial View of Failure

July 23rd, 2014

When Edison searched for something to use to illuminate a light bulb he spent months and months with hundreds of different filaments until he found one that worked. Do you think he viewed each unlit bulb as a waste of time or something irrecoverable? He knew with each failed experiment, he was one step closer to something that would work!

ID-100209779As a small business owner, I have failed many times. I have hired the wrong people, put the wrong programs in place, even launched the wrong business ideas. However, I don’t view this as failure. Rather, this is a process to make something right and unique. This is how business works. Try something, fail quickly. Tweak it. Make adjustments. Learn from it. These are the basics. This is not failure. This is how we grow and gain knowledge.

Some say that being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. How do you handle the rejection? The no’s? The pats on the head when your business is just starting? Some will say, “When are you going to go get a job?” This is all part of the failing—dealing with the fact that most people really can’t handle the risk of trying.

I always feel as if I have more control of my own destiny when I am my own boss than when I work for others. That is just my my view. I would rather have tried to be a small business owner,  to have launched new services, and to have hired the wrong person because most of the times we end up getting it right. And we only need to get it right more often than not in order to be successful!

So the next time someone is taking a risk, think twice about your commentary. Risks create learning, knowledge, and opportunity. Everything changes. Why not be the one that initiates and drives change? Then failure will not be an option!

Create a Culture Holiday!

June 18th, 2014

How do you reinforce and teach the right organizational behaviors to your employee base? Leaders want their company to have a culture that reflects the values they put in place, but how can you do this from a practical day to day perspective?

Generally, we want to tell stories around our values. We want to reward and recognize values-based behaviors. And then we want to keep repeating and reinforcing. Not so hard in theory, but it can be difficult in a practical sense.

At the Outside-In® Companies, we have established a values holiday calendar. We have quite a few values, so every three to four weeks we celebrate one of our unique values for the day. Employees partner up and work on a value to find a way to bring the values to life. The value gets reinforced at our morning huddle. Legacy stories might be shared. A module of learning might be created. Handouts and visuals placed on desks or in prominent places to reinforce the message. The key is the simple routine and consistency. The challenge is to keep it fresh and changing.  And to make the story and symbolism meaningful.

When you encourage employees to take on a value they must become learners in order to act as teachers. Allowing all to be innovative and unique in how they communicate it is simply part of our culture. This reinforces taking risks and being knowledge-based workers.

Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 1.39.32 PMSpeaking of risk taking and holidays. Check out the $9 dollar bill with my face on it. This was the handout on for the Risk Takers values holiday. I always say make $9 dollar mistakes. Involve others when its goes to $99 or perhaps $99,999 or up. Once you bring the values to life in a meaningful way the rest will fall into place as employees live and breathe your culture. Humor. Education. Recognition. Rewards. Repeat.

No Excuses Leadership

May 7th, 2014

no excusesWe make them all of the time. In our home life. At work. In our minds. We say it out loud. We think of it often and we blame others all too much. Our kid got a bad call on the sports field. We would have gotten that promotion or bonus if the boss was more reasonable. We could have hit our budget, however, the winter weather kept workers home. As leaders at the Outside-In® family of companies, we have serious responsibilities to consider as a team.

No Excuses as a value seems self-explanatory, right? Try hard to control the space between your ears and learn to own whatever you are responsible for and for whatever happens to you. Placing blame, well, that is the easy path to take. Everything can be rationalized and made someone else’s fault.

As a leadership team No Excuses requires a commitment to some important management ideals and practices.

1. As leaders we need to think in terms of contingencies. Things always go differently than planned. Thinking through different options. Planning to stay ahead of your business. Making sure you stay ahead of things. The concept of getting ahead matters.  

2. Getting ahead and staying ahead and out in front of your business. Having enough focus and balance on the future of your business is critical. Do you have enough staff? Do you know who your next hire is? Are they ready for your next opening?

3. Balance of today’s workload with tomorrow. Did you just barely get through the day? Are you growing your business? Are you giving employees a reason to come back? Would anyone notice that you’re not working towards a future state or plan? A business is a plan of resources that meet today’s demands but also keep you aligned to your future. Too much today focus can mean that stakeholders become disinterested and begin to question where we are headed. Too much forward focus? Well, the bright picture you’re creating maybe too big a chasm for your employees to believe it today and it looks ugly!

4. Anticipate. Everyday clients have issues. Staff needs help and coaching. You will have interruptions, distractions, things that occupy time. New prospects need cultivating. You know everyday these things happen. And this is just a normal day, where, nothing big happened good or not so good. If you know this be ready for it.

5. Have a daily plan. As a leader you can make it through your day and have a full one simply by helping the staff and customer that need it and by going to the standing meetings on your schedule. I bet success for you is defined by more than reacting to your day.

Avoiding excuses starts well in advance. To avoid making big ones requires planning, delegation and an effective of balance on the work of the day versus the long range direction you have set for your business.

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