It’s time to build the culture you want to have at work every day.
#Culture17 hand-selects business leaders who inspire them, and who have walked the path, to share their insights into what it takes to build and maintain high performance company cultures. These leaders shared the mistakes that they made. And the successes they’ve achieved. And why they put Culture at the top of their strategic agenda.
Ronnie Altit, Visionary CEO of Insentra was one such leader.
As the founder of Insentra, Ronnie has always dared to be different. His vision is to create an outstanding workplace where his people can be the best versions of themselves, love the work they do and amaze each other and their clients everyday.
Recently awarded in the Top 10 Best Places to Work, Ronnie believes that an organisation’s culture is paramount to running a successful business. His approach to corporate culture is simple and based on transparency, honesty and creating an open environment where his team can flourish.
SOME KEY POINTS IN THE VIDEO INCLUDE
[00:01:51] “Why is leadership not responsible for corporate culture?”
[00:06:36] Fix the problem when it becomes a problem.
[00:29:33] Giving feedback is critical. Giving honest feedback is even more critical.
READ THE TRANSCRIPT
Presenter: I am going to introduce the gorgeous Ronnie, this is his Twitter handle. Ronnie, would you join me?
Presenter: This was another story. I had put the call out having the Simon Sinek situation. There’s a young lady at the back called Kirstie, who had said, “I know there’s someone that you should meet. He is fanatical about culture. We had attempted to get in touch before Christmas, but it hadn’t happened. When I went out and said, “I seemed to have mislaid one of my speakers, could anybody help?” Ronnie said, “Would it be too rude if I put my hand up?” Ronnie, will explain who he is. On the Great Places to Work, number eight, the first time he ever entered, I think he was worthy of saying, “Yes, please. Please come along and share what you’ve got.” With no further ado, I will pass you over to Ronnie.
Ronnie Altit: Thank you very much.
Presenter: You can have the floor. Thank you.
Ronnie: Thank you. Just this part though, right?
Presenter: Yes. Don’t step back too much.
Ronnie: I’ll try not to. Good morning, everybody. Thank you very much. Actually, I’m really grateful. Wherever is he? There he is.
Ronnie: I am grateful because there’s nothing I like better than presenting after a coffee break because all the ablutions are taken cared of, everyone’s got caffeine. Presenting after lunch, that’s a killer. If anyone’s ever presented after lunch, it’s like, “Come on, wake up everyone,” until those carbs are in your system. Thank you very much. We’re going to try to make this a little bit of fun because I think that’s part of the reason why you’re here, is to have a little bit of fun and to enjoy what we’re doing.
Let’s just start with a few questions. You notice that what we’re saying out there is, “Why is leadership not responsible for corporate culture?” Let me just ask around the room, just quick show of hands, if I may. How many people here consider themselves or are in leadership positions? Majority of you. Okay, cool. How many of you consider that culture is your responsibility? Keep your hands up. How many of you think it’s your responsibility, exclusively? Okay, good.
One more show of hands. How many people hate showing hands when asked to show hands by a presenter?
Let me tell you a little bit of a story. The Train, the Insentra train. That’s what we call it. It’s a train and I’m the guy at the front of the train. I drive the train. I’m the one who decides what track we go down, I decide whether we’re going on a hill, I decide if we’re going to go down a hill, or get it busy, slow the thing down, how fast we can go. Right now, our train has got like rocket propulsion units on the back.
I’ve been telling this strange story for a long time. Let me tell you, I could tell you this story for about an hour, but I won’t bore you with it. I’ll just weave it through what we’re going to talk about this morning. There’s some really interesting aspects to our train. Firstly, it’s a train. Anybody who’d been to the UK, don’t show hands, it’s fine. Anybody’d been to the UK and you’ve been on one of those trains which has got no doors in between. You can see from one end to the other and it snakes all the way through.
That’s what our train’s like. There are no doors between anything in our business. Everything is open. I don’t sit in an office, I sit out there with our team. I’m there every day. My co-founders, in our business that we started seven years ago, sit out with our team. We’re there with them, accessible at any time. Super important. Our train’s a steam train. I know you all heard about electric trains, but our train’s actually a steam train.
The reason it’s a steam train is because everybody who works on our train shovels coal. If I’ve got to leave the front of the train and come back and shovel coal, God, help me, I’ll do it. There is no job on our train, there is no task on our train that anybody is too good to do. Three words are not allowed to be spoken on our train, “Not my job.” If someone says, “Not my job,” on our train, I guarantee you that will be the last three words and the truest three words they ever speak on our train. It will now no longer be their train. It will no longer be their job. They’re welcome to get off. Maybe I won’t even stop at a platform for that one.
As a steam train, people are there and they’re shoveling coal. Guaranteed, when they’re shoveling coal and the guy up the front puts the train on a hill, and we get to shovel coal a lot harder, we’re starting to get really busy, someone’s going to hit someone in the head with a shovel. Someone’s going to drop a hot ember on someone else’s toe. I promise you, I promise not to drop the c-bomb, but I don’t promise not to swear in other ways.
Shit’s going to happen on the train. Shit is going to happen. People are people. People have interactions and those interactions cause problems because we’re human. We don’t always get on with everybody every day all the time. The key, however, is how do you deal with that when it happens. Accept the fact that it’s going to happen. Accept the fact that someone’s going to hit someone in the head with a shovel.
When they do that on our train, it’s very simple. Go and take him into a room, have a conversation with him, sort it out. If you can’t sort it out, go grab somebody else who’s more senior and see if they can sort it out. You know what? If you can’t sort it out after that, bring it to me. I’ll help you sort it out. By the way, if we can’t work out a way to sort it out, tell me which one or both of you are going to go.
Ultimately, you’re going to meet someone just like that as a client, and you’re going to need to work out how to deal with that client. Someone somewhere has got to be able to give a little bit and work out, “Okay, I could have done this better.” What could we have done? How would we make you a better version of yourself? When those hot embers fall on the ground, a pebble’s going to get in someone’s shoe.
When you get to work in the day and you go, [sighs] “I’m really not happy about this.” You carry the pebble in your shoe. What happens if you walk around, up and down the train, with the pebble in your shoe? After you’ve done a couple of laps on the train, that pebble’s going to turn into a blister. Keep walking up and down the train with a blister and people are going to be watching you hobble.
What do people naturally do when people are hobbling? Let’s just give them a bit of a wide berth. Let’s not go and ask them what’s going on. What we encourage people to do on our train is, you got a pebble in your shoe, come talk to us when it’s a pebble. Let us know what the pebble is, don’t guarantee you that we’re going to actually take the pebble out of your shoe.
If you haven’t worked out how to take the pebble out, we’ll help you. If we can’t get the pebble out, maybe we’ll just give you a little pad to make it feel better. Don’t come to us when it’s a blister because that’s so much harder to fix. The message I’m trying to communicate with that, fix the problem when it becomes a problem, not when it becomes a massive issue. Accept the fact that problems are going to exist. If we can get this to go the right way, it will be better.
Let me tell you why I think business has it wrong. Unfortunately, most of you here put your hands down when I said who’s responsibility is it for leadership. I think business has it wrong in most cases because we have to create a vision statement, and we have to have a mission statement. We should put it on the wall and make it look lovely and pretty. We have to have values.
Let me tell you a story about what happened with our vision statement. We had this vision statement, we thought it was great. We wanted to be the number one channel services company in Australia. I have the wonderful Susanne who’s at the back of the room. I’ll explain a little bit what we did with Suzie in the business. Suzie came in and she said, “That’s great, but it doesn’t appeal to me. There’s no emotion in that, Ronnie. It’s not emotive.”
We changed our vision. I’m not going to tell you what it is, I’m going to give you what to do. Go and have a look and see if you can find our vision online somewhere. If you can’t let me know, because that was a problem. It includes things like being a better version of yourself. That’s what’s really important to us, is that the people inside of our train are better versions of themselves on a regular basis.
What happens all too often is people read books and they say, “Look, step one, create a vision.” They do that, and then create a mission, then create values, but they don’t actually live those values. They don’t believe in those values. If you don’t truly believe on those values, and if you truly don’t act in that way, and if you don’t emphasize what that vision is on a regular basis, you’re doomed for failure. Doomed for failure.
What I always say is you got to dare to be different. I’m different. Look at me, I’m here. I’m in jeans, I’m in runners, I’m in this jacket which I’m going to take off because it’s really quite warm. I’m swearing in a presentation.
Hey, who did that? That’s great. Talk to me later. Dare to be different. We were different from day zero. We started our business April 1st. We started business on April Fool’s Day. I did. I wanted to be different. Our business model, different. Someone asked me today, “Who are you compared to this?” I don’t really have any. Our business model is so unique, it’s different.
The way we run the business internally is different. In fact, it’s so different than when I interview people– Let me tell you, I interview each and every single person that joins our business. Just because I’m the CEO, it doesn’t mean that I’m too busy to meet and interview people who join our business. By the time they get to me, I’m really just looking to see do they have the right attitude, do they have the right aptitude, do they understand the train story, which the poor guys have to listen to for half an hour. Do they buy into that? Will they act and live that way in our business?
If they don’t, I’m cool with it. Just don’t join our train. It’s okay for people to not join the train. Not only that, but it’s okay for people once they’re on the train to decide it’s time to get off the train. That’s absolutely fine too because I’m not of the belief– In fact, there’s an article that I wrote once which says, “Why I love it when our staff get headhunted?” I truly do.
I don’t believe that everybody who joins our business is going to have their ideal job for life. None of you are in your job for life, it’s just reality. It’s a company, you get lots of different career progression, et cetera. You’ll stay there for awhile, but generally, people will actually leave. Our objective is to ensure that when they’re in our business and working on our train, that they’re getting the most development they can get. They’re getting the most support they can get. They’re working with people who love what they do, they love what they do.
Do what you do in the company of people who love what you do. At some point, you’re going to get to a point where it’s like, “I think I want something different.” They key, however, is making it so that they can come and talk to us and say, “Hey, I’m thinking of leaving.” How many people here have the guts to go to their manager and say, “Hey, I’m thinking of looking for a job. I’m actually on the market.” Doesn’t happen.
It does at Insentra. Do you know how many people we have saved leaving our train as a consequence of having that conversation? Because we’ve understood what it is they’re looking for. To me, a bad departure is when somebody gets on the train and they’re there and they’re working, and then they come in and say, “Hello, stop. I want to get off. I want to get off because I don’t like the train.”
Now, I have a problem. I want to get off because I’m not happy in this job. I want to actually get some career development, I’m not sure the company can provide it to me. No problem, how can I help you? Can I help you with that in our business? Can we find you that opportunity on the train? If we can’t, how can I help you find another opportunity somewhere else? Indeed, I did that with somebody two years ago, who ended up leaving our business.
I rang and actually got the guy the interview. I said, “This is a really great guy. I don’t have the right opportunity for him anymore in our business. I suggest you meet him and hire him because he’s great. He did that. He left, he came back four weeks later when we won an award. Brought in champagne and chocolates, and said, “I wanted to celebrate with you guys.”
To me, when you are running an organization, when you’re running a business unit within a large organization, you have the ability to change. You have the ability to influence. You have the ability from the moment you meet somebody to the time they’re working in your business, and after they work in your business to maintain that relationship. My objective over time is I know I’m going to have people who will leave my business. It’s going to happen. It is going to happen.
My objective, however, is to have this fantastic group of people who are out there saying, “My God, that time I spent over there were some of the best time I’ve had in my career.” Not only that, I can go back and I can ask for assistance. That’s because in our business, I lead from here, from the heart. People see through bullshit. You get this culture I’m told of, got to go do this.
At some point, it’s not going to happen. The robot, it’s just going to kill you. You need to lead from the heart. There is no point trying to embody a culture in a business if that culture you’re embodying is not something you truly believe in. Culture starts at the top but it percolates within. That’s where it really comes from. When we started this business, everyone was like, “Oh my God, what an amazing place to work.”
I started to say to you before, when I interview people, I take them through everything and tell them all of these wonderful things that we’ve got. I can tell you as well, you just heard before, we don’t do bean bags. We had the foosball table, never got used. I literally open the doors, put in the Xbox, the TV, the surround sound, et cetera, never got used. Not because people were fearful of using it, they just didn’t want it.
Sounds cool, it attracts people, but it doesn’t keep people. It’s cool to have and if you can do it, that’s great because there’s an option there for them. Don’t we laugh about the fact we got Coke in the fridge. Someone comes in in the business, says, “Ronnie, I think we need some fruit.” I’m like, “Yes, you’re probably right.” A picture of health, Coke is for me. When I’m interviewing them and I take them through this, they just look at me and say, “Ronnie, it’s just too good to be true.”
I was like, “Cool. Tell you what, glass walls everywhere as well. Pick someone out there, your choice. Pick anybody that you want out there. You go, come with me, we’ll tap him on the shoulder. I’m not going to give them any background. They don’t know I’m interviewing you. Bring him into the room, I’ll leave, ask him whatever question you like. I’ll come back. If they tell you something that is incongruent with what I’ve told you, let’s talk about it. That’s going to tell me that maybe there’s something that’s wrong over there, but it’s also going to give me the opportunity to explain it to you.”
Funnily enough, nobody ever takes me on the offer. I think they think it’s staged. Which is a very, very important point as well. When you do have a culture, which we believe is awesome. I got to tell you, it’s not awesome everywhere. Every business has problems. Everything has holes. Not everything is sunshine, and unicorns, and roses every day. Got to accept that too.
What happens, I call it like we take damaged children onboard. We take these people who have been in foster homes previously. These poor foster children, they’ve gone from company to company to company. They’ve been sold this wonderful dream and it’s never been delivered upon. You know what people do when they start in our organization? They start and they go, “I’m just going to watch.” Just going to watch for awhile.
That’s the riskiest part for us in our organization. It’s the riskiest time on a train is when somebody starts, because all it takes is one experience that doesn’t mirror what we’re telling them it’s going to be for them to really start to question. It’s like a bank account. We just heard about banks. It’s like a bank account. I believe that when people start on our train, we give them implicit trust.
I know when they start on our train, we don’t have their implicit trust. We need to earn it. We need to put some credits in the bank account so that in case we screw up, we can make a withdrawal because we’ll screw up, we’re human. We need to know and understand that on the way through. If you’re not leading from the heart, people will see through it in a heartbeat.
Don’t try and implement a culture that you don’t believe in. Don’t bother. Somebody used a really interesting expression yesterday that I really like, “It’s like moving molasses up a hill with a pitchfork.” That visual, it’s kind of cool, isn’t it? Next thing I would say to you– You don’t work that one out? Give a toilet. Give a shit. Give a shit about your people.
The number one focus for me in our business is cash. It is, it’s cash. It’s not cash profits. It’s not cash piles of money like old King Cole. It’s cash to have the ability to invest further in our people, which is my number one double A focus. Just behind cash. If I don’t have cash, I don’t have people. Let’s face it. Why do businesses fail? Ran out of cash more often than not.
I have no qualms saying my number one focus is actually cash. I’m not going to sit here and say, “Yes, it’s people. It’s people.” It’s very closely followed by people. My number two focus is our clients. As the CEO, my number two focus is the clients. That sounds a bit odd too, doesn’t it? A little bit of a furrowed brow, “What’s he saying?” Dare to be different. It’s different.
You know why my number two focus is clients? Because the people that I have have the clients as their number one focus. Let’s just work out that circle. If I don’t have cash, I don’t have people. If I don’t have people, I don’t have clients. If I don’t have clients, I don’t have cash. The aim is to empower everyone in our business to give a shit, to lead from their heart, and to worry about our clients.
Empowering people means each and every single person in the business, from me as the CEO to my co-founder directors, to my executive team, my leadership team, all the way down to the graduates and the interns that we bring into the business. Each and everyone of them can make, and does make a difference every day, but only if they are empowered to do so.
Why don’t I give you the slide that speaks to the empowerment of the lovely birds. I run a monthly update, mandatory attendance. Ideally, if you’re in Sydney, physical. We have offices in the US and the UK so we try and make the times work for them too. That’s the entire company there on a conference call or face-to-face. I’m best about to start this, we got everyone on there and one of the guys on the phone pipes up and he says, “Hey, Ronnie, I’m a 2 on a 2.” Holy crap, are you being serious? “Yes, I’m a 2 on a 2.”
Let me explain what a 2 on a 2 is. Just like we heard about safety shares, gratitude. What we do in the business is we actually have a concept of three very simple words. How are you? Any meeting, three or more people, starts with, “How are you?” 1-10 personally, 1-10 is it relates to the business, starting with the personal. You know why? Because I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have a personal life.
I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have problems at varying stages in their personal life or doesn’t have fantastic things happening in their personal life at some stage. Sure, this concept is keep your personal life outside of the office, what a crock of shit that is. That’s just not feasible. It doesn’t make sense. It’s just not the way we operate as people. You have stuff going on at home.
Sure, don’t share to us what it is, but at least let us know that you’re a four. At least let us know that there’s something going on for you personally. Let me just give you a picture. How many times have you been into an office where you’ve been working and the person next to you is overly prickly that day. Like you say, “Good morning,” like, “Grunt.” You ask him a question, [roars]. Happens, right? Immediately, you go, “Stay away from him today.”
How are you? 1-10 personally, 1-10 as it relates to business. Instantly, you’re going to know. You’re just going to know that they don’t have to tell you what it is. That’s personal. If they feel comfortable, and if you have the environment where they’re happy to share what that is, then that’s wonderful. They don’t have to. 1-10 in the business, immediate temperature check on the business every single day.
There’s meetings of three or more people, or more, in our office on a regular basis. Every single time, where are you? Seven or less, immediate question, “What can we do to help?” Is this systemic or is it just because something happened today that’s bothering you? Really simple. Systemic, immediate escalation. Let’s jump on it. Let’s get the pebble. If they don’t want to tell us about the pebble in their shoe, because for some reason they might not want to, we’ve trapped the pebble.
Let me tell you, when I was doing that presentation, my phone in my pocket– I mean, clearly, everyone was paying so much attention to me, was going crazy. It was like I just felt it going buzz. So many people in the company, “What can we do to help this individual?” That is the heart. That’s the heart of the company. That’s the family that exists on this train. People care about each other.
It’s not just my responsibility or my leadership’s responsibility to care about our people. It’s our people’s responsibility to care about one another. They need to have the tools and the mechanisms by which they can do it. By simply saying, “You should really care about that person.” Yes, sure. How can I do that? How can I give you tools to arm you to be able to do these things that we are wanting you to do?
In that meeting every month, I reiterate our vision, I reiterate our mission, I reiterate our core values. That’s what’s most important. You know why? Because everyone wants to know where they’re going. Unless you want to do a mystery toy, you’re not going to hop on a train and not know where its destination is. Sometimes you get on the train and go, “Shit, where are we?”
Let me just remind you once a month this is where we are, this is where we’re going. Nothing’s changed here but here’s how we’re going to divert the tracks a little bit to get where we got to go. It makes sense. The train is literally embedded throughout our environment. We did have someone resign. A card came around to put in. I was reading the messages on the card.
How many messages went in there and says, “Great having you on the train. Love to see you on your next journey.” The train is actually embodied in our business. Use whatever you want. Use a bus, use a plane, use whatever it is that makes sense for you to be able to get people to buy in. They’re only going to buy in if you have this happening. They’re never going to buy in if you don’t. Holy crap, I wouldn’t.
I’ve worked in big companies, I’ve worked in global investment banks, I’ve done all of that. I’ve worked in the crappiest cultures. People say to me, “Ronnie, how did you build this culture?” I’m like, “It’s actually common sense.” I’m sure you’ve all heard common sense ain’t that common. It’s common sense. All I did was I put in place with my business partners the things that we loved about the places we worked, and I stamped out the shit I didn’t want to see happen because it’s the same shit no one else wants to see happen.
The stuff we didn’t think about, we wing it. We wing it, we apply the reasonable person test to it and see where we end up. If we get it wrong, which we will, which we do. I got to tell you, I screwed up the other day big time. Big time, with one particular team. I walked into that team meeting. I literally said, “Sorry, guys, sorry to interrupt your meeting.” I can do that because I’m the boss. It’s kind of cool.
I walked into the meeting, I said, “Guys, just want to let you all know, I fucked up.” How many CEOs come in and talk to their staff and say that? Don’t even use that word, staff. What a horrible word. Horrible, horrible word. They’re people. How many people go in and say, “I screwed up.” Here’s what I did, and here’s why I screwed up, and here’s what I’m going to do to fix it, “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
Again, it’s not all sunshine and mystery. Sunshine and mystery, that’s cool, sunshine and roses. You need to be inspirational, “We’ll give feedback in a sec.” You need to be inspirational. Try this, just try this when you leave. Walk down the street with a scowl on your face. You’ll be like Moses parting the waters. Everyone just walks around you. Walk down the street with a smile on your face and watch how many people will actually smile back.
Why is it that when we’re on holidays, you’d be going for a morning walk, “Good morning,” “Morning.” It doesn’t happen when you walk up and down George Street, does it? No, scowl. People will feed off your energy. People feed off the energy of other people in the office. One of the things when I was coming in here, they said, “You’ll feel the energy when you walk in there, Ronnie.” I’m like, “I hope you feel that energy when you walk into our offices.”
When you step onto our train, I want you to feel that energy too. I want you to feel the energy that everybody has in our business to make things wonderful, to make the place an amazing place to work. What it takes to make a great place to work is great people, great people all working together. Big question I get asked, “It’s easy, Ronnie, you started it from scratch.”
People will say to me, “Cool, you have a great culture with 10 people. It’s not hard. 10 people it’s easy. You can talk to them all, you can be with them all. What are you going to do when you’re 30 people?” Same stuff. “It’s easy, Ronnie.” Maybe not. 30 people is fine. 50, that’s a big tipping point. [whistles] 50 people, you’re stuck in all these other middle management. “How are you going to do that?” I said, “Same stuff.” I got 50 people, same stuff exists. We’re now almost 70 people, same stuff exists.
In that monthly meeting, every monthly meeting, you know what I tell the team in the company? I say, “You know what, guys?” I use guys, generically, “You all love the culture in this business. You all talk about the culture in this business. In fact, you voted for the culture in this business that made us eighth Great Place to Work,” which apparently doesn’t happen very often in your first entry.
Typically, you’re not in the top 20. I don’t know. It’s cool that we got there. You all voted that way. Don’t come to me in six months time and tell me, “The culture’s changed in this business, Ronnie. Things aren’t the same they used to be.” Because you know what, you’re the police. If you want the culture to stay the same as what it is, then you make sure it stays that way.
If there are people in the business who aren’t adhering to the types of things that we say we’re going to do, let me know. We’ll try and fix it. We’ll try and help them be better versions of themselves. We’re not all warm fuzzy cuddlies, although hugs are free at Insentra. That’s true, true story. Hugs are free. Everyone likes a hug. Guys like hugs. Guys come in at the beginning. We’re an IT business, majority guys.
It’s like, “Be careful when you go to the women. Just check with them first.” The guys are like, “I don’t know about this hugging.” I tell you what, it only takes a few weeks, the guys walk in, “Hey, how are you? Big hugs.” Hugs feel good. It’s up to them to maintain that. Whilst we’ve got all these lovely sense of family and sense of warmth, et cetera, we have a business to run.
We don’t lose sight of the fact that we actually have a business to run. It is something really quite interesting. We created this thing called “Keep on Track”, where I sat with my entire leadership team and I said to them in an off-site that we ran. The off-site was entirely leadership. We didn’t talk about the business once. We didn’t talk about sales, we didn’t talk about anything.
We just spoke about the business and what we could do to have a better culture, how we could be better leaders. By the way, we have leadership discussions with our graduates, “How can you be a better leader?” Not everyone who’s a manager is a leader. Let’s just get on with it. It’s fact. You don’t have to be a leader. It’s okay not to be a leader. It’s cool to just make sure stuff happens and you get stuff done. Other people can be leaders. Go follow them, go do what you need to do. Not everyone has to be a leader.
We sat in that off-site and said, “Understood, okay.” There are some behaviors we’re seeing in this business, as we’re growing, that we just don’t like. For example, in a meeting room. You leave the meeting room, you leave all your stuff everywhere. That’s not world class, that’s not the way to actually have people come into our business. We have customers coming to our business, they look at this and go like, “They can’t organize their meeting room, how can they organize the work they’re going to do for us?”
Logic, common sense, those are gone. What we did was we created a list of 11 top things that you must do when you’re working at Insentra. We call it “Keep on Track”. When people don’t do the things that are on the “Keep on Track”, all someone has to do is go, “Hey, keep on track. You’re not keeping on track.” It’s not berating them. That’s true when it comes to the feedback.
Giving feedback is critical. Giving honest feedback is even more critical. Delivering it in a way that you can help somebody is critical. More importantly, receiving feedback is what makes you better. I’ll give you an example. We had a guy, last week, Friday night, 5:30, sends and email to our clients saying, “Hey, I’m really sorry. We’re going to miss this deadline of getting you your document by today.”
For the second time I read that email and went, [hoots]. Then he sends a followup email and says, “Hey, by the way, this client’s going to be really upset because we’re also going to change resources on him next week.” I nearly popped an artery. I’m like, “How do you actually go and do that?” I didn’t take the guy into a room and beat the living crap out of him. How many people here love it when their managers beat the crap out of them?
See, look at that, I didn’t even have to ask you not to show hands. No one likes that. I took him to this room and said, “Hey, just explain to me what made you think that was okay.” What was it that led up to that? There’s a reason why this guy did. He’s not stupid. He’s a really quality employee. He’s a great member of our team. What made you do that? He explained it.
I spoke to him about it, I said, “This is what we expect. This is what you’re going to do.” He’s like, “Yes, I get it, Ronnie. Thank you very much.” Pretty simple, “By the way, can you tell me what we had broken that we have to fix to stop that happening for you again?” Not, “You’re the idiot. You’re the one who screwed up. You, you, you.” What can we do collaboratively to make it work?
Message for all of you, treat your people as people. Treat your people as people who are actually trying to do the right thing for you. If they don’t want to do the right thing for you anymore, they’re going. They’re getting off your train. Accept the feedback, take the feedback, love the feedback. I love feedback. The thing I’ll do after this, I got Susanne at the back.
We hired Susanne into our business, three reasons. One, sort out our marketing. Got the emotion and the vision. Two, customer service excellence. Three, as in ex-Tony Robbins coach, coach our management team. Coach our leadership team to be better versions of themselves. Someone on staff that when something happens and they don’t want to talk to me about it, they’ve got someone independent and anonymous they can go to. Super important, investing in the people.
I’ll just give you an example of why people won’t come and talk to me because I’m not foolish. How many of you have been a member of a team and then become a team leader? As you become a team leader, holy crap, do you realize how much you no longer know? That’s what cultures do. Cultures protect themselves. They insulate themselves.
They’re not going to tell everyone everything as much as I want them to, as much as I create this wonderful lovely environment. It’s a realist. They’re not going to do that. We need to put in, again, ways and means by which they can do it, in a way they feel comfortable. We don’t have HR, we have a manager of vibe. Stay alert, watch out for stuff. Continually be vigilant to what’s going on. Don’t put your head in the sand. Stay awake to the stuff that’s going on in your business.
If culture is important to you, stay awake. Trap it. Don’t go, “Not a big deal,” because as soon as you do that, once everyone else goes, “Well.” Again, that’s standards you accept, you walked past. I don’t remember the exact words, 10 wonderful words that we did write down. That principle is so true. You walked past it, it’s now acceptable. Define the acceptable, define the not acceptable. Be comfortable to tell people what’s not acceptable.
People know on our train there’s certain things you do on our train, you will be thrown off the train. It’s unacceptable. It’s just not the way we do stuff. It’s like having babies, children. Children need discipline, children need boundaries. I don’t run an adult day care center. That’s one of things I absolutely say, is I empower people to do what they do, I trust them to do what they do, I enable them to do what they do.
It’s not an adult day care center, but at the same time, I need to know their boundaries, they need to know what they can do, they need to know what’s okay, what’s not okay. When it’s not okay, I’d help to work out why they did the not okay thing. When it is okay, great. Lastly, have a shitload of fun. Celebrate the wins. We got this thing that we do. If somebody gets some feedback on somebody on our team, we send out an email to the entire company, the entire company.
That person X, no matter who they are, did no matter what small thing it was, that a client actually said something or wrote an email for it. Call him out. Celebrate the people who are doing these things in your business. In fact, it got so crazy with the reply alls. It took me to about 60 people before I said, “Right, I can’t go on.” No more reply alls. One thing I did make sure was there was still a reply to the person who did that work.
I jump in, I am still awake to that. Every so often, I’ll go to someone who’s had a shoutout, which is what we call it and say, “Hey, how many people came back to you and gave you a personal message?” When that doesn’t happen in the next month we update, I will remind everybody. Why? Because it’s part of our core. It’s what we need to do. It’s how you do stuff.
If you’re not having fun and you’re people are not having fun, holy crap, they aren’t going to stay on your train. They’re just not. No matter how wonderful it is, no matter how great it is, people need to have fun. They need to feel like they’re in a company of organization of people that they love, people who love what they do, people who enjoy, and respect, and value the others that are there.
I’ll leave you with this. People are indeed the heart of your business, but the culture is its very soul. I’m Ronnie Altit, thank you very much.
Presenter: He’s got some questions for Ronnie.
Ronnie: Shoot. I might not have answers.
Participant: You mentioned the great energy in your office. We have flexible arrangements with people who are at home or, eventually, anywhere, basically. Which leaves us at times with virtually zero people on the floor. How do you maintain culture? Because there is a disconnect when people start working virtually.
That’s a bit of a struggle for us because a lot of the feedback coming back to me is that, “Look, really is boring in the office when there’s only two or three people. Feels dead.” Other people will say, “It’s great, allows me to concentrate.” But a lot of the feedback was that it’s too disconnected when people don’t feel as a family, as a group.
Ronnie: I really understand. We’re an IT business. Work from home is– As I say, not an adult day care center. We measure people on output not input. Deliver outcomes, that’s what we’re looking for. If you need to work from home, work from home. Interestingly enough, what we find is people don’t want to work from home. They actually want to be in the office around other people.
That said, we also have offices in different parts of the world, which extensively is working from home in many different regards. In fact, in our UK operation, everybody works from home. That’s up to the managers there, the team leaders, to bring people together. If they’re working from home, have a smaller office and don’t spend that money on rent, take the money you would spend on rent and get team gatherings going every couple of weeks. Go out and do some fun stuff.
Bring them together so that they can start coordinating work with each other. Work out what collaboration tools you can leverage. There’s plenty of cool technology that can help leverage that. You absolutely do need to be– Unless they’re in a callcenter and they’re doing rudimentary regular tasks that are the same. If they are supposed to work as a team, you need to do things to bring the team together.
Quick story, long answer to a short question, but quick story. Had a guy, interviewed him, he’s like, “Ronnie, I work from home four days a week. I don’t like coming to the office. I live out here.” I said, “That’s okay, John. I’ll reckon you’ll be in the office at least three of those four days that you think you work from home.” Guys in the office almost five days a week. He said, “I love it here. I love coming in to work. It’s so cool.”
I think there’s an element of, yes, you can provide flexibility, but ultimately, things don’t happen by individuals. The individuals together will create something that’s magnificent. If they can understand that their joint working together is what’s going to create brilliance, then they’ll be interested to come into the office.
You might need to be a little bit regimented about it at the beginning, like, “On a Tuesday, you have to come in. We’re having the team meeting. We’d like you to work in the office all day Tuesday.” Make Tuesday a great day. Make Tuesday a day that people look forward to so that way they don’t want a Tuesday, they want a Tuesday and a Wednesday. That’s what I’d suggest.
Presenter: Other questions for Ronnie?
Ronnie: Wow, that’s pretty amazing. No questions.
Presenter: Apparently, your talk was so good that you answered all the questions they could possibly ever have. Ronnie will be with us for awhile.
Ronnie: I am. The show is live.
Presenter: Please ask him, ask as many questions you can. Grab him. You have got someone who has taken that company and done incredible things with it. Thank you so much for sharing the story with us. It’s one of those things I always say, is you don’t get paid to warm a seat. You got to be measured by your output. Thank you so much.
Ronnie: Thank you.
Presenter: Thank you.