Category: Podcasts

Tony Bridwell, Chief People Officer at Ryan, LLC on the Benifit

tony bridwellTony Bridwell leads a global workforce of more than 2,200 employees at one of the world’s leading tax services firms, Ryan LLC. In an industry that’s often known for grueling work hours and little to no work-life balance, Tony cultivates a culture at Ryan that prioritizes employee wellbeing and overall wellness. From spearheading the company’s award-winning myRyan program, which gives employees incredible flexibility, to creating initiatives to minimize burnout and brownout from tax season, Tony is a leader in all things people.

In this podcast episode, Tony chats with host and CEO Kate King about his passion for people, why people shouldn’t go into “HR,” how the company mitigates burnout and brownout during tax season, and more. You’ll be nothing short of inspired after digging into this episode. Listen now!

Show Highlights

[1:00] Tony explains why his title is Chief People Officer, not Chief Human Resource Officer 

[6:00] Tony explains why people shouldn’t go into “HR”

[8:00 ] Tony talks about why culture needs to rise of the level of board oversight

[11:00] Tony defines culture 

[16:00] Tony talks about the difference between pushing and leading 

[17:00] Tony talks about the purpose of the paycheck to various generations

[21:00] Tony talks about the award-winning myRyan program

[23:00] “We went from focusing on activity, to results, and it was a massive, massive shift.” 

[26:00] Tony talks about how Ryan minimizes burnout and brownout from tax season

[29:00] Tony describes what wellness and wellbeing look like at Ryan

[32:00] Tony shares the 3 rules he lives by. Hint: they’re profound!

[34:00] “We have a purpose and we have a reason to be here, we’re not an accident.”

[38:00] Tony shares his morning routine 

[40:00] Tony explains why he keeps his journaling to one page per day


The Benifit Interview w/ Tony Bridwell, Chief People Officer at Ryan, LLC

Kate: Tony, thank you so much for joining us. I’m excited to talk to you today about your passion for people and your types of strategies and actions that you’ve instituted to create award winning programs in the industry. Before we get to the programs that you have created, could you just share with us a little bit about yourself, specifically, how and why you got into people leadership?

Tony: I love that. I love starting with the easy questions first, Kate.

Kate: [laughs]

Tony: Let’s just jump into the life philosophy. Why in the world do you do what you do? I am such a nontraditional HR person. Matter of fact, we don’t even call it HR in our firm. It’s referred to as the People Group because we deal with people all day long. My title is Chief People Officer. I’m not even the CHRO because we see it as much, much more than just wrangling humans around. I’m such a nontraditional. Look, I studied architecture theology and business in school. I round my way up to this spot and I’m like, “Whoof.” Okay. It seems like everything I’ve studied in life and everything I’ve done in life has brought me here.

It’s just been this purpose inside of me to help people find a better part of themselves and find their greatest potential. I just backed in here. Believe it or not, it was one of my clients, I was consulting in the industry for an international consulting firm specialized in culture and accountability, traveled around the world. He’s traveling 200 plus days a year working with some of the largest organizations in the world. Helping them, anywhere from tweak to transform their culture and in the process, learned a tremendous amount about [00:02:00] what makes organizations tick at the core.

One of my long-term clients, Brinker International, which owns Chili’s and Maggiano’s restaurants over the years, over 16 different brands of restaurants. One of my dearest clients I work with them since 2008, help them go through that crisis, put their culture back into place and really watch that organization come out the other end. You know what, at the end of the day, it was all about dealing with people. When the Legacy CEO chairman of the board retired, they put in a CEO in place. I’ve been working with him for five years. We went for dinner one night, he said, “Hey, have you ever think about coming off the road, 200 days a year and settling down and just work in one spot?”

He caught me on a good day and I looked up and I said, “I think about it all the time.” He said, “Why don’t you come be my chief people officer, the board wants me to have somebody who gets people.” I’m like, “Okay. Let’s go do that.” It has been an amazing ride ever since.

Since then, I’ve left Brinker in really good hands and now I’m with Ryan which is the world’s largest tax organization. I went from 60,000 people in 30 countries with about 50% millennials to 2,300 people in seven countries was 61% millennial and here’s the big difference. I went from a predominantly hourly workforce to a predominantly salary, super highly educated, world taxed neural sciences.

We go in and find some of the most difficult things there are when it relates to tax. It’s different groups of people but at [00:04:00] the end of the day, they’re all people. Everything I’ve ever done in my career, Kate, has gone back to helping me navigate through this old transactional HR which I’m desperately trying to, on this mission to change HR out of this transactional drudgery into this very strategic operational business moving vehicle because at the end of the day, it’s all people. Norman Bricker used to say this all the time. It was one of the greatest things and several people say, True Café, a Chick-fil-A [unintelligible 00:04:35] and Starbucks said it, several great leaders have said this.

Norman used to say it all the time. He used to say, “Look, at the end of the day, we’re out in the burger business serving people, we’re in the people business serving burgers. We can never forget that.” I think that leaders that lose sight of that, they do that at their peril. For me to come and sit in this chair, I quite frankly, I got the best gig in the world. I get to work with people all day long in all our frailties, our faults, our brokenness and I get to see tremendous leaders and future leaders really find their greatest potential and there’s no greater joy.

I’ve seen my career, architecture. Look architecture, taught me what structure looks like what it looks like to take something apart and the pieces and put it back together in a way that works in a functional way. In architecture, we used to say Form Follows Function. Lot of times people will just make something look really good but it didn’t work, right?

It’s like, it’s a beautiful chair but just don’t set in because it’s the most uncomfortable thing ever. We learned that we had to make something that worked but also was aesthetically well. Architecture taught me all about structure, and all about organization, all about design.

Theology obviously brought me really close to the human need and understanding [00:06:00] people at their core. Then business, at the end of the day, you just tie all three things together and here I am. People ask me all the time, Kate, ”Hey, I’m thinking about going into HR, what should I study?” The first thing I say is, “Well, one, don’t go into HR. [chuckles] Find somebody who doesn’t want and the classical traditional transactional HR, don’t go into that. Two, don’t study HR, study anthropology, study psychology, study anything.” What we’re finding is a lot of the programs now, the HR programs now are not fully preparing people to come into what the new future space of dealing with people looks like. Especially when it comes to dealing with culture, especially when it comes to dealing with some of these basic human needs that we have. I backed into it.

Kate: I love what you said, tick at the core and that’s really using your background of the form function with the architecture, theology. The tick at the core is– I haven’t heard those words in that order before. [chuckles] Can you just give me a little bit more flavor on, is this something that you did at Ryan? You’ve done everywhere? You’ve done in yourself? I really like this tick at the core because I feel like a lot of people get to your point HR is transaction but building a culture really takes a significant amount of energy to really not only just know the business dynamics but to your point, how to really honor the human in that.

Tony: Yes. It’s interesting that in NACD, the National Association of Corporate Directors so it’s the organization [00:08:00] of board directors. The NACD just commissioned a Blue-Ribbon Commission to look at the impact of culture and it’s a very fascinating report. If you go out search for it, it’s definitely worth the read and there was 10 recommendations that came out of this.

By the way, the Blue-Ribbon Commission is made up of the who’s who of board directors. This is the cream of the crop of people around the country that sit on corporate boards and the out of the 10 recommendations, here’s the primary recommendation. Culture needs to rise to the level of board oversight because it’s the greatest corporate asset available. Now that is a huge change from just 10 years ago, when you’d walk into an organization and say, “Hey, I’d like to talk to you about your culture.” The CEO would look at you and go, “I don’t have time for that warm and fuzzy stuff. I got to go get some business done.”

Kate: Didn’t we set up a little working team on that? [crosstalk] -on a Friday? [laughs]

Tony: Exactly. We got ping pong tables and foosball tables down the hall, we got all the culture that we need. I don’t need any more of that warm and fuzzy stuff. Then, what happened is the economy corrected at a level we hadn’t seen in a generation. The stock market goes from 12000 to 6000. Unemployment goes double digits and now all of a sudden, we’re staring at an environment that quite frankly many CEOs in their career had not experienced and they didn’t know what to do.

I was consulting at the time and in our business, we noticed two types of leaders emerge. One type would go into the fetal position, burn all the furniture and just try to stay afloat and the other leader would stand up and say, “Now’s the opportunity to pour into our people and get the most out of

[00:10:00] what we have to work with.” Those leaders came out the other side with double-digit returns. Those leaders came out the other sides, buying up all of those other organizations. Those leaders came out the other side understanding the true value of managing the culture so it doesn’t [inaudible 00:10:17].

Look, there’s some fundamental components on culture that everyone needs to know whether you sit in the CPO chair, in the CEO chair or whether you’re just a director or an individual contributor. Everybody needs to understand this. Every organization has a culture, every organization.

Now, when I say organization, you and I are having the conversation, we’re talking business but I’m talking family organizations, I’m talking non-profit organizations, I’m talking about your community, your church. Every organization, you get two or three people gathered together, you’ve got “culture.” Rarely, rarely do people fully understand what culture is.

The simplest definition is, it was classic. Earlier this year in February Texas A&M– One of the professors down at Texas A&M has been, if I come down and teach a class to grad students and their HR program. I asked them, “Hey, define culture.” This is a grad class. These are graduate students in the HR program. I thought, “Okay. I’m going to throw them a couple softballs. We’re going to get this thing rolling.” I asked them, “Okay. Define culture.” I swear to you, Kate, somebody Googled it. Somebody asked Siri, “Hey, what’s culture mean?” Because they’re reading off this dictionary definition that makes you want to be yawn because nobody really understands culture.

Look, if you strip it all down, culture is really, really simple. It’s the way people think feeling it. That’s it. Who makes up the culture? All the people in the organization make up the culture and what is culture? Culture is the way people think doing it. It is not any more complex than that.

Now, every organization has a culture whether you know it or not. The results that you’re getting in the organization, guess what? Your culture is perfectly aligned to get what you’re getting today [00:12:00] because what you’re getting today is produced by the people and the people make up the culture, so what you’re getting today, you’re absolutely perfectly 100% aligned to get what you’re getting, your culture.

The question that you have to constantly be asking yourself as a team leader or as a C-Suite, the matter is– Hey, look, can I get different, better, bigger, harder, more difficult results in the future with what I have today? The answer is almost always, no, I got to think and act differently if I’m going to get different results.

Well, if you think about that, I got to think and act differently. We tend to only lean into one of those two words, think and act. We tend to only lean into acting. We don’t really understand or have a full appreciation for the fact that people think and there’s a reason why they think. They hold a set of beliefs. They hold a set of values that drives what they do, think, do, act. That’s just the quenching in every mind, think, do, act.

Experiences cause what you think, they form what you think, what you think impacts how you act, how you act impacts what you do and what you get and it creates this big gigantic circle. Culture is not difficult. Unfortunately, we look at it incorrectly, we think of it as ping-pong tables and beer pong Fridays and flip-flop Tuesdays or whatever the case may be. While those are components of things, it does not make up ultimately the big picture. Organizations can actually control their destiny if they just simply paid attention to their people and how they think, feel and act.

Then, managing that with the proper set of tools and models to allow them to coach each other, to have better conversations with each other, that all guided by set of principles and values and beliefs [00:14:00] whatever you call them. Those are the organizations that make it through wobble times. Those are the organizations that accelerate through good times. Those are the organizations that gobble up others in the process because they know what they’re doing and they can get that in a sustainable way. Don’t get me started on that, you won’t shut me up, when you start talking about that.



Kate: Yes, I think you’re absolutely right. I think that many C-Suites and they’re really looking to create a coach or the coach is already there, you have what you have.

Tony: The coach was there. Yes, that’s right.

Kate: It’s bit like human form, right? You are who you are.

Tony: Yes. Well, you actually nailed it, Kate, because, look, every organization has a culture. Every senior that walks inherits culture or it’s part of the culture or has culture, every team leader. Let’s take this all the way down to team leader. I’m the new senior manager, I just inherited a team of five people. Guess what? You’ve a culture on that team and you have two options. You can manage it or it will manage you, you can be a pusher or a leader. We talk about this internally all the time. You can be a pusher or you can be a leader.

A pusher will push their way through to get a result. It is possible to go into manic control mode. We refer to it internally as muscling the result. It is possible, highly possible because it happens every single day. It is possible for a team leader or a C-Suite or whatever to actually muscle a result. Not delivering is not an option so I’m just going to get in there and I’m just going to push. I’m going to drive my people, I’m going to drive my team, I’m going to drive myself and I’m going to push. I’m going to push and push and push and you can actually get a result. You can actually get desired results by doing that. That’s the good news.

Bad news is, guess what? Every single day you’ve got to show up and you’ve got to push. We all know the data. [00:16:00] Look, it doesn’t take an MIT grad to figure out the data on this, that if you keep pushing, ultimately with full employment, we’re setting at full employment for the first time in, I don’t know what generation. You push people too hard and one day they’re going to wake up and go, “Why in the world am I getting pushed this hard? This doesn’t feel good,” and they’re going to leave. [inaudible 00:16:24] don’t go up, tension is going to start to wobble, you’re going to start losing valuable knowledge and they just don’t understand, well why is it.

Unfortunately, we end up throwing money at it which sometimes works but doesn’t always work because one misses the point. I’ve got so much data pulled up on my screen right now because I have a couple of speaking gigs later this month and I’m just going over some of the most recent data out. just did a pretty substantial survey of gen X and gen Z and millennials along the way. Believe it or not, the gen Z group coming in and that’s anybody born after 2000. They outnumber millennials by about a million. This is a group that we’ve got to start paying attention to because they’re coming in to the workplace as you and I are speaking right now. [laughs] They’re coming into the workplace every single day and it’s absolutely fascinating that the gen Z group will tell you immediately that the purpose of the paycheck.

It’s very interesting, 70% of that group will say, “Paycheck’s pretty important to me, don’t screw me over on my paycheck.” A large portion of that group will come in and say that the purpose of the organization ranks ahead of the paycheck. Now this is what’s fascinating. 66% of the gen X’ers, and that’s 1960-1980, they said the same thing. 67% [00:18:00] of boomers, I fall into that category, my dad’s a boomer and I’m a boomer, I’ve been pissed my whole life because I don’t even get to get my own generation. I’ve got to share a generation with my dad.

Kate: [laughs]

Tony: It’s bad enough growing up in Oklahoma sharing the bathroom, now I’ve got to share a generation with him. I’m in that boomer generation barely. 67% of the boomers say, “Hey, purpose is important.” You pay me fairly, but at the end of the day, you better have purpose in your culture. 74%of the Z’s said purpose of the paycheck. That’s something that organizations need set up and pay close attention to going into the end of this decade as we’re cruising into 2020 and beyond because that is coming into our workforce and that all has to do with culture.

If your culture is not purpose driven, you are going to be behind. You’re just going to be throwing money and muscling your way through day in day out and while that will get you something, it will wear you out pretty quick.

Kate: Okay, good. Tony, thank you. I love the passion in which you’re sharing especially with regards to– We have a lot of discussion around generations and millennials and gen Z’s but you’re absolutely right that things have taken precedence around purpose now and it has been for a while, culturally driven purpose is very important. I think to your

[00:20:00] point of double digit-growth, double-digit results is no longer is something that a small team can do. This is the C-Suite. This is everybody including the board getting involved and really driving this all the way through, and not top-down but everybody being present.

I’m going to switch gears with you for you to talk about myRyan. This is something that you have been doing I think and instigating an award-winning program. Perhaps you can share for our listeners what it’s all about, why it came about and what you’re getting from it.

Tony: myRyan has really changed the path of the organization. We were just recently this year recognized as one of Fortune’s top 100 places to work in the United States, we’re number 77.

Kate: Congratulations.

Tony: Thank you. In the Dallas Fort Worth area, we’re the highest ranked, in the Dallas Fort Worth area. As a matter of fact, that was a fun text to send my peers because the other two people recognized were close friends of mine. Of course, I’ll send them the screenshot of that list and it’s always fun. Coming out of that, we’re number 44 on Fortune’s list for best place to work for millennials, and we’re the highest rated in the DFW area also and 44 in the country for best place to work for millennials. It’s 61% of my US based population is millennial, 98% of my India population is millennial. This is something that we had seen coming for a while and how people work, how people need to work–

When the firm was started 27 years ago, we were no different than any other service firm. It was chained to your desk 80 hours a week. 27 years ago, there weren’t a lot of laptops, right? Let’s just be real honest about it. There was a lot of desktop computers and so people were chained through the desk, and we [00:22:00] got work done. People quite frankly years ago would walk up down the halls and see who was present and who wasn’t. It was one of those unwritten rules that if you weren’t in your chair working, you were a slacker and probably wouldn’t make a good year for Mr. Vic. Then, we started seeing the shift and to the credit of our CEO and COO, really started seeing the shift in the workforce early.

We sit down, we put together a team and said, “What got us here may not get us there. What are the components inside our culture that are working really well? What do we need to consider shifting?” Through that conversation came myRyan. myRyan quite simply stated is the flexibility to work when and where I need to accomplish a world-class product for my colleagues and clients. That’s myRyan in a nutshell. It basically says if I’ve got to pick a project done and I don’t need to sit in traffic for 45 minutes both ways. I need to work from the house today, then I’m going to work from the house today.

We went from focusing on activity, to results, and it was a massive, massive shift. Many organizations get caught up in this trap of believing that activity, busyness is a result and while it is a result, it’s not necessarily a desired result. We just simply shift the focus. It wasn’t about, “Hey, did you put in 80 hours?” It was, “Did you deliver for your colleagues and for the clients?” It was earthshaking. It was massive.

We have won the highest engagement scores in industry in our space. We have an amazing retention number. [00:24:00] Our first-year retention rates are in the 90s. Our second-year retention rates are in the 90s. It’s just an absolutely amazing story. Again, it goes back to, “What’s the right thing in the culture? Does this fit within who we are and how we deliver?” The answer was yes. It changed almost everything.

Kate: Fantastic. Tax and tax season is always really challenging from a work perspective especially for colleagues and your customers. I feel that and certainly many people feel burnout is very real. Does myRyan really focus on understanding if any team player is burning out or burnt out? Are there any other programs or initiatives especially for your company around that really heavy tax season to ensure that employees are taken care of, or contractors are taken care of?

Tony: That’s a great question. It’s interesting, a lot of times when people hear tax, they think of a normal tax season because you and I pay our taxes on a cadence. April 15 where we filed for an extension, it’s August or October, whatever. We work in the space of tax that is so specialized and so unique that our tax season is yearlong. There are obvious spikes to when certain things have to be filed at the state level, etc. It is quite seriously a 12-month process and so we absolutely pay attention to burnout.

For us, Kate, one of the bigger challenges is actually brownout. Look, our bodies are beautifully and wonderfully made and you get to a certain point, it will flip the switch. [00:26:00] You will shut down and your body will tell you double tap, we’re done and something will happen. Heaven forbid that ever be the case, we have some programs in place, I’ll talk about that in just a second, but for us, brownout is that that point in time before you get to burnout to where your productivity, your engagements, your innovation. Everything in you starts to drop and you feel like you’re just going through the paces.

You wake up and it’s Monday, and for some reason it’s Groundhog Day. It’s Monday, it’s Monday, it’s Monday. It’s not fulfilling anymore and you’re just going through the motions. We really, really, really try to pay attention to that because if we can get you before you get there, then we minimize the burnout.

It’s an interesting stat, but burnout typically happens in one group of people. I can always tell you what burnout is going to happen. Burnout is going to happen in your highest potentials. Because they’re the hardest workers, they’re the ones who give the most to and they’re the ones that you pay the least attention to because they’re self-motivated or they’re self-starters. They’re drivers and they do all these things. We don’t pay as much attention to them. The bulk of the burnout happens in those hardest chargers.

What we’ve discovered over time is, that’s happening because we’re not taking enough time to slow them down or long enough to recharge them to get them going in. We deliberately putting programs in place to a modulate their pace. We call them booster shots internally to where we actually slow high performing teams down for a day, half a day, within the cadence of the year, caused them to take a break and we [00:28:00] pour into them. We just love on them from the standpoint of– Let’s talk about what’s working for you. Let’s talk about what would make you even stronger.

What we’ve noticed is, when we slow them down, they come out even more engaged. If we just let them run hard for 12 months, they will run out eventually. That’s when you start to see, we can see in teams and if we take our eye off the ball, we can see the teams that they’ll start flipping people pretty quick because it just burnout. We try to find them in brownout mode. We look at engagement pretty quickly. We asked a series of pulse questions throughout the year to check in on people. That helps us identify where they are.

The other thing along with that is, we’re looking more at the wellbeing of an individual than the wellness. This is really important for us and we have some amazing wellness programs internally. I know that I’m getting really close to your love language on this, but we have a ton of wellness programs. Ultimately, end of the day, we’re much bigger than just wellness. We leverage some of the tremendous research done by Gallup indicating the five areas of wellbeing for an individual. Their career, their purpose, their fiscal wellbeing, financial, social, community wellbeing.

We have programs and processes in place to help support each of those areas of an individuals wellbeing so that they move into this thriving mode. We catch them before they get into the struggling, which is that brownout or that suffering which is the burnout mode.

[00:30:00] We’re trying to catch them and keep them in more driving areas, in all areas of their life, just not in their career.

We had this problem at Brinker, it had 60,000 people around the world and we get a tremendous amount of development along the way. When we sit down and looked at it, we realized, “Holy cow, we’re spending all of our time and money developing them to run great restaurants. Woohoo, that’s awesome, we can run a great restaurant.” We take for granted that they can balance their budget, we take for granted that, they can take care of their physical needs, we take for granted that they’re being active in the community or that they have a social life that allows them to be fulfilled and thriving.

We shifted that focus and it made an enormous impact there with the same focus here and it keeps us in the best of the best, the top, the gold standard of who we are in the industry.

Kate: Tony, thank you for sharing, I think that what you’ve been able to give listeners is not only how to get out of an HR transaction driven culture. Much more into the examples you give a phenomenal in terms of being human-centered and human-based. To your point of well-being, I agree with you, health, wealth, belonging is so critical. Especially to your very high performers because I would imagine, certainly from my experience, those high performers are even beat out from themselves even more if they see any of their performance drop, actually has a much bigger impact to their overall wellbeing pillars within their life.

Tony: Yes.

Kate: Thank you very much for sharing that, I think you’ve also given a ton of insight and examples of programs people can put in to play. Tony, back to you. I have two more questions for you. One is, what three rules do you [00:32:00] live by, yourself, and then the second one is much more based from, you have a daily wellbeing routine and if there are elements of that where you feel makes you a little bit more successful than you were before, could you please share that.

Tony: You ask all the good questions. I absolutely love this. Where do you want me to start first on that one because–

Kate: Start with the three rules you live by.

Tony: I love asking this question and matter of fact with people I interview, and I interview hundreds of people here. One of the questions I always ask them is, “If you had to give a graduation speech, what’s the one to two things that you would share with a graduating class,” and that really helps me understand what are the key elements and what makes these individuals tick. That really came from a moment in my own life when I sit down several years ago and asked myself that same question, what I did is, I wrote a blog post and it was an open letter to the younger me and it was these three things that you talk about.

It’s become an annual tradition now, I add on to it, what’s the three things that I should tell the younger father, etc. The three basics, if I could go back in time and tell the younger me something to stay focused on, it will be these three things. One, and golly, I wish I’ve learned this early in my life. We’re all put here for a reason, we’re not an accident, we’re put here for a purpose. I tweeted this out just this week, “We all [00:34:00] have a purpose but not everybody has purpose.” That’s the thing that really catches me sometimes is that we’re all put here for a reason, never forget that we’re put here for a reason. We have a purpose and we have a reason to be here, we’re not an accident.

The second thing is, life is going to feel chaotic, find the simple. Too often I have taken something very simple and make it complex. One of the key components that I try to pour in to every young person that I mentor is, our role is to take the complex and make it simple, look for the simple. I’m not saying dumb it down, but I’m saying, take the complexity out of it, through all of the chaos, what’s the one to two things that you need to focus on. Find the simple.

The third thing is, I do control my destiny. It’s very easy and I’ve coached and mentored and counseled my fair share of young people and even folks my age, to where they come in and they just seem like, “Everything is out of control, I’m a victim.” I’m constantly reminding myself, I do control my destiny and I do that. Look, every time I face a circumstance in life, Kate, I have two choices. I could be a victim or a victor. I make the choice. I have equipped myself over the years with the tools and the models to help me understand that when I’m facing a circumstance, I have to make a choice. Am I going to be a victim of my circumstance, or am I going to rise above it?

The simple, simple cadence and I teach this to everybody I come into contact with, is that when you face that situation, what you need to [00:36:00] always go look for, is what’s the one thing that’s inside your control. When we feel like we’re out of control, when we feel like our destiny is in someone else’s hands, you always ground yourself back to, what is the thing I can control? It’s when we get stuck on focusing on what we cannot control, that’s when we spin out of control. That’s when we feel like someone else is in control of our destiny. That’s when we become a victim of our circumstances. It’s when we stay grounded and focused on what we can control, we actually can create a path forward and control our destiny.

Kate: I love it. We’re here for a reason, find what it is and live it. Keep things simple. I think we’re all really good at making things very complicated. I love for one, the third one which is, really that focus on what you can control and then get into that victor mode versus the victim. Fantastic.

Talk to me about your daily routine. You hear a Tim Ferriss, with his meditation, his make the bed first thing. Do the journaling, or at night write down your to-do-list, or on a Sunday sit down and figure out what your priorities are for the week. Is there a certain routine you have and is there one element of that that you found makes you more productive or more successful in your own life?

Tony: Yes. Look, Ferriss is a stud. He’s gotten it down to a science and I’d like to think he stole it from me or I stole it from him. There’s a couple of things I know that works and, Kate, there’s a couple of this I know that doesn’t work. I’ve gotten my fair share of skin knees and scar tissue on what doesn’t work. When I found myself into this simple routine, my purpose in life keeps me grounded. My purpose is very, very simple. I was put here to help others find the greatest [00:38:00] potential. I’ve spent my entire life in some way shape, fashion or form helping other people find their greatest potential.

What happens is, as I’m helping and serving other people to find their greatest potential, guess what? I tend to find everything that I’ve ever needed or wanted to walk away. It’s all about serving with honor, because of that, my personal faith keeps me very, very grounded, keeps me very focused on people. I have a pretty simple cadence. I’ve written three books on leadership and the last two were about purpose and integrity, and love and honor, and how we should lead with love every single day.

For me, it is an early rise every morning, I’m usually up between 5:00 and 5:30 every morning. I spend that first 30-40 minutes with a just wonderful cup of coffee. It’s all about the coffee at the end of the day, after all, let’s be real. It is freshly roasted, it’s ground on the site, it is brewed straight up. I pull it straight out of the pot and I get my coffee. I read a tremendous amount. I am dyslexic so I have a learning disability so it takes me a little bit longer to read. I consume a ton through Audible and in that way but I do have a reading routine every morning. I also have a journaling routine.

My journaling routine is a little different though. I love fountain pens. Of course, I studied architecture and I practice architecture, so I love the art side of it. I have trained myself, Kate, that every morning, I’ll read and then I’ll write down what I’m learning but here’s the key, everything I have to put on one page. I get [00:40:00] one page in my journal. That’s it. It has been, for the last couple years, one of the greatest training tools for me, personally, because I use to get up and just write in my journal. I’d look up and I’m six pages in. I’m like, “Wow, God.” Just going on, and on and one. I’m like, “What the heck have I just said?” I have disciplined myself that I’ll read, and then I’ll reflect and then I’ll say, “Okay, what is it that I’m taking away?” I’ve got to communicate what I’m taking away, one page.

It goes back to simple. I’ve got to keep it simple because if someone said, “Hey, what’d you take away today?” I got to be like, boom. What’s the one thing that I took away? It’s my favorite cup of coffee. It’s up early. It is journaling. It is writing things down. I have a very deliberate cadence. I’ve got to be able to write it down on one page. Constantly to think about, and put my thoughts very succinctly. As an author, it’s a training mechanism that helps my writing style.

The things that I know that doesn’t work for me, I cannot pick up my digital device before 7:30 or 7:45. I just refuse to even look at it before that time because it distracts me off of getting centered on my day. I’ve made a pretty firm commitment that at night, anything related to emails or text messages, there’s a turn off time out. Then, at morning, I pick it up before 7:30, 7:45, then that gives me a couple hours to just get centered everything.

Kate: Fantastic. Tony, thank you so [00:42:00] very much for sharing that with us and all of your insights. An incredible experience in the world and art of people. I truly appreciate your time today, thank you.

Tony: You are so sweet. We should do this every week.

Kate: [chuckles] Sounds good.

Tony: [laughs]

Lori Bays, Chief Human Resource Officer at the City of Phoenix, on The Benifit

Lori BaysLori Bays leads Human Resources for more than 14,000 people employed by the City of Phoenix. That’s no small feat. But, Lori thrives in the role, making sure each and every city employee knows they’re valued and cared for. As a successful leader and entrepreneur, Lori has more than 16 years of experience as a leader across a variety of sectors.

In this episode, Lori chats with Kate King, CEO of and host of the Benifit podcast, about her path to leadership, how she creates an atmosphere where City of Phoenix employees thrive, and how leaders can help people stay engaged in their roles. 

Show Highlights

[2:00] Lori shares about the influence on human resources on a company’s mission and employee engagement levels

[3:00] “Employees are an organization’s greatest asset… we have no way to achieve our mission without our employees.”

[6:00] Lori emphasizes the importance of helping employees find value in the work they do.

[8:00] Lori explains how inclusion and diversity initiatives encourage personal and professional growth.

[9:00] Lori highlights the impact of employee feedback and offers ways to implement those recommendations.

[13:00] Lori talks about building a culture of excellence founded on wellness and professional development.

[18:00] Lori offers advice on how to manage large teams.

[22:00] Lori provides ways of counteracting employee disengagement.

[27:00] Lori shares about her morning routine.

[29:00] Lori discusses the three rules the lives by in her personal and professional life.

[32:00] “It’s especially important that we remember that, with making decisions that impact employees, that we consider all nuances that may be at play and try to do the right thing.”


The Benifit Interview w/ Lori Bays, Chief Human Resource Officer at the City of Phoenix

Interviewer: Firstly, Lori, thank you and welcome to today’s podcast. It’s a real pleasure to have you.

Lori: Thanks so much for having me.

Interviewer: So, you have a very diverse and rich work history. our path has been from psychology in social work and then switching to human resources. Could you tell us what encouraged you to make that switch? How come that public sector, not the private sector?

Lori: Yeah, so, I actually started my career out and I decided in and a social worker in psychology. And I was in the nonprofit, you know, at the time, working in-in mental health and started to move up in the organization and moved into administrative roles and found that I really enjoyed being in-in that administrative capacity and leading organizations for making [unintelligible 00:01:29]

and I continue to do that in the human services field for many years and I moved from the nonprofit sector into the public sector, and what I’ve learned as I did that and I promoted into higher levels at the organization, I learned that human resources is really a critical absolutely integral element to successfully achieving [00:02:00] the organization’s mission. And I started to become intrigued with that and I started to think about, you know, how do we really have, you know, the most high-performing, most engaged team?

And I was doing that from a very operational perspective and then when I had an opportunity to move into a more HR focused role. I was previously the Chief Administrative Officer for the county and decided to move to Arizona. And so went from Utah to Arizona and that gave me an opportunity to hone in on human resources.

And was fortunate to become the Chief Human Resources Officer here in the city of Phoenix and this role has allowed me to really explore that passion area of mine that I’ve explored from an operational perspective both as a chief administrative officer as well as the human services director. And I’ve been able to dive into what I think is really the most key element of any organization, private or public sector but especially in the public sector which is our employees are our greatest and we’re here for a long time.

You know, employees are an organization’s greatest asset, and I believe that it is especially in the public sector that this is absolutely true and we have to live by the notion that, you know, we have no way to achieve our mission without our employees. They are the most key element of the services that we provide in the public sector because we are service-based program and our organizations are service-based almost exclusively.

And in order for us to achieve our mission, we have to have high performing, engaged, dedicated employees. And for that, we need to have high quality human resource services.[00:04:00] and that’s where, you know, I really feel like I can make that connection to the community and I feel like my team really contributes to quality of life in our community by supporting the teams that do the day to day work and not frontline work. My team is-is the behind the scene.

My team is the-the support services that make all of that happen. We attract the employees and we, you know, we get them acclimated to the organization we help develop them through our-our organizational training and development programming. And we, you know, help them navigate through the system and what it means to be a city employee whether that benefits or whether that training opportunity, whether that educational reimbursement programming, what have you promotional opportunities, we help them navigate their city career and develop and become both high performing employees that we want to retain.

And so to me, it was just- it was a natural progression for me because it was the passion area, and it was a way for me to you know, really use my skill sets to enhance the mission of the organization and to help, um, serve the community in that way.

Interviewer: Thank you. You know, it’s interesting listening to you talk about the different strategies in place. Could– perhaps you could go into some more detail on that because what I’m interested is really how you’re kind of behind the scenes team really creates that atmosphere for all of the City of Phoenix employees to thrive. So it’s, you know, in the-in– I come from, uh, corporate, so there’s typically budget around how employee development, employee programs really kind of more that fun side of things, and really helping people in terms of well-being programs, and how are they really driving that.

I’m sure you have lots of those, [00:06:00] programs in with the City of Phoenix too, but how does your team really implement that, or perhaps you could walk us through a tactic you have that enables the employees to thrive?

Lori: Absolutely. So one of the things that we really focus heavily on is helping our employees to see the value in what they do. You know, someone who is a receptionist by title, you know, you’ll often hear an employee say something that always crushes my spirit when I hear it. “Now, I’m just a receptionist, how can I really impact the community?” And to me, you know, I feel like, “Oh, my goodness.” It is so important that that individual understands their no way shape, or form, just a receptionist. They are the first point of contact between the public and the city as an organization.

They are the one that makes or breaks that experience for that individual who is coming in contact with the city and-and hoping to receive a service. And they are the one that really makes that first impression for the city on its community. And so for an employee to really understand the impact that they have, and the importance that they have, and the value that they have to the organization is really key. And that’s one of the things that we work on quite a bit.

We have been working with you know, as you mentioned, we have lots of wellness opportunities, we really try and develop our employees and help them to understand they’re valuable to us as-as they start in the organization and as they develop through, and we want them to- we want them to stay with the organization. And that doesn’t mean that they stay where they started. That may mean that they, you know, they decide, you know, “I came in working in one department but I really have a goal of doing something totally different, and I need to develop skills or maybe education to get there.”

And the city will help, you know, kind of walk them through that process and develop them and show them that they’re valued and that we want them to remain a part of the city teams,[00:08:00] regardless of where they work in the organization. And we want them to continue to grow, we want to help them do that. We’ve also been working a lot on inclusion initiatives and working on celebrating the diversity. In our workforce, we have about 14,000 employees. So we have, you know, a huge opportunity to celebrate all of the different types of perspectives that are brought to the workforce or to the workplace through our workforce.

And so we’re working right now in focus groups with our employees to really, you know, talk to them about, how do we draw that out? How do we really celebrate that across our-our employee culture and our organization? And we’re getting some really-some really great feedback from our employees about, you know, let’s learn more from each other, let’s talk to each other more, let’s get to know each other as people and to not just have those professional interactions but to have more of human interactions.

And we’re, you know, we’re loving that feedback that we’re getting from our employees and trying to implement messaging, programming, training opportunities, appreciation opportunities that we can share throughout the organization to build upon some of those lessons that we’re learning in those focus groups.

The other thing that we’re really focusing on is our current and future generational needs. We are, you know, public sector tends to be a little bit more rigid than the private sector when it comes to workplace. And we’re trying to think about, you know, how do we need to behave as a workplace. What sort of environment do we need to offer in order to attract and retain the workforce that we want now and in the future? And again, getting feedback from our employees we’re hearing, you know, “We need more flexibility, we need some more work for- work-life balance.”

And we are, you know, really trying to implement or make use of [00:10:00] policies that we’ve had for a long time that, you know, just maybe help them widely use. You know, for example, we’ve had a telecommuting policy here in the City of Phoenix since 1992. It’s been in place, it existed but it’s not used very often. And so we’re trying to explore how do we get departments to explore where that can be beneficial, where can employees, you know, make use of that, which-which jobs and which positions makes sense to have those opportunities?

I mean, how do we encourage, uh, managers and supervisors to really embrace that revised talents and to really focus on– You know, if my employee didn’t get the work done, not, you know, is my employee sitting in their chair eight hours a day, 40 hours a week and you know, could they work remotely? Could they a work a more flexible schedule or to, you know, make-make their work-life a bit better with their home life?

You know, those kinds of things. And we’re really hoping to build an atmosphere were people wanna come work for us because they have those opportunities to really balance [unintelligible 00:11:03] you know, myriad of things that all of the tasks going on. You know, many-many people have children and lives at, you know, [unintelligible 00:11:09] and to go or-or dance to recitals or they wanna, you know, volunteer in their child’s classroom, those types of things. And-And it’s really important that they have those opportunities to balance.

And that, you know, we all also incorporate wellness opportunities. Give people the opportunity to take care of themselves mentally and physicallyand because of that, we know that they will do a better job at producing for the organization at, you know, really take caring- taking care of the organiza tion and the city because they’re a more healthy individuals. So, you know, it really see those of a city concept that we-that we say, “Good work matters.” And it matters to us, it matters to the community.

And having that balance and having that ability to thrive, um, personally and professionally, [00:12:00] really contribute to a better work environment which contribute to higher productivity which contribute to better service for our community.

Interviewer: Lori, thank you. I really love the point you made on the culture of excellence and really building that brand for the City of Phoenix. You know, that receptionist example you gave which is really the outcome being, you know, there is a row on a piece of paper but you’re the front line, you’re really dealing with our customers, you really are dealing with the public. And really that diversity and inclusion having the employee voices matching your customer voice, which I think is, really it is, supercritical. You mentioned wellness programs, what type of wellness programs does the city offer its employees?

Lori: To make a quite a few things, we offer lots of different mindfulness and exercise classes throughout the day that employees can sign up for and participate in. We’ve also got through our through our benefits programs, we’ve got some healthy lifestyle, sort of programs that you can participate in. And these are things that helps, you know, with nutrition, um, exercise, programming.

Really trying to help address, um, some of the lifestyle, um, choices that-that people make that can help them to be healthier individuals, help them to have higher energy levels, to be more productive, to feel better, um, to have better, you know, physical and mental health. Um, and we are, um, really trying to- we’re actually currently, um, in a bidding- uh, bidding process, we go through, uh, a competitive procurement process as most governments do, um, for our medical benefit services. And that ones of the key things that we’re really looking at right now.

That’s what sort of wellness programming are they gonna be able to offer in addition to the traditional heal- healthcare models. Um, because [00:14:00] we want to add, um, opportunities for our employees to have, um, that wellness programming, to have- um, to have the ability to have that balance and to have some of that even, you know, at work. To have classes at work, um, that they can take. You know, which we have, um, we have brown bag opportunities now, we have, um, some before and after, um, classes to discuss things like, you know, chronic disease management, um, how to have a healthy balance.

Um, we have parenting classes, we have all kinds of things that, you know, financial management. All kinds of things that can really help employees, you know, depending on their needs and their interest levels, um, for different subject matters. Um, so we do everything, you know, from physical, mental, financial, um, wellness. And we really want to, um, we want to broaden that out. Um, and that’s what we’re looking to do right now. And to offer services that might be, um, things that our employees can take advantage that will just help them, um, one, be healthier, and two, um, to really feel as though they’re valued, and that they’re not just here to provide a service, but they’re here to be part of a, um, you know, a work family that’s going to support them and-and really- and, you know, help them to be, um, well as a holistic person. Um, so that’s really what we’re- what we’re focused on right now.

Um, we also have, um, a initiative within the city that’s called Fit for Phoenix. And it’s an exciting, um, employee wellness initiatives that partners with our Parks and Rec department, um, to provide opportunities to employees, you know, to get out and be active, um, and-and it’s, um, something that, you know, also promotes camaraderie between employees, um, to, you know, partner and we do, you know, walks and walking exercises.

We actually have one coming up next week, where we’re-we’re doing the city versus the county. [00:16:00] Um, and doing kind of a competition of how many walkers each organization can-can get out there. Um, so we’re hoping to win, but, you know, we are-we are, um, you know, trying to do lots of different things that just promote our employees, um, you know, being healthy but also, you know, having that interaction and that, um, that camaraderie that we think, you know, really helps to promote a positive workplace.

Interviewer: Great, I love, um, any effort on mindfulness, I feel that this is just so critically important that not just physically but mentally there is a space and tools that people can leverage, uh, really in that space to have an overall well being. So thank you so much for sharing that.

Lori: Absolutely.

Interviewer: Um, 14,000 people is a huge team, um, then you’ve been a leader and manager for many large organizations. Um, what advice could you give to somebody who’s really leading large teams? Um, and how can they really be effective in the faces of kind of major challenges or opposition?

Lori: Well, I think, you know, the best advice I can give to anyone leading a large team is to really embrace the assets that you have in your team. Empower your team to do the best work, do their best work, excuse me, and, um, you know, because any leader that thinks that they’re going to, you know, be the-the one who’s going to, um, you know, make all the decisions or provide all the direction I think it’s fooling themselves. Um, truthfully, I think, um, you know, you have to empower your team and allow them to shine to do what they do well.

I always say, you know, I try and hire-hire people that are smarter than me, because, you know, we really need to, um, embrace the-the value that each and every member of a team brings to the table. And everybody has their own strengths. Um, so I think, [00:18:00] you know, what I would say is, you know, focus on the strengths. Um, and then the other thing that’s been really, really helpful and useful to me as I’ve grown as a leader and as a manager of large teams is-is it’s important to manage in a hierarchy. Most-most organizations are set up in a hierarchy but it’s also important to manage in what I call circles, some people call them networks.

Um, but to really manage within the natural leaders and the-the natural, um, places of influence within the organization. Um, you may, you know, come into an organization and notice that there’s a particular individual or team that’s not necessarily, you know, um, have any authority in the hierarchy, but they are very influential based on either individual personalities, or just the-the, um, function that that team, um, conducts. Whatever it is, you know, there are natural leadership, um, points within any large teams and to utilize those in addition to the hierarchy, um, is something that I would recommend to any- to any leader of a large organization.

You have to pay attention to those to really hone in on your where your natural leadership areas are, because, um, those can be really effective ways of learning information about the team and the organization and also getting information back out and through the organization. Um, so that would be- that would be my advice, you know, when there’s challenges or efforts or, you know, times of opposition, those are really opportunities to figure out what you’re really good at.

Figure out where your strengths are and to really capitalize on those and just focus on, um, you know, using everybody’s assets to their fullest ability. Um, and then, you know, kind of like the-the Coach Wooden model, you know, you do have to know where you need to develop but-but that’s not what you focus on. You focus on what you’re good at and you focus on really developing what you’re good at and

[00:20:00] putting people in the role that really suits them and-and what their natural skill sets, um, are. And then- and then other things will come along.

Interviewer: Fantastic. Focus on the strengths. And I love that you’re looking at the circles or through network opportunities because I agree with you. I think that, you know, hierarchies are where we really good to get the goals done but how you get it done, how you really can affect some great change and move creativity I think is actually leveraging those natural synergies of people working together. Um-

Lori: Absolutely.

Interviewer: You know, it’s long been said out that a Gallup says, you know, a whole bunch of research-orientated how to say it that’s about 86% of people worldwide disengage from their jobs. What are your thoughts on how leaders can impact the staff specifically for organizational growth?

Lori: Yeah, you know I think, um, I think one of the biggest ways that, uh, leaders can impact that is by, um, being inclusive of employees when changes are made. Um, we all know, as humans, you know, change tends to be hard. Um, and I wou- I would venture to say in the public sector that’s probably more true than-than some other places.

Um, but the-the importance of involving employees who are impacted by change in developing how changes are going to be made, you know, there may be that a decision has been made and we’re going in a particular direction. But if you can engage employees and how we make the change and what the process looks like, you’re going to have so much more buying and so much more support and getting there than if, you know, if you just take a dictatorial approach of, you know, this is what we’re going to do and this is how we’re going to do it and, you know, just like it, you know.

[00:22:00] That-that is, um, to me, you know, the absolute opposite of what should happen. There may be- there may be a reason to say, you know, “We have to do X,” you know, we have to either, you know, change this particular, um, service that we’re going to provide or we’re going to stop providing or we going to implement this new program. Whatever that may be, but if you incorporate the employees into how you do it, they’re gonna– for one thing happen have some great ideas I guarantee you.

But two, they’re going to have that by and that, um, that ability to influence the process and to lend their expertise once again you know to provide that value and the knowledge that they have. Um, you’re going to get a better product at the end of the day. Um, so I think- I think engagement is especially important around any type of change.

Um, but I also think it’s important to, um, you know, focus on the management of the organization and reiterating to them, um, that it’s important to have relationships with employees throughout the organization, to care about them and people, to know them and people. It doesn’t mean, you know, that you are socially involved with them at all. It just means that you have that human element, that human interaction. “Hey, how was your weekend?”

To know a little bit something about them, you know, to know do they have children? Do they have pets? What do they do as hobbies? You know, those types of things, most human interaction really go a long way for, um, building that engagement for people to feel like they’re cared about at work, to feel like they’re important, that they’re not just an expendable, um, commodity. They’re really a valued member of the team.

And that goes a long way, you know, when there are difficult times, when there are challenges and there are changes to be made, um, you’re gonna have people, so much more, um, behind you and on your team if-if they feel like you care about them as a person and to impart that to managers and supervisors and especially new [00:24:00] supervisors because I think sometimes, you know, we think someone is good enough at a job that they’re promoted to be a supervisor but they’re automatically [inaudible 00:24:09] going to know how to do that and how to do that well and that’s not the case.

You know, supervisory skills a lot of time are learned skills, they are not innate and-and, um, it’s important to help people in-in supervisor and management roles learn how to be good supervisors, how to interact in that way with their their members of their team, um, because, um, the better that they do that and the more that they’re prepared to do that in the right way, um, the better the entire organization is going to function and the better that employee engagement is going to be.

Um, and then the other thing I would say is to try to have a little fun. Um, you know, honestly, um, that’s one of the things we’ve been working on in-in my department is, um, is to bring the fun back into the workplace. You know, when I got here, I heard stories about, you know, years ago here, um, you know, people used to have this fun staff and that it has been such a calmer, uh, atmosphere for a while and so we’ve been conscientiously really trying to bring fun back into the workplace and it’s really paying off and people are enjoying it. And Blake, you know, even silly little things that we do to either recognize someone who is doing a great job or just to, you know, just to celebrate and have fun and bring a lighter mood into the workplace. I think, you know, even little things like that go a long way from place to feel engaged and liked.

Interviewer: I love the energy you have around that and I couldn’t agree with you more as well. You know, the supervisor skill one is interesting because people, you know, what got you there won’t get you to the next place, right? Um-

Lori: Mm-hmm. Right.

Interviewer: I-I agree with you, you know, when you look to research to the number one reason why people leave their job is usually because of their boss. So, I think that some great advice for our listeners in terms of really focus on inclusion and change, skilling up your leaders [00:26:00] that they are really human interactions, not just a transactional interaction from the company side and-and having fun. Um, I love those three points, thank you.

Lori, I’m gonna switch the questions a little bit to, um, more of a personal kind of so you can share with, uh, our view– our listeners, um, some things about you. Um, the first one being as they often say that success that the day is set out by having a great morning routine. Um, do you have a morning routine or set morning routine? And if so, could you share it? If you don’t, what would you love it to be?

Lori: Yeah. So, [chuckles] I love this question. And I, um, you know, to be honest, I don’t have a very consistent morning routine, um, and I’ll say that I have, you know, one of the-the thing but it’s something talking about my routine is there’s a lot of chasing around of children. So I have [chuckles] I have few children in elementary school, and, um, so, you know, the morning routine comes with a lot of, you know, helping them to get ready, um, and-and trying to get myself ready in-in the process.

Um, I-I aspire to really, um, do some sort of exercise and my dog often looks at me in the morning like, “Are we gonna go for a walk today?” Um, and sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. Um, but we, you know, I-I love to get a little bit of exercise in the morning. I am not actually a morning person, so, um, so, I have to get up extra early to kind of wake up before I get going and actually get out and do something. Um, but I’ve- I’ve started to enjoy that. I’ve started to enjoy now getting up, having a little bit of time before other people get up, you know, have some coffee, um, ideally take my dog for a walk, he loves it when we do that, and then come back and, you know, get everybody ready, help the kids get ready.

Um, my husband, you know, usually shuffling around [00:28:00] getting ready himself and-and-and that I’m trying to get off to get ready for the day. Um, so, there’s usually, you know, a little bit of chaos but hopefully a little bit of-of serenity. You know, here in Arizona, the morning especially the [unintelligible 00:28:12] especially night.

So, I have been trying to enjoy that. Um, but I do- I do think routine is important if it was- if I had, you know, the ideal, um, morning routine, I think it would be, you know, a little morning meditation, um, some coffee, a little exercise. Um, so, yeah, you know, the good days are probably pretty ideal on Monday, but cha- more chaotic days are maybe the days where we don’t all get up on time, or a little less ideal, but that’s real life, I guess. Right?

Interviewer: Yeah, I know, absolutely. I think you hit the movie mo- morning routine, you know, I wake up, I meditate, I don’t know what I have this time but the reality is always chaotic in every household do all the [unintelligible 00:28:54] in the mornings. I am not [unintelligible 00:28:56] I got two seconds of calm, I’m going to enjoy I think is the reality of our lives [laughs] So, Lori-

Lori: Absolutely.

Interviewer: Give us these three rules you live by.

Lori: Yeah, you know, the one- the one thing that, um, I-I that absolutely comes to mind and that I live by and say to myself all the time is, um, is do the right thing. I really, um, I really try and make sure that I feel like when-when I’m making decisions, you know, especially, um, in my personal life but also at work, you know, doing the right thing is important. Sometimes I think we get caught up in, you know, where well a rule says that, or a policy says that.

Um, but nothing is ever a simple as it was intended to be when it was, you know, written down in a rule or policy. And sometimes real life situations, um, need a little

[00:30:00] bit of, um, of a subjective viewpoint and-and there are- is a lot of gray areas. And so, I always trying to just think, you know, “What can I do to make sure that the right thing is done in that in that situation?” I think that is especially applicable in human resources because we deal with, um, you know, so much of people personal life that leads into the work environment and we have to remember that we are, you know, we’re called Human Resources for a reason.

We’re dealing with human beings and we are, you know, trying to serve them in their capacity as an employee, but also as people. And I think it’s especially important that we remember that with making decisions, um, with or about employees that we, um, that we really consider them as human and, uh, take into consideration all of the nuances that might be at play and to-to make-make decisions and do the right thing, even if it means we have to change the policy or make an exception, um, because sometimes it’s just necessary to do that.

Um, the other- the other thing, but I, you know, really think about are, um, I try to remember that I am not the most important person in the world. Everybody has got things going on all the time and all of that plays into, you know, how, um, how we interact with each other. And I try and remember that when I’m interacting with people, I mean, again, in HR, you know, sometimes we deal with people who are not at their best place.

And, um, and to remember to take into consideration, you know, everybody has got their own priorities, everybody’s got their own situation going on, they’ve got their own distractions and to try and remember that, you know, even, you know, in basic everyday situations like they commute to and from work, you know. Being a good, um, citizen of the freeway and-and making sure that, you know, I’m not acting like me getting to my meeting on time is the most important thing in the world.[00:32:00]

A lot of people have a lot of things going on in their, you know, making their way down Interstate kind of just like I am. And, you know, if we can all be a little bit more considerate of each other and remember, you know, that we are all not the most important person in the world every day, um, I think that will go a long way. Uh, and then the last thing-

Interviewer: I feel like I’m- [crosstalk]

Lori: If I am looking at-

Interviewer: – sticker.

Lori: Yeah.

Interviewer: There will be a [unintelligible 00:32:23] mistake.

Lori: [crosstalk] [laughs]

Interviewer: I love it.

Lori: [laughs]

Interviewer: [unintelligible 00:32:29] stage of [inaudible 00:32:29]

Lori: [unintelligible 00:32:29] Yeah, yeah. Um, the last thing which is written on my whiteboard is whether or not that I make better today and that’s really kind of what I keep with me all the time, um, is, you know, how do I make a difference? What did I- what I did do today that matter to somebody, um, and that-that’s just the-the third thing that I live by and just try and– whether it’s, again, at work or in my personal life, um, every day matters and-and so it’s important that every day, you know, I can identify something and, um, that I did that-that made a difference.

Interviewer: Lori, fantastic. Thank you. The-the each one of those I think is very inspirational and very usable for our listeners to be able to think about. Um, you know, managing 14,000 people, um, every day and-and a family, and a dog, and, you know, all of that I think is, you know, an incredible fate in itself. So, I really appreciate you taking the time with us today to share some views. I think your insights are very usable. So, thank you, um, from, you know, from entrepreneurs to CEOs. So, I really appreciate that inside and thank you very much for being on the show.

Lori: Thank you so much for having me. It was an awesome opportunity.

Matt Likens, President and CEO at GT Medical Technologies, on The

matt likensMatt Likens has been in the businesses of improving lives through biotechnology for more than 10 years now. As the president and CEO at GT Medical Technologies, Matt seeks to improve the lives of people with recurrent brain tumors. He won Phoenix Business Journal’s Most Admired CEO’s award in 2012 and was awarded an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for the mountain region in 2015. With more than 25 years of experience leading companies, Matt has accumulated a wealth of knowledge about how to lead people. 

In this episode, Matt chats with podcast host and CEO Kate King, about why it’s important for CEO’s to be authentic, why he came out of semi-retirement to work with GT Medical Technologies, and why balance is key for leaders. If you want to be inspired by an incredible, experienced leader, this episode is for you!  Listen below.

Also, check out all of our podcast episodes featuring interviews with inspiring, respected leaders who prioritize their employees. Then, learn more about how does employee benefits differently. 


Show Highlights:

[1:30] Matt shares his opinion about the role CEO’s play in setting the tone for a company’s culture

[2:00] “The CEO has got to live and breathe and act that way, or there’s no chance for that culture to really gain momentum and be effective.”

[4:00] Matt discusses why CEO’s should move slowly when joining a new company and trying to affect the company’s culture

[6:00] Matt shares how he established operating principles and values as the CEO of Ulthera

[8:00] “I think the most important characteristic that a leader needs to exhibit is authenticity.”

[10:00] Matt talks about why leader’s must overcome the desire to always be liked

[14:00] Matt explains why he joined GT Medical Technologies

[16:00] Matt talks about why balance is a key to a successful life

[18:00] “My advice to people who strive to get into a leadership role is, it wouldn’t hurt to work.”

[25:00] Matt sheds light on his morning routine

[28:00] Matt talks about why he thinks people should work to fulfill as close to 100% of their potential as they can


The Benifit Interview w/ Matt Likens, President and CEO at GT Medical Technologies

Kate King: Hi, this Kate King host of The, where every episode we dive in and explore companies on how they enable employees to thrive.

Our guest today is Matt Likens, the president and CEO at GT Medical Technologies, which is focused on improving the lives of patients with brain tumors. He has a long history of success in both the corporate and the startup world. He shares his insights to culture and leadership and his key guiding principles to life.

Good afternoon, Matt, and thank you for joining us on The podcast today.

Matt Likens: Yeah, thank you, Kate. Nice to be with you.

Kate: Wonderful. So, I’ve got some, you know, few questions. One, um, is much more generic for you to get us started. Some people say that the CEO sets the tone for company culture. As someone who’s led several companies, do you agree with this sentiment and why?

Matt: I do agree with the sentiment. And I-I think that that’s one of the obligations or responsibilities for leadership. Um, and-and I think one of the biggest issues related to culture, relates to authenticity. And so I think the CEO, as the the leader of hopefully a group of leaders within an organization, um, to lead with credibility, they must be seen as authentic and truly believing, uh, in what they are espousing. And so, that’s why I-I do think that the CEO taking the lead and establishing whether there’s a purpose or operating principles or a big herodaceous goal or whatever the key elements are that define a culture of an organization.

[00:02:00] The CEO has got to live and breath and act that way, uh, or there’s no chance for that culture to really gain momentum and be effective. So, I think it’s gotta start there and hopefully, it’s something that as you’re building an organization, you’re inspiring people to join you who can relate to that culture in– and really thrive in that type of environment.

Kate: Thank you, uh Matt. Now, it’s interesting because some, um, CEOs are coming in as kind of taking on an existing culture and some are having the pleasure of kind of starting up a culture. And I believe you’ve been in both of those arenas. Um, what would you say to that CEO coming into a culture, just to how they would, uh, embrace and kinda change that take the lead and the reigns in there.

Matt: Yes. So, I would caution them to move slowly. [laugh]. Yes. And so, um, as I’m sure you know, change is very difficult for every person and certainly every organization. And so, I think it’s really important for anybody coming into an existing organization to be, uh, take your time and really understand what the existing values are, what the operating principles are, what that culture looks like, and is it effective. Is the company thriving? You know, are they achieving their goals? Is it a place with low turnover and highly inspired employees or very productive? If it is, you know, you probably don’t wanna change too much.

And if you do wanna change things, more to your way of thinking, if it’s slightly different than what’s operating there, then I think doing it over time with incremental change is probably more likely to be successful than if-if you want to establish a new operating [00:04:00] environment tomorrow. [laugh]Uh, that would be my recommendation. If-if it’s not an organization that is highly performing, then I think you-you probably have a license to still take your time and understand what it is exactly before you embark upon a major, uh, change to-to the environment. But you probably can do it much more quickly because there is more of a sense of urgency when the ship is sinking, or it’s just not achieving its goals and people are more likely to understand the need for change in that environment.

Kate: Now, I think that’s, um, some wonderful said advice. I think you have people coming into a– or CEO’s coming into a new company who want to make a kind of a quick impression. And I think that caution is absolutely required in what you should build for the long term and have that long view plan. So, thank you for that.

Now, you worked to 10 years of President and CEO of Ulthera. Um, how did you enable your people to thrive there?

Matt: So, in the early stages, I-I was the second employee, and, um, it was the first time I’d been a CEO, and so you really have a blank slate, right? So there isn’t an operating environment, there-there aren’t principles or values, uh. And-and so, I really when– in an operating room previously with Baxter Healthcare organ-organization, um, Healthcare, uh, I was able to come into different operating roles and establish my principles and see whether they would work well or not. And I-I made all the mistakes, right? I tried to change certain divisions of the organization probably more quickly than they should have been changed. Um, and-and so having learned from all that and having really been able to refine, um, what was important [00:06:00] to me as a leader, coming into Ulthera and having that blank slate, you-you establish something where nothing existed previously.

And I found that to be, um, a-a-a great way to do it. There was no change required, [chuckles] there was nothing, right. And-and then I-I established operating principles really as the foundation to the culture and I established five of those. And, uh, then as we were hiring people, I got to talk about what you can expect if you join Ulthera and or the operating principles in some detail. And I interviewed everybody, of course, because initially we were a small group of 220 employees. But even at the end, I was interviewing everyone just so they could hear from me what they could expect if in fact this was a good place for them to work and-and whether they had the skills that we needed in order to continue to grow the business. I just thought it was a-a great filter to use.

And then when somebody did join us, there shouldn’t have been any surprises if in fact, “Oh my god, you’ve got these operating principles who– I don’t agree with these two.” right? Um, eventually the five that we established initially grew to seven when the management team that had been assembled came to me and said, “No, I think we need to add a couple of more. I don’t think the five that we have really fully define what we need to be as an organization.” That’s when I knew they weren’t Matt’s operating principles anymore, but they were Ulthera’s operating principles, and-and everyone saw value in them. So that was, uh, really-really a great point in time for us.

Kate: That’s tremendous. Yeah. I love that, uh, statement, “They went from Matt’s to Ulthera’s.” I think many CEOs aspire to get that moving very quickly. Um, so you have over 25 years of experience in people leadership, what’s one lesson [00:08:00] that you’ve learned about leading people?

Matt: Again, I-I think the most important characteristic that a leader needs to exhibit is authenticity. Um, along with that, you’ve got to operate in a consistent fashion. So, I have worked for other leaders in the– it was like going to an amusement park and being on a roller coaster ride. You know, one never knew, when you showed up for work in the morning, [chuckles] you know, whether you were going to be, you know, at the beginning of the ride, either at a point of stability, or whether you were going to be, you know, plummeting down the highest decline, you know, in the roller coaster. And people don’t do productive work if there can’t be some, uh, sense of consistency, uh, in-in the work environment.

And so, consistency doesn’t mean that you don’t change, but when you do change, you change in a more controlled fashion and all the right communication is accompanying that change, and you’re explaining why we’re-we’re, you know– so, we’ve been operating this way, this way, and this way. Now, from this point forward, we’re going to change and these are the reasons why. The outside dynamic has changed, the market environment has changed, our capabilities have improved or declined or whatever. And then people move along with it because you’ve taken the time to really explain to them.

So, I- so, I think it’s authenticity. You-you-you can’t be seen as saying one thing but acting in a different way, uh, and-and if you are saying it, and you say you believe it, then you better damn well believe it because people are really smart and they will catch you, you know, if there’s anything that’s, you know, not quite true. Uh, and-and then just be consistent in the way you operate.

Kate: Fantastic. And do you believe authenticity is learned? You know, if you look at the operating principle, was that you’re authentic to the operating [00:10:00] principles and culture of the organization, or that you have a natural authenticity as a leader.

Matt: Yeah, I-I think you have to have a natural authenticity. And-and so maybe you grow into that over time and you realize that you can’t be all things to all people, you’re never going to please everyone, and it doesn’t matter. And-and also it doesn’t matter whether people like you, okay [chuckles]. I think a lot of us grow up, you know, wanting to be liked, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and it is great to people like you, but obviously much more important that they respect you, and they respect what you stand for, and they view you as operating, uh, in an equitable fashion that you’re-you’re exhibiting fairness in what you do.

And if you’re gonna-going to move in a new direction, you know, you build trust over time and you have, um, the capability to move the organization in new-new direction because you’ve earned that respect over time.

Kate: Fantastic. No, I-I couldn’t agree more around the, you know, to be- to be respected for what you stand for, it’s really that consistency that you mentioned earlier. So I think, you know, being able to align that to have a natural tendency to be authentic or have that honesty, and then to align with the company culture to live and breathe it everyday is absolutely the key to success there.

So now you’re president and CEO of GT medical technologies, what do you do to find great people to join the team? And other than authenticity and consistency, what do you look for in them?

Matt: Yes. So, um, until we get some more, um, uh, external funding, we won’t be looking for a lot more people to join the team [00:12:00].


Yeah, and we-we have four full time employees currently, uh, but a fifth has agreed to come on at the end of this month, so we’re very excited about having, uh, having that person come on board as well. Um, two of the people out of the five that will be at the end of March, uh, I’ve worked with previously. And so having done that and having seen their work and understood who they were as individuals and how committed they are to, um, to the task at hand, you know, it does give you, um, a-a really great feeling that they will be effective contributors here. A lot of the-the risk that is sometimes inherent in hiring new people is taken out of it. So, um, but-but what you really look for is people who, um, believe in what– we-we have a purpose at GT Medical Technologies. You know, the purpose is improving the lives of patients with brain tumors.

And so, you know, one might say, “Well, isn’t that motherhood and apple pie?” Yes. [laughs] So, certainly is for people who are going to have brain tumors, if we can improve their lives, that’s a good thing. But it is something that we need to be emotionally behind and committed to because that-that’s really what it’s all about. And so I think if you can appeal to someone’s emotional, uh, being as well as their intellect– I mean, intellect is pretty easy to get. I mean, they bring that to work with them every day, but if they’re emotionally involved and committed to the cause as well, you’re just gonna get so much more out of them. The company will benefit from it, they will get more satisfaction out of the work experience, and ultimately, and in our situation, patients will benefit and hopefully patients can live much longer tumor-free as a result of the technology that we bring into the marketplace in the next couple [00:14:00] of years.

Kate: And is that why you joined?

Matt: Yeah, that’s exactly why I joined. So, I’ve been in a variety of therapeutic areas in the healthcare business in over the last 10 years, you mentioned Ulthera. And Ulthera’s business was really, uh, more aesthetic medicine. So, we had a focus ultra sound device that was very consistent in providing a firming tightening and lifting result for, um, customers, uh, not really patients, because they weren’t sick, but-but cash paying customers who were looking to, uh, improve the way they looked compared to, uh, the chronology that they represented tha-than their age. And we can do that in [unintelligible 00:14:47] and we had a very high percentage of ethicacy, uh, and-and it was fine. But we worked, um, you know– we-we weren’t curing diseases and we weren’t dealing with, uh, illness at all.

And so having been, I think pretty effectively semi-retired for about 16 months, um, I wasn’t really looking to get involved in an operating wall again. But I did feel like this GammaTile technology that is represented with GT Medical Technologies has the potential to significantly improve patient outcomes, uh, with brain tumors, which is, you know, that’s just not a great prognosis, uh, no matter what type of brain tumor you have, um, and-and no matter how skilled the neurosurgeon may be if in fact you have to have that tumor resected.

So this-this feels like it’s really worth while work and something that certainly I can get emotionally behind and-and I think attract others to this, uh, where it’s quite meaningful for them as well.

Kate: Oh, absolutely. I mean, this is, you know, not just life changing for the people working there, you know, to your point the life changing of the patients [00:16:00]. Um, how do you, you know, being so passionate about it and, you know, clearly there’s lots of work to be done, how are you finding balance?

Matt: So I think you’re going to ask me a question maybe in the future about [chuckles] one of the keys to, uh, being successful, you know, and-and what drives someone. But I think balance is a key to a successful life. And-and so it is something that’s worth socializing with the team as well because if any one aspect of your life gets out of balance, you won’t be effective in the other aspects of your life. And so if you think of physical wellbeing or your spiritual being, uh, and also of your professional life, um, and-and, uh, all of that has to, uh, be, uh– you have to pay attention to each aspect of that for you to have a chance to be effective in everything. And so that’s-that’s just something that I think you learn over time. I don’t think my life was always as balanced as it is now, and I encourage anybody who joins our-our company to– We have talked about it, I have lunch with one-one of our former employees today, and that was part of our discussion of lunch because of some things that he has going on his personal life.

And so I think it was good for us to talk about it and recognize it and we’re all whole people and we always see a portion of that whole person at work, but we should see the whole person here, and we should talk about things overall and I think that that makes a better operating environment in itself.

Hey Kate, coul-could I go back to one other point on leadership?

Kate: Absolutely.

Matt: Yeah, I-I really– I-I don’t think there are, you know, ‘natural leaders’ necessarily. Um, [00:18:00] I think people learn over time what resonates for them and what style works for them if they, uh, if their desire is to be a leader. Um, and so I know that, you know, the sort of environment and the-the high tech and healthcare tech community that, you know, you have a few Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of hulled who, you know, they drop out of Harvard or some other fine institution and these are leading what becomes a, you know, global, you know, multibillion dollar enterprise and somehow they-they do it, and they lead it and they do it fairly well. But I think that’s really a rare-rare exception.

And so my-my advice to people who strive to get into a leadership role is, it wouldn’t hurt to work. Uh, you work for AmEx, right? And-and for a significant period of time, and I worked for Baxter and J&J for a significant period of time, and I was exposed to really good leadership practices, management practices, process practices, and-and-and I was also exposed to some miserable behaviors and practices and stupid rules. And-and so over time when you’re exposed to that, you realize [unintelligible 00:19:21] this is how– If I’m gonna have an opportunity to be in the leadership role, this is what I would bring forward with me, they’re really best practices, and this is what I would definitely leave behind. And this is what I would add, you know, my own twist on things to make sure it’s authentic.

And so I encourage younger people to– you know, J&J got to be $150 billion market cap company because they do a lot of things right. Uh, and at the same time, I wouldn’t want to work there anymore because they’re large, and they’re slow, and they have all those things. And, you know, AmEX put a lot of things right, but I’m sure there were a lot of things that drove you crazy.

And so as you move into a startup [00:20:00] world, then you’re only bringing forth those things that-that make sense to you as an individual and are more effective than some of the practices there.

Kate: Now, I think you bring up a great, um, differentiater between, you know, learning to be a leader in a corporate environment versus that of an entrepreneurial venture. Um, you know, I think last time we met, we spoke about in the corporation, you have many people. Many people have specific roles and responsibilities, and being a leader and, um, also being a doer, whereas in an entrepreneurial mindset, especially in a startup, you literally are doing it all and bringing the best of what you bring from this skill. Um, you’re both a leader as well as the doer always.

Um, but why I liked the-the what you said was the progression to being authentic, and that really is that personal growth and learning and really taking what you love, what inspires you as an individual to then become authentic with that. And then, if you go to a company and have that matched with the operating principles, that’s where you found your kind of like working Nirvana, so to speak.

Um, and I think that le– being able to lead authentically is absolutely the priority, but how you get there with an organization does involve that questioning learning really what do you stand for and do you have also the experience to be able to stand where you are. So I thought that was– that’s a great intro into kind of ways in which to become more authentic as a leader. Coz I think using the word is great, but a lot of times, you go and say, “I’m authentic.” or what does that really mean?

And I think having that, uh, perspective in self-development, self-perspective, self-compassion, really understand what lights you up, what inspires others, um, is a process that you have to continually work on.

Matt: [00:22:00] Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I-I-I think you just said it very well. Um, and just, you know, we’re diverging a little bit maybe from what– where are you going next, but I was on a panel last week as you know, and, um, you know, it was from a very accomplished folks. And-and one of the folks in the panel, um, is a-a young leader of a very successful company and they’ve got an unbelievable culture.

Uh, and he was talking about, gee, I just, you know, ho-how did you develop such a great culture? He said, “Well, it-it just kind of happened and-and I don’t think you need to necessarily be intentional about it. You get the right people and voila, it just happens.” And-and I had to speak up and say, “That’s wonderful that it worked that way for you, but I wouldn’t take that chance.” [chuckles]

Kate: Yeah. [chuckles]

Matt: I think you absolutely, as the leader, you have to be intentional about it and-and-and drive what’s the right culture for you, [chuckles] you know, and-and then, you know, if it’s the right culture for the right other people, then great, but, uh– Anyway. We-we-we had a little bit of a difference on that, but I-I-I still stand by my conviction. I think the CEO has got to drive that culture and represent it and be authentic about it.

Kate: Yeah. Absolutely. Maybe, you know, he’s one of the outliers like Steve Jobs and-and-and Bill Gates, where he just, you know, was able to ins-inspire or create that as it was going. I think, you know, to a point, most people are deliberate with culture. And I think when you look to other examples in the industry, that we’ve seen in the news in the last kind of year, not having intentional culture has serious impacts to the bottom line.

Matt: Yes. Um, are-are you thinking Uber, by any chance?

Kate: [chuckles] It’s just to name one, yes.

Matt: Yeah. The-the-there are lots of examples. And again, I think a great idea, you know, and obviously a very valuable company, but, you know, it was just, uh, wasn’t moving in the right direction. So, big changes and, you know, it’s too bad [00:24:00] but in a way, it’s understandable, right?

Kate: Yeah, absolutely. When you grow that quickly, um, without a doubt, but I think it opens the doors that CEOs and the leadership teams to really think about this, and more and more this becomes really the winning formula to how successful you actually are in your industry.

Matt: Yup. Yup. I agree.

Kate: So, Matt, I have a couple of questions more personal for our listeners, um, if that’s good with you. Um.

Matt: Sure,

Kate: You know, there’s much talk about successful leaders having morning routines, and it’s really been seen as scientifically proven and critical to their success. Could you share your morning routine with us?

Matt: Um, sure. Um, I-I-I get up early, um, and-and by early, you know, it’s 5:00, 5:30, uh, timeframe, and three– at least three times a week, and four if I’m lucky.

Um, I-I go to Orangetheory. It’s a one-hour exercise class, there are franchises all over the country.In fact, I read last week, it’s one of the fastest growing franchises in the country. And, you know, monitoring your heart rate, uh, and your metabolism, and you have an ideal, um, activity level, which is the orange level. And you should spend at least, at least 12 of the 54 minutes or so of workout at that orange level or above. Uh, and I-I just find it, um, if I devote that time early in the day and really get a great workout, you monitor your how many calories you burn based on your, uh, your body mass index as well. Uh, I have more energy all day long. So, um, so that’s a great way to start. But even before I go there, I have to do, uh, my stretching. [laughs]

I play a lot of basketball, and I run marathons and, they’re not great on your back [00:26:00] or knees. So-so I-I do that religiously as about a 20-minute program, where I’m stretching and sit-ups and moving so that I can move and go to Orangetheory and actually be on the treadmill or, uh, or on the rowing machine, or in the weight room and-and perform well. But I think that taking care of yourself physically at that time, I think sets me up for a very productive day. I also try to spend some time, and even when I’m doing the stretching, I wouldn’t call it meditation, but I wouldn’t call it thanking deeply about, you know, who I am, who I am [laughs] how far I need to accomplish, and, you know, whether-whether everything’s in balance. And so I find that to be, uh, very relaxing, and also gets my mind straight for the day ahead.

Kate: Wonderful, truly wonderful. And the last question for you, um, and it doesn’t have to be three, I just put it out there. What three rules do you live by?

Matt: Yeah, and so I-I don’t know if I live by three rules, but one thing that drives me, and always has, for some reason, is, uh, that one should strive to reach one’s potential. So and, and not to be too spiritual about this, but, you know, God has given us certain gifts and certain capabilities. And I almost feel like it’s a sin if you don’t take advantage of your God-given abilities. And so, we all have potential as human beings, along a number of different fronts.

Um, but then if-if you relate it to business, you know, so you’re-you’re starting a company, and you have a technology, and you need to hire resources, and you need to try to define the market, and you need to try to figure out how you’re going to compete effectively. And by definition, you-you-you [00:28:00] have a certain potential for that business, and it might be the number in-in health care, of course, the number of patients treated or benefiting from your product. There are– For me, after all those [unintelligible 00:28:11] there’s gotta be a financial potential for the company, uh, and that helps to measure things as well.

And so what is that overall potential? Can you try to define that? And then the goal of the company is to achieve the– as close to a 100% of that potential as you possibly can, and you’ll never get there, right? But, but I think, uh, lost potential is to me a– it’s a- it’s a big- it’s a big waste. [laughs] And so, I’ve always admired athletes who may not be the most talented, but you just know that they worked harder than anyone else and they achieve a greater percentage of their potential than a lot of other people who are more physically talented and gifted than they were. And-and that relates to for me across business and across life in general. So, I guess that’s, that would be the one driving, uh, force in my life.

Kate: Fantastic, I love it. I think that, you know, this will give many of our listeners foo-food for thought, in terms of how many of you could do strive for, uh, their potential every day. You know, as it is interesting you give the experie– the example of business, but I think from a personal standpoint, how many of us could really put our hands on our heart, and every day say I’m striving for my top potential, I’m better than I was yesterday.

Um, that probably comes to people maybe, you know, “Oh, I remember that,” “I’m supposed to do that,” or, “Oh, I remember”– Like a couple of months ago I was thinking that on the day to day, you know, when a new show gets taken over, but I think that’s a-a fantastic, you know, guiding principle with you like of, of, uh, leading your lives.

Matt: Yeah, I-I-I guess other thing is, you know, treating people the right way, right? Where any-even in a company, you know, obviously there is a CEO, uh, in a lot of companies and-and there is that person who’s, you know, just starting for the company and maybe has, you know, a-a first level role. Um, each person is equally important even though they’re at different levels and play different roles, but it does– You know, so you’re-you’re in the mail room, right? [laughs]. That’d be the traditional way-way of stereo–typical way that-to-to look at that. Well, that role is really, really important, and that person is important. And so treating people the way you wanna be treated, I mean, it almost goes without saying but, um, it shouldn’t matter the level in the organization, it-it’s, we’re all individuals and deserve that respect.

Kate: Fantastic. Matt, we’re coming up on our time today. I truly want to thank you for not only your insight but your experienced insight, uh, for our listeners today. I truly appreciate it.

Matt: Sure, thanks, Kate. Thanks for having me, and I really enjoyed it.


Kate: Firstly, thanks for listening and spending time with us. I hope you enjoyed the interview with Matt. For a transcribed version of the show, head over to That’s B-E-N-I.F-I-T/podcast. This is the start of compensations that begin to identify the best practices when human strived companies prosper. If you would like to recommend anybody for the show, please email me at [email protected] [email protected]

[00:31:59] [END OF AUDIO]

Kathy Sacks, Entrepreneur, Startup Consultant, and Former VP of Marketing at Infusionsoft on The Benifit

kathy sacksKathy Sacks has been building, marketing, and inspiring businesses for more than 20 years. She’s done it all. From starting her own angel investing firm, to founding multiple businesses, to working as the VP of Marketing at Infusionsoft, Kathy’s gathered a wealth of knowledge from her diverse work experiences. Lucky for us, she shares it with the world on our podcast!

In this episode, Kathy chats with podcast host and CEO Kate King about how her time at Infusionsoft informed her perspective on HR and people leadership, why she believes entrepreneurship is the answer, and why she feels companies should invest in their employees dreams. Give it a listen!

Click here to check out more episodes of The Benifit, and here to learn more about how helps humans thrive, and companies prosper. 

Show Highlights:

[2:00] Kathy explains how she initially got connected with the founders of Infusionsoft

[4:00] Kathy describes how Infusionsoft’s leadership time intentionally crafted the company’s culture

[8:00] Kathy talks about Infusionsoft’s Dream Manager position

[11:00] Kathy shares why she believes it’s important to embrace employees’ whole person at work

[14:00] Kathy shares a personal story about her parent, immigrating from Hungary and making a life for themselves in America

[17:00] “The number one challenge I see is, is the ability to see past self-imposed obstacles.” – Kathy talking about challenges for startup leaders

[20:00] “I think we take ourselves just too seriously. And, therefore, we’re unwilling to make mistakes.”

[22:00] Kathy shares her thoughts on why it’s important for leaders to be authentic in the workplace

[24:00] Kathy tells a story about when Infusionsoft’s executive team gathered to come up with the company’s values

[30:00] “Ultimately leadership is about service. It’s about being of service to others, and how do you do that without your heart being a part of it?”

[33:00] Kathy shares her morning routine. (Hint: it includes journaling!)

[36:00] “What I’ve realized is, is as a woman especially and a working mother, you can have it all.”


The Benifit Interview w/ Kathy Sacks, Entrepreneur, Startup Consultant and Former VP of Marketing at Infusionsoft

Kate: So, hi Kathy, and thank you join- for joining us today on The Benifit Podcast. It’s a real pleasure to have you on board.

Kathy Sacks: Hi Kate. I’m so glad to be here.

Kate: Great. So- so Kathy, we have a few questions for you. Um, I’m really excited to- to really understand your perspective. So, you have a very diverse and rich work history. From starting your own businesses, to investing, to serving in executive marketing positions, you’re pretty much, uh, done it all. Um, you say your time as a VP of Marketing and Communication at Infusionsoft was critical to your- your view of HR, people leadership, and how companies grow. I think while you were there, you went from under a hundred employees to over 600. What is it about your time at Infusionsoft that informed your perspective on these things?

Kathy: Hmm. Yeah, it’s interesting. Um, in Infusionsoft, it is a place where, uh, having gone from worked in- working in, uh, companies that I had started. Uh, well, one I had co-founded with my husband, but they were small businesses, um, successful, but they were smaller. We’re talking, you know, 12-15 people tops. And, um, a few of them I had sold, and, um, and so moving into Infusionsoft it really was the largest, um, the largest company that I had been a part of.

And to see it moved from, before it was 30 people and the early days pre-Series A, I was a consultant. [00:02:00] So they’d hired my agency to come in and work with them and really be their first agency of record. So, I got to work shoulder to shoulder with the founders at the time when they didn’t actually even know what they had. In other words, at the time we’re talking, this is 2006, uh, 2005, um, no actually a little earlier than that. Um, anyway, doesn’t matter.

The point is, is [chuckles] that at the time they thought a big win was gonna be, “We’re gonna sell this for like 10 million dollars right?”. And- and over a period, in pretty short order there, over the course of about a year, the transformation of their vision shifted to that of a company that saw itself becoming, uh, multi-billion dollar company. It saw itself as a- as an organization that was not only out to sell software, it was out to change lives for small business owners. And also, and just as important to change the lives of their employees.

And so, my time there was really interesting, uh- uh, initially on the outside and then I end up joining the company, uh, joined the executive team, working with Clate Mask, the CEO, and, um, and the rest of the folks on the team. And I had joined there full time when we were about 100 people. And I remember him telling- telling me, “Big differences as soon as you hit that three digit number, Kate, everything changes.” And you could do things very differently and make different considerations and really put an eye on the scale.

And by the time I left a few years ago, we had about a 600 employee company. And so, it’s fascinating to see what they did right and that was at the outset focus on thinking big, and focus on making this a place that people would want to come to. That would be proud to be a part of this company, this brand. And, um, and it wasn’t just talk, they made investments. We made investments, we made, um, we made real meaning for effort, we put money, time, resources towards- towards creating a culture of winning, [00:04:00] high performance. And, um, dare I say, it sounds cliche, but fun.

Kate: Fantastic. You know, a lot of, um, companies in that massive growth- high really growing from, as you said 30 people to 600 really, uh, find it challenging on the culture. You-you mentioned that you’ve done the investments, but could you just walk us through maybe some of the thinking at the time for, uh, how you constructed the culture as an Exec Team?

Kathy: Uh, yeah. Well, for one, uh, for one we all took ownership of it. And so, one of the things that we did as a leadership team, was we would have offsites. Uh, lots of offsites. So there will be a monthly offsite of the exec, so it’s about anywhere between five and- and 10 of us as we grew. Uh, so it was the CEO level, it was– we’re VP level until we began to grow and then we moved into CEO roles as well. And, uh, and so we made investments on making culture our top priority.

And so what that look like was, um, we had a team would discuss, um, goal setting and how we make goal setting and accountability, and your focus on metrics. Something that not just execs were- who were rallying around, but the entire organization. And we would empower people to, uh, take ownership over their departments, or over, um, let’s say director or manager level. People would have an opportunity to rally and organize others around accomplishing goals, that may actually be outside their purview, but that they wanted to get involved in.

And, um, each quarter we would have these, um, these ‘TOPs’, Top Operating Priorities. And then we would have annual priorities. And, the TOPs on each quarter would roll up into the annual priorities. And then, there will be rewards around that, and we had smart goals. And so, there was this culture of, um– You know, it’s interesting. When- when- when you hear the word culture, you think of– especially in a Venture-backed company. [00:06:00]

This is a Venture-backed software company, you think, “Oh, it’s fun”. It’s Ping-pong tables. It’s–” You know, we had a football field, we had Nerf guns, we had a Coke machine, you know, uh, soda machine. We had, um, unlimited supplies of cereal. Yeah, that is one part of, o- one part of that makes it casual and- and, um, it sort of it normalizes it. But really culture is founded upon high per- creating high performing teams that can collaborate, respect each other, treat one another with kindness, and with um, and hold on to another accountable, but doing it in a way where you grow from it, right?

And that’s I think what we were able to do by engaging in and iterating on this culture around how we hire people, how we fire people, how we invest in them, um, and there’s so many examples of- of investments that we made. You know, one- one that comes to mind is our Dream Manager. You might have heard that at one point, um– I’m trying to think about how soon into this. It would have been when we are about, probably somewhere between 115-250 people.

We ended up creating role called, the Dream Manager. And the dream manager’s, the dream manager’s job was to help our, um, employees, we call them Infusioknights to- to dream, and to create goals for themselves, and to work towards those goals. And so, your dreams could be paying off your mortgage, taking your family to Disneyland, uh, losing 20 pounds, learning Spanish. You know, playing the violin, it could be anything. Um, doing a triathlon, or it could be, “I wanna start my own business.”

And so, I think it was really fascinating as we were, we were not afraid to invest in people, and- and support them in identifying dreams, and then picking a dream that they wanna go after. And then, on a weekly basis, or actually weekly to monthly basis, you had access to this coach, your dream manager. Who would work with you, [00:08:00] and support you in moving through the necessary actions in order to attain, um, that dream.

And, you know, when you’re- when you’re managing people, and you’re working with anyone, especially in a coaching type of relationship, you wanna help them get small wins. So often the dreams were small, you know it’s like “I want to, uh, take my family into a two-week vacation, uh, in two quarters,” right? And so, or it could be “I wanted to lose five pounds this month.” So it’s like what can you do to create small wins but then build confidence.

So the reason why I share this is- is, I think what’s so different about what we did at Infusionsoft, Kate, is that; if people had a dream of starting their own business, which could become to others, to other companies maybe this is threat, like we might lose this person. We knew that when we made investments in that person, we encourage those because our customers are entrepreneurs, we encourage our employees to be entrepreneurs.

So I think 80% of the people inside the company have some kind of side hassle. We gave everyone a free app, a free Infusionsoft app to use and we wanted them in the app in software using it. And they will build their own businesses, selling products, information products, doing services, whatever it might be. And so, we knew that at some point, you know, either we’d have them for several years, or a decade, or for two years.

Whatever the- whatever the amount, we knew that we wanted to make investments in our employees. And- and the trade in return was for them to make- make a high contribution to Infusionsoft. So as a result, I point to the deliberate decisions that we made to allow people to grow, to invest in them growing. Uh, it paid in dividends and what that look like was, the ability to, uh, get to 100 million dollars in revenue. Or- or frankly at this point the company is well over that, uh, to be able to raise over a 150 million in- in, uh, in venture capital from the likes of Goldman Sachs, or Bain Capital. [00:10:00] Yeah, I’m gonna stop and like, ask another question. [laughs]

Kate: You know, I- I- I’m blown away. I think that is probably one of the best examples of somebody explaining culture that I’ve ever heard. And I think you’re absolutely right, in terms of– most people think about culture in terms of, “How do I grow this fun family environment?” And they don’t really link it to business performance which is so critical. and I think what you said high performing teams that collaborate with each other, who bring kindness, um, was so eloquent.

Uh, what I loved though is this ‘Dream Manager’. Because when people are truly inspired themselves with their dreams, they come to work so much more purposeful, and so much more intentional. Um, so I- I think that probably is one of the best examples, um, I’ve heard in terms of a company who really embraces the individual, uh, to be part of the collective pulse. So, thank you. I think that’s amazing.

Kathy: Hmm, yeah. Well, and I– if I could- if I could share on that. Consider this, people come to work everyday as a whole person.

Kate: Yeah.

Kathy: Ideally. They come as a whole person. And so they don’t come as a work person. They come as the whole person. A person who is a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, husband or wife. Uh, you know, whatever. And add all the other roles inside of that. And they’re a dreamer. And, if people– If you think that anyone on your team isn’t dreaming about what they might do beyond this role, or how to enrich their lives or what experiences they want to create for themselves, then you’re kidding yourself.

And so, I think when- when leaders ignore that aspect, then the consequence of that is you get a quarter, a half, three quarters, whatever it is. But it’s going to be sub-100% of that person. So, let’s– I- I think the- one of the- one of the keys as a leader is to embrace, identify, expose, allow that person to understand what their whole person- what the wholeness really- really encompasses. Uh, but here’s a thing. It takes time. It takes some effort. [00:12:00] Um, and- and oftentimes especially in– I- I- I don’t know.

I- I guess anyone that worked at Infusionsoft Kate, myself included, really got spoiled, because a lot of corporate America does not work this way. [laughs[ And so I’d like to say that anyone who came into Infusionsoft always left a better person. And, um, with any luck would land at another company, or that would be, you know what, in some way, um, at the same level. Or candidly they most likely would go off to start their own business. And that was the pattern that we would see. Which is exciting.

Kate: Yeah. There’s definitely the exciting turn I feel with– so very small moves to turn this huge ship of what was corporate America into this, um, a person is coming to work. And I think, you know, forever we’ve seen the stats of 86% of people disengaged from their jobs. The trillions of dollars it cost in absentee and lack of productivity, ’cause people just are truly not inspired. Um, I truly love that dream manager.

I think that if more companies did that and embraced that whole person to a point; yes, it does take time. Yes it does take investment, but what a tiny investment to make in terms of the actual bottom-line impact you make. Fantastic example, Kathy. Thank you. Um, I’m gonna switch gears a bit to you as an entrepreneur. Um, and a- a business owner, investor. Um, On your website you say that you believe in entrepreneurship, and that’s really the answer. Can you just give us what is– wha– You know, the answer to what? What do you mean by that?

Kathy: Hmm. The person that comes to mind when I think about what you’ve just asked. Whenever I think about entrepreneurship, I envision my- my dad. Um, my father was– Both my parents are, uh, immigrants. They escaped communism, uh, communist Hungary in the ’60s. And they came here with– They came separately. My father actually, physically escaped. [00:14:00] My mother happened to come here, visited an uncle, and at the time was easier to just stay than it is, you know, now.

Um, and so they both have their own approach. They came to the US-wide for a better life, right. Um, and my dad came here with $20 and they both had eight grade educations, and he had one skill and that was as a mason. And so I grew up watching him- watching him as an entrepreneur. Um, with his broken English, you know, with his gruff, gruff, sort of, demeanor. And he built the business. And, um, I’m really proud of how hard he worked.

And, uh, so I- I– To me, it was very normal growing up. Pre- predictable income. That was not common. He’d have seasons growing up in New Jersey. Snow, couldn’t, you know, couldn’t work. Um, and my mother, on the other side, cleaned houses when she was– when I was, uh, you know, two year old. She’d take me with her to work in a lipstick factory. I mean, you see, you’re talking about, you know, really, uh, blue collar.

And, um, and so as a consequence of that, I’d like to think positive, I learned to appreciate uncertainty and, um, the uncertainty that comes around entrepreneurship. And so, I find that exhilarating. And, as a result, um, the people that I spend the most time with, um– You know, today I coach entrepreneurs, hmm, more- more particularly women, around how they can- how they can up level their leadership, lead themselves more powerfully so they can lead others more powerfully and grow their businesses.

So, for me that theme around taking risks, that theme around believing in yourself, um, believing in others. Making investments in yourself and in others, and growing something special around, um, something that is capitalistic, of course. There’s a measure. You know, does this work? If it doesn’t make money, then how’s that gonna work? Uh, but then, also, through that exercise, can’t you get to do something really great.

And I was working with people to collaborate and making something out of nothing. [00:16:00] Whether it’s a service or a product, you- you’ve constructed, um, something that didn’t exist before. So, to me, entrepreneurship is, is creation. Um, this- this- this successive moment of- of, um, of taking a chance and really not knowing what’s on the other side. And I find that just so interesting and, um, just very sexy.

Kate: You talk about the, um, coaching startups. Um, what challenges do you see and face when it comes to people leadership?

Kathy: The number one- the number one challenge I see is, is the ability to see past self-imposed obstacles? So, what I mean by that is– As an example, there’s a critical conversation that, let’s say, uh, CEO needs to have with a person on their team that isn’t performing at a level that they need to. And- and they’ve been managing and- and coaching and trying to get this individual who if it’s a small startup is- is their- their- their key, their key role.

And, they’re trying to sort out why they can’t help this person, either get more motivated or get more capable in their role, so they can be more successful in the role. And everyone knows that there’s something that’s off. And here’s what I find. The obstacle that they put in front of them, the CEO as an example, is how to have the conversation in a way that exposes the truth. And how to do that is for you to have truth about yourself, and about what your expectations are for example, in this role.

And about how this person perhaps isn’t measuring up. And how perhaps the answer is, is, “This isn’t gonna fit,” and they need to replace this individual and hire someone else. But obstacle they place in front of themselves is- in this example is, they’re afraid. [00:18:00] They really like this person. They, um, they think they have what it takes but, you know, just with a little bit of effort, they might get them to the place that they need to be so they can be performing.

But at the end of the day everyone knows, and the CEO knows that they just need to sit down, have the conversation, get them to place of- of understanding that this is the right decision and- and moving forward. And, um, and- and I- and often in these cases, what they- what they’re trying to avoid is that critical conversation. And, um, they don’t wanna let someone down. I find that to be the case often with first time startup entrepreneurs.

Um, and it’s about making decisions and trusting their judgment and doing it swiftly. Um, that’s- that’s one example but, uh, i- in my, uh, there’s- there’s- there’s probably others but I really think it’s, we get in our way. You know, another one is, “Am I good enough? Do I know enough?” Right? And so, it’s sort of death by a thousand cards. They hold themselves back in, uh, in critical moments. Uh, they don’t speak up. Um, they don’t– They don’t believe in themselves in that moment.

Or they don’t raise their hand to go and speak at a conference, or to- or to weigh in on a topic, or to go after a large amount of- of capital. Um, you know, those are those moments where you must see yourself at a level of greatness and potential. And also be kind to yourself knowing that you’re gonna miss- gonna make mistakes. We don’t have to take ourselves so damn seriously. [laughs] That’s the issue.

I think we take ourselves just too seriously. And, therefore, we’re unwilling to make mistakes. We’re unwilling to see ourselves perhaps not, uh, you know, on flattering moments. And at the end of the day though, that’s where the growth happens. So, I- I think the pattern that emerges is how to push yourself and force yourself to grow each day through the uncomfortable, you know. [00:20:00] 

I mean think about yourself like how uncomfortable do you get each day. Have you been uncomfortable yet today, yesterday, the day before? And, uh, each day the richness of that level of- of discomfort should grow otherwise you’re plateauing right. And so just, sort of, going after bigger and bigger challenges, um, because that’s where the self-betterment happens. I see it all the time. We, sort of, allow ourselves to live smaller than we know, uh, we should cause it feels safer.

Kate: What I love about this whole dialogue and what you’re talking about, and both the- except three of the examples and the, um, answers you’ve given, is that whole person that you’re bringing to the forefront. Uh, i- it- it’s very inspiring to hear you talk about that, because many leaders, successful leaders really don’t talk about the whole person. They talk about to your point earlier this is the what person, this is the parent, this is the- the partner, this is the friend, and they very never bring the whole person.

And I love what you’ve mentioned about failure, because getting in your own way and your belief system, um, your own personal emotional set. Or how you think how you process that thinking into emotions and actions, never really is truly embraced in corporate, right? You need to put on that hat, or put on that coat and play that role. And I think many people do, especially with entrepreneurs who maybe are on the second goal, their first goal was in corporate. Now they’re the age where they want to start a company and they go in. First of all they get the shock of, “Uh, I have to do everything,” right ? I used to have tea-

Kathy: Right.

Kate: -while doing this in the past. But they perhaps don’t bring in– you know, in corporate I think it masks a lot of the leadership training your given in corporate to be authentic. Actually is to be authentic in the workplace not be authentic as a whole person. [00:22:00] And I’ really, really I’m inspired by what you’re saying in terms of, typically it’s how you-how you’re creating and growing through that discomfort, but knowing you are the only one creating that discomfort. It’s not because people are seeing you like, “Get out there embrace yourself.”

Um, so both all- all three of those I think from that Dream Manager, to how you just go get, go do. You know, you have- may have nothing, but go do it anyway and really getting out of your own way. I think three tremendous examples of a new face I think to business. I- I’m excited about what you say, because I think if more and more leaders can embrace this, the productivity and the enjoyment people have whether you spend 8, 10, 14 hours of their latter day um, will-will be mind blowing, I mean it will be groundbreaking.

Kathy: Well, what I think is that– and I love, I mean it sounds, um, I love- I love having this conversation with someone who gets it and sees that, um– That the power is really in the human. And, you know, one example from Infusionsoft, but I think is really interesting as well for your listeners and I think this- this shuttles both the personal and the work, and that is what is your value system?

Right, so what is your personal value system, and what do you- what are the values that you uphold that keep you focus, and also keep you honest, right. And keep you- keep you able to say no to the things that don’t align and then- and then- and then by virtue of saying the nos it- it opens a space for the- for the yeses. And I don’t mean just like yeses, I mean, “Hell, yes,” right. And so, the same applies I think for organizations, whether it’s at the company level what are the values?

And we’re not talking values that are, sort of, marketing yourself on the wall and then no one ever pays attention. And you put them on the website cause it looks cool, [00:24:00] but it’s whatever values that you live by? And one of the things that we did, uh, that was really exciting in fact, as an executive team had spent three days at the Phoenician. I’ll never forget, it was like really long. And, um, uh, really well worth it.

But when you have it smart people in a room they’re all passionate there’s a lot of debate and debate takes time. And at the end of it the donuts that we made was a complete rewrite of our- of our vision, which is your purpose, your mission and your values. And about half of the team, half of the- of the leadership team was new in the last year, to three years, and then the other half were, you know, founders and- and really-really, uh, full time employees.

Um, and so- and so there- there was this- there was a vision that had been written previously but it was time to update, it was time to make it, uh, one that could- one that could travel. You know, one that could be easily understood and didn’t require someone to explain it to you. So I’ll give you an example. Out of this came, uh, our vision and the vi- and our- and our- and our purpose was to help small businesses succeed.

Now that sounds pretty okay, simple well, simple is way harder to get to, way harder and longer to get to. And if I told you [chuckles] it took us I think about, I mean it took us a day and a half just to land on that, right? This is an expensive meeting if you think about it. I mean not only expensive ’cause it’s at the Phoenician. But expensive because you’ve got eight highly paid, you know, execs who are all, you know, uh, going at it. Um, then the other was our values.

And- and my point about values that sit on a website or a wall, versus values that are in execution day to day and one that people adopt. In fact, when- when we would hire people at Infusionsoft, it’s likely still the same today, is you have to be able to memorize and you have to- you have to- you have to, um, share the values from memory. And you walk into meetings and- and, [00:26:00] let’s say you see someone who is just not thinking about not going outside of themselves in a moment, where a decision has been made, and you see an ego show up.

And you would have- you would have permission in the organization to say, “Hey, are we all really checking our egos at the door?” Well, guess what that was one of our values, we check our egos at the door. And so we made this simple to- to understand true to our soul and spirit of the company and the um, and the ideas it was founded on. In a way that, uh, I think at the time it was 10 but it’s since been a thing reduced to seven.

And I always think you know shorter, uh, shorter list is always better. But as an organization, you can even extend this to your department. You know, I don’t know how many of your listeners are within larger organization versus small. But let’s say you have the- the technology department or you have, um, or you have the marketing department. What are the values of your- of your- of your team? Right.

And when each of the individuals in- in your department can be a part of giving birth to those values, they see themselves in it, right? They’ve made a contribution and those- and that value system lives on. Um, and there’s something really I think powerful about that that creates leaders at all levels of the company, at all levels. And, um, and on the other side you know what are your values as a- as a person um, outside of work.

Um, I think it’s a question that we all, um, sort of, kind of, like flossing. Like, “Yeah, that be good,” but how many actually put into practice? I think that’s the difference between successful and I mean monetary necessarily. But successful meaning happy, joyful, fully expressed people who feel like they’re making a difference versus those that are– I don’t know. You know victim, lost, drifting. I think the difference is, is [00:28:00] identifying articulating and living the values.

Kate: That’s great. Um, I truly– I’m sitting here and I’m writing, because all of the things you’re saying, um, really you have to write a book. [laughs] You have you know you have to write a book on this because I feel that you know just this even the words you’re using victim, lost, drifting that is most of people in their day to day jobs.

And really espousing values of the organization, to your point ‘upon the wall’, um, is many times where they stay and they sit and you- you know at your annual review, or your half review you start talking about values. But it’s really the heartfelt. If I’m heartfelt of about the values of myself and the company and my team imagine the possibility.

Kathy: Doesn’t that make you sad to think how many people are just showing up?

Kate: Yeah.

Kathy: And right– Um and you’re– By the way we’re talking like privilege at this point. I mean you know my heart goes out to a single mom who, let’s say, works at a convenience store who’s trying to raise three kids right? And is having a hard time. And I mean like what we’re talking about is, um, and- and their values being aligned, um, can be useful right? But- but I think you know what we’re talking about is- is a level of efficiency, as one example there’s still many other examples.

It’s my one- it’s my one reference, um, that I can point to where we made really big investments, and- and so the return on that. Now it’s not all roses, uh, at the same time too. There’s also challenges to this as well especially as you begin to scale. But, look I mean ultimately leadership is about service. It’s about being of service to others, and how do you do that without your heart being a part of it. I don’t- I don’t know how that how that happens and so. [00:30:00] When you have people that are just showing up think about it, you know, think about it as a lot from a logical perspective Kate. How expensive is that for me, if I’m running 100% organization and 20% of my workforce is just checked out. Okay, that’s super-expensive, really expensive think about that. Um, in productivity in the impact of that 20% on my other, uh, my- my other 80%, and how it’s dragging on the 80% that it should be high performing.

So I think this is the number one problem, um, and a number one opportunity to address. Um, I think the challenges is- is- is it has to be somewhat customized, you know, because not every– The same thing doesn’t light everyone up. So ultimately it has to start at the outse, which is your recruiting. You know, how are you, what is the- what is the brand, what is the message, who are the leaders that are out there waving the flag for this company that is then–

What is the purpose, mission, vision, you know values– what are you up to doing in the world that’s going to attract the kind of people that can be lit up and excited to be getting on the ship and at point say, “Yeah, I wanna go there, you know, I wanna go there. And, uh, and so within recruiting it’s a matter of making sure you’ve got the right people on the bus. Different kinds of people.

I don’t mean the same people that all look the same and act the same and have the same level of its– of life experiences, diversity so- so- so important. That’s something that we really I think missed the mark on at Infusionsoft, especially in the early days. Um, and, uh, you know we see this in the headlines. So many companies are- are, “Challenged by it”. I’d say that’s really more code as in too lazy to do anything about it to be honest, but that’s by another topic.

Kate: Yeah no absolutely. And I think, you know, riding that ship, um, is to your point it’s- they see it as a huge agenda. Um, perhaps isn’t laziness to it, but, uh, you know I also think that is a must do. [00:32:00] And-and your example earlier of 20% of 100 people are not productive. You know, when you look to the stats in the marketplace where people aren’t really intentionally in fuse with what they want to do on a daily basis, it’s almost the reverse, right? That 20% of your people are the doers and 80% are just showing up.

Kathy: Mm-hmm.

Kate: So in- in- incredible examples there. Kathy I could literally talk to you all day on this stuff. I think that, uh, you know we share a lot of the same passion about the whole person. I do-

Kathy: That might be fun, but I don’t know if everyone would wanna listen all day.


Kate: I’m sure they would, you know. Um, I have two other questions for you and they’re much more to do with you personally. Um, you know there’s much talk of discipline morning routines, uh, for leaders as a key to their productivity or even their success. Um, can you describe your morning routine to the listeners.

Kathy: You know, I could make up something that sounds very Tim [Ferris], like, “I’m very disciplined.

Kate: [laughs]

Kathy: And say, “These are the things I do,” and that- that would represent who I was about a year and a half ago, no try really more like. A year and half to two years ago. Currently- currently, uh, it’s a great day if I can get 20- a 20 minute meditation going in the morning before my one year old gets up. And um, I think that for me has been the biggest– And I would– So what I used to do was meditate for 20 minutes then I would journal.

I have this gratitude journal, I’m actually looking at it here. Oh, it’s a five minute journal, um, you can get it online. There’s– I mean today there’s so many journals, but it asked these questions of, “I am grateful for–“, and then you list the three things. “What would make today great?” And then you list the three things and then daily affirmations of I am and then you can list that. And then at the end of the day three amazing things that happened today and you would know that. [00:34:00]

And then the final question for the night would be, how could I have made today better? And you do this every day. And, um– I don’t recall who I heard that said this but, “You can’t be grateful and angry in the same moments.” In other words you- you can’t be grateful for– You can’t feel just gratitude for something, for your life for whatever it is and then also be mad at the same time.

And so while being someone who lives a more great full life is- is a path I’ve been actively choosing to, um, to live on. And I say the last five years have really been an exercise in that and I just– I like my life, um, so much more. But um, ever since having my- my baby, we have a nine year old, and then we’ve got a, um– She’s just turned one few months ago. And so, like I said I’m winning if I can meditate about three or four times a week like that’s a really great week.

Kate: Fantastic. You never leave the door with both– with the same pair of shoes on right? I think sometimes-

Kathy: Yeah.

Kate: -in the mornings it’s, “Did I put an actual pair of shoes on, or- or did I ever got– Because I don’t know if you’re like me, if you find a pair of shoes you like– I buy every color. Um, so you- you will walk out the door with one red, one blue shoe on like, “Okay,-

Kathy: Oh, yeah.

Kate: -this is for every morning. [laughs]

Kathy: Yeah-yeah. Well you know actually my latest life hack was I got rid of all my socks, I did this with my daughter as well. I got rid of all the socks that required you to identify pairs.

Kate: Yeah. Right, right.


Kathy: And we ordered- we- ordered into a block, a bunch of just black. Black low, you know, like a little low no show socks on Amazon. Her and I are now the same size, and so I ordered like three dozen. Split in half she’s got and so there’s never an issue and surprise event at time.

Kate: [laughs]

Kathy: Number one. Number two, when I’m gonna grab socks I can just like done they are there. Um, so that’s been really key. And the other thing I do, which be careful you don’t wanna be driving behind me, or in front of me. I don’t text while I drive but I do- but I use Siri, uh, but I put my make up on the car. [00:36:00] So for me it’s like getting somewhere and then putting the makeup on in the car like that’s how I make it all work, and you know, it’s interesting Kate.

What I’ve realized is, is as a woman especially and a working mother, you can have it all. What I’m realizing is you just can’t have it all now. And so- and so this level of like impatience and it all has to work right now, and all has to happen by the time I’m– insert whatever age, you know, you like made up. I am learning, I think this new education that I’m- that I’m moving through is called the, School of Patience. And it’s not my natural- it’s not my natural way.

Um, and so it’s the way I’m trying to be uncomfortable is just like slow down and just be more patient with myself. Uh, three rules, uh, okay, so one is growth that’s pretty obvious from what we’ve been talking about. Uh, and growth is just possessing, creating, cultivating, fostering this internal motivation to constantly improve as a human being. How to a better friend, a better wife, a better mother, a better- a better- a better fan of myself, a better just humans others.

Um, and I think contained within this idea of growth is to like the highest level is purpose. Um, I don’t mean like this one purpose it’s been emblazoned on your forehead when you were born, and your role is to, sort of, rub it, you know rub at it until you figure out what it is. I mean more of like a higher purpose that’s guiding you. And I am not religious um, but I’m certainly very spiritual. And so I think growth- growth is a function of, um, of growing to be the most- the greatest possible human being that you can be. [00:38:00]

Um, number two is- is– What is that? That’s, um– It’s presence. So it’s finding how do I- how do I find peace, joy, fulfillment and appreciation for this current moment, you know. How do I– like right now here talking to you, how do I enjoy this and be here with you and not think about my 1:30 meeting. And not think about, uh, what I gonna have for lunch after this. You know, like how- how- how I can actually and fully be here and when you’re not there me think about of yourself, we all do this.

Maybe reading a book to your kid at night and you’re not actually think– the words are coming out of your mouth, but are you really there, you know. Um, I admit it happens to me often and so it’s living every day, living every moment and being detached to the outcomes, um, and just being there. And then I’d say the third is contribution. Contribution. How can I be of service? What will you have me- what will you have me do today? I don’t say to myself to this higher purpose, call it God.

My God is not a dude um, but it’s you know sort of a universal power that is out there and, uh, doing its thing. How can I contribute and make a difference and take my talents, my-my resources and my effort towards activities and towards people and communities that are making a difference in the way, um, that I think needs to happen. Um, where we’ve created something better than what we had before. And uh, creating sustainability. So yeah, those three growth. Growth, presence and contribution.

Kate: Thank you very much Kathy. Thank you so much for your time today. Um, incredible insight, um, and an incredible woman, mother and entrepreneur, uh, that you are. Truly inspiring, to me personally and I know to our listeners. 00:40:00] Um, so I really wanna thank you for your time today on our podcast, truly.

Kathy: Okay. Oh, okay. Okay, thank you. Thank you. I- I too enjoy you and I- and I acknowledge you. It’s like, “Right back at you, girl.”

Voice-over: Firstly, thanks for listening and spending time with us. I hope you enjoyed the interview with Kathy. For a transcribed version of the show, head over to B-E-N-I.F-I-T/podcast. This is a start of conversations that begin to identify best practices of when humans strive, companies prosper. If you would like to recommend anyone for the show please email me at [email protected]/fit, [email protected]

[00:40:56] [END OF AUDIO]

Denise Gredler, President and Founder of BestCompaniesAZ on The Benifit

Denise GredlerDenise Gredler built BestCompaniesAZ, a great places to work program in Arizona, from the ground up. After leaving her corporate job in Human Resources to give birth to her son Max, Denise knew she had the skills to be an entrepreneur and create a business of her own. For the past 16 years, she’s grown BestCompaniesAZ into an incredibly respected program in the state, honoring hundreds of Arizona’s best companies over the years. She was named one of AZ Business and AZRE Magazine’s Most Influential Women of 2017. It’s safe to say, Denise is doing amazing things in Arizona.

In this episode of the Benifit, Denise chats with podcast host and co-founder Kate King about what some of Arizona’s best companies are doing to attract and retain talent. She provides context and examples from her experiences working with these companies in a detailed, engaging way. Give this insightful episode a listen below!

Show Highlights:

[00:48] Denise talks about the purpose of Best Companies AZ and shares her motivation for starting it

[06:02] Denise explains how and why she made the jump from working in the corporate world to being an entrepreneur

[10:49] Denise talks about benefits and perks trends she’s seen in Arizona’s best companies

[14:56] Denise sheds light on the importance of Employee Resource Groups

[20:40] Denise shares the building blocks she believes build a great company culture

[28:34] Denise shares her insights about why people leave jobs

[30:36] Denise talks about the 3 rules she lives by


The Benifit Interview w/ Denise Gredler, BestCompaniesAZ President and Founder

[00:00:01] Kate: Good morning Denise, and thank you for joining the Benifit Podcast today.

[00:00:12] Denise Gredler: Well, thank you for having me.

[00:00:14] Kate:  You’re welcome. Firstly, I’d like to truly congratulate you on being honored as AZ Business Magazine’s most influential woman in 2017 for Arizona. This was, to me, very exciting to be able to interview this, and I think it really is an honor that goes to the recognition of the great leadership of what you do at Best Company AZ.

[00:00:37] Denise: Well, thank you.

[00:00:37] Kate: To get us started today in that, can you spend a minute or two on the purpose of Best Company AZ and your motivation for starting it?

[00:00:48] Denise: Yes. Actually, this will take me back to my corporate days when I was the VP of HR for a company that I actually helped create the path to get on Fortune 100 best list. Looking back obviously at the time, I never thought I would be an entrepreneur. But I do see now that that actually built the foundation, my corporate career built the foundation for what I’ve really brought to Arizona over the past 15 years.

I can remember in my corporate job, my CEO walked into my office, tossed the Fortune magazine on my desk and he says to me, “We should be on this list. Why are we not in the list? We’re doing everything that these 100 best companies are doing.” At that time, we were only 150 employees. From that day, I was responsible for helping to grow the culture and the creating a lot of the different programs at the company that eventually were recognized number 12 on Fortune magazine’s 100 best list. I’m not going into a lot of details about I ended up going out on my own.

Right around 9/11, I’m dating myself, right around 9/11, I actually took a maternity sabbatical, and during that time period, our company had a big huge loan write off that actually put the company under. No sooner did we get our company on the Fortune list frenkie number 12, the first year number 16, the second year. The following year, the company was liquidated and my last assignment in my last job at my corporate position was to help everybody go through outplacement. Guess who was the first one to go through outplacement? Me. [laughs]

Obviously in a liquidating company, you don’t need somebody managing corporate culture, training development, organizational development programs. The CEO said to me, “Denise” he said, “You’re going to be one of the first ones to go through it, so find a really good outplacement firm.” We got together with an outplacement firm, and it was actually the coach I had at the outplacement firm that really helped give me the confidence to start thinking about going out in business on my own. That’s kind of how the Best Company model was created. I approached Fortune magazine at the time, the Great Place To Work Institute. I’m assuming you’re familiar with the Great Place To Work Institute, the research partner.

Kate: Absolutely.

Denise: I approached them because I had a relationship with them because of being number 12 on the list.

We were interviewed a lot and shared a lot of different stories, and I asked them, “Would you ever be interested in doing the best place to work list here in Arizona?” I see they were doing the list, I think in Pennsylvania and Idaho at the time. Not thinking they would say yes, I just threw it out there, “Would you want to do it?” They said yes. I kicked off in 2003, the very first best companies to work for, an Arizona program. We had to find a media partner to help us. At the time, I approached the business journal, the Phoenix Business Journal. They were the media partner for the very first program, and my goal in managing the best place to work program was really to help identify in Arizona, who were the companies that truly cared about culture. That was going to be my foundation to start building my practice. Companies that wanted to start going down the path of learning how to build an award-winning culture could participate in the program. For those companies that would win, we would help them with the branding and promotion of their award. For those companies who didn’t win, we would help them through consulting and coaching, survey analysis to help them get there.

From that point on, the business really took on a life of its own with the community. The program was so popular, it went from 20 winning companies the first year, up to I think 75 winning the second, up to a hundred. Now 15 years later, we have like three different award programs in town that many companies, hundreds of companies are benefiting from.

That’s a long answer to how did I get started. It really was my corporate Foundation which at the time, if you would have asked me then, if I would ever be an entrepreneur, I would have said heck no. That would be the last thing that I would think I would do, that it really set me up to be able to create these programs for Arizona and help other companies benefit from them.

[00:05:32] Kate:  What was your — In making that jump to the entrepreneur, I loved how you said it like, “Who would have thought I would ever do that?” What was the two, three highlights, if you like, of making that leap to be an entrepreneur from corporate? Because there’s many people I think who are in corporate want to do it or an entrepreneur and look at corporate. Your perspective on that would be fantastic to hear.

[00:06:02] Denise: Let me take this in and answer this a couple of different ways. The one main reason I think is, when I look back at the company being liquidated — Any HR professional out there who has pride in helping to build a culture that is recognized as number 12. That is a great accomplishment and a lot of fun being able to create something like that for a company. To see that fall apart overnight — when 9/11 had to — you think that nothing would ever happen, that this company would go under.

People think that my company will never go under, they’re going to be around forever. That’s what we thought. I thought I was going to retire at this company. When that came apart overnight, it came apart at the exact same time I was on a maternity sabbatical starting a different phase in my life. I could remember, not going into a lot of details, but a lot of employees lost a lot of money through stock options. I’m at this period of time, I’m a new mom, my son was in the first year of his life. All of a sudden, I don’t have — despite of my corporate life that I had 15 years prior, and I was in a scary place. You lose your nest egg, you’re a new mom, you’re trying to figure out what to do, going back to another corporate environment in HR, I felt would have taken me away from wanting to be a parent. The work in HR, you typically don’t have work life balance. At least back in the 90s was the day of more face time. I would never have been able to have the autonomy or flexibility like you see today, companies offering so many flexible work arrangements. Back in those days, when you were in HR, you were in before the CEO and you left after the CEO.

I just didn’t want to do that, and it was really going through the outplacement and having that coach, that’s why I so much believe in coaching. It was that coach who really helped give me the confidence to show me I have the tools, I have what it takes, I have so much knowledge and information on building an award winning culture that I should be sharing it with others. Instead of going back to just one other company and sharing that knowledge with one other company, why not share it with the community. It was the coaching from my friend Kathy at the time, DBM. I don’t even think they’re around here in Arizona anymore. She really helped me create that path and then they helped me get started. Does that answer your question?

[00:08:43] Kate:  It does, yes. I always think that having those uh huhs coming from a long and bustling corporate career and to the entrepreneur. You have your reasons, but it’s quite interesting the metamorphosis that happens. I did a similar thing in going from a corporate to being an entrepreneur, and for me, the big highlight was that I’d have many different colleagues and great team members who were the masters of their domains.

When you go and you luncheon to be an entrepreneur, you get to learn every single detail and do it yourself on that journey without that kind of support. It’s interesting the resilience you create and you sustain in making that leap, but also the incredible accomplishment you have from getting in at the minimal detail to the big stuff on a daily basis, which is the real beauty of making the leap.

[00:09:50] Denise: Yes, and it’s exciting because, like you said, you’re on your own and you’re able to build – it’s your vision, it’s your company, you can build what you want. But at the same time, you’re learning, oh no, my computer broke down.

[00:10:02] Kate:  Exactly.

[00:10:03] Denise: I can’t pick up the phone and call IT to come and help me. Or I need a payroll check. I can’t call payroll. You’ve got to go into Quick Books, and as you’re getting started, figuring out how to be the accountant, how to be the salesperson, how to be the IT person, how to be the administrator. It was quite the learning curve and I don’t think you ever stop learning as a business owner always trying to juggle all the different hats you have to wear.

[00:10:29] Kate: Yes, absolutely. Denise, thank you. My second question for you is really talking more about companies in Arizona. What are some of the things that Best Companies in Arizona are doing when it comes to creating benefits and parks for employees?

[00:10:49] Denise: I actually manage a couple different programs. One program, I’m the consulting partner for the Republic media AZ central stop companies to work for in Arizona. I have an opportunity to see benchmark data coming from that group, as well as managing Arizona most admired company, where we look at the company a little more holistically. I’d say if I look at both of those audiences, I see — some of the common things that I see this year – It’s actually interesting, because way back in my corporate days, I did a lot of these things. We introduced a lot of these benefits that I’m seeing that it’s even more important today. A lot of companies are focusing on wellness, creating all different types of wellness, creating a wellness environment that looks at the employee as a whole.

From when you enter the door, if you’re a college student having debt to pay from a college loan, to moving into wanting to have a family where you might need some wellness programs to eat healthy through your maternity to baby boomers. If they’re starting to retire, what you could do to help prepare people for financial wellness. It’s the big picture, looking at not only health-wise, the mental wellness as well as financial wellness. I see a lot of companies offer a lot of variety in the different things that they provide.

The second thing I would say is flexibility. Obviously flexible work arrangements have been around for years. Not back in my day. Like I said, I used to have to work face time. It was called face time. If you came in after the CEO, you came in late, if you left before the CEO, you were leaving early, and he used to work 6:00 to 6:00. Today, you see just a lot of flexibility. You see companies and managers allowing people all different types of flextime arrangements, and they’re really accommodating people for each individual person’s needs, whether it be job sharing, coming in late, working remote.

I know some companies offer sabbaticals. We have a lot of clients that offer three month sabbaticals. Companies are offering — three of our clients; Vanguard, USAA and Direct energy, offer 12 weeks of maternity and paternity leave. You see just a whole variety of flexibility in the workplace trying to help employees have that work life balance.

The third thing, actually might be a fourth, but the third thing. You do see a lot of companies creating fun work places. I always tell everybody, that some people when I approach them to participate in competitions, they feel they’re not going to be able to make it because they don’t have maybe all the bells and whistles like a GoDaddy would. If anybody has been to the GoDaddy office, they have an incredible work environment where they have a slide to go from one floor to the next, they have bikes, they have basketball, they have full blown cafeteria. They have a lot of fun things like that. I think Infusionsoft has the football field, the cereal bar.

But you don’t need to have all those things in order to compete to be a best company. Some people might even just have a meditation room, a conference room set up for either yoga or meditation. You’re seeing companies trying to create fun workplaces, but again, customize it to fit your demographics obviously. What did I say? Wellness, work life, creating fun, work places.

The other thing — I don’t know if you would call this a perk, that I’m seeing a lot of different types of employee resource group. Do you know what I mean by Employee Resource Group?

[00:14:54] Kate:  Yes, absolutely. But why don’t you explain that for our listeners?

[00:14:56] Denise: Okay. They’re usually like groups of employees that have commonalities. For example, if I look at Charles Schwab for example, because they have a whole variety. They have an Asian Pacific Islander Network of Black Professionals Association. Almost all the companies we work with have some military veterans group. They have an LGBT group.

Those are some of the common things that you see. They are just groups of employees. When you’re hiring people or want to retain people, you’re creating a community for like-minded people to come together and filling part of the culture and part of the group. Some interesting things I’m seeing that — For example, Schwab has a parents group which — that’s the first time I’ve ever heard of anybody creating an employee group for parents.

I think GoDaddy has a fitness group, fitness and technology, where they have a group of employees to get together, to be active and get fit. You’re just seeing, again, a variety of these employee resource groups surfacing. Again, I believe that it’s all to accommodate the demographics for the workforce and what employees are asking for. That would be — let me think. You have said benefits and perks? Did I cover those?

[00:16:22] Kate: You did. Yes, the fullest. We have wellness, flexibility, making the workplace more fun, and these great groups that are emerging around employee resources. I think they are –

[00:16:33] Denise: Yes. That’s –

[00:16:34] Kate: – great examples.

[00:16:36] Denise: Yes. I think that the employee resource groups really what’s driving that is diversity and inclusion. Everybody is looking and all the companies look at creating an inclusive work environment.

[00:16:50] Kate: Fantastic. Now, that was actually going into my next question I had for you, which is not so much talking about benefits or perks, but the changes you’re seeing and the kinds of things companies are doing in AZ to support the employees. I think that the employee groups or support groups is definitely — No, I think the diversity inclusions have been there for many years. People are getting much more focused on either lifestyle choices, special interests, and I think that is propelling the change.

I love the example you gave of fitness and technology. There’s so much data now that can help aid your fitness. These days, having a group around that then being able to share the autocracy organization, I think it’s a great way that we’re seeing companies change. Is there anything else that you’ve seen in terms of changes around the employees support?

[00:17:51] Denise: Let me think here. A couple of things. It relates to the diversity and inclusion group. I think some of the changes or the shift maybe in this direction is to create more of an inclusive environment. I know several of our clients here in Arizona have high volume hiring. They do a lot of hiring. I think these types of groups even help with recruiting.

For example, the military veterans group or the Black Professionals Association group or the Schwab parent group, they can be utilized as a team of employees who are out there trying to generate employee referrals to help recruit like-minded individuals who will fit the culture at these companies.

And then in terms of retention, I think you’re seeing a lot of these groups, because it also helps to retain people because you do feel you’re part of the family. Not only part of the family as a whole with the company, but with your department or with some of the employee resource groups or the community outreach groups. Almost every company does something, giving back to the community and they have teams of employees who get together for that as well.

In terms of change, the one thing I do notice is just, because I’ve been managing over the years award competitions, I am seeing more and more companies wanting to participate in a top company to work for program. Whether it’s a state program, an industry program or national program like the Fortune Program, whether it’s best places to work in IT that I think computer world runs.

I think The Great Place to Work Institute has all different types and best place to work programs for millennials and all the different demographics. I think that’s what you’re seeing. Companies are now seeing — CEOs, CFOs, the ones who usually manage the numbers, they are seeing the ROI. They know that there is ROI that these companies are building this great culture and then they are being branded and recognized as the best place to work, that really does impact your bottom line in terms of obviously low turnover hypertension, and in just in recruiting, just recruiting alone. They’re able to hire and attract high-quality people.

[00:20:19] Kate: To that point where are we getting into culture and really attracting talent, and in your experience, being both an entrepreneur and helping companies and really consulting with companies as well as your corporate experience, what would you say are the key building blocks of the great culture?

[00:20:40] Denise: I actually have a model that we use, but I think big picture the core building block really I think is trust building. Building trust in a work environment. I think if you look at how Fortune evaluates and ranks their winners, it’s all about trust and they break that down into three areas. I’m going back to a model they used to use years ago, that trust has to do with credibility, respect, and fairness. That’s all again about how you treat your employees, how managers treat employees, how employees treat one another.

A lot of companies will say to me, why don’t I want to participate? We don’t have enough money to pay for the perks and the compensation that these other companies are doing. I tell them that really the main driving force behind building the best place to work is creating an environment of trust. Where your employees are respected, and there’s fairness, there’s camaraderie, and people enjoy working together. That’s what it’s all about.

When you look at some of the competitions, I know in just things that I’ve been involved in, pay and benefits, yes, they’re important, but are they what is driving in the rating so to speak of how you’re selected as a best company? Probably not. It’s more that relationship. It’s more the relationship with managers and employees and with the team environment.

[00:20:24] Kate:  Great.

[00:20:24] Denise: Did that answer your question?

[00:27:26] Kate: It does, absolutely. I think that for the most part people going back to the four things that you mentioned earlier on perks and benefits, I feel that some people, some companies get confused in that. That as we start looking at perks and benefits that’s really building that environment, but that not necessarily is then your culture statement. I think having the purpose of your company really be foundational to their annual culture. Then the building block on top of the culture then becomes, what are you doing to keep, to retain, attract and really grow your ROI in executing a great culture? I think that’s very distinct steps there, that some companies may have trouble along across the landscape on. I think [crosstalk] now very well in those three things and trust. I completely agree with that. To me is fundamental in any relationship regardless of work or my boss, my employees etc.

[00:28:34] Denise: It’s like you hear everybody say people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. That’s so true. When you really get in and you research turnover and why people are leaving, the majority of the time, that’s just from my own personal experience, is that, number one, there was no path for development or no opportunity for growth. Or they just did not have a good working relationship with the boss, or they had conflicting values or their values weren’t in line with the company values.

Even like looking at the AZ central top companies benchmark data, there’s eight different criteria that we’ll look at, and the ones that are rated the highest is in the categories of corporate culture, communications, leadership planning, role satisfaction, and relationship with supervisors. They’re usually in the 90% to 92% favorable range. Then when you look at training the development and paying and benefits, their average score is like around 87%.

You see that there’s a difference, that there’s more emphasis even though that’s not a big gap. There’s typically more emphasis and that you have higher favorable ratings as it relates to culture, communication, satisfied in what they’re doing with their job satisfaction.

That’s what really drives the company to get on these best place to work with. That encouraged anyone whoever– if you ever work with anyone who feels they don’t have a robust benefit package or comp package, that that should not discourage them. If they have a good culture, good people, and a good vision and employees engaged, they would do very well in the competition.

[00:25:27] Kate: Okay, great, that’s good to know. Denise, I’m going to switch gears, if that is okay with you. Because I’d really appreciate it. I think we’ve got a tremendous amount of great information that our listeners can actually go and put into practice whether they reach out to you directly or they’re just kind of getting started in this arena. I’m going to switch gears, if that’s okay to you. We heard a bit about you at the beginning and you are making strides from corporate into being an entrepreneur. And there’s two questions that I feel that are always great to really get underneath, what powers people through the day. The first one is, what does your morning routine look like?

 [00:25:14] Denise: My morning routine. As I mentioned a little bit earlier when we were talking, my morning routine — I have good intention, so let’s put it that way. I have good intentions to get up early, and early for me would be probably like 6:00 AM. I know some of my colleagues get up at 3:30 to get to the gym. I am not a morning person.

[00:26:36] Kate: Wow. 3:30, that’s impressive.

[00:26:40] Denise: Yes. I have one colleague who he gets up at 3:30. That’s his productivity time, I think for a couple of hours, and then he goes off to the gym and then he goes to work. I’m usually up at 6:00. I try to get up early, but I’m usually up at 6:00 and I usually try to work out in the morning. Like, try to at least get 30 minutes in with an elliptic or 30 minutes walking. But do I do that every day? No. That typically could be dependent as a working mother. It all depends on what’s going on with my son that morning. You think when your children get older, it will be easier, but sometimes it’s just as challenging trying to deal with a teenager getting them out the door.

If I could describe what my perfect day would look like, it would be working out in the morning. After I workout, I typically will do my e-mails, and usually from home, I’ll be responding to e-mails before I get to the office. Then once I get into the office, I work with one of my colleagues, Lindsey, who helps me run the operations side of the business. She is really good at setting up our goals for the week. We use the system that she introduced me to called trello. We’ll set up what our priorities are for the day, and she has really helped me.

Prior to that, I’d be on my own, as I said as an entrepreneur trying to figure out where to focus your time, whether it’s sales, or service, or accounting, she’s really good at coming in and kind of setting the tone for the day of what the team needs to focus on. We typically will follow her lead. I always tell her, “You’re my boss, you tell me what you want me to focus on today and then we’ll get it done.”

It’s interesting, when my son was younger, my mornings were always off. I never was able to do anything in the morning. I thought once he became a teenager, I’d get into my routine where I could get up at 3:30 and do the early morning workout. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m never going to be a morning person. I do what I can to at least get some sort of exercise in. I do daily reading. I have daily reading or daily prayer, daily meditation. I look at every single day to kind of set the tone for the day and then take it from there.

[00:29:08] Kate: That’s great. It’s interesting you say you’re not a morning person. I think some people say 6:00 AM, that’s definitely morning. [laughs]

[00:29:16] Denise: Yes.

[00:29:17] Kate: In the middle of the night person at 3:30 AM.

[00:29:22] Denise: Actually I know my one friend who gets up at 3:30. I said to him half the time I’m going to bed. I used to go to bed at like 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning because I couldn’t sleep. At least now I’m getting to bed by 11:00. If that I used to stay up all hours of the night working, that’s when I would have my peak productivity. But again as a mother, you work around your family schedule, on when you can have that quiet time.

[00:29:46] Kate: Absolutely. Denise, to close out the podcast, and thank you for all the insights, especially for businesses and your experience in that cross between corporate and being an entrepreneur. What are the three rules you live by?

[00:30:06] Denise: The three rules I live by. I would say, looking at the three rules I live by, just overall, not just in business, just in life, is I try to be true to who I am. I guess authenticity, be authentic, be real. I think I learned this early, early in my 20s when I first started my career in HR. I had a CEO who told me to never be afraid of asking questions. Never try to pretend you know something you don’t. If you don’t understand, ask the question. I think within my career, that helped me always just be real and just true to who I am, I can’t pretend to be somebody I’m not.

The second thing is I do try to operate always with high integrity. Sometimes I’m so honest, even I tell my son, I can’t even tell little white lies sometimes. I just always I’m trying to teach high integrity operating with the highest level of ethics. I know over the years, being an entrepreneur, I actually– there are some people that I have not worked with because maybe conflicting values. I really try to stay true to that, to always operate with high integrity.

I think the other thing I’ve always operated by is I always try to put people first. When I look at in business, putting people first, people are driving your business, people are what you need to run your business. I think sometimes as a business owner, it’s hard you know being an entrepreneur that you have to make business decisions that I try to always balance managing by the heart and the mind. A lot of times I’m managing more by the heart, and as an entrepreneur, you can do that, but there’s pros and cons to doing that. I think that I will always put people before any financial conflict, or any type of conflict. I’m always focusing at before I go to bed at night, how can I resolve this conflict with anybody? Again, I think that stems back to my early teenage days or childhood days, with my parents training me to never go to sleep mad or angry at anyone.

[00:32:40] Kate: Thank you.

[00:32:42] Denise: Those are three, right?

[00:32:43] Kate: Yes, they’re three.

[00:32:43] Denise: Authenticity, integrity, and always put people first.

[00:32:48] Kate: I love your first one. I love them all. But your first one on being authentic. I think people come into an environment and think they have to know everything. That somehow creates anxiety with people and that creates a challenging environment. Having the freedom and the permission to ask questions and be inquisitive and curious, I think absolutely makes not only for a great person to live their truths, but also great companies in which have that real open and honest transparency in it. So I love authenticity.

[00:33:25] Denise: Exactly. Even when I think about making mistakes, or if you screw up, or an employee makes a mistake, don’t ever be afraid to just admit. I’ve never had a problem, even with clients, if I dropped the ball or something. I’m always going to make it up to them. I may have slipped on — missed a deadline, but I’m going to go above and beyond and make it up for you in another way. I never try to pretend that or wipe mistakes under the carpet. I’m always just very transparent.

[00:34:02] Kate: Fantastic. Denise, my sincere thanks for joining us today on the Benefit podcast, it’s been a real pleasure getting to know you a bit and really understand your journey as well as the really useful insights you’ve given to our community. Thank you.

[00:34:19] Denise: Well, thank you. Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed it and I am looking forward to learning more about your organization and things that we could possibly be doing together.

[00:34:30] Kate: Wonderful.

Kelly Fitch, Culture and Events Manager at Weebly on The Benifit

kelly fitch Kelly Fitch was hired as Weebly’s 60th employee. Now, nearly 4 years later, the web-hosting service has more than 300 employees around the world and Kelly has been an integral part of building the startups innovative and inclusive internal culture. Serving on the People and Culture team, Kelly plans events and implements policies at the company’s San Francisco headquarters that help employees connect to the company’s values and have fun.

In this episode of The Benifit, Kelly chats with podcast host Kate King about how Weebly makes sure job candidates are a good culture fit before they’re hired, how company culture  differs from office to office and how Weebly does perks differently. We could all learn a thing or two from Kelly’s experience at this successful global company. Listen to the full episode below!

Show Highlights:

[01:10] Kelly talks about how Weebly has grown since she started in 2014

[02:55] Kelly explains why Weebly does “on-sites” to show job candidates the company culture

[04:29] Kelly shares Weebly’s mission and why radical respect is central to the company

[06:17] “There isn’t just a one cookie cutter culture stamp that you can put on every office”

[08:46] Kelly talks about Weebly’s sidekick program

[11:00] “Inclusion is a huge part of Weebly”

[15:14] Kelly talks about internal communication best practices

[18:10] Kelly shares some of Weebly’s employee perks

[22:00] Kelly talks about Weebly’s incredible company trips

[25:28] Kelly shares her morning routine.

[27:47] Kelly talks about the three rules she lives by

The Benifit Interview w/ Kelly Fitch, Culture and Events Manager at Weebly

[background music]

[00:00:05] Kate: My guest today is Kelly Fitch, manager of people and culture at Weebly. Weebly is a web posting service that features a drag and drop website builder, enabling entrepreneurs to start and grow an online business.

We discuss the values within the Weebly culture and the different perks and initiatives that happen to connect their global offices. Kelly also shares with us her three rules to live by, which include make it happen and appreciate people by going above and beyond.

Good afternoon, Kelly, and welcome to The Benefit podcast where we talk to real progressive enablers of culture employee well-being and benefits. Thank you for joining me.

[00:00:49] Kelly Fitch: Thank you for having me, Kate.

[00:00:51] Kate: You’re very welcome. Before we get started on culture, I understand you were the 60th employee at Weebly and now there are over 300. Can you share with us and the listeners the reason for you joining Weebly and what you’ve learnt to date?

[00:01:10] Kelly: Absolutely. I started at Weebly in 2014. I was the 60th employee at our San Francisco headquarters. At that time, we were growing our offices. We opened up an office in Scottsdale, Arizona about the same week that I started. So I was seeing growth early on. It was exciting to see an office that really invested in culture early.

When I started, it was a very small, close-knit company. It still is today, which is really unique. What was interesting when I started was because it was so close-knit, we wanted to start that culture in our Scottsdale office too, and also in New York. I was new to Weebly, I was new to tech. This was my first job out of college. I was really learning from day one what Weebly was, what the values were and how we can grow that in our offices across the world.

It’s been interesting to see it grow from 60 to 300. There are new challenges every week, every month, and just trying to create that culture that still has that vibe from the beginning, and then also is being changed as we grow in creating new values, creating new things that are important to the culture here.

[00:02:41] Kate: Fantastic. Talk to us, if you would, about the building blocks of culture at Weebly and some of the initiatives you put in place, so that everybody lives and breathes those values on a daily basis.

[00:02:55] Kelly: Some of the things that I think really get people in the mindset of what our culture is early on is that we do on sites, which is pretty unique to Weebly. We start this in the interview process where we have a normal interview routine with phone screens, face-to-face interviews.

Then they actually come on site for a few days, ranging from 1-5 days, where employees or candidates get to come in and actually work as if they were a full-time employee for a day or two. This really gives them the opportunity to see what Weebly is, what our culture is, what it would it be like to work here.

Investing in a company is a huge thing since it is a big part of your life and your time. So we want employees, once they join, to already know what it’s like to work here. Candidates, we find that they have a really great experience with this. We get to know them pretty well before they actually join and there are no surprises on either end. Because I think it’s really important that we not only join or choose the company– I’m sorry. We don’t choose the candidate, but they also have to choose us. They have to really be aligned with our values, our mission, and be as accredited as we are.

[00:04:22] Kate: Could you just maybe highlight for us the key values and mission of Weebly?

[00:04:29] Kelly: Yes. Our mission is for to help entrepreneurs succeed. That’s something that’s huge. We really want to help entrepreneurs have an easy way to create and build a website and e-commerce store. One of our main values is radical respect plus honesty equals trust. That’s been a value that has been around since day one. As our company has grown, the values have also changed, which I think has been really interesting and something that we work on [inaudible 00:05:02] here as we have to realize that our values change as we grow bigger and the people change as well.

Realizing that you have to iterate on the values is super important. The radical respect one is huge. I think if you ask anyone that works with the company, this is something that they embody everyday. We really trust each other to get the job done, and you know the person sitting next to you is doing just as much work as you are, if not more. It creates this culture of just excitement and passion. It really makes you want to do your job better every day.

[00:05:44] Kate: You mentioned earlier that you’ve had rapid growth and you’ve got multiple offices and you’re really invested. One of your mandates is really the culture and the people outside. You mentioned challenges, maybe could you outline a couple of challenges that come along the way with that fast growth so some of our listeners can feel some empathy and, “Yes, I got that. I totally see that in our company too.”

[00:06:17] Kelly: Absolutely. One, this is an example of just realizing with the different offices some of the challenges is, something that works for our San Francisco office doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for our Scottsdale office or our New York office or our Toronto office. There isn’t just a one cookie cutter culture stamp that you can put on every office. Keeping the culture similar but realizing that there’s always going to be its own twist for each office is huge.

One way we realized this was when we were figuring out how to get people to bond in our Scottsdale office when that was growing and becoming bigger. In San Francisco, we have lots of team-building events, lots of events to gather the team. For instance, we’ll all have dinner together one night, or we’ll all go bowling. But for our Arizona office, it’s much different because they have different set schedules and it’s really hard for someone who has to go in at 6:00 AM to be at an event at 6:00 PM in the evening.

That was a challenge. We didn’t understand why people didn’t want to go to these team-building events or these happy hours. We realized that’s not [inaudible 00:07:36] we’re going to have our Scottsdale office get to know each other and bond, because it wasn’t going to work that way. It’s going to just be a different way of getting the team together.

We realized that instead of after work activities, we’re going to do this during lunch. We’re going to have a Halloween event during the different lunch shifts, different contests, and have that happened during the day when everyone’s there, instead of expecting people to have to stay after work when they perhaps get in at 6:00 AM.

That was a challenge that took us some time to realize it doesn’t need to be the same in every office, and figure out ways that each office can have their own little twist on the Weebly way of doing things.

[00:08:19] Kate: How do you handle a challenge then, or do you have any challenges? If your core pillars are radical respect plus honesty equals trust, do you see any challenges of people not honoring that? Perhaps everybody comes in with the assumption of honoring that. But when you see somebody not honoring that, what kind of activity is everybody empowered to do?

[00:08:46] Kelly: We actually don’t find that people have a hard time embodying that value. Again, this is, I think, thankful for on-site, we really find out who people are during the on-site. If they’re not going to embody those values from their on-site, it’s probably not going to work out. It’s very clear, we’ve definitely had people for on-sites that we realize they don’t have that value in them.

That’s not necessarily something you can teach. People should have radical respect. people should respect each other and come in, and I think that’s clear. It’s something that our CEO definitely makes clear. We have a handbook that’s really fantastic. It’s called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Weebly. It outlines everything for candidates and new hires what it’s like to be a Weebly. Lots of information about our values, and it really gets them up to speed with the Weebly way, as I mentioned earlier.

Then another thing that’s also fantastic for our new hires is we pair everyone with a sidekick This started with our first employee nine years ago, and it still happens today, which I am so thankful that we are able to keep this going.

The sidekick program is every new hire gets paired up with an employee that’s been here for a while. They write a handwritten note, it’s on their first day. When they get to their desk, there’s a little note from their sidekick, and it just says, “Welcome to Weebly. I’m going to guide you in your first week here.” They get lunch together, and the new hire is able to ask this Weebly employee really anything about the company. The sidekick’s there to get them up to speed, show them all the little ins and outs of things here.

It’s not just even the first week, it’s ongoing. So a month in, the sidekick will say, “Hey, how’s it going? Do you want to grab a smoothie? Can I answer any questions that you might have?” That’s been really helpful for our people ops team because we’re not the only ones guiding them and helping them. It’s not also just the manager, it’s a whole team effort here to get everyone to be a part of the family.

Speaker 2: Just talking about that, like creating that family culture, can you talk about other initiatives that you do or you’ve implemented that continue and expand that? That was a great example, perhaps you have another?

Speaker 1: Inclusion is a huge part of Weebly. We started a diversity committee about a year-an-a-half ago that I lead. We really are always thinking of different ways to make Weebly more diverse and inclusive, and it’s an ongoing thing for us. It’s always going to be something that’s top of mind. As we grew, that’s something that had become really obvious, that we need to think about all the different people that work at a company. How can we make this a place that people of all types, all backgrounds, want to be at and want to stay at.

So we created this diversity committee, and people from all different teams are on it. Engineers, product, designers, recruiting, basically someone from every team is a part of this. We meet once a month and discuss ways that we can be more inclusive, and that’s really been a huge driver for different events here. I think that creates a culture just of belonging.

Some of the events that, again, we probably wouldn’t have done when I started, because families and all these different things were not really top of mind for our really young founders.

We have different family picnics. We have women’s events. This is a huge one that I really love is we have women’s power hours. The women of Weebly meet once a month, and we get together, discuss different TED Talks, different topics that are really relevant to women in a workforce, and especially in Tac, and that different women lead it. For instance, our CFO, Kim Jabal, led a session on negotiation. We had another someone from finance lead one on body language and different things that women can change or just be aware of. It’s just a community of women here that share personal stories and we offer support to each other.

So that’s an example of something that came up out of the diversity committee. We also have a parents group, that was new. The parents get together. They were going to be planning a movie night for the parents, because sometimes it’s hard for parents to get together for an event after work, they have to go home. So instead of having them perhaps miss out on some of these things that we’re doing, we’re going to start doing more events during the day or at lunch.

These are just simple things that have been really great to make sure that everyone’s a part of the culture, and that it doesn’t feel like they have to pick and choose like work-life balance. “Hey, if I go to all of these events, I’m missing out on my child,” or, “Hey, I don’t want to personally go to a gaming marathon,” and things like that. We just want to make sure that we have all these different events for all different types of people.

Speaker 2: Talk to me if you would. I know you have many offices. You mentioned Scottsdale, New York, Toronto, San Francisco. I love that Weebly have instituted local look and feel of the company. With any multiple location company, there’s always that challenge around communication. Can you just go into that, how you tackle having consistent communication across. the offices even though you may have individual or local events, that real culture push and the values that Weebly has? How do you communicate and keep consistent across the offices?

[00:15:14] Kelly: That’s a great question. I think that’s something that we are always looking to improve. Something that works really well for us is– well, for a lot of companies: Slack is a great way to communicate quickly. I have a direct rapport in New York and we’re on different time zones. I communicate with her on Slack all the time. I communicate when I’m on my bus ride to work with her on there. It’s just a really quick and easy way to get things done with people from all over the world working for Weebly.

I think another one is just to be very aware that we are on different time zones. For instance, even at Scottsdale and San Francisco, for half the year we’re on the different time zone. Just being very aware that, “Hey, if you want something done, realize we’re on different zones here and to plan ahead.” For All Hands we do a company-wide- All Hands that get streamed through YouTube and we record it so if people want to watch that weren’t able to, for instance, in our Berlin office, they can tune in the next day and watch it again.

I think we’re always trying to figure out ways to communicate better. One thing, it’s kind of related to communication or just bringing the offices together and to understand each other better, we have this program called the Customer Experience Program where we send people from our San Francisco office, from our New York office, basically all offices, to our Scottsdale office to understand what goes on there every day.

Because they are the one office where they’re doing something a bit different than the others. They’re the ones that are chatting with our customers every single day, seven days a week. They’re helping our customers with different issues. We actually get our engineers, our executive team, everyone on the phone with our customers, helping them through different bugs that pop up or different questions that they have.

That’s been a really great way to understand each other better. That also helps with communication, because for our teams, they can understand what is needed from each role. I think that’s really helped with communication between our Scottsdale and other offices.

[00:17:40] Kate: There are some great examples there. Thank you. You and I were talking briefly before and we were talking about perks. You’ve mentioned a few perks that Weebly offers, and that whole well-being of employees is really critical on the agenda right now. We always talk about when humans right companies prosper. Talk to me a little bit about the perk program at Weebly for our listeners.

[00:18:10] Kelly: We always try to do our perks a little differently, as you know. I mentioned, it is very competitive, and there always are these standard regular perks, which I still think are incredible. We offer breakfast, lunch and dinner. We offer two 30-minute massages a month for employees. We have gym, yoga, boot camp sessions. We do a company trip every year. We have unlimited vacation.

Again, those are unfortunately the kind of standard for Tac these days. But we also do offer several unique things to Weebly, which I love. One of them is the Wanderlust Program, and we implemented that this year. We are able to retain our employees for many years, which is incredible. Again, we still have our first employee, who’s at 9 years.

Sometimes, at that time people need a break and people need to stop doing work for a bit, recharge. Even with the unlimited vacation, it’s hard to really, really unplug sometimes for a big amount of time. This Wanderlust program gives those employees that break instead of having them feel like they need to change a job or take a huge chunk of time away from work.

So once employees’ at their five year, they get to take five weeks paid time off. They can use that to recharge, focus on personal or professional development or just travel. We actually help fund those adventures, and it’s a really fantastic thing that I’m really excited that we implemented.

Another one is– this is kind of how we grew. We realized that the two floating holidays that we gave every year. We used to give random days off, like the day after Halloween off and National Beer Day. We realized those aren’t really connected to our values in any way. They don’t really have any value to our company. So instead of giving those days off, we decided that we were going to dedicate two days where employees could take off to volunteer. They can either volunteer on their own, or go to organized events that I plan.

For instance, we actually have a group today that is helping out at Glide, which is- they’re making food for homeless. People would really enjoy the fact that they’re allowed to take those days off. It’s not vacation days, it’s just really days where they can go do what they want to help the community.

Another great perk that we offer is we gift every Weebly a $100 to spend on a Weebly customer every year. I love this one because not only does it support our customers, but it really helps us understand who our customers are, because we’re sifting through a ton of different Weebly sites, figuring out what gifts we want to get people for the holidays, and we can see our product in real life. I love that. I actually got a portrait painted of my pug from a Weebly customer called Portraits For Pets. I think it’s just a really unique perk that, again, gives back to our customers.

[00:21:41] Kate: You mentioned the Wanderlust, you work for five years and then you get five weeks paid off?

[00:21:49] Kelly: Yes, in addition to unlimited vacations.

[00:21:51] Kate: Wow, that’s fantastic. I love it. Talk to me about your company trip. What goes on– is everybody in the company?

[00:22:00] Kelly: The company trip, this has been going on for years. What we do is we have our New York, Berlin, Toronto, San Francisco offices all get to on a trip. The Scottsdale office does a staycation which is super fun.

Again, this is iterating on what works. Being able to leave the office has worked for other offices, but we can’t step away from our customers, they still need our help. It’s really hard to get everyone to stop working in simple way because we, again, want to support our customers and be there for them. Instead, we created a staycation and did a full week of really fun activities in our Scottsdale office.

But for the actual trip, we get to go to different destinations every year. This year, we went to San Diego. It’s just a great way to step away from the day-to-day, and reconnect, get everyone together from all offices. We have a meeting where we discuss our values, and we have different team building activities that we do. It’s just also a great way to get to know each other with different activities unrelated to work.

People went off and went jet skiing, some people went on a hike, and we all shared our photos together. It was really fun to see the different people just doing their own thing but with each other. It was really helpful for me, I was the event person, to have people kind of create their subgroups. Again, these aren’t cliques. People created Slack channel saying, “Hey, I want to go on a food tour, who wants to join?” A random group of people joined and they made it happen.

It’s been a really unique thing that we do every year. We’ve been to Hawaii, we’ve been to Monterrey. Again, a very special perk. I am very lucky that we get to do that.

[00:24:13] Kate: What I love about it, I think there’s lot of stories about company trips where you sit in a conference room for many, many hours reading over powerpoint decks and presentations. Being able to actually be part of something bigger that that human connection and the human well-being of your colleagues is something that Weebly embraces, I think, is phenomenal perk to everybody.

I think to your point when you see your attrition numbers, they’re probably a lot lower in a very tough competitive talent industry. So I take my hat off. I think those are wonderful, wonderful perks. Now, Kelly, if you don’t mind I’m just going to switch to a couple of questions which I love our listeners to have some insight into the guest we have on, and that is two questions. One, about your morning routine, if you have one, or maybe an evening routine that really sets you up to be productive and gives you that human thrive feeling to go get your day. What did your morning routine or your evening routine look like?

[00:25:28] Kelly: Yes, it’s a good question. I actually don’t have really anything related to– I know a lot of people do meditation, or they do kind of mindfulness things. I love waking up, I check my phone, I see what notifications I get in. Since we do have offices around the world, I do get notified at all hours. So I like to take care of anything that is urgent or put out any fires that I can before I get ready for the day. That helps me get set up. Even if it’s an hour before I would normally get into the office, I’m happy to take care of that before I actually leave my house.

Once I get ready, I walk to work. That’s my mindful meditation time, and it’s just so I get to do two things at once. I get exercise, I get to clear my head, but I also get to work. So I love using that time as productive time. Sometimes, I take the bus and that’s, again, where I start doing emails, I start checking at Slack. I use that time to get things done.

I also like to go in a little bit earlier than most people to the office. It just helps me get a head start on the day where if there is something that pops up, I can take care of it before the majority of folks come into the office. That helps so much with stress, just getting it right for everyone for the majority of folks to come in and everything is running smoothly.

Then at the end of the day, I really just check my calendar so there are no surprises the next day if there’s something I perhaps forgot about. I check to see what’s going on and prepare a little bit if there’s something that I need to get done before I go to sleep, I will.

I think, all of the time, some people really like to disconnect from work, but I love what I’m doing. This is, again, what my passion is. Sso I don’t mind doing this. It’s not expected of me, but this is how I really like to get set up, is kind of always be connected to what’s going on, because people are constantly going to me for certain things and I like to be there for everyone.

[00:27:41] Kate: What’s three rules you live by?

[00:27:47] Kelly: One of them is just something that my mom always said to me growing up when I had crazy schedules, or a lot on my plate was, it’s very simple, it’s make it happen. It could be really interpreted however you want. It’s very, again, simple. But this has really helped me focus my energy in the right place. Some days I, again, will check my calendar that night before and realize, “Oh, my gosh, I have to do XYZ. I don’t know how I’m really going to get all of these done tomorrow.”

This really just help me realize to take one thing at a time and don’t worry about, “Oh, you have a presentation at this time, at this time and then you have to speak at All Hands.” Instead of looking at all of these different things that might intimidate me or something I might be nervous about– speaking at All Hands, no matter what I’m always nervous.

So I think just taking one thing at a time really help me focus my energy, and made intimidating situations more approachable for me. So make it happen as just simple thing that we always joke about, my mom and I, still today.

Another one that I really like that my team really embodies, I make sure I do whenever I’m giving information to the team, I constantly send emails, newsletters, FAQs. I think answering questions before people ask them, for my role, is super important. I like to set my team up so they are best prepared for anything that’s going on.

For instance, getting everyone on a flight to Hawaii, you need to have everyone knowing what’s going on. Instead of having people wonder, “Oh, well, what would should I pack?” or “What do I do? Should I print out my ticket?” People have the most crazy questions which I love to hear, but I think answering those questions, preparing them for what’s to come and what they need to do is really important.

That’s something that my team and I are always thinking about before we send emails, before we put something on our HQ site. We’re always trying to figure what questions people will have, and just get that information to them before they even ask that question. It really helps with time management too. Less of people are reaching out with simple questions that we can answer in advance.

Then the last thing that I always live by is write thank you notes. I always write thank you notes. I think, in a digital world, handwritten notes are not really common anymore, but I love to do that and I think it really goes a long way. I do write email thank you notes whenever I can’t do a handwritten. But handwritten notes, we actually do a lot of that at Weebly. That’s something that when I started I realized we should do hand write notes for different celebrations.

For instance, we do handwritten notes for birthdays, anniversaries, welcome cards on their first day. As I mentioned, the sidekicks write notes to their new hires on that day, and then even the founders write thank you cards and sign the anniversary cards. I remember I got a note from three founders, and it meant a lot seeing that in handwriting and not just be a email. So writing thank you notes, something I love to do.

[00:31:03] Kate: Great. No, that appreciation that somebody took the time, I agree with you, it’s very elegant and well-meant and well-received. Kelly, thank you so much for your time today. Its been a really great insight into Weebly and the phenomenal things that you’re doing, not just from a parks perspective but maybe aligning up the culture and having everybody live and breath it every day. I truly want to thank you for your time and joining us today.

[00:31:31] Kelly: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.

[background music]

[00:31:34] Kate: Firstly, thanks for listening and spending time with us. I hope you enjoyed the interview with Kelly. For transcribed version of this show, head over to benifit/podcast. B-E-N-I.F-I-T/podcast. This is the start of conversations that begin to identify the best practices of when humans thrive companies prosper. If you would like to recommend anyone for the show, please email me at [email protected] [email protected]

[00:32:20] [END OF AUDIO]

Podcast Roundup: What We’ve Been Up To on The Benifit

Exciting things have been happening on the Benifit since we launched last month! We’ve got 5 entertaining, information-packed episodes with human resources industry leaders and culture creators from across the country.

Here’s a look at some of the highlights of each of our first 5 episodes:

Episode 1: Featuring Brett Farmiloe, CEO of Markitors

Brett says he tries to be like a baby fainting goat when it comes to his career.

“Baby fainting goats don’t faint. They’re fearless creatures, they have yet to learn any kind of brett farmiloefear like the adults. That’s how I try to approach each day. It’s kind of just from a fearless angle so that I don’t paralyze and I continue to make some progress.”

Brett’s explained that his morning routine for success starts the night before when he makes a list of six things he wants to accomplish the next day. The list of 6 things allows him to stay focused and feel the satisfaction of getting everything he planned to done at the end of the day.

Listen Here! 

Episode 2: Tamara Lilian, Manager of Culture and Experience at HubSpot

Tamara shared some of the programs HubSpot has to help employees grow personally and professionally.

Tamara Lillian“One of the ways that we do that internally is we host master classes. Master classes are one-hour classes. They’re taught by employees for employees, so that makes that a free resource that any company can run with.”

“Another program that we have is our free books program. This is a digital library, if you will. We really encourage folks. If you find a book that you feel will help further your career at HubSpot and help you grow personally and professionally, we’re happy to provide that for you.”

“We also provide tuition reimbursement. The cost varies a little bit depending on the country. I know in the United States, it’s about $5,000 a year. Again, this is really just showing the team that while we have some really amazing internal resources, we also know that there’s some great external resources out there as well and we want folks to learn from diversity of thoughts.”

Listen Here!

Episode 3: Arte Nathan, Former CHRO of Wynn Resorts and President of Strategic Development Worldwide

Arte Nathan is a longtime veteran of the human resources industry. He shared what he feels companies need to do to enable people to thrive and stay with their company.

“I think you have to treat them with respect. I think you have to create an environment of trust, arte nathanand I think you have to make them very comfortable with who they are, and where they are.”

Arte says it’s important for companies to “catch” and celebrate employees when they’re doing something well,

Listen Here! 

Episode 4: Eric Severson, Chief People Officer at DaVita Kidney Care

Eric has been called the “zen master of flow.’” He says this may be a slight exaggeration, but says he feels called to help individuals reach their full potential through their work. Here’s how he does it.

“I try to do that as an operating leader within a business by finding ways that through work,  Eric seversonindividuals can learn habits of being, that allow them to thrive in all aspects of their life while at the same time driving better business outcomes. To me, it’s about being able to teach people through their work life skills that make them better at their jobs but also better at the rest of their lives. Like better parents, better spouses or partners, better community members, better volunteers etcetera.”

Check out the episode to hear more about how Eric creates an atmosphere and lifestyle of wellbeing at DaVita and in his personal life.

Episode 5: Paul Wolfe, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Indeed

Paul Wolfe believes in treating people like adults. Sounds simple right? Here’s what Paul had Paul Wolfeto say about why unlimited paid time off treats people like adults and how it’s affected the company’s culture.

“It’s not that policing factor of like, oh, Paul’s taken six days off in the last 30 days or the last
90 days. It’s who hasn’t taken time off? If there’s a reason I haven’t taken time off because of working on this big project or a big product that we’re about to push out, like okay. But we should make sure they take time off after that. If there isn’t some mitigating factor as to why they haven’t taken time off, let’s talk about that.”

Listen here.

Stay tuned for more episodes on The Benifit. If you know of someone who’d be great for the show, email us at [email protected].

Paul Wolfe, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Indeed on The Benifit

Paul WolfePaul Wolfe is a trailblazer in the world of Human Resources. Starting out in customer service with American Express, Paul led Human Resources teams at many large companies including Conde Nast, AppNexus, and Orbitz Worldwide. Paul’s philosophy as a people leader is to treat people like adults, giving people guidelines and best practices instead of policies.

In this episode of The Benifit, Paul chats with host Kate King about the importance of the manager-employee relationship, why employee wellness is always a company priority, and why offering unlimited paid time off works. You want to pause this incredibly candid, fascinating episode. Listen below.

Show Highlights:

[00:56] Paul talks about his journey from customer service to human resources

[03:54] Paul talks about how he defines happiness in the workplace

[09:06] Paul shares why the entire company is connected to the mission statement, “I help people get jobs”

[15:13] Paul talks about who technology has affected work-life balance

[19:59] Paul shares why Indeed gives employees unlimited paid time off

[27:25] Paul talks about his morning routine. Hint: rolling over and grabbing his phone is the first thing!

[29:54] Paul shares why one of the rules he lives by is assume positive intent.

The Benifit Interview w/ Paul Wolfe, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Indeed


[00:00:04] Kate King: Hi. This is Kate King, host of The Benefit, where every episode we dive in and explore companies on how they enable in careers to thrive. I am joined today by Paul Wolfe, who’s the SVP of HR at Indeed. We talk about strategies for happy employees, tactics that drive productivity, and why it makes sense to offer an unlimited paid time off the policy.

Okay. Firstly, thanks for joining us today, Paul. I’m excited for you to share your experiences of implementing growth oriented people strategies throughout your career. For our listeners today, can you start by telling us about your journey as a key member of some very well-known leadership teams implementing people strategies? Perhaps you could talk about your key values that drive your purpose along the way.

[00:00:56] Paul Wolfe: Sure, definitely. Thanks for having me, Kate. I really appreciate the opportunity. My journey is probably a little different than some of my peers in the HR space. I actually started out working in contact centers for American Express a very long time ago, longer than I like to admit these days. I did that for a while. Ultimately, I got to which was the first IAC company that I worked for. I was running customer service for them. This was during the peak of the internet bubble on the west coast of the US. Our head of HR for the company left and we had lots of conversations on our senior team about the HR role. Ultimately, one of our co-founders and our CEO offered me the job.

Now, I was a little perplexed by that because I was a contact center or a customer service, client services person, whatever you want to call it. They had a couple conversations with me. I came to the revelation on my so hold on to this belief today that a customer service and HR are very similar, we just have different clients. At the end of the day, it’s trying to make people as happy as possible and as content as possible whether they be clients or employees. That was my pivot to leading an HR function. And then I went on to HR functions at a few more technology companies. Then ultimately, about three and a half years ago, I became a head of HR at Indeed and joined the company.

A lot of HR leaders have grown up in HR. Maybe they’ve been an HR business partner or they’ve been in one of the Centers of Excellence Employee Development, or total awards, or even HR technology. I just have a different path where I have this customer service. I grew up in customer service and then I pivoted to HR. I think they’re very similar at the end of the day.

[00:02:56] Kate King: Fantastic, Paul. I agree with you completely. It’s interesting. I think now when you see a lot of the HR function and that employee voice and customer voice are really being taken into consideration when you look at employee tactic. Really understanding the employee voice segment in the voice almost what you do when you take care of your marketing efforts with your own customers. I think it’s exciting and thrilling that we see a lot more movement towards that employee voice and being able to take care to your point in making employees happy in that process.

In your blog, you said, “It’s not about free food. What really matters is when it comes to employee engagement.” You sourced there that happy employees are 12% more productive. I was really intrigued by that and went through the sources, but how do you define happy in the workplace, Paul?

[00:03:54] Paul Wolfe: Yes, it’s a good question. I think every employee will define happiness or engagement, whatever word we want to use, forward in their own way. At the end of the day, it goes back to — and you just said it that the voice of the employee and understanding what they want. While that may be different by individual, you’re going to see some common themes that come out of that. If I think about Indeed, we have 5,300 people worldwide right now. There are some themes that come out of our engagement surveys when we think about engagement, or happiness, or loyalty. I hear career development a lot, which I think is an engagement factor or a happiness indicator.

I want to be someplace where I’m doing a job today, and I like it, and I enjoy it, but I also know there are some paths for me and whether that is being promoted, or broadening my skill set, or even being able to learn other functions or get into other functions. What does that potential career path look like for me at whatever company I’m at?

The free food comment is one that I talk about a lot. I think it’s the technology industry hangover or necessity these days to some extent, based on some of the larger tech companies that have been out there and they set the bar there. I also think it’s about how you — the culture that you create for your employees. My philosophical approach to HR is treat people like adults and I’m not — It’s not about my HR team and I, we’re not police I don’t even believe in the work policy is. We provide guidelines and best practices to our leaders and to our employees. Assuming they act like adults more often than not, they’re going to follow those best practices and guidelines and if they don’t, that’s a different conversation.

I also think providing a benefits package when you get into it and benefits and perks get — put together these days and I’m fine with that. What’s important to our employees and what stage of their lives are they at? We’ve got an organization where a lot of people are getting married and starting families and so looking at benefits that are useful for the vast majority of our employees is important to us. They may change over time as our organization’s average age gets older and changes. Then I think just learning in general.

I talked about career pathing and I think learning is — Employee development is on the same vein of that but people being able to have the tools to effectively do their job and succeed at their job and contribute to the organization. Being able to innovate and think differently and that’s part of our culture at Indeed but making sure that all employees have an opportunity to have a voice in that or pitch ideas. I think there are few other things I think about when it comes to engagement. I think that the other thing, the other two things that come to mind are my manager and am I able to learn and am I engaged by my manager?

It’s not that you’ve got to be friends with your manager outside the work environment, but you’ve got to respect them and you’ve got to feel that they have — If you’ve got a clear career development goal, that they are providing you feedback and are aligned with that and helping you achieve that goal. Ultimately, you own your career so you should be driving it but they’re supportive about it. Then I look at who are my peers in there and are they engaging to me and do I enjoy coming to work every day? Because of the people I work with. I made this comment to somebody here at Indeed. I think it’s a week or two ago.

I said, “A big part of the reason I get up and come to work every day is because our mission statement is I help people get jobs and that gets me excited. It gets me excited to help the global workforce find a job that they’re interested in or that’s more fulfilling for them. Whatever the reason they’re changing jobs or looking for work maybe.” The other thing I said to this person was like, “I work with one of the most amazing groups of people. They challenge me, they’re supportive, we have interesting conversations and we’re doing good for the world. I think those to me are the core tenants, if you will, of engagement or happiness for employees at work.

I think they can change by person but I think there are a vast majority if I think about our employee population that would put a handful if not a majority of those tenants in their bucket of engagement or happiness also.

[00:08:38] Kate King: Paul, I love the way you put the elements of organization, peers, manager. Can you go into some more details at specifically at in terms of what you do. I know you said these are the broad aspects of happy, but you’ve mention guidelines and best practices which is you and your team. Could you maybe share with us what does with their people?

[00:09:06] Paul Wolfe: Sure and I’ll start at the org level which is Indeed. I think part of it is our mission statement, I hope people get jobs. Five words, pretty simple, it’s on all of our swag, all of our t-shirts and we talk about it in our company meetings all the time. It’s around our offices and I think that the beauty of that is, that is the DNA of our culture. Everybody, no matter what your role is at Indeed, you understand how what you do directly or indirectly every single day, but helps people get jobs around the globe. I think if you take that a step further or on the true social perspective of that is we’re really helping reduce the global unemployment rate by getting up and coming to work every day and that’s exciting.

It’s also interesting, there’s a page on our website that basically is job seekers around the globe telling us where they’re located and they found a job on Indeed and what job that was. And that there are times during the day sometimes it is a bad day, sometimes it is a good day. I would go to that page and you just look at that and you see these little dots pop up on the global map about where they are and what job they found it’s in commentary about their interaction with Indeed and that is really a fulfilling thing. And that brings our mission to life.

I think there are some other things we do at the company level that brings the mission to life by going out and helping job seekers with their job search. How to best use Indeed, how to search for jobs, how to refine their searches on Indeed, how to think about their resume and some feedback on the resume and going so far as helping them with interviews and even to the point of here’s what you should do if you’re trying to negotiate a better salary or a better package when you get to that point of the the job interview or the job seeking process.

And so I think being a mission based company has helped bring all of that to life through and of what we do as an organization. I also think the other part that we do really well at the organizational level is innovation. So if you think about — Indeed was founded 13 years ago by Rony Kahan and Paul Forster who wanted to think about recruiting differently. It wasn’t the standard model. Our core product uses a pay-per-click model from a revenue perspective which is very different than other recruiting organizations. And so that’s what innovation started and now it’s kind of grown into, how do we think about getting the best matched jobs in front of the job seekers and helping job seekers get the right jobs, being exposed to the right jobs and be able to apply for those jobs easily and go through the process. We created programs internally to keep that innovation going and to keep us thinking about how to differentiate our product, how to come up with new products all the time. And that is a grassroots effort that all of our employees are able to be a part of. I think those are the kind of board level.

If I think about peers it is — again, it’s not and is — I think I made this comment before about you don’t have to be friends with your manager and see, you can’t be friends with everybody. That you want to create an organization and create teams in that organization where people respect what other people in the team bring to the table. That you create a collaborative culture and that they enjoy working with the other people on their team and the other people in the organization. And it’s not to say that everybody agrees all the time. Because we have a very — we’re a data-driven company and the data that we capture on a regular basis creates a fair amount of debate in the organization about this is how I interpret it, here’s what we should do and somebody else has a different interpretation. And I think creating the environment of Mark Steers where it’s okay to debate within the lines of being respectful. You certainly don’t want to get outside of those lines. But debate is a good thing and ultimately I think the best ideas from our employees are going to come when it’s a combination of pieces of ideas of each one of those employees and that’s where we’re going to get kind of the best end result for our job seeker.

I think the same goes at the manager level. One of our core values as a company is transparency. We try and be as transparent as possible with all of our employees. I think that really ‘the rubber hits the road’ there from a manager perspective. Providing regular ongoing feedback and receiving regular ongoing feedback so that you know exactly what’s going on, you know how you’re performing, you know how your projects are going from your manager’s perspective and you’re able to get feedback and you’re comfortable giving feedback to your manager on a regular basis. So I think that’s an example at the manager level of how we bring some of our values to life in the organization.

[00:14:06] Kate King: Thank you. I think that link to culture, that mission based strategy is receiving many, many, many, many more companies and some of the big behemoth companies going towards that. Typically, it’s always been that culture sits in one part of the organization. Then you have kind of leveraged that a little bit in HR then you look at the policies you put in place and then you look at really managers owning the kind of well-being and actions with their people. So bringing it in all together clearly is a key element of Indeed success. So thank you for sharing that with us. Many more companies are getting into this idea of well being. A benefit we say when humans thrive companies prosper and there’s that real direct line. It goes somewhat to being that happy, having that element with your peers, with your boss, with you. But tell me what indeed does with regards to well-being programs in the company?

[00:15:13] Paul Wolfe: Sure. I think that well-being is really important from an employee perspective or just in general as a human perspective. If you think about technology and it’s changed our lives of the course last 10 or 15 years for the better for the most part. There are some things I think that are more challenging. But it’s also that technology that helps us every single day and has blurred the lines between work and life. If I think about when I started working, again, too long ago for me to want to talk about, but there was work, there was my work day and then there was life. There was this kind of 9:00 to 5:00 thing and then there was everything else and you could — There was a probably clear delineation between those two.

Today, we’re connected all the time and we have the ability to be connected all the time, which I think is an amazing thing. We communicate differently but it’s — I think technologies make communication easier and better in the last several years. But that the line between work and life is blurred and so I think there are a couple things from a kind of wellness if you will or kind of well-being perspective. Being flexible with when somebody is in the office or not in the office or even where they do their work from. And so I said before our kind of population right now is starting getting married and starting families.

The simple example is, if somebody wants to come in the office and be in the office from kind of 9:00 to 3:00 and they have a newborn or a toddler and they want to be able to get out of the office, then at like 3:00 in the afternoon and go pick up their toddler from daycare or go home, if they’ve got a nanny, spend time with that young child, feed them dinner, spend that time with them, read them a story, put them to bed and then you see them pop back online later in the day. And so I think from that perspective of the philosophical approach is, look, we’ve got tasks that we need you to do and you’ve got projects to work on and deliverables. So it really about performance, it’s not necessarily in a lot of cases about, I always refer to what is butts in seats and so I go back to my contact center days far before all the technology and contact centers today and before even work from home in the context in our world. And it was about if I was running a 5,000 seat call center for American Express, I kind of needed butts in those seats to answer the calls that were coming in because I had card members that were expecting people to answer the phone.

Now, again with technology, there’s work from home in the call center space today too. And so I think flexible work arrangements and the flexibility around people being able to manage how they do their work and when they do their work is important.

I also think, if you think about talent, I categorize that if I’m thinking about going after it in three different buckets. How do I bring it to me and so I may have to think about relocating somebody if they’re open to that and there’s a cost associated with that. But that’s about getting the talent going to where the talent is. And so do I decide to open if there’s a large pocket of talent in the city. We don’t have an office and we really need to tap into that. Let’s think about opening an office there. And then there’s kind of remote work and I think there are nuances to the remote work especially from a manager perspective and making sure that remote workers feel connected all the time.

But there are tools out there and there’s just a way of thinking that we can keep those remote workers connected all the time. That’s kind of a little bit on the flexibility side too. I think from a pure benefits perspective, what’s important to them, we’ve got a very kind of robust wellness program, whether it’s boot camps that we offer, in-house or yoga or meditation or on-site gyms or just a myriad of other things for a wellness perspective. We talked about it with our benefit broker a lot and we’ve got this like 60% plus participation rate which they are kind of astounded by because what they see in the industry is kind of this 30% or 40% participation rate.

So we’ve got good participation which what that tells me is, we’re putting programs out there that are meaningful to our employees. So at the end of the day, that’s what I want, my team and I to be thinking about is like what is going to be most meaningful to the vast majority of our employees. So that they’re able to use it and it’s beneficial for them. I think one of the other things that we do from a well-being perspective and we move to this, it’s almost 2 years now, it started at the beginning of 2016, is we have an open PTO policy which is unlimited vacation. PTO is Pay Time Off.

[unintelligible 00:19:59] goes back to being philosophical about HRs treat people like adults. People know what they have to deliver in a given time period, whether it be a quarter or a year over a two or three year period and really being clear about managing a performance from their leader’s perspectives and not limiting the amount of days or weeks they can take off in any given year. I think that’s meaningful because we put the responsibility at the manager and the employee levels which is where the core relationship is when you’re an employer at the company.

Then two, it is — I want people to, and a big reason we move this way is, I wanted people to step away from work before they hit that proverbial wall. We all know, we all get a sense of when we’re hitting, it’s like, oh my god, there’s so much going on, and I haven’t had a day off in a while. Don’t let that happen to you. Take a deep breath, take a step away whether it’s for a day or whether it’s for a week or two weeks or four weeks, as long as you can manage what needs to happen so the business can keep moving in the right direction.

Then your performance’s strong, you should be able to take the time off that you feel you need to take off. I also think it’s important for people to — because of this, the work, life, wine disappearing over the last few years, making sure that you keep relationships going outside of work, whether it be with your immediate family, friends, extended family, high school reunion and taking time off to reconnect with friends that you had a while ago, that you’ve kept in contact with through other social platforms.

But I think those two things are stepping away before you hit that proverbial wall, and get burnt out because then that leads to not really engaged employees, less productive employees, and they’re not happy, and making sure that you’re balancing all the work that’s going on with these other important relationships in your life. So I think those are some of the things that we’ve done at Indeed over the course the last few years, to really help employees from well-being perspectives.

[00:22:10] Kate King: Great. I love the participation that I would agree with your broker, that is a great number. It’s interesting on your unlimited PTO because we talked to a lot of clients or customers and they’re maybe a little bit apprehensive about that, but when we look to science and maybe you have specific details with Indeed, that people don’t actually abuse it. Just having that flexibility is really such in positive engagement through with them.

[00:22:39] Paul Wolfe: I completely agree. It’s interesting I’ll talk to clients a lot. I talk about PTOs and they look at me with this quizzical look on their face like people are going to abuse it or it’s not going to work, it won’t work. And I go back to a part of treating people like adults and part of what we’ve done and at least, we’ve measured on an annual basis, is we’ve provided managers with and we’re really reporting on it and we really look at who hasn’t taken time off.

So it’s not that policing factor of like, oh, Paul’s taken six days off in the last 30 days or the last 90 days. It’s who hasn’t taken time off? If there’s a reason I haven’t taken time off because of working on this big project or a big product that we’re about to push out, like okay. But we should make sure they take time off after that. If there isn’t some mitigating factor as to why they haven’t taken time off, let’s talk about that.

When we implemented it in 2016, the beginning of 2016, we — I’m sorry. Yes, beginning of 2016. For the full year in 2016, we compared the average number of days off by employee to the average number of days off under our previous plan which had a typical vacation policy that had caps to it. Our employees took 28% more days off, and our first year out under open PTO. So that was — I got asked [unintelligible 00:24:02] at a metric civic company. I mentioned that before.

When I rolled it out, one of our engineers asked me what metric I was going to use to determine whether it’s successful or not, I said “Look, people should be taking more time off, and if they’re not, we should dig into why.” For our first year out, people taking 28% more days off than the year before, was a good indicator that it’s working. We’ll measure it again at the end of 2017, and make sure that that trend is continuing. If it isn’t, we’ll dig into why it’s not continuing that same way.

We’ve not seen — there’s not an abuse of it because again, we put back — we put the power the decision-making process in the hands of the manager and it’s based on performance. And can the team deliver what they need to deliver because previously, it was up to me to determine what the caps were for vacation.

Look, I know my direct reports performance intimately well. That’s my job as a leader in this organization. But to say that I know and I’ve got 10 direct reports. We’ve got 5,200 other employees in the organization. I don’t know their performance intimately well, and so it shouldn’t be left up to me or an HR director or anybody else in HR to say here’s this arbitrary cap. It really is down to the manager level that goes back to making sure we’re creating this environment where feedback is happening on a regular basis. There’s two way communication happening so that if somebody is going to ask for six weeks off, that they know in their mind I’m a good performer, I’ve got the stuff that I need to get done in this period of time I want to take off covered. Or I’ve been able to get the work done before I want to take the time off and the business and my team can keep delivering what they need to deliver. Those are the things to me that have made our program successful. None of it is rocket science. It’s just really communication, being transparent and kind of setting the managers and the employees up for how to navigate in the world of around the vacation.

[00:26:03] Kate King: Thank you. It’s exciting to put the power back into the dialog between an employee and their manager. I think when it is to your point based on performance, there will be tremendous kind of soft benefits that are very hard I know to be able to measure. But that engagement that ability to not get sick, that ability to actually sleep in those eight hours that we’re all supposed to sleep, ha ha. This gives the freedom. Thank you, that’s a phenomenal example of things that some companies may be fearful of but I think really truly give an empowerment and engagement model between the manager and the employee and ultimately the soft benefits for the company. Thank you.

[00:26:49] Paul Wolfe: Sure.

[00:26:50] Kate King: Paul, I’m going to switch gear a little bit to you, if I may.

[00:26:53] Paul Wolfe: Sure.

[00:26:54] Kate King: With each episode, we’re intrigued to know a person’s morning routine. There’s a lot out there. Tim Ferriss talks about it, Tony Robbins talks about it, Andrea Huffington’s talking about it. It’s all over, the web, so to speak, around successful morning routines and really people embracing them to get their own level of success. Do you have a morning routine, and if you do, could you share it with us, and if you don’t, why not?

[00:27:25] Paul Wolfe: I do have a morning routine. Typically 6:00 or 6:30 is when the alarm goes off depending on what’s going on. My first, and this may be a good or a bad thing, my first thing is roll over and grab my phone.

[00:27:40] Kate King: [laughs]

[00:27:41] Paul Wolfe: The reason I do that is, is because we’re a global organization. I look at what emails have I gotten from my team in [unintelligible 00:27:52] and my team in A Pack that may need to be dealt with right away that may be triaging. Then I also look at global headlines just to understand what’s going on in the world while I was sleeping for the last, hopefully, eight hours, that I always get eight hours of sleep. That sets the global nature of the business and look, we live in a world where things things go on all the time, it’s just being aware of what’s going on.

I’ll get out of bed at that point if there’s nothing major going on that I need to deal with, get out of bed, do the shower, throw on some clothes. I’ll come to the office. I usually get to the office by 7:30, eight o’clock. I’d like to get in early before we typically — Things start to rev up around Indeed offices 9:00 or 9:30 in the morning. I’d like to get in early. I’ll grab coffee. I like to go through the Wall Street Journal in the New York Times. Just under again it’s a deeper dive into that just not the headlines but what’s going on. Look at what’s going on the business world. I also look for interesting things kind of on the HR side that maybe in those two publications.

I also like to take a look at my calendar for the day. This is kind of how am I going to manage my day. If it’s a day of back to back to back to back meetings which probably are the most challenging days for me, are there any pockets of time I can carve out of there where I can get some time to decompress or think about strategy or talk to somebody about a unique or innovative HR idea that I’ve been ruminating on or something they’re thinking about, whether be a peer or somebody joined the company.

Then I also just prioritize like one of the things I need to tackle today, kind of how am I going to think about managing my day. Then 9:00 or 9:30, rolls around and the day has kicked off and we’re off to the races. That’s how I think about — That’s the first couple of hours of my day before the true work day starts.

[00:29:54] Kate King: Great, thank you. Three rules that you live by.

[00:29:59] Paul Wolfe: This is a [unintelligible 00:30:00] [laughter]

I think the first one is its API which is Assumed Positive Intent. I think if everybody in the world, in the global community lived by that mantra, things may be a little better off in the world. I know that’s tough and that’s very altruistic, but I’m going to assume that everybody is, I’ll think about it at the Indeed level, that everybody is doing something that they believe is in the benefit of Indeed or the benefit of the job seeker. I’m looking at things through that lines.

One of the other rules that I live by or values I live by is nothing illegal or nothing unethical. In my key years I said that a lot. Those are my two lines in the sand. The way I think about that is like, look, there are– ” If you think about it from an HR perspective, there is always an HR way to handle a situation. But really, my job and my team’s job is to help this company be as successful as it possibly can. We really need to put a business hat on when we’re thinking about situations we’re dealing with, or questions we have to answer, or problems we have to solve.

That’s where the nothing illegal, nothing unethical because there’s the HR way or the HR answer to things, and then there’s taking the business needs and desires into account and coming up with that compromised solution without crossing either one of those lines. I think the last one is just treating people like adults. That goes in personal lives as it does in business life.

I found over the course of the last 15 plus years in HR that if you do that or by doing that, the majority of people are going to act like adults most of the time. Every once in a while you’re going to get somebody who doesn’t and you’ll have that conversation, or figure out why, and you’ll deal with that. But I think, for the most part, those three things have become my mantra for how I live personally and how I live professionally.

[00:32:08] Kate King: Fantastic. Paul, thank you so very much for sharing your morning routine and the three rules. I think that the first one is definitely a big one for myself, the assume positive intent. You’re right, it is difficult sometimes. You remind yourself of that [chuckles] in today’s current environment. Thank you very much for not only sharing the people growth strategies that you put in place in Indeed and many other places, but also your personal philosophy around that.

[00:32:38] Paul Wolfe: Sure. I’m happy, too. Thanks again for having me.


[00:32:43] Kate King: Firstly, thanks for listening and spending time with us. I hope you enjoyed the interview with Paul. For a transcribed version of the show, head over to benefit/podcast, B-E-N-I.F-I-T/podcast. This is the star of conversations that begin to identify the best practices and when humans thrive, the companies prosper. If you would like to recommend anyone for the show, please email me at [email protected], [email protected]

[00:33:18] [END OF AUDIO]


Eric Severson, Chief People Officer at DaVita Kidney Care on The Benifit

Eric severson Eric Severson has been called the “zen master of flow.” He’s a master at helping people find meaning in their work and has done revolutionary things in the human resources space. Eric believes a workplace should give people skills that transcend work and help them become better people. He was appointed to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s national advisory council on innovation and entrepreneurship. He also implemented a results only work environment during his time as co-CHRO and Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Gap, Inc.

In this episode of The Benifit, Eric chats with’s own Kate King about how DaVita has created a workplace environment of well being, how mass customization of benefits packages helps employers and how he tries to live according to law of attraction when it comes to choosing what to think about. After listening to this conversation with Eric, you’ll be inspired and eager to figure out how you can incorporate some of his insights into your own people strategy. Listen below.

Show Highlights:

[01:15] “I’m incredibly committed to operationalizing a commitment to making work a source of rejuvenation, and wellbeing, and purpose, and growth in people’s lives.”

[04:53] Eric describes his role at DaVita

[06:32] Eric talks about what DaVita does to promote employee wellness

[11:00] Eric describes the intention behind the results only work environment he implemented at Gap

[19:45] Eric shares what he believes a good people strategy looks like

[25:28] Eric shares why personalization can be a differentiator for employers

[29:48] Eric details his morning routine (Hint: it includes mediation!)

[34:40] Eric spills the three rules he lives by

The Benifit with Eric Serverson, Chief People Officer at DaVita Kidney Care

[00:00:00] [music]

[00:00:04] Kate King: Hi this is Kate King, host of The Benefit where every episode we dive in and explore companies in how they enable employees to thrive. I am joined today by Eric Severson. He’s a Chief People Officer at DaVita Kidney Care and former co-CHRO and SVP of Human Resources for GAP. We talk about benefit initiatives and their meritable impact to the bottom line. How you can use his philosophies to create this in your company and three inspiring ways he lives by.

Okay, Eric, thank you and welcome to The Benefit podcast today.

[00:00:43] Eric Severson: Thank you for having me, Kate. It’s an honor to be here.

[00:00:45] Kate: Wonderful, so Eric first I was really excited about the opportunity to interview you. Not only because of your success in people strategies but your philosophy of helping people thrive. It is said you are the Zen master of flow with a mission of helping people find joy and meaning in their work. Can you share with us your philosophy of people leadership and creating that driving work environment?

[00:01:15] Eric: Yes, sure. I think Zen master might be a slight exaggeration but I am definitely committed. I consider my calling in life to be to help individuals reach their full potential through their work. I think through much of the 20th century a model of work developed whereby people increasingly have viewed work as a source of diminishment in their life. Something that they try to make up for in their private life. In the 21st century, I think there’s been a re-examination of the purpose of work in individuals lives. I’m incredibly committed to operationalizing a commitment to making work a source of rejuvenation, and wellbeing, and purpose, and growth in people’s lives.

I try to do that as an operating leader within a business by finding ways that through work, individuals can learn habits of being, that allow them to thrive in all aspects of their life while at the same time driving better business outcomes. To me, it’s about being able to teach people through their work life skills that make them better at their jobs but also better at the rest of their lives. Like better parents, better spouses or partners, better community members, better volunteers etcetera.

[00:02:53] Kate: I love it, thank you. It’s interesting just listening to that. I’m thinking of the functional medicine doctor, right? When they come in and look at you holistically and really understand all elements of you both physically, mentally, lifestyle, everything everybody surrounding you. It seems to me that you may be the Zen master of flow but also the functional doctor of the future of work, it sounds like.

[00:03:20] Eric: Interesting connection, I guess you make it because I’m a passionate, adherent to integrated medicine practices. It’s one of the things attracted me to DaVita and have been a patient of an integrated medicine practice for about 10 years. I’m fascinated with the idea of the whole person and how in the modern industrial age, part of what happened with life is compartmentalizing it, taking life and work apart. Really, the whole idea of the assembly line is about taking the work process apart, assigning people little parts of it. I think medicine evolved the same way in the 20th century into specialization and taking things apart.

Now there’s an effort in the 21st century to put it back together and understand how whole systems work in a person and how the mind and body and spirit interacts to create health or unhealth and that kind of stuff. I think the work environment is just the next frontier of that exploration, of reintegrating the human experience whether it’s the teammate or customer or employee experience or the customer or patient experience.

[00:04:33] Kate: Fantastic. You mentioned DaVita. I know you just joined there five months ago. Why don’t we go into that? Tell us a little bit more about what you are responsible for and what your mandate is going to be there, what your passion purpose other than the holistic side of things that will be at DaVita.

[00:04:53] Eric: Sure. Well I joined DaVita six months ago as the Chief People Officer and my role at DaVita is to lead the part of the village as we call it. We refer to DaVita as a village. A longtime principal of the village is that it’s a community first and a company second. Part of my role in the community is to lead our whole team in finding better ways to attract, develop, engage and lead teams of people within our village to high performance to developing and delivering better and better care for patients. We each have a different role in the village in doing that.

Part of mine is leading the operations to find better practices, better programs, better policies, better approaches, for managing people in a way that gets the most out of them. Whether it’s how do we hire people to get the best fit with each role. Or whether it is how once you’ve hired someone, how you develop that individual to get the most out of her. Or how you coach and direct people through various career paths. That’s essentially what my job is all about. It definitely speaks to that this higher purpose of creating an environment where the people can live up to their full potential.

[00:06:26] Kate: Great and what have you been doing so far? What are some early wins have been for you?

[00:06:32] Eric: For sure this is an environment designed from my own thriving I would say. Because it’s a community there’s a long history of being focused on delivering the best of patients by bringing out the best aid teammates. We refer to all of our employees as teammates to really emphasize the relationship between each individual as a part of a team in delivering wellbeing to patients. The mayor of our village who is our CEO, Kent Thiry, has long said to teammates, to patients, to customers, is that in being a community first in a company second, we’re going to focus on teammate wellbeing first and foremost.

Because in order to care for a patient with the fullness of oneself, each teammate needs to be well and it needs to be taken care of. We have a whole long history of programmatic offerings around wellbeing. Just to give you a couple of examples. One of those is called village vitality and it’s a whole portfolio of health and wellbeing programs designed to help teach life skills and wellbeing to teammates. It’s everything from a points based system where teammates can earn points by engaging in healthy behaviors like biometric screenings and health checks etcetera. In order to literally get the cost of their benefits reduced.

It’s incentivizing people to adopt healthy habits to a program we have called Omada for individuals with prediabetes and high blood sugar. It’s a coaching based model. It’s metrics driven, that guides them to healthy eating and exercise habits in order to improve their lives. And ultimately their life, to a program called We Are Well which is helping teammates achieve their own individual health goals through coaching and team based contests etcetera. To mindfulness programs. I think something that’s deep in the culture of the village of DaVita is providing many offerings that help teammates find their own way to wellbeing.

It even includes things like the designs of our buildings. Things like the presence of Zen or contemplation rooms on each floor of our headquarters building. Designing our building so 98% of the teammates have a direct line of sight to daylight from wherever they’re sitting. Gyms and bike storage, on site public transportation access. These are all things that have been very carefully thought about within the village to try to design an environment of wellbeing. Where teammates can thrive and learn behaviors of thriving that they can take with them back home. It’s certainly a village that puts a lot of emphasis on the whole family.

There are many of our programs that spouses and other family members are encouraged to participate in with teammates. Because we recognize that when our teammates supported by loved ones in their health and wellbeing objectives, they are much more likely to statistically to achieve their goals and have positive outcomes.

[00:10:11] Kate: Great. Thank you for those examples. Perhaps you can link some of those examples to what you did when you were the co-chief HR and SVP at GAP. You had implemented a results only work environment. I’m interested in what is it. Because results only suggests that all these great things that you’re doing at DaVita as well as what you did at GAP really have a bottom line impact in terms of results. Maybe you can share some of that strategy with us or what tactics you did with the results only and how you defined success and measured it.

[00:10:54] Eric: Sure. I’d be happy to Kate, sorry. I’ll just say up front that in my view and my experience, in order to be successful in a for profit business environment with implementing habits and practices of wellbeing, it’s incredibly important to create a virtuous cycle. In other words, in order to have sustainable practices of wellbeing, one needs to create an ecosystem that’s economically viable. In other words, you need to be able to demonstrate that any investment that you’re making in teammate health and wellbeing and thriving is also helping the whole operation. In our case at DaVita, the whole village.

In other companies, the whole company to thrive and all the stakeholders to benefit which it could include shareholders in the case of public corporations. Because those shareholders are investing their hard earned money in your operations. I think that’s the first premise. At GAP, with the results only work environment, we were attempted to do something that is also important to us at DaVita, which is to differentiate ourselves as an employer of choice. So that we can attract and retain the very best talent. Part of doing that in any well run business is figuring out what you can do differently and better than other employers that doesn’t just involve paying more money because that’s something that’s easy to replicate.

In both cases, we’re saying, “What else do people crave in their lives that we think we are positioned to offer”? In the case of GAP, we knew that in our industry which was apparel retailing, that one of the biggest challenges facing our employees was the ability to balance work and life. Had to do with the nature of the business as well as the unique demographics of the business which has happened to be about 3/4 female. All of our research was showing that although this issue matter to all employees, women in our workforce were disproportionately affected by work/life imbalance. Because women continue to statistically carry a higher proportion of elder care, child care, home care responsibilities.

In a nutshell, what we did is adopted results only work environment methodology. Which is an evidence based protocol that’s been studied by the National Institutes of Health at University of Minnesota and proven to result in higher productivity and better health outcomes. Such as how an averaged employee is getting almost an hour more of sleep a night than averaged employees and to workout more often, to go to the doctor more often. The essential premise is that you retrain your workforce on a set of values that focus on getting results rather than on putting in time. We adopted this approach in 2009 and measured it rigorously through pre and post testing and piloting.

The results we achieved were pretty astounding that we would cut our employee turnover typically by 50% and we would increase our engagement by up to 10 or more percentage points. Over the course of six or seven years, I think we calculated that our very conservatively calculated our return on investment just based on reduced turnover cost of employees was north of $50 million. I think ultimately what that demonstrated is that when employers adopt solutions to employee wellbeing that speak to real pain points in those employees lives and when they measure rigorously they impact those changes, you can show real positive results that makes the program sustainable over time.

I think in DaVita, we similarly have focused on how we can make our teammates lives more sustainable. We’re in the middle of piloting, for example for our clinic based teammates, a schedule swapping application on their mobile devices. That allows them to be able to trade shifts when they need to, if they have a sick child or some other care need at home. We tested something similar at GAP before I left as well. These are the examples of ways that go way beyond biometric measurement and physical health outcomes. That employers can undertake to make a significant material impact on the lives of their teammates. That extends well beyond the workplace into the community at large.

[00:16:21] Kate: It was a great example, Eric, I appreciate that. Because it’s very tough I think– Most people want to do the right thing for their organization and for their people. But I think it does come down a lot the times to what ultimately is this going to cost me? It’s been very tough I think to be able to put a specific hard number on our ROI with regards to say a wellbeing program. When you see the massive amounts of research coming out now and science based research on the need for people to sleep. The need for people to have that support structure for better decisioning, for turning up every day. I think taking those elements and using the meta cues around employee turnover is a great way to for people start looking at, this really is a smart thing to the business. This really is a smart thing for the bottom line.

[00:17:26] Eric: Yes. I would agree. I feel fortunate to be alive at this point in the 21st century. In the advent of advanced [unintelligible 00:17:40] analytics and digital technology. I think when I began my career in human resources over 20 years ago, we didn’t have the capability to be able to measure the human impact of many of our innovations. Today of course we do. That so inspiring of course because it enables employers of pretty much any size, just with at least readily available software and with the right people, to be able to put in place pilot practices. To test and measure them. Determine real quantifiable outcomes with a financial impact which is important.

Whether or not you’re in a for profit or nonprofit business. I’ve also been involved for many years in nonprofit operations. Nonprofits have the same concern with being able to invest wisely in the right interventions to impact clients and community members. To be able to spend every dollar wisely. Including the dollars they spend on their teammates. I think I’m super inspired by the fact that there is so much research. Showing that making the right investments in team made wellness and not just in wellbeing, not just in the physical realm but emotionally, mentally, spiritually, has a significant impact on the bottom line when done correctly.

[00:19:09] Kate: Yes, absolutely. For some of our listeners who are maybe a small or medium business size– With GAP that was over 140,000 people in a $16 billion business. For people who are just starting out or have a small company or medium company, can you outline the different attributes of what good people strategy could look like for them? The kind of benefits packages that they would offer in that environment.

[00:19:45] Eric: Sure. Regardless of size, I think that in today’s world one of the primary ways to get the most out of a people’s strategy and out of a benefits package is through mass customization. By that I mean, for a same flat investment level, to be able to offer as much choice as possible to your teammates in how they want to invest the spend. For example, if you have $5000 to spend on teammate benefits overall, it’s about finding a means of offering that to them.

It gives them the most choice based on their stage of life, perhaps their generation, the composition of their family, their needs, and desires, to get the most out of that spend. Because a 55 year old employee whose children are grown and is possibly contemplating retirement in the near future is going to have very different needs from a 20 something employee who perhaps is about to have young children and may be buying their first home, and thinking about saving a lot for retirement, an aggressive investment strategy, etcetera. I think the strategy will differ for different sized employers.

For small employers, for example, there are a lot of really great opportunities today with businesses of various sizes for a fully integrated HR systems and strategy solution. Providers that provide end to end service, access to benefits, access to HR information systems, and data analysis, access to composition planning systems, etcetera, which are a great options actually for small to medium size employers. Whereas large employers will usually their own build in house team. Regardless, I encourage employers of all sizes in their current environment to take advantage of the abundance of readily available information externally about what employees today value most from their employer.

Then being able to get on board with a benefits and HR service provider that offers the maximum amount of choice rather than one size fits all. What I find increasingly that works here at DaVita is how we can, over time, offer more choice to individual teammates in how they want to spend their available benefits and employee value proposition dollars. One way we’re doing it out of this big employer is we’re just in the middle of this week actually of conducting a total rewards optimization assessment. Where our teammates are actually taking a conjoint survey in which they’re forced to choose between various options.

Would you rather have a 3% pay increase, or would you rather have an additional child care benefit? The data is going to tell us at a very granular level of the universe of possible things that we could offer to our teammates, which ones did they value most right now in their life.

[00:23:42] Kate: First of all, thank you. I think that number one, that mass customization, which is just really make it easy in that instance. It really gets down to actually one to one personalization of that mass customized platform. Because I think what you’re saying here is what you mentioned, if I’m in my 40s I’m doing X, somebody in their 60s is doing Y. We have such a diverse, right now, of I would say five generations in the workforce. If you include the cyborgs and the machine learning in which to really pull all that data from and really see. To your point, with the technology out there and what is actually being offered and people getting on, or waking up to–

It is about full integration of somebody in the workplace, not a separate view of, I have work and I have a home life. It’s how are you supporting both of those. Which you could argue for the employer, is a good strategy to take on board if they want the best productivity from the employee. It’s not something that should be, “Oh, that’s not our responsibility.” It really looks to support the whole thing. Summarize that very small to medium size business who’s looking at this first and foremost, the choice is certainly out there. I think working with partners who really understand that wellbeing and growth of an employee is as important as the skills in which you are purchasing, so to speak, is definitely a top priority for the people management and people leadership.

[00:25:28] Eric: Yes, I couldn’t agree more. I was just reading an article this week, arguing that it’s time for both employers and marketers to focus less on generations, millennials, gen c, gen y, baby boomers and focus more on what this writer calling gen c, the generation of consumerism. The idea that all generations are really looking for personalization and the ability to mass customize almost any experience to their own unique needs and increasingly people are finding that in the world at large and they’re expecting that now from their employers.

I think a way employers can be increasingly competitive in a very competitive talent marketplace is to invest in increasing the level of personalization of what they offer. To move as much as they can away from one size fits all and as much as possible to a personalized employee experience. One also where they’re able to use their scope and size and skill as an employer to offer meaningful improvement in people’s lives in general. Because my experience, one of the great things millennials have brought to us is a reintegration of life. I think they grew up as generation with lifelong access to the internet and one of the things that internet is a great integrator of different parts of one’s life.

Many millennials who work for us have, say Facebook pages for instance or Instagram accounts that integrate all parts of their life. They don’t see work as separate from home or separate from school. It’s all integrated, so I think smart employers think about the world in that way and how can I bring an integrated experience to my own employees.

[00:27:43] Kate: Absolutely I love that. I think as you start looking at individuals, as you start looking at everything to your point of what marketers are throwing at us every day in terms of really understanding and knowing us, so with the algorithm I should probably know us way better than some of our even closest relationships right out there. That focus now but it’s no longer an option for an employer to say, “Come in and be this grade of your job, doing this function, having this benefits as the package and oh, I’m going to have you be the same as everybody else in that function” is no longer an option for people.

It really is to get the best talent and keep the best talent is, I’m bringing you in as an individual in terms of your expertise and your innovation and your thought leadership around how could we do this versus come into the cock and wheels base and recreate what we’re already doing today. I think we’re probably a little bit further off. Some of the bigger companies have been able to really turn the boat around quickly on that but something that is absolutely imperative to a company to be successful and sustain successes we move forward.

[00:28:56] Eric: I think that’s exactly right.

[00:28:58] Kate: Eric, we’re just going to spend a few more minutes if that’s okay with you. I know we’re close to time, just talk a little about Eric. There’s two questions that I’ve been asking some of my participants really for our listeners but also my interest. One of them is morning routine and the morning routine I think is we’re starting to see so much research talking this space. This really is starting to go to what we were talking about before, it’s an individual practice that actually enables you to get the best at what you personally are trying to achieve. Do you have a morning routine and are you comfortable sharing that morning routine with us?

[00:29:48] Eric: Sure, I do and it’s an outgrowth of a visit I made about 10 years ago to a whole health practice. It was evaluating my overall wellbeing and out of that grew a prioritization system that I use to this day around wellbeing. It’s based on the premise that as a very busy business person who frequently finds himself with insufficient time to accomplish everything that needs to be accomplished on a given day, I need to have a system to prioritize what comes first, what comes second, what comes third. Not having such a system is actually a source of great stress for me.

It probably is for lots of people where you’re constantly debating, “I can’t get it all done. What has to fall by the wayside?”. My system is very simple. I’m a daily meditator and I try to workout every day. Try to eat well every day and try to sleep minimally seven hours a night based on the research of Dr. James Maas from the Cornell Sleep Center, that seven is the magic number. My prioritization is as follows. Number one, sleep seven hours. Number two, eat minimally three meals a day. Number three, work out every day. Number four, meditate every day for 15 minutes. The way my system works if I have insufficient time to do all four of those things the first one to go is number four, I don’t meditate that day. If I still don’t have enough time then I don’t work out, then the eating, then the sleeping in that order. I never have to stop and debate what’s going to fall from the plate I always know.

I’m happy and at peace with that system. There are days where I don’t do all four of those things but I’m okay with it because I know that the next day I will. I think that having a system like that can work for a lot of people and it definitely has worked for me. I would add one more additional item and it’s not part of necessarily my morning ritual but my evening. It has been for about 10 years and that’s an appreciation ritual that I typically conduct when I’m driving home if I’m driving home from work or if not when I walk the dog at night. That is to recite with my husband, my three things from the day that I appreciate.

This is about creating a habit of appreciation in my life where I set a pattern going in my mind to look for what’s right instead of what’s wrong. It’s also a way for the two of us to connect. Thirdly, it’s a way, when I get home from work, to be in a state of appreciation instead of a state of complaint. It’s really changed my life the way that meditation has changed my life in the morning. I think those are good examples of daily habits and rituals that have not been difficult to implement and had a transformational impact on my happiness and I think my overall performance in my job.

[00:33:06] Kate: Fantastic, very inspiring. I do like that evening ritual. I think that has so many places you can use it for not just at home with your close partner, with your kids but actually and also without sounding too over the top in the workplace, you could probably– If leaders said more often what they appreciate about a team about somebody’s contribution then that again is another strategy around better productivity and better retention.

[00:33:41] Eric: Yes, I would agree and I would say that one of the keys is I would call it nonincrementalism. It is if you want to have it to stick find something you’re already doing and substitute the habit for a part of that process. In my case, the evening ritual I didn’t add it timewise on top of everything else I had to do. I took something I was already doing, driving home, and I had to do anyways and worked it into that process so that it’s something it’s easy for me to replicate because I do it every day without any time. Same thing with meditating, if I can’t take separate time to meditate, I’ll do walking meditations. I have to walk somewhere anyways I can just meditate while I’m walking.

[00:34:24] Kate: Fantastic. Eric, thank you. Last question for you. If you could condense it down to three, what would be the three rules you live by?

[00:34:40] Eric: I think the first one is well known as Law of Attraction. I’m going to adhere it to that philosophy which is the idea that that is likened to itself is drawn that you get what you think about. I am disciplined, my first rule is would be disciplined about what I choose to think about and focus a lot more of my time thinking about what I want and what I don’t want. I found that when I can practice that consistently, my state of mental peace and wellbeing is substantially more robust. I would say too, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

This is about me being disciplined in my focus and the things that matter and that I can affect, and letting go of the rest. Probably third, it’s a quote by [unintelligible 00:35:43] “Speak with your life, not just your words.” It’s an expression of the fact that I’m a very action oriented person, and I believe in showing and doing above speaking, and experimenting and trying things out. Those are three that I use to guide my life.

[00:36:12] Kate: Thank you very much. Eric, thank you so much for the session today. I really appreciate your time. I know our listeners will really appreciate, not only strategies in which they can effectively implement quickly but also the thought leadership that goes into that, of really taking that function, that whole integrated holistic approach, to this view that is bringing humans back into the workplace. That we are humans first and foremost, and having that need to have a whole life, and work be part of it. I really appreciate your thoughts. I love the strategies you are putting into the DaVita Village is fantastic.

The fact that you could come up so eloquently with three rules to live by so quickly, I’m very inspired and impressed. So, thank you very much.

[00:37:04] Eric: Thank you so much for the opportunity to share, Kate, it was really a pleasure.


[00:37:16] Kate: Thanks for listening and spending time with us. I hope you enjoyed the interview with Eric. For a transcribed version of this show, head over to, B-E-N-I.F-I-T, forward slash, Podcast. This is the start of conversations that begin to identify the best practices of when humans thrive companies prosper. If you would like to recommend anyone for the show, please email me at [email protected], I-N-F-O @ B-E-N-I.F-I-T. Thank you.

[00:37:59] [END OF AUDIO]


Arte Nathan, Former CHRO of Wynn Resorts on The Benifit

the benefitArte Nathan is a veteran in the human resources industry. With more than 30 years in high level human resources positions including serving as the CHRO of Wynn Resorts and the Vice President of HR at Mirage Resorts.

As the president and Chief Operating Officer of Strategic Development Worldwide, a business consulting firm, Arte helps companies overcome challenges in staffing and operations by getting to the core of what they need. More often than not, that’s learning how to inspire, engage and motivate their employees.

In this episode of The Benifit, host Kate King chats with Arte about the evolution of HR responsibilities and thought. Arte shares stories from his life and career in a candid, fun conversation. You’ll want to listen to every second of this episode!

The Benifit is a podcast that demonstrates that when humans thrive, companies prosper. Kate interviews executives from some of the world’s most innovative companies for insights into how they enable their employees to thrive.

Show Highlights

[01:20] Arte talks about why it’s important people are comfortable in the workplace

[03:10] Arte shares what led to his epiphany that people need to be rewarded and recognized for what they do right.

[06:38] Arte talks about why it’s important to tell employees WHY they should do something

[13:11] Arte gives his rundown of the most important benefits employers should provide

[13:25] “I think employers have to help employees get the stuff that they need to live their lives the way they want.”

[15:22] Arte explains why he thinks employers should provide and support education for their employees

[17:10] Arte talks about why it’s an employers job to mold employees into good workers

[18:08] “Everybody’s skills can be developed if they have the right attitude.”

[18:30] Arte talks about why he hires people with criminal backgrounds

[19:20] “I think you have to look for people that are underemployed and make yourself attractive enough that they will pick up more employment with you.”

[21:50] “People from all backgrounds in all situations appreciate a chance.”

[22:11] Arte shares the three truths he lives by

[23:25] Arte talks about keeping a positive attitude

[27:00] Arte shares about his personal practice of writing out quotes and mantras

[31:14] Arte says his brand of HR can be summed up in the word inspirational


The Benifit Interview with Arte Nathan, Former CHRO of Wynn Resorts and President of Strategic Development Worldwide


[00:00:05] Kate King: Hi, this is Kate King, host of The Benefit, where every episode we dive in and explore companies and how they enable employees to thrive. I am joined today by Arte Nathan. He’s the founder of The Art of Motivation, and a former SVP and Chief HR officer at Wynn Resorts and a TEDx speaker. He discusses hiring for attitude and then training for skill, enabling second chances, and has an incredibly inspiring morning routine.

First, we thank you and welcome, Arte, for joining me today. I’m going to start with a quote by Steve Wynn who said, “Treat people right and your short, medium and long-term talent issues will resolve themselves.” A key challenge for companies that we partner with is the acquisition and retention of key talent. What, in your opinion, do companies need to do to enable people to thrive and actually stay in a company?

[00:01:04] Arte Nathan: I think you have to treat them with respect. I think you have to create an environment of trust, and I think you have to make them very comfortable with who they are, and where they are.

[00:01:16] Kate: Okay, tell me a bit more about that; who they are and where they are. I love that piece.

[00:01:20] Arte: Early on, we had to decide what we were looking for in our employees and it wasn’t obvious back in the 1980s because no one was really talking about these things or researching them. But over a couple of years, we came up with this idea that we would hire for attitude and train for skill. Once we figured that out, we had to define what those attitudes were and how to find them or, at least, how to spot them. We came up with this idea that we wanted people that were generally optimistic. Earlier on, we defined it as people who liked being interrupted and were good with an interruption and would smile their way through it.

But that just meant that those people were comfortable with themselves, comfortable with their environment, liked who they worked for, and were able to then bring that personality to the fore. People who are scared where they work, people who are uncomfortable or not aware of what all they have to do can’t get comfortable, and if they’re not comfortable, they can’t be confident. All of those things went into building a culture at Wynn that made people believe that this was a good place to work, so they were going to make a good commitment to it. That makes sense?

[00:02:45] Kate: Yes, absolutely. I love that because it’s only now I start to see a lot of companies start talking about purpose and what they want from people. Typically, I’ve always gone to resume and skillset versus that intrinsic value of who are you coming to it, what are you about, and then, “Okay, we can train for skills.” I love that. Go ahead.

[00:03:10] Arte: The skills within that they bring with them, that’s of interest but secondarily, because most good companies will teach you what they want you to do and how to do it. That’s just common sense. People want to be told what’s this all about and once they understand that — once they have the context, I think that they will get comfortable and work harder. We have this notion– I said this back in 1989, that employee satisfaction was linked to customer satisfaction which was linked to profitability. If you believe that, then you would put all of your efforts into employee satisfaction and the rest would take care of itself as Steve said.

We’ve made a lot of deposit into our employee relations account over the years, some in terms of policy, some in terms of benefits, some in terms of behaviors. And all told, those were the things that made people want to stay with us. I did a research project back in the mid ’80s of why people left our original company, The Golden Nugget. We found out that there was, at that time, a high turnover among guestroom attendants, the people that cleaned the rooms.

When I asked about a hundred of them why they left, they basically said, “Look, you’re very good at catching us when we do wrong, but how about if you catch us when we do things right?” That was one of those epiphanies that changed our entire philosophy. Because prior that, we were writing people up and trying to change their behaviors that way when, in fact, the best way to do that is what you learn in Psychology 101, which is the behaviors you want repeated, just pay attention to that and people will repeat those.

We started catching people doing things right. We expanded that from housekeeping to the rest of the company. It literally changed the way we did business. Now, you go back to things that Steve Wynn said over the years when he hired me and for several years after that, he said, “HR is not a department; it is the department.” It is the way that we do business. And all of us have to understand that and buy into those concepts.

I was just a facilitator rather than some HR guy standing on the sidelines shouting policies. Our managers got into it. As our turnover went down, our employee morale, and productivity, and satisfaction went up, and our customer satisfaction went through the roof. That’s when we opened Mirage and we were off to the races at that point.

[00:06:08] Kate: Fantastic. There’s two great examples, I think, of probably pioneer thinking. If you think, today, they’re coming out with books around focus on your strengths, really focus on everybody, what they’re doing well not what they’re doing badly. That’s what, early 2000s, everybody was talking about that, not really back in the ’80s, so that’s really a pioneer thinking of bringing employee and customer voice together. I think that’s a fantastic example of people thriving.

[00:06:38] Arte: Let me add one more thing. There were two key things that we did policy-wise or philosophy-wise. This catching people doing things right was one; but the second one was just as impactful. Steve Wynn one day said, “I think employees want to know why.” If people know why, basically, they understand the context of things, then they can make up their minds whether to do it or not. But if you just tell them to do things like a parent telling their kids to, “Clean your room,” and they say, “Why?”, and you say, “Because I’m your parent and I said so.” Well, it didn’t work there and it doesn’t work in the workplace either.

In 19, I think it was ’91 or ’92, we implemented a policy that managers had to explain why whenever they get a directive or said something. If they couldn’t or wouldn’t, he told employees they could just say no. It turned into what was just going to be planned insubordination. Well no, it forced managers to think, and to plan, and to articulate, and then to listen, and then to resolve; all those things you want managers to do.

Now, many companies, we were one of them, we tried to teach all those things but nobody understood why I had to communicate well, or I had to listen well, or I had to resolve things well. Well, just by saying, “Look, we’re going to explain why,” and, “This is how it works,” our managers, who were a little concerned at first, found out that employees weren’t insubordinate. They were, in fact, more understanding and they, in fact, got more comfortable.

What that resulted in is that people felt that we were fair. Now between catching them doing things right and explaining why they thought we were a very fair management team, and thus, they trusted us. If they trusted us, there was a degree of mutual respect that allowed everything to work well. I wish it was more complicated than that but it isn’t. It is just that simple and all companies can do it. Whether they want to, whether they will back it up with their actions is another thing altogether.

But it’s not something you have to buy a management application. It’s not something you have to do a great deal of training. It’s just something that works because that’s how people like to interact with one another.

[00:09:11] Kate: How long did it take for managers to go through that change, because that’s a real change for managers in themselves, right?

[00:09:19] Arte: Yes. Each of those two things took us approximately a year to work through. Now, we were a growing company. A lot of people were joining us brand new, hence, they were bringing their habits and practices from other places. It took a long time to get around to everybody. It wasn’t a heavy-handed thing. It was Mr. Wynn and a bunch of us saying, “This really works. We’ll practice this with you and you can practice this with others.”

It turned out to be so successful that by 1992, we were recognized on that Forbes list is the second most popular company to work for. There was all kinds of good things going on. But for us, it was all about if we reduced turnover, then we increased people’s understanding of our business and our customers and they would become more productive and the business will do well all the way around. Steve Wynn was right. For a guy like me to have that kind of support, it made HR a pleasure.

[00:10:30] Kate: Fantastic, thank you. One of the things you mentioned about HR being “the people”, being “the department”, we hear a lot now that HR is really going away. That the HR function has lost its way. What does an HR person do? Do they just enforce policy? I think in your examples, you’ve used that ready HR is meant to light the way, to really enable people to tune in to their purpose, to their being empowered in the work place. If you’re dealing with say a CEO or you’re talking to a CEO about the role of HR, what would you say to that?

[00:11:12] Arte: HR has to be the way that all of the managers do business. You should delegate all of the authority, and responsibility, and accountability to managers because they’re the ones on the floor on the firing line, they’re the ones that know the nuances of things that they’re dealing with. HR cannot know that. HR is only good at building tools and teaching people how to use them. Then monitoring their use and helping people to improve if they’re not maximizing the utility.

HR can’t make a decision anywhere. They can’t hire anybody, they can’t fire anybody, they can’t put them out or bring them back for more grief, and they certainly can’t motivate them. All that goes on between the employee and their direct manager or supervisor. If that relationship is good, and it has to be good, then all good things flow from it because management can’t get between the employee and the manager, just like management can’t get between the employee and a customer.

At those moments, those individuals have to be inspired, and motivated, and knowledgeable, and competent, and then they do good work. I spent my entire career delegating HR responsibilities to line management. Of course, I had to train them, I had to build the tools, I had to show them how to do it, I had to monitor, I had to catch them when they did it right and congratulate them with all kinds of awards, and I had to cautiously and quietly coach them to be better when they were not using them effectively.

[00:12:59] Kate: Fantastic, thank you. Arte, we’re going to switch gears a bit if that’s okay. In your TEDx talk you mentioned that a good deed is in its own reward because if you can you absolutely should, and I really loved to that saying, “If you can, you should do it.” What’s the rundown of benefits that companies should offer their employees with that mindset?

[00:13:23] Arte: Well, there’re two kind of benefits. There are resource benefits that we’ve been talking about and there are the other benefits that people work to an employer to provide. Whether their insurance, or time off, or education, those kinds of things. I think employers have to help employees get the stuff that they need to work their lives the way they want. In some cases, that is just being satisfied with themselves and comfortable with what they’re doing. That’s the soft stuff. The benefits– employers incident after the Second World War have been– they’ve been the ones having to flip the bill and provide insurance benefits.

It’s awkward because they’re not portable, so we create this thing called Cobra, which is not permanent, and so employees are always worried because I think insurance benefits anyways are almost as important as wages in many cases. Employees have to know that those things are available. But I think, some time, hopefully in the near future, we’ll figure this out by having a single player organization in America that will provide benefits and take that off the table because employers competing on benefits, it’s not fair. Either they have or don’t have the money, in one way, they’re okay, in the other way they’re not, and that’s not fair to the employee, the employer, or the customers.

So I think that government, as long as we’re talking about health care reform, ought to really take the time to figure this out. I think that’s a benefit that absolutely is necessary but I’m not sure it’s an employer-necessary thing just because we’ve always done it their way. The other benefit I think the employers should provide for people is education. They need to know how to do what they need to do and that’s a pretty simple education proposition and employers should be somehow motivated and incented to do that, they’re not right now.

So I think education is something that employers have to provide and make sure that people have enough to do what they need to do and have enough to get ahead if they’re interested in that. So I think motivating employers to provide those things is important. I also think that employers have to provide opportunities to the people that they have. And I’m not sure that promotion policies in all companies really respect and understand that. The two go hand in hand, education and promotions. Those two policies are critical, those two benefits are critical to creating a workforce that is confident, and competent, and happy to be where they are.

[00:16:40] Kate: The base one, health, then education, and then looking for that empowerment or growth are the key benefits you would look to?

[00:16:49] Arte: Yes. Yet to work with your management, they have to understand the benefits of doing this. There is this notion that there’s a award for talent. If I ask managers, and I do this all the time, what’s your number one problem? They always say I can’t find good health. Well, the problem is they don’t know what good health looks like and they don’t know what they have to do to develop people into being good employees.

It’s not a passive thing. It’s not I pay you and you should be good. It is I do a lot of things that create an environment where you want to be good and you, in fact, are good. It’s not a simple thing but it’s not rocket science either. If it was, I could charge you a lot more for my consulting [unintelligible 00:17:36].

[00:17:36] Kate:  Absolutely, so just going back to that, I’m sitting down with you and you say yes, I say to you I can’t find help. What do you say in that situation?

[00:17:49] Arte: The first thing I say, “What are you looking for in the next person you hire?” If you really probe for a little bit and deeply, most managers will say, “I’m looking for somebody that will come to work.” First and foremost, I need somebody to come to work and then I need him to work hard and care a lot. What’s that got to do with the skills that you tell me that you’re looking for? The fact of the matter is that everybody’s skills can be developed if they had the right attitude. So I say, look for attitude, don’t look for skills, and you will start to find that the applicant pool, all of a sudden, got richer.

You said you watch my TED talk, you got to go fishing where applicants are [unintelligible 00:18:33], the unemployment rate drops in America, which it has over the last 18 months, people are frightened that there’s nobody out there but while you’re looking out, as you saw, I made an interesting career out of hiring people with criminal backgrounds. People that others had left behind because we have background checks and we normally don’t accept people like that, but people who have earned the right to a second chance and want their second chance, absolutely, will do everything in their power to make the most of it. And so they come to work every day, they’ll never take a day off, they’ll never say no, they’ll never do anything to risk their freedom ever again.

Those kinds and there’s hundreds of thousands of people who get out of jail every year that could realistically go into this applicant pool. I think that you have to look for people who are underemployed and make yourselves attractive enough that they will pick up more employment with you. I think we have to absolutely go back and look at the retirees, The Graying of America symptom– people are living into their 80’s, they don’t want to retire when they’re 60. People like me don’t mind working for a longer period of time.

But in the ’60s, when they passed all the anti-discrimination legislation, the most important one was age discrimination because it is still the most common litigation in America that people feel that they’ve been discriminated against because of their age. Almost all the other things have been worked out. But we got to get over this age thing that the youth are the only way to the future. Now, interestingly, there’s more millennials than baby boomers today. But millennials and traditionals have a lot of the same attitudes and maybe we should start looking at both groups with a greater interest in making sure that we put most of them to work.

There’s no reason to be afraid of people who are millennials and there’s no reason to be afraid of people who are old, older or retired. But we have stereotypes in our heads and we got to get over those things. When people say they can’t find good help, they get through with me, they know that there’s a lot of good help out there and they can take advantage of them. But frankly, that’s almost the basis of what I do with employers today.

[00:21:15] Kate: Yes, I know. Listening to a TEDx talk, I think taking our hats off to Tony, Hosey, Donald, and Derek. I think they were great, great stories of that second chance and really coming in every day not missing that day of work. Really engaged them purposeful about the opportunity they had on the company they were working for and also a lot of gratefulness, I think, in the stories that you were telling on both sides.

[00:21:44] Arte: I laughed about that talk because I chose 4 out of, maybe, 4,000 that I have. They all fit into that same genre of “give somebody a chance”. People from all backgrounds, in all situations appreciate a chance. It’s not a big deal to do it, but surprisingly so, few do it. I don’t know.

[00:22:12] Kate: Yes, but thank you very much. I have two questions if you have time and this is switching gear more to–

[00:22:17] Arte: I do.

[00:22:18] Kate: – thank you. This is switching gear more to you. And that is, can you tell us the three truths that you live by?

[00:22:26] Arte: Help others and you’ll help yourselves. I mentioned that in the TED talk. Helping others is– as kids growing up, we wanted in our religious studies, and I learned it in the ’60s, it is so important to help others, it’s so important to give back every opportunity that you can. That’s one truth and it’s all wrapped up in that. The second is do good work. We have options all the time. Everything, every moment, every day, there’s an option. We can get into it or not.

And I think doing good work, being engaged, being positive is so important. Most of us suffering from the depression of one sort or another, but it can be worked through if you can get and keep a positive attitude. That’s the second thing I live by and maybe it’s the second and third because keeping a good attitude, it’s so hard.

The news that we read, the things that we see all the time get us down and yet somehow we got to pick ourselves back up and others can help but unless we initiate that. It is not going to work unless we believe in that, it won’t happen. Being self-motivated is so important.

People used to come and– everybody wanted to come to Steve Wynn’s properties and get a tour. I used to be the guy who gave the tour of the back of the house and everybody said, “Boy, you’re so happy, you’re so positive.” There were days I wanted to kill myself. There were days that it was hard to get out of bed, there were days that the pressures seemed insurmountable. But if you just stop and think how lucky we are and the great — I guess it’s this glass is half full not half empty. And maybe that’s the third thing. You got to see it that way.

People say, “I’m sick and tired of your happy attitude.” I don’t know any other way. I can’t get through the day if I don’t start with that and try to maintain that and go to bed with that. It’s just– life is tough. Work is tough. Everything’s tough, but so what. What’s the alternative [laughs]? That’s what I say. Does that answer your question?

[00:25:12] Kate: Yes it does. Thank you very much. I have one last one for you, if that’s okay. We hear a lot about morning routines and what people do first thing in the morning, sets them up for their day. I ask this question because I’m always intrigued by, do people really do the morning routines that you hear about over social media today? I always ask my guests, because I’m always intrigued by their morning routine, as to what they do when they first wake up.

[00:25:46] Arte: This is interesting. Nine years ago, I had a client who I worked with to develop their mission, and their vision, and their values. We came up with ten values. Teamwork, professionalism, there’s ten of them. We came up with this idea that we would have pre-shift meetings everyday with every employee.

Part of those meetings would be spent on just talking a little bit about, what’s our values? What can we do with our value today that will make what we do a little bit better. It sounded like an interesting idea. The clients said to me can you write a little something that we could use in our pre-shift meetings. This was nine years ago. What I would do is I would take one of the values and I would look up a quote that generally applied to that value. I would write 200 words about what I believed in or what I had done in the past that helped me to use that value to be better that day or that year, that week, whatever. I wrote these, and that assignment went on for a couple of years.

That assignment ended but I was in there everyday writing these statements, getting these quotes and writing these statements. I started publishing them. What they turned out to be for me was a morning meditation. Now what I would do is, at night, I would go get the quote. I would have a value in my mind and I’d get a quote. I would quick write 200 words about that quote and I would write it. It’d take me about 20 minutes.

The next morning at 5:30, I would get up, and I would read that quote, and I would read what I wrote. I would edit it a little bit, but that would be my mantra for today. Nine years later, I’m still writing them. I can’t get away from them because I can’t start my day without this personal affirmation of thinking about good things and trying to remember to do good things and suggesting some good things to others.

Now, I walk a lot. I walk five or six miles a day. I like to do that in the morning, but I can’t walk until I have finished and sent this quote to– right now, it goes to over 18,000 people. I can’t get away from it. People write to me all the time, “Could you put my friend on,” “Could you add somebody else I know,” or, “Could I get on.” There are days that, “Should I do it?” But if I don’t do it, I’m like a half a guy walking around that day.

It’s funny you ask what do you do. Many people meditate. Many people will go to church or synagogue and pray. A lot of people will exercise, but all of those things have to do with putting something up here. You know thinking about something. Can I do that, or is that important, or how should I be?

If we’re not reaffirming our values everyday, if we’re not making and remaking a commitment to those values everyday, what if we lose them? What if we somehow find that someday we don’t have any values? That scares the heck out of me. I’m stuck doing these things everyday. You send me your email address, I’ll send you these. You won’t believe it.

I see people all the time, all around the world who say thank you for this. They start repeating my stories, and I’ve got some crazy stories of the things I’ve done. Things that I’ve seen and things that I’ve experienced. That’s what I write about. This week, my quotes were about passion, last week was professionalism, next week is pride, before professionalism was ownership and responsibility, then it goes back to teamwork, and excellence, and creativity. It’s crazy, and I’ll probably do these until I die.

[00:30:15] Kate: I love it, I really love it, I think that’s very inspirational. Do you notice a difference between pre-nine-years of doing it and post with it?

[00:30:24] Arte: Yes. In some ways, people say, “Well, you’re full of it,” this is a [unintelligible 00:30:32] because I’m also a preacher. I’ll tell you one last story, when I got out of college, I wanted to go to grad school, my mother and father wanted me to o to law school, I wanted to become a rabbi. I applied to the seminary, I got in, and I got into law school. The head of the seminary talked me out of it on the premise that you have to be religious to become a rabbi. I just wanted to do good work and he said, “Why don’t you become a social worker?”

Anyway, I went to law school, I didn’t like it, I quit, and I became an HR guy, full time, and HR is the middle between the law and the [unintelligible 00:31:10]. It’s so funny that my whole life has been balanced on these two ideas that I had years ago. I guess I do this because it’s part of what’s inside of me, it’s my DNA. Somebody once asked me, “What’s one word that you can say that defines your brand of HR?” I said inspirational, and I really believe that. Steve Wynn allowed me to do a lot of good work and to inspire a lot of people to think to do the same, and because of that, it was a great career.

[00:31:50] Kate: Arte, thank you so very much. I know we’re over time, I really appreciate spending this time with you today, what a magical morning routine. I’m definitely going to sign up and have our listeners, of course, have the opportunity to sign up to. But thank you very much indeed for your time.

[00:32:08] Arte: Thank you, I appreciate it.


[00:32:14] Kate: Firstly, thanks for listening and spending time with us today, I hope you enjoyed the interview with Arte. For a transcribed version of this show, head over to benifit/podcast B-E-N-I.F-I-T/podcast. This is the stir of conversations that begin to identify the best practices of when human thrived companies prosper. If you would like to recommend anyone for the show, please email me at [email protected], [email protected]

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