Do You Have These 2 Critical Elements In Your Company Culture?

SPECIAL NOTE: This blog post comes from a friend of mine – Shawn Herbig – who owns a research and data analytics company called IQS Research.  He recently co-authored a book called Frequency Matters: Be a Contributor, Not an Employee!  that is about building high performing company cultures.  Currently the book has 4.8 stars on Amazon.  Many of you tell me that proactively developing your company culture is hard work. Shawn’s thoughts on this subject can help make that job a bit easier.  -Todd

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By: Shawn Herbig, Founder and President, IQS Research

Let me start saying thanks for the opportunity to share some of the insights from Frequency Matters with you.  This book was a labor of love and includes insights from over twenty voices about the philosophies and processes they used to build great cultures.

I wrote this book together with my amazing co-author, Kristin Mackey. She is an inspirational person with a long history of professional speaking.  Audiences just love her and she is a joy to work with.

When Kristin and I started working on this book we wanted to tell the story of how successful companies build great cultures.  To do that we spent a lot of time trying to understand what a successful culture really was.  We needed to identify what we were actually trying to get people to talk about.

We homed in on two critical elements and those were personal energy and employee engagement.  We believed that if a leader’s personal energy (their passion, convictions, vibe, and mojo) was authentic and transparent then the process of creating an engaged team would be easier.  That definitely turned out to be true.

One of the first people interviewed for the book was Scott Baker, Head Coach of the Men’s Soccer program, Rowan University.  He shared his concept of Mental and Physical Separation (MAPS).

The mental always comes before the physical and they are always looking for ways to improve from the inside out.  While they don’t compare themselves to other programs they do take pride in distinguishing themselves in how they train and prepare.

This hard work translates into standards of excellence which then become habits.

Every season Scott challenges his athletes to be the best not by competing with other teams but by trying to become the best versions of themselves.

But you can’t just ask people to distinguish themselves.  They have to commit!

When a person commits to an organization it means their hearts and minds are into their jobs.  They are giving discretionary effort and they are in it to stay.

At the same time, it’s important to recognize that different people can only commit to certain types of organizations.  Not every culture is a fit for every person and it’s important to be honest about that.

Engagement and commitment require more than just being technically proficient.  Being good at a job is important, yes, but to be fully connected you must also be wired in a way that resonates with the rest of the company.

My two favorite examples of aligned company cultures come from Paperstreet Web Design and Charah.  These companies are both hugely successful in their own areas.  Paperstreet designs award winning websites for lawyers while Charah is an ash management company who works for coal-burning utilities.

Paperstreet’s philosophy emphasizes a very authentic work/life balance.  To help accomplish this the company is built around a 35 hour workweek.  Let that sink in for a minute…Paperstreet preaches and practices having their employees only work 35 hours a week.

While they sometimes need to work forty or more hours that’s not the goal.  However, they are still a business and need to make money so when Paperstreet employees are at work they are 100% working.  They structure the workday so there is little time wasted with inefficient meetings or other time killers.

When they come together the purpose is either to work or to have fun.  By deliberately creating “cool meetings”, fun events, and a fun environment people are less likely to feel burned-out.  Then they can focus on the business at hand such as meeting goals and thrilling clients.

In stark contrast to Paperstreet is Charah.  This fast growth company grew revenues from $10 million to over $250 million in just a few short years and they continue to grow today.  Charah has a completely different philosophy where working 60 or more hours per week is normal for managers.

One Charah story goes “There were many times something would go wrong at a client site and I would put the management team on a plane so we could meet with the client that day.”  Missed meals, last minute travel, and constant pressure are the norm, but so are great success, ongoing growth, and new opportunities.  Charah works to attract driven individuals who thrive in an environment where they are given opportunities to step up and perform.   In return Charah offers endless opportunities, empowerment, and places to make your mark.

The cultures of the two companies couldn’t be more different.  However, each culture is successful because it is authentic, transparent and fully aligned. It is that internal alignment that helps each company to be successful.

Interestingly, the process to create those cultures is remarkably similar between the two companies.

  1. Know who you are as a leader and align your company culture accordingly
  2. Hire people who are wired to fit that culture
  3. Sincerely listen to your people
  4. Offer worthwhile projects
  5. Reward hard work
  6. Just win

The book has dozens of additional lessons gathered from diverse leaders each with their own unique way of doing things.

In the end, the markers that make your culture authentic, genuine, and profitable have to be uniquely yours.  But once you identify those markers the process to infuse them throughout your organization is largely already developed.

To help you develop your culture we are going to make five copies of the book available to Todd’s readers.  If you’d like a copy just send an email letting my team know where to send the book.  This is only available to the first five respondents.

Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear your comments below.  In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this question:

What are the markers that make your culture great and what are you doing today to distinguish your culture from the competition?

Feel free to email me and share your thoughts. sherbig@iqsresearch.com

The Top 10 Most Downloaded Interviews Of 2017

Wow! What a year. I am so grateful to the thousands of entrepreneurial leaders that have been part of our journey during the past year. We have learned so much together about the personal leadership transformation that occurs on the journey From Founder To CEO.

2017 brought us some candid and compelling interviews from some of the world’s top Founders. There are a lot of podcasts that talk about the startup journey…basically the company’s maturation process. But, very few bring you the transparent struggles and victories like our guests have brought to you in 2017.

Here are the Top 10 most downloaded podcast interviews of 2017 and what we learned from them.

Number 10, Erik Oberholtzer, Co-Founder & CEO of Tendergreens

While Erik’s team is busy perfecting the farm to fork concept, Erik is also perfecting his transition from Co-founder to CEO. From Erik we acknowledge the emotional toll it can take on us as Founders when move more away from the activities that really were a big part of creating the company.

It can sometimes feel like we are losing touch, becoming disconnected, and feel lonely as Erik says, when we move from “player to coach.” It may be comforting for those of you who are experiencing this to remember what Erik tells himself. He said, “I’m serving the company better while stepping back.” Your team needs someone who can look over the horizon and focus on the long-term. Only the CEO has that responsibility.

Number 9, Mark Sears, Founder & CEO of CloudFactory

I guess I have a personal bias for Founders who understand that meaningful work is such an important component to so many happy lives. Mark and his team are doing just that with CloudFactory, the company that makes it super EASY for startups and fast-growing tech companies to scale by offloading routine, digital work so they can focus on innovation and growth. Who doesn’t want that kind of support?

Mark’s interview was probably a top download because his message around the team unifying idea of clarity of purpose resonated with so many of you. But, his admission around the challenges of building a sales process when he started his business as a product Founder was compelling. What’s his advice for other product Founders as it relates to sales?

  • Use your strengths with process to focus on the components of sales.
  • Think about your sales leader as the Chief Revenue Officer in partnership with you.

Number 8, Christopher Myers, Co-Founder & CEO of BodeTree

Chris and his team are having a big impact on financial management for small businesses. But, it was his thoughts about his journey from a directive style of leadership to a more servant style of leadership that struck a chord with many of you. Quietly many of you have shared this same thought with me.

The tendency to control the business that you sweated over is often the demise of many well intentioned Founders. Chris was no different. Chris’ interview helps us understand that successful Founders become successful CEOs when they remind themselves that service to the team becomes a great part of your role.

Number 7, Rami Essaid, Co-Founder & CEO of Distil Networks

Rami knows a lot about battling online bots to keep your systems safe. It’s not an easy business to be in. Just like it’s not easy hiring and firing friends while we scale our business. It’s funny. We have had a fair number of Founders who have hired friends with great success and others with not much success.

I think Rami’s nuance understanding of the topic helped many of you sort through this often complicated scenario. My advice to you? Keep in mind that sometimes the roles in our fast-growth businesses outgrow the abilities of the people we hire. That includes our friends.

Number 6, Fred Schonenberg, Founder & CEO of VentureFuel

Aaah, Fred. What an incredible interview and person. I think the reason why so many of you liked his interview is because he is not afraid of getting vulnerable. He shared something that I suspect many of you struggle with…I know I sometimes do. Charging customers for payment. It’s funny, I recently read Adam Braun’s book, The Promise of a Pencil, where he revealed something similar.

Fred also revealed one of the biggest challenges almost every Fonder tells me…the struggle of “letting go.”

If you don’t like asking for money and you lament having to “let go” of the business and trust your team more…take heart. You are not alone.

Number 5, Michael Sacca, President, Crew Labs

Mike Sacca reminded us to ask ourselves some key questions about our leadership team. Have we really sorted through the roles? Do we have the type of relationships where we can be honest with our feelings? Do we have the type of trust that allows us to talk through the tougher issues?

His big gift in this interview? This quote. “You can’t expect others to be honest with you if you haven’t opened up to them.”

Number 4, Ryan Denehy, Founder & CEO, Electric AI

Fellow Hofstra University grad, Ryan, taught us a very simple truth. If you have successfully reached the rarified position of being a successful Founder with product/market fit, and you are struggling to reach the level of scale…use your network. Ryan reached out to key people in his network and asked them what worked in sales for them. He used what he had…relationships with successful people with whom he had a relationship.

Number 3, Alain Briancon, Co-founder & CEO of Kitchology

Alain is quite the character and very insightful. At the time we spoke, Alain and his team were working diligently on their unique brand engagement and analytics platform aimed at the 160 million in the U.S. dealing with special diets. But, it was his story about listening to a person he met over LinkedIn that was most compelling.

He literally met someone on LinkedIn that offered him some somewhat critiquing advice. Rather than being put off by the thoughts of a stranger, he listened. Listening, it turns out, is one of the key characteristics of the successful Founder who can transition to CEO. Take a listen to Alain’s interview. It’s worth your time.

Number 2, Nick Symmonds, Co-Founder & CEO of Run Gum

When two time Olympian, Nick Symmonds, and I spoke in January of 2017, he was starting a year where his running skills would transition to marathons rather than the track, and where his leadership skills would transition to scaling his successful energy gum. I think what impressed many of you was Nick’s candid admission about how his own need for structure competed with the need for startup flexibility and patience.

It’s an interesting insight, don’t you think? We all have natural tendencies that may or may not contribute to our success as a Founder & CEO. Nick’s self-awareness was and will continue to be a secret to his success.

Number 1, Bob Coughlin, Founder & CEO of Paycor 

I asked myself why Bob’s episode of the podcast was the most downloaded of the year. In a word, wisdom. Bob is one of the most humble Founding CEOs you may ever meet. It’s something that often goes unappreciated. We see and hear from media star Founders but we don’t often get to hear from the humble ones. I think their humility inhibits their desire for exposure.

That’s why I was grateful when Bob agreed to come on the show. Bob and his team have built a powerhouse cloud-based on-boarding, HR, payroll and timekeeping software that is helping a large number of businesses grow.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of his interview was the time he said he lowered his hiring standards at around the 50 employee mark. Can you relate? You are growing fast, need great people, and you can’t hire them fast enough. Bob’s candor about this brief time period in the company’s history was revealing and made it the most downloaded episode of the year.

So, there you have it. The Top 10 most downloaded podcast episodes of 2017.

What’s the common theme, what’s the lesson we can learn from these 10 incredible Founders? I would probably say self-awareness.

  • Erik had to learn to get in touch with his feelings going from “player to coach.”
  • Chris had to become aware he was more directive in style than supportive in style.
  • Rami had to come to terms with his approach to mixing friendship and work.
  • Fred had to realize he didn’t really like asking to be paid.
  • Mike figured out he had to be better at sharing in order for others to share.
  • Ryan realized he was not tapping into his network as much he could be.
  • Alain gain insight into his level of listening.
  • Nick had to understand how his need for structure competed with his company’s need for flexibility.

And, Bob had to be self –aware enough to know his own personal expectations and standards were not where they needed to be.

For me, it’s a continuing validation that the journey From Founder to CEO starts with the understanding of self…in a continuous, regular, intentional way.

How do you personally become more self-aware?

If you are looking for help with that. I invite you to check out Trail Team 10, our exclusive group of Founders dedicated to helping each other grow as a leader and grow their businesses…we have some great testimonials at www.trailteam.com.

And, for those of you who can’t commit to a 6 month program like Trail Team 10, then check our newest 4 week course called Find Your Founder Flow. In just 30 days I will personally help you identify your unique leadership genius and more deeply understand your unique needs and how that translates into the type of team you need for your company to be successful.

Here’s hoping you and your team have a prosperous 2018.

Click HERE for more information on Trail Team 10.

Click HERE for more information on “Find Your Founder Flow.”

Help! Do you have the best external team members?

My morning email from Talkwalker Alerts arrived predictably at 7AM. It had the normal daily information that is either not very relevant or of minimal importance for my day. I use this tool to help me monitor our company name, my name, my colleagues’ names, and other key words as they appear on the internet.

This morning was different. There was a “hit” on our key phrase, “From Founder To CEO.” It’s not often that happens so it caught my attention. I hurriedly clicked on the link that would tell me how the phrase was being used.

My heart sank.

A major university (one you would know) had either unwittingly or intentionally used “From Founder To CEO” in the title of an e-book they were using to collect names and email addresses for some purpose that was unknown to me at the time.

We all have a default stress behavior. Mine is fight. But, I know that these situations call for expertise and skills that are beyond mine.

So, I contacted my attorney who specializes in intellectual property issues.

“Marty, in your professional opinion, are they infringing upon on our trademark,” I asked him with nervous energy in my voice.

Marty took his time to collect his thoughts first. He reviewed the details, asked me to send him some additional information, and re-examined our trademark from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

He came to the same conclusion that I had. This university was indeed infringing upon all the hard work, investment dollars, and creativity my team has created over the past three years.

Hiring External Resources

Finding and recruiting the best resources for our startups or scale-ups is a key responsibility for Founders.

Like many of you, I take this responsibility seriously. So, a few years back we researched a law firm that could serve our varied needs and meet future challenges like our current intellectual property issue. It’s a key relationship that many put off until they actually have a need. That would be a mistake. We spend so much time hiring the best people for our full-time team, but we often don’t put in the same level of rigor into hiring members of our team that provide the help we need on an intermittent basis.

Hiring an outside resource, like a legal firm, to augment your team comes down to a few questions:

  1. Do they have the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are not on your current team?
  2. Do they share the same values that you and your co-founder started the company on?
  3. Will they fit in with your team culture?
  4. Will they represent your company with honor and integrity when interacting with external organizations and people?
  5. Will they be fair with their compensation request for their services?
  6. Will they fight for you and your company when it is needed?
  7. Will they advise you to take an alternate route even when your passion, energy, and emotions overtake you in the moment?
  8. Will they admit when your situation calls for a different person, advisor, or organization?
  9. Will they help you think through the situation in ways your team members can’t?
  10. Will they consider the long-term implications and short-term factors?

These were the questions I asked myself when we decided to work with Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur in Cincinnati, Ohio. In turns out, it was a great choice.

Back to the story

Marty Miller, our IP attorney at Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur, skillfully brought me down to reality in a supportive and encouraging way.

His first recommendation was to simply contact the general counsel office at this major university and call the problem to their attention. He was guided by the assumption that the school may not have known about their infringement. I thought that was fair and reasonable.

When the school came back and said they disagreed and would not change the title of their e-book, I was enraged. We are a small (but growing) business and we have tried hard to serve you, Founding CEOs around the world, with the best content and services we can to help you grow as a leader as you grow your business. We don’t have the resources that this BIG university does.

Once again, the choice of Marty was a good one. He suggested we send them a more detailed case about their infringement.

Being very candid, I wanted to do much more. I could not believe that this prestigious university would be so callous and dismissive.

Marty’s second, more detailed, strong, and assertive letter now caught their attention. Through the legalese of their response, they basically said they still disagreed with our infringement premise, but that they would change their e-book title.

That was all we were asking for. Mission accomplished, Marty.

Even though it cost us a few thousand dollars to protect our intellectual property and fight this well-known university, my team and I believe it was money well spent.

The lessons

One of our many responsibilities as a Founder is to hire the best team imaginable. Hire the best team you can so that you can work on the things that only the Founder & CEO can do. One of those things that only the Founder & CEO can do is to ensure your company and your people are protected.

It’s also important to fully use the outside team resources you partner with. Ask them lots of questions. Role play. Challenge their assumptions and have them challenge your assumptions.

If I had decided to take this university to task via social media, send a flaming letter to the president of the university, or generally erupt with indignation in other ways, it would have most likely disrupted our ongoing mission to serve you. Marty gently guided me through all this as I also told him…”I won’t back down.” He heard me loud and clear.

But, prudence and diligence were called for in this situation. And, I was happy we put the time in to find an attorney who understands these two words, understands me, understands our company’s mission, and respects my team.

Thanks Marty!

Who is your Marty?

How much time to you put in finding the right external team members to support your success?

200 Founder Interviews: Insights After Recording

200 episodes of the “From Founder To CEO” podcast. It is hard to believe.

I have learned so much from the Founders who have shared their stories and their personal triumphs over the very real struggles of getting a new business off the ground.

I’ll be writing more about these struggles in the near future. But, for now, I wanted to share with you three things I learned AFTER we recorded many of our interviews.

1 – MORTGAGES, BABIES, AND CARS, OH MY! – Many of the founders on our podcast seem to become even more “real” with their feelings after I press the stop button on my digital recorder. They seem relieved that the interview is over and begin to chat me up even more. It’s not often they get to speak with someone who understands their challenges and advocates for them.

So, what do they talk about? One recently said he felt the weight of leadership responsibility when one of his employees recently signed for a home mortgage. Another one told me she was scared because a co-founder was having a baby and “now the company really needs to be successful.” Yet another one lamented that several direct reports just bought new cars. “That’s risky considering our cash flow,” he shared with a concerned look on his face.

Fear of “things becoming real” tops the three things I learned from many Founders. Can you relate?

2 – IT’S LONELY – I’m a naturally enthusiastic person, as you may have noticed. I tend to get excited about Founders and their successes. It’s interesting to see how many of our podcast guests just don’t want to hang up or stop the Zoom session after we record. They are often lonely, and they tell me this. “Can we keep in touch, Todd,” many of them ask. “Of course” is always my response. The need to connect with other like-minded founders is an important part of your development as a Founder & CEO.

3 – HOW DID I DO? – This is by far the most common question I get asked after we stop recording the interview. It’s a curious question in some respects. I understand they are interested in my perspective since I have recorded many of these interviews.

However, I also think it’s a fair assessment that many Founders don’t receive much feedback. So, we often talk more about their struggles and some ideas about how to overcome them. Founders have unique problems that many other leaders just don’t experience. You need feedback.

Seek feedback from trusted sources. You deserve it. It’s important to you and your company’s growth.

What did YOU expect Founders to talk about after we record their interview session?